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High marks for efficiency

What are friends for?

Christopher Hitchens is excited about “the role played by Jordanian intelligence in the tracking and elimination of” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi:

[T]he kingdom’s Mukhabarat – or General Intelligence Department, which generally earns high marks for efficiency – had been trailing him ever since he left Jordanian soil for Afghanistan, and then Afghan soil for Iraq.

We could probably all agree that organizations such as the NKVD, the Stasi, or Saddam’s own police state should be awarded “high marks for efficiency” too, but that is not a way of recommending them. What, then, is the nature of the “efficiency” of the Jordanian GID? . . .

A recent report by Amnesty tells the story of one Salah ‘Ali, arrested and interrogated by the GID in 2003:

Salah ‘Ali described being suspended from the ceiling and having the soles of his feet beaten so badly that when they took him down from the hooks he had to crawl back to his cell. He was stripped and beaten by a ring of masked soldiers with sticks. “When one got tired of hitting me, they would replace him,” he told Amnesty International. “They tried to force me to walk like an animal, on my hands and feet, and I refused, so they stretched me out on the floor and walked on me and put their shoes in my mouth”. Another time, he said, a guard noticed he had a bad foot, and forced him to stand on it throughout the night while they interrogated him: sometimes during interrogation they held plates of food near his face while they ate, although he was not fed; sometimes they put cigarettes out on his arm.

You must admit that this is not notably less “efficient” than the torture practised by the US. Salah ‘Ali and other men recount to Amnesty their subsequent disorienting detention and interrogation by US officers in secret, purpose-built facilities somewhere in Jordan, called CIA “black sites” by Amnesty, and independently investigated as “ghost prisons” by security analyst Yossi Melman. Jordan also happens to be one of the favoured destinations for the practise of “extraordinary rendition”, or shipping prisoners to other countries for the purpose of having them tortured. The UK, meanwhile, has signed an agreement with Jordan letting it export people suspected of terrorism into the welcoming hands of the GID, pretending to believe in “diplomatic assurances” that they will not subsequently be tortured. No doubt the GID is to be applauded for its “efficiency” in pursuing its role as a partner in the “war on terror”.

Is there also, in such delight in the “efficiency” of a torture-happy secret police, an intimation of financial thinking, of “efficiency” as the commercial concentration on the bottom line and nothing else? If we can agree that the bottom line is that all possible means are allowed in the fight against terrorism, then we can perhaps also imagine that torture is an indicator of “efficiency”, in that it shows the appropriate go-getting spirit, even if it is rarely actually effective.

Probably Hitchens’s aside about “efficiency” is not meant as a sincere expression of the above ideas. Probably, indeed, it is meant as a joke. In his ebullient recounting of the circumstances leading to Zarqawi’s death, he allows himself a little dark parenthetical chuckle – oh, our friends the GID boys are naughty, but gosh, you can hardly deny they’re efficient! You, however, might resist the invitation to laugh at torture. 

  1. 1  arbuthnotite  June 19, 2006, 7:20 pm 

    Unbelievable. Thanks.

  2. 2  Sohail  July 5, 2006, 12:24 pm 

    Hitchens is of course another white man who selectively uses Orwell to justify reactionary views.

    In this case, efficiency simply means understanding that US/UK foreign policy is to take precedence over interior policy not least in keeping the region’s ragheads in line.


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