Back in the USSR

Torture's Long Shadow
By Vladimir Bukovsky
Sunday, December 18, 2005; B01
CAMBRIDGE, England

One nasty morning Comrade Stalin discovered that his favorite pipe was
missing. Naturally, he called in his henchman, Lavrenti Beria, and
instructed him to find the pipe. A few hours later, Stalin found it in his
desk and called off the search. "But, Comrade Stalin," stammered Beria,
"five suspects have already confessed to stealing it."

This joke, whispered among those who trusted each other when I was a kid in
Moscow in the
1950s, is perhaps the best contribution I can make to the current argument
in Washington about legislation banning torture and inhumane treatment of
suspected terrorists captured abroad. Now that President Bush has made a
public show of endorsing Sen. John McCain's amendment, it would seem that
the debate is ending.

But that the debate occurred at all, and that prominent figures are willing
to entertain the idea, is perplexing and alarming to me. I have seen what
happens to a society that becomes enamored of such methods in its quest for
greater security; it takes more than words and political compromise to beat
back the impulse.

This is a new debate for Americans, but there is no need for you to reinvent
the wheel. Most nations can provide you with volumes on the subject. Indeed,
with the exception of the Black Death, torture is the oldest scourge on our
planet (hence there are so many conventions against it).

Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon
being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over
again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience
in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that
once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They
understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative
machinery.

Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions,
investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use
force to break the will of their prey because they believe that,
metaphorically speaking, they have a "ticking bomb" case on their hands.
But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather
than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the
prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process,
requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in
cultivating one's sources.

When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service,
having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix
methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists.
Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret
police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole
country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes.

And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at
will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against
itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria's
predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.

So, why would democratically elected leaders of the United States ever want
to legalize what a succession of Russian monarchs strove to abolish? Why run
the risk of unleashing a fury that even Stalin had problems controlling? Why
would anyone try to "improve intelligence-gathering capability" by
destroying what was left of it? Frustration? Ineptitude? Ignorance?

Or, has their friendship with a certain former KGB lieutenant colonel, V.
Putin, rubbed off on the American leaders? I have no answer to these
questions, but I do know that if Vice President Cheney is right and that
some "cruel, inhumane or degrading" (CID) treatment of captives is a
necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost
already.

Even talking about the possibility of using CID treatment sends wrong
signals and encourages base instincts in those who should be consistently
delivered from temptation by their superiors. As someone who has been on the
receiving end of the "treatment" under discussion, let me tell you that
trying to make a distinction between torture and CID techniques is
ridiculous. Long gone are the days when a torturer needed the nasty-looking
tools displayed in the Tower of London. A simple prison bed is deadly if you
remove the mattress and force a prisoner to sleep on the iron frame night
after night after night.

Or how about the "Chekist's handshake" so widely practiced under Stalin -- a
firm squeeze of the victim's palm with a simple pencil inserted between his
fingers? Very convenient, very simple. And how would you define leaving
2,000 inmates of a labor camp without dental service for months on end? Is
it CID not to treat an excruciatingly painful toothache, or is it torture?

Now it appears that sleep deprivation is "only" CID and used on Guantanamo
Bay captives. Well, congratulations, comrades! It was exactly this method
that the NKVD used to produce those spectacular confessions in Stalin's
"show trials" of the 1930s.

The henchmen called it "conveyer," when a prisoner was interrogated nonstop
for a week or 10 days without a wink of sleep. At the end, the victim would
sign any confession without even understanding what he had signed.

I know from my own experience that interrogation is an intensely personal
confrontation, a duel of wills. It is not about revealing some secrets or
making confessions, it is about self-respect and human dignity. If I break,
I will not be able to look into a mirror. But if I don't, my interrogator
will suffer equally.

Just try to control your emotions in the heat of that battle. This is
precisely why torture occurs even when it is explicitly forbidden. Now, who
is going to guarantee that even the most exact definition of CID is observed
under such circumstances?

But if we cannot guarantee this, then how can you force your officers and
your young people in the CIA to commit acts that will scar them forever? For
scarred they will be, take my word for it.

In 1971, while in Lefortovo prison in Moscow (the central KGB interrogation
jail), I went on a hunger strike demanding a defense lawyer of my choice
(the KGB wanted its trusted lawyer to be assigned instead). The moment was
most inconvenient for my captors because my case was due in court, and they
had no time to spare. So, to break me down, they started force-feeding me in
a very unusual manner -- through my nostrils. About a dozen guards led me
from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a
bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk.

The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the
feeding tube into my nostril.

The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in.
Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept
pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I
could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither
in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man -- my lungs felt ready to
burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept
shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach
could I resume breathing, carefully.

Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me
if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the
liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then
began to pull the pipe out bit by bit. . . . Grrrr. There had just been time
for everything to start healing during the night when they came back in the
morning and did it all over again, for 10 days, when the guards could stand
it no longer. As it happened, it was a Sunday and no bosses were around.

They surrounded the doctor: "Hey, listen, let him drink it straight from the
bowl, let him sip it. It'll be quicker for you, too, you silly old fool."
The doctor was in tears: "Do you think I want to go to jail because of you
lot? No, I can't do that. . . . " And so they stood over my body, cursing
each other, with bloody bubbles coming out of my nose. On the 12th day, the
authorities surrendered; they had run out of time. I had gotten my lawyer,
but neither the doctor nor those guards could ever look me in the eye again.

Today, when the White House lawyers seem preoccupied with contriving a way
to stem the flow of possible lawsuits from former detainees, I strongly
recommend that they think about another flood of suits, from the men and
women in your armed services or the CIA agents who have been or will be
engaged in CID practices. Our rich experience in Russia has shown that many
will become alcoholics or drug addicts, violent criminals or, at the very
least, despotic and abusive fathers and mothers.

If America's leaders want to hunt terrorists while transforming
dictatorships into democracies, they must recognize that torture, which
includes CID, has historically been an instrument of oppression -- not an
instrument of investigation or of intelligence gathering. No country needs
to invent how to "legalize" torture; the problem is rather how to stop it
from happening. If it isn't stopped, torture will destroy your nation's
important strategy to develop democracy in the Middle East.

And if you cynically outsource torture to contractors and foreign agents,
how can you possibly be surprised if an 18-year-old in the Middle East casts
a jaundiced eye toward your reform efforts there?
Finally, think what effect your attitude has on the rest of the world,
particularly in the countries where torture is still common, such as Russia,
and where its citizens are still trying to combat it. Mr. Putin will be the
first to say: "You see, even your vaunted American democracy cannot defend
itself without resorting to torture. . . . "
Off we go, back to the caves.

Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps
and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities, is the
author of several books, including "To Build a Castle" and "Judgment in
Moscow." Now 63, he has lived primarily in Cambridge, England, since 1976.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
------------------------
Stalin's joke in today's times....

December 12, 2005 Rendition Unto Caesar
by Paul Craig Roberts
The spectacle of an American secretary of state being sent to Europe to
reassure America's allies that the U.S. does not torture prisoners has
brought an end to America's moral grandeur. America stands revealed before
the world as just another unaccountable police state. Condi Rice's
declaration that the Bush administration is too morally pure to engage in
torture was just another transparent Bush administration deception. What is
the point of Bush's rendition policy that Rice was sent to Europe to defend
if the purpose is not torture? Why else do CIA agents kidnap foreign
nationals in foreign countries and fly them to secret prisons in other
foreign countries?

The Bush administration defends its policy of "extraordinary rendition."
Everyone who has survived the policy has testified to experiencing brutal
torture. Just read the account in the Dec. 11 Sunday Observer (UK) of the
Ethiopian student that the CIA kidnapped and tortured in Morocco (for
details seer http://www.sundayherald.com/52304.)

The student, who speaks no Arabic, was brutally tortured for 18 months until
he was forced to confess to conspiring with top al-Qaeda chiefs and plotting
with Padilla.

While one American hand was forcing the tortured student to incriminate
himself in the "Padilla plot," the other American hand was dropping plot
charges against Padilla!

The "Padilla plot" was nothing but a fantasy made up by American officials
to justify their police-state policies.

Unlike the hapless Ethiopian student, Padilla is an American citizen. After
suffering three years of illegal detention by the Bush administration, the
law finally gave Padilla some protection, and the false charges that he
intended to set off a radioactive bomb in an American city and blow up
apartment houses were dropped. Some Americans, horrified at what the Bush
administration has done to their country, took hope in Europe's uproar over
Bush's rendition/torture policy. Alas, European governments were shedding
crocodile tears for show purposes only.

On Dec. 11, the Telegraph (UK) reported on a European Union document in its
possession that summarizes an EU-U.S. meeting in Athens Greece on Jan. 22,
2003, in which the EU agreed to "cooperation in removals." The
Telegraphreports that "EU officials confirmed that a full account was
circulated to all member governments."

So we have the entire Western world complicit in kidnapping and torture. The
entire non-Western world surely notices the unbridgeable gap between the
Bush administration's immoral practices and Bush's moral posturing about
"freedom and democracy." The prestige of the Western world is gone forever.
People will say anything under torture, which is why the practice and the
"evidence" it provides were ruled inadmissible centuries ago. The great
English jurist William Blackstone declared that torture determined guilt by
the hardness of a man's constitution and the sensibility of his nerves.

Blackstone proudly declared that there was no place for the rack among the
laws of England. Everyone knows that confessions obtained under torture are
worthless. By having them tortured, Stalin was able to get the "heroes" of
the Bolshevik Revolution to declare that they were guilty of striving to
overthrow the communist revolution!

Why then do we have the disgusting spectacle of the president and vice
president of the U.S. and their neoconservative apologists, such as Charles
Krauthammer, defending torture?

In his defense of torture as a "moral duty," Krauthammer assumes that the
person being tortured is guilty and will reveal the truth under torture.
There is no basis whatsoever for Krauthammer's assumptions. The reason that
the Bush administration and the neocons defend torture is that, having
launched an illegal invasion and created an American police state, they are
desperate for "evidence" of the terrorist threat in order to justify their
illegal and unconstitutional policies. The only way to obtain this
"evidence" is to torture people until they confess to the plots that are
invented for them. A steady stream of confessed "terrorists" serves to
justify the police state that has been created. Bush revealed the ploy when
he asserted on Dec. 10 that terrorist violence will be the result if
Congress does not renew the Orwellian-named "PATRIOT Act" by Dec. 31: "In
the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without that vital law for a
single moment." What Bush declares to be a "vital law" is, in fact, the
greatest assault on civil liberties in the history of our country. Do
Americans really want to give up the civil liberties granted to them by the
U.S. Constitution merely in order that the Bush administration can lord it
over the Middle East, establish puppet governments over Muslim peoples,
protect Israel from retribution for its crimes against Palestinians, and
steal oil from Arabs and Persians? If Americans do, what remains of their
virtue?

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