29 April 2009

When torture worked

"We have met the enemy and he is us."

These immortal words of Pogo have been used a lot lately in the U.S. in the heated debate about the use of torture. Pogo was referring to pollution of the environment, of course, whereas current use refers to the Bush administration's pollution of American values.

Whether or not torture worked for American intelligence continues to be debated, but it certainly worked for the bad guys. I wouldn't attempt to get inside the heads of people who fly planes into tall buildings, but if I had to guess what their objectives were I would suggest two. One, to undermine American values, and two, to ignite a war between the West and Islam.

As far as the first objective is concerned, once the Americans turned to torture, they eroded one of their fundamental principles: respect for human dignity. The Eighth Amendment to the American constitution forbids the use of "cruel and unusual punishment." American values had been successfully undermined by the Americans themselves.

Regarding the second objective, there too, torture proved useful. When Colin Powell made his now-infamous speech at the United Nations to justify to the world an invasion of Iraq, he claimed Saddam Hussein was assisting al-Qaeda in obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and the U.S. knew this because of information they had received from "a senior terrorist operative" who was "now detained." The Americans had indeed obtained such information from a captured member of al-Qaeda, but it was obtained under torture, and it was a lie. The terrorist later recanted his confession, saying he had only wanted to stop the pain. Be that as it may, his information helped achieve exactly what his comrades wanted, to start a war between the West and Islam. Once again, the U.S. had followed the terrorists' script.

The Bush administration had met the enemy and it was themselves.

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