Saturday, June 30, 2018

Notes On Reliability of Coerced Confessions, Plus How That Relates To The Woman Appointed to Head The CIA

Gina Haspel, on left coming in to Senate hearing with respect to her nomination
According to the Innocence Project, of all the people whom DNA evidence later exonerates as wrongfully convicted, more than 1 out of 4 made a false confession or incriminating statement.

That’s why the Innocence Project recommends mandatory recording of interrogations.  Recording of interrogations can reveal whether police are communicating facts, elements and information about a crime to suspects which suspects later communicate back to them as somehow proof of their involvement in the crime and the way it unfolded.  It enables suspects to repeat back to the police essentially what the police have predetermined they want to hear.  To be absolutely blunt, at that point, the interrogated suspect is essentially collaborating with the interrogators to recast falsehoods as documented fact. Suspects may be inclined to do so particularly if they feel helpless to do anything else and especially if they are under duress and being coerced.  In the United States (since at least the 1936 ruling in Brown v. Mississippi) physically brutal torture to achieve a confession is, quite sensibly, a clear denial of due process.

Recorded interrogations are more reliable and can point back to what is more likely true when coercion causes the confessions to veer from the production of truth to falsehood.  Recordings have value, including retroactively, to  seek out and establish truth.

In the great grand scheme of what justice is and should be, it is not just the determination of the guilt or innocence of the particular suspect that is in issue.  And it is not just a question of who should be charged for a crime instead given that every conviction of an innocent man probably means guilty parties remain free.–   Yes, false confessions can help the actual perpetrators of crime avoid detection.–  Recordings can also point back to improper bias, and perhaps point back, perhaps in even incriminating ways, to improper goals and agenda on the part of the interrogators.  For instance, the interrogators may want to make themselves look good (like Det. "I've done nothing wrong" Louis Scarcella) through the easy convenience of finding a quick scapegoat (as in the 1989 Central Park Jogger case); they may also be indifferent or worse to the suffering of the already marginalized and persecuted minority individuals they target for such convenient scapegoating.

Therefore recordings take on a very special importance if there is any possibility of questionable motives on the part of the interrogation team.  They also help uproot and exorcise flaws that make the failure of justice systematic.

All of the above is probably intuitively clear to the reader without my writing it.  But I am starting with the basics to come in the back door to talk about something else, a bigger topic.  It’s something that no one else seems to have talked about in the mainstream media or even most of its fringes even as we whirled through an event that otherwise got a huge amount of media attention: Our nomination of Gina Haspel to head to become the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

It’s our country’s latest affront and embarrassing communication to the world that we feel that we and our allies are above and immune to such laws as the Geneva Convention and Nuremberg Principles.

Gina Haspel, “Bloody Gina” as many of her detractors refer to her, was quickly confirmed by the senate to head the CIA.  She shouldn’t have been.  Although outrage over her nomination was dutifully expressed in various quarters, not much was done to effectively prevent her from assuming the office.  What was done did not discourage six Democrats from joining with Republicans to produce an approval vote of 54 to 45.  The vote would have been lopsidedly the other way had the Democrats not switched given that three Republican senators were opposing the nomination.
The expressions of why Ms. Haspel was unacceptable to head the CIA were superficial . . . as if nothing extra needed to be expressed in opposition.  They mostly amounted to the reasons a New York Times editorial opposing her confirmation expressed; that she should not be confirmed because of:
    •    “her role at the center of one of . .  a brutal interrogation regime that used torture against terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks.”

    •    Her taking the lead in advocating for and drafting instructions to order the destruction of tapes documenting torture interrogations for which she was responsible.
Furthermore, it was far from absolutely clear at the Senate hearing that Ms. Haspel would not do or let such similar things happen again, even though she gestured at checking the box of sounding like she would not do it again with a collection of statements:
    •    “I would not put C.I.A. officers at risk by asking them to undertake risky, controversial activity again.”

    •    “My moral compass is strong. I would not allow C.I.A. to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it.”

    •    “what I believe, sitting here today [today?], is that I support the higher moral standard we [who?] have [now?] decided to hold ourselves to.”
Asked whether she thought the CIA program of torture interrogation was immoral, Haspel refused to say that it was immoral, which is essentially to say that her strong “moral compass” would permit it in the future.  Further her hint that she interprets the law to be even less restrictive makes it sounds like she would view it as legal as well.  Therefore, what would hold her back right now is her assessment that the practice  is “controversial” (only if it is known about), and perhaps not presently a good “risk,” (weighed against others?) plus, lastly, that she supports “the higher moral standard we have” we have now “decided to hold ourselves to”— The thing is though that Haspel will be serving under a president who says that torture “absolutely works” and publicly communicated great enthusiasm about using it.  (Haspel, incongruously argued she did not expect the enthusiastic Trump to implement such a practices again.— There was also a fair amount floated in various reports that the reason Haspel earned the sobriquet Bloody Gina is because people suspect that she, herself, actually liked the cruelty.)
When it comes to the central question of whether it is wrong or right to torture people your nation holds captive, many will stop at the simple answer that it is, always without question, morally wrong.  Others, will go another step, invoking a more “hard-nosed” standard either proving their tough practicality either to themselves or the satisfaction of others: They will conclude that since torture doesn’t work there is nothing that can make it right.

We’ve known for hundreds of years that torture doesn’t work, because, at best, the tortured, to make the torture stop, will simply tell the torturer whatever they want to hear, which may or may not have any basis in truth.  As such, when asked about this at the senate hearing, Ms. Haspel did not make a risible, goofball statement directly refuting such wisdom from the ages.  Instead, this was how the exchange in question began:
“The president has asserted that torture works,” Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, said. “Do you agree with that statement?”

“Senator, I — I don’t believe that torture works,” Ms. Haspel said.
But then Haspel played cat and mouse with some `wink, wink, nudge, nudge,’ dog whistle type evasions suggesting that maybe torture does work . . .  and hence that torture is “moral,” for those who compliment themselves as being superior for basing their standards on hardnosed pragmatism:
GINA HASPEL: [continuing]. . .  I believe that in the CIA’s program—and I’m not attributing this to enhanced interrogation techniques—I believe, as many people, directors, who have sat in this chair before me, that valuable information was obtained from senior al-Qaeda operatives, that allowed us to defend this country and prevent another attack.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Is that a yes?

GINA HASPEL: No, it’s not a yes. We got valuable information from debriefing of al-Qaeda detainees. And I don’t—I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.
If you will, this hedging on Haspel’s part must be viewed as laying out nearly the only road by which Haspel can avoid conceding that torture is immoral.

A somewhat misleading headline from National Public Radio: Did this kind of inexactitude help Haspel get nominated?
The Times editorial, and others, offered one other last point of objection to confirming Haspel, which was that with her record at the CIA remaining secret and was being vetted by essentially nobody else. It was essentially being vetted by just Haspel herself serving as acting CIA Director during the process.  The editorial commented:
We are constrained in assessing Ms. Haspel because much about her record is not public. Ms. Haspel controls what of her record can be declassified, and most details released so far have been flattering. She should recuse herself and allow Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, to make the call on declassifying more of her record.
Ignoring that the notion that so many details of Haspel’s career and qualifications are unknown and that only flattering details were selectively released, the Times editorial nevertheless offered an insanely appeasing assessment of Ms. Haspel venturing that “Gina Haspel has shown she has all the qualities to become the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency” and that she was a “shoo-in for the top job.”  That kind of double-talk is certainly shoots yourself in the foot if your goal is to write a damning indictment to stop a confirmation of a nomination.  This kind of language is also the kind of thing that makes it easy for Democrats to cross the aisle to vote to approve a torturer to head the CIA.
Now to move on to what is most important to discuss.  There are other reasons to consider why Haspel’s known actions make her a very bad choice to head the CIA and they involve the destruction of the torture tapes; this is from a standpoint we will now address that went undiscussed by nearly everybody.

The destruction of the torture tapes is probably most often simply viewed as a coverup compounding the original wrongdoing of the torturing while reconfirming with emphasis how horrible the wrongdoing must have been given these efforts to hide it.  Haspel herself and those she was working with her offered a probably the less believed explanation and excuse for destroying the tapes.  That excuse was that she sought to destroy the tapes because their release would pose a security risk (or “potential security risk”) to the officers involved or that it would put agents in the field at risk.  It’s very hard to believe that the CIA can’t keep things secret enough and its agents secure without actually destroying the tapes.  Plus, as an intelligence gathering agency, it’s surprising to think that the CIA is ever inclined to zoom any information into a black hole from which it cannot retrieved in the future if it later wants it again for its own purposes.

Our most skilled horror film makers know that the best approach to keeping their audience on the edge of their seats is to avoid showing the flick’s monster; let the audience’s imagination do the work of conjuring up what is awful and their imagination will surely come up with something far more terrifying than the monster you can actually depict by supplying more information and images.  So, on its face, it might seem that destruction of the torture tapes is thus an obvious tactical mistake for those who would like to whitewash their torture sins.  Indeed, maybe it is, but what if, through misdirection, what gets imagined is not the worst that actually happened?

What’s that possible misdirection?: It’s routinely been suggested, typically in passing asides dropping references to natural assumptions, that even if the torture interrogators were making errant, troublesome and cruel decisions that the they were part of valiant efforts to discover the truth about 9/11 in a fraught time so as to protect the country against future attacks.  But should that be so quickly assumed?

So far, it’s only in a low-Googling article in Consortium News that have I been able to find writing that suggests another possibility that seems obvious to me and one that responsible people considering Haspel’s nomination should have been considering:
It’s been widely assumed the tapes were destroyed because of the potentially graphic nature of the abuse, or to hide the identity of those doing the torture. But there’s another distinct possibility: That they were destroyed because of the questions they document being asked. Do the torturers ask: “Is there another terrorist attack?” Or do they compel: “Tell us that Iraq and Al-Qaeda are working together”? The video evidence to answer that question has been destroyed by order of Haspel — with barely anyone raising the possibility of that being the reason.

See: Torture is Not Only Immoral, but a Tool for War, By Sam Husseini, May 8, 2018
Mr. Husseini’s article also helpfully supplied a beginning list of questions that ought to have been asked of Ms. Haspel during her nomination.  (They weren’t asked.)

What could a review of the tapes reveal about the agenda of the torturers and Haspel?  It is far from a fantasy to believe that those involved might have been involved in the efforts to build up false facts in order to lead the United States into war with Iraq, something the Bush administration wanted almost immediately and prior to collecting any reasons.  We know that this was going on in the United State government and intelligence community on a widespread basis.  As for whether these coercive interrogators actually wanted to track down what truly happened with respect to 9/11 and who was involved, we know that were many clear trails to be investigated that pointed toward Saudi Arabian involvement in bringing about the 9/11 events.  They were apparently were not earnestly pursued by our government.  In fact, on Democracy Now this past fall there was coverage of the thinking that the coercive interrogations were conducted for the purpose of supporting a “concocted” story about 9/11.

With the torture tapes assumed to be destroyed it does unleash our imaginations to imagine the worst.  In fact, as citizens of this country looking to be properly governed as well as responsible for our own government, we probably have a duty to engage in such speculative imaginings and follow up on their implications. The worst that can be imagined isn’t the inhumanity or brutal cruelty of the torture; it is that such inhumane and brutal practices might have been pursued to tell us and the rest of the world lies, not truth. . .

If that is something that Ms. Haspel believes can be a proper and moral objective of the CIA, then maybe that is the road by which she reaches her conclusion that torture is not necessarily immoral.  (CIA goals do include misinforming the public.)  Is that what Haspel actually thinks is moral?  We are in a difficult position when trying to guess: The story is that the tapes are destroyed and nobody asked Ms. Haspel to answer this question of what she thinks.  In fact, when the senate had a chance, there was a dearth of clamor to insist that Ms. Haspel answer such hard and difficult questions.

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