Upstairs, Downstairs

There are certain places where you go to surf; Hawaii for instance. But there are places one goes for other reasons.  Eli Lake writes that the Senate report message implies that Pakistan is the place to go when you need someone rubber hosed.  Surfing, Hawaii. Torture, Pakistan.


The report, written by the majority staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, cites six instances in which Pakistani authorities, in particular, obtained leads through interrogating al-Qaeda operatives that helped disrupt plots or locate other terrorist leaders. The Pakistanis often got first crack at detainees before they were sent to CIA prisons.

Take the example of Ammar al-Baluchi. In the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” the torture of al-Baluchi is depicted as revealing the key piece of intelligence identifying Osama bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. In 2011, the CIA was able to find and kill bin Laden because it had tracked the movements of al-Kuwaiti.

The CIA’s rebuttal to the Senate report says al-Baluchi gave up much more specific information on al-Kuwaiti after he went through the agency’s harsh interrogations. The Senate report, however, says al-Baluchi gave up al-Kuwaiti first to the Pakistanis.

One can think of that Southwest Asian country as the coercive interrogation equivalent of Alang, India — the shipbreaking capital of the world. Alang is where Europe sends ships that are too polluted or use too much asbestos to be handled under Union Rules. Instead they are dismantled by swarms of half-naked, unprotected Indian workers glad for the work.  Analogously, Pakistan is one of the countries all too willing to undertake jobs too dirty for more fastidious political climes.


Lake continues: “A former senior Pakistani diplomat who spoke to me on condition of anonymity said it’s likely that al-Baluchi and other detainees mentioned in the report were tortured; threatened with torture; or told that their family members would be in danger if they did not cooperate.” Does anyone care? Not anyone who counts at least.  And even if it happened, the Pakistanis did it; we didn’t. Our hands are clean. Plausible deniability is a very useful commodity.

However in exchange for the advantages of living outside Western standards Pakistan must endure the rigors of living under local ones.  Just a few hours ago the Taliban attacked a school for the children of military personnel in Peshawar, killing more than 130; shooting or beheading the kids wholesale when they weren’t burning the teachers alive in front of their pupils.  The assailants shouted “Allah Akbar”.  Allah Akbar Avenue is a two way street.

A Taliban spokesman said the Peshawar massacre was  “just the trailer“, implying that the ‘next attraction’ was in the works; and that it was ‘coming soon’.  It will presently be ‘now showing’ at a location near you. NBC news claims the attack is in revenge for Pakistani operation against the Taliban in North Waziristan.

The Peshawar school massacre follows pledges by the Pakistani Taliban to retaliate for an offensive targeting militants in North Waziristan that was launched in June. …

A television studio for suicide bombers, a market offering car bombs in a variety of colors and a secret tunnel filled with rotting corpses under the local mosque. These were aspects of daily life in the militant-controlled mountain area of North Waziristan, according to Pakistan’s military. …

After years of pressure from the U.S. and increasing terrorism within Pakistan, the Pakistani military launched a huge offensive in June to dislodge the fighters. Dubbed Operation Zarb-e-Azb — or “Strike of the Prophet’s Sword” — it has forced at least 700,000 civilians to flee their homes and left entire towns rubble-strewn and virtually deserted. …

Pakistan is also the country targeted most by CIA drone strikes, according to figures from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It cites more than 400 strikes — killing between 2,300 and 3,800 people — from 2004 until this year.


The school massacre suggests that just because the administration hides the risk from conflict using cutouts and proxies doesn’t actually mean the risk goes away. It only means the risk is hidden “off the books”.   It only means you can’t easily measure it. Some days ago I wrote:

The administration’s penchant for moving a problem “off the books” or offloading it to proxies or international treaties or paper agreements can be seen as form of treaty-ization; as if such knotty problems as the Iranian nuclear breakout can be solved with an agreement — an agreement which might not even be submitted to the legislature. The presumption is that shoving things out of sight or declaring them fixed makes them less dangerous. But maybe not.

The scale of contemporary hidden conflict is enormous. Very recently Josh Rogin at Bloomberg reported that the European Union is preparing to file charges against Bashar al-Assad for the torture and death of 10 EU citizens. But the ten Europeans are a mere scratch on the surface of the giant torture and murder machine that operates out of Damascus. Rogin writes that a defector supplies 27,000 photographs showing the torture and murder of 11,000 civilians in Assad’s custody.

The new claim, made by the State Department’s ambassador at large for war crimes, Stephen Rapp, in an interview with me, is based on a newly completed FBI analysis of 27,000 photographs smuggled out of Syria by the former military photographer known as “Caesar.” The photos show evidence of the torture and murder of over 11,000 civilians in custody. The FBI spent months pouring over the photos and comparing them to consular databases with images of citizens from countries around the world.


Twenty seven thousand torture victim photos is a respectable amount of brutality. The “Caesar” report provides a glimpse into the scale of the rubber hose industry, in which Syria can hardly be called the market leader. For instance the Daily Beast says “ISIS Fighters Are Killing Faster than Statisticians Can Count”. The human rights computers have gone into stack overflow.

an eclectic band of organizations, ranging from a multinational team of anti-war activists to the UN’s local office, maintained scrupulous records of the dead. They logged every incident and released depressing day-by-day accounts of the carnage.

The emergence of the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL) jihadist group has, however, plunged Iraq into a period of turbulence so debilitating that, for the first time, these death counts can no longer keep up with the killing.

“We just can’t handle this thing that we started a few years ago,” said Jean-Marc Mojon, AFP’s Iraq Bureau Chief.

That’s what’s happening in Syria. What’s going on in Egypt? Russia? Turkey? China?  Who knows? Who cares?

Numerous readers in newspaper articles describing the Peshawar massacre have asked whether there is some depth to which human depravity will not go; some irreducible floor beyond which we cannot fall. The answer is probably “no”. Depravity will keep going as far as it will go. Terrorism, like all perversions, needs stronger and stronger stimuli to achieve the same result. The door to hell is self-sealing. The damned vie with each other to burrow deeper into it.


Who cares about mere beheadings any more?  That’s so yesterday. The Taliban spoke the truth. The Peshawar massacre is just a trailer. The theatrical release will be much bigger, with an all-star cast and full of special effects with lots and lots of extras. Western politicians have pushed the risk out of sight. But not out of existence.

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