USA

Torture is "self-defense" according to the Pentagon

  In 2003 the U.S. Justice Department sent a memo to the Pentagon in which it conceived torture as a "self-defense" for the purpose of interrogating an "enemy combatant". An Iraqi deputy and a French colonel specialised in the Algerian War react to the document, declassified yesterday and published here in full.

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In 2003 the U.S. Justice Department sent a memo to the Pentagon in which it conceived torture as a "self-defense" for the purpose of interrogating an "enemy combatant". An Iraqi deputy and a French colonel specialised in the Algerian war react to the document, declassified yesterday and published here in full.

Written by a lawyer for the Justice Department, the memorandum basically said that the American president is entitled by the Constitution to authorise certain forms of torture against al-Qaeda militants for reasons of national security. The Justice nullified the statement nine months after it was sent. But according to the Washington Post, the article served as the "legal foundation for the Defense Department's use of aggressive interrogation practices at a crucial time, as captives poured into military jails from Afghanistan".

Extracts from the memo

If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch's constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions (...). [Interrogators who harmed a prisoner would be protected by a] national and international version of the right to self-defense."

The document in full:

Part 1

Part 2

"We wouldn't allow torture, even if we were in the same situation as the Americans"

Michel Goya is a lieutenant colonel in the French army specialised in conflicts in the Middle East. He is also an historian, specialising on Iraq and the Algerian war.

The problem that the Americans face is an asymmetrical war. When an army is fighting against a guerrilla or terrorist group, the retrieval of information can make a huge difference. And the quickest way to get this information is through interrogation.

It's not, however, the best solution long term. Firstly, because a prisoner can make the whole thing up during his interrogation. Secondly, because once the public finds about it, the army's reputation might get damaged. And when it lasts a long time, a war's difficult to win without the support of the population. The best way to obtain reliable information can be, for example, to infiltrate an opposing group or get one of its members to conspire against them. The French army for example won the battle of Algiers mainly thanks to their technique. Colonel Godard, who was in charge of the operation, was opposed to torture.

The Americans want rapid results. It's in their genes. Moreover, they feel as though they're fighting in crusade against evil. Finally, they're faced with an enemy that doesn't go by any rules or code of ethics. So they're tempted to use extreme methods. The French army also tortured people in the Algerian war, (in a less extreme manner than the National Liberation Front, nonetheless). But this experience severely traumatised our institution. It's still an open wound and scorned upon with vehemence. Which is why, I think that we wouldn't allow torture- even if we were in the same situation as the Americans."

"Their techniques are nothing compared with those used in Syrian prisons"

Haytham Manna, spokesperson for the Arab League of Human Rights. Haytham has interviewed numerous prisoners detained by American soldiers in Guantanamo and Iraq:

I already had the document. It had already been leaked before it was declassified yesterday. The Pentagon didn't release the memo for transparency reasons; they did it because it was already in the public domain.

The review of torture use was written up in 2001, even before the invasion into Afghanistan. The American administration managed to create a whole vocabulary around the word torture without actually naming it, so that they could get around international conventions. They make reference to "enhanced interrogation techniques"... also known as torture.

It's this kind of memo that justified waterboarding (the prisoner believes he is drowning), temperature torture (the interrogation room goes from 130° to -25°) and the use of sound (the prisoner is exposed to an unbearably loud noise for several hours). These types of torture, which are practiced at Guantanamo, are carefully followed by a team of experts - a behaviour team, who ensure that the prisoners are not tortured to death. But they're not always successful. At least four people have died at Guantanamo, all of them disguised as suicides by the Americans.

And then you have to remember that the stuff that goes on at Guantanamo is nothing compared with that in Iraq. Both the US-supported Iraqi military and the American Army itself are no longer restrained when it comes to torture. It's not as bad as in Syrian prisons. But nobody cares about what's going on in Afghan or Iraqi detention centres; the prisoners are always isolated during interrogation, so there's nobody there to bear witness to what happens."

"Their idea of "limited torture" is laughable"

Izzat Shahbandar, a deputy member of the Iraqi National Service, a coalition of parties opposed to the current government:

It's a very good thing that this document has been declassified. It says a lot about the repressive character of the American foreign policy. The US condemns torture when it's practised in other countries, especially in southern countries. But when it's them doing it, it's allowed. They're using double standards; that's inacceptable. And their idea of "limited torture" is laughable. Torture is torture. It's inhumane, and that's it. I was wondering why they let this info out. And in the end, I decided it must be because it doesn't really bother them."