I had just returned from my office one day in 1968, when my mother called wailing and shouting: the noon newspaper has just come out and it says that the police are looking for your brother! Do something!
Police? My brother? I ran to get the newspaper and there, on the front page, was the item describing a gang of young adults who had been stealing cars from around Beirut, driving them all over Lebanon on joy rides and then ditching them all over the country. They had been caught, shackled and jailed. According to the paper, it was my brother who had been orchestrating the affair!
I had my husband’s cousin drive me to the police station in charge of the case, and walk in with me. Young women do not walk into a police station alone!
The chief of police informed me that the gang members had insisted that my brother was their leader. He presented me with the dates of the episodes. But my brother, I said, was studying in Florence, Italy at the time of these occurrences! How could he have been doing this? Realizing that I wasn’t leaving any time soon, the chief asked me to produce a copy of my brother’s passport stamped with the dates of his entries and exits during the past year in order to prove that he couldn’t have been present in Lebanon at the time of the incidents.
To make a long story short, we proved my brother’s innocence. Days later, the boys were set free after paying fines and, probably, bribes. When my brother came home for a short vacation, he sought out his friends. It turns out that once they had been caught, the boys were beaten to a pulp with the understanding that the beatings wouldn’t stop until they had named their leader. The Lebanese police could be ruthless and sadistic in their interrogation tactics! Apparently, the guys thought that the safest name to divulge to the police was my brother’s since he was in Florence and, therefore, the police wouldn’t be able to jail or beat him too! They just wanted the beatings to stop! Once they had named my brother, the beatings stopped!
My brother’s case was one of many! Numerous innocent people vanished overnight in other Arab countries, never to be seen or heard of ever again. Innocents were being subjected to beatings and torture – ranging from mild to extreme – by the thousands! Informers were everywhere. Money talks, integrity walks and unfairness triumphs!
Neighbors were naming neighbors as well as strangers as subversive entities just to have the torture end! Petty police informants were pointing fingers at those with whom they had historic feuds and vendettas in order to get even! Arab jails were brimming with innocent victims of police interrogations gone wild! There were no trials, no judges, no juries and no pleas. Proof of a crime was not required. Hearsay was totally acceptable!
No one asked me before the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq whether torture worked. Maybe they thought I didn’t know. However, I do. It doesn’t need experts or science to know this. Only simple common sense and experience! I could have stated that the United States should not sully its image by replicating sadistic and disgraceful interrogation tactics. Maybe then we wouldn’t have had the scandal at Abu Ghraib, that reprehensible blotch on the American nation. And maybe we wouldn’t have needed The Constitution Project*, ten years after the war, to come up with a six hundred page report essentially saying that torture did not work and that the people who authorized it were egregiously wrong! We owe a whole lot of innocent people in our world a Mea Culpa – a Mea Maxima Culpa! So, enough excuses! Enough Guantanamos!
*The mentioned organization, released its report on April 16, 2013 titled: Task Force on Detainee Treatment.