And that's how torture generates confessions.
Last week, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed allegedly confessed to orchestrating the 9/11 attacks, coordinating planned attacks on 16 other countries, and personally killing Daniel Pearl. But he seems to have no real idea how the 9/11 hijackers were recruited, it is unlikely that al-Qaeda would have had one person orchestrate attacks in 17 countries from a single location, and there is videotaped evidence that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did not, in fact, kill Daniel Pearl. So what are we to make of this? Reuters quotes the experts:
Robert Baer, a former official at the Central Intelligence Agency, said Mohammed's rambling testimony raised suspicions about his treatment by CIA interrogators.Waterboarding has traditionally been referred to as water torture. President Bush admitted that the CIA had been using controversial "interrogation techniques" on Mohammed in a September 2006 speech, and Vice President Dick Cheney notoriously approved of water torture in a radio interview a month later. It seems reasonably certain that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has in fact been tortured in a secret CIA prison over the past four years, and it should surprise nobody that he is telling the CIA what he thinks they want to hear.
He cited the alleged practice of "waterboarding", a technique to extract confession by submerging a prisoner and making him think he is about to drown.
"Once you rough up a witness with waterboarding, they figure out what narrative you want and that's the narrative they tell. And that suspicion is always going to be out there. That's what we're left with," Baer said.
This is not to say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did not play a significant role in planning the 9/11 attacks. There is good intelligence suggesting that he did. But in his latest round of confessions, he took credit for planning the attacks "from A to Z"--something that he would probably not have been able to do from outside the United States. And to present himself as the global mastermind of al-Qaeda only serves to distract Americans from the real al-Qaeda leader: Osama bin Laden, who remains frustratingly beyond our reach.
It could also be helpful to President Bush's sagging approval ratings--which leaves us to consider the disturbing possibility that the administration "amped up" the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to serve a political, rather than counterterrorism, agenda.
I have no sympathy for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but his confessions, which range from unlikely to demonstrably false, only serve to demonstrate why torture is as ineffective as it is inhumane. It is a sad testimony to what fear of terrorism has done to our government when officials can capture someone, stick him in a secret prison and torture him for four years until he says what the administration believes the American people want to hear, and tout this as a sign of progress. To quote from O'Brien's speech in Nineteen Eighty-Four:
The Russians persecuted heresy more cruelly than the Inquisition had done ... Before they exposed their victims to public trial, they deliberately set themselves to destroy their dignity. They wore them down by torture and solitude until they were despicable, cringing wretches, confessing whatever was put into their mouths, covering themselves with abuse, accusing and sheltering behind one another, whimpering for mercy.This is not the American way. We were a better country than this before 9/11--and we must become that country again.