In my years in the antitorture movement, one of the most moving experience has been getting to know military interrogators, military intelligence professionals, JAGS, and other military members who struggled to behave honorably, often at great personal cost, even when they served an administration that promoted torture and when the American public became convinced by politicians, pundits, and the media that torture was both right and necessary. Below is a recent statement by a veteran Army interrogator and interrogation instructor, 1LT(P) Marcus Lewis, who reminds his fellow interrogators of the folly of the torture promoters. Torture neither "works" nor is it moral, he reminds them.
Lewis is not alone among experienced interrogators. One of the sad facts is that when the Bush administration and the CIA were creating the torture program they ignored the opinions of experienced interrogators, preferring instead the views of psychologists without any actual interrogation experience. What they got as a result was not an effective strategy for obtaining accurate intelligence, but a program that could effectively get prisoners to say what they believed their torturers wanted to hear. The fact that occasionally a tortured soul uttered a morsel of true information is no more an argument that torture is effective than the fact that I once caught a sunfish with an empty hook proves that fishing without bait is an effective fishing strategy.
Forbes today has an article describing the similar views of an interrogator currently serving in Afghanistan:
A top United States interrogator in Afghanistan says that torture played no role in locating Osama bin Laden, and that claims to the contrary by former Bush administration officials recently is "propaganda [that] degrades our intelligence operations more than any other factor I can think of."
This interrogator, like so many others, emphasizes not only that torture doesn't "work" and is wrong, but that it causes great harm by creating enemies:
Such talk also creates blowback -- unintended consequences -- that can be deadly, he added in an interview. "Simply the idea of our interrogators using torture or coercion recruits jihadists, facilitators, suppliers, supporters, and even suicide bombers, against us and our allies," he said.
On the subject of blowback, he continued:
I cannot even count the amount of times that I personally have come face to face with detainees, who told me they were primarily motivated to do what they did, because of hearing that we committed torture. Even the rumor of torture is enough to convince an army of uneducated and illiterate, yet religiously motivated young boys to strap bombs to their chests and blow themselves up while killing whoever happens to be around - police, soldiers, civilians, women, or children. Torture committed by Americans in the past continues to kill Americans today.
This interrogator, further bemoans the way in which torture promoting pundits and media injure efforts to teach effective and ethical interrogation technique to new interrogators:
"If right-wing news outlets and partisan pundits or politicians are allowed to continue to spread their completely bogus claims that torture is effective," he said, "then we will have corrupted the beliefs of yet another generation of new intelligence recruits....It takes months and years of 'intervention' to get the next generation back on the track of quality work, specialization, and intelligence dominance - not quick and easy fixes. This is not an hour-long TV show."
Alas, it is not experienced interrogators and military intelligence personnel who need to be reminded of the folly of torture. It is new military recruits and the rest of our fellow citizens who need to hear the message of Lt. Marcus Lewis and of the Afghan interrogator interviewed by Forbes.
Here is the email by Lt. Lewis to his fellow interrogators:
Fellow Interrogators, former interrogators, and instructors,