Torture is a Terrorist Act Effective Only if it isn’t Secret
" ... Torture is a terrorist act. ... Torture isn’t about secretly collecting information. It never has been. Torture only works when it isn’t secret. ..."
Guess Who Else Tortured People Like the CIA Did — Soviets and Nazis
The Soviet Union was good at torture.
But the Soviets excelled at torture because they understood its usefulness. “Our task is not only to destroy you physically,” a Stalinist interrogator explained to a prisoner in 1948. “But also to smash you morally before the eyes of the society.”
History’s great agents of pain knew what the CIA pretends not to.
Torture is a terrorist act
On Dec. 9, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 525-page report documenting the CIA’s torture of alleged terrorists.
The Senate report admits that torture was not an effective way of gathering intelligence. “At no time did the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques lead to the collection of imminent threat intelligence,” stated committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat.
The CIA and its allies say the opposite. “The documents will demonstrate that the program was effective in saving American and allied lives and in preventing another mass casualty attack on American soil,” former CIA director George J. Tenet shot back.
Both miss the point. Torture isn’t about secretly collecting information. It never has been. Torture only works when it isn’t secret. Fear is only effective when it spreads. Terrorism only works when it happens in public.
The Nazis and Soviets understood this. The world’s most brutal dictators—to whom the CIA outsourced some of its torture—also understand it.
The Soviet army chased the Nazis into Poland in 1945—and stayed there when World War II ended. The Polish resistance movement switched from fighting Nazis to battling communists. They were heroes to everyday Poles. Moscow sent secret police to help deal with them.
A decade of torture, mock trials and public confessions followed. Polish historian Marek Jan Chodakiewicz documented that dark period in The Dialectics of Pain.
“Instead, the secret policemen simply forced them to reveal the infrastructure of their organization, to divulge the whereabouts of their confederates and to confess to general charges like ‘killing Jews’ or ‘killing communists,’” Chodakiewicz wrote.
They beat him all over his body, ripped hair from his beard and crotch and forced him to sit naked on a bolt. The secret police also subjected Moczarski to several punishments the CIA employed decades later.
The Stalinists stripped Moczarski naked and left him in solitary confinement for days. They deprived him of sleep for more than a week, forcing him to stand up in his cell and slapping him awake when he dozed. He recalled powerful and terrifying hallucinations.
Abu Zubaydah—one of the CIA’s first prisoners—got shot during his capture. The Americans let the wound fester.
They threatened to rape the mother of another captive. One interrogator played Russian roulette with a detainee. That’s a deadly game where two people take turns aiming a loaded pistol at their own heads. The winner gets to live.
The Senate report reveals that the CIA figured out early on that torture wasn’t resulting in useful intel. After all, the Agency derived its torture tactics on reports from American airmen who had been captured in North Vietnam. The Vietnamese had designed these techniques to extract false confessions for propaganda purposes.
“The sharpened interrogation may not be applied in order to induce confessions,” according to a June 1942 directive from S.S. Gruppenführer and Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller.
The descriptions of Bruns’ sharpened interrogation techniques will sound familiar to anyone who’s been reading the Senate report.
“Leg screws were fastened to his legs and he was beaten with various implements,” one witness testified, describing the Nazis’ torture of a comrade. “Later he was thrown unconscious into a cellar, where he remained for four days before receiving medical attention.”
“Between 1942 and 1945, Bruns used the method of verschärfte Vernehmung on 11 Norwegian citizens,” noted the trial record. “This method involved the use of various implements of torture, cold baths and blows and kicks in the face and all over the body.”
“Abu Hudhaifa was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation,” according to the Senate report. “He was released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be.”
“Some even committed suicide,” he wrote. “Or upon request dispatched their seriously wounded comrades to spare them from being captured. At least on one occasion the underground press praised the suicide of a disabled insurgent as ‘heroic.’”
Iran knows this. Tehran sends dissidents to the Evin House of Detention for torture and abuse. The prison is well-known. It’s located on the northern outskirts of Tehran across the street from Shahid Beheshti University.
U.S. Sen. John McCain knows. The Arizona Republican was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for more than five years.
“I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it,” he continued. “I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering.”
Torture doesn’t save lives. The CIA either didn’t know this or isn’t admitting to it. The Agency’s attempts to cover its tracks by burning evidence and stonewalling investigators reveals it for what it’s been all along.