Thu. Apr 23, 2009
The Torture Debate, Part 5150
This site turned 13 years old last week, and in a couple of months, I will have been “blogging” for nine years. So sometimes I don’t write here because I feel like I’ve said it all before. But, here we are again.
This country has been “debating” torture much of this decade, and I last summed up my feelings in November of 2007, with Becoming The Thing We Hate.
One would have hoped that a new administration would put this to rest by denouncing those “enhanced interrogation techniques” and banning them. Which they did. But now we have to endure the likes of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney engaging in this bizarre form of public projection in which they now decry the very actions and strategies they used to practice religiously every day of the week. Others chime in to say the most outrageous things about this country and torture.
And it has become more than I can bear.
Torture supporters got a woody yesterday from, of all places, The New York Times
“High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country,” Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the intelligence director, wrote in a memo to his staff last Thursday.
So, torture yielded information? I hear that robbing a bank yields cash. I hear that rape yields some sick satisfaction for one of the parties involved. Yet these acts are considered both repugnant and illegal, despite the apparent yields. Go figure.
But nevermind the logic, this statement caused many torture supporters to claim the Obama administration is selectively releasing information that supports their position and smears their critics. Perhaps they got so excited by the above comment they failed to read the rest of the article:
“The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means,” Admiral Blair said in a written statement issued last night. “The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security.”
Oh. So, we might well have gotten that info anyway, and the practice turned into a recruiting tool for those who wish to kill us. Well, that’s a minor point to someone like Karl Rove:
“What they’ve essentially said is if we have policy disagreements with our predecessors…. [W]e’re going to turn ourselves into the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sunglasses and what we’re gonna do is prosecute systematically the previous administration, or threaten prosecutions against the previous administration, based on policy differences. Is that what we’ve come to in this country?”
That’s a nice ploy, calling our violation of decades old international law a “policy difference.” You see, a “policy difference” does not beget prosecution. But a violation of the law might. It’s called “accountability,” which I know is an endangered species in this country, but that’s all the more reason for people to stand up for it.
And this wasn’t done on a whim. As Paul Begala notes:
…the president was compelled to release them by a lawsuit, a lawsuit that his lawyers, the Justice Department and the White House counsel, decided they could not successfully defend.
We have a Freedom of Information Act. I know it’s — it’s an adjustment, but we now have a White House that lives under the rule of law and obeys the laws. So, he released them because he was compelled to release them.
This is very different from the Bush administration, which selectively leaked national security information, top-secret information, in order to build what I think the record shows was a dishonest case for war, or, in the case of Valerie Wilson, to destroy the career of a covert CIA agent.
That’s the politicization of intelligence information and — and top-secret information. This was the president obeying the law.
A president obeying the law has absolutely astounded his critics. How could he? Well, he could have done much more, but directly chose not to:
“Obama knew he could not stop Congress from doing whatever lawmakers decided to do but he was reluctant to give a presidential imprimatur to a national commission that would keep the controversy alive for months and months and months. Obama had his own agenda and wanted to move on. Putting out the memos was the cleanest way to accomplish his goal. […] In his comments Tuesday he tried to steer lawmakers away from partisan investigations, arguing that if anything were done, it should be with the cooperation of both parties.”
He’s been trying to tamp this down, and releasing the four memos was the least he could do to satisfy the lawsuit. Rather than quietly acknowledge this, and allow the issue to die down, many on the right have gone on the attack.
OK, so then let’s take a closer look, since you insist. Maybe a truth commission really is what you need, but for now, how about this?
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.
Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.
The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.
They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.
The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.
These are just a few of the things that “The Deciders” did not know when they did the deciding. Despite this lack of knowledge, they used torture to try and squeeze blood from a rock:
“There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder,” he continued.
“Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people were told repeatedly, by CIA … and by others, that there wasn’t any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies.”
Senior administration officials, however, “blew that off and kept insisting that we’d overlooked something, that the interrogators weren’t pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information,” he said.
Got that? They were so motivated to attack Iraq after 9/11 that they used torture (and pushed for more torture when it didn’t work) to create a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda that never existed. But they were certain if they tortured enough, someone would admit to it.
Torture me enough, and I’ll admit I’m both the Anti-Christ and Sasquatch, and will agree to wash your car for the rest of my life as penance.
Even more maddening is the fact the prime proponent for torture is Mr. 13%-Approval-Rating, the man America most wishes would return to his undisclosed location (except for Democratic leaders, who want him to continue as the voice of the GOP), Dick Cheney. This is not unlike having the OctoMom endorse a fertility drug.
Or, as Robert Gibbs puts it, “We’ve had a at least two-year policy disagreement with the Vice President of the United States of America. That policy disagreement is whether or not you can uphold the values in which this country was founded at the same time that you protect the citizens that live in that country. The President of the United States and this administration believes that you can. The Vice President has come to, in our opinion, a different conclusion.”
Why isn’t that considered an outrageously shameful position? We defeated Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Empire without resorting to torture. But America is not strong enough to retain its basic character in the face of an attack by cave-dwelling extremists? Who is it that has so little faith in this country, its traditions, and its people?
Dick Cheney, that’s who.
To me, that position is downright un-American. At the very least, it betrays a severe lack of faith in this country and its people. And that should be loudly pointed out.
By the way, Cheney never served in the military (five exemptions during Vietnam), so let’s hear from some who have. How about James Joyner:
When I was being trained on this issue as a young cadet a quarter century ago, in addition to the legal and moral factors explaining why we must treat captured enemy combatants humanely — even risking our own lives and the accomplishment of our immediate mission to safeguard them — was a practical lesson: The other guy was a hell of a lot more likely to surrender to you if he expected to be treated well. Americans were more likely to keep fighting in Vietnam even against overwhelming odds because they knew they enemy would treat them as subhumans, whereas NVA and VC soldiers would surrender to us knowing they’d get three hots and a cot. Certainly, that proved to be the case in both the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq; Saddam’s soldiers couldn’t throw their weapons down fast enough.
That’s not likely to be the case for some time now.
Or you could take the word of one of the senior interrogators in Iraq:
I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.
Gosh, will someone please read that last line to Dick Cheney?
Or, if you find the phrase “fair & balanced” comforting, perhaps you’d prefer the view from Fox News’ Shepard Smith:
“I don’t give a rat’s ass if it helps. We are AMERICA! We do not fucking torture!!”
Well said. It confounds me somewhat to say so, but well said.
In an ideal world, I’d like to see the Justice Department go after those who made the decisions to implement these “harsh interrogation techniques” … not those who followed the orders passed down. Accountability should start at the top, not the bottom. We’ve already seen the latter at Abu Ghraib, where only non-coms got prosecuted.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. And accountability, well, frankly, we don’t have that in our society anymore, except for you and me. For our elected leaders, the leaders of failed companies bailed out with public funds … there’s no accountability. In fact, if you try, they squeal loudly.
But just once, I’d like to see one of them shut up with a subpoena and threat of prosecution.
Let’s start with Cheney. Maybe we can then get him to agree to a plea bargain: you stop torturing us with your asinine opinions, and we’ll let you live out the rest of your miserable life in freedom.
Update: Ali Soufan, who was an F.B.I. supervisory special agent and handled part of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, says the claims that “enhanced interrogation techniques” garnered information are “false claims”:
Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.
The debate after the release of these memos has centered on whether C.I.A. officials should be prosecuted for their role in harsh interrogation techniques. That would be a mistake. Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective and harmful to our national security.
Fortunately for me, after I objected to the enhanced techniques, the message came through from Pat D’Amuro, an F.B.I. assistant director, that “we don’t do that,” and I was pulled out of the interrogations by the F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller (this was documented in the report released last year by the Justice Department’s inspector general).
My C.I.A. colleagues who balked at the techniques, on the other hand, were instructed to continue.
And then there’s the story of Alyssa Peterson, an Arabic-speaking interrogator in the Military Intelligence section of the 101st Airborne:
Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.
Peterson was then assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards, and sent to suicide prevention training. “But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle,” the documents disclose.
It’s important to remember, at the tip of the spear, there were many who objected to the techniques because they knew, in their gut, they were wrong. And some of them were ordered to continue anyway. Others simply could not bear the pain.