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Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — to the outrage of liberals everywhere — says he wants more waterboarding. Reports the Washington Post: “‘Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would — in a heartbeat,’ Trump said to loud cheers during a rally at a convention center [in Columbus, Ohio] Monday night that attracted thousands. ‘And I would approve more than that. Don’t kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work.’

“Trump said such techniques are needed to confront terrorists who ‘chop off our young people’s heads’ and ‘build these iron cages, and they’ll put 20 people in them and they drop them in the ocean for 15 minutes and pull them up 15 minutes later.’

“‘It works,’ Trump said over and over again. ‘Believe me, it works. And you know what? If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing. It works.'”

There’s no shortage of people denouncing or pretending to correct Trump’s remarks. Virtually all miss the point. The fact is torture produces bad but useful intelligence. That is, it gives you “intel” that some bigwig with a conniving agenda wants to push. Like that Iraq had WMDs and we needed to invade.

As I wrote in my piece of last year: “Both Sides” Are Wrong: Torture Did Work — to Produce Lies for War (See Footnote 857 of Report)“:

Nothing solidifies the establishment more than a seemingly raging debate between two wings of it in which they are both wrong. Not only wrong, but in their wrongness, helping to cover their joint iniquities, all the while engaging in simultaneous embrace and fingerpointing to convey the illusion of seriousness and choice.

The truth is that torture did work, but not the way its defenders claim. It “worked” to produce justifications for policies the establishment wanted, like the Iraq war. This is actually tacitly acknowledged in the [Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture, partly declassified last year] — or one should say, it’s buried in it. Footnote 857 of the report is about Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion and was interrogated by the FBI. He told them all he knew, but then the CIA rendered him to the brutal Mubarak regime in Egypt, in effect outsourcing their torture. From the footnote:

“Ibn Shaykh al-Libi reported while in [censored: ‘Egyptian’] custody that Iraq was supporting al-Qa’ida and providing assistance with chemical and biological weapons. Some of this information was cited by Secretary Powell in his speech at the United Nations, and was used as a justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the claim after he was rendered to CIA custody on February [censored], 2003, claiming that he had been tortured by the [censored, likely ‘Egyptians’], and only told them what he assessed they wanted to hear. For more more details, see Volume III.” Of course, Volume III — like most of the Senate report — has not been made public…

So, contrary to the claim that torture helped save lives, torture helped build the case of lies for war that took thousands of U.S. lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, helping to plunge the region into astounding violence, bringing al-Qaeda into Iraq, leading to the rise of ISIS and further bloody wars.

But rather than face how torture actually works — and indeed how the establishment acknowledges it works — it’s more fun for so-called conservatives like Trump to talk about how we shouldn’t care that a bunch of presumably bad guys getting tortured and for liberals to pontificate about how we’re better than that and we need to live up to our values. Or for some to say that “torture doesn’t work” without examining what “works” means in a manipulative political context. Everyone can then pretend to feel good about themselves: Trump cares about your safety; Liberals uphold our great values that show how superior we are to the savages, and how superior they are to Trump.

It’s all phony. I’m not even sure if Trump knows it’s phony. I do know that many reporters and presumed opponents of torture are aware of this, but have chosen to stay mum about it. Again, as I wrote in my piece last year:

Exploiting false information has been well understood within the government. Here’s a 2002 memo from the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency to the Pentagon’s top lawyer — it debunks the “ticking time bomb” scenario and acknowledged how false information derived from torture can be useful:

“The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible — in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life — has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture. … The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate intelligence. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption.” The document concludes: “The application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture) has some serious operational deficits, most notably, the potential to result in unreliable information. This is not to say that the manipulation of the subject’s environment in an effort to dislocate their expectations and induce emotional responses is not effective. On the contrary, systematic manipulation of the subject’s environment is likely to result in a subject that can be exploited for intelligence information and other national strategic concerns.” [PDF]

So torture can result in the subject being “exploited” for various propaganda and strategic concerns. This memo should be well known but isn’t, largely because the two reporters for the Washington Post, Peter Finn and Joby Warrick, who wrote about in 2009 it managed to avoid the most crucial part of it in their story, as Jeff Kaye, a psychologist active in the anti-torture movement, has noted. One reporter who has highlighted critical issues along these lines is Marcy Wheeler — noting as the recent report was being released: “The Debate about Torture We’re Not Having: Exploitation,”

An additional irony is that Trump is putting himself out there as the guy opposed to the Iraq war.

Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson has acknowledge the torture-evidence link, and I questioned Powell about this. Noted Wilkerson: “What I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda.”

Trump can pose as standing up to political correctness. The actual political correctness is how torture is used by war makers to get the tortured “evidence” they want to have a pretext for war and other hideous policies. The actual political correctness is to pretend that “torture doesn’t work” when it works for evil ends all too well. It’s way past time to get off the liberal-conservative phony debate not-so-merry-go-round.

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Sam Husseini is founder of the website VotePact.org

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