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Monday, August 31, 2009

No Defense for Torture

Subject being waterboardedThe thing I find most disturbing about the debate over torture is that it's happening at all. There was a time when torture was unthinkable, when there wouldn't have been any debate -- or even a second thought -- about prosecuting people who resorted to torture. But the Bush administration's fearmongering blew the threat of terrorism out of all proportion. Yes, 9/11 was the worst terror attack in American history, but had the Bush administration been on the ball, it probably never would've happened. All the information that the White House and the president ignored was gained without torture -- or even illegal wiretaps -- and it would've been enough shut those nineteen hijackers down.

But the administration, in their zeal to draw attention away from their own incompetence, turned Al Qaeda -- a loose-knit handful of theocratic cultists -- into an even greater threat to the United States than the Soviet Union's entire nuclear arsenal. Al Qaeda, we were told, wanted to destroy America -- never mind that there was no way they possibly could -- and we had to stop at nothing, give up any rights the administration demanded, and throw any antiquated systems of morality or ethics out the window. If we didn't, we would all die. Guaranteed. It strikes me as a measure of the insanity of those remaining rightwingers that universal access to healthcare is tyranny, but torture and wiretaps and the abandonment of the right of habeas corpus are triumphs of freakin' liberty. I'm sorry, but if you're reading this and this describes you, you're an idiot. Hate to break it to you like this, but there's no easy way to tell someone they're stupid. You are astonishingly dumb.

Now would be a good time to segue into calling Dick Cheney dumb. But Cheney's foolishness isn't in believing any of this, because he doesn't. Cheney's stupidity is in believing that his own skin is worth more than the country he was once elected to serve. That and in thinking you can torture people and not have anyone call you on it -- ever. That's dumb. Or delusional. I suppose, in the end, the results are the same.

The news that Attorney General Eric Holder is ordering a limited investigation into CIA torture has brought Cheney out of the woodwork again. In a fawning interview with FOX News' Chris Wallace, Dick came out swinging against the whole idea. Torture is now a basic American value and, if you hate torture, you hate America. Oh, and you're going to die.

"I think it's a terrible decision [to investigate torture]," Dick told Wallace. "President Obama made the announcement some weeks ago that this would not happen, that his administration would not go back and look at or try to prosecute CIA personnel. And the effort now is based upon the inspector general's report that was sent to the Justice Department five years ago, was completely reviewed by the Justice Department in years past."

It was the very first question he was asked and he answered with a lie. "[I]n the past Obama has clearly stated he only opposed prosecutions of CIA interrogators who operated within the 'four corners' of the law, not ruling out probes of those who may have operated outside of those 'four corners,'" writes Greg Sargent. Those 'four corners' being the techniques the Bush administration had authorized. Cheney's arguing that the CIA should've been able to do anything, the law be damned. Which kind of makes you wonder why they even bothered to create a pretense of legality.

Where do you draw the line? In Cheney's world, there doesn't seem to be a line. Anything, absolutely anything, is allowable if there's a chance it'll keep people safe. It's not hard to imagine him arguing, "Did interrogators rape babies? Yes they did. But we must remember that raping babies worked." It's a cold, hard world out there. A world where people will kill us all -- unless realists rape infants. In our new moral code, if it works, it's automatically a good.

Joining into this argument is the Washington Post, with an article out this weekend justifying torture. In that piece, Khalid Sheik Mohammed is portrayed as a completely unbreakable suspect -- until he's tortured. Then he turns into a sort of visiting lecturer, teaching interrogators everything there is to know about Al Qaeda.

The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general's report and other documents released this week indicate.

Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again.

"What do you think changed KSM's mind?" one former senior intelligence official said this week after being asked about the effect of waterboarding. "Of course it began with that."

Of course it did. After all, WaPo asked a "former senior intelligence official." Said senior intelligence official would have no reason to lie -- other than the Justice Department breathing down their neck. This story contradicts everything we've been told about Mohammed's interrogations. In their defense, the Post includes the fact that Mohammed says that the information he supplied was mostly lies, but the overall the impression is that torture works.

But we know from other stories that it failed. In 2007, retired FBI agent Daniel Coleman said that information gained from waterboarding terrorist suspect Abu Zubaida "was crap."

"I don't have confidence in anything he says, because once you go down that [torture] road, everything you say is tainted," Coleman said.

I'm not the only one seeing problems with the Post's story. "The article's headline is 'How a Detainee Became An Asset -- Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding' -- though an equally appropriate headline would be: 'The Joys and Virtues of Torture -- how Dick Cheney Kept Us Safe,'" writes Glenn Greenwald. "I defy anyone to identify a single way the article would be different if the Post had let Dick Cheney write it himself."

And that's the underlying theme in both Cheney's own defense and the Washington Post's defense of him: "torture" equals "safety." It's a coward's argument, which makes it less than surprising coming from Dick Cheney.

"[Torture] completely undermines the values that we’re fighting to defend," writes Justin Gardner. "America is not a TV show. Fighting terrorism doesn’t work like that. And if you don’t understand that having policies that allow us to kidnap and torture anybody we want makes us look like the big bullies they accuse us of being, makes it easier for more people to hate us and therefore makes us less safe, well, please think on this some more."

No, it's not surprising that the fearful Cheney would make us less safe in order to keep himself a little safer. Washington Post doesn't even have that excuse.


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M said...

Cheney seems to think of himself as a necessary evil. He annointed himself as a sort of backward-assed American hero, called: The Darkside Man or Shadow Lurker

He's an all too willing martyr.

He also seems to be suffering from acute Col. Jessep envy.

And if Cheney feels like he's being persecuted, or "tortured," by the jury of public opinion, he's the worst possible spokesman for selling the fruits of sadism.

A few verbal slaps to his worldview and ideology and he's spilling mostly lies and false leads, throwing his daughter out there to help make it all stop.

Just wait until the waterboard is introduced.

Chris Ash said...

Stay the course, Wisco. I think it's helping. FSM, I hope it's helping...

The willingness—nay, glee—with which average Americans are willing to have people tortured is absolutely chilling.

Once a person has decided that torturing another human being is acceptable, once they decide that someone is less than a human, they become victims of their own sophistry—the walking dead who believe their conscience clean if it remains unexamined and unchallenged.

It is nothing less than sociopathy, and it's no wonder that most of these same people are also against health care reform; they're afraid someone is going to lock them up!

Chris Ash said...

Also, what's the deal with the Scientology advertising? That's a bit of a turn-off.

jreed724 said...

I'm not so sure about what to think of this...torture is not my think, but sometimes it's required to get the answers from the Enemy.

Wisco said...

Chris Ash: -Also, what's the deal with the Scientology advertising? -

Y'got me. Google generates the ads from keywords. How they get "Hey, this would be a great place for a Scientology ad!" is beyond me. Think of it as wasting their money.

jreed724:-....torture is not my think, but sometimes it's required to get the answers from the Enemy.-

No it's not.

SMG said...

"Yes, 9/11 was the worst terror attack in American history, but had the Bush administration been on the ball, it probably never would've happened."

Seriously, this kind of statement does nothing to help your argument. The vast majority of this country lives somewhere between the extreme left and right; inflammatory off the cuff remarks will ultimately just alienate the moderates. You are a smart guy and you know damn well that the administrations of G.H.W Bush, Clinton & Baby Bush could all be blamed with the right amount of spin. Why don't we keep the blame for 9/11 where it belongs, with the terrorist assholes that killed 3000 innocent people?

Wisco said...


Bush got a briefing titled "Bin Laden determined to strike within the US." His response? "OK, you've covered your ass. Now get out." His Justice dept. under Ashcroft didn't take terrorism seriously at all. At one point, Ashcroft threatened to fire the next person who "bothered" him with a report about Al Qaeda. His big project? Online porn.

Clinton may share some blame, as may Bush I. But those planes hit those buildings on one day. It didn't take them years and years to do it. That one day was when Bush was in office. To say that Bush carries no more responsibility than anyone else is not only a rejection of history, but an insult to plain logic.

If the truth "does nothing to help my argument," then I'm a little unclear on what sort of argument I'm supposed to be making here. Because it's clearly not a logical argument.