Gutknecht: Turning the Screws

Thumb screws were outlawed long ago. Congress needs to take a long look at the modern day versions deployed by powerful and unaccountable investigators. Or are we simply consigned to forever live in a police state?

Source: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana,

The term, “turning the screws” can probably be traced back to 17th century Europe. Germans may have been the first to use the thumb screw as a form of torture and punishment. They proved very effective in securing information or confessions. By placing thumbs into the device and gradually turning the screws, the perp would experience increasingly excruciating pain until they either confessed or had their thumbs crushed. We will never know the number of innocent people who confessed to crimes which they did not commit.

This form of torture is now seen as barbaric. Accordingly, our FBI has developed far more sophisticated methods of turning the screws. If you have doubts, just ask the attorneys for Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort. The facts in the cases against either of these men are murky. Failing to clearly report a meeting with a Russian diplomat when he had no idea he was being interrogated by agents? That so-called “lying to the FBI” hardly seems enough to convict a man of General Flynn’s otherwise impeccable record. But the DOJ and the FBI under the direction of the viciously partisan Mueller team got him to plead guilty. No, they didn’t break his thumbs. They shamelessly broke him financially and emotionally. They threatened his family like mafia hit men. Why? To get dirt on the duly elected President of the United States that’s why. All in what now looks like a sophisticated (albeit unsuccessful) coup attempt.

The case against Paul Manafort is admittedly a bit stronger. Essentially, he failed to file paperwork required for representing foreign interests. He also kept some of those earnings off shore to avoid paying taxes. Most multinational companies practice similar strategies to minimize tax obligations. Every American should pay their taxes. But most tax attorneys will tell you that there is a fine line between avoidance and evasion.

In any event, his crimes hardly warrant the treatment he has received. He is not a hardened criminal let alone a threat to public safety. Yet if federal prosecutors have their way, he may spend the remainder of his days in solitary confinement.

Both of these men were targeted simply because they were close to Donald Trump. Reports suggest that the Justice Department decided years ago that the evidence against Manafort did not warrant prosecution. Curiously, only when he became Chairman of the Trump campaign, did they reopen his file. The FBI turned the screws on Flynn and Manafort in hopes of getting evidence to justify Operation Crossfire Hurricane. Desperate G-men call for desperate actions. Sadly for these Trump insiders, they had no such evidence to share. No matter how hard the screws were turned.

Haven’t we had more than a belly full of FBI apologists like Sean Hannity claiming that 99% of our agents are honest professionals? If that were true, we must ask where are the whistle blowers? Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Dozens of agents (the best of the best we are told) participated in these corrupt investigations. Where are the agents who believed General Flynn was telling the truth? Remember the others who kicked open doors in early morning raids, guns drawn in full combat gear? All to intimidate harmless individuals who had already agreed to cooperate. Can we be proud of these Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) tactics? The excuse of just taking orders no longer flies. That was settled at Nuremberg. So, why aren’t these agents coming forward? Their silence gives consent to these abuses.

Where is the Justice? Where is the accountability? Is FBI Director Wray in a coma or is he complicit?

Thumb screws were outlawed long ago. Congress needs to take a long look at the modern day versions deployed by powerful and unaccountable investigators. Or are we simply consigned to forever live in a police state?

Senator Lindsey Graham said it well. A critical mission of these agencies is to protect Americans and our civil liberties. In the shabby cases against General Flynn and Paul Manafort we are left to ask, who were these federal agents actually protecting and from whom?

More to the point, who are they protecting now?

Gil Gutknecht served six terms in both the Minnesota and the U.S. House of Representatives”
Gil Gutknecht

Gil Gutknecht is a former Republican congressman from Minnesota.