What About The Torture Of Innocents? The Syrian Torturers Were In Constant Contact With The CIA
06 January 2013
By Jacob G. Hornberger
It is shocking enough that the United States is even
engaged in a debate over whether the U.S. government
should be torturing or not. Historically, torture has
been committed by evil, medieval regimes, whose
methods of brutally torturing people are memorialized
in torture museums in various parts of Great Britain
and Europe, or by communist or other dictatorial
regimes around the world. Never in my wildest dreams,
when I was young, ever dream that the United States
would be discussing whether to embrace torture as a
formal policy, much less actually adopting it.
The moral argument against torture is that it's simply
wrong. That argument holds that even if torture
succeeds in extracting information or a confession, it
still should not be utilized, simply because it's
wrong, from both a moral and religious standpoint, to
do this to people, even when they're guilty. The
utilitarian argument is that it's not a reliable means
of gaining information or confessions because people
will say anything when being tortured.
But there's another argument against torture that is
oftentimes ignored — the torture of people who are
innocent — that is, those who have no information to
provide and who have nothing to do with what they are
accused of doing. The innocent, in fact, have the
potential of being the most brutally tortured simply
because they're not able to provide their torturers
with the information they're seeking and, therefore,
bring the torture to a stop.
What happens when an innocent person is tortured? The
answer is that he gets tortured some more. And he
continues to be tortured indefinitely into the future
until the torturers finally conclude, if ever, that he
really is innocent. The reason is obvious: the
torturers, convinced that the victim is lying,
continue torturing him indefinitely until they get the
information they're seeking, which obviously is never.
A good example of this aspect of torture involved
Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was changing
planes at Dulles Airport as he was returning to his
home country of Canada. The CIA took a hold of him
and, mistakenly convinced that he was terrorist,
proceeded to interrogate him. When Arar's answers
weren't satisfactory, the CIA proceeded to forcibly
rendition him to Syria (yes, Syria!), one of the
world's most brutal dictatorships, for the purpose of
torturing him to provide information that the CIA was
We still don't know how the torture deal came into
existence, what its terms were, who the negotiators
were, or whether President Bush signed off on the
deal. The government has steadfastly kept such things
secret, and neither the mainstream press nor the
Congress has ever demanded answers or explanations.
What we do know is that Arar was kept in Syria for
almost a year, during which time he was brutally
tortured by Syrian torturers.
Why not just a week of torture? Or just a month? Why
not just six months? Why a full year of torture?
There can be only one answer: Despite the brutal
torture being inflicted on Arar by the Syrian goons,
the CIA was convinced that he was still holding out —
that with more torture, Arar would finally confess and
provide the information that the CIA was seeking.
It had to be that the Syrian torturers were in
constant contact with the CIA and informing them of
the results of the torture. After all, that was
purpose of sending him to Syria — to torture him into
confessing and providing information, given that the
CIA had failed to do so with its interrogation at
After a year of brutal torture, the Syrians must have
grown weary of the entire, sordid episode because they
finally released Arar without having secured the
confession or information sought by the CIA.
Upon his return to Canada, the Canadian government,
after an official investigation, adjudged Arar
innocent of the charges, apologized for its role in
the affair, and even provided him with a financial
settlement for what had been done to him.
To this day, however, the U.S. national-security state
is still convinced that Arar is guilty. If it had been
up to U.S. officials, Arar would undoubtedly still be
in a Syrian jail being tortured into providing the
confession and information that the CIA is still
convinced he's withholding.
Of course, torture proponents would undoubtedly say,
"Well, that's just too bad. You can't make an omelet
without breaking eggs."
But that mindset flies in the face of our American
heritage. The possibility of punishing an innocent
person was considered so abhorrent to our ancestors
that they did their best to ensure that that would
rarely happen. That's what the presumption of
innocence, trial by jury, and due process of law are
all about. That's what the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and
Eight Amendments to the Constitution are all about.
Indeed, let's not forget that our ancestors even
included in the Bill of Rights a prohibition against
cruel and unusual punishments being inflicted on
people, including even those who had been adjudged
Our ancestors understood that government officials
make mistakes — that they sometimes accuse people of
crimes who are actually innocent. Even today, when
federal prosecutors accuse people in federal court of
crimes, including the federal crime of terrorism,
juries sometimes return with verdicts of acquittal.
Imagine if the government had exercised its post-9/11
option to threat those acquitted people as enemy
combatants in the war on terrorism and had proceeded
to brutally torture them into confessing or providing
To ensure that those people didn't get wrongfully
punished, our ancestors placed all sorts of barriers
and obstructions the government would have to overcome
before punishing the person it was accusing. Our
ancestors realized that these obstacles and barriers
would mean that many people who had committed crimes
would go free. But they were willing to pay that price
because the thought of wrongfully punishing a person
who was innocent was so abhorrent to them.
It's time for Americans to take a close look at what
the adoption of the national-security state —
including the vast military-industrial complex, the
enormous standing army, the overseas military bases,
the CIA, and the NSA — has done to us as a people. It
has stultified the consciences of the American people.
It has denigrated our heritage as a free people. It
has embraced policies that characterize brutal
dictatorships. It has made us less safe and less free.
It has sullied our reputation among the people of the
world. It has sent us hurtling toward financial
bankruptcy. And it has corrupted the most prized
constitutional system in history. It's time to consign
it — and the torture it has brought our nation — to
the dustbin of history.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The
Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised
in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics
from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree
from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney
for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct
professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught
law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the
practice of law to become director of programs at the
Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced
freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all
across the country as well as on Fox News' Neil Cavuto
and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a
regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano's show
Freedom Watch. View these interviews at
LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.