Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tortured America

First the good news. On Tuesday, interfaith members of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture launched a new campaign to abolish torture now -- without exceptions. I say amen! Through the efforts of 27 religious leaders and Nobel Laureates that include former President Jimmy Carter, Elie Weisel, pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Rev. Ted Haggard, the National Director of the Islamic Society of North America and the largest Muslim org in the U.S., Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, former president of Catholic University, Rev. William J. Byron, and many more, we're seeing encouraging signs of significant political advocacy from the Religious Left and mainline churches.

Voice of America reported that the NRCAT's "Torture is a moral issue" ad in the NYTimes that ran on June 13 published "one day after a Washington meeting of human rights officials questioned what religious groups were doing in response to torture." VOA:

The statement by religious leaders comes as the United Nations and human rights groups have criticized the Bush administration and other countries for adopting a narrower definition of torture in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, said prior to the 2001 attacks, governments realized that torture was absolutely prohibited and something they should be ashamed of.
"After 11 September, a very unfortunate discussion was started whether or not in extreme cases like the ticking bomb scenario, torture might not be justified in order for a higher goal, national security, saving the lives of innocent people, etc.," he said.
Nowak said he considered the blurring of the lines on the absolute ban on torture to be the most serious challenge to international law and human rights protection since World War II.
Torture is never acceptable under any circumstance and I denounce it vehemently. Besides the fact that torture doesn't work, the barbaric practice says more about the torturer and the state that sanctions the evil than the despicable terrorist or detainee who's tortured. Permitting or turning a blind eye to torture proclaims in all caps and in boldface that you've lost your moral compass. In succumbing to their level of depravity, the terrorists have won; the values and principles of American glory fade. Unlike others, I can see wisdom in moral relativism and absolutism depending on the issue. Torture begs an absolute response. No! Never. Not ever!

Now the really bad news...
When the CIA asked the question how far was too far in the interrogation of detainees, John Yoo, AG Gonzales, and top lawyers in the Bush Administration adopted a lean forward attitude to prevent an attack, save lives, which led to the Aug. 1, 2002, torture memo, among other disturbing documents, "in urging Bush to sidestep the Geneva Conventions." Galloping toward a slippery slope, Bush's legal thugs and Rummy's Pentagon dragged our democracy into the mud with the resultant horrors of Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca, and the "gitmo-zing" of detainees, and catapulted our nation away from the rule of law into the concept of the unitary executive. Glenn Greenwald, posting at Digby's Hullabaloo in January 2006, elaborated on how the Bush Administration would thwart the will of the Congress and the people via the President's law-breaking power despite the passage of the McCain Amendment outlawing torture:
This answer was delivered in the form of a woefully under-reported "signing statement" which was issued last Friday by the President when he signed into law a defense appropriations bill passed by Congress. That bill included the McCain Amendment, which bans the use of torture as an interrogation tool and which the Administration aggressively argued against. As Marty Lederman has detailed, Bush’s signing statement plainly amounts to a re-iteration – a reminder to all of us – of the theory of the Yoo Memorandum: that while the President was participating in the symbolic ritual of signing the McCain Amendment into "law," he has the power to violate it should he deem it in the national interest to do so. Here is what Bush said in his statement:
The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.
So this new "law" will be interpreted "in a manner consistent" with the Administration’s view of "the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief." Of course, the Administration’s view regarding the President’s "constitutional authority" is that such decisions are not for Congress to make, but "are for the President alone to make," which is just another way of saying that the President can violate the law the minute he thinks he should.
Lest anyone think that this description of the President’s view of his right to break the law is exaggerated or unfair, we should listen to what the Administration itself is saying about this matter:
A senior administration official, who spoke to a Globe reporter about the statement on condition of anonymity because he is not an official spokesman, said the president intended to reserve the right to use harsher methods in special situations involving national security. . . .
But, the official said, a situation could arise in which Bush may have to waive the law's restrictions to carry out his responsibilities to protect national security. He cited as an example a ''ticking time bomb" scenario, in which a detainee is believed to have information that could prevent a planned terrorist attack.
''Of course the president has the obligation to follow this law, [but] he also has the obligation to defend and protect the country as the commander in chief, and he will have to square those two responsibilities in each case," the official added. ''We are not expecting that those two responsibilities will come into conflict, but it's possible that they will."
So the president reserves the right to torture under the ticking time bomb scenario, a specious hypothetical, and a reoccurring fantasy created for TV dramas such as Fox's 24--an entertainment program. The need for exemption from the anti-torture law isn't grounded in reality as Douglas A. Johnson will explain.

Beyond morality, torture doesn't work!
During the Gonzales confirmation hearings, testimony from Douglas A. Johnson, Executive Director of the Center of Victims of Torture, detailed the human cost, the moral and political errors, the faulty premises behind the infamous torture memos, the cost to America's leadership, and the reasons why torture doesn't work. Click through to digest all that Douglas offered into evidence. For now, I'd like to excerpt the ineffectiveness of torture to add to the solid argument that torture is always wrong:
  1. Torture does not yield reliable information.  Well trained interrogators, within the military, the FBI, and the police have testified that torture does not work, is unreliable and distracting from the hard work of interrogation. Nearly every client at the Center for Victims of Torture, when subjected to torture, confessed to a crime they did not commit, gave up extraneous information, or supplied names of innocent friends or colleagues to their torturers.  It is a great source of shame for our clients, who tell us they would have said anything their tormentors wanted them to say in order to get the pain to stop.  Such extraneous information distracts, rather than supports, valid investigations.
  2. Torture does not yield information quickly.  Although eventually everyone will confess to something, it takes a lot of time.  We know that many militaries and radical groups train their members to resist torture and to pass along false pieces of information during the process.  And we note that those with strong religious beliefs and those with strong political beliefs that help them understand the purposes of torture used against them are most able to resist and to recover from its impact.
  3. Torture will not be used only against the guilty.  Inherent in all of the scenario building is the assumption that we know, with great reliability, that we have the appropriate party who possesses knowledge that could save lives.  But our clients are living testimony that once used, torture becomes a fishing expedition to find information.  It perverts the system which, seeking shortcuts to the hard work of investigation, relies increasingly on torture.  The estimate from the Red Cross was that at least 80% of those imprisoned at Abu Ghraib, for example, should never have been arrested, but were there because it was easier to arrest persons than to let them go (people feared letting go a terrorist more than protecting the innocent).  The Israeli Security system claimed to use its stress and duress techniques only where they had the most reliable information about the detainee’s guilt.  Yet human rights monitors estimate that they were used on over 8000 detainees.  It is not credible to believe they had this precise information about so many.[15]
  4. Torture has a corrupting effect on the perpetrator.  The relationship between the victim and the torturer is highly intimate, even if one sided.  It is filled with stress for the interrogator, balancing the job with the moral and ethical values of a person with family and friends.  One way this cognitive dissonance is managed is through a group process that dehumanizes the victim.  But still another way is to insure that some sort of confession is obtained to justify to the interrogator and to his superiors that pain and suffering was validly used.[16]
  5. Torture has never been confined to narrow conditions.  Torture has often been justified by reference to a small number of people who know about the “ticking time bomb,” but in practice, it has always been extended to a much wider population.
  6. Psychological torture is damaging.  When torture is defined as strictly a physical act, many believe that psychological coercion is okay.  I was surprised when I began working at CVT to find that our clients said it was the psychological forms of torture that were the most debilitating over a long period.  The source of their nightmares, 15 and 20 years later, was the mock executions or hearing others being tortured.  The lack of self-esteem and depression were more related to scenarios of humiliation, consciously structured to demean the victim.  Many within the world treatment movement believe we have seen increasingly sophisticated forms of psychological torture over the past twenty years.
  7. Stress and duress techniques are forms of torture.  Many of these techniques were developed during Israel’s struggle against terrorism, and so this example is often cited for effective interrogation techniques falling short of torture.  But the Israeli Supreme Court concluded that they were illegitimate.  Every democratic nation’s court system and international court which has reviewed them has concluded that they are forms of torture.[17]
  8. We cannot use torture and still retain the moral high ground.  The arguments we hear are not so different in form and content from those used by the repressive governments of CVT’s clients, and which the U.S. has refused to accept from other nations that have used torture to combat their real or perceived enemies.  Torture is not an effective or efficient producer of reliable information.  But it is effective and efficient at producing fear and rage, both in the individuals tortured and in their broader communities.
The current effort of the NCRAT addresses many of Johnson's points in that we cannot morally utilize any form of torture and avoid the destructive effects on the torturer, a society that condones it, and a government that dispenses it.

What does the Bush Administration have to say about NCRAT's anti-torture campaign?

A June 13, 2006, article from WaPo reported doubts and assurances (with emphasis):
"I'm not persuaded that this issue has been put to bed yet by the Bush administration," said David P. Gushee, a philosophy professor at Union University in Tennessee who wrote an influential article against torture this year in Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine. "I'm worried that we still don't truly know what is going on in all our detention centers around the world."
Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said the administration has "the utmost respect for all these religious leaders." But, she said, "I'll simply repeat what the president has said many times, which is that this government does not torture, and we adhere to the international conventions against torture. That is our policy, and it will remain our policy."
On its Web site, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture urges Congress and the president to "remove all ambiguities" by prohibiting secret U.S. prisons around the world, ending the rendition of suspects to countries that use torture, granting the Red Cross access to all detainees and not exempting any arm of the government from human rights standards.

But wait! Someone's lying.
Contrary to Perino's assurances of June 13, on June 5, conservative Andrew Sullivan announced, We Torture. The reason? With emphasis:
And so the Cheney-Rumsfeld combo strikes again. The McCain Amendment, we find out, as if we didn't already know, was irrelevant. We thought we still lived in a constitutional democracy where the Congress regulates the rules of war, as specified in the Constitution itself. No longer. Bush's signing statement on the McCain Amendment was the first signal. Now we have the second. The new version of the Army Feld Manual will maintain the removal of any reference to the basic Article 3 in the Geneva Conventions with respect to military detainees. There had been an attempt to reinstate it, on the delusion that we still live in a country where the executive enforces the rule of law. But it was foiled by the usual suspects:
The move to restore U.S. adherence to Article 3 was opposed by officials from Vice President Dick Cheney's office and by the Pentagon's intelligence arm, government sources said. David S. Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, and Stephen A. Cambone, Defense undersecretary for intelligence, said it would restrict the United States' ability to question detainees.
The Pentagon tried to satisfy some of the military lawyers' concerns by including some protections of Article 3 in the new policy, most notably a ban on inhumane treatment, but refused to embrace the actual Geneva standard in the directive it planned to issue.
The military lawyers, known as judge advocates general, or JAGs, have concluded that they will have to wait for a new administration before mounting another push to link Pentagon policy to the standards of Geneva.
Can you believe what you're reading? This is not some tight exclusion for a handful of CIA officials to torture detainees. This is a carte blanche for the military as a whole. The argument is the same that we have always had:
But top administration officials contend that after the Sept. 11 attacks, old customs do not apply, especially to a fight against terrorists or insurgents who never play by the rules. "The overall thinking," said the participant familiar with the defense debate, "is that they need the flexibility to apply cruel techniques if military necessity requires it."
The United States is a rogue nation that practices torture and detainee abuse and does not follow the most basic principles of the Geneva Conventions. It is inviolation of human rights agreements and the U.N. Convention against torture. It is legitimizing torture by every disgusting regime on the planet. This is a policy mandated by the president and his closest advisers. This is the signal being sent from the commander-in-chief to his troops: your enemy can be treated beyond the boundaries of what the U.S. has always abided by. When you next read of an atrocity of war-crime or victim of torture by the U.S., just keep in mind who made this possible. Keep your eyes not just on the troops but on the people giving them the orders.
Yes, Andrew, the Bush WH has transported America down a dark and evil highway with legal machinations, secrecy, and obfuscations still allowing torture and cruel treatment, the kind one would expect from a regime of psychopathic thugs, not a democracy, not the U.S. of A. This worst-ever administration turns my stomach and redefines what it means to be an American, e.g. what's definitely un-American. I completely reject their redefinition that patriots torture and scoff at the hysteria of defenders of the ticking time bomb scenario.

Who thinks torture is OK?

A 2005 post from Digby points the finger at tribalism and I concur whole-heartedly:
Let's not kid ourselves about the base of the Republican party, the dittoheads, the alleged Christian Right. A vast number of them are primitive tribalists at best and racists at worst. There have always been many Americans who are racists and many of those have always been and remain very political. It is part of our national psyche. They are now fully sewn into the fabric of the Republican party's big tent (as they once were the Democrats') and they wield considerable clout. They have made strides in accepting those African Americans who agree not to discuss race into the fold. (And the leadership have learned how to effectively neuter this entire debate by hoisting the left with our own petard by accusing us of racism whenever we criticize a Republican racial minority.)
But at the heart of their reaction to 9/11, the invasion of iraq, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror in general is a knee jerk racism that says "those people" are our enemy and they must die. Ann Coulter sells millions of books that say it right out loud. Michelle Malkin and Daniel Pipes are both making quite a respectable stir making the case for "muslim" internment. And people are getting all steamed up about illegal immigration again.
It is intense tribalism that fuels the right wing, not ideology. In fact their ideology mostly flows from their tribalism. It fuels their resistence to redistribution of even the smallest amount of wealth (the "wrong" people will be helped) and it fuels their hyper nationalism (those "other" people are our enemies.) They make no distinctions between the "wrong" and the "other", it is anyone who isn't like them.
Cantilevered toward tribal radicalism under the surreptitious guise of national security, America has fallen into a deep black rabbit hole. And we must bring her back into the light.

With June being International Torture Awareness Month, take action in support of the endeavors of the NRCAT and endorse their statement. Write your legislators, your local newspapers, and express your support of banning torture without exception. Torture must be abolished. The redemption of America's faded glory depends on it.