My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


The headline in yesterday's Tribune, in big bold letters:

DNA clears dad in girl's slaying

The article by Deborah Horan, Jo Napolitano and John Biemer describes the release of Kevin Fox, a suburban Will County man who spent eight months in jail charged with the rape and murder of his 3 year old daughter. DNA test results from the crime scene resulted in an "absolute exclusion of Kevin Fox as a donor," State's Atty. James Glasgow told the judge.

So why was he in jail, and why did it take so long to perform the test? Simple. Kevin Fox confessed. To a crime it's now clear he couldn't have committed. Why would someone do something like that?
Fox turned aside questions about the videotaped confession at the heart of the case, saying "it was a nightmare and I don't want to relive it right now."

But later, in an interview with the Tribune, he said he was "fed lies and threats the entire time." His wife, who stood by him through his arrest and time in jail, said that when she was questioned "they messed with my mind so much in what little time they had so I couldn't even imagine what they did" with him.
. . .
Fox, according to [attorney Kathleen] Zellner, confessed only after he was questioned for 14 hours and was exhausted, and because authorities allegedly promised him that he would face lesser charges and quickly be released if he said his daughter's death was an accident.

"They get people who are emotionally traumatized and obtain a bogus confession," said Zellner, who has helped to free several wrongly convicted inmates but, in an unusual move, took on the defense of Fox before trial.

Let's put this in context. Although there are many fine and honest officers serving and protecting our fair state, the Illinois law enforcement community has the reputation of not being above delivering a good ass kicking in much the same way the ocean is not above the sky. Several of the 13 subsequently cleared Death Row inmates who made our state's system of capital punishment so well known around the world complained that their false confessions had been "coerced" by police.

Yes, I'm talking about torture. Or "aggressive interrogation tactics" or whatever the FBI is calling it these days. Here in the Windy City, there is a history of obtaining confessions from suspects, especially suspects who are racial minorities, but applying a great deal of what apologists call "pressure" and normal people refer to as "force" or perhaps "violence or the threat of violence." There's even one local technique rumored to involve a car battery, cables, and genitalia.

Leaving the Constitution out of it for just a moment, the problem with these techniques as an information gathering tool is that they result in an unacceptable number of false positives - all you have to do is show me the car battery and I'm probably going to confess to anything they want me to. I have no special knowledge of the Fox case, but I have my suspicians as to the kind of thing police might do or say to get a man to confess to raping and killing his three year old daughter, when he did no such thing.

Which brings us to the Guantanamo Bay, and the rest of our gulag archipeligo. I'm really tired of hearing our elected officials defend these "aggressive interrogation techniques" as necessary to gain "actionable intelligence" in the Global War On Terror. But torture doesn't produce actionable intelligence. Absolutely it produces confessions. Subjecting people to pain and exhaustion quite naturally makes them want to tell you whatever they think will make you stop doing that to them, which is not necessarily the same thing as telling you the truth.

I'm sure there are al Quaeda terrorists at Guantanamo who have given the US useful intelligence. But I am also certain that a number of ignorant herdsmen and poppy farmers were rounded up, mostly by neighbors who wanted the reward money for turning in terrorists and Taliban during the invasion. Either group will be eager to confirm whatever story their torturers want confirmed after a few days of waterboarding. This has always been true. Going back to the Inquisition, we see countless cases of people confessing to congress with the Devil, even though there's no such person as the devil, and of practicing dark magic and witchcraft, even though there's no such thing as magic. Some people confessed they had the power to fly, or do other impossible things. As would you, if you were being tortured on the rack.

So the usefulness of torture for intelligence gathering is extremely limited. Forming alliances with prisoners and stroking their egos is a much more reliable method of intelligence gathering, as of course is the age old method of exchanging money for information. But torture, in the Inquisition and the GWOT, has the advantage of confirming for the torturer that he was right about everything all along. No wonder they haen't been able to find bin Laden.

Dick Durbin, our Senior Senator, drew a lot of fire for the following comment:
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings.

Faced with a withering assault from the right, he has "clarified" his remarks somewhat:
<''My statement in the Senate was critical of the policies of this administration, which add to the risk our soldiers face," he said in a statement released yesterday afternoon. I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings: Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration, and total support.

Which is bullshit. If they're engaging in torture, they don't deserve our total support. They deserve to be charged, tried and imprisoned as criminals, for engaging in behavior that is intolerable in any civilized society, whether it takes place at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, or Cook County Jail. Torture is not effective, it does not keep you safe, it does not help promote freedom around the world, and it sullies and compromises the principles on which this country was founded.

Please write to Senator Durbin to thank him for his remarks and ask him to never, ever apologize for speaking truth to power. It's important.

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