As reported by The Guardian,  a US Senate committee has accused the former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, of being directly responsible for the abusive interrogations of detainees at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay.

a true patriot

Donald Rumsfeld: a true patriot

Now let’s just be clear. Torture is illegal. Torture is immoral. Torture is unlawful and unethical. More importantly, don’t even kid yourself: torture does not work. The same way that the death penalty never had any coercive effect on homicide rates, torture has a very low success percentage in obtaining the desired information from the detainee. Author Darius Rejali explains, in a ground-breaking essay (1) that “accuracy in torture is exceedingly poor, in some cases less accurate than flipping a coin, and the key successes in gathering information in known cases come from other methods, most notably cultivating public cooperation and informants.”

Even more seriously, torture gives incentive to your opponents. Blatant, rash and obvious human rights violations perpetrated by democracies are only one more reason to question the legitimacy of th regime. Torture is nothing but the slow death of humanity, and causes disruption within military troops, police forces,  destabilizes a government and provokes social unrest. Because the horror of 9/11 seems to have written a blank cheque to the Bush Administration in terms of violence and aggressivity, torture has been naturally accepted inside the Pentagon. Forget about cultivating public cooperation: a clock was a-ticking, and all necessary means were implemented. The now infamous “stress and duress” techniques criticized by the Senate’s Armed Service Committee are backfiring.

This is nothing new. The United States haven’t invented the democratic use of torture. Most of the contemporary techniques were put in place by the French Army during the Battle of Algiers in the early 1960’s (2), and “stealthier” methods, or “clean techniques”, were experimented by the British Army in Northern Ireland throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s (3). Accusatory fingers were pointed out at shameless, cruel and ruthless Middle East leaders such as Saddam Hussein, but the real shame lies in the trust a population puts into a democratically elected government to represent them, lead them and protect them – a trust that is violated, breached and destroyed the moment said regime imposes a standard of cruelty and inhumanity under the false pretense of instauring security.  Ariel Dorfman explains : “torturers do not generally think of themselves as evil, but rather as guardians of the common good, dedicated patriots who get their hands dirty […] in order to deliver the blind ignorant majority from violence and anxiety.” (4) This explanation is a strange, uncanny reflection of the Bush Administration’s rethoric surrounding the War on Terrorism.

The Guardian article linked above is very clear: “The techniques were never intended to be used by US interrogators against their detainees. But in February 2002, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Bush determined that the Geneva Conventions should not apply to terror suspects.” By creating the brand new definition of “unlawful combatant”, Bush managed to secure military operations and the very existence of Guantanamo Bay outside international law and its usual domain of application. This tour de force is now denounced by the Senate itself; never before had it pointed such a straightforward accusation at the Bush Administration, revealing the existence of Sere, a training technique preparing US soldiers to illegal interrogations. Thanks to this highly publicized report, we can only expect that the Abu Ghraib offenders will no longer be considered simply as “bad apples”, isolated and confused individuals badly responding to pressure like they have been portrayed during their trials.  The responsability now lies on their shoulders and those of their hierarchy.

But the real question remains: who will be held accountable, where, and when? Is the Supreme Court legally capable of handling such cases? Is it even a realistic expectation to believe in US state officials could face legal sanctions for human rights violations? The Democratic chair of the Committee, Carl Levin, told the Guardian: “Attempts by senior officials to portray that to be the case while shrugging off any responsibility are both unconscionable and false”. Let’s hope this time that justice will overlook its fear of tapping on high-ranked shoulders.

(1) Darius Rejali published Torture and Democracy in 2007 at Princeton University Press. It’s been qualified as a “meticulously researched, filled with surprising insights” by Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch’s executive director.

(2) For more information, read Henri Alleg‘s The Question, published in 1961 and debating the use, purpose and efficiency of torture in Algeria.

(3) John Conroy details the implementation of the British Army’s “five techniques” in Northern Ireland in his essay Unspeakable acts, ordinary people: the dynamics of torture (Vision Paperbacks, 2001).

(4) Ariel Dorfman explained the way torture is perceived as justifiable by offenders. In a collection of essays (Torture: a collection, published in 2004 by Oxford University Press), he explores the different situations in which torture arises.