Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

   If you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself.  Today the Philadelphia Inquirer printed an amputated version of my letter.  The topic? Karl Rove, who says he's "proud" that the CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ...that waterboarding is not torture...and that we obtained oh so much information that way.  

  Note the circular justification: 1) Waterboarding is not torture, and 2) even if it is, it got us info. That former government officials can brazenly admit to torture, justify it, and claim that it has benefits (uh...not for the victim, of course), and all with absolute impunity, is symptomatic of what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil."

  Well, since the Inquirer let me down, here's my letter in its original form, supplemented with pertinent links:

Karl Rove has just declared in an interview on the BBC that he is “proud we used techniques that broke the will of terrorists” and says that waterboarding is not torture.  Perhaps he will go on to tell us why waterboarding was considered torture when the Japanese used it, or why it won’t be considered torture when it is used some day on our own captured service personnel.  But most of all, I would like to hear Mr. Rove’s explanation of how our country came to sink so low.

  Waterboarding and all the other so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" approved for use by the CIA and chillingly described in memos released in April of last year  are illegal, immoral, and indefensible acts. However, like one hand washing the other, Mr. Rove and Mr. Cheney take every possible opportunity to defend the indefensible, giving cover to John Yoo and Jay Bybee in payback for the spurious legal cover they so compliantly provided the Torture Team back in 2002.
  Waterboarding is torture, Mr. Rove, and it is nothing to be proud of.    

   I mean, even the Inspector General of the CIA complained in his report that "the use and frequency of one EIT [enhanced interrogation technique], the waterboard, went beyond the projected use of the technique as originally described to DoJ."  (p.5) This in reference to the fact that "Khalid Shaykh Muhammad received 183 applications of the waterboard in March 2003" (p. 91) 

   183 applications...must be habit forming.

   If anyone would have told me back in 2001 that my government would even be considering the use of torture, I'd have said they were crazy. Then when I started reading serious discussions about it in the newspapers and magazines, I sent contributions to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for the first time.

   The National Religious Campaign Against Torture says it best in their Statement of Conscience:

Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved -- policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation's most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.

Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? Let America abolish torture now -- without exceptions.

  Show Mr. Rove that torture is nothing to be proud of. Sign NRCAT's Statement of Conscience now.


  1. Liberals are such strange and amazing creatures. Forty million abortions merit, at the most, a noncommital shrug. If even that. If not outright celebration. But the interrogations of three mass-murdering, war criminal camel-shaggers-- interrogations which elicited valuable intelligence which prevented the murder of many times that many innocent Americans-- is enough to permanently twist their sanctimonious knickers. Go figure.


  2. Right, Bill. I guess I should be glad --not just glad, but proud like Mr. Rove-- that the CIA rose to the occasion, glad and proud that someone was macho enough to do what had to be done.

    Besides, I can't imagine how much fun it was doing it 183 times!

    Do you suppose that the vital info come out during the 182nd or the 183rd session?


  3. I doubt that anyone involved in an interrogation session that included waterboarding considered the experience to be "fun." It doesn't exactly sound like an S&M or bondage type sexual thing to me. I note that you've made other references in the past to people having "fun" interrogating captured al Qaida war criminals. Such an obviously perverse reaction and attitude toward the subject strikes me as much more indicative of your psychological proclivities and interests than that of any of the CIA personnel. In fact, your continuing and unhealthy obsession with the concept of torture calls to mind one of those anti-pornography crusaders who shows, well, just a little too much zeal and perhaps a little too much interest in the thing they are crusading against.

    At any rate, the practice of waterboarding was halted during the second term of GWB. It is no longer being practiced. It has been halted. It has ceased. It is in the past. It has, in fact, been superceded in the historical record by a continuing series of other atrocities, not a few of which, incidentally, have been perpetrated by that same al Qaida toward whom you show so much sympathy. In reference to waterboarding, you and your fellow travelers in the "peace" movement should probably, as the expression goes, get over it. The fact that you focus on this narrow issue from the past and completely ignore other far more prevalent and continuing abuses and human rights issues in the present demonstrates clearly to anyone paying thwe slightest attention that you are pursuing an obvious political agenda and are not motivated by any commitment to human rights or alleviating human suffering.


  4. I appreciate the discussion, Bill.

    With regard to my psychological proclivities, you'll find that any skeletons rattling around in my closet are always fully clothed and always treated in total compliance with the Geneva Conventions :-)

    Torture is, unfortunately, not a thing of the past. The decisions of John Yoo and Jay Bybee, as well as the Military Commissions Act of 2006 have --sadly-- made it the law of the land, in violation of the terms of our international treaties and of standards of humane treatment recognized by civilized societies.

    In addition, the inventory of acts of torture inflicted on detainees taken in conjunction with the war on terror was not limited to waterboarding. In a previous comment I posted a link to testimony given by FBI agents who were present at Guantanamo Bay. Here's the link again, should you wish to peruse the documentation:

    I think that even you would be hard pressed to recognize these abuses as valid interrogation techniques. Again, it was not some fellow travellers who reported this mistreatment but FBI agents who were outraged by what they saw and who wanted no parts of it.

    Unfortunately, the torture continues. Prisoners cleared long ago by the Combatant Status Review Tribunals and who have gone on hunger strikes to protest their continued detention at Guantanamo are being force-fed.

    I can certainly understand why you would not want to take the word of a deviant such as myself on the importance of upholding the humane treatment of prisoners. But I'm wondering why you would fail to take seriously the memos of the military's own Judge Advocates General (JAGs), for instance?


  5. Torture is very definitely not the law of the land. And finding some examples of mistreatment does not prove that there is or has been systematic torture or abuse of detainees. I also suspect your definition of "torture" is rather loose. There is a very wide range of behaviors between the extreme of reading captured combatants Miranda rights and treating them as criminal suspects deserving of the full range of constitutional guarantees on the one hand to the other extreme of outright torture. I do not believe that such captured combatants are entitled to the constitutional rights guaranteed by our legal system to criminal defendents. In fact, there is no legal precedent for affording them such rights. If they are thought to have useful intelligence, they should be interrogated. In fact, it is a dereliction of duty and an injustice to American citizens if they are in any way endangered by the failure to interrogate these war criminals. And if the interrogation involves some physical discomfort or psychological pressure, so what? It is a very long way from such tactics to the legal definition of torture, which involves the application of extreme physical and/or mental pain.

    The prisoners at Guantanamo are not generally abused and are not mistreated. In many ways they are probably better treated than many criminals incarcerated in our federal and state prisons. There have been constant reviews and fact-finding visits from a range of organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, to Guantanamo, and I see no validity for your charges of systematic torture or abuse of detainees.

  6. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for your comment. You cite some of the most important considerations, namely, the definition of torture, conditions at Guantanamo, and rights that should or should not be extended to non-citizens.

    Surely, not every one of the more than 700 persons who have passed through Gitmo constituted a "ticking bomb" case, even if one wanted to allow "some physical discomfort or psychological pressure," is that to be done routinely then? And when someone is caught who does not fit the "profile?" Or perhaps you agree with writer Mark Bowden, who believes that the interrogator should make the decision. Personally, I do not, as this would be a cop-out on the part of the government, abrogating a major policy decision to individuals.

    Fortunately, I'm one of the lucky Americans who have a full-time job and I'm a bit swamped with work at the moment. When I get the chance, I'll post a few other resources offering alternative points of view on your assertions. However, for the moment, I just have time to note an excerpt from this morning's news about a Gitmo prisoner ordered released ...after 10 years of detention:

    "He's been incarcerated, tortured and interrogated and rendered illegally," said attorney Nancy Hollander of Albuquerque, N.M., who represents Slahi free of charge. "After almost 10 years the government has not been able to meet the minimal burden to detain him that's required under habeas. He should be free."



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