Jihadi Reactions to the Torture Memos

Posted: 4th May 2009 by Thomas Hegghammer in Motivations, Recruitment, Western media

I found the jihadi reactions – or lack thereof – to the release of the CIA torture memos intriguing. You can read my take on this in Foreign Policy Magazine‘s Argument section. 

The bottom line is this: the damage caused by Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib is irreparable and the end of U.S. torture will not in itself make the United States safer from this generation of jihadists.

Update (6 May): The jihadis have not been completely silent on the torture memos. Brynjar and Christopher A. drew my attention to a couple of postings on Faloja (English) from last week and the week before.

Document: 04-24-09-faloja-handbook-of-torture 
Document: 05-01-09-faloja-polish-torture-prison

  1. Ansar al-Zindiqi says:

    I don’t find the muted response to be intriguing at all. Jihadis use torture regularly and expect to be tortured themselves if caught. There aren’t too many countries in the Middle East who don’t make use of torture and it’s a favorite method of police interrogation throughout the region. If they were to raise any hackles over it it would be directed at their sympathetic leftist allies in the West. Those kind of people are so gullible and prone to living leisurely lives that have no real contact with what are common police practices.

  2. Hesperado says:

    I thought this blog was supposed to be neutral, poised in a clinical suspension between being pro-”Islamist” and anti-”Islamist”.

    To observe that Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have done “irreperable damage” may be superficially correct, but it matters *why* is has done damage to our anti-terrorism strategy.

    It also matters whether that damage really is “irreperable”, or whether its “irreperability” is part of the manipulative propaganda deployed by the jihadists themselves, and believed by innumerable Muslims who thereby prove themselves to be passive enablers of the jihadists, representing a vast pool of unreliable allies since their “radicalism” is so easily fomented.

    Finally, as the commenter above me implied, for an analyst to refer to “torture” in the context of both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo — particularly when contrasted with the *real*, horrific tortures that most Muslim countries officially indulge in — without employing quotation marks indicates that said analyst is not neutral, but has been seriously compromised by the deformation of the prevailing politically correct multi-culturalism that rules the day throughout the West.

    P.S.: I am restraining my fury as best I can here.

  3. Points well taken. Just a few clarifications:

    First, I have never claimed absolute neutrality for neither Jihadica nor myself. There is no such thing as absolute neutrality in this business.

    Second, this was an opinion piece. That’s why it appeared in the “Argument” section of FP and not on this blog.

    Third, I do not mention the word torture in the paragraph on Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

    Fourth, the whole point of the article is that liberals overestimate the role of torture in AQ’s motivations or list of grievances. It is not because the CIA tortured (or “tortured”, to use your term) KSM that al-Qaida hates America.

    On Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib it’s slightly different. In my view they have played major a role in recruitment and mobilisation, not necessarily because the treatment of prisoners was especially bad compared to that of other prisons, but because they generated exceptionally powerful images that fit al-Qaida’s rhetoric perfectly, and because they affected many people, many of whom were more or less innocent.

  4. Ibn Qawqaz says:

    From their post, it seems that Hesperado would be fine with the commentary…if only it fell in line with their views.

  5. mike says:

    If pouring water on these losers is torture they really are wimps.

  6. Hesperado says:

    Thomas Hegghammer:

    Thanks for responding.

    “First, I have never claimed absolute neutrality for neither Jihadica nor myself. There is no such thing as absolute neutrality in this business.”

    I didn’t write “absolute”. However, your recent mild censure of Robert Spencer contrasted his approach with yours which you termed as “more…neutral”:

    “…we aim for more politically neutral coverage than sites such as Jihad Watch, which have a very explicit anti-Islamist agenda.”

    Analogically, would it be “more neutral”, for example, to describe Zarqawi’s act of beheading Nick Berg as a “homicide” and leave it at that? Or, more pertinently on the other side of the scale (the scale of Euphemism-Exaggeration), would be it “more neutral” to describe as a “massacre” a killing by American soldiers of a group of Iraqi Muslims who were on the verge of suicide bombing a crowd of men, women and children?

    Thus, the point here is not the red herring of “absolute neutrality” but whether “torture” without the quote marks is not both a tendentious label for what we have done officially at Abu Ghraib & Guantanamo, and an unwarranted (and unnecessary, not to mention egregiously reckless) acquiescence in the enemy’s propaganda against us.

    “Second, this was an opinion piece. That’s why it appeared in the “Argument” section of FP and not on this blog.”

    Well, I was referring to this Memo specifically, which you include under the rubric “Latest Blog Entries”.

    “Third, I do not mention the word torture in the paragraph on Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.”

    In this Memo you do. In your second paragraph, you wrote:

    “The bottom line is this: the damage caused by Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib is irreparable and the end of U.S. TORTURE will not in itself make the United States safer from this generation of jihadists.” [emphasis in caps added]

    There is also the title of your FP article: “Ending U.S. torture gains the moral high ground, but will not in itself make America safer.”

    “Fourth, the whole point of the article is that liberals overestimate the role of torture in AQ’s motivations or list of grievances. It is not because the CIA tortured (or “tortured”, to use your term) KSM that al-Qaida hates America.”

    This position you state here seems vitiated by what you wrote in your article:

    “Outrage over Abu Ghraib was the single most important motivation for foreign jihadists going to Iraq in 2004 and 2005.”

    You then wrote in your response to me:

    “On Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib it’s slightly different.”

    Are you saying the jihadists fighting in Iraq (particularly “foreign jihadists” going to fight there) for the last several years are disconnected from al Qaeda? What makes jihadists in Iraq different in this regard from al Qaeda jihadists? Why would the former be any more liable than the latter to be swayed by “torture” committed by Americans?

    “In my view they have played major a role in recruitment and mobilisation, not necessarily because the treatment of prisoners was especially bad compared to that of other prisons”

    This is too gingerly a way of putting it. Even an observer who is trying to be “more neutral” would not, for example, when comparing an epidemic of raging forest fires in hundreds of different places around the world set by an international terrorist group with an arsonist who burns his house down for insurance, use the words to describe the latter as “not especially bad compared to that of the other”. One would remain safely in the “more neutral” zone by adding more accurate descriptors, such as “far milder by a factor of a thousand compared to that of the other”. The comparison between waterboarding compared with drilling holes in people’s skulls while they are still alive (Iraq); or between naked pyramids compared with ramming long red-hot spikes up into the anuses of persons (Syrian torture) demands stronger language even when striving for neutrality, and to fail to use stronger language in general when comparing American “torture” with the kinds of torture practiced routinely both officially by Muslim countries and unofficially by rogue Muslims is to fail to be descriptively accurate with regard to the quantitative and qualitative differences, and thus expresses bias.

    “because they affected many people, many of whom were more or less innocent.”

    Which Muslims “tortured” by Americans were innocent? Do you have any names?

    Secondly, give the nature of the threat against us — which includes a myriad pertinent factors, such as:

    1) the culture of deceit among Muslims informed by their Islamic culture,

    2) the sociocultural tendency for a wider pool of mainstream Muslims to enable terrorist plotters ranging in a spectrum from passively countenancing them, to not informing authorities of suspicious behaviors, to actually letting their cousin Abdul use the back room of a restaurant for late-night “discussions” with his other Muslim friends, to even further complicity, etc.;

    2) the fanatical resolve of the ones plotting attacks on us;

    3) the worldwide dispersion of plotters and their international networks and grapevines;

    4) the horrific potential with various flavors of WMDs;

    5) the high degree of cleverness of the plotters in their adaptibility and creativity;

    6) the specific resort by the plotters, as an al Qaeda memo to its agents specifically advises, to blend in with Westernized Muslims and try to avoid seeming “too Islamic”;

    7) the high likelihood that the plotters are going to try to set up cells composed of Muslims who precisely seem impeccably “innocent” in order to avoid detection; etc.

    – it would be reckless for us to presume innocence where data indicates otherwise, and it would be reckless for us to set the bar too high for what constitutes “innocence”, and thus to neglect the possibility of extracting useful intel through forceful means.

    But I don’t have to tell a smart terrorism analyst all this. Or do I?

  7. I understand what you mean. Thank you.

  8. John says:

    If the torture of 1 or a hundred jihadi loving morons saves 1 life, then by all means torture! My only conviction with it, is that they dont bring them to the state of Ga. and release them for an open hunting season.