Klein, The Nation. Posted May 14, 2005.
caught a glimpse of the effects of torture in action at an event
honoring Maher Arar. The Syrian-born Canadian is the world's most
famous victim of "rendition," the process by which US officials
outsource torture to foreign countries. Arar was switching planes
in New York when U.S. interrogators detained him and "rendered"
him to Syria, where he was held for ten months in a cell slightly
larger than a grave and taken out periodically for beatings.
being honored for his courage by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic
Relations, a mainstream advocacy organization. The audience gave
him a heartfelt standing ovation, but there
was fear mixed in with the celebration. Many of the prominent
community leaders kept their distance from Arar, responding to
him only tentatively. Some
speakers were unable even to mention the honored guest by name,
as if he had something they could catch. And perhaps they were
right: The tenuous "evidence" - later discredited - that landed
Arar in a rat-infested cell was guilt by association. And if that
could happen to Arar, a successful software engineer and family
man, who is safe?
speakers were unable
even to mention the honored guest
by name, as if he had something they
could catch. And perhaps they were
right: The tenuous "evidence" -
later discredited - that landed Arar
in a rat-infested cell was
guilt by association. And if that
could happen to Arar, a successful
software engineer and family man,
who is safe?
In a rare
public speech, Arar addressed this fear directly. He told the
audience that an independent commissioner has been trying to gather
evidence of law-enforcement officials breaking the rules when
investigating Muslim Canadians. The commissioner has heard dozens
of stories of threats, harassment and inappropriate home visits.
But, Arar said, "not a single person made a public complaint.
Fear prevented them from doing so." Fear of being the next Maher
fear is even thicker among Muslims in the United States, where
the Patriot Act gives police the power to seize the records of
any mosque, school, library or community group on mere suspicion
of terrorist links. When this intense surveillance is paired with
the ever-present threat of torture, the message is clear: You
are being watched, your neighbor may be a spy, the government
can find out anything about you. If you misstep, you could disappear
onto a plane bound for Syria, or into "the deep dark hole that
is Guantánamo Bay," to borrow a phrase from Michael Ratner,
president of the Center for Constitutional
this intense surveillance
is paired with the ever-present threat
of torture, the message is clear:
You are being watched,
your neighbor may be a spy,
the government can find out
anything about you.
this fear has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated
need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand
justice. This helps explain why the Defense Department will release
of seemingly incriminating information about Guantánamo
- pictures of men in cages, for instance - at the same time that
it acts to suppress photographs on a par with what escaped from
Abu Ghraib. And it might also explain why the Pentagon approved
the new book by a former military translator, including the passages
about prisoners being sexually humiliated, but prevented him from
writing about the widespread use of attack dogs. This strategic
leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces
a state of mind that Argentines describe as "knowing/not knowing,"
a vestige of their "dirty war."
fear has to be finely calibrated.
The people being intimidated need
to know enough to be afraid but not
so much that they demand justice.
intelligence agents have an incentive to hide the use of unlawful
methods," says the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer. "On the other hand, when
they use rendition and torture as a threat, it's undeniable that
they benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that
intelligence agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit
from the fact that people understand the threat and believe it
to be credible."
the threats have been received. In an affidavit filed with an
ACLU court challenge to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Nazih
Hassan, president of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor,
Mich., describes this new climate. Membership and attendance are
down, donations are way down, board members have resigned - Hassan
says his members fear doing anything that could get their names
on lists. One member testified anonymously that he has "stopped
speaking out on political and social issues" because he doesn't
want to draw attention to himself.
is torture's true purpose: to terrorize - not only the people
in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's isolation cells but also,
and more important, the broader community that hears about these
abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist
- the individual prisoner's will and the collective will.
This is not a controversial claim. In 2001 the US NGO Physicians
for Human Rights published a manual on treating torture survivors
that noted: "perpetrators often attempt to justify their acts
of torture and ill treatment by the need to gather information.
Such conceptualizations obscure the purpose of torture... The
aim of torture is to dehumanize the victim, break his/her will,
and at the same time, set horrific examples for those who come
in contact with the victim. In this way, torture can break or
damage the will and coherence of entire communities."
member testified anonymously
that he has "stopped speaking out
on political and social issues"
because he doesn't want to draw
attention to himself...
This is torture's true purpose:
to terrorize - not only the people
in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's
isolation cells but also, and more
important, the broader community
that hears about these abuses.
this body of knowledge, torture continues to be debated in the
United States as if it were merely a morally questionable way
to extract information, not an instrument of state terror. But
there's a problem: No one claims that torture is an effective
interrogation tool - least of all the people who practice it.
Torture "doesn't work. There are better ways to deal with captives,"
CIA director Porter Goss told the Senate Intelligence Committee
on Feb. 16. And a recently declassified memo written by an FBI
official in Guantánamo states that extreme coercion produced
"nothing more than what FBI got using simple investigative techniques."
The army's own interrogation field manual states that force "can
induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants
And yet the
abuses keep on coming - Uzbekistan as the new hot spot for renditions;
the "El Salvador model" imported to Iraq. And the only sensible
explanation for torture's persistent popularity comes from a most
unlikely source. Lynndie England, the fall girl for Abu Ghraib,
was asked during her botched trial why she and her colleagues
had forced naked prisoners into a human pyramid. "As a way to
control them," she replied.
As an interrogation tool, torture is a bust. But when it comes
to social control, nothing works quite like torture.
Klein is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies
and Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the
Click here for her
article, The Mother Of All Anti-War Forces.
Click here for Reconstruction
Time Again: Building A New Babylon - Naomi Klein on the rise of