So far, the Iraq torture scandal has been treated with narrowly focused investigations and is being blamed on mistakes made somewhere in the chain of command, along with the bizarre behavior of a few soldiers. However, the events in Iraq and Afghanistan are symptomatic of the entire American intelligence system, whose inadequacies have been discussed and ignored by Congress and administration after administration —agents who can’t speak the languages of the countries where they’re stationed, operatives too lazy or incompetent to get out in the field and do a little spying.
As a practical matter, the Iraq torture scandal makes intelligence gathering worse yet. “Under questioning, a terrorist should be made to yield. Sexual abuse goes too far by breaking him, so it’s not an option,” Ami Ayalon, former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service, told Reuters. “A broken man will say anything. That information is worthless.”
Menachem Landau, a retired Shin Bet supervisor of Palestinian collaborators, added, “An informant risks being caught and killed by his countrymen, so he will only be effective if he works of his own free will, feeling it is worth his while. Someone acting out of fear will be unreliable and could even end up attacking his handler to clear his name.”
And there’s nothing new about trophy photography. Archives are filled with photos of grinning young white bystanders laughing and pointing at bound and sometimes burned black men hanging from tree branches after lynchings. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, recalled in a recent Guardian (U.K.) article how, in the ’70s, the British beat him and then sat him down with his captors for a picture-taking session.
But in their search for quick information, our military intelligence officers have pushed torture further by mocking Muslim culture. To show off naked men and women violates cultural standards. These torture methods are not only shocking, but they also turn more and more people against the U.S.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 1, 2004