Friday, January 23, 2009

On Going Forward

In The Washington Monthly's Nov/Dec 2008 issue, Charles Homans has an interesting proposal on how to investigate the CIA. He proposes the following:

"We don’t know who exactly destroyed the tapes or what else may have been or is
in danger of being destroyed, but Congress or an investigatory commission might
be able to guard against losing what’s still intact by granting immunity to
. Establishing the responsibility of officials higher up in the
Bush administration is far more important than prosecuting those who carried out
their actions in the field." [emphasis mine]

This is an interesting concept. I am not in favor of prosecuting interrogators and case officers here in the United States. The case in Milan against Bob Lady & co. targets the wrong people, in my opinion - although it is certainly reasonable that they are being targeted.

But what are the consequences of granting immunity to that many people? How high in the CIA chain of command would you stop? The immunity would have to be conditioned upon cooperation with an investigation. Here it seems possible that a Truth & Reconciliation Commission would work. At higher, policy-making levels, it might not, as Philippe Sands suggests in this NPR interview. If you aren't willing to apologize and assume guilt, the Commission is ineffective.

Homans makes a very good point later:

Even if techniques can’t be disclosed, Congress or a commission could usefully
address the scope and results of the interrogations, something that would be far
harder to block on national security grounds: how many detainees were subjected
to extreme techniques, how many of them were ultimately cleared of wrongdoing,
and whether any useful information was extracted from those who weren’t. Most of
the techniques that interrogators are believed to have derived from the SERE
methods originated with the KGB, which used them to extract false confessions;
ethics and legality notwithstanding, many intelligence veterans have questioned
their usefulness for obtaining accurate information. As president, Obama should
reiterate his campaign statement that "Torture is how you create enemies, not
how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good
intelligence." And if the evidence suggests the latter is true, it should be
made public to preempt the next Dick Cheney who suggests otherwise.
[emphasis mine]

The interesting thing about the last point is that even if evidence suggested it was not true, that might not prevent torture from happening again in this country. It would certainly help those who wish to push back on torture advocacy, but there is some sort of superstition held by many in American political circles that torture could work - there could be a time where it was worth doing. For example, Obama's executive order yesterday. While on the whole the order was positive, it nonetheless embraced that "torture could work" feeling. From Greg Sargent:

"But Ratner pointed to the following lines in the executive order that, he said,
provided a possible loophole by creating a Task Force to study the issue:

'The mission of the Special Task Force shall be:
(1) to study and evaluate whether the interrogation practices and techniques in Army Field Manual 2-22.3, when employed by departments or agencies outside the military, provide an appropriate means of acquiring the intelligence necessary to protect the Nation, and, if warranted, to recommend any additional or different guidance for other departments or agencies …'

The key there, Ratner says, is that the exec order appears to allow for an evaluation as to 'whether' — a key word — the Army Field Manual techniques are sufficent to 'protect the nation.' That, he says, allows for the Task Force to find after studying the issue that there may be cases where it’s acceptable to go beyond the Army Field Manual."

As a practical matter, it leaves the door open for torture. It's possible, I suppose, that this is a political ruse designed to demonstrate that torture does not work. But I doubt it. And the Special Task Force should not become our private high court when it comes to matters of torture. This information should all be made public. Discovering, revealing, and discussing the information must all be done in a public context. That is the proper way to move forward.


Over at Talkleft, Edger quotes the film "Judgment at Nuremberg," which establishes the appropriate context:

"What about those of us who knew better, we who knew the words were lies
and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we
loved our country. What difference does it make if a few political extremists
lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose
their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going
through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded
-- sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows!
We will go forward. FORWARD is the great password."

Recalling what Biden said on "This Week" in December.

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