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Friday, December 7, 2012

Disgusting CSIS


Did anyone out there see the movie Syriana? There’s a scene in it I’ll never forget. George Clooney is duct-taped to a chair and his captor wants information. There’s no bragging, no boasting, no Bond-style delays or veiled threats. Clooney’s jailer means business. In very short order, Clooney is having his fingernails removed by pliers. His acting is very compelling. I remember being thoroughly drawn into the horror of the moment, imagining the degree of freak-out I’d be having in his place. How helpless I’d feel. How desperate I’d be to have the pain stop. How I’d be begging my body would go into catatonic shock the likes of which only the safety of a semi-private room in a Canadian hospital could cure. Clooney doesn’t talk, unrealistically, in my opinion. He’s a spy, so theoretically he’s been trained in keeping his lip zipped even under the worst conditions (for which this certainly qualifies).

I wouldn’t do as well in his place. The moment I saw a guy heading towards me with pliers, I’d be telling him whatever he wanted to hear. If my answers didn’t satisfy, I’d make stuff up. I believe most people would do the same. Even if some lunatics are tough enough not to wilt at the mere threat, they have ten fingernails to suffer through. Then ten toenails. Then the pliers might go for something that doesn’t grow back. There’s any number of things to choose from. The imagination would fill in the blanks as required. The logical conclusion of “My torturer’s probably just going to kill me afterwards anyway, so I might as well keep quiet” would have no weight with me at all. Death is nowhere near as scary as torture. Not even close. The pain ENDS when you die, after all. Most humans aren’t movie-star tough. We’ll crack, and probably pretty soon.

That’s why it seems to me that information derived through torture can never be considered reliable. The sufferer, unless he’s a clinical masochist, wants his torment to be over. He’ll not only talk, he’ll tell you want he thinks you want to hear. Truth is less important than ending things, so a victim will invent anything if he thinks it’ll help out. At the very best, the confessions of the damned are only good as leads to be followed and later confirmed by other sources. If you can’t get that confirmation, chances are the info was bogus.

So why did our glorious Canadian Security Intelligence Service conclude precisely the opposite? Setting aside the considerable ethical, legal, and moral issues involved in profiting from torture-derived info, what rational person thinks it’s reliable? I’m referring to the “case” against Mohamed Mahjoub, an Egyptian man accused of being a ranking member of Vanguards of Conquest, an Egyptian group linked to al-Qaida. They want him deported, and have apparently done everything they can to accomplish this without actually succeeding. (Which is just sad. They’ve used torture-tainted information, illegal wiretaps, and suspicious “summaries” of mysteriously “lost” interview tapes and still haven’t managed to achieve their goal. Lazy or incompetent or a little bit of both? Impossible to say.)

Mahjoub has been kept under wraps for TWELVE YEARS without being formally charged. Maybe he’s guilty of being a threat to national security, maybe not. What I do know is, if you can’t prove that kind of thing in the lifespan of your average beagle, maybe you should be in a different line of work. CSIS has been at work on Mahjoub since Chrétien was in office and they still haven’t got him. Were they so focused on obtaining information from any source that they forgot they needed to actually, you know, present a case? Preferably a legitimate one, which clearly they haven’t done.

It’s all rather pathetic, when it isn’t repugnant. I’d like to have a moral government, if at all possible, and have that morality trickle down through all of their policies and subsidiary arms. That includes the intelligence service, military, police, etc. Failing that, I suppose it’s better to have incompetent villains, from a “public good” perspective. Bumbling and slow evil is preferable to swift and efficient, I guess, but if our guys were at least honestly dedicated to the Dark Side, maybe we’d be a country to fear. Respect is better than fear, yes, but isn’t fear better than disgust? Right now, all I’ve got for us is disgust, and it doesn’t feel so great.

Not “pull your fingernails out” bad, but still... not so great.

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