Posts Tagged ‘torture’

Cheney’s clever phrasing

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Cheney’s statement on released CIA documents includes this sentence:

The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda.

How clever! It sounds like he’s saying that torture worked, but in fact he’s not. He’s just saying that the people who were subjected to torture gave valuable information, something that doesn’t actually prove his case at all. In a literal sense, I think I agree with his statement here.

Also, this sentence fragment is telling:

President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute […]

The President does not decide what the Justice Department investigates and prosecutes, the Attorney General does, exactly for reasons like this. Deciding what to investigate should be a law enforcement decision, not a political one. That is why politicization of the Justice Department is a Big Deal. Remember that? Oh, nevermind…

It worked!

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Some torture defenders have made an argument that looks like “Detainees who were subjected to [torture] gave us valuable information, therefore torture works”. If you don’t think about it, this statement and conclusion make sense. A tortured detainee talking isn’t proof that it was necessary, and in most cases it was provably unnecessary, as explained by this excellent NYT editorial:

Mr. Cheney is right when he says detainees who were subject to torture and abuse gave up valuable information. But the men who did the questioning flatly dispute that it was duress that moved them to do so.

Deuce Martinez, the C.I.A. officer who interrogated Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, engineer of the 9/11 mass murders, said he used traditional interrogation methods, and not the infliction of pain and panic. And, in an article on the Times Op-Ed page, Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who oversaw the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, another high-ranking terrorist, denounced “the false claims” about harsh interrogations. Mr. Soufan said Mr. Zubaydah talked before he was subjected to waterboarding and other abuse. He also said that “using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions.”

Nancy Pelosi

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Torture supporters seem to be really excited about the prospect of Nancy Pelosi being involved or implicated in the torture crimes. To be clear- they’re right, Pelosi should be investigated, along with everyone else. But why do they think that this is somehow a rebuttal in the debate?

I had no idea for a while, but then I realized this: they think that it’s a partisan debate. If it were, then the Pelosi counter-point would be tactically sound. Importantly, for them it is a partisan debate… this is just “the left” trying to get back at GWB. I don’t doubt that there are some people in favor of investigation for whom this is a partisan issue, as well, but they’re wrong too. No matter how much the media might want to frame it as such, this isn’t about left vs. right, republican vs. democrat, this is about violations of the law and our national character.

Jesse Ventura

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Ex-Navy Seal Jesse Ventura plows through Elizabeth Hassleback’s talking points on The View. It’s really spectacular to watch:

Money quote:

If waterboarding is OK, why don’t we let our police do it to suspects so they can learn what they know? If waterboarding is OK, why didn’t we waterboard [Timothy] McVeigh and Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers, to find out if there were more people involved? … We only seem to waterboard Muslims… Have we waterboarded anyone else? Name me someone else who has been waterboarded.

I’ll write about why Hassleback keeps bringing up Pelosi soon.

The torture photos

Monday, May 18th, 2009

(catching up on the last couple of weeks’ news..)

I’m still undecided about Obama’s decision to withhold the release of photos of American interrogations. His rationale is that the photos would risk American lives does resonate with me- I’ve heard from plenty of sources that the Abu Ghraib photos were great recruitment tools for Al Qaeda (and similar groups), and more photos wouldn’t help. This is a major reason I’m so opposed to torture- it does help our enemies. Torture memos don’t have the same visceral effect of photos, and they are more easily taken out of context.

On the other hand, photos may be necessary to fully understand the crimes committed. “Use of dogs” and “human pyramids” don’t sound so bad, but the photos from Abu Ghraib give a more accurate portrayal what happened. Obama claims that the pictures don’t depict anything we don’t know about, but is it a good practice to let the executive decide what evidence should be released when investigating executive crimes? (I know it’s not the same executive, but I think the point is still relevant.) This is suppression of evidence of war crimes, but I think there’s a lot of evidence already.

One thing I had to consider was this: what if Bush had made the same decision? I’m pretty sure that I’d be outraged by it. I thought about this for a little while, as it seemed to make my lack of outrage seem rather flimsy. There are some key differences, though:
1. While Obama has incentives not to have to investigate torture, Bush’s incentive would be far more direct and dramatic. This would essentially be the defendant deciding on what evidence was admissible.
2. This is happening /after/ the torture memos were released. The memos are far more damaging that the pictures would be (most likely) and the lack of photos does not prevent an investigation from taking place.

How not to answer a simple question

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Shepard Smith asks a question that needs to be asked, but can’t get an answer:

Boston trip has ended, more posts on the way…

The Rule of Law[makers]

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

One of the reasons that the issue of torture interests me so much is because it deals with a fundamental abuse of power: the President is asserting that he is above the rule of law and is not required to follow, or even acknowledge, American and international law. I’m not just talking about Bush here, but also Obama’s “looking forward” comments.

Torture proponents should be vocally advocating that we repeal or substantially modify federal prohibitions against torture. They should be advocating that we withdraw from the UN Convention on Torture. They aren’t.

We’re [supposed to be] a country ruled by laws- if we don’t like the laws, we well-defined processes for changing them. If the President wants to do something that violates a current law, he can ask to have it changed, or, if it had to be violated in haste, work to have it reconsidered in retrospect. We have a constitution… this is what it’s for.

If we don’t change the laws and just accept that the executive branch can do whatever it wants, we end up with an executive branch that betrays the ideals of the founding fathers. Citizens concerned about tyrrany (I’m looking at you, tea-partiers) should be more concerned about this executive expansionism than tax rates.

Strangers with Condi

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Stanford recently, and took some questions from students:

I was really impressed by the poise and respectful persistence of the students. It’s hard to ask challenging questions to people who are so accustomed to answering evasively (i.e. any politician), but these students did a better job than most of the “professionals”.

The most notable part of the exchange was Rice’s Nixonian statement:

“I just said — the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture.”

I don’t really have anything new to say about this.

One thing that struck me as strange was that Rice referred to the 9/11 attackers as “murderous tyrants”. These people didn’t fit any definition of ‘tyrant’ that I know of. I don’t doubt that this was just a slip of the tongue, but I can’t help but think that this is symptomatic of the Bush administration’s tendency to lump all sorts of enemies together, e.g. the “axis of evil”.

Torture and religion

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

There’s been a lot of discussion recently of a recent Pew poll in which respondents were asked:

Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?

Here’s the breakdown in responses by religion:

The data suggests that religious participation is correlated with support for torture. This data makes no claim that there is a causal relationship between these, but I think that misses the point: there should be a causal, inverse correlation between these.

I’ve already written about this phenomenon a while back.. this is nothing new. In the comments for that post, Brendan brought up a good point: people tend to compartmentalize and only apply religious doctrine and morals to certain topics. However, it seems like there are some things that are just too fundamental to be opt-out. I can’t express this better than The Onion, so I’ll just leave you with the article I’m Not One Of Those ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ Christians.

The moral relativism of torture defenders

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

NY Post editorial on torture:

Al Qaeda kidnaps Americans, tortures them, then decapitates them on TV.
We deprive captives of sleep, push them into walls and put harmless caterpillars that we say are poisonous in their cells.
Then we’re the ones who are condemned as the worst human-rights violators on the planet.

My parents taught me that “just because other people do it doesn’t make it right”, a lesson the NY Post editorial board would do well to learn. The actions of Al Qaeda barbarians bears no influence on what is right or wrong, and if the difference between right and wrong doesn’t matter, then what are we fighting for?

Also, I read a lot about this issue and I haven’t heard anyone refer to the U.S. as “the worst human-rights violators on the planet”. That’s a textbook straw man.

Finally, the editorial trivializes their description of torture: we waterboarded one detainee 183 times in a month, for example, something they declined to mention.