One of the book's storylines follows a pilot shot down over Vietnam, a devout Mormon named Robin Zacharias. Zacharias is being held in a Vietcong prison camp, and befriends the camp's Soviet military adviser, a Red Army colonel named Yevgenievich Grishanov. While Zacharias is tortured by the Vietnamese, Grishanov speaks to Zacharias about his faith and family. When Grishanov learns the camps captives will be executed, he requests his Soviet superiors take the captives away to Russia for the remainder of their captivity.
Whether Grishanov's empathy is true or not, Zacharias eventually spills information to him.
Years ago, I was given a post card by an Israeli man teaching a class on determining deception in sworn statements. It was a meticulous painting, sketched out by a captive of the KGB who'd been released. It was titled "KGB Interrogation Room". It was a neatly appointed office, with a desk and two chairs, and bookshelves, and a typewriter. It was inviting.
This was a theme throughout my time in US Army Intelligence. Interrogation, and similar methods of gathering information, were never about physical harm or intimidation. While I was not slotted as an interrogator, I worked closely with them, and was cross-trained on some minor interrogation techniques. I'm certainly no expert, and I worked in the lowest rung of intelligence gathering, but it seemed an unquestioned doctrinal truth, despite what we see on 24, torture does not work.
I use the word "doctrinal" because while this is what thoughtful research had yielded, I worked with some people who disagreed (though never acted on their disagreement). Whether out of sadism or rejection of previous research, they believed torture was effective.
And I would guess, at times, it is. I'm sure torture has brought out tons of information over centuries, true and untrue. But what separated us as a civilized nation was our refusal to stoop to that level.
Again, though, that's an argument about human rights, and that's what proponents of torture want you to believe, that's it's a matter of breaking a few eggs to make an omelette. After all, what's a thousand American lives compared to one terrorist's comfort?
That is what has baffled me about this whole thing. I never knew it was a question, because I assumed it's widely accepted in the professional intelligence community that torture does not work. This piece on NPR this morning shows that might be a correct.
A former senior FBI agent involved in the interrogation of captured al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah, Ali Soufan, "...said his experience led him to the conclusion 'that these [harsh] techniques should not be used,' describing them as 'slow, ineffective and unreliable and as a result, harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaida.'Read the whole piece, including Senator Lindsey Graham's argument. To me, this is an example of torture proponents (namely, Dick Cheney) not being able to win on torture even being effective, so they make the argument about something else. It's been an ongoing theme for 8 years. Seeking out true perspectives is one of our most sacred roles as Christians, and polls like the one conducted by the Pew Forum a few weeks ago show we've fallen far short.
'Al-Qaida operatives are trained to resist torture,' he testified. 'That's why … waterboarding itself had to be used 83 times [on Zubaydah],' he said, referring to information made known in a memo dated May 30, 2005. The memo also stated that Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times in a single month."