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Kiriakou writes: "The issue isn't whether something works. The issue is whether what we're doing is moral, ethical, and legal. Torture is not. Torture is an abomination."

Donald Trump. (photo: Getty Images)
Donald Trump. (photo: Getty Images)

Torture Is a Monster and a Terrorist Lover

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

30 January 17


ithin hours of the leak (by a whistleblower) of a National Security Council draft Executive Order calling for the reinstatement of the illegal Bush-era CIA torture program, I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion about torture on Irish Public Radio. The other guests were an American living in London who claimed to have been a CIA counterterrorism officer during the Bush administration (I was a CIA counterterrorism officer at the same time this guy purported to be, and I had never heard of him) and a woman from New Jersey whose husband had been killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It felt like a set-up from the interview’s very first question.

That first question was, “Do torture techniques like waterboarding work?” I was dying to jump in immediately, but I wasn’t called, and my microphone was off. The other CIA officer, “Mike,” said that yes, waterboarding works, it’s a proven method, it saved American lives, it disrupted attacks, blah, blah, blah. Then the widow was asked. She went on a long soliloquy, talking about what it meant to lose a husband in a terrorist attack, and saying that her children had been left fatherless and the family nearly lost their home. She finished by saying, “I don’t see how sprinkling a little water on their faces is torture. It’s just water. What about my husband? Wasn’t it a form of torture to murder him in the World Trade Center?”

With all due respect to this woman and her family, their loss was irrelevant to the debate. The question of whether or not torture works also was irrelevant, and I said so.

Lots of things “work,” I said. Raping and sodomizing prisoners “works.” We don’t do that. (At least we’re not supposed to. This and other horrors were carried out by military officers and enlisted personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in the last decade.) Raping prisoners’ wives works. We don’t do that. Beating and torturing their children in front of them works. We don’t do that either. The issue isn’t whether something works. The issue is whether what we’re doing is moral, ethical, and legal. Torture is not. Torture is an abomination. I was called a “monster” and a “terrorist lover.”

I’ve been speaking out against torture for nearly a decade. I’ve debated a lot of people. But this encounter surprised and disgusted me. I think it’s because people on the political right feel empowered by Trump’s election. They feel like they can take outrageous – and public – positions on issues like torture (or rendition or secret prisons or drones) and the rest of us just have to accept them. The rest of us are the crazy ones. The rest of us are un-American.

For the record, torture is illegal. It is a violation of the federal Torture Act and of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. It’s a violation of the 2015 McCain-Feinstein Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. In 1946, the United States executed Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American prisoners of war. Waterboarding was a war crime that demanded the death penalty. Today, we have to hear Americans describe it as “sprinkling a little water” on the face of a prisoner.

This is going to be a tough fight, especially with Trump in the White House. A recent Reuters poll showed that a clear majority of Americans – 63 percent – supports the use of torture against terrorism suspects. Only 15 percent of us think that torture is never acceptable. Only 15 percent think that we should even bother to observe and respect the law.

Many of us have consistently underestimated Donald Trump over the past two years. We can’t any longer. Trump has surrounded himself with people who support torture. He has said that he wants to reinstitute the torture program. He has said that he wants to reopen black sites – secret prisons – overseas. We have to take him at his word. And we have to fight him. We must take to the courts, shout to the press, and march in the streets. We are on the right side of history here. We cannot remain silent.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act - a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration's torture program.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+36 # John Escher 2017-01-30 12:21
You are so very right, Mr. Kiriakou. And torture is also the essence of banality, as Hannah Arendt pointed out. Trump already is the most banal of all American presidents, even before one considers his fondness for torture. One thinks of the young W Bush torturing bugs in Kennebunkport. Or of a former Ohio friend of mine who would stick a sprig in the abdomen of a horse fly, which then would fly in spirals to its death. What a thrill something like this is for banal persons! I wish they would all go to hell where they belong.
+15 # elizabethblock 2017-01-30 14:17
Torture works if what you are trying to do is destroy some people and intimidate others. That's why the Israelis torture children. It destroys their families and their communities. It doesn't help them find out who is guilty of throwing stones, or whatever, but that's OK. They don't care. They want to get someone, and they don't care who. And if no one is throwing stones, they incite them till someone does.
+33 # sjporter 2017-01-30 14:35
Mr. Kiriakou, thank you for your moral clarity on torture and whether torture 'works.' Yes, the relevant question is first, is it moral. Second, is it ethical and third, is it legal. Since Trump could well put in his people to make it 'legal' (like Giuliani thinks he did with he thinly-veiled attempt to legitimize the ban) it would still be illegal under the international conventions we have signed. Is it moral, that is the question, and I believe that the answer is a resounding NO. But we must remember and bring forward in all of these discussions about torture is that it not only erodes whatever moral authority we as a Nation wish to claim, but that it means that our military and non-military personnel would not be safe from torture. How can the United States revile and condemn this done to Americans if it were something that we were guilty of as well.
+18 # reiverpacific 2017-01-30 15:47
Since medieval times, history shows time and again that people undergoing torture will eventually confess to anything just to make it stop.
I' truth tho', I'd like to see Jesse Ventura's prophecy come to pass en re'; "Give me Dick Cheney and a water board and I'll have him confessing to the Sharon Tate murders!"
+12 # oakes721 2017-01-30 15:51
Tromping down every standard of Freedom, this hateful presence in Our White House (The Pestilence of the Untidy States of Amnesia) indeed, causes mental torture as thoughtful citizens writhe like an impaled and endangered species.
Proven ineffective at retrieving 'actionable' information from alleged enemies of the crooked state, SADISM is unmasked ~ a fiendish desire to hurt others, friend or foe. Fellow citizens become the eye for an eye result of allowing torture to prevail ~ and exposes the blank account of leadership.
+6 # HahliHohli 2017-01-30 18:17
Had to read this a few times over. Really quite good! I like it. Thank you
+14 # jazzman633 2017-01-30 15:58
Trump's most telling comment: "I don't care if it works. They deserve it, for what they do to us."
+4 # elkingo 2017-01-30 16:30
You are all right. Banality, the banality of evil, as Arendt put it. "I only work here" : Adolph Eichmann, as it were. The utter depersonalizati on and objectification of a human being. The Israelis torture children? I don't want to believe this.Elie Vissel says the first, l.e. central element of a political question is: is it moral. Torture is anathema to the whole development of civilization.To the Human Endeavor writ large - to the regard for the sacdrosanct dignity human individual.

But whereas I hesitate to express this: I have a shade of doubt. What if torture DOES work and somebody knows the location of a nuke hidden in a city timed to go off today or tomorrow? I saw this raised in a philosophical journal. I'm sorry I read it.
+6 # HahliHohli 2017-01-30 18:13
Quoting elkingo:
...But whereas I hesitate to express this: I have a shade of doubt. What if torture DOES work and somebody knows the location of a nuke hidden in a city timed to go off today or tomorrow? I saw this raised in a philosophical journal. I'm sorry I read it.

"Catch 22" as they say and also a huge dilemma. Best not to ever get to this point.

Our natural state is love. The further we stray from that, the more we suffer!(paraphr ased from a wise someone)
0 # mh1224jst 2017-02-03 07:33
Great comments Hahlil-loli. I had the misfortune of identifying the correctness of Marxian philosophy and the over-the-top social destruction of the economics of wealth. They are destroying the economyc and the environment.

Now I live in daily dismay at the state of humanity. There is a mass paranois, draped in the flag, and all sorts of horrors are justified as "defense."

Our natural state is love, for sure. 70,000 years ago, when the species almost dies out, I believe it was familial and tribal love that gave them the courage to struggle on. But life got too easy, wealth was created, and capitalism was perfected to snatch it all. Banal. Sadistic. You bet.
+13 # Roger Kotila 2017-01-30 17:04
Thank you for speaking out so clearly against torture. In personalities that "get off" on torture, chances are good that we are dealing with sadistic psychopaths.

Wasn't sadism a rather common trait in the elite ranks of the Nazi's? If the Trump administration keeps advocating torture, I hate to think what will happen to our soldiers on the ground around the world if they are captured by an enemy.

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