Mumbai: Tortured Confessions And The Justification For War

Dittoheads on CNN's Late Edition, Sunday. Sajjan Gohel agrees the Mumbai culprits are the Lek, even though he told the WaPo the day before it was definitely Al Qaeda, and former CIA DDI John McLaughlin, with a straight face and without challenge, says Pakistan's ISI is "very responsive" to civilian authority.

The international community and media appear to have accepted India's allegations of Pakistani involvement in the Mumbai bombings, via an ISI proxy terror group. Yet no-one is mentioning India's atrocious record of widespread torture or the questionable nature of confessions gained by such methods.

The Washington Post's editorial today leads:

WITH EACH passing day, suspicions of a Pakistani link to the slaughter of 174 people, including six Americans, in Mumbai grow stronger -- and more plausible. A captured terrorist has reportedly confessed to Indian officials that he received training in Pakistan from Lashkar-i-Taiba, a guerrilla organization that was nurtured by Pakistani military intelligence to fight India in the disputed Kashmir region.

But really, that confession by one captured terrorist is the only evidence thus far advanced, and (until late Tuesday) everything we know about it has been leaked by unofficial officials rather than with the full backing of the Indian government.

We only have this detainee's alleged word that all the attackers were from Pakistan, that there were only ten of them, that the attacks were funded with Saudi money, that they trained at an LeK camp inside Pakistan, that they hijacked a single Indian vessel to transport then to Mumbai or that they had hoped to kill 5,000 rather than the 200 or so they did murder. All of this relies on the confession of one man, presumably not one of the attacks leaders because that possibility hasn't been mentioned at all and certainly would have been if it were there. The leaked details of his confession have then been amplified and added to by rumor and speculation, particularly by the understandably angry Indian press.

Yet many analysts, icon Download former White House homeland security advisor Fran Townsend on CNN's Late Edition this Sunday, have been openly sceptical about that number of ten terrorists and some reports have said five or more attackers are still quietly being sought while others have reported the involvement of Mumbai locals and links to previous attacks by indigenous militants. If the Indian authorities are sure of the vessel used to sail into Mumbai, as alleged, why are they rumored to be still looking for a possible two more ships? And why is there no sign that the captured terrorist, variously identified as Ajmal Amir Kamal, Azam Amir Kasav, or Azam Ameer Qasab, has ever been near the Pakistani village he told his interrogators was his home?

What India most wants to hear is that Pakistan is complicit and culpable in the Mumbai attacks. Interrogators have delivered exactly that, by way of unofficial leaks. Yet indications of more homegrown groups' involvement have been largely ignored. The tactics used in Mumbai are far more reminiscent of the indigenous communist Naxalite insurgency of India's poorest regions while the dock at which the terrorists landed, perhaps co-incidentally, is one controlled by the D-Company criminal organisation and has been used to smuggle arms into Mumbai in the past. The reality, to my mind, is most likely to be that of elements from homegrown groups reaching out to bigger fish for aid, and those bigger fish having historic connections to the Pakistani establishment. As Mark Sageman wrote in a seminal report on post 9/11 terror networks in 2003: "The network is now self-organized from the bottom up, and is very decentralized. With local initiative and flexibility, it’s very robust."

Right now, accusations concerning the LeK and Pakistan suit everyone. India wants Pakistan to be involved not only because it has a justifiable institutional paranoia where Pakistan is concerned but also because it takes the focus off its own internals feuds and enables it to maintain a facade of an intergrated nation beset from outside. The US and its Western allies want to use such allegations to pressure the Pakistani government to crack down on its shady ISI intelligence service and to pressure Pakistan to expel or crack down on terror groups it has sheltered up until now. And Pakistan wants to use these accusations to bang its own domestic drum about the perrenial Indian threat and to provide a convenient excuse for giving up the reluctant war against militants it has been conducting in regions bordering Afghanistan.

I've one word of caution for those reading about culpability for Mumbai - and that word is "Gitmo." Western readers are already familiar with the stories of "enhanced interrogations" there and at other US-run sites around the world in pursuit of the "war on terror", and have read in detail about how such interrogations produce intelligence that is entirely untrustworthy because tortured suspects will tell their questioners whatever they want to hear. Well, India has an even bigger torture problem than Bush's US does.

A recently released report titled "Torture in India 2008: A State of Denial" - the first-ever nationwide assessment on the use of torture in the world's largest democracy - by the Hong Kong-based Asian Center for Human Rights (ACHR) contains disconcerting facts about the blatant and widespread use of the practice by Indian authorities in prisons and police custody.

The ACHR report found that 7,468 persons, or an average of 1,494 persons per year (four persons daily), have died or been killed in Indian prisons and police custody during the period 2002 to 2007. An equal number of persons, if not more, have been killed in the custody of the army, central armed forces and states' paramilitary forces in insurgency-ravaged areas, according to the report. Worse, a large number of these deaths are allegedly triggered by torture.

ACHR stated that unless India addresses human rights violations and brings suspects to court, the prospects for counter-insurgency success will plummet and the scope for more violent and extreme Armed Opposition Groups (AOGs) will expand. Existing conditions are facilitating those who commit appalling acts of torture with impunity.

India, it seems, is in a worrying state of denial about torture.

If, outside the apologists of the rabid Right, we in the West feel that the taint of torture makes it impossible to justify the rule of law and so justify imprisonment of the tortured, even if they're guilty - then how much more should that moral taint affect our thinking when we consider evidence gained through torture as a justification for war?

Obama, and others who would talk glibly of "sovereignty", should be sure of their moral footing before they shoot.

Keith Olbermann talks to Steve Clemons about the tensions between India and Pakistan and whether our country can has any standing to tell India they don't have a right to pre-emptive strikes after what we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Crossposted from Newshoggers, with videos added. Hat tip to Heather for the vids.)


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