Friday, 12 March 2010

The Truth Will Out?

The revelation today that 'Bush's Brain', former senior adviser Karl Rove, has admitted he was 'proud' of the use of waterboarding as a form of 'information gathering' may be startling to some - simply necessary to others.

Under legal notes passed at the time, Bush's administration effectively relegated waterboarding to a 'non-torture' status therefore allowing its use in extracting information from alleged terrorists. It was the non-torture method of choice in places like Guantanamo and if that was considered non-torture, then the mind boggles at what methods were used in the name of 'getting the truth' on non-US territory.

Waterboarding is a lovely method of 'questioning'. It involves putting a prisoner into a position where water is doused over their face so that they cannot breath, therefore making them think they are drowning. Clearly, it is a method which may not work first time and so it is repeated ad nausea until the information required is extracted. For anyone who has been in the very terrifying position of believing they are going to be drowned, there are few more dreadful feelings in life, especially when you know that the difference between you living or dying is entirely controlled by someone else.

Under such pressure, it is argued from laymen to eminent psychologists then the prisoner will say anything in order to stop the torture. Often prisoners will say many things, much contradicting what they have already said in an avalanche of extracted information in the vain hope that the investigators get what they believe they are looking for. In fact, so primal is the whole thing that more intelligent people than I would strongly argue that any such information extracted under such duress is most likely to be unreliable.

Rove reckons that umpteen terrorist plots were foiled by using such methods. Perhaps it could be argued that umpteen plots that US investigators wanted to believe were to be perpetrated were uncovered. After all, amid the failures in Intelligence Agencies leading up to the Iraq War to get even the basics right, the last thing you would want is that new, more aggressive methods, actually found that no new attacks were known about. It could be argued that success rates were written by the investigators in order to justify their methods and their jobs, for that matter.

Anyway, it's a moot point as the method is rightly outlawed by the Obama Administration and Guantanamo hardly achieved a thing with only one tribunal enacted so far. Even the famous case implying MI5 knowingly gleaning information from torture seemed to come from a person who was ultimately freed with no charges against him, to be hailed as some kind of hero. But, with the definition of 'non-torture' afforded to waterboarding and its enthusiastic approval by Government officials, would it not be interesting to find out what would have been revealed had we used the methods in official inquiries such as the Chilcot Inquiry?

Perhaps the sleek, svelte calm of Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell would have been broken. Perhaps the contradictory evidence from Jack Straw might have been tested for veracity. Perhaps we would have easily got Gordon Brown to tell the truth about his spending policy when many officials before him had attested to it.

But in reality it is all about the skill and tenacity of the questioner to obtain information. Sir John Chilcot and his team seem to be just writing down whatever is said with no cross referencing or rebuttal questions to test the truth. I watched the film 'Frost/Nixon' last night and saw how devastating good questioning can be in terms of putting powerful, intelligent people on edge and taking them into territories in their minds that they do not want to go - forcing the real truth out of them. I am an exponent of testing truth in interview techniques as I have a firm belief that those coming for jobs only want to talk about what they want to talk about and highlight themselves to their own advantage. Getting at the truth in an interview is vital as only under pressure will you find out how people will really perform.

The Chilcot Inquiry has had lines of questioning which frankly could have been put together by school kids and the follow ups to answers have been woefully absent. Ministers have gone before the Inquiry and basically said what they want with impunity from challenge, even when others have already said something entirely contradictory. It's as if the whole thing is choreographed and scripted to once again suit the Government and the stooges involved.

Perhaps Karl Rove is right - waterboarding and the like does get at the truth. Personally, I think it would be far better if we got a bunch of investigators in the Chilcot Inquiry who really want to get at the truth and who have a healthy cynicism about how Politicians and their mandarins lie to protect themselves. We will have spent millions, learnt nothing and will repeat the same mistakes time and again until we find out just why Iraq was so important for us all to be lied to in order to justify a war.

With that central question asked, perhaps we would have got somewhere near the truth.

No comments: