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The War Nerd June 24, 2004
Torture & Truth
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 2 of 3
You'll never really know what's happening to the locals. Finally you get a decent tip -- somebody snitches on an old enemy from the neighborhood, you go to his house and dig up a fully-functional RPG with a dozen rounds. Just think of the pure hate you feel for this guy: he and his little friends have been bushwhacking you for weeks without the guts to show themselves. Well, now you've got him. Not even your NCO can stop you now -- even if he wanted to.

Besides, it makes good military sense to torture him. Like I've said a dozen times, the key weapon in CI warfare is info. You want names and addresses, fast -- before another patrol gets blown up.

That's how most improvised, low-level torture starts: working out on somebody you think tried to kill you. Every CI force in history has done that kind of torture, and so do we. Duh!

But....and, like Oprah, this is a pretty big but...that's not what we saw in those weird snapshots from Abu Ghraib. Those people didn't look like angry soldiers to me. In fact they didn't look like soldiers at all -- they looked like the janitor staff at CostCo having a little fun on break. If there's a practical lesson from Abu Ghraib, it's that we can't afford to leave interrogation to losers like this. Not when every schmo's got a digital camera, and every other schmo wants to get his picture on CNN. The army's going to have to face the fact that prisoner guarding detail is a top-priority job that should be done by people who have a lot to lose if the dirty secrets of the job come out. New tech, new rules. From now on, it should be career officers with something to lose doing the torturing, not those West Virginia Hessians.

And the things they were doing weren't what angry frontline soldiers do to their prisoners. I'm talking about putting a prisoner on a box, a hood over his head, wires taped to his balls, and telling him if he falls off he'll get electrocuted. Or having a naked male prisoner on a leash with a girl soldier laughing at him. Or making somebody squat in an impossible position all day.

This stuff came out of a book: the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, published by the CIA in the early '80s. It was a torture manual, but not the House of Bondage stuff you'd expect. The CIA said basically that the point of torture was to make the victim shrink back into a terrified little kid, and the best way to do that was to humiliate, confuse and just plain wear out the victim, not pull his fingernails out. So they stressed sleep deprivation, messing with his sense of time, and forcing him into weird postures, so when he fell he'd blame himself, not the torturer. It was one of the most interesting books I ever read. For instance, they said that threatening to kill people was totally useless, because people who think they're going to be killed just turn into zombies. What you want is to make the subject into a blubbering baby, because then he'll talk. After five days with no sleep, women laughing at you naked, weird noises and non-stop screaming, you can't wait for the nice-cop interrogator to say, "They made you do it, didn't they? You didn't want to hurt anyone, did you? Tell us all about it."

When the blubbering baby spills the names, you go collect the people he fingered and do the same to them. It's all standard stuff. Which raises another question: how come it's not working? Let's face it, it's not. In fact I have to say that the Iraqi insurgents are so much more effective than I ever thought they'd be I can hardly believe it. Do any of you out there realize how damn hard it is to set off a bomb on a residential street and kill only the enemy, not a dozen of your own civilians? That's what they've been doing, every damn day.

There's only one way to pull off a string of successes like that, and O'Reilly nailed it in one of his shows a couple weeks ago: you have to have the backing of 100% of the local civilian population.

So here's the other big truth we have to deal with: we invaded Iraq. We didn't come to bring them democracy or Big Gulps or Get Smart reruns or whatever. We invaded their country and occupied their cities and put their old enemies in power, just because we were pissed off after 9/ll and it seemed like a good way to let off steam and corner the market on some cheap oil while we were at it. We weren't there to liberate anybody, and we shouldn't have expected the whole rose-petal parade treatment. So what it comes down to, as usual, is that nobody in the country wants to tell the truth. You whiny, snotty liberals don't want to face the fact that torture is a central part of CI warfare, and you dumbass, gullible neocons won't face the fact that we invaded Iraq, and invaders generate insurgencies. We faced that fact in Afghanistan, treated the locals like enemies, and won their respect. We went up to the Afghans with brass knuckles on one hand and a bouquet in the other -- and we wonder why they don't love us.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.
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