The futility of torture to obtain information

by Cesar Chelala

Special To The Japan Times

Now, and from the most unexpected source, we have information on the futility of torture. According to information released to the press, the U.S. 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.

Paradoxically, by chance, I had earlierread the 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 Augusto 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.

A friend of mine, the world-renowned pianist Miguel Angel Estrella, was tortured in a smilar way. While imprisoned in Uruguay’s Libertad prison, military men taunted 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, the torturers were not successful either in Jara’s case or in Estrella’s. 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, Jose Alfonso Paredes Marquez, 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, his face swollen and his hands fractured, Jara was shot in the temple by a low-ranking officer during a round of Russian roulette. Jara was then shot another 43 times by the conscripts present, including Paredes Marquez.

In his poem “Now Sing” Scully writes: NOW sing: the guards howling Beat him with obscenities. His legend is He was singing … Venceremos 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 enable the Argentine military to remain in power.

In the U.S., from the moment of Bin Laden’s death, former Bush administration and top CIA officials have cited the evidence that lead to the al-Qaida mastermind’s compound as vindication of the usefulness of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that they denied was torture.

But 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 program established months after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote to send an executive summary of the report to President Barack Obama for declassification.

Given the importance of that summary, declassification of it is not only convenient for learning the truth but also a duty.

Cesar Chelala, M.D. and Ph.D., is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award.