Secrecy News

Classification and the “Descent Into Torture”

The public has been significantly misled and misinformed concerning the practice of abusive interrogation by the U.S. government and the resulting damage to American political institutions, said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on the Senate floor yesterday.

“I am very sorry to say this–but there has been a campaign of falsehood about this whole sorry episode. It has disserved the American public. As I said earlier, facing up to the questions of our use of torture is hard enough. It is worse when people are misled and don’t know the whole truth and so can’t form an informed opinion and instead quarrel over irrelevancies and false premises. Much debunking of falsehood remains to be done but cannot be done now because the accurate and complete information is classified,” Sen. Whitehouse said.

“I want my colleagues and the American public to know that measured against the information I have been able to gain access to, the story line we have been led to believe–the story line about waterboarding we have been sold–is false in every one of its dimensions.”

He itemized several statements he said were demonstrably untrue, beginning with the declaration by President Bush that “America does not torture.”

He said a structured investigation was needed into what he called “America’s descent into torture.”  First, it is necessary to document what was done, under what conditions, and to what end.  A second set of questions concerns “how this was allowed to happen.”  Finally, a rigorous debunking of erroneous and false assertions is needed.

Classification policy is an obstacle to all of these objectives, he said, especially the latter:  “At the heart of all these falsehoods lies a particular and specific problem: The ‘declassifiers’ in the U.S. Government are all in the executive branch.  No Senator can declassify, and the procedure for the Senate as an institution to declassify something is so cumbersome that it has never been used.”

0 thoughts on “Classification and the “Descent Into Torture”

  1. Hi Steven,
    Senator Whitehouse and colleagues may well benefit from a review of: “The Lucifer Effect:…” by Philip Zimbardo (Stanford Univ. Psychology Dep’t. study of effects of imprisonment-terminated after only six days, who also testified for the defense of one MP at Abu Ghraib)…Zimbardo clarifies the descent process, of all the assorted individuals, situations, and institutions (including Commander-in-Chief, Office of Legal Counsel, etc.), and the culpability of not only individuals, but the culpable situations and institutions, and our culture as well. Bob

  2. I appreciate the research you do, but frankly, your left leanings together with the naive opinions you quote only prove that anyone can twist the truth and create their brand with it.
    Waterboarding, torture (only three prisoners at Gitmo) saved thousands of lives.
    Your side is so intent on dismissing these tactics that sometimes I get the impression you have been watching to many episodes on CSI Miami and Without a Trace.
    I like reading your opinions, I can’t keep my head from nodding, line after line gives me the impression that you would not be the kind of guy I would want next to me in a fox hole.
    Tough reading, but what the hey…it takes all kinds!

  3. Absolutly agreed, there is no excuse for classification, except for selfish interest of those indicated. As one of the USA founders, Benjamin Franklin said:
    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
    What’s more definition of ESSENTIAL LIBERTY than basic human rights?!

  4. The critics of water boarding act as though it took place in a vacuum. A few years ago I was sent a slide show of 911 photos taken while the towers were burning. One picture was of a man that chose to jump from the tower to his death rather than burn to death. I have a question; was that torture? When placed in perspective I think most people would agree that the three persons water-boarded were done much less harm than they perpetrated on the guy they forced to choose to jump or burn.

  5. There is an old saying that two wrongs do not make a right. Not only is the use of torture lowering ourselves to the moral level of our enemies (and that is VERY low), it helps with their PR campaign against the US and the West in general. The torture of prisoners actually HELPS out enemies in the long run. Also just from a practical standpoint, (if you don’t care about morals) information gained through torture has a very low level of reliability. If you torture someone, that person will say anything (that means lie) to get the torture to stop. Bad info is worse than no info.

  6. I have little issue with the “simulation” of drowning of someone like Khalid Mohammad. Ultimately he was done no real harm. In reference to your values issue with torture; “true torture” is a common practice in the region of the world that Mr. Mohammad originates. The moral issues of torture are western ones. We see it as a sense of decency to treat others as we would be treated. I want be clear, I’m not an advocate of tortures general use but its “very rare use”, as with the death penalty, to which I am also generally opposed; I’m simply not willing to say “never”. After reading some of the comments I decided to jump in with some facts.
    The PR campaigns the person above refered to are primarily for the consumption of the US “chattering class” (pundits and politicians). Enemies of the west know that politicians use these stories, factual or not, as leverage against each other to gain political advantage and public support. Simply put; the Taliban and Al-Qaeda know our national will is weak and that over time, if a conflict lasts long enough, we will defeat ourselves. They do not have large modern militaries but they do have time and time is always on their side.
    The word torture is subjective it means a lot things; to my 13 year old, eating vegetables is torture, to me it’s watching a George Bush speech. To a prisoner in a third world country it could mean the slow removal of body parts or watching his or her 10 year old daughter or son raped repeatedly to gain a confession”. In poor countries where there is no money for lawyers, jails or guards, crimes are dealt with physically because beatings and executions are cheap. its economics and we can afford our morals. Today, In the Afghan Army it is not uncommon to discipline a soldier by locking him in a steel connex box with little ventilation, and no water or food for days. In Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia; people are still “legally” stoned to death. You said in your comments that “we should not stoop to their level”; truly, WE HAVE NOT.
    Now, the claim that information gathered through torture is unreliable is simply NOT true. I would agree with it if by torture you only meant applying pain and asking questions. However, if you are referring to enhanced interrogation; the injection of stressors like sleep deprivation, constant loud noise, heat/cold, prolonged standing into an interrogation; I must disagree. Initially I shared your opinion on the effectiveness of torture but was later convinced otherwise by listening to an NPR interview of a US government Psychologist. He explained the process and its results in unbiased scientific terms and convinced me that it DOSE work. Interrogations are strategic conversations with many elements; emotional, mental, and physical. Extreme stressors like water boarding are likely used to establish initial communication or break silence. Much more common are less extreme stressors like sleep deprivation and constant loud noise (like at some nightclubs) these are called distracters or stressors. People that are questioned under stress for prolonged periods (hours sometimes days) eventually stumble, forget, lose track of details. Information gathered is then compared against known facts and other evidence to determine reliability level. The bottom line is;enhanced interrogation works.
    Yes, I think enhanced interrogation is unpleasant and is not something I personaly would want to participate in, but IT DOSE WORK and when the lives of hundreds or even thousands of peace loving infidels are at stake; I truly believe it’s a necessary unpleasantness.

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