Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, September 18th, 2006.

Torturers ‘R’ Us

Bush Administration

I regret I’ve gotten behind in my blogging; I’ve not been feeling entirely well, and now I’m going into a busy week. I haven’t abandoned the “Ten Days After” project (in fact, I’m thinking about expanding it), but it’s going to have to lag behind a bit.

But without further ado, here is a torture news roundup.

My buddy The Talking Dog (the Rottweiler photo is deceptive; he is really a Chesapeake Bay Retriever) has an exclusive interview with Dr. Steven Miles, the author of Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror. The book is, the Dog says,

… a scathing examination of the failings of members of the medical profession serving in the military with respect to treatment of prisoners held by American forces in the war on terror, demonstrating such abuses as medical personnel participating in coercive interrogations if not outright torture (including using prisoners’ own medical records against them), preparing misleading, if not outright falsifying, medical records including death certificates, and failing to advocate for prisoners being placed in dangerous situations (e.g., such as under weapons fire, or in dangerously unsanitary conditions).

Be sure to read the post for a perspective on the torture issue we’re not getting from media. Also, give the doggie a pat for his fifth blogging anniversary.

Glenn Greenwald explains why pro-torture righties are really un-American, hysterical weenies.

At the Washington Post, Tom Malinowski writes,

President Bush is urging Congress to let the CIA keep using “alternative” interrogation procedures — which include, according to published accounts, forcing prisoners to stand for 40 hours, depriving them of sleep and use of the “cold cell,” in which the prisoner is left naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees and doused with cold water.

Bush insists that these techniques are not torture — after all, they don’t involve pulling out fingernails or applying electric shocks. He even says that he “would hope” the standards he’s proposing are adopted by other countries. But before he again invites America’s enemies to use such “alternative” methods on captured Americans, he might benefit from knowing a bit of their historical origins and from hearing accounts of those who have experienced them. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for the president’s reading list.

Note that one of the books on the reading list is Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. I remember when Gulag was published, ca. 1973. The American Right waved it in every face and insisted that it was a patriotic duty to read it in order to understand the evils of Communism. One of the torture techniques Solzhenitsyn described was sleep deprivation, which the Right hasn’t decided isn’t torture, after all, although it sounded nasty the way Solzhenitsyn described it.

Oh, wait … torture is only bad when Communists do it. When we do it, it’s fine. I forget.

Paul Krugman

I’m ashamed that my government does this sort of thing. I’d be ashamed even if I were sure that only genuine terrorists were being tortured — and I’m not. Remember that the Bush administration has imprisoned a number of innocent men at Guantánamo, and in some cases continues to imprison them even though it knows they are innocent.

Is torture a necessary evil in a post-9/11 world? No. People with actual knowledge of intelligence work tell us that reality isn’t like TV dramas, in which the good guys have to torture the bad guy to find out where he planted the ticking time bomb.

What torture produces in practice is misinformation, as its victims, desperate to end the pain, tell interrogators whatever they want to hear. Thus Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi — who ABC News says was subjected to both the cold cell and water boarding — told his questioners that Saddam Hussein’s regime had trained members of Al Qaeda in the use of biochemical weapons. This “confession” became a key part of the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq — but it was pure invention.

So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

To show that it can.

Conor Foley, in the UK:

The attorney general was right to warn the US government that it risks international condemnation in its attempts to free its interrogators from the “constraints” of these conventions. He should go further and tell its members that they could also be risking arrest if they visit Britain in the future.

Bob Herbert:

The president seemed about to lose it at times last week. He was fighting with everybody — tenacious reporters frustrated by the absence of straight answers about the treatment of terror suspects; key Republican senators who think it’s crazy for a great country like the U.S. to become a champion of kangaroo courts and the degradation of defendants; even his own former secretary of state, Colin Powell, who worries that the world is coming to “doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”

It seemed that the only people the president wasn’t fighting with were the Democrats, who have gone into a coma, and the yahoos who never had much of a problem with such matters as torture and detention without trial.

As Marvin Gaye once sang, “What’s going on?”

The people at the top are getting scared, that’s what’s going on. The fog of secrecy is lifting, and the Bush administration is frightened to death that it will eventually have to pay a heavy price for the human rights abuses it has ordered or condoned in its so-called war on terror.

At Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria thinks the “American constitutional system is finally working.” I’d say that’s premature. After several paragraphs of unwarranted optimism, Zakaria gets down to business.

The crucial issue, on which former secretary of State Colin Powell and other distinguished military figures have stood up to Bush, is the treatment of prisoners under the Geneva Conventions. Powell explained to me his deep concerns about safeguarding American troops if “we start monkeying around with the common understanding of the Conventions.” The administration claims that it merely wants to provide specific guidelines, but the real aim appears to be to let CIA employees engage in “rough” interrogations without fear of legal sanctions.

Powell and the senators argue that the guidelines are better left as they are—with a kind of calculated ambiguity that deters U.S. interrogators from testing the limits. ” ‘Clarifying’ our treaty obligations will be seen as ‘withdrawing’ from them,” warns Senator Graham, a former staff judge advocate in the Air National Guard. He’s right. No other nation has sought to narrow the Geneva Conventions’ scope by “clarifying” them. Does the United States want to be the first? Why not retain the status quo and then consult with other countries that are also grappling with terror suspects and arrive at a genuinely “common” clarification of the Conventions? If we “clarify” the Conventions to allow, say, waterboarding and other “rough” procedures, what happens to a CIA operative who is captured in a foreign country? Can that country “clarify” the Conventions and torture him? If it does, would the United States have any basis to condemn it and take action under international law?

Editorial, Boston Globe:

IN THE FIGHT over rules for the interrogation and trials of terrorism suspects, there is a split — not so much between Republicans and Democrats or the White House and the Senate, but between leaders like President Bush with no combat experience and those like Colin Powell who know combat and want to maintain the Geneva Conventions as a protection for US troops. Powell prefers the bill before Congress sponsored by Republican Senators John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham, all of whom have considerable military experience. Their bill, which the Senate Armed Services Committee approved Thursday, has deep flaws of its own, but it is a better basis for legislation than Bush’s proposal to gut the Geneva Conventions.

James Carroll:

What reservations are expressed have less to do with innate rights of the accused than with possible repercussions when enemies apply such standards to captured US soldiers. Last week, 27 retired military leaders warned Congress, “If degradation, humiliation, physical, and mental brutalization of prisoners is decriminalized” then US soldiers will suffer similarly.

But the fabric of law is spun from a single thread and when the US government deems a few individuals to be less worthy of full protections against the abuse of power , everyone is threatened.

That’s because the procedures of law — the requirement, in this example, that the accused be shown the evidence — protect not only the individual but the system itself. To say that justice must be administered blindly is to forbid favoritism toward the privileged, yes, but it is also to prevent prejudice toward the despised or dangerous.

Justice is measured in every society by how the worst malefactors are treated — the worst not only in culpability, but in capacity for general harm. The best way to combat terrorism is to wrap accused terrorists in the cloth of the law they would rip asunder. More important, to legalize the abuse of a class of prisoners is to prepare for the abuse of all.

ABC News:

Amid a debate between President Bush and bipartisan members of Congress over how harshly to question terror detainees, a former FBI agent said some of the most aggressive interrogation techniques in dispute are rarely effective anyway.

“Generally speaking, those don’t work,” said Jack Cloonan, a former FBI agent and an ABC News consultant.

Robert Parry:

George W. Bush’s Sept. 15 outburst – threatening to stop interrogating terror suspects if Congress doesn’t let him revise the Geneva Conventions to permit coercive techniques – is part of a pattern of petulance that dates back to even before the 9/11 attacks but has resurfaced as Bush faces new challenges to his authority. …

… At the Sept. 15 news conference, Bush also threatened to stop all interrogation of terrorism suspects if his demands on the Geneva Conventions weren’t met.

“We can debate this issue all we want, but the practical matter is, if our professionals don’t have clear standards in the law, the program is not going to go forward,” Bush said. “The bottom line is – and the American people have got to understand this – that this program won’t go forward; if there is vague standards applied, like those in Common Article III from the Geneva Convention, it’s just not going to go forward.”

He really is acting like a big baby. See also today’s Dan Froomkin.

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