Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Abuses Excuses I'm Not Buying

Nearly every day another aspect of the Bush-era torture policy is uncovered and published and discussed. Those who would excuse what we did keep coming up with new twisted arguments intended to justify the unjustifiable. This post outlines some of those arguments and counters them. 

modified image of what khalid sheikh mohammed looked like after interrogation

We Don't Torture (Therefore What We Did Wasn't Really Torture)

As Chris Matthews repeats frequently, any time you deprive someone of oxygen, it's torture. I'd go further. Anytime you do what we did in sum—with all the "enhanced" techniques—that is torture.  I believe that anyone who takes the time to read the detainees' personal accounts in the ICRC report (PDF), anyone with the ability to put themselves in their position, anyone with an ounce of empathy, would have to admit that we tortured them.  We caused severe pain and suffering on purpose.  We treated them cruelly and inhumanely.  We committed outrages upon their personal dignity by degrading and humiliating them. 

Besides, These Terrorists Are the Worst of the Worst

Torturing anyone (you can't create a special category of 'combatant' to get around this) is illegal according to the United States Constitution.  Torturing anyone is also immoral and unethical not to mention anti-Christian; it debases the torturers and elevates the tortured.  Out of the 770 people detained at Guantanamo, more than 500 have been released without charge.  Of the approximately 245 detainees remaining, after all this time, only 18 have been charged with anything.  Even if every detainee were guilty of something awful, that fact would not justify torturing anyone.

Lawyers Wrote Opinions Saying These Techniques Were Legal

A lawyer's opinion is just that: an untested and unsupported opinion. Such opinions can not change what the law is until and unless the opinion is written into law and upheld in the courts. Besides, torture began before any legal excuses were created.

The lawyers who wrote the now-infamous memos, most notably John Yoo and Jay Bybee, held some extremely unorthodox viewpoints.  Yoo was of the opinion that it would be perfectly legal if the President of the United States ordered crushing the testicles of a detainee's child in front of the detainee to get him to talk.  Bybee suggested that extreme sleep deprivation was fine because after it was over, you couldn't tell it had happened. 

We Did What We Did to Keep America Safe -- See, We Haven't Been Attacked Since 9/11

This correlation is false on at least two counts.  First, we were "attacked" after 9/11 by whoever mailed the anthrax letters.  Second, where is the evidence that Bush's torture policy prevented an attack of any kind? This reminds of me the joke:
A man is sitting on a park bench, making the STRANGEST noises.
'Are you all right?' asks a concerned stranger.
The man nods and keeps making the noises.
The stranger then asked, 'Then why are you screaming like that?'
The man replies 'It keeps the elephants away.'
The stranger mentioned that there weren't any elephants for miles.
The man smiled 'See, it works!'
There are serious questions about who was actually responsible for 9/11.  Some possible answers to those questions provide other reasons for why we haven't been "attacked again."  We have not satisfactorily investigated either 9/11 or Amerithrax.  I'll let it go at that.

Additionally, we know for a fact that Bush's torture policy was a boon to those who were recruiting zealots to take anti-American actions.  This has had a negative and deadly impact on our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, so it is quite false to say we are more safe as a result.

We Got Valuable Information Using These Methods

Interrogators and intelligence professionals agree that valuable information is not obtained by torturing people. Contrary to what GW Bush and Dick Cheney have claimed, there is no evidence that any information obtained by torture led to thwarting imminent terrorist attempts.  A White House fact sheet from the Bush archives justifying the use of abusive interrogation methods says,
In 2002, we broke up a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast.
Yet KSM (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the guy we waterboarded over 180 times in a month, the guy whose picture was used to create the graphic in this post) was not picked up and arrested until March 2003.  Therefore, torturing him had nothing whatsoever to do with preventing that attempt.  In fact, we are not even sure that plot was real at this point. 

Not only is there no evidence that we've gotten good information—there is evidence to the contrary.  According to testimony at a recent congressional hearing, FBI agent Ali Soufan claimed the flow of actionable information was interrupted when CIA contractors took over the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and began using "enhanced techniques."  There is even evidence that detainees gave false information to their interrogators to stop the torture.

The Democrats Knew About It and They Didn't Raise a Stink Then

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has recently been under fire for daring to say that the CIA was less than truthful during their mandatory Intelligence Committee briefings on "enhanced interrogation techniques."  Let's not forget that nothing anyone said or did in opposition to the GW Bush machine was given credence or air time during the first 6 years of the last administration—unless it was called un-American, traitorous, troop-hating garbage.

Regardless, there's still no proof that Democrats in Congress were fully briefed about the torture program.  And even if there were, that's hardly an excuse for going forward with the "torture program" in the first place.

What's Past Is Past, Let's Look Forward

Has Dick Cheney or Rudy Giuliani forgotten 9/11 yet?  Or think about this: if someone dear to you had been kidnapped and tortured, and you could pretty well figure out who was responsible, would you be comfortable saying, "Let the past be the past," and decline to go after the perpetrators and demand they be prosecuted?

What does it say to the rest of the world, never mind the citizens of the US, to sweep these abhorrent events under a rug labeled, "the past?"

Can we, as a nation, redeem ourselves and begin to restore our standing in the world if we fail to hold accountable the architects of our torture policy?  I'm looking at GW Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Yoo, Bybee and Gonzales along with everyone else who helped formulate and facilitate those who carried out the program of abuses.  It will be a pathetic miscarriage of justice to have prosecuted and jailed Lyndie England and Charles Graner while letting the authors of the torture policy avoid paying for their much greater crime.
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