Thursday, April 23, 2009

Time to Prosecute for Torture

Last week the Justice Department released detailed memos describing the brutal interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency. The documents are the most comprehensive public accounting to date of the Bush administration's top-secret program.

The precise bureaucratic standards include instructions for forced nudity, the slamming of detainees into walls (walling), prolonged sleep deprivation (up to 11 straight days), the dousing of detainees with water as cold as 41 degrees, being locked in a cramped box with an insect, and waterboarding.

Since the release of these documents, the torture debate has reached a crescendo that is impossible to ignore yet difficult to listen to.

There is, of course, former Vice President Dick Cheney who months ago calmly and shamelessly admitted to authorizing torture because he really thinks it works. He'd like us to believe that waterboarding 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) 183 times was a worthwhile endeavor, but counter-terrorism experts are contradicting his claims saying most of the information KSM coughed up during the waterboarding sessions involved things he thought his interrogators already knew, or were just his ideas for mayhem. Also, there is the inconvenient fact that the Bush timeline shows the LA plot was thwarted long before KSM was caught and waterboarded.

Then there are the cries of Former Attorney Michael Mukasey and former CIA director Michael Hayden. One imaginative claim from the duo is that the no-torture policy is inviting "the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on September 11, 2001." However, history isn't a Gumby toy they can bend into any pose they like. The cumulative failures leading up to the attack on September 11, 2001 are well documented and have nothing to do with timidity and everything to do with incompetence.

Mukasey and Hayden also want us to believe that we shouldn't admit to torture because then the terrorists will know we torture! First of all, terrorists would also know this if they listened to the news or picked up any newspaper in the last 6 years. Secondly, I don't think knowledge of a US government document will ease any man's panic while being drowned. Thirdly, because the US is committed to lawful interrogation techniques now, it won't matter if detainees know about banned procedures.

Listening to this ongoing debate is like sitting through a remedial math class where everybody has to relearn that two plus two is four. Indeed, the Bush administration might have also been wise to sit through a remedial history class. In a shocking article, the New York Times asserts that nobody in the Bush administration investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate:
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.
So there you have it. Our ineffectual and barbaric program of torture was created out of ignorance and enthusiasm. It's also illegal. Why are we still debating this shit? There's nothing left to debate. It's time to prosecute.


Trung said...

i completely agree that cheney, rice and anyone else within the bush administration should be prosecuted for authorizing the use of torture. unfortunately, i do no see it happening to anyone high on the "totem pole."

putting aside the issue that torture is a violation of human rights as well as the geneva conventions, your article strengthens the case that torture does not work and is in fact counter productive.

Kristen said...

I didn't draw enough attention to the It's also illegal link. It's a 2003 speech from George W. Bush where he says: "I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment."

Sounds kind of like he's begging us to prosecute him, and I won't argue with that.