So given that the Bush Administration was repeatedly advised that torture was not only illegal but an unreliable way to gather intelligence… why did they pursue it anyway?
I’m not usually much of a “plotting men in smoke- filled rooms” conspiracy theorist. In fact, I’ve written against the reflexive tendency to assume conspiracy. I’ve argued that conspiracy theories are often unfalsifiable, with no possible evidence that could persuade the theorist that they’re mistaken… thus making them articles of faith rather than conspiracies. And I tend to agree with the old saw that we shouldn’t ascribe to malevolence what can be ascribed to stupidity. Conscious, calculated malevolence is just not that common.
But I’ve been following the unfolding story about torturing detainees under the Bush administration. I’ve been connecting the dots. And I’m being led to a disturbing conclusion — even more disturbing in some ways than the revelations about the torture itself.
First, here are the known facts — the dots that I’m connecting.
It was revealed last week the reason — or one of the reasons — that the Bush administration pursued the torture of terrorism suspects. The reason was that they weren’t finding evidence of a connection between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq (a connection for which, to this date, absolutely no evidence has been found)… so they pursued torture to get that information.
It was revealed — for the bezillionth time — that the Bush administration pursued the torture program against the best advice of multiple military and intelligence advisors… advisors who warned that torture not only is illegal, but produces bad, unreliable intelligence. (What with the “people will say anything to make the torture stop” thing.)
And it was revealed that the U.S. torture program was based, in large part, on the SERE program, the U.S. military program that subjected our own soldiers to torture in order to train them to resist it. Specifically, these were torture techniques used by Communists in the Korean War. More specifically, these were torture techniques used by Communists in the Korean War, not to elicit useful intelligence, but to elicit propaganda — to elicit confessions from prisoners of things that they hadn’t actually done.
Let me say that again. These were torture techniques that were known to produce bad information… and that were used, not in spite of this fact, but because of it.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Doesn’t it seem as if the interrogation and torture program of the Bush Administration was being pursued, not to gather intelligence about possible terrorist activities, but to produce propaganda?
Doesn’t it seem as if the torture program was being pursued to elicit a confession about a connection between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq… regardless of whether that connection actually existed?
Doesn’t it seem as if bad information — far from being a risk the Bush administration was willing to take — was actually the whole frakking point?
The revelations of frequent, repeated tortures would seem to confirm this hypothesis. When you waterboard someone 183 times in a month, you’re not going to get any more information than you got the first 182 times. You’re not doing it to gather intelligence. You’re doing it to control them. You’re doing to get them to say, and do, exactly what you want them to.
And what the torturers wanted them to do was to say that there was a connection between Al-Qaeda and Iraq.
So we could use that as propaganda.
Now. Since I do tend to be skeptical of conspiracy theories, and since I think it’s important for said theories to be falsifiable hypotheses and not simply unshakable articles of faith, I think it’s important to say upfront what evidence would convince me that I was mistaken.
So here’s what would convince me that I was mistaken: Credible internal documents showing that the Bush administration was sincerely pursuing what they thought were the best interrogation methods for getting reliable intelligence from detainees… and that they were willing to accept whatever information was gathered from those interrogations, even if it wasn’t the information they wanted or expected.
But in the absence of that evidence…
… and given how many more of these dots are being revealed every day, and how much clearer the picture they’re drawing is becoming with each new revelation…
…I am coming to the disturbing conclusion that the torture program was not simply a case of all human decency being lost in a panicked pursuit of terrorism. It was not simply a case of illegal, grotesquely immoral, blindly misguided overkill.
It was a case of all human decency being lost in an illegal, grotesquely immoral pursuit of propaganda.
And that chills me to the bone.