Balkinization  

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Our President: Stupid or Evil?

JB

President Bush to reporters yesterday:
Q Mr. President, many in Europe are worrying that with the fight against terrorism the commitment of the United States to human rights is not as big as it used to be -- that is not only to do with Guantanamo, but also with the secret prisons where the CIA holds terror suspects. My question is, what will happen to these people who are held in these secret prisons by the CIA? Will they ever see a judge? Or is your thinking that with some terror suspects, the rule of law should not apply or does not have to have applied.

PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all, I appreciate that question, and I understand we -- those of us who espouse freedom have an obligation, and those who espouse human rights have an obligation to live that to those -- live up to those words. And I believe we are, in Guantanamo. I mean, after all, there's 24 hour inspections by the International Red Cross. You're welcome to go down yourself -- maybe you have -- and taking a look at the conditions. I urge members of our press corps to go down to Guantanamo and see how they're treated and to see -- and to see -- and to look at the facts. That's all I ask people to do. There have been, I think, about 800 or so that have been detained there. These are people picked up off the battlefield in Afghanistan. They weren't wearing uniforms, they weren't state sponsored, but they were there to kill.

And so the fundamental question facing our government was, what do you do with these people? And so we said that they don't apply under the Geneva Convention, but they'll be treated in accord with the Geneva Convention.

And so I would urge you to go down and take a look at Guantanamo. About 200 or so have been released back to their countries. There needs to be a way forward on the other 500 that are there. We're now waiting for a federal court to decide whether or not they can be tried in a military court, where they'll have rights, of course, or in the civilian courts. We're just waiting for our judicial process to move -- to move the process along.

Make no mistake, however, that many of those folks being detained -- in humane conditions, I might add -- are dangerous people. Some have been released to their previous countries, and they got out and they went on to the battlefield again. And I have an obligation, as do all of us who are holding office, to protect our people. That's a solemn obligation we all have. And I believe we're meeting that obligation in a humane way.

As well, as we've got some in custody -- Khalid Shaykh Muhammad is a classic example, the mastermind of the September the 11th attack that killed over 3,000 of our citizens. And he is being detained because we think he could possibly give us information that might not only protect us, but protect citizens in Europe. And at some point in time, he'll be dealt with, but right now, we think it's best that he be -- he be kept in custody.

We want to learn as much as we can in this new kind of war about the intention, and about the methods, and about how these people operate. And they're dangerous, and they're still around, and they'll kill in a moment's notice.

In the long run, the best way to protect ourselves is to spread freedom and human rights and democracy. And -- but if you've got questions about Guantanamo, I seriously suggest you go down there and take a look. And -- seriously, take an objective look as to how these folks are treated, and what has happened to them in the past, and when the courts make the decision they make, we'll act accordingly.


As a matter of fact, reporters-- and many others too-- have taken a look at what has been going on at Guantanamo, aided by information from the FBI. Here, for example, is Anthony Lewis in today's New York Times. (Lewis, by the way, recapitulates many of the legal points made by our own Marty Lederman on this blog):
Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation observed what went on in Guantanamo. One reported on July 29, 2004: "On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more."

Time magazine published an extended article last week on an official log of interrogations of one Guant?namo detainee over 50 days from November 2002 to January 2003. The detainee was Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi who is suspected of being the planned 20th hijacker on Sept. 11, 2001, but who was unable to enter the United States.

Mr. Kahtani was interrogated for as long as 20 hours at a stretch, according to the detailed log. At one point he was put on an intravenous drip and given 3 1/2 bags of fluid. When he asked to urinate, guards told him that he must first answer questions. He answered them. The interrogator, not satisfied with the answers, told him to urinate in his pants, which he did. Thirty minutes later, the log noted, Mr. Kahtani was "beginning to understand the futility of his situation."

F.B.I. agents, reporting earlier on the treatment of Mr. Kahtani, said a dog was used "in an aggressive manner to intimidate" him. At one point, according to the log, Mr. Kahtani's interrogator told him that he needed to learn, like a dog, to show respect: "Began teaching detainee lessons such as stay, come and bark to elevate his social status to that of a dog. Detainee became very agitated."

At a minimum, the treatment of Mr. Kahtani was an exercise in degradation and humiliation. Such treatment is forbidden by three sources of law that the United States respected for decades - until the administration of George W. Bush.

The Geneva Conventions, which protect people captured in conflict, prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." The scope of that clause's legal obligation has been debated, but previous American governments abided by it. President Bush decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban members who are detained at Guant?namo.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture, also ratified by the United States, requires signatories to "prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction ... cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." The Bush administration declared that this provision did not apply to the treatment of non-Americans held outside the United States.

Finally, there is the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It makes cruelty, oppression or "maltreatment" of prisoners a crime. Armed services lawyers worried that some methods of interrogation might violate the Uniform Code and federal criminal statutes, exposing interrogators to prosecution. A Pentagon memorandum obtained by ABC News said a meeting of top military lawyers on March 8, 2003, concluded that "we need a presidential letter" approving controversial methods, to give interrogators immunity.

The idea that a president can legalize the unlawful evidently came from a series of memorandums written by Justice Department officials. They argued, among other things, that President Bush's authority as commander in chief to set interrogation methods could trump treaties and federal law.

Although President Bush decided to deny detainees at Guant?namo the protection of the Geneva Conventions, he did order that they must be treated "humanely." The Pentagon, responding to the Time magazine article on the treatment of Mr. Kahtani, said, "The Department of Defense remains committed to the unequivocal standard of humane treatment for all detainees, and Kahtani's interrogation plan was guided by that strict standard."

In the view of the administration, then, it is "humane" to give a detainee 3 1/2 bags of I.V. fluid and then make him urinate on himself, force him to bark like a dog, or chain him to the floor for 18 hours.

No one can seriously doubt now that cruelties and indignities have been inflicted on prisoners at Guantánamo. Nor is there any doubt that worse has happened elsewhere - prisoners beaten to death by American soldiers, untold others held in secret locations by the Central Intelligence Agency, others rendered to be tortured by governments such as Uzbekistan's.


And yet the President keeps insisting that we are treating our prisoners consistent with democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Two questions come to mind. First, does the President actually believe what he is saying? If so, then he is being willfully blind to the evidence. The second is whether he indeed does know what is going on but believes that he can continue with the status quo and that the American public and the rest of the world won't pay attention or hold him accountable. If so, then his repeated announcements that nothing wrong is happening at Guantanamo are not only cynical, but deeply immoral.

Which word, then, best describes our President, the leader of the free world, the self-proclaimed champion of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law? Stupid or evil?


Comments:

Neither. He is a decent honorable man trying to do a very difficult job. I like and respect President Bush.

I do share your views on the maltreatment of prisoners. It should not be tolerated. I have referenced one of your prior posts in one of mine criticizing abuses at Guantanamo.

I must say also that this is the best liberal blog I have seen.
 

I think the post demonstrates that George Bush and his advisors have been reading George Orwell. "Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind." -- George Orwell

As usual, a great post.
 

Bush is stupid and evil, but his stupidity is irrelevant for present purposes. If he has deluded himself to the extent that he believes that no torture is occurring at Guantanamo, then he has done so not out of stupidity but out of evilness. He has not made a factual mistake; he has chosen to refuse to face the facts. One should get no credit for that; to do evil and refuse to face the fact that one is doing evil is as evil as to do evil and to acknowledge that one is doing evil. Would Hitler not have been evil if he truly believed that exterminating Jews would benefit the rest of mankind?
 

"He is a decent honorable man trying to do a very difficult job. I like and respect President Bush.

I do share your views on the maltreatment of prisoners. It should not be tolerated."


How exactly do you reconcile those two statements?

In the post, the president is quoted at length saying things that are blatantly untrue, as you apparently admit.

Is it decent and honorable, in your view, for a president to repeat outright lies?

And you say maltreatment should not be tolerated. Doesn't the president bear responsbility for tolerating it? Isn't it his job not to tolerate it? Is it decent and honorable to shirk such a serious responsibility?

So I ask again, how can you possibly reconcile your statements? Isn't this a huge source of cognitive dissonance for you?
 

Nary a mention, as per usual, of the voluminous regluations and procedures by which our government accommodates, provides for, and cares for the prisoners in our custody. It is fair to point out short-comings and/or mistreatment as it occurs. However, the left NEVER puts any of the alleged abuses in context of trying to strike a balance between effective interrogation and human rights.

Am I against inhumane treatment of terrorist prisoners? Yes, but I can recognize that in some instances more aggressive tactics than I might be comfortable with may need to be employed to gather information to protect the country. Does anyone doubt that the would-be 20th hijacker has or had information they may help us understand hoe 9/11 happened and thus help us prepare to be better defended against the next operations by a terrorist cell?

I'm all for a fair and serious discussion about whether the means being deployed in Gitmo are worth the ends they seek to achieve; that can't happen when the conversation is wholly one-sided and hysterical.
 

I want to emphasize one point of agreement between myself and mjh21. We should have a full and fair discussion about whether the means of prisoner interrogation currently being used at Gitmo and other secret bases are worth the ends they seek to achieve. The problem is that the Administration repeatedly denies that it is doing anything out of the ordinary. As the quoted remarks from President Bush show, the Administration continues to insist that only humane treatment is occuring at Guantanamo. Therefore the Administration never has to defend any balance of benefits and harms; nor does it have to acknowledge arguments that it may be acting in violation of treaty obligations or the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Nor does it have to justify its policies on the grounds that any violations of or deviations from existing treaty obligations and the UCMJ are justified by the President's Commander in Chief power.

By proceding in this manner, as Marty Lederman has pointed out, the Adminstration has avoided saying what exactly the President has authorized, and whether it is worth the costs. A serious discussion in a democratic society like ours cannot begin until the President levels with the American people.
 

"Am I against inhumane treatment of terrorist prisoners?"

You know, every time I here someone defend the Administration's treatment of detainees, I notice that the way they frame the question always assumes the detainees are terrorists.

Tell me something, are you also willing to torture -- err, inhumanely treat -- innocent persons in the attempt to achieve your ends? Because there's no doubt the U.S. had and still has many innocent persons in its custody.

The other assumption is that the U.S. is actually obtaining intelligence of great value from such treatment. I seriously doubt it. Treat people inhumanely enough to make them talk, and they'll say anything -- even if they're completely innocent.

Finally, even if one takes a purely utilitarian view of such actions, I wonder if such tactics aren't creating more terrorists then they are stopping, not to mention turning our own allies against us. Seems rather counterproductive to me.
 

The key word to me is "battlefield."
 

mjh21 said "Nary a mention, as per usual, of the voluminous regluations and procedures by which our government accommodates, provides for, and cares for the prisoners in our custody."

Which regulations might these be? The Army's regulation on the treatment of detainees, AR 190-8, obviously isn't being applied. AR 27-10 on the law of land warfare doesn't apply. JB did point out some of the statutes that ostensibly apply, but these would have prevented the conduct in question, so presumably legal rationale has been posited for why they don't apply, either. Please enlighten us as to where we might find evidence of the voluminous regulations that apply to persons in U.S. custody in connection with the GWOT.
 

mjh21 said "Nary a mention, as per usual, of the voluminous regluations and procedures by which our government accommodates, provides for, and cares for the prisoners in our custody."

Which regulations might these be? The Army's regulation on the treatment of detainees, AR 190-8, obviously isn't being applied. AR 27-10 on the law of land warfare doesn't apply. JB did point out some of the statutes that ostensibly apply, but these would have prevented the conduct in question, so presumably legal rationale has been posited for why they don't apply, either. Please enlighten us as to where we might find evidence of the voluminous regulations that apply to persons in U.S. custody in connection with the GWOT.
 

To Joe Shmoe:

I am almost half a century old and if I had a nickel for all the times I compromised the ideal for the obtainable .... The President has to work with the tools he has and if they are defective, e.g. Graners or Stewarts, is he supposed to take on their sins? I can only repeat myself. I believe he is doing the best he can to carry out his duty to defend us with the resources at his disposal.
 

"The President has to work with the tools he has and if they are defective, e.g. Graners or Stewarts, is he supposed to take on their sins?"

Ah, I take it you buy into the "bad apple" theory of abuse. I don't.

Just about everything that took place (and is probably still taking place) in Abu Ghraib was done with the tacit approval (if not on order from) the chain of command. There is a great deal of evidence to prove this.

Once the Administration decided to "take off the gloves" by ignoring the Geneva Conventions and other restrictions on the treatment of prisoners, all the resulting consequences were completely foreseeable. And indeed, they were in fact predicted. Look at the memo from State in response to Yoo's original memo on the Geneva conventions -- Taft literally predicted the breakdown in troop discipline that would result.

That's the thing. As JB noted above, if you want to defend the Administration's policies, then a full, candid discussion is called for. But you don't want that. You want to pretend that it either 1) isn't happening; or 2) isn't a deliberate, foreseeable result of policy -- only a few "bad apples".

In short, you want to have your cake and eat it too.

Look, you can't have it both ways. It's impossible to detain and "interrogate" hundreds of persons without anything remotely resembling due process, without violating the hell out of the rights of innocent persons. That's just a fact of life.

The bottom line is that if you support these policies, you are supporting the abuse/torture of innocent persons.

Now, are you going to try to justify it morally, or are you stick to this absurd position of willful ignorance?
 

Yes, you're right. I do believe that we are a good decent people with a few bad apples. And you are right again when you say that I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want our country to survive until the whole world espouses our ideals and if it means that our leaders will need to compromise our ideals until that happens I do not like it nor espouse it but I do not condemn them personally for it.
 

I'm with Iron Teakettle and mjh21. I think we should torture, mistreat and abuse prisoners using methods laid out in voluminous regulations and procedures until the world, seeing how wholesome and virtuous we are, adopts these same ideals. When that happens, Man! won't life be fine.

Cheers!
 

I stood at 82nd street at Madison Avenue on September 11 and watched the smoke rising from the World Trade Center, 6 miles away. The President is doing his job, which is protecting us. The evil ones are the ones who hijacked planes and flew them into buildings full of innocent workers.
 

i would like to think that the president is neither stupid nor evil. i do believe that he is completely incapable of admitting that he ever made a mistake, or that anyone who has ever worked in his administration has. i believe that he is a stubborn person, who makes up his mind that he is going to do something, and then plows straight ahead no matter what, even if that means perpetuating "facts" that were long ago debunked. if this makes him stupid or evil, so be it.

i do believe he is doing his job, as he himself defines it. he clearly does not allow, or is not interested in having anyone else define for him what his job is. along these lines, he is clearly not interested in listening to advice or receiving any kind of input into how to do any aspect of his job from anyone who is not within his inner circle. if this makes him stupid or evil, once again, so be it.

he clearly has made up his mind as to what is right or wrong, and pursues his vision of what is right regardless of the consequences. in doing so, he is clearly intolerant of dissent, and has surrounded himself with people who will only follow this vision. those who disagree clearly have no place in this administration.

it is not my place to say if he is stupid or evil. i will leave that to others. that having been said, the perpetuation of "facts" long ago proven false in the pursuit of an ill conceived war with disastrous results is no honor at any level. even honorable men are capable of dishonorable deeds.

along the lines of the last thought. stormville should know that conservatives were not the only ones in new york city on september 11. conservatives are not the only ones who seek justice for the deeds perpetrated upon americans that day. this having been said, it has long ago been proven that there was no link between the present events in iraq and the events in new york city on september 11. continued efforts by some, including members of the administration, to foster this myth serve no legitimate purpose.
 

It's sort of a hybrid: "less able to own up to and correct his mistakes than your average 13 year old." Is that stupid or evil? Probably a little of both.
 

Well, Anthony Lewis is either stupid, evil, or merely misinformed. That article strongly implies that the IV was given to the prisoner in order to make him have to urinate, and then he was deprived the privilege. It's not really so.

The prisoner was on a hunger strike, and had severe dehydration as a result. They were forced to give him IV (against his will) in order to prevent him from dying of dehydration. (And no doubt his death in US custody would have also been seen as a terrible incident.) Anthony Lewis's argument certainly makes the facts sound different from what they are. (Of course, he is only a columnist.)
 

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