Information Warfare: Torture, Lawfare and Television


December 9, 2005: The media campaign against U.S. prisons at Guantanamo Bay has expanded to the entertainment industry, as the myth of terrorists being tortured at the facilities there was repeated on an episode of "Law and Order: Criminal Intent." Torture of detainees has never been tolerated, and in fact, the Department of Defense has come up with new directives concerning the treatment of prisoners taken during the war on terror.

The accusations have been around ever since some of the first prisoners, including dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla, were taken into custody. One of the early lessons was that treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue often gave al-Qaeda information on how the United States gathered intelligence, and the terrorist organization adapted well enough to get four suicide teams into the United States to hijack airliners and turn them into weapons.

The attacks have come on two fronts. The first front is a media offensive (of which the "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" episode is the latest shot). The second is lawfare (suits filed by the ACLU and other human-rights groups, who seem more concerned with the human rights of al-Qaeda than the human rights of their victims and intended victims).

The first front has involved numerous allegations. Earlier this year, most of the allegations raised against Guantanamo Bay (some of which were repeated on the Senate floor) were found to be unfounded or not inhumane. Investigators found that the protocol used on Mohammed al-Kahtani did not cross the threshold into inhumane treatment or torture. In at least one other instance, one of the incidents occurred after an interrogator was spit on by a detainee (the interrogator proceeded to smear red ink on the detainee). In the three cases where the lines were crossed (out of numerous allegations), corrective action was taken. In one case, where a threat was communicated in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the matter was referred for discipline. In the case of al-Kahtani, the special interrogation plan used extracted valuable intelligence after he resisted the normal interrogation practices. What is also worth noting is that al-Qaeda manuals instruct members to falsely claim torture if they are captured.

The second front is arguably the more dangerous. Whereas the first front has little immediate effect on the battlefield, the second opens the door to blowing methods of gathering intelligence and sources. Giving detainees access to the federal court system opens up the same risks that were shown in the 1990s - al-Qaeda will find out how the United States acquires the intelligence used to prevent attacks. This is a good way to not only get sources killed, but to enable a successful attack that gets innocent people killed.

Like other media outlets, the "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" episode also failed to mention what some of the al-Qaeda detainees were up to. For instance, al-Kahtani was slated to be one of the hijackers on September 11, 2001. Another detainee traveled to Pakistan with an Iraqi intelligence agent in an attempt to launch a chemical mortar attack on the American and British embassies in that country. At least a dozen detainees have rejoined the fight (including a Russian detainee responsible for attacks in the Northern Caucasus that killed 45 people in addition to the 94 attackers). Such information gets in the way of portraying the terrorists as torture victims. Ultimately, it will create a hate-hate relationship between the military and Hollywood. - Harold C. Hutchison (


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