The torture debate is nothing new. This article, printed 30 days after the 9/11 attacks, tackles the subject. At that point, we already had an al Qaeda training manual that warned its members there would be “intense torture”. Nothing like proving the enemy right.
From the Baltimore Sun
- By Michael James and Peter Hermann | Baltimore Sun Staff
- October 10, 2001
Even as war unfolds in Afghanistan, the worldwide criminal investigation into the Sept. 11 terror roars on, with more than 150 suspects jailed in 30 countries. And for those with suspected links to Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader has an ominous prediction for their interrogations at the hands of foreign intelligence agents.
“There is intense torture, [emphasis added]” warns a terrorist training manual used by bin Laden followers. “Let no one think that such techniques are fabrications of our imagination, or that we copied them from spy stories. On the contrary, these are factual incidents.”
The 180-page manual, presented as evidence this year in a federal trial, alludes to a chilling reality of the global investigation into the suicide assaults on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Experts and analysts say that because information is key in the fight against terrorism, many governments inevitably use extreme and inhumane measures to get it.
Such concerns are relevant as government agents here and abroad undertake perhaps the largest criminal roundup in history. Yesterday, three Libyans and an Algerian were arrested in Dublin, Ireland, under that nation’s anti-terror laws and were awaiting questioning.
Methods of interrogation vary from country to country, and what constitutes inhumanity in one place might be considered effectiveness in another. Philippine intelligence agents in Manila, for instance, credit their torture of a suspect in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case with providing information that foiled a terrorist plan to kill Pope John Paul II and crash 11 U.S. airliners into the ocean.
On the one hand is the question of individual human rights and dignity; on the other, a government’s attempt to stop bombings and murder.
Torture is not sanctioned in the United States, though graphic accounts of police abusing suspects in custody regularly surface here — most famously the Abner Louima case in New York in 1997. Even the
CIA, which has been accused of training Central American security forces in the use of pain during interrogations, says in its manuals that “there is no blanket authorization” for torture. But, in several of the countries that President Bush has urged to join the international coalition against terrorism, brutal interrogation methods are considered vital – even legal — ways to trace terror’s roots.
“Extraordinary behavior is necessary under extraordinary circumstances,” says David Powell, a professor of Russian studies at Wheaton College in Illinois who has lectured on national security at most of the country’s war colleges.
“The Israelis, as well as the U.S. and the British, have prevented scores of terrorist acts, and at least some of that has come from impermissible methods. People that are interested in widespread mayhem cannot be treated with the same humane treatment as a soldier or even the standard criminal.”
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have decried the use of torture and excessive coercion under any circumstances, and have recently warned nations not to become so obsessed with gaining information that they adopt interrogation methods that “are in stark contradiction to the basic values of a democratic state.”
Expert interrogators also question the evidence or leads produced by such methods, arguing that brutal treatment is likely to produce false confessions and other misleading information.
But interrogators, particularly those overseas, often have a different view. Intelligence officers in some countries have gone so far as to recommend that the CIA and theFBI employ harsher tactics in interrogating suspects held in U.S. prisons. Among the bin Laden followers jailed here is Ramzi Yousef, convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, who reportedly has refused to speak since Sept. 11.
“It is very hard to interrogate anyone in a democratic society,” said Gideon Ezra, who retired in 1995 as deputy head of the Shin Bet security service in Israel, long known for its severe and at times questionable methods of interrogation of Palestinian suspects. “The police shouldn’t take the law into their own hands, but a terrorist should know that refusing to answer is not enough.”
Ezra said U.S. national security chiefs should realize that the recent terrorist assaults in America are a sign of a new era — one that requires a rethinking of how information is gathered when possible time bombs are ticking. In the intelligence world, he said, the prevailing view is that the United States is not aggressive enough.
“Let’s say that Mohamed Atta [one of the chief hijackers on Sept. 11] was interrogated by the U.S. two days before the crash under American law,” Ezra said. “He wouldn’t have given any information.”
Criticism of Israelis
Israeli intelligence services, in particular the Mossad, have been repeatedly criticized for brutal methods during questioning that have included violent shaking, starvation, sleep deprivation and tying ropes tightly enough to cut off circulation. Until last year, when the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed it, torture was legal in Israel. It was the only country in the world at the time to legally sanction torture.
Marty Rosenbluth, a specialist on Israel for Amnesty International’s U.S. office, pointed to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a prime example of how a society can unravel when it allows degrees of torture and coercion.
“The Israelis argue that any kind of interrogation method is fair game when there is a ticking bomb,” Rosenbluth said. “The reality is that once that door opens, it is the proverbial Pandora’s box. Torture becomes routine. In Israel, torture was being used when people were picked up for stone-throwing and other routine offenses. … Where are the checks and balances, and where does it stop?”
In the United States, portions of CIA interrogation manuals that have been released through Freedom of Information Act requests refer to unusual methods, including “deprivation of sensory stimuli,” “threats and fear,” and pain inflicted on subjects. But such chapters are typically prefaced with the words, “It is vital that this discussion not be misconstrued as constituting authorization for the use of coercion. … There is no such blanket authorization.”
No clear-cut guidelines
John Hess, a retired FBI veteran who has taught interrogation methods at the bureau’s training academy, said the issue of how much coercion can be applied is never clear-cut — especially now, with terrorist threats looming. He said that, in principle, he doesn’t agree with a system that combats terrorism by committing inhumane acts.
“If we have to be like that in order to protect our system, then maybe our system isn’t worth protecting,” Hess said. “Of course, if you put somebody’s thumb in a vise and he tells you where a bomb is that’s going to kill 10,000 people, then that’s another issue.”
Attorneys representing several of the 350 people held in the United States on immigration violations since Sept. 11 haven’t reported flagrant physical violations during interrogations, but they have voiced concern over the lack of judicial process. Many of those held have not had access to lawyers for up to 10 days or been informed why they are being jailed.
“It’s not the norm, but, of course, these aren’t normal circumstances,” said Hani Khoury, a Fairview, N.J., lawyer who represents a 35-year-old Egyptian man, Abdou Tageldin, who has been held since Sept. 15 for overstaying his immigration visa. “I can see that the government has an investigation to do and they need to get at the persons responsible. But we also want to make sure they don’t trample on people’s rights.”
Some foreign countries pose much more serious threats to human rights. Bin Laden’s training primer, titled “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants,” spells out numerous methods that “secret agents” will use against Islamic “brothers” who, it suggests, will be put through any amount of torture for information. He warns that torture methods have been used in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
‘Pretend the pain is severe’
Among the methods the manual warns about are hanging by the feet, beating with sticks and electrical wires, burning, kicking, punching and dog attacks.
“During the torture process, pretend that the pain is severe by bending over and crying loudly,” the manual suggests. “During the torture session, the counseling preacher may become a vicious beast. … It is necessary that each brother plan for his interrogation and discuss it with his commander. He may be captured one day.”
Particular attention is given in the manual to the perceived threats that will be made against a bin Laden follower’s family members. It warns that wives, brothers, sisters and mothers of terrorist agents are likely targets for intelligence organizations seeking to gain leverage during questioning.
Such fears might not be misplaced. In the 1980s, the Jordanian secret service boasted of developing key anti-terrorist information after kidnapping and threatening family members of followers of Abu Nidal, then considered the most dangerous terrorist in the world. About the same time, agents in the former Soviet Union are reported to have castrated the brother of a man in Beirut who kidnapped four Russian Embassy officials.
But perhaps no intelligence organization is more feared in the Arab world than the Mossad. In the Philippines, a 1993 interrogation of Abdul Hakim Murad, a co-conspirator in the first World Trade Center bombing, took advantage of the Mossad’s brutal reputation.
Murad was being tortured by Philippine intelligence officers who threw a chair at his head, broke his ribs and put out cigarettes on his body. But he refused to provide information, cracking only when agents masquerading as the Mossad threatened to take him back to Israel for questioning.
Glimpse of ‘bad’ treatment
A transcript of Murad’s interrogation, introduced as evidence at his trial in New York, gives a glimpse of the stress he was under.
“You want to get treated bad again?” an interrogator is quoted as saying moments after asking Murad who his contacts were.
“I — I’m, this is the truth,” was Murad’s reply, as he rambled incoherently. “If, if you treat, treating me bad, treat me.”
At other times, Murad, convicted in 1996 for his role in the plot, blurted out names, addresses and motives.
“The United States is the first country in this world making trouble for our, for Muslims and for our people,” the transcript quotes him as saying. “Killing Americans … This is my — the best thing. I enjoy it … You can kill them by, eh, gas. You can kill them by gun. You can kill them by knife. You can kill them by explosion. There’s many kinds.”
In a 1963 training manual, the CIA said that while “success stories” are occasionally recited by nations that use torturous tactics, there are far more stories of investigations gone awry because of brutal interrogators.
“If an interrogatee is caused to suffer pain rather late in the interrogation process and after other tactics have failed, he is almost certain to conclude that the interrogator is becoming desperate,” the CIA manual states. “Interrogatees who have withstood pain are more difficult to handle by other methods. The effect has been not to repress the subject, but to restore his confidence and maturity.”
Baltimore Sun staff writer Dan Fesperman contributed to this article.