Advocates warn of backlash if U.S. pursues torture

Paisley Dodds and Lori Hinnant
Associated Press

London — It took more than a year’s worth of beatings, sleep deprivation, psychological abuse and threats to his family before former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg said he cracked and confessed to being a member of the al-Qaida terror network. The only problem, he said, was that it was a lie.

It was only a matter of weeks for Mourad Benchellali, a Frenchman detained first at Kandahar in Afghanistan. “Because I was afraid, because I hurt, and because I told myself, when this is all worked out, I’ll tell the truth. But for now, better to tell them what they want to hear,” he said.

Chris Arendt, a former guard at the U.S. detention facility in Cuba, said he routinely saw what could be defined as torture, including prisoners being unnecessarily pepper-sprayed or taken for interrogations that never happened. Instead, they were left shackled for hours as a means of punishment.

During the year he spent at the U.S. detention facility in 2004, Arendt said it was clear that most of the detainees had relatively little valuable intelligence.

“I thought that if I confessed I would at least get access to the courts and my interrogations would stop being so adversarial,” said the 48-year-old Begg, who confessed in 2003 but wasn’t released until 2005, along with three other British detainees. Like most Guantanamo detainees, he was never charged.

President Donald Trump is asking for recommendations on whether torture works, if secret CIA black sites should be used again to interrogate suspects and whether the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay should not only stay open, but should accept future detainees, according to a draft executive order that signals sweeping changes to U.S. interrogation and detention policy. The Associated Press and other news organizations obtained a copy.

The draft directive, which the White House said was not official, would reverse President Barack Obama’s order to close the Guantanamo Bay facility — a place Trump has said he wants to fill “with bad dudes.”

Trump, who has pushed for tougher interrogation techniques, said he would consult with new Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo before authorizing any new policy. But he said he had asked top intelligence officials: “Does torture work? And the answer was ‘Yes, absolutely.’”

“To say that torture works is a bit like saying slavery works as a model of economic production,” said Nigel Inkster, former director of operations at Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6. “It’s not the conversation we ought to be having.”

Even if it were, the answer is resoundingly negative, said Mark Fallon, who served as a U.S. counterterrorism investigator and tried to oppose the torture at Guantanamo when he learned about it during the administration of President George W. Bush.

“Torture is a very effective method to get somebody to say something you want them to say. It is not an effective method to get somebody to tell the truth or reliable information,” he said.

While it’s unclear whether the Trump administration will return to policies seen in the war on terror, rights advocates say even the smallest move backward could bring legal troubles, especially with regard to CIA black sites.

Some fear that if Trump embraces past policies, there could be a backlash from extremist groups, increasing the threat of terrorism against the United States.