Earlier this month the Court of Appeals in the US threw out a lawsuit filed against the man who wrote the so-called Torture Memos, John Yoo. The torture memos posited that so-called enhance interrogation techniques like waterboarding and sleep deprivation might be legally permissible and, among other abuses, led to the infamous mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib by US military police personnel. How is it that our supposedly liberal democratic governments engage in torture? What does it say about our political culture that this is an acceptable way to fight terrorism?
The following opinion article was featured in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 18, 2012 and was written by Glenn Carle and Danielle Celermajar.
Physical interrogation brutalises all involved and produces little of value.
The battle for public acceptance of “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation as part of the “new normal” for statecraft after September 11 hangs in the balance.
On the one hand a soon-to-be-released US Senate intelligence committee report on its three-year investigation into enhanced interrogation is expected to show little evidence it produced any of the much-touted counterterrorism breakthroughs.
On the other hand the former chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism centre Jose Rodriguez is releasing his conveniently timed book, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions after 9/11 Saved American Lives. Rodriguez alleges enhanced interrogation techniques not only work but were the source of many, if not most, of the signal counterterrorism successes in the ”global war on terror”.
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So whom to believe? The Senate committee report or Rodriguez, whose book was ghost-written by a former speechwriter for Vice-President Dick Cheney, the neo-con architect of the enhanced interrogation measures?
Politics aside, answering certain questions can help decide the real merits of these techniques.
Firstly, is torture effective in getting valuable intelligence? And, secondly, what are its broader effects?
The answer to the first question is resolutely no. Four US officials have written about their firsthand interrogation experiences: two air force officers, Steve Kleinman and Matthew Alexander; an FBI officer, Ali Soufan; and a CIA officer and co-author of this article, Glenn Carle. None of us knew the others when writing our assessments of torture’s efficacy. But we all used almost identical words to state that torture does not produce reliable information, or greater quantities of information or “better” information than that obtained from non-coercive measures.
In fact, coercive measures make “information” obtained harder to evaluate and therefore suspect and problematic. The CIA rank and file know this, as almost all reports obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques were formally “recalled” for being obtained under duress, and therefore unreliable.
The second question – the broad effects of torture – is often overlooked while people focus on its ability to extract information. Examined closely, however, these effects are so disturbing that they undermine any supposed merit of enhanced interrogation.
Let’s start with victims of torture. From Algeria, Vietnam, Chile or the ”war on terror”, we know practices of torture are never confined to a few “high value targets” but spread through organisations. Torture becomes pervasive and routine, which means that large numbers of people will be tortured, with devastating, lifelong and often irreversible effects on their physical and psychological health.
The effects on torturers are harder to define and more ambiguous largely because, in the rare instances where they seek therapeutic help, they are unlikely to identify themselves.
Frantz Fanon, the great theorist of post-colonial liberation, reports on one torturer from the Algerian war who found himself savagely striking his baby and waking to torture his wife. In his recent book None of Us Were Like This Before, Josh Phillips documents among US veterans from Iraq the same type of atrocity-related trauma we have seen in the aftermath of other cases – toxic levels of guilt and related self-harm, including suicide.
At the very least, torture normalises violence, with deleterious consequences for the individuals involved and for society as a whole.
Much more is known about the effect of torture on organisations. Torture leads to de-skilling, narrow professionalism, fragmentation, devolution of authority to the most local level and the destruction of codes of respect and authority. The CIA’s own human resources and exploitation training manual warns “the routine use of torture lowers the moral calibre of the organisation that uses it and corrupts those that rely on it as the quick and easy way out”. It deadens or removes individual judgment, the very quality that intelligence agencies prize.
Internationally, it will be many years before the United States can convince foreign observers its acts correspond to its values when the facts are stark: the US states it opposes torture by any party, yet carries out torture itself. Empirical evidence shows the US has lost enormous support from individuals, groups and nations that now see it as perverted by the very evils it claims to oppose.
Finally, in a world where norms and practices, like finance and fashion, are transmitted across the globe, the sanctioned violation of the prohibition on torture by a state that holds itself as the ”light unto the nations” has a universally negative impact.
When the US not only tortures but announces that it in doing so it is doing right, it violates individuals and harms the fragile edifice of universal human rights that we have been building in the 64 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In the US, torture is now calmly debated and defended by leading individuals and advocated by one of the two major political parties. Significant portions of the public now consider torture acceptable under certain conditions, while for others there are even fewer moral constraints on its use.
Americans were not so confused prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks. But many now have compromised their principles, not even recognising the extent to which they have incorporated values that the United States has opposed since the time of George Washington.
It is wishful thinking to believe that we can torture judiciously without coarsening and corrupting ourselves.
Associate Professor Danielle Celermajer is director of the University of Sydney’s Torture Prevention and Human Rights programs. Glenn Carle is a former CIA interrogator and author of The Interrogator: A CIA agent’s true story. The pair will appear in conversation at the Sydney Writers Festival today.
Waleed Aly, a busy person and host of Radio National’s Drive program.
He’s also a part time lecturer at Monash University in the Global Terrorism Research Centre and perfect person to co-host today’s Conversation Hour.
Our guest today have has qualified access to information most of us will never see. They’ve worked within high level intelligence organisations on either side of the Atlantic. Organisations that are the subject of countless speculation, countless movie plots, conspiracy theories, covert operations, fiction and non-fiction books.
Glenn Carle has recently published his book The Interrogator.
He’s worked with the Central Intelligence Agency for 25 years and tells the “dark side” of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror.
Dame Stella Rimington is a spy fiction author. Her latest book is Rip Tide.
Source (click to listen to audio): www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2012/05/14/3502192.htm
Glenn Carle worked for the CIA for 23 years, and in 2002 was offered a special assignment: to interrogate a ‘high value target’.
Broadcast date: Monday 14 May 2012
Glenn Carle’s last job with the CIA was working in anti-terrorism, which became hugely important after the World Trade Centre was attacked in 2001.
The high-value target he was sent to interrogate was thought to be Osama bin Laden’s banker.
Glenn’s years of training and experience led him eventually to believe that the CIA had the wrong man. He struggled to reconcile his orders to ‘make’ the suspect talk with the oath he had sworn to uphold the letter of the law.
By speaking out Glenn is now regarded by many as a traitor.
His book – heavily redacted on the orders of his former employer – is called The Interrogator: a CIA Agent’s True Story published by Scribe.
Date: May 7, 2012
Sources: Washington Post
We fundamentally disagree with Jose A. Rodriguez Jr.’s defense of what he called “enhanced interrogation techniques” [“How we really got bin Laden,” op-ed, May 1].
Mr. Rodriguez argued that these techniques were legal, but he based this assertion on a single memorandum: the “torture memo,” subsequently denounced by legal scholars and withdrawn. Mr. Rodriguez claimed that the ends justify the means and that these techniques were necessary and effective. But the techniques were designed to obtain compliance, not facts. The reliability of “facts” obtained from torture is harder to substantiate than information obtained from acceptable interrogation methods.
Torture is immoral and contrary to the teachings of all religions. It is degrading to the victim, perpetrator and policymakers. As a nation founded on religious and moral values, the United States cannot begin to move past the shameful use of torture until Americans ensure that government-sponsored torture never occurs again. Mr. Rodriguez’s justifications for the use of torture impede us from this important task.
Glenn L. Carle and the Rev. Richard L. Killmer, Washington
Glenn L. Carle was the CIA’s deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats from 2003 to 2007. Richard L. Killmer is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
The Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf – as compiled and reviewed by Hayden Peake.
Glenn Carle – Iranian intelligence has made a particular effort to undermine the MEK during the regime’s entire existence
Glenn Carle – March 24, 2012 Paris -Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I’m honored to be here with such dedicated people. My colleagues on the podium have spoken powerfully about the plight of the people in Camp Ashraf and about the Mojahedin-e Khalq. I’m going to speak about the framework in which the struggle with Iran over the fate of the camp is occurring, a clash of great powers where much that happens is not seen, only the consequences of clandestine acts are felt but not often understood, and where now the people in the camp, Camp Ashraf, are suffering as a result. So I will say a word about three aspects of this clash, Iranian disinformation, the MEK, and U.S. policy.
I’ll start with disinformation. Two objectives guided my career as a CIA officer trying to ascertain the truth and trying to learn and counter the lies spread by my country’s adversaries, what we call disinformation in the intelligence business. Now at the entrance of the CIA headquarter building is a quote from the Bible. It says, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” With the truth in hand, a government may—may—pursue its national interests sensibly. This gray world of doubt and confusion is one of the central themes in a book that I wrote which relates my involvement in the interrogation of a man whom we believe to be one of the top members of Al-Qaeda. The facts are uncertain, objectives are unclear or mutually exclusive, lies are very hard to detect and the truth is often beyond reach. And yet one must decide as a policy-maker, as these gentlemen and lady are, what our objectives are, who the enemy is, what he is doing and one must decide now.
The United States is strong and Iran cannot challenge it directly without running great risk. And it is, in any event a far wiser policy for any state to convince your adversary to do your bidding for you by convincing him without his being even aware to share enough of your views so as to undermine his own objectives. So sensibly, Iran has sought to make it almost impossible to know the truth about Iran’s nuclear program, about Iran’s support for the Syrian regime, for Hezbollah and Hamas and about the nature of the MEK. But hiding the truth is straightforward. More subtle, and at least as important, is Iran’s effort to alter the perceptions of Iran’s adversaries through a disinformation campaign to discredit Iran’s opponents, perhaps the most important of whom is the MEK. This is a campaign carried out by indirection rather than by frontal denunciations. The MOIS, Iran’s intelligence service, the counterpart of the CIA, is sure to have made a particular effort to undermine the MEK during the entire existence of the mullah’s regime. This constitutes a perverse and yet an ironic tribute to the impact that the mullahs fear the MEK can have inside Iran.
Now how does an intelligence service undermine an adversary or one of its targets? How does the MOIS seek to discredit the MEK or to mask Iran’s nuclear policies? Well straight denunciations are too crude and too simple, easy to find. Instead, the MOIS or any intelligence service will seek to work from within the opponent’s own camp. Comments will surface in society or in the media, wherever opinions are formed, that are not attributable to the Iranian regime at all, arguing that de-listing the MEK from the foreign terrorist organization list of the United States State Department would undermine U.S. interests. De-listing, the argument will run, will make the Iranian regime more recalcitrant. It is an Orwellian world in which true is false, and denunciations are praise, and unarmed refugees threaten thugs with AK-47s. The results of such reasoning is that U.S. policy with a view of the MEK now years behind the facts actually serves Iranian purposes. The campaign will muddy the very nature of the MEK through a series of seemingly independent remarks made by respected individuals or that surface in untraceable ways. Conflicting characterizations surface, all based of course on some truth. The best way to lie is to tell some bits, some small bits of partial truth and that then distort perception enough to serve your own purposes. So one hears, we’ve all heard, that the MEK has become a culted personality or it’s a Marxist organization or it’s a terrorist organization or it’s an elitist organization out of touch with the desire of the Iranian people, or that it abuses its members or it has no support within Iran, that it is weak and yet it is so strong that it threatens the regime of the mullahs and that the U.S. must hand it over to the Iranians as a first condition of discussing whether to have the discussions over possible concessions by Tehran, the concessions being not to agree with what the regime says it’s not doing anyway. A truly Orwellian world. The effective disinformation, of Iranian disinformation, even when one knows that the MOIS is spreading this disinformation and exaggeration is at the least that the truth becomes harder to see. Should the United States de-list the MEK then? What is in the United States’ interest? What are the facts? It becomes harder to know.
Now a word about U.S. policy. For all my intelligence officer colleagues’ and my efforts often the truth becomes disputable or uncertain. Even lies, even lies raise doubts, slow decisions can make actions harder to take. Now this is a real dilemma for policy-makers. But it is disturbing, I find, how often policy-makers then feel they must rely on intelligence services to provide answers to policy issues that are value judgments for which facts are helpful, but facts cannot make decisions about national interest. In the end then, value judgments about national interest, about U.S. national interest, trump muddled or contested facts or awkward facts or the MOIS, or they should. Knowing your strategic interest arms you from many of the effects of this disinformation, from the MOIS’s disinformation. And here U.S. policy interest in the MEK find themselves in harmony. Whatever the truth or lies one has heard or learned or come to wonder about, whatever the MOIS has been whispering in the ears of anyone they can get to listen to them, it is clear that the United States and Iran are involved in a regional great game for influence in the Middle East, that the United States seeks stability in the region and that the Iranian regime is a destabilizing power there whose values as you all know are inimical to those of the United States and of the West.
It is also clear that the Iranian regime supports Hezbollah, Hamas, the Assad regime in Syria, threatens the stability of Saudi Arabia, all the Gulf States and the existence of Israel. It is clear that Iran has a disturbing and destabilizing nuclear program whether it intends to take the final steps to develop a nuclear weapon or not. It is also clear that over 30 years the MEK has evolved and has become a champion of Western norms and has always been a keen adversary of the mullahs. It is clear to everyone who is not part of the Iranian power structure that the true Monafeqin (term normally used by Iran regime for MEK which means ‘hypocrites’) are the Mullahs of Tehran, [applause] their servants, the Iranian revolutionary guards and the MOIS who serve as the regime’s goons. It is clear also that Ayatollah Khomeini was right. The MEK does have a word I will mispronounce, (Gharbzadegi) the Western plague. But it is clear that Khomeini was profoundly wrong. For the Western plague, as he called it, is a set of values and norms and beliefs that most Iranians wish to live by and that would make Iran prosperous, Iranian people free to live as they choose, and the Middle East peaceful rather than a region in constant war and suffering, blighted by rigid minds and dashed hopes and its peoples resentful and envious of more successful societies that have embraced these Western norms.
These larger truths considered, the MOIS’s disinformation efforts against the MEK and its efforts to muddy perceptions about Iranian actions in the entire region or of the inimical nature of the mullahs’ regime need not, should not distract the United States from its national interests vis-a-vis Iran. And here, the U.S. national interest and the goals of the MEK coincide. The United States should remove these MEK from the foreign terrorist organization list. And the poor people now in Camps Ashraf and Liberty are suffering and ill-treated pawns in this great game. Both from humanitarian and United States’ policy objectives, the individuals in the camps should be removed or I should say liberated beyond the hostile influence of the Mullahs. The camps blight the conscience and hinder what should be U.S. policy objectives as well as those of the MEK. Thank you very much. [applause]
This month marked the ten year anniversary of Guantanamo Bay and three years since President Obama said he would close down the controversial prison. It is no secret that Gitmo has had some bad PR, but still the prisons inter-workings are still very secretive. The policies at Gitmo are unknown by few and Glenn Carle, former CIA agent, joins us with some insight.
Glenn will be talking with fans and signing books at the Leo Baeck Temple.
Where: Leo Baeck Temple
1300 North Sepulveda Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90049
When: 11:00am to 12:30pm January 25th