The CIA’s Schoolboy Error

Police have launched an inquiry into allegations that CIA “torture flights” have landed in Britain, it was reported today.
Michael Todd, chief constable of Greater Manchester, is expected to review evidence collected by human rights campaigners and interview senior police officers from 10 forces across England.
Liberty is appealing for anyone with information about the flights to come forward. They can do so anonymously.
The CIA’s use of so-called extraordinary rendition to transfer terror suspects, or whoever it likes, I suppose, to other countries for ‘robust questioning’ has turned the spotlight on a shadowy world.
It’s a place in which suspects are drugged like BA Baracus for ‘ghost flights’ which disappear them into the hands of interrogators who believe the infliction of pain aids the search for an absolute truth.
But illegality, brutality and inhumanity aside, the intelligence community’s reliance on torture seems to ignore a truth known to every school child.
You can make anyone say anything. Remember the Chinese burn? One determined twist by an expert and you’d hand over your penny chews or admit you fancied the smelliest of your classmates.
Take this scenario. Someone sits opposite you in a room. They ask if you went into town that afternoon. You tell them you did not because it is the truth.
They take your little finger of your right hand and slowly bend it back. It hurts and you wince but they keep applying the pressure. But you know they will stop because people do, don’t they?
Well, no, this person does not. He keeps bending your finger until it breaks.
The sound of cracking bone fills the room. You are in agony and you scream out.
Calmly, the man takes your second finger. He grips it and begins to slowly bend it back. His face is expressionless.
This time you instantly know how far he will go.
He asks you again if you went into town that afternoon.
What do you say now? And, in the end, what wouldn’t you say to make it stop?
I would admit to anything – probably even to watching OFI Sunday.
Imagine then, if you are locked in an underground cell for ten months, given regular beatings and threatened with electric shocks and the ‘metal chair’, a device for stretching the spine.
That’s what happened to a Canadian named Maher Arar in 2002. Arar was detained by US officials in New York and flown to Syria, where he made a false confession. A campaign later obtained Arar’s release.
George Bush has highlighted a number of countries for their roles in torture. Among them is, you’ve guessed it, Syria. Someone should tell Dubya he should have then condemned not employed the interrogators.
The CIA is reckoned to lease 30 aircraft. Over the last four years, according to Amnesty International, just six of these have made 800 ‘ghost flights’.
How many people might we be talking about in total then? Amnesty can only suggest the number is in the thousands.
“Amnesty would be the first to say governments have the right to protect their people but this is not the way,” said Eleanor White, of Amnesty Wales. “This is sidestepping the law, claiming you have diplomatic assurance from a country that no torture will take place. It’s an attempt to get away with it.”
There is no defence for this. It is objectionable on every level. Hiding behind abduction and political double speak to subcontract violence. Putting pressure on smaller countries to do your dirty work while pretending your hands remain clean.
It’s a way of using one’s power to cause unpleasantness at third hand. Like the gangster don who has never seen blood but has the power of life or death by silently waving his hand and sending a killer on his way.
Not only that. But it provides as poor intelligence as the Iraqi exiles who told the Americans exactly what they wanted to hear about the ‘stockpiles’ of weapons of mass destruction before the invasion.
It was a relief to see no Welsh airports on the suspect ghost flight list. The country felt cleaner for it.
But we are all drawn into what our governments do or condone by their inaction.

(A version of this article appeared in last week’s edition of The Big Issue Cymru, no. 489)

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