US Intel Vets Warn Against Torture

Exclusive: Experienced intelligence professionals reaffirm that torture – while popular with “tough” politicians – doesn’t work in getting accurate and actionable information, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

To those living “outside the Beltway” it may seem counterintuitive that those of us whose analysis has been correct on key issues that the U.S. government got criminally wrong – like the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – would be blacklisted from “mainstream” media and ostracized by the Smart People of the Establishment. But, alas, that’s the way it is.

Forget the continuing carnage in which hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions made refugees. Within the mainstream U.S. media and around Washington’s major policy circles, there is little serious dialogue, much less debate about what went so hideously wrong; and Americans still innocently wonder – regarding the people on the receiving end of the blunderbuss violence – “why they hate us.”

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)

After more than 13 years of presenting thoughtful critiques to senior officials – and having little discernible impact – we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity are strongly tempted to take some solace in having made a good-faith effort to spread some truth around – and, now, go play golf. But the stakes are too high. We can’t in good conscience approach the first tee without having tried one more time.

Accordingly, we repeat the offer we extended on Feb. 26 – this time to the winnowed candidate roster of Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – to make our deep experience and proven expertise available to those of you interested in the tell-it-like-it-is analysis that has been our niche for so many years.

Given our 13-year record for accuracy and insight, we had hoped that at least one or two of you would take us up on the offer, especially since a few of you have faced criticism for a paucity of foreign policy and national security experts.

Of more immediate importance to the nation and the world, statements by some of you in reaction to the Monday bombings in Brussels, seem to betray:

A) Gross naiveté about how to counter terrorism;

B) Demagogic disregard for the civil liberty protections embodied in the U.S. Constitution; or

C) Both of the above.

We can help round out your understanding of terrorism, its causes and its possible cures – but with respect to “A” above, you may wish to begin by reading VIPS memorandum #15 (of June 18, 2007), How Not to Counter Terrorism, drafted by our VIPS colleague, former Special Agent Coleen Rowley, who was FBI Division Counsel, Minneapolis, during 9/11. (Rowley later blew the whistle about the ineptitude at FBI headquarters that thwarted the simple steps that would have prevented those terrorist attacks.)

On Torture, Pols & Polls

Based on our lengthy experience in intelligence, we know that torture doesn’t “work.” So we confess to a certain disgust with the “new normal,” fostered not only by some presidential candidates but also by the media, that torture techniques like waterboarding yield useful intelligence. They don’t.

This issue has come to the fore again in the immediate aftermath of the Brussels bombings. We continue to be concerned that presidential candidates may be unaware, not only that harsh interrogation techniques don’t “work,” but also that they are a great fillip to the recruitment of more terrorists.

There are, of course, polls purporting to show that a majority of Americans still think that torturing “bad guys” can be justified. That simply means that many citizens have been seduced by artificially stoked fear into believing what all independent investigations – including the detailed Senate study relying on original CIA documents – have proven: that despite all the TV and Hollywood propaganda “showing” that torture “works,” it doesn’t.

The sole exception is if your purpose is to obtain unreliable or false “intelligence.” For instance, if you wish to coerce an Al Qaeda operative into “confessing” that there were close ties between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, well, then torture can work like a charm. A detainee will happily confirm a lie to stop the pain.

As for those responsible for implementing torture – like former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden – is it not clear that they have strong incentive to “justify” their criminal behavior? Some other complicit CIA officials and operatives, eager to protect themselves from the opprobrium that comes from torturing, also continue to pretend that torture helps “keep us safe.”

The opposite is the case, but these torture practitioners and their accomplices continue to promote the lie that useful intelligence can be gotten via abusive interrogation techniques (never mind that most such “enhanced” techniques are clearly illegal, not to mention immoral and ineffective).

VIPS has spoken out strongly – most recently in a Sept. 14, 2015 memo – against these crass attempts by former intelligence officials to exculpate themselves and other perpetrators.

What the commanding general of U.S. Army intelligence has said about torture bears repeating: On Sept. 6, 2006, the very day President George W. Bush announced and applauded the effectiveness of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Gen. John Kimmons told a Pentagon press conference: “I am absolutely convinced [that] no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that.”

Wise Advisers Needed

Some of today’s presidential candidates are brimming with what we’re told are sage foreign policy advisers, even though many have been implicated in the disastrous policies of recent decades; other candidates have relatively few advisers – some of them unknown entities about whom little can be found even via Goggle. As a collective, VIPS stands ready to help any and all candidates who might be interested. It may now be time to insert some names into our offer.

The listing below contains only those members of VIPS who signed onto our Memorandum of Sept. 14, 2015, addressing our former bosses’ transparent attempts to cover up their role in torture:

VIPS Steering Group, Sept. 14, 2015

Fulton Armstrong, National Intelligence Officer for Latin America (ret.)

William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Tony Camerino, former Air Force and Air Force Reserves, senior interrogator in Iraq and author of How to Break a Terrorist under pseudonym Matthew Alexander

Glenn L. Carle, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, CIA (ret.)

Thomas Drake, former Senior Executive, NSA

Daniel Ellsberg, former State Department and Defense Department Official (VIPS Associate)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry C Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF Intelligence Agency (Retired), ex Master SERE Instructor

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer

Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.)

Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

James Marcinkowski, Attorney, former CIA Operations Officer

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East, CIA (ret.)

Todd Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)

Scott Ritter, former Maj., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq

Diane Roark, former professional staff, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Coleen Rowley, Division Counsel & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)

Ali Soufan, former FBI Special Agent

Robert David Steele, former CIA Operations Officer

Greg Thielmann, U.S. Foreign Service Officer (ret.) and former Senate Intelligence Committee

Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary

Valerie Plame Wilson, CIA Operations Officer (ret.)

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat

Ray McGovern served for 30 years as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

17 comments for “US Intel Vets Warn Against Torture

  1. billspiro
    March 25, 2016 at 22:10

    Another “success” of torture is to turn the torturers into psychopaths.

  2. billspiro
    March 25, 2016 at 15:33

    The real reason for torture is to turn the torturers into psychopaths, so they can be more useful terrorizing the citizens.

    • David Smith
      March 27, 2016 at 09:23

      100% correct.

  3. David Whitten Smith
    March 24, 2016 at 23:59

    Another “success” of torture is to terrorize populations and suppress dissent.

  4. March 24, 2016 at 23:33

    The best proof can be obtained by visiting the “Castle of the Count of Flanders” in Ghent, Belgium: the torture technics were used during Counter-Reformation to hunt witches and apostates. One could make someone say that he slept with the Devil:

  5. Patricia Thornton
    March 24, 2016 at 22:08

    Thank you VIPS for all of your really hard work to promote the truth about torture. It must be frustrating to have the science behind you and still the politicos and the mainstream media refuse to acknowledge that torture is ineffective, not to mention immoral. Keep up your resistance to continuing falsehoods. Some of us are listening and hope that soon the tired meme of “we need to increase torture” will be demolished.

  6. Andrew
    March 24, 2016 at 22:06

    Mr McGovern, what do you think of the second “usefulness” of torture, which is it gives satisfaction to those in charge to be able to inflict pain on others at will?

  7. David Smith
    March 24, 2016 at 13:56

    If the VIPS really are intelligence veterans, they should abandon the red herring of the torture issue and explain how real intelligence of covert organizations is obtained: by developing informants within the targeted organization. Valerie Palme Wilson has Control Officer experience, albeit in a very “soft case” not related to terrorist cells. So-called Islamic terror cells impress me as very easy to penetrate, Islamic communities are very corrupt, informants are easily hired, and putting on a jihadi act is easy, so rising in the group would be easy. The easiest thing of all is for a Western Intelligence Agency to build a cell, mostly of chumps but with one or more double operatives as secret leaders. The cell could be busted before it acts, like the Toronto Eighteen, or it can be busted after it acts, like the chumps in Brussels. It is so easy to dismiss as “conspiracy theory” suggestions that terrorism is “false flag”, but Cui Bono and Occam’s Razor might beg to differ.

  8. Regina Schulte
    March 24, 2016 at 10:48

    I am grateful for Ray McGovern’s continuing labors to bring us the truth re our government’s policies.
    This piece was his rebuttal to the erroneous thinking of those who view torture in merely utilitarian
    terms. I.e., “If it works, it’s permissible.”

    Using that philosophy, NOTHING IS IMMORAL IF IT GETS THE DESIRED RESULT. How utterly tragic
    is this yardstick.

  9. Brad Owen
    March 24, 2016 at 04:25

    Thank you, Mr. McGovern, for keeping up the effort. What is it with the fascistic mind-set, and the need to torture?!? I recall stories of the military Juntas of Chile and Argentina and “torture mills”. There seemed to be no purpose to their madness, just a kind of Kafka-esque compelling need to indulge in this “tough-guy” sick fantasy. If one is honest, one must admit that our current political establishment is in a Kafka-esque state of depravity; smoothly, bureaucratically functioning, completely unmindful of the course it’s set upon, and where the moral compass is pointing (I guess it’s not too surprising in a modern society that’s highly materialistic and atheistic in its daily habits). I’m also reminded of our compromises to coexist with the depraved institution of slavery, until certain people couldn’t stand it anymore, and said “Enough! Cease and Desist!”, and The Whirlwind followed.

  10. Terry Washington
    March 24, 2016 at 04:12

    Yawn- any veteran of the NI”Troubles” could have told American policymakers what these men -and women for that matter- did;torture is not just simply immoral but counterproductive . In the words of former British Army captain Fred Holroyd, “counter terror simply does NOT work!”( Contrary to what you may have seen in TV series like “24” with its “ticking time bomb scenario”) And even if it DID work, that in itself is NO justification in itself. Torture may work, but so does slave labour and genocide. Besides, torture has been a hallmark of bestial and morally bankrupt regimes such as Stalin’s Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq- are these the countries America wishes to emulate?!

    • March 24, 2016 at 11:31

      It should be obvious to anyone that, as just another form of terror, the only thing counter terror can produce is more counter terror.

  11. March 23, 2016 at 22:45

    While the horror of torture should be discussed, I am constantly disappointed in the lack of discussion of the rights of persons taken prisoners by the U.S. armed forces. Paramount among those rights, in context, is the right to not be interrogated. Under the Third Geneva Convention’s Article 17, a prisoner “is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information.

    “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.”

    That protection is to be afforded to all “prisoners of war,” a term that includes all military personnel wearing a nation’s military uniform.

    The U.S. government attempted under the Bush II Administration to create a new classification of prisoners, “detainees,” that they hoped would exempt them from Constitutional protections so long as their feet were not permitted to contact American soil, hence the detainee camp at Guantanmo Bay, Cuba. But the courts rather swiftly corrected the Bush Administration, holding that detainees retain rights under the U.S. Constitution regardless of where they are located so long as they are held by the U.S. government. Prominent among those rights is the right to remain silent, to not answer questions, a right secured by the 5th Amendment.

    The right to remain silent is a separate and distinct matter from what constitutes “torture” under the various treaties that prohibit torture. The U.S. government takes the position that any treatment that does not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Constitution’s 8th Amendment does not constitute “torture.”

    We may debate until the cows come home whether particular “enhanced interrogation techniques” constitute torture. But the slide down the slippery slope begins with U.S. officials ignoring a prisoner’s right to remain silent. The U.S. government has no lawful power to coerce answers to questions put to prisoners of any type, regardless of the means of coercion applied. That is a fundamental right under our Constitution’s “natural law” rights.

    I would very much like to see those who write about U.S. torture regimes begin to discuss whether the government has any lawful power to interrogate prisoners who wish not to answer questions. No such power exists. And the public deserves to know that.

    • March 25, 2016 at 20:37

      Yes, we need more experts on the “law of war” to weigh in as I think what the government did is try to carve out a new category of “enemy combatants” under the old WWII “enemy saboteur” case of Quirin to which the law of war and Geneva Conventions do not apply:

      • David Smith
        March 27, 2016 at 09:58

        Lawyers do not solve problems, they create problems. Lawyers take any conflict and make it worse, if there is no conflict they will create one. Lawyers only produce “billable hours”. Lawyers are social and economic waste, lawyers degrade and impede Justice.

  12. Bill Bodden
    March 23, 2016 at 21:51

    There are, of course, polls purporting to show that a majority of Americans still think that torturing “bad guys” can be justified.

    And polls showed a sizable majority of Americans endorsed the war on Iraq. Sometime “majority” is a synonym for “the mob mentality.”

  13. Pablo Diablo
    March 23, 2016 at 21:18

    That’s quite a lineup. THANK YOU all for your courage. As long as war is profitable win or lose (for a few), we are going to have a hard time stopping it. Gotta keep the war machine well fed so it can continue to buy politicians who vote for war. i.e. Hillary Clinton.

Comments are closed.