Books: A tendency to radicalise

Written By: Mike Parker
Published: October 25, 2016 Last modified: October 25, 2016

Torture: Does It Work?
by Yvonne Ridley
Military Studies Press £14.95

Well, yes, perhaps, maybe, sometimes it might, possibly, in the future, as the bomb tick, tick, ticks away. Unless the bomb goes off while you’re still applying the electrodes. Or, as US ‘civil rights’ lawyer Alan Dershowitz would have it, applying for a warrant to use torture in the first place.

Oh, actually, there are some who claim that it already has worked. Except they won’t tell us when, or what they learned, because that would endanger national security. Except in the case of ‘9/11 mastermind’ Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, waterboarded 183 times, who provided the tip-off that eventually led to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden’s hideout. Though he didn’t. According to Vietnam veteran and former POW and torture victim Senator John McCain, that was obtained by conventional means.

Except also in the case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, whose ‘intelligence’ led directly to the implication of Saddam Hussein in the training of al-Queda operatives in the use of WMDs, and therefore to the invasion of Iraq. And that went well.

Author Yvonne Ridley, while working for the Sunday Express, was arrested by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and held for a week, suspected of being a spy. She feared for her life and contemplated suicide with a rusty razor blade if she had faced torture. She does not approach the subject from the moral perspective, however, but from the simple question of whether, in the context of the ‘Global War On Terror’ (GWOT), torture can work.

She ignores, therefore, the long, pre-9/11 history of US participation in torture around the world (Vietnam and Latin America in particular), and the decades in which it trained its allies’ torturers in places like the former ‘School of the Americas’ (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Co-operation) at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The problem is that, even within this limited scope, her book is repetitive and badly edited (and very badly designed) and in the case of the key section on the ‘ticking bomb’ scenario, confused and poorly executed; the chapter goes precisely nowhere and the reader is none-the-wiser at its end.

There are some interesting passages in the book, however… not the least her examination of how much weight the military and the CIA gave to the experiences of French veterans (unapologetic torturers) of that country’s conflicts in Vietnam and Algeria – an astonishing example of a wilfully blinkered inability to learn the real lessons of failure.

The crux, though, is whether any useful, and life-saving intelligence was derived from torture, carried out either by ‘highly trained’ CIA operatives, or the surrogate sadists to whom they rendered their victims in countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. George W Bush and his acolytes claim plots were foiled, but one of the questions Ridley, and critics of the torture policy raise is how many future plots, and deaths, could be caused as a result of the experiences of victims ‘radicalised’ by torture or their imprisonment without trial in Guantanamo Bay, the CIA’s ‘dark’ sites or the dungeons of US surrogates.

I would leave the last word to former MI5 boss Elizabeth Manningham-Buller, who banned MI6 officers from the department’s HQ when she discovered the depth of their complicity in the CIA’s practices. As she says, “Torture … is wrong and is never justified. The argument that life-saving intelligence was … obtained, and I accept it was, still does not justify it … [It] was a profound mistake and lost the [US] moral authority. I am confident I know the answer to the question of whether torture has made the world a safer place. It hasn’t.”

About Mike Parker

Mike Parker is Literary Editor and Production Editor of Tribune