John Feehery: Speaking Engagements



Posted on December 11, 2014
John McCain official portrait 2009.jpg

"John McCain official portrait 2009" by United States Congress - United States Senator John McCain Facebook page. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“Boys only love you when it’s torture.  Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.”

That piece of wisdom comes from Taylor Swift’s newest hit, (Just in time for the holidays and Diane Feinstein’s report on the CIA and its methods).

Torture has been around a long time.   It comes from the Latin word toquere, which at first meant to twist and later to torment.   Torture is a French word that made its way in Middle English.

When you Google the word torture, it shows how popular the word has been for the last couple hundred of years.  It’s at the height of its popularity right now, interestingly.

Torture has a long and inglorious history.

Here are extreme examples from the Persian Empire as quoted in Der Spiegel’s website:
The sentence, "throw them into the ashes" meant that the candidate would have to stand for days in a room filled with ash. At some stage the person would collapse from fatigue, at which point they would breathe the ash in. Even if they managed to pick themselves up, their lungs would fill up with grey flakes sooner or later, resulting in slow suffocation.

And the punishment of "sitting in the tub" saw the convicted person placed in a wooden tub with only their head sticking out. The executioner would then paint the victim's face with milk and honey. Flies would begin to swarm around the victim's nose and eyelids. The victim was also fed regularly and fairly soon, they would virtually be swimming in their own excrement.

At which stage maggots and worms would devour their body. One victim apparently survived for 17 days -- he decayed alive.

As distant and heinous as these punishments may seem to us today, the issue of state-sanctioned torture to achieve political goals is still a current one. "Physical violence is a universal in all cultures," the new history book concludes. "Whether we will ever see any improvement is hard to say, considering mankind's history to date.

I had a question about the presence of torture in the Bible and I got this response from the website Got Questions:
The Bible acknowledges the existence of torture. In a parable, Jesus spoke of a servant who was “turned . . . over to the jailers to be tortured” (Matthew 18:34). Such an allusion seems to indicate that the use of torture was common in the prisons of the day. The Bible also records the stories of many victims of torture: Jesus, Paul and Silas (Acts 16), the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:2; 38:6), and other unnamed saints (Hebrews 11:35). In every case, we see that the godly are the victims of torture, never the perpetrators of torture.

As individuals, we are not to seek revenge. Vengeance belongs only to the Lord (Psalm 94:1; Romans 12:19). Also, as individuals we have no authority to punish society’s wrongdoers or to extract confessions from them. Therefore, as individuals, we can have no license to torture; inflicting intense pain on others is wrong. God alone is able to mete out punishment with perfect justice, and it is His prerogative to make His punishment painful. Demons are aware of a future time of “torture” for themselves (Matthew 8:29). Hell is a place of “torment” and intense agony (Matthew 13:42; Luke 16:23-24). During the Tribulation, torment will be part of the plagues upon evildoers (Revelation 9:5; 11:10). In any of His judgments, God is holy and perfectly fair (Psalm 119:137).

Of course, Christians have a long history of ignoring this Holy Advice.

The Inquisition gets a bad rap for its use of torture to compel sinners to confess their sins.  Here is what Wikipedia says about that period of history:
As with all European tribunals of the time, torture was employed.  The Spanish inquisition, however, engaged in it far less often and with greater care than other courts.  Historian Henry Kamen contends that some "popular" accounts of the inquisition (those that describe scenes of uncontrolled sadistic torture) are not based in truth. Kamen argues that torture was only ever used to elicit information or a confession, not for punitive reasons.  Modern scholars have determined that torture was used in two percent of the cases, and in less than one percent of the cases was it used a second time, never more than that. The torture lasted up to 15 minutes.[

Although the Inquisition was technically forbidden from permanently harming or drawing blood,] this still allowed for methods of torture. The methods most used, and common in other secular and ecclesiastical tribunals, were garrucha, toca and the potro.  The application of the garrucha, also known as the strappado, consisted of suspending the victim from the ceiling by the wrists, which are tied behind the back. Sometimes weights were tied to the ankles, with a series of lifts and drops, during which the arms and legs suffered violent pulls and were sometimes dislocated.  The toca, also called interrogatorio mejorado del agua, consisted of introducing a cloth into the mouth of the victim, and forcing them to ingest water spilled from a jar so that they had the impression of drowning (see: waterboarding). The potro, the rack, was the instrument of torture used most frequently.

The assertion that "confessionem esse veram, non factam vi tormentorum" (literally: [a person's] confession is truth, not made by way of torture) sometimes follows a description of how, after torture had ended, the subject freely confessed to the offenses. Thus confessions following torture were deemed to be made of the confessor's free will, and hence valid.

During the Salem Witch Trials, accused witches were subject to torture to confess their sins.  According to the website Listverse, there were a couple of ways to get suspects to fess up.
Those who didn’t admit to being a witch and under heavy suspicion were usually induced to confess by way of torture. One method was dunking, in which the accused would be held under water repeatedly until they were successfully broken down. This is also an effective means to brainwash someone into believing a lie, anything to make the inhumanity cease.

Another means of torture designed to make the accuser talk, but made it impossible for them to talk, much less breathe. Called “pressing,” the subject is placed beneath heavy stones, meant to literally crush you into submission. One such recipient endured this very treatment, an 80 year-old man named Giles Corey accused of being a warlock (yes men could be accused as well). He refused to give a plea each of the several times he was asked, and was ultimately crushed to death by the stones, which, as it turned out, were more likely to speak than he was.

Of course, we don’t have to go to Ancient history to see how torture works (or doesn’t work).

German Nazis used torture and terror to compel information, for sado-masochistic reasons, and because they viewed their victims as sub-human and because they were evil.

From the website,
One of the more common tortures used in some Nazi camps involved tying an inmate's wrists securely behind the back and them suspending him (or her) for anything from 30 minutes to a few hours. The pain and the effect on the muscles and joints can easily be imagined. It was horrific.

Some victims were dropped, face down, on to collections of fixed, fairly sharp objects (but not sharp enough to kill them). If they fainted they were revived and the process was repeated.

Some Americans in the Second World War may have engaged in torture, but there was ample evidence that it didn’t work and official policy did not allow it.  One example of doing it right came from this story from CBS News:
During World War II, the U.S. military interrogated high-level Nazis at a secret camp outside of Washington D.C. but interrogators did not use torture, according to researchers who have combed through classified documents and interviewed dozens of wartime interrogators.

The camp, known as "P.O. Box 1142," predated the CIA and was run by military intelligence services and the Naval intelligence service. Young German Jewish men who had escaped Nazi Germany were recruited to interrogate the prisoners.

"You don't get people to talk by beating them or waterboarding or anything of that nature," said Rudolph Pins a 94-year-old former Nazi interrogator told CBS News' Seth Doane. He said that in contrast, the strategy was to make the prisoners comfortable so they would talk, "If you make life for certain prisoners fairly easy, they will relax," he explained.

There is much to criticize about the Senate report on torture.  It was a partisan process.  Senate investigators didn’t talk to folks in charge of the programs.  It blames Michael Hayden for things he didn’t do and calls him a liar about things he didn’t lie about.

But there seems to be no dispute about the tactics used by some folks in the CIA.  They are horrific.  And they fit into the long history of torture in the history of the world.

Some might say that the tactics worked to save lives, although the Senate Democratic Report strongly contradicts those conclusions.

Waterboarding is torture.  It’s not that much different from what was done to the accused witches in Salem.

The biggest explanation as to why we used these techniques is that we were panicked about another attack on our soil by terrorists and we were going to anything we could to protect our people.

I understand that sentiment and I appreciate it.  I am not sure I agree with it and there seems to ample historic evidence that torture doesn’t compel accurate or useful information.

Here is how the New Yorker summarized the report’s details on torture:
Waterboarding: Contrary to what the C.I.A. told the Justice Department, the report says, this interrogation technique “was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. During one session, Abu Zubaydah”—a Saudi Arabian who is still being held at Guantánamo Bay—”became ‘completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.’ Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a ‘series of near drownings.’ ” The report also says that the C.I.A. may have waterboarded more detainees than previously disclosed. For example, the Senate committee’s researchers turned up a photograph of a waterboard and buckets of water at a site where the agency had said that it wasn’t waterboarding. “In meetings between Committee Staff and the CIA in the summer of 2013,” the report notes dryly, “the CIA was unable to explain … the waterboard’s presence at COBALT.”

Other interrogation practices: In addition to waterboarding, the report says, the C.I.A. used a variety of aggressive techniques on its prisoners, including isolating them, depriving them of sleep, stripping them of their clothes and keeping them naked, subjecting them to loud music, and pinning their arms above their heads. The report also says that the C.I.A. “placed detainees in ice water ‘baths.’ The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because, ‘we can never let the world know what I have done to you.’ CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families.”  According to the report, one prisoner, Ridha al-Najjar, identified as a former bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, was “left hanging—which involved handcuffing one or both wrists to an overhead bar which would not allow him to lower his arms—for 22 hours each day for two consecutive days, in order to ‘break’ his resistance.” Zubaydah, for his part, was “kept naked, fed a ‘bare bones’ liquid diet, and subjected to the non-stop use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” He had a bullet wound, but “the CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah would take ‘precedence’ over his medical care.

To be fair, in the heat of the moment, politicians on both sides of the aisle were more than willing to give the CIA the latitude to do what they had to do to get the information they had to get.

Some of these elected representatives might have even known about the techniques used by the interrogators, which makes their complaints seem even more hypocritical.

The usefulness of this Senate report is not to put the blame at the feet of the CIA.  It is to hold the mirror on American society so we can look closely at what we became.

We were the ones who wanted, in the heat of the moment, to do everything we could stop the bad guys from inflicting more damage on us.  And yes, most of us didn’t care one way or another how our team got the information.

But we shouldn’t be under illusions about what we did and what its efficacy truly was.    I am with John McCain on this one.  Here is what McCain said in a very excellent statement on the Senate floor:
“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.

“They must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret. They must be able to make informed judgments about whether those policies and the personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values; whether they served a greater good; or whether, as I believe, they stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.

“What were the policies? What was their purpose? Did they achieve it? Did they make us safer? Less safe? Or did they make no difference? What did they gain us? What did they cost us? The American people need the answers to these questions. Yes, some things must be kept from public disclosure to protect clandestine operations, sources and methods, but not the answers to these questions.

“By providing them, the Committee has empowered the American people to come to their own decisions about whether we should have employed such practices in the past and whether we should consider permitting them in the future. This report strengthens self-government and, ultimately, I believe, America’s security and stature in the world. I thank the Committee for that valuable public service.

“I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture. Its use was shameful and unnecessary; and, contrary to assertions made by some of its defenders and as the Committee’s report makes clear, it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.

“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.

“I know, too, that bad things happen in war. I know in war good people can feel obliged for good reasons to do things they would normally object to and recoil from.

“I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. I know their responsibilities were grave and urgent, and the strain of their duty was onerous.

“I respect their dedication and appreciate their dilemma. But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.

“The knowledge of torture’s dubious efficacy and my moral objections to the abuse of prisoners motivated my sponsorship of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which prohibits ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’ of captured combatants, whether they wear a nation’s uniform or not, and which passed the Senate by a vote of 90-9.

“Subsequently, I successfully offered amendments to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which, among other things, prevented the attempt to weaken Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, and broadened definitions in the War Crimes Act to make the future use of waterboarding and other ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ punishable as war crimes.

“There was considerable misinformation disseminated then about what was and wasn’t achieved using these methods in an effort to discourage support for the legislation. There was a good amount of misinformation used in 2011 to credit the use of these methods with the death of Osama bin Laden. And there is, I fear, misinformation being used today to prevent the release of this report, disputing its findings and warning about the security consequences of their public disclosure.

“Will the report’s release cause outrage that leads to violence in some parts of the Muslim world? Yes, I suppose that’s possible, perhaps likely. Sadly, violence needs little incentive in some quarters of the world today. But that doesn’t mean we will be telling the world something it will be shocked to learn. The entire world already knows that we water-boarded prisoners. It knows we subjected prisoners to various other types of degrading treatment. It knows we used black sites, secret prisons. Those practices haven’t been a secret for a decade.

“Terrorists might use the report’s re-identification of the practices as an excuse to attack Americans, but they hardly need an excuse for that. That has been their life’s calling for a while now.

“What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans, is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise, since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism. And I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure – torture’s ineffectiveness – because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much.

“Obviously, we need intelligence to defeat our enemies, but we need reliable intelligence. Torture produces more misleading information than actionable intelligence. And what the advocates of harsh and cruel interrogation methods have never established is that we couldn’t have gathered as good or more reliable intelligence from using humane methods.

“The most important lead we got in the search for bin Laden came from using conventional interrogation methods. I think it is an insult to the many intelligence officers who have acquired good intelligence without hurting or degrading prisoners to assert we can’t win this war without such methods. Yes, we can and we will.

“But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

“We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

“Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.

I don’t always agree with John McCain.  But he knows more about torture than just about anybody else in the world.   We should heed his advice.

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