The worthless confessions of the terrorized and tortured

Imagine a secret government list of terrorist suspects contained a misprint or misspelling. The list contained your name by mistake. Imagine that you had traveled repeatedly in the last few years to a part of the world where terrorists are thought to congregate or train. Perhaps you married a Pakistani woman when you were in the Peace Corps and you had returned with your wife to visit family every couple of years. You return to Pakistan and find yourself pulled out of line at the airport and taken to the office of the secret police for interrogation. You are a suspected terrorist now, accused of planning bombings and laundering money during your travels.

Never mind that you are totally innocent. The secret police know that you are guilty, and their professional duty is to extract a confession from you. And they are very skilled at their profession. They first threaten you, but you insist that you are totally innocent — that there must have been a mistake.

They beat you, and you continue to insist you are innocent. They deprive you of sleep and continue to beat you, but still you insist that you are totally innocent.

The secret police do not believe you, and the U.S. government tells them that they must do whatever it takes to break you down and extract your confession. They place electrodes on your genitalia and turn up the current. They beat you some more. They place your head in the toilet and hold it under water until you almost drown. They beat you and put you back in the cold, cold cell with no clothes, no blankets, no hope. You are hungry. You are in extreme pain. You are disoriented. You are further threatened that whatever has happened to you will also happen to your mother-in-law and your wife and all your family.

At some point you agree to sign whatever document you are asked to sign. You cannot bear the torture, or endure the terror.

You are an innocent person who has signed a confession to a crime that you did not commit.

How many of the confessions of terrorized and tortured prisons in Abu Graib or Afghanistan or Guantanomo were signed by totally innocent persons who could no longer bear the torture and the terror. Everyone has a breaking point. No confession under a regime of torture, terror, or coercion is legitimate.