Posted 9:10 P.M. MDT 10/22/01

Torture of Suspects Proposed in War on Terror

Bribes Not Enough to Crack "Wall of Silence"

    While in exile in Switzerland shortly before the Russian Revolution, Lenin made the following statement: "There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen." The world certainly has witnessed decades of change since the attacks of September 11. A dam was breached on that fateful day, the pent-up forces of change unleashed like a tidal wave. Each new day brings news of developments only imagined a few short weeks ago. Government "contingency plans," rumored and debated among patriots and libertarians for decades, have become reality. The unimaginable has become possible.

    America, a place President Bush likes to call a "beacon of freedom to the world," may soon have a government that commits those human rights abuses it condemns in regimes abroad, according to the Washington Post. On Sunday the Post reported on the growing frustration within the F.B.I. regarding its lack of progress in the interrogation of suspects connected with the September 11 attacks. More than 150 of the approximately 800 people arrested in the secrecy-enshrouded federal dragnet remain in custody, many of them detained on immigration violations or as "material witnesses." The Post reports that the F.B.I. is encountering a "wall of silence" in its interrogations of four key suspects. "We're into this thing for 35 days and nobody is talking. Frustration has begun to appear."[1]

    Federal investigators are disappointed that the usual incentives dangled before suspects -- reduced sentencing, money, jobs, protection in the witness protection program -- have failed to induce suspects to divulge information. "We are known for humanitarian treatment, so basically we are stuck ... But it could get to that spot where we could go to pressure ... where we don't have a choice, and we are probably getting there," said an F.B.I. agent in an interview with the paper.

    Some of the alternatives described in the Post article are the use of drugs such as sodium pentothal, also known as truth serum, and "pressure tactics" such as those employed by Israeli interrogators against suspected "terrorists." The Israeli tactics have been described in various publications as "moderate physical pressure" - a nondescript method that carries enough meaning to provoke an outcry in Europe. Recently Israel's ambassador to Denmark, a former head of the General Security Service, was faced with possible indictment for human rights violations in Denmark for advocating the "moderate pressure" torture method against Palestinian prisoners.

    And if those tactics fail, there is the option of sending suspects to "allied" countries whose security services are more experienced in using torture to extract information from suspects -- even threatening the suspect's family members. French security services honed their brutal interrogation methods during the Algerian war of independence, and were mentioned in the Post article as a possible destination for U.S. suspects unwilling to talk.

    "We put emphasis on due process and sometimes it strangles us," said former attorney general Richard L. Thornburgh.

    But it is "due process" -- your right to remain silent, have competent legal representation, examine the evidence against you, be formally arraigned before a judge and not be subject to cruel and unusual punishment -- that comprises a significant portion of America's "greatness," even though these civil liberties have been infringed upon by the federal agencies in recent years.

    The F.B.I. agent quoted in The Washington Post may have been instructed to "leak" the idea of torture to the press as a trial balloon to test public opinion. It certainly is an indicator of what lurks in the secret halls and policy chambers of the U.S. government. Human rights abuses that were once practiced by the U.S. covertly will apparently become enshrined in policy under the flag of "fighting terrorism."

    The government claims that torture may be justified to extract information needed to prevent more terrorist attacks, and one official speculated that Americans will be willing to accept it. "If there is another major attack on U.S. soil, the American public could let it happen," a former F.B.I. official told the Post. It would seem most certain that the mindless, flag-waving multitudes, who have little or no idea what their flag represents, would eagerly support repressive measures against unpopular minority groups that they perceive to be contrary to their mob mentality.

    Already we may see the grim purposes of the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995 being carried out. This draconian law, passed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, gave expanded powers to the Attorney General to detain foreign nationals and deny them basic rights provided the accused under the U.S. Constitution. Many of the 800 or so people swept into the federal dragnet were detained on minor immigration technicalities that were used to exploit the expanded powers granted by this 1995 law. Others were held as "material witnesses" - a rarely used power of the grand jury that permits the authorities to hold someone indefinitely without granting bail and without charging them with a crime. The authorities don't even have to tell the person why they are in jail, or confirm or deny that they are even in custody.[2]

    On September 29 The Sacramento Bee reported that the F.B.I. arrested two men in San Diego, California, and were unwilling to furnish their attorney with information as to the charges or their whereabouts. These men were held incommunicado for several days before being permitted to contact anyone, as were the majority of the rest that were "disappeared" into the federal detention system.

    Some may argue that measures such as these are acceptable during a national emergency. After all, President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the civil war. The illusion is that this is "another patriotic war between good and evil -- like Word War II." It is not. It is a global purge of dissenting elements.

    "This is uncharted territory," said Joseph diGenova, confirming that the U.S. has never been on this path before. He is the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who was quoted in a Saturday article printed in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "This is the largest criminal investigation in history. It's wartime, so there may be some additional secrecy things that have come into play. ... It's a strange mixture of immigration law, criminal law, grand jury law and wartime national security powers of the president."[3]

    It may be uncharted, but it is not unplanned. There is a Latin maxim -- Inter arma silent leges -- which means: "In time of war the laws are silent." The "war on terrorism" was quickly declared after the tragedy of September 11, even though we still don't know who the enemy is except that there's this man in Afghanistan. A couple of days later Americans were told the war could take as much as ten years, and would be global in scope. Finally, last Sunday, the U.S. top military officer, General Richard Myers, told ABC This Week, "This is a global war on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction." Last Friday Vice President Dick Cheney said the war on terror "is different than the Gulf War was, in the sense that it may never end. At least, not in our lifetime."[4]

    In other words, say good-bye to the rule of law for the rest of your life. We are in a "war" against an undefined enemy, our objectives are equally vague and evolving, and we will incarcerate, torture, or assassinate anyone we want according to our "strange mixture" of secret executive orders and national security directives. This is the way things are going to be forever. So get used to it.

    This is why the aftermath of September 11 is a "war", which gives unlimited powers to the government, and not a criminal investigation in which the rights of the accused and the rule of law limit the power of the government to some degree. Welcome to what is known as the national security state.

    September 11 marks a new day for the United States. Today it is a few hundred Middle Eastern foreigners who find themselves detained incommunicado, "disappeared" from their friends and families by the decrees of secret courts and secret evidence. Tomorrow it will be others, and as the "war on terror" is expanded to include other "forms of terror," more will hear the midnight knock on their door. Soon the entire world will feel the crushing embrace of the false savior they have chosen in their quest for peace and security. But it will be too late.

Footnotes:

  1. "Silence of Four Terror Probe Suspects Poses Dilemma," Washington Post (21 October 2001)
  2. "Lawyers Worry About Secrecy in Roundup," Seattle P-I (13 October 2001)
  3. ibid.
  4. "Afghanistan 'Small Piece' of War, Top U.S. Brass Says," Reuters (21 October 2001)

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