Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Silly Lies About Torture

I noticed something about the piece Daphne Eviatar covers in The Washington Independent today. William McGurn (btw, check out the sweet bio on the sidebar) accuses Pelosi and Reid of being too detached from reality to pass anti-torture legislation. In his words,

"If Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid believe their own public statements that
waterboarding and other techniques are both torture and ineffective, they ought
to incorporate their words into a law that takes these practices off the table

That, of course, would mean a vote that would force lawmakers to face up to
the real-life consequences of their actions -- and submit those actions to the
judgment of the American people."

McGurn wants accountability, but not in the sense of ensuring we never torture again - more in the sense of, if a terrorist attack happens, it's the Democrats fault, because they didn't let us waterboard.

Among the various right-wing views (the "real assertion" that torture works - oh, and also an ideal world in which "good men and women could present the case for enhanced interrogation without having their words twisted and finding themselves held up in public as latter-day Torquemadas") McGurn also demonstrates no understanding of how torture was actually carried out. I guess he is loath to read the investigative work of those on the other wing. Too bad for him. McGurn writes:

"For the past few years, no word has been more casually thrown about than
'torture.' At the same time, no word has been less precisely defined. That suits
Congress just fine, because it allows members to take a pass on defining the law
while reserving the right to second-guess the poor souls on the front lines who
actually have to make decisions about what the law means.

Unless by "poor souls on the front lines" he means "Alberto Gonzales," his statement is wildly incorrect. We know that torture was carefully tested, carefully planned, and almost every move was triple-checked. It was the top of the chain of command that made decisions:

"Kirakou made the interrogations sound almost like a game of 'Mother, May I?'
He said, 'It was not up to the individual interrogator to decide 'I'm going to
slap him' or 'I'm going to shake him.' Each one of these, though they're minor,
had to have the approval of the Deputy Director for Operations, who during most
of this period was James Pavitt. 'Before you could lay a hand on him, you had
to send a cable saying, 'He's uncooperative. Request permission to do
X.'...There was, however, no known instance of the supervisors denying a request
to use more force." ["The Dark Side," Jane Mayer, p.167]. post here

The law was graphically detailed, as were the demonstrations of "enhanced interrogations" (h/t digby) -

"Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the
CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped,
pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.

The high-level discussions about these 'enhanced interrogation techniques' were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy."

Hayden himself makes the decision-making process clear: “If you create a box, we will play inside the box without exception."

The only thing our agents on the ground need to fear is that the policy-makers and commanders above them abandon them in a time of need, scapegoat them, and make them carry out policies that could cause legal trouble down the line. Poor souls on the front lines indeed.


Valtin said...

I don't know if I would accept Richard Clarke as my expert on renditions. Or even Scott Horton, at this point. This is what Amnesty International says about rendition (link at end of comment -- sorry for the length but this is important -- quote is in italics):

Amnesty International uses the term "rendition" to refer to a variety of practices by the US authorities involving transfers of individuals from one country to another, without any form of judicial or administrative process such as extradition. These practices, usually carried out in secret, include transferring "war on terror" detainees into the custody of other states, assuming custody of individuals from foreign authorities and abducting suspects on foreign soil.

The practice of transferring a detainee from US custody to the custody of a foreign state is usually called "extraordinary rendition" in the USA, and appears to have been carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) since 1995. Cases in which suspects are transferred into US custody, and are detained and interrogated by US personnel outside of the US, have also been referred to as "extraordinary renditions", but are sometimes called "reverse renditions". Amnesty International describes all such practices as "rendition"....

The US administration has acknowledged it uses "rendition", maintaining that the practice is aimed at transferring "war on terror" detainees from the country where they were captured to their home country or to other countries where they can be questioned, held or brought to justice. It has contended that these transfers are carried out in accordance with US law and treaty obligations, including those under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It denies transferring detainees from one country to another for the purpose of allowing interrogations involving torture....

Amnesty International believes that these practices are illegal because they bypass any judicial or administrative process such as extradition. Under international law, it is illegal to transfer people from one country to another without any kind of judicial or administrative process.

Moreover, most victims of "rendition" were arrested and detained illegally in the first place: some were abducted; others were refused access to any legal process. Many victims of "rendition" have been or continue to be held in prolonged arbitrary detention and they have been or continue to be subjected to enforced disappearance. All of the victims of "rendition" Amnesty International has interviewed have also said they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

"Rendition" usually involves multiple human rights violations, including abduction, arbitrary arrest and detention and unlawful transfer without due process of law. It also violates a number of other human rights safeguards: for example, victims of "rendition" have no possibility of challenging their detention, or the arbitrary decision to transfer them to another country.

All rendition is illegal, and the attempt to split rendition into good and bad types is a neo-con shell game that doesn't deserve the embrace it is getting in certain liberal circles.

back_to_our_senses said...

Valtin - thanks for your comment. I will try to address the issues you raise in a later post.