“Debate” on torture?

Several issues have arisen in the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden in a risky raid in the sovereign territory of Pakistan. First, though Pakistan has apparently not objected to this operation, its legality under international law was dubious;[1] Pakistan has reportedly told the United States that its acquiescence on this occasion must not be mistaken as a precedent in future operations. Apparently, Pakistan’s Foreign Office was under the impression that “‘red lines’ earlier conveyed to the Obama administration by Pakistan had specifically stressed on ‘no foreign boots on Pakistani soil’.”[2]

Second, many are casting doubt that Pakistani authorities could have been unaware of bin Laden’s presence so close to Pakistan’s analogous institution to West Point, so close to Pakistan’s capital. It is probably fair to say that the always-dubious loyalty of a coerced, essential, and problematic “ally” has been called into new question.[3].

Third, that Robert Scheer points out that bin Laden was earlier used by the United States in a proxy war with the Soviet Union[4] highlights the absence of critical examination of our relationship with Al Qaeda and with other so-called “terrorists” in the mainstream media.

But most troubling of all is a conservative attempt to view bin Laden’s killing as vindication of practices of torture, abuse, and lack of due process at Guantanamo and elsewhere. The headline on the New York Times story calls this a debate even as the substance of the story makes amply clear that “a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out.”[5]

That the New York Times, often considered the United States national newspaper of record, would legitimize fraudulent claims by including them in a “debate” further illuminates the problematic relationship between the mainstream media and the government. Even Senator Diane Feinstein, who is as deeply implicated in complicity with illegal Bush administration policies as any Democrat, said “flatly that ‘none of [the success of the hunt for Bin Laden] came as a result of harsh interrogation practices.'”[6]

I guess it has to be said again and again: victims of torture tell their interrogators whatever they think will end their suffering. This only becomes more true with increased intensity of “questioning.” The value of torture lies not in any information obtained from its victims but in the intimidation of communities in which its victims are members. All this is well-established. There is no “debate” among scholars on this topic.

And it is a disgrace that the New York Times treats it otherwise.

  1. [1]Nick Amies, “Bin Laden’s killing prompts uncomfortable legal, ethical questions for US,” Deutschewelle, May 4, 2011, http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15048146,00.html?maca=en-newsletter_en_Newsline-2356-html-nl
  2. [2]Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Unauthorised raid must not serve as precedent, US told,” Dawn, May 4, 2011, http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/04/unauthorised-raid-must-not-serve-as-precedent-us-told.html
  3. [3]Associated Press, “Congress may cut $1.3B in Pakistan aid,” CBS News, May 3, 2011, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/05/03/politics/main20059255.shtml; BBC News, “US ‘threatened to bomb’ Pakistan,” September 22, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/5369198.stm; Reuters, “Pakistan should have known bin Laden was there: Afghanistan,” Dawn, May 4, 2011, http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/04/pakistan-should-have-known-bin-laden-was-there-afghanistan.html
  4. [4]Robert Scheer, “A Monster of Our Own Creation,” Truthdig, May 4, 2011, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_monster_of_our_own_creation_20110504/#
  5. [5]Scott Shane and Charlie Savage, “Bin Laden Raid Revives Debate on Value of Torture,” New York Times, May 3, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/us/politics/04torture.html
  6. [6]Shane and Savage, “Bin Laden Raid Revives Debate on Value of Torture.”

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