[Ppnews] Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works, by Naomi Klein

PPnews at freedomarchives.org PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Sun May 15 11:07:35 EDT 2005

Published on Thursday, May 12, 2005 by 
<http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat?bid=1&pid=2435>The Nation

from <http://www.commondreams.org>www.commondreams.org

Torture’s Dirty Secret: It Works
by Naomi Klein

I recently caught a glimpse of the effects of torture in action at an event 
honoring Maher Arar. The Syrian-born Canadian is the world’s most famous 
victim of “rendition,” the process by which US officials outsource torture 
to foreign countries. Arar was switching planes in New York when US 
interrogators detained him and “rendered” him to Syria, where he was held 
for ten months in a cell slightly larger than a grave and taken out 
periodically for beatings.

Arar was being honored for his courage by the Canadian Council on 
American-Islamic Relations, a mainstream advocacy organization. The 
audience gave him a heartfelt standing ovation, but there was fear mixed in 
with the celebration. Many of the prominent community leaders kept their 
distance from Arar, responding to him only tentatively. Some speakers were 
unable even to mention the honored guest by name, as if he had something 
they could catch. And perhaps they were right: The tenuous “evidence”—later 
discredited—that landed Arar in a rat-infested cell was guilt by 
association. And if that could happen to Arar, a successful software 
engineer and family man, who is safe?

In a rare public speech, Arar addressed this fear directly. He told the 
audience that an independent commissioner has been trying to gather 
evidence of law-enforcement officials breaking the rules when investigating 
Muslim Canadians. The commissioner has heard dozens of stories of threats, 
harassment and inappropriate home visits. But, Arar said, “not a single 
person made a public complaint. Fear prevented them from doing so.” Fear of 
being the next Maher Arar.

The fear is even thicker among Muslims in the United States, where the 
Patriot Act gives police the power to seize the records of any mosque, 
school, library or community group on mere suspicion of terrorist links. 
When this intense surveillance is paired with the ever-present threat of 
torture, the message is clear: You are being watched, your neighbor may be 
a spy, the government can find out anything about you. If you misstep, you 
could disappear onto a plane bound for Syria, or into “the deep dark hole 
that is Guantánamo Bay,” to borrow a phrase from Michael Ratner, president 
of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

But this fear has to be finely calibrated. The people being intim-idated 
need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice. 
This helps explain why the Defense Department will release certain kinds of 
seemingly incriminating information about Guantánamo—pictures of men in 
cages, for instance—at the same time that it acts to suppress photographs 
on a par with what escaped from Abu Ghraib. And it might also explain why 
the Pentagon approved the new book by a former military translator, 
including the passages about prisoners being sexually humiliated, but 
prevented him from writing about the widespread use of attack dogs. This 
strategic leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces a 
state of mind that Argentines describe as “knowing/not knowing,” a vestige 
of their “dirty war.”

“Obviously, intelligence agents have an incentive to hide the use of 
unlawful methods,” says the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer. “On the other hand, when 
they use rendition and torture as a threat, it’s undeniable that they 
benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that intelligence 
agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit from the fact that 
people understand the threat and believe it to be credible.”

And the threats have been received. In an affidavit filed with an ACLU 
court challenge to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Nazih Hassan, president 
of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor, Michigan, describes this 
new climate. Membership and attendance are down, donations are way down, 
board members have resigned—Hassan says his members fear doing anything 
that could get their names on lists. One member testified anonymously that 
he has “stopped speaking out on political and social issues” because he 
doesn’t want to draw attention to himself.

This is torture’s true purpose: to terrorize—not only the people in 
Guantánamo’s cages and Syria’s isolation cells but also, and more 
important, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is 
a machine designed to break the will to resist—the individual prisoner’s 
will and the collective will.

This is not a controversial claim. In 2001 the US NGO Physicians for Human 
Rights published a manual on treating torture survivors that noted: 
“perpetrators often attempt to justify their acts of torture and ill 
treatment by the need to gather information. Such conceptualizations 
obscure the purpose of torture
.The aim of torture is to dehumanize the 
victim, break his/her will, and at the same time, set horrific examples for 
those who come in contact with the victim. In this way, torture can break 
or damage the will and coherence of entire communities.”

Yet despite this body of knowledge, torture continues to be debated in the 
United States as if it were merely a morally questionable way to extract 
information, not an instrument of state terror. But there’s a problem: No 
one claims that torture is an effective interrogation tool—least of all the 
people who practice it. Torture “doesn’t work. There are better ways to 
deal with captives,” CIA director Porter Goss told the Senate Intelligence 
Committee on February 16. And a recently declassified memo written by an 
FBI official in Guantánamo states that extreme coercion produced “nothing 
more than what FBI got using simple investigative techniques.” The Army’s 
own interrogation field manual states that force “can induce the source to 
say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”

And yet the abuses keep on coming—Uzbekistan as the new hot spot for 
renditions; the “El Salvador model” imported to Iraq. And the only sensible 
explanation for torture’s persistent popularity comes from a most unlikely 
source. Lynndie England, the fall girl for Abu Ghraib, was asked during her 
botched trial why she and her colleagues had forced naked prisoners into a 
human pyramid. “As a way to control them,” she replied.

Exactly. As an interrogation tool, torture is a bust. But when it comes to 
social control, nothing works quite like torture.

Naomi Klein is the author of 
Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Picador) and, most recently, 
and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate 

Copyright © 2005 The Nation

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