FREE SPEECH ZONE | Torture: Can We Handle the Truth?


Jay Ambrose’s May 7 op-ed  in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Torture is serious, but our debate about it is silly,” is very troubling and devious. He admits torture is evil and that even in wartime, we must have rules to curtail that evil.  But he then minimizes the near-drowning tactic of waterboarding and puts the best construction on other no-mark forms of sleep and sensory deprivation.  He doesn’t explain how past and present experimentation allowed the U.S. to develop stealth torture techniques that let victims keep their finger nails, but lose their minds.

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 Imagine this – someone comes into your life and takes away the sense of sound and time. They lead you around like an animal. You shiver for days in a cold room. You are taken to the toilet only when they want to take you to the toilet. If you urinate or defecate on yourself  – look what you have done to yourself! You are punched, slapped, “walled,” yelled at, isolated, cramped, chained in stressful positions for hours and days – these are some of the techniques used. Torture is the control of a totally vulnerable person – mind, body, and soul. One is stripped – not only of clothes but of dignity, not only of senses but of feelings of being connected to normal humanity. “Stealth torture” is extremely devious  – it is easily dismissed by its advocates and extremely destructive to victims.

 Over one hundred have died in our “detainee” facilities. How many have been forever affected by the abuses? The fact that most of the prisoners, up to 80%, were innocent also doesn’t seem to matter to this columnist. 

 But facts do matter in this debate about effectiveness.

FBI Special Agents Ali Soufan and Steve Gaudin used standard interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah for a short time after his capture in March, 2002. Soufan testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about procedures used to obtain good information from Zubaydah about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, and the Jose Padilla plot. The information was obtained in a few days without the use of torture.

 Steven Kleinman, a longtime military officer who has extensively researched, practiced and taught interrogation techniques, explains: “Interrogation is all about getting access to someone’s uncorrupted memory. And you can’t get access to someone’s uncorrupted memory by applying psychological, physical or emotional force.” As an Air Force reserve colonel in Iraq in 2003, Kleinman famously tried, but failed to stop the rampant, systemic abuse of detainees there.   “It (coercion) makes an individual hate you and find any way in their mind to fight back and it inhibits their recall,” Kleinman said. Far preferable, he said, is a “more thoughtful, culturally-enlightened, science-based approach.”

 Another experienced and effective military interrogator who goes by the pseudonym of Matthew Alexander agrees, “I never saw enhanced interrogation techniques work in Iraq… In every case I saw them slow us down, and they were always counterproductive to trying to get people to cooperate.”

 Compare that to what was obtained from Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi through torture.  Al-Libi ended up falsely confessing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction! That tortured testimony was a lie  which led us to war with Iraq.

 Now people from the previous administration are appearing on TV claiming the necessity of torture for our protection; this is not only false but offensive! Torture is illegal at any time, any where, by any one, during war, peace time, or when threatened. Our laws and treaties are explicit.  Our nation should not unleash evil by seeking to erase what the U.S. and other nations did to re-establish dignity after WWII through the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture.

 Instead of a debate that relies on spinning the facts about torture, we need a blue-ribbon commission to carry out a full investigation into what we have done as a nation. They must have subpoena power and be able to refer any evidence obtained to prosecutors. We need truth, not spin. No more hiding behind the all inclusive excuse of “national security!” We need this commission now – so that the idea of torture doesn’t win by our silence and complicity. This is one legacy we don’t want to leave to our children.