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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  1. D.R. Marvel  •  Sep 18, 2006 @5:39 pm

    One quibble, Maha…

    Colin Powell can hardly be said to “know combat”…He joined the Americal division in Vietnam, got his “ticket punched” and became a “made man” by his perfunctory investigation of the massacre at My Lai…

    Powell was never anything more than an apparatchik in the Army, or afterwards…

    The sort of guy who spills lies all over the U.N. to applause from the Dickheads in D.C.

  2. joanr16  •  Sep 18, 2006 @6:09 pm

    Dear George W. Bush,

    Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean the Geneva Convention isn’t clear.


    Planet Earth

  3. Swami  •  Sep 18, 2006 @10:32 pm

    I’m wondering if Bush will get his way. Now he’s re-submitted an altered version of his attempt to clarify his enhanced interrogation methods. Karen Hughes says that even putting handcuffs on terrorists can be construed by some terrorist as being an outrage on their personal dignity. So maybe Bush is right and we need a final solution to the terror problem.

  4. justme  •  Sep 18, 2006 @10:48 pm

    Talk about identity politics you had that so right.So many people are so involved in their own issues that they don’t even seem to have noticed this issue isn’t just about torture(although that SHOULD be enough)but it is more about who and what this country is.If we are a nation that tortures group” a “now, our own will be soon to follow.If we allow this now our troops can never expect humane treatment again.We lose the right to gasp in horror when we see our boys after the endured torture to their deaths.We lose the right believe we are “good ” and they are “evil” for we are now both evil. Don’t the terrorists win when we abandon our values our morals to sink to their level? Or is it the terrorists win when I point it out?..What a sad time for this her final breath?It may be if bush gets his way.

  5. Sachem515  •  Sep 18, 2006 @11:47 pm

    So a deal gets struck by the end of this month. McCain, Warner, Graham etc. all stand around in the Rose Garden while W signs the bill, and then he issues another signing statement.

    As GWU law professor commented on Countdown on Friday, the clock is ticking on W before the Red Cross interviews these recently transfered detainees at Gitmo, so it has to be all legal and tidy by then. It appears Mr. Turley was correct in his earlier comments that W must have issued a signing statement on his oath of office.

    We have a constitutional trainwreck in our future. Even if the House is returned to the people. it has to be clear by now that Mr. Conyers’ subpeonas will be resisted on national security grounds. So it all lies in the rapidly aging ticker of Justice Stevens or perhaps even Justice Kennedy, because if either of them dies before case reaches them, the next two years will take decades to clean up.

  6. lafrance  •  Sep 18, 2006 @11:55 pm

    Like Justine, the terrorists win by the way this country is behaving. the polarization and the bombing and all of it. Bush played right into thier hands. They sure pegged him. And the right dances along with him. Why do you think Bin Laden wants Bush to remain in office?

    But, I ask another question: What is it that makes Bush react this way, why is he so into torture, and what is the mindset of the right to stand by this man and allow him to degrade this nation and try to command dictator powers and snuff out our constitution. And if the right is so patriotic, why do they want the bill of rights and the constitution to be purged for Bush?

  7. moonbat  •  Sep 19, 2006 @12:51 am

    What is it that makes Bush react this way, why is he so into torture, and what is the mindset of the right to stand by this man and allow him to degrade this nation and try to command dictator powers and snuff out our constitution.

    Simple. It makes it so much easier to terrorize and eliminate enemies at home. Think aristocracy. Think King Louis, Marie Antoinette, and the Marquis de Sade. Bullies are often sadists.

  8. Preston  •  Sep 19, 2006 @1:37 am

    Bush is sweating bullets because he knows that if the Congress fails to pass his version of the “clearer” Geneva Convention, he and his toadies will find themselves up on charges the least of which will be crimes against humanity. In any case, the Geneva Convention was agreed to by a commission of delegates from the signatory states. No one country has the right to modify it. Any country, I suppose, may choose to have their name removed from the list of signatories, but it should take another commission to draft new terms. After all, that’s why it is called an international convention.

    Olbermann just dropped another bomb in Bush’s lap. Is anyone out their with connections to the right people hearing any of this. Bush must either resign or be impeached. He should not be allowed to complete his term and leave office with a pension or any of the perks. He has failed this country miserably just like he has failed in every other endeavor his sorry ass has been fortunate enough to get into.

  9. Donna  •  Sep 19, 2006 @7:17 am

    I read the Talking Dog’s interview with Dr. Steven Miles. Now, I will go purchase Miles’ book. Four things that Miles said are so key to understanding the depravity of Bush administration criminality, and the consequences for our country of Bush’s torture policy.
    1] In Iraq, our captured soldiers were released back to us alive BEFORE the Abu Ghraib photos came out…… the mutilations and beheadings started afterward the news of our torturing Iraqis.
    2] There is documentation [including photos and videos] of abuse of women and children, but these have been held out of the public’s view.
    3] Courtmartials start at the bottom and work up the chain of command…..but war crimes investigations start at the top and work their way down. Miles has documentation that Rumsfeld set out the torture policies.
    4] This last point I will try to ‘paste’:
    Steven Miles: Most Americans see torture as a form of brutalization of a person. They do not understand that torture destroys civil society. Indeed in most cases, torture is used by authoritarian regimes with the intent of destroying civil society. To this end, journalists, activists, lawyers, teachers, students, labor organizers, and intellectuals are its primary targets. The use of torture in Iraq has made it impossible for the United States to serve as a midwife to civil society there. It has undermined the credibility of our appeals on behalf of the humane and legally fair treatment of proponents of civil society in countries like China or Myrnamar. At the largest level, promoting civil societies must be the overarching policy objective of the United States and other democracies. Such societies are necessary for peace as well as global public health and successful economic development. At the end of World War II, the international community concluded that no appeal to the needs of national soverignty could justify or excuse torture or genocide. The United States has undone that momentous conclusion. It has authoritatively introduced into international relations the precedent and assertion that a national executive with the assent of the national legislature may practice torture in the context of a national emergency.

    Well, the paste function worked! [sorry, I am still a neophyte on this machine… if I could figure out how to make that quote into italic type…..hmmm]

    I think that the copied text of Miles’ paragraph not only makes a case that the Bush team’s depraved torture policy helped destroy civil society in Iraq, but also points to the Bush team’s depravity threatening to destroy our own civil society. This may be a partial answer to lafrance’s question in comment #6 on what maked Bush react this way, why is he so into torture, and what is the mindset of the right……Destroying Iraqi civil society is a means to justify a plan to STAY THERE and control Iraqi oil…..destroying American civil society is a way to frighten and divide America to maintain POWER atop our massive resources and military.

    Anyone else notice that the head-butting in Washington over torture policy leaves the American people out of the picture because none of the Washington folks bother to tell citizens exactly what has been done, or is being promoted to continue to be done in our name…….this horror is hidden under that effective spin called ‘the need for secrecy’.

  10. Jeff r  •  Sep 19, 2006 @9:44 am

    The University of Sydney, Australia has an on-line exhibit of rare books on witchcraft, demonology and the Inquisition. One of the exhibits is a book about the famous “witchfinder-general” Matthew Hopkins and the trial and execution of some witches in 1645.

    This is a quote from the on-line commentary: “Most of the [witches] made confessions; this is not strange because Hopkins and his associates used techniques such as swimming, starvation, prolonged sitting cross-legged upon a stool, solitary confinement, prevention of sleep and forced continuous walking until the feet blistered to obtain a result. None of this was regarded as torture!”

    Note the description of the “techniques” used by Hopkins to extract confessions from the accused “witches.” Note especially the last line. There are still civilized people around who understand what torture is and how it has no utility as a means of procuring justice. Sadly, George Bush is not one of them. His attitude is virtually identical to that of Matthew Hopkins, a person of a late Medieval mindset.

    Ain’t “progress” wonderful?