Homeland Security Expert: Torture Is the Least Effective Counter-Terrorism Policy
A homeland security expert speaks on the utter failure of post-9/11 torture practices, and whether counter-terrorism 'tough' talk is a presidential quality.
Juliette Kayyem is a national security, intelligence and terrorism analyst for CNN who has spent over 15 years managing complex policy initiatives and organizing government responses to major crises in both state and federal government. She is the founder of Kayyem Solutions, LLC, providing strategic advice to a range of companies in technology, risk management, mega-event planning, venture capital and more.
Currently, Kayyem teaches new leaders in emergency management and homeland security as a faculty member at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Kayyem serves as an on-air security analyst for CNN and is featured in a weekly radio program on Boston's NPR station WGBH, for which she also hosts a regular podcast entitled "Security Mom." In 2013, she was named the Pulitzer Prize finalist for editorial columns in the Boston Globe focused on ending the Pentagon's combat exclusion rule against women, a policy that was changed that year.
Previously, Kayyem was President Obama's Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security. There she played a pivotal role in major operations including handling of the H1N1 pandemic and the BP Oil Spill response; she also organized major policy efforts in immigration reform and community resiliency. Before that, she was Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's homeland security advisor, guiding regional planning and the state's first interoperability plan, and overseeing the National Guard. She has also served as a member of the National Commission on Terrorism, a legal advisor to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, and a trial attorney and counselor in the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. She is the recipient of many government honors, including the Distinguished Public Service Award, the Coast Guard's highest medal awarded to a civilian.
Kayyem is a board member of MassINC, the International Centre for Sport Security, and the Red Cross of MA. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson's Homeland Security Advisory Committee. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and the mother of three children, she is married to First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Barron.
Juliette Kayyem: I’ve been a woman and a mother in national security. If I got a dollar for every time someone said "more aggressive" in a meeting I would be retired. I would be a very rich woman. More aggressive? Tougher is not a policy. It’s sort of crazy talk. What does it even mean? And what we have to remember is we are not under anything close to an existential threat right now. We have a risk. It is heightened because of what is going on in the world. But don’t lose your head. I mean if you want to be president, I think your number one job requirement is you cannot lose your head every time something goes wrong. You have to sort of brace for it, accept it, learn from it and move on. And so on the learning part, any person who has been in national security and any professional interrogator will tell you information garnered from torture, waterboarding or the extreme interrogation tactics that were used in the early days after 9/11 didn’t work. It got us nothing. It got us nowhere. It got us a bunch of detainees who we can’t even put through a criminal court because we’ve tortured them, right? Because we don’t want that evidence to come out.
This is what it’s gotten us. And so, you know, it’s not only sort of un-American. It’s just – it doesn’t work. It’s like talking to a five year old. You’re like okay, two plus two does not equal five. Two plus two equals four. And anyone who has been in the interrogation world knows that successful interrogation of a hostile person is generally a good cop, bad cop scenario. It’s someone that they feel comfortable with, because they feel that they are under stress in the environment that they’re in, that they start to talk to.
This toughness talk masks any policy and that’s dangerous. But it also – and this is what worries me, is it once again perpetuates this mythology that, you know, a tough counter-terrorism policy will keep us 100 per cent safe from terrorism. And if terrorism happens it means you were too soft. That just can’t be. As I said before it’s like you tell me what country is – whether it’s the toughest country in the world – Israel for example or the least open country in the world, China or Myanmar for example – that doesn’t have violence perpetuated by people who want to have a political influence. You take the spectrum, it’s happening and that’s okay. I mean just accept it, it’s a risk. And then respond, brace, and everything else, for it.
It’s been long ruled that torture doesn’t work. John Oliver discussed it on Last Week Tonight, and put forth some very basic evidence to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of torture, and its shoddy results. "Torture is one of those things that is advertised as something that works, but doesn’t," Oliver says. In 2014, the CIA released a report that revealed to the world that in the wake of 9/11 and for years after, America used torture to try to get some answers. President Obama condemned the practices but defended the U.S.’s retroactive transparency in the report, saying, "One of the things that sets us apart from other countries is when we make mistakes, we admit them."
Under the pressure of torture, a person can and will say anything to get the pain to stop. That’s why it doesn’t work (never mind the ethics, that’s a whole other bowl of controversy). The general consensus is that waterboarding, stress positioning, rectal feeding (you read that right) and other truly horrific torture measures only serve to create false confessions, confusion, investigative dead ends, scandal, and a new rock bottom for humanity.
Juliette Kayyem, Homeland security expert and former Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs, is of the same opinion. Aggression, and aggressive policy isn’t the way to go. Tough talk gets the nation nowhere, and only serves to mask what the real policies are. She believes behaving logically is typically the best way to go, and notes that a president (ahem, or a specific presidential candidate) can’t lose his or her head and fire off about ‘toughness’ every time there is an act of terrorism. Toughness isn’t what keeps the country safe.
Kayyem insists that not using torture doesn’t mean that as a country, America would be weak – and she condemns the mythology of terror as a result of ‘weakness’ as dangerous. Without torture, America is just as strong, and more likely to have accurate answers from detainees. After all these years, who knew that good cop/bad cop still works the best? Kayyem explains it’s more beneficial and yields greater intelligence to sit with the detainees in a calm discussion, rather than try to force answers.
Juliette Kayyem’s most recent book is Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home.
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