Saturday, August 11, 2007

Dead Horses Deserve a Rest

When are they going to stop hauling Daniel Pearl's corpse out every time they need a PR boost? This macabre ritual has gone on long enough. The Black Agenda Report has an excellent (and wide-ranging) article on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's interrogation and the CIA's torture programs in general. It begins with an anecdote about how last March Pearl's widow received a call from Alberto Gonzalez informing her of the "good news" that KSM had confessed to her husband's murder. Ms. Pearl was understandably put off by this obvious publicity stunt. Condi Rice had called her in 2003 to inform her of the same news. The timing of the call was also obviously suspect. Gonzalez has been in quite the hot water for the past few months, and good news has been desperately hard to come by. What's a war criminal to do? The obvious, of course. Remind the public just how eeeeeeeevil the terrorists are by wheeling Daniel Pearl's mummified corpse out once more at which a shocked and awed public can gawk. Marianne Pearl has the good sense to see this grisly stunt for what it is, and exercises a skepticism we would all do well to pick up. "It's not enough for officials to call me and say they believe it," Pearl said. "You need evidence."

You'd think that the administration would have learned by now that their attempts to make martyrs out of those unfortunate casualties of imperialist depravity hasn't been a terribly successful strategy. The attempt to use Nick Berg's death to demonize the Iraqis only resulted in giving more publicity to his father, Michael Berg, a brilliant antiwar activist. The attempt to make Pat Tillman's life into a recruiting ad brought to light just how deep the military's mendacity goes. And the celebration of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's "confession" has exposed not only the tenuous grounds on which said confession rests, but also some more disturbing facts about the military's torture program in general.

(Quick notes about KSM's case before moving to the general points. First, practically no one believes Gonzalez and his inquisitioners' claim that KSM actually confessed to, or actually perpetrated the murder of Daniel Pearl. As mentioned above, Marianne Pearl doesn't believe it. Nor does the Karachi-based journalist with whom the Pearls were staying at the time of the kidnapping. When asked about the case, she said ""The release of the confession came right in the midst of the U.S. Attorney scandal. There was a drumbeat for Gonzales's resignation. It seemed like a calculated strategy to change the subject. Why now? They'd had the confession for years." The head of security at the US consolate in Karachi said "My old colleagues say with one-hundred-per-cent certainty that it was not K.S.M. who killed Pearl." The list could extend indefinitely, but I'll end with Pearl's father, who said "Something is fishy. There are a lot of unanswered questions. K.S.M. can say he killed Jesus - he has nothing to lose." I'll close this with the Karachi journalist's remarks on what Pearl would have thought of the torture extracted confession of KSM:

"I'm not interested in unfair justice, even for bad people." She went on, "Danny was such a person of conscience. I don't think he would have wanted all of this dirty business. I don't think he would have wanted someone being tortured. He would have been repulsed. This is the kind of story that Danny would have investigated. He really believed in American principles."
Unfortunately, it appears that torture really is one of those American principles. In the mad rush after September 11th, Dick Cheney looked to the Phoenix Program from Vietnam as model for the interrogation regime which he sought to impose in Afghanistan. As Alfred McCoy points out, such programs do little in the way of extracting information. They are extremely effective, however, as a terrorist campaign to brutalize and destroy enemy infrastructure through a dragnet method of depravity.

And that's the take home message of this post. Torture regimes are not, I repeat, are not about the extraction of information. For an interesting story about this, read how the FBI sent interrogators to tell 24 they need to stop portraying torture as an effective means of gathering information because it's influencing their recruits. These regimes are part of the infrastructure of imperialist terrorism. As the US seeks to impose its will on non-complying populations around the world, it needs to find a way to bend locals to its will. The American ruling class has never hesitated to use torture as a means to this end. That is what these macabre PR stunts are ultimately about: a justification for the crimes our government is daily perpetrating around the world.