Does torture lead to terror? Has the decadeslong abuse of political prisoners across the Muslim-majority world — not to mention in CIA black sites, U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, and the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay — fueled radicalization and extremism? Or is it a coincidence that some of the major figures in the jihadi movement — Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb; Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri; Al Qaeda in Iraq founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — were all victims of horrific torture?
Lawrence Wright, one of the world’s leading authorities on Al Qaeda and author of “The Looming Tower,” doesn’t think so. He has said that the torture the founders of Al Qaeda & Co. endured “is what really gave them an appetite for revenge. And the bloodletting that is so characteristic of Al Qaeda … I think it was born in the humiliation that those men felt in those Egyptian prisons.”
As I point out in the latest episode of my six-part video series on blowback, torture is also a recruiting sergeant for terrorist groups. It allows them to act as a vehicle for angry and outraged young men and helps bolster their propaganda war against people in power. For example, Cherif Kouachi, one of the brothers who carried out the horrific attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris in 2015, said it was “everything I saw on the television, the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, all that which motivated me.”