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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Super Tuesday Confession

One of the downsides to Super Tuesday was that it pushed every other news story to the side. In watching the returns on CNN, the only information I got about Tuesday's tornadoes -- and the death toll -- came from the infrequent breaks by the weather guy. A bona fide natural disaster was going on in mid-america and it was no more important than reports of golf ball sized hail. The big question for the talking heads was whether this would effect polling in the affected areas.

I guess there are some stories which just suck up all the oxygen in the news room. But, as I pointed out yesterday, talking heads are always talking, but that doesn't mean they always have something to say. Maybe the rule should be that, once someone says something stupid or obvious, it's time for a news break. I really don't need to be told that people don't vote for people they don't like or that 51% of left-handed Episcopalian steamfitters have broken for Obama. There's information and then there's some overpaid moron in a suit burning time until new numbers come in. If you don't have anything useful to say about the returns, talk about something else.

So, as tornadoes whipped through the south, I'm watching Wolf Blitzer repeat what someone just said in a speech. I'm watching John Roberts screw around with a touchscreen, just to show what it can do. I'm looking at pie charts breaking down which candidate Catholic Poles voted for and which candidate Inuits voted for. I don't freakin' care. In fact, they don't care -- they're just wasting time with minutia until something comes in.

So it was that the high profile admission of war crimes was lost in the shuffle. It wasn't even weather. CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden admitted that three subjects had been waterboarded.

McClatchy Newspapers:

News reports long have cited unidentified sources in claiming that the CIA had used waterboarding on suspected terrorists, but Gen. Michael Hayden's comments before a Senate committee were the first time that a Bush administration official had confirmed it publicly.

Hayden said waterboarding had been used on Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and on two other terrorist suspects, Abu Zubayda and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, while they were in secret CIA custody. They were sent to the U.S. military's detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2006.

The story tells us, "The technique long has been considered torture by international legal organizations, and Congress is considering banning the CIA from using it. The Army field manual on interrogation prohibits its use by the military." The fact of the matter is that the CIA is banned from using it now. It's never been legal.

Now, I understand that a few knuckledraggers out there still think it's not torture. How they can come to this conclusion is beyond me. More than one has tried to convince me that it's fine, but every one has failed. Their arguments are full of holes, more spin than substance, and contrary to history. If you're reading this and thinking, "I've got to set this guy straight," don't bother. Keep it to yourself, I'm sick of hearing it. It's torture, pure and simple, case closed. I'm done arguing about it.

But, for the moment, put aside whether or not it's torture. It doesn't really matter, since it's illegal. It's always been illegal and it's never been legalized. It's a crime. That's not a matter of opinion, it's a matter of fact. Look at how the White House is trying to argue otherwise, take off your ideological blinders, and ask yourself if it makes any damned sense at all:

Press Briefing by Tony Fratto, 2/6/08:

Q Tony, Senator Durbin, who has been talking about this on the floor says, look, this technique has been used since the Spanish Inquisition; for five centuries it's been known as torture, American prosecutors actually obtained convictions against Japanese after World War II because of what they did to American captives. What about it makes it not torture now? Is it just the circumstances?

MR. FRATTO: I don't think that's a question I can answer. But that is a question that the Department of Justice answered on behalf of the CIA when they reviewed the components of the program. So I don't -- I wouldn't purport to be an expert on the technique and how it's used and the legal backing, so I would refer you to DOJ on that. But they did go through a process of determining the legality of it.

Here's the thing -- the Justice Dept. doesn't get to determine what is and isn't illegal. That's not their function. That power is left to the Judiciary -- we've still got a damned Constitution, you know. If Justice had "gone through a process of determining the legality" of rape, would that be OK? Would that mean that, given the right circumstances and the right subject, the CIA could legally rape people?

The plain facts are that we've prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime. As JAG Officer Evan Wallach wrote in the Washington Post:

The United States knows quite a bit about waterboarding. The U.S. government -- whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community -- has not only condemned the use of water torture but has severely punished those who applied it.

After World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. At the trial of his captors, then-Lt. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Forces officers who flew in the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, testified: "I was given several types of torture. . . . I was given what they call the water cure." He was asked what he felt when the Japanese soldiers poured the water. "Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning," he replied, "just gasping between life and death."

Nielsen's experience was not unique. Nor was the prosecution of his captors. After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan's military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.

Not only has the US prosecuted waterboarding, but Britain and Australia followed suit. A US court ordered that Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos pay $766 million in damages over incidents of waterboarding. In 1983, a Texas Sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison for using waterboarding to extract confessions from suspects. In fact, as far as I can tell, there has been no time in US history when someone was proven to have used waterboarding and has been found innocent of any crime.

So here are the facts; waterboarding was illegal once, no law has been passed allowing it, no law has been repealed barring it, no law banning it has been struck down by the courts. The Justice Dept. has absolutely no power to declare something legal, the Executive branch doesn't either. Torture or not, it's illegal and the CIA has committed a crime. Likewise, George W. Bush, who personally authorized it, has also committed a crime. The only ways you can argue otherwise is to declare Bush a dictator or throw plain logic out the window. In this world, at this time, with our history, waterboarding is a crime and Bush is a criminal.

You may not like that, but you can't argue against it. And, if we had a Congress with any balls at all, Bush wouldn't just be worrying about impeachment right now, he'd be worrying about a long stint in prison.

Trust me, that'd be news that CNN would break election coverage for.


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1 comment:

DB said...

I have been confused lately on the irony of how the "compassionate, Christian, conservatives" are all about torture, while the ones they brand "morally bankrupt" (liberals) are opposed to torture.

I am just shocked how one can call themselves a Christian yet condone something as hideous as torture...and turn around and say liberals are the ones who have no morals. Quite odd.