Why torture is evil ... and futile
April 06 2014 12:13 AM

Democratic Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, speaking to the media in Washington on Thursday after a Senate Intelligence Committee meeting where members voted to support the declassification of key findings of a 6,300-page report detailing the CIA’s controversial interrogation programme.

By Dr Cesar Chelala/New York

Now, and from the most unexpected source, we have information on the futility of torture. According to information released to the press, the US Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that torture, euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, did not help the American government find Osama bin Laden in May 2011. The preliminary information released shows that torture is not ethically right, nor is it effective.
Paradoxically, by chance, I read this information a short while after I read a poem, Now Sing by James Scully, a noted American poet, on the brutal death of Victor Jara, a Chilean singer and composer who died at the hands of Pinochet’s goons. Legend says that Jara, a guitar player, was shot after his hands were smashed with the butt of a rifle so that he couldn’t play any longer, while his killers mockingly asked him to continue singing.
Jara’s torture reminds me of a similar type of torture to a friend of mine, a world-known pianist called Miguel Angel Estrella. While imprisoned in the curiously-called Libertad prison in Uruguay, the military men holding him in prison told him: “We are going to smash your hands as they (the Chilean military) did to Victor Jara in Chile so that you won’t be able to play any longer.”
However, neither in Jara’s case nor in the case of my friend Estrella did they succeed. Jara sang until he died and my friend is now a renowned pianist and Argentina’s ambassador to Unesco.
In 2009, a low-ranking Chilean officer called Jose Alfonso Paredes Marquez, who was at the time an 18-year-old military conscript on guard duty during Jara’s death, gave his testimony to Chilean judge Juan Eduardo Fuentes. According to Paredes Marquez, after four days of imprisonment and multiple sessions of torture in a basement room in Estadio Chile, his face swollen and his hands fractured, Jara was shot in his temple by a low-ranking officer during a round of Russian roulette. After the initial shot, Jara was then shot again 43 times by the conscripts present there, including Paredes Marquez.
In his poem Now Sing, Scully writes:
NOW sing: the guards howling
Beat him with obscenities.
                                              But he did.
His legend is
He was singing
when they shot him.
Even for them, it was too much
they killed him,
they couldn’t kill him enough.
Victor Jara
                                               Sin guitarra
Who’d held out with bloody stumps
                                                        And sung.
Jara’s tragic death couldn’t save Pinochet from prosecution and infamy. Estrella’s torture didn’t serve the Argentine military to remain in power.
In the US, from the moment of bin Laden’s death, former Bush administration and top CIA officials have cited the evidence that lead to the Al Qaeda mastermind’s compound as vindication of the usefulness of “enhanced interrogation techniques” which they denied was torture.
However, Democratic and Republican senators stated that the officials’ account was misleading since different techniques such as water boarding, sleep deprivation, and other similar practices were not only cruel torture but were also ineffective.
The Senate report is the most comprehensive account of a highly-classified programme that was established months after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The Senate Intelligence Committee  voted on Thursday to send an executive summary of the report to President Obama for declassification.
Given the importance of that summary,  its declassification is not only convenient to find out the truth but  also a duty.

- Dr Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

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