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11, now is the stuff of dark and lurid conjecture. Credible intelligence sources say a recently detained immigrant has specific knowledge about a terrorist cell that has obtained a suitcase nuclear bomb and plans to use it within hours. Yet the sullen man in captivity will say nothing, demanding instead to see his lawyer. The clock ticks, but time appears to stand still. How can his captors - the good guys - make him talk before it is too late? The terror and mass destruction wreaked on U.S. soil have, for many Americans, changed the moral equation that is used to plumb the deepest feelings about war and how it should be conducted. Intelligence breakthroughs of the kind that would let us sleep well at night, if they exist, doubtlessly are closely held. Instead, the worried faces of Washington's war counselors suggest that the hundreds of detainees captured here and abroad during the last nine months have offered up very little information through traditional legal interrogations. The terrorists, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Senate subcommittee on May 21, are sure to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, "and they will not hesitate to use them." Recently, former CIA and FBI director William Webster appeared to add fuel to a simmering debate taking place in Washington and elsewhere about how to treat terrorist suspects in a world that has become a much more dangerous place. Uncooperative al-Qaeda and Taliban captives, Webster said, might be given "truth drugs," such as sodium pentothal or other short-term anesthetics, or face other tactics he said fell short of torture to penetrate Osama bin Laden's shadowy network. "We ought to look at what options are out there," Webster declared. Interrogation techniques, he added, should "go beyond name, rank and serial number." Other experts question both the morality and the effectiveness of using "truth serum," which they say lowers a subject's inhibitions but may not necessarily make him more truthful. However, Webster's comments were not made in a vacuum. Just after the Sept. 11 attacks, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, fond of presenting himself as a civil libertarian, published an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times in which he argued that "if we are to have torture, it should be authorized by the law," with authorities required to apply to judges for "torture warrants" on a case-by-case basis. "We can't just close our eyes and pretend we live in a pure world," he said, citing a "ticking-bomb" scenario similar to the one described at the beginning of this article. In January the television program 60 Minutes reported that "while FBI official policy strongly prohibits the practice, some FBI agents are getting so frustrated [with interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects] they have begun to think about what until now had been unthinkable: torture." More recently, a guest editorialist for the generally liberal National Public Radio averred that, while torture may be necessary, it is an ugly necessity and thus should be kept out of sight. The comment echoed an injunction offered up by William F. Buckley in the generally conservative National Review earlier this year. Dershowitz is wrong, Buckley wrote, because "to attempt to describe legitimate reasons for torture breaks the spiritual back of the law." "We should not torture an al-Qaeda prisoner as a general rule. But to torture the one who knows where the hijacked, airborne Boeing 737 is headed is an exemption to the rule," Buckley observed, though it is "not one we would wish to codify. Some acts of warfare, like some intelligence, are works of art, not articles of war." Meanwhile, questions are being raised about whether the United States can share information with security and intelligence agencies of allied nations and still not be seen as condoning the types of mental and physical anguish frequently visited upon their terror suspects. Egypt, for example, is well-known for inflicting brutal treatment not only on suspected terrorists, but against political dissidents as well. For his part, in recent weeks Rumsfeld has reiterated his opposition to employing brutal interrogation techniques as a means of gathering intelligence. Yet the debate persists, with the fault line frequently running along the lines of the example of someone in custody suspected of having information about an imminent chemical, biological or nuclear attack.
Interestingly, many of the strongest advocates of homeland security say such tactics have no place in the counterterrorism debate. "Anybody with real combat experience understands that torture is counterproductive," says F. Andy Messing, a retired major in the U.S. Special Forces and a conservative leader with the ear of the president. "It is a downhill slope if you engage in it. Everyplace it has been used that I have studied - the French were big for it in Algeria - it comes back and bites you." And, it seems, keeps biting. In 2000, retired French general Paul Aussaresses, a one-time World War II resistance fighter, made world headlines - and created a political firestorm in France - when he admitted that he personally tortured dozens of suspected terrorists during the 1950s in an effort to crush an Algerian terrorist network. The Algerians sought independence from colonial rule by, among other means, hideous mutilations, wholesale butcheries and a series of devastating bomb attacks. Then-Capt. Aussaresses, the region's chief intelligence officer, authorized his men to use torture and to execute detainees once their interrogations were finished. Torturing these prisoners, he claimed, was the only way that real-time information could be gathered to act upon the insurgents' cell structure before it was too late. In Algeria, Aussaresses worked closely with Col. Roger Trinquier, who had been responsible for resisting a similar terror campaign in Indochina with another brutal but ultimately unsuccessful effort to resist a "war of national liberation." In what became known as the "Battle for Algiers," which lasted from 1955 to 1957, Aussaresses' counterinsurgency campaign proved temporarily effective, bringing the terrorist bombings to a standstill. However, popular resistance to French rule was galvanized among an indigenous population terrorized by both sides, the issue was protracted in the countryside and the matter was settled by politics in a polarized but outraged mainland France. Eventually Charles de Gaulle made the decision to withdraw from the colony. Meanwhile the French losses in Indochina and Algeria created severe headaches in Paris, with coup attempts and planned political assassinations. The use of torture, wrote British historian Alistar Horne in his 1977 book, A Savage War for Peace, became "a growing cancer for France, leaving behind a poison that would linger in the French system itself long after the war had ended." In the early 1960s, Lt. Col. Aussaresses served as the French liaison officer at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga., and was an adviser to the Counterinsurgency Department at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, N.C. In 1962, as the United States inched closer to a significant military commitment in Vietnam, his former associate Trinquier meanwhile had written a polemical book, La Guerre Moderne, which was obtained by the Fort Bragg school and later published as Modern Warfare. According to retired U.S. Army Col. Carl Bernard, who befriended Aussaresses during that time and who remains his friend, Trinquier's work on counterinsurgency was influential among some of the middleranking U.S. officers who later worked in Operation Phoenix, the controversial CIA-run effort. Billed as a program to eradicate Viet Cong infrastructure in South Vietnam, root and branch, Phoenix became in time what according to one field soldier who participated in it, was "in some instances, a torture and death operation visited upon anybody one of our local South Vietnamese allies wanted harassed or even killed." "We imitated the French army's torturing and killing of captured revolutionaries in Algiers in Vietnam," recalled Bernard, who himself served as a senior adviser to the counterinsurgency effort in Hau Nhgia and Vinh Binh provinces. "It did not work. We knew almost nothing of our so-called enemy; we knew very little more of our supposed allies beyond what we assumed to be common goals. And we knew far too little of our own forces and those who manned them." Even before Sept. 11, Bernard was one of those alarmed by the new U.S. Army focus on urban warfare. The frustrations that come from trying to acquire sufficient intelligence successfully to carry out urban combat, Bernard warned, are enormous, particularly in areas of the world in which English is not spoken. "My concern," he wrote to a friend in October 2000 in a letter made available to Insight, "is that our new focus will delude us into using the same torture techniques the French used to get enough intelligence to keep Algiers and other population centers under control. I think we must consider that now, before we confront this situation. As the French found out, the early successes of torture producing information did not
endure. We must stay out of this attractive trap." The use of CIA paramilitary forces in Afghanistan raised other questions about the accountability of such units, who pride themselves on their ability to be effective by circumventing the civilian and military bureaucracies. "I had to deal with CIA guys in El Salvador; they were on their own wavelength," Messing, a veteran of Central America's guerrilla insurgencies during the 1980s, told Britain's The Guardian newspaper recently. "You have two parallel chains of command, and one could wind up doing what they feel like doing." One problem, he said, is that CIA contract personnel in the field - often special-operations veterans - do not fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice that governs the armed forces. Other observers note that the worst that could happen to agency contractors who violate human rights barring the unlikely event of being charged in a world tribunal for war crimes - is that they could be fired. In April, speculation and concern about what tactics the agency might decide to employ led the CIA to tell reporters that it does not "engage in or condone torture." Bernard and Messing, who runs the National Defense Council, a private think tank, believe that the use of brutal interrogation techniques not only violates the Geneva Convention on the conduct of war, and is immoral, but also is counterproductive. Bernard points out that just about anything that happens in warfare is, sooner or later, likely "to be broadcast on CNN." Messing agrees. "Word always gets out," he says. "You can't hide torture." The enemy, if he is not already torturing your soldiers, then will feel free to do so, Messing adds, "and if they are already doing it, they will do it more. And when word gets out, it will make the other guys fight harder to prevent being captured." All this comes back and affects your own troops. "It's a long, slippery slope," Messing emphasizes. "If you are so desperate that you need to torture somebody it means that you've failed in your general mission. You can get only so much out of a strong-willed guy, and these guys [the al-Qaeda detainees] are tough." Others question the reliability of information extracted under duress. "We had people who were willing to confess to anything if the [South Vietnamese] would just stop torturing them," says a Phoenix veteran. "Torture sometimes was used to punish people, not just to get information." Of course, the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, a category that includes torture. Yet a decade ago many Americans were shocked to learn that torture techniques - including the use of electric shock - were being used in some police precincts in Chicago. Knowledgeable observers point out that - if such tactics officially were sanctioned in violation of the Constitution by even one federal agency - it might be difficult to contain such activity to the single theater of operations, particularly since in many urban areas the "war" against crime is both immediate and real to local residents. In the January 60 Minutes program, reporter Mike Wallace asked the aging Aussaresses if, in the case of a suspected would-be al-Qaeda hijacker, "it would be a good idea to torture information out of him." Oh, yes, responded Aussaresses, "it would be certainly the only way to have him talk." Wallace followed up: "And he could conceivably tell about the group that arranged the attacks on Sept. 11?" Replied Aussaresses: "It seems to me, it is obvious." The French experience exemplified by Aussaresses runs counter to that of neighboring Italy. In the 1970s Italy faced its own ticking-bomb scenario when ultra-left Red Brigade commandos kidnapped former prime minister Aldo Moro, then head of the ruling Christian Democratic party, after killing his bodyguard. An Italian police official suggested to Gen. Carlos Alberto Della Chiesa, the man in charge of the investigation, that a detainee who appeared to have vital information be tortured. "Italy," replied Della Chiesa, who himself later was killed by the Sicilian Mafia, "can permit itself to lose Aldo Moro. What it cannot allow is the practice of torture."
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