Two years ago, if someone had suggested to me that I don an orange jumpsuit and a black hood and haul a cross down the street in opposition to torture, I would have laughed at them. Yet here I am at the end of 2010 having pulled that stunt, or something akin to it, more than 30 times in the past year.
Street protests in America today are far less common than they have been in years past, but they are particularly out of place in the relatively upscale business districts of West Des Moines, Iowa. There, week after week, a small, rotating group of ordinary people carry out the old tradition of holding signs inscribed with simple messages. These range in tone from straightforward pleas – “Shut down Guantanamo,” “No More Torture: Not Here, Not There, Nowhere” and “Free Shaker Aamer” – to sarcastic slogans – “USA: Torturing Our Way to World Peace” and “Don’t Worry, We’ll Tell You What to Confess!”
Note from the marketing department: if you are looking to convert strangers to your ideas, waving signs on a street corner is not your best bet.
Kiriakou, a 15-year veteran of the agency's intelligence analysis and operations directorates, electrified the hand-wringing national debate over torture in December 2007 when he told ABC's Brian Ross and Richard Esposito in a much ballyhooed, exclusive interview that senior al Qaeda commando Abu Zubaydah cracked after only one application of the face cloth and water.
A cascade of similar acclamations followed, muffling — to this day — the later revelation that Zubaydah had in fact been waterboarded at least 83 times.
Now comes John Kiriakou, again, with a wholly different story. On the next-to-last page of a new memoir, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror (written with Michael Ruby), Kiriakou now rather off handedly admits that he basically made it all up.
Even if torture worked occasionally, I'd oppose it on basic moral grounds. It is disgusting and we should be above it. And in the long run, the more we torture our enemies the more they will torture our soldiers and civilians.
But for those who care, the evidence that torture has worked for us is actually pretty crummy.
On NPR this morning they were noting sarcastically that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had said members of his security forces “may lose their jobs” if they are found guilty of torturing election protesters. The implication was “that's all?”.
Denying that White House policy was directly responsible for the vile abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib has been the central goal of a five-year disinformation campaign by Bush officials. 'Torture Team' author Philippe Sands argues that newly-disclosed records show how blatantly Bush officials were willing to lie in order to lead reporters away from the truth.