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Michael Winship: The Company We Keep

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

The Company We Keep
By Michael Winship

At one point during the five and a half years John McCain spent as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, he was tortured and beaten so badly he tried to kill himself. After four days of this brutality, he gave in and agreed to make a false confession, telling lies to end the unbearable pain. Later, he would write, “I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.”

Similar techniques were utilized in the Asian war preceding Vietnam – Korea. The Communist Chinese used them to interrogate US POW’s and force them to confess to things they didn’t do, such as germ warfare. A chart of the Chinese methods, compiled in 1957 by an American sociologist, includes “Sleep Deprivation,” “Semi-Starvation,” “Filthy, Infested Surroundings,” “Prolonged Constraint,” and “Exposure.” The effects are listed, too: “Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator,” “Weakens Mental and Physical Ability to Resist,” “Reduces Prisoner to ‘Animal Level’ Concerns,” and others.

On July 2, THE NEW YORK TIMES reported that the chart had made a surprise return appearance, this time at Guantanamo Bay, where in 2002 it was used in a course to teach our military interrogators “Coercive Management Techniques,” to be used when interrogating detainees held there as prisoners in the war on terror.
In other words, we had adopted the inhumane tactics of enemies past, tactics we once were quick to call torture. Tactics created not to get at the truth but to manufacture lies that we then characterize as credible. How can we expect this to be an effective way to extract real information from terrorists?

Since 2005, Congress has banned the use of such methods by the military but we have no way of knowing whether the CIA continues to use them. (For example, The Associated Press reported Thursday that, “CIA Director Michael Hayden banned waterboarding in 2006, but government officials have said it remains a possibility if approved by the attorney general, the CIA chief and the president.”)

Such is the secrecy and deliberate obfuscation that have characterized our nation’s descent into lawlessness and duplicity, depicted brilliantly in New Yorker magazine investigative reporter Jane Mayer’s new book, THE DARK SIDE: THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW THE WAR ON TERROR TURNED INTO A WAR ON AMERICAN IDEALS.

Post 9/11, she reports, “For the first time in its history, the United States sanctioned government officials to physically and psychologically torment US-held detainees, making torture the official law of the land in all but name.” The late American historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., she says, told her that “the Bush administration’s extralegal counterterrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.” Over lunch in 2006, the year before Schlesinger died, he said, “No position taken had done more damage to the American reputation in the world -- ever.”

Read all of this in light of the series of hearings on Capitol Hill over the last weeks in which members of Congress have tried to find out how in the name of protecting us from further terrorist attacks, the Bush White House has twisted or abandoned the law to allow what most of the international community recognizes as torture.
The administration remains in denial. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft told the House Judiciary Committee, “I don’t know of any acts of torture that have been committed by individuals in developing information,” he said. “So I would not certainly make an assumption. I would attribute the absence of an attack [since 9/11] at least in part, because there have been specific attacks that have been disrupted, to the excellent work and the dedication and commitment of people whose lives are dedicated to defending the country. Interrogators have used enhanced interrogation techniques but they haven’t used torture.”

Grim hairsplitting. This week, as the result of a Freedom of Information Act suit, the ACLU received a heavily redacted copy of an infamous August 2, 2002 memo, signed by then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee and written with his subordinate, the equally infamous John Yoo. “An individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” it reads. “… The absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture… We have further found that if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.”

Jameel Jaffer, head of the ACLU’s national security project told Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent, “Imagine that in an ordinary criminal prosecution a bank robber tortures a bank manager to get the combination to a vault. He argues that the torture was not to inflict pain, but to get the combination. Every torturer has a reason other than to cause pain. If you're going to let people off the hook for an intention other than to cause pain, you're not going to be able to prosecute anyone for torture.”

Deborah Pearlstein, a constitutional scholar and human rights lawyer who has spent time at Guantanamo monitoring conditions there, testified to Congress that, “As of 2006, there had been more than 330 cases in which U.S. military and civilian personnel have, incredibly, alleged to have abused or killed detainees. This figure is based almost entirely on the U.S. government's own documentation. These cases involved more than 600 U.S. personnel and more than 460 detainees held at U.S. facilities throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. They included some l00-plus detainees who died in U.S. custody, including 34 whose deaths the Defense Department reports as homicides. At least eight of these detainees were, by any definition of the term, tortured to death.”

Pearlstein cited a recent British study that discovered that our detainee policies had led to Britain’s withdrawal from joint, covert counterterrorism operations with the CIA “because the U.S. failed to offer adequate assurances against inhumane treatment.” The House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has issued a report stating the United States can’t be trusted to tell the truth about how it interrogates detainees. “Given the clear differences in definition,” the report concludes, “the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future.”

On Monday, the first American war crimes trial in since World War II opened at Guantanamo, the United States presenting its case against Salim Ahmed Hamdan before a jury of US military officers. Hamdan, who at the time of 9/11 was Osama bin Laden’s driver, is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. Two surface-to-air missiles were found in a car he was driving – he says it was a borrowed vehicle and that he had no idea what was in the trunk. The judge has thrown out confessions Hamdan made in Afghanistan after his capture. “The interests of justice are not served by admitting these statements,” the judge said, “because of the highly coercive environments and conditions under which they were made.” Hamdan was bound for long periods of time, with a bag over his head.

You will know us by the company we keep. The burners of witches and the medieval masters of thumbscrews and Iron Maidens, the interrogators of the Spanish inquisition, the North Vietnamese soldiers who beat John McCain and his fellow American prisoners of war into false confessions. We have joined their ranks. In the almost seven years since 9/11, we have countered terror not only with vigilance and war but fear, imprisonment without due process and yes, torture.

Torture is no more about learning the truth than rape is about sex. Both are about the violent abuse of power.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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I could never quite figure out why torture was used to acquire information when the availability and expense would certainly be drastically reduced if sodium penathol was used instead.

Todays' Woes are the Result of yesterdays' Global Stratedgies.
This all began decades ago- We have first shot over our bow in the '70's. The citizens of this country acknowledged the fact that remining involved in the M.E. was a deadly proposition- But the Corps and the 'Royals' had other plans. Creating a 'Holy' war would work to both their advantages. so they built up the facade of a Christian Moral Majority in the'80's. Helped manipulate and control their message,while continuing to support the regimes which oppressed the other Islamic "moral Majority". 9/11 was a shock- but not a surprise, having watched this pot boil for the last few decades. Then to get the pot to over flow- the admin used 'Crusade'"Holy War' 'hate US for our freedoms' 'islamic extremeist' Now the fight becomes a 'Moral imperative'. 9/11 was Not an attqack on US- it was an attack on the insitutions which harbor the MIC.They just wrapped in in a flag and handed it a Bible.
The goal has always been to undermine the economy and power of the Citizens of this country as they had in so many other countries. this 'PURGE' has been a Success.throw a little 'disregard for Human Life' on top (torture) and We remain the target of these staged 'Conflicts' diverting everyones attention away from the real culprits and their agenda.
this 'Oil Crisis', 'Banking fiasco', national Debt to foreign countries, are intentional. Torture just fires up the One side towards vindication and action, resulting in the other side responding in reaction.
The acquisition, and control of Oil is the Mission. The current 'Off shore Drilling ' propaganda Here is nothing more then handing the Oil companies some more of our country- acre by acre. main point being actively avoided is tha tth eOil companies will Own the Oil they retrieve - there is not a national Oil ministry here. Drill off our shores- and they are able to sell it to any one they want- WE will NOT Own that Oil either!
So once all the bubbles are popped it all boils down to onething left on the bottom of the Pot- OIL.who ever owns it, contols it and the World economy.

Your report, "Capitol Crimes", would be more aptly named: 'Wolves In Sheep's Clothing'.

I am utterly appalled, but not surprised, by the corruption of those lobbyists and Tom "The Scumbag" Delay (even his mugshot is repulsive). I think the irony is that its wrapped in family values and Christian banter. "Return the Country to God", LMFAO! It truly amazes me that "Christians" believe this BS. Do they not have a brain? Nevermind, look who's their choice for President....twice?

The Christian Coalition is really The Satanic Coalition. Satan literally means 'deceiver'. Isn't it ironic that Pat Robertson has gold, diamond, and bank interests abroad...another lying scumbag.

It is evident that this Government 'of the people' is really the Government 'of the money'. They do not care for us. When will you wake up America!

There can Never be Full Humans Rights, in a Heterosexual Body Birth Society, or in a Religion. It never has, since the Fall of Perfect Peace Humans, Adam and Eve, to Imperfect Humans, Cain, Abel, Seth and Daughters and the rest of the Adam and Eve Perfect Colony, to all Human Body Birth Descendants.

Humans were to be the Caretakers of All Life on Earth, not Caretakers of Religious temples made by Human Hands. GODs Temple is Seen and Unseen Life as we Know it, our Planets and Universes. Human Hands were supposed to serve GODs Temple, in Peace, not be the Killers of it.

Is there any Man-Made New Religion, that does not have Splits down through time? Many Religions today, are splitting again. Especially Protestant Religions. How many Protestant Divisions are there today?

Humans with our High Tech Science, do have vehicles that fly up in the air, and fiery chariots that fly out into Space. Humans, in the Image of God, have returned to the High Tech Science Knowledge of the Supernatural Gods, that Colonized Life on Earth.

Colonization and High Tech Reproduction, is not Supernatural to High Tech Science Humans, nor to Humans today. Or, did Life Evolve on Earth in the beginning, up to our High Tech Science today?

We Reproduce a Fetus in the Lab, supernaturally, like the Gods, without the male sex act to the female. The Male planting his seed in the female, was the Original First Cause/Sin, that made Mis-bred Heterosexual Body Birth Humans on Earth, with Killing, and Physical Death.

With High Tech Science Regeneration, Humans can have Eternal Physical Life After Birth. We do not have the High Tech Science Womb as yet, to Free the Female, and All Life, from the Original Sin of Heterosexual Body Birth Reproduction.

According to a BBC report McCain broke his arms and legs in the crash. His (interviewed) jailor has stated there was NO TORTURE at the prison McCain was intered at commonly called " The Hanoi Hilton",then we have Hillary stating her getting off a plane amid gunfire. This playing off of Americans Patriotism for me is moral & ethical treason.

Although I'm a huge fan of Bill Moyers I can't say the same for PBS; at least as far as its coverage of the Middle East. I've always found it leaned too far toward Israel. And while I greatly appreciated the thrust of Michael Winship's article on torture, I find myself inclined to believe that the reason he failed to mention our "special" ally Israel's extensively documented (admitted) wholesale use of torture against Palestinians is due to some kind of implicit censorship at PBS. How could it not be relevant to an article entitled, "The Company We Keep," considering how close the relationship is between the two countries?

Somebody needs to tell this to our Congress! As long as key figures in our Congress "keep" company with Bush and his administration we are in very bad company. We might as well be in another inquisition except it is being run in reverse. That the laws of our nation, the Constitution and others, are being ignored or warped beyond all recognition is the worst assault on reason and logic ever. If these laws are not enforced why bother enforcing any others?

Jack, you mean "The Crucible."
Notice how Miller chose a "melting pot" synonym as the title. It also shares the "cross" root etymologically, bringing images of crucifixion, Christ's suffering for a greater good. If we haven't learned from our cruel-sordid mistakes, then the suffering was for naught.
Return from St. Louis Thursday, Jack, lets you, Coley, Gladdie and I have supper, on me. Aren't I your best student?

The "Salem Witch Trials" is not only a play by Arthur Miller. There were actual trials, tortures and executions in that 17th century Puritan village. Historical analysis has uncovered motives involving a land dispute and community status and power.

Our government (Includes the Bush administration, the military, covert agencies, bureaucrats and members of Congress) moved to override the Bill of Rights and basic human rights after the false flagged attack of 9/11. People in power foresee a bleak and diminished existence and they are not willing to share or change the global capitalist system.

Just like our prison system, Guantanamo and the other black box torture and rendition operations sought an adequate number of warm bodies, and mixed the good with the bad. The public had to be intimidated and reassured at the same time.

From our military came techniques of resisting interrogation by captors bent upon extracting FALSE CONFESSIONS. Our government KNOWINGLY used the same techniques from the cold war and counter-terrorism as sadistic totalitarian regimes (enemy & friendly)in order to produce the required FALSE CONFESSIONS needed for social control under the "War on Terror" plan. These techniques were taught to useful thugs at the School of the Americas for many years (now WHINSEC) at taxpayer expense. When humane labor and religious activists are tortured and butchered in hyper-capitalist states like Colombia, these are the perpetrators. We paid for and produced "the worst of the worst."

Note: The above includes you, Michael and Bill. Anyway, thanks for your valiant mid-week efforts.

I suspect Al Queida and other plotters are not as big a threat as the government would like us to believe. They keep a well managed supply of them in a "terror bank" on the Afghan-Pakistan border (probably at our expense).

This conspiracy goes much farther than the comedic-criminal Bush administration in that corporate interests are formulating apocalyptic policy and dictating it to our subservient government routinely. (Not to say war crimes trials are not in order once these traitors are deposed.)The hyper-faschistic, capitalist-promoted rule, and new panoptic surveillance in China (constructed with the Olympics as cover)betrays our future if our public, or at least a resistant minority does not react immediately.

Recent court decisions have expanded and reinforced Executive covert power domestically, so don't be surprised when sometime, somewhere,when you least expect it, someone steps up to you and says, "Smile! You're under arrest as a threat to national security."

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