Playing nice is no longer an option for U.S.

November 11, 2001|By Gregory Kane

THE THREE women, all Arabs, cut and comb their hair, styling it for the occasion. They want their hairdos to look more European.

They snip and brush. One dips a cloth in peroxide to bleach her hair. She'll soon be having more fun as a blonde. All three apply makeup.

Soon a man appears, and he hands each of them handbags. Each contains a time bomb.

"Air France," the man tells one woman, handing her a handbag.

"Cafeteria," he tells another. The last one will take her deadly package to a place called the milk bar.

Soon all three women are at their destinations. The woman at the cafeteria sips a Coke as she stealthily slides her handbag under the counter with her foot. She looks around at the customers eating, drinking, laughing. Her eyes come to rest momentarily on the toddler eating an ice cream cone.

The woman at Air France sits on a bench in the waiting area. Slowly, unnoticed, she eases her handbag under the bench with her left foot.

The woman at the milk bar dances to a tune blaring from a jukebox before bending down slightly and leaving her handbag in the corner. When the bombs explode, all three women have been long gone.

The sequence of events should be familiar to anyone who has seen Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 film The Battle of Algiers. Pontecorvo's saga of the Algerian National Liberation Front's (FLN) three-year struggle for the capital city of Algiers is almost a cult classic these days. But can we learn anything from it in our own fight against terrorism?

After the terrorist bombs explode in the film -- FLN retaliation for a vigilante bombing of Arabs by French policemen, according to Pontecorvo -- the French bring in paratroopers commanded by Col. Philippe Mathieu. In briefing his troops, Mathieu tells them that the checkpoints set up to screen Arabs leaving the Casbah are pointless.

"Checking identification is ridiculous," Mathieu says. "If anyone's papers are in order, it's the terrorist's."

Later, Mathieu cuts to the chase of exactly what the paratroopers' job is in Algiers.

"Police work," he says. "The method: interrogation. But interrogation is a method only when it guarantees a reply. To succumb to humane considerations only leads to hopeless chaos. I'm sure our units will understand and act accordingly."

All the paratroopers know, without being told, what their colonel's talking about. He means the dreaded "t" word. It's the same "t" word that some are finally saying may have to be a tactic in our war against terrorism.

The word is "torture." Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, is quite good at it. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has used it in his fight against Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in his country.

Sun reporters Mike James and Peter Hermann first broached the subject of torture as an anti-terrorism tool in an Oct. 10 article. On Nov. 6, Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman had an op/ed piece in The Sun cautioning us about using it, but Jonathan Alter, writing in the Nov. 5 edition of Newsweek magazine, said it may be time to think about it.

There will be the usual gaggle of liberals and peaceniks who will wince at the mere mention of the "t" word, of course. Oh no, not us. We don't do such things.

The hell we don't. During the Vietnam War, several servicemen were candid enough to write about how they or forces of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam tortured Viet Cong prisoners. We've aided, abetted and encouraged torturers around the globe for years. We even trained Battalion 316 in Honduras how to be really good at it.

What's the difference between now and our experiences in Central America and Vietnam? Well, now we have a damned good reason to torture. We finally get to do our own dirty work, instead of having the Hondurans or Salvadorans or Iranians -- under the shah -- do it for us.

Let's pose a question. What if someone in law enforcement had received information before Sept. 11 about the impending terrorist attacks? Suppose the feds had picked up some guy who definitely knew who, when and where?

Now suppose the revolting little worm refused to talk. Officials at this point would have a choice. Force the information out of the toad and save lives or be nice about it and stand on our principle of "We don't torture people."

If I'm the fed in charge of interrogating this guy, he gets a beating. He may get shocked with a cattle prod. He may lose fingers. By the time I was done, this guy would curse his mama's name if I told him to do it.

Some of the suspects we have in custody have information about Sept. 11 and terrorist attacks planned for the future. Anybody feel bad about torturing them until they tell us what they know? Anybody still want to be nice about it?

They might ponder that nice guys not only finish last. Sometimes they finish dead.

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