Eric Etheridge / The Opinionator: New York Times Blog – 2009-06-07 22:43:32
NEW YORK (April 22, 2009) — Torture continues to be topic A online. Late yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee released its full report on military interrogations of terrorism suspects, 232 pages of new material, which bloggers quickly began to digest. Elsewhere online, the debate continued over the efficacy of torture.
At Firedoglake, Jame Hamsher offered these observations, among several others:
• Serial sadists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, the psychologists who were the first to rationalize and implement torture, were not members of the CIA and are not covered under Obama’s immunity blanket. They violated their ethics as health professionals, and should lose their licenses and face criminal prosecution.
• Jessen and Mitchell modeled their torture program on methods used by the North Koreans to extract false confessions.
• Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney “demanded that intelligence agencies and interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration,” despite the fact that the CIA told them repeatedly that no such collaboration existed. So, extracting false confessions was the goal.
At the New Yorker, Jane Mayer said the report “raises questions about whether the C.I.A. was always operating with legal authorization,” and wonders whether the “protective, legal ‘invisibility cloak’ ” that Obama wants to provide C.I.A. officers will apply in all circumstances.
Noting that Abu Zubaydah was captured and interrogated for four months before the memo authorizing “harrowing tactics” was issued, Mayer asked: “So, presumably, whatever happened to Zubaydah after August is indemnified by the Obama invisibility cloak. But what about what happened to Zubaydah in the four months before?”
In addition, Mayer noted that in the summer of 2002 the F.B.I. quit participating in the Zubaydah interrogation for reasons of torture:
By June 2002 — again, months before the Department of Justice gave the legal green light for interrogations — an F.B.I. special agent on the scene of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah refused to participate in what he called “borderline torture,” according to a D.O.J. investigation cited in the Levin report. Soon after, F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller commanded his personnel to stay away from the C.I.A.’s coercive interrogations.
What did the F.B.I. see in the spring of 2002? And exactly who was involved? How high up was this activity authorized? Is it off-limits for criminal investigation?
Yesterday, Marc A. Thiessen took to the op-ed page of The Washington Post to argue, once again, that “The C.I.A.’s Questioning Worked.” Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, says that the “enhanced interrogation” of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed prevented a terrorist attack in Los Angeles:
Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques “led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the ‘Second Wave,’ ‘to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into’ a building in Los Angeles.” KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast.
In Slate today, Timothy Noah responded: “The Library Tower? Is that the best that Bush’s torture apologists can do?”
What clinches the falsity of Thiessen’s claim . . . is chronology. In a White House press briefing, Bush’s counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, told reporters that the cell leader was arrested in February 2002, and “at that point, the other members of the cell” (later arrested) “believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward”
A subsequent fact sheet released by the Bush White House states, “In 2002, we broke up [italics mine] a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast.” These two statements make clear that however far the plot to attack the Library Tower ever got — an unnamed senior FBI official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush’s characterization of it as a “disrupted plot” was “ludicrous”—that plot was foiled in 2002. But Sheikh Mohammed wasn’t captured until March 2003.
In his op-ed, Thiessen also identified what he calls “the secret to the program’s success” — its tactics were adapted to play into Islamic beliefs.
[T]he memos [released last week] note that, “as Abu Zubaydah himself explained with respect to enhanced techniques, ‘brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship.” In other words, the terrorists are called by their faith to resist as far as they can — and once they have done so, they are free to tell everything they know. This is because of their belief that “Islam will ultimately dominate the world and that this victory is inevitable.” The job of the interrogator is to safely help the terrorist do his duty to Allah, so he then feels liberated to speak freely.
At Accumulating Peripherals, Matt Steinglass noticed the parallels with what John McCain wrote in 1974 in “The Code of Conduct and the Vietnam Prisoners of War.” In a section discussing the Code’s Article V — “I am bound to give only my name, rank, serial number, date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the best of my ability”– McCain wrote:
It is patently obvious that if enough mental and physical pressure is applied in the proper manner, it is unlikely that any man can not be forced to submit to some degree. …The article states further, “I will evade answering further questions to the best of my ability.” This should mean that a deviation from name, rank, serial number and date of birth does not necessarily mean that a prisoner of war has committed a violation of the code of conduct if he is temporarily forced to “fall back” from that position and has resisted to the best of his ability; that is the most our country should ask of him.
Or, as Steinglass wrote:
Clearly, John McCain had been influenced by Muslim theology when he wrote this. And it appears that he welcomed the help of his Vietnamese captors who, in 1968, obligingly beat him over the course of 3 days so viciously that he felt he had been pushed to his breaking point, and was able in good conscience to record a short tape for Voice of Vietnam radio admitting that he had committed war crimes against the Vietnamese people and thanking them for their kind treatment of him.
At National Review, Jim Manzi waded into the “very serious ongoing [torture] debate here at The Corner” and writes that “my only contribution is that I don’t think this debate has defined ‘works’ properly.”
It seems to me that the real question is whether torture works strategically; that is, is the U.S. better able to achieve [its] objectives by conducting systematic torture as a matter of policy, or by refusing to do this?
When you ask the question this way, one obvious point stands out: we keep beating the torturing nations. The regimes in the modern world that have used systematic torture and directly threatened the survival of the United States — Nazi Germany, WWII-era Japan, and the Soviet Union — have been annihilated, while we are the world’s leading nation.
The list of other torturing nations governed by regimes that would like to do us serious harm, but lack the capacity for this kind of challenge because they are economically underdeveloped (an interesting observation in itself), are not places that most people reading this blog would ever want to live as a typical resident. They have won no competition worth winning. The classically liberal nations of Western Europe, North America, and the Pacific that led the move away from systematic government-sponsored torture are the world’s winners.
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