Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Military versus the Politicians on Torture


This Washington Post op-ed by two retired generals, Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar, appropriately titled, "It's Our Cage Too," shows that the Petraeus letter condemning torture was hardly an isolated example. Put simply: The military gets it; our political leaders don't.

The American people are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001. But it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night's presidential debate in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation.

Tenet insists that the CIA program disrupted terrorist plots and saved lives. It is difficult to refute this claim -- not because it is self-evidently true, but because any evidence that might support it remains classified and unknown to all but those who defend the program.

These assertions that "torture works" may reassure a fearful public, but it is a false security. We don't know what's been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb. Our soldiers in Iraq confront real "ticking time bomb" situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of "flexibility" about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone -- the rare exception fast becoming the rule.

To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military's mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality.

Generals Krulak and Hoar are referring to the shameful and ignorant remarks of the Republican Presidential candidates, where each tried to outdo the other in showing how tough and macho they were. Interestingly, only John McCain, who has actually had significant military experience and has actually been tortured, was willing to disagree and say that torture was wrong. Rudy Giuliani tried to hedge by saying he would approve "every method they could think of" but "[i]t shouldn't be torture." McCain would have none of that. He pointed out that the Administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques" were torture.

Mitt Romney, who is now apparently the front-runner in Iowa, was perhaps the most shameless of all:
I'm glad they're at Guantanamo. I don't want them on our soil. I want them on Guantanamo, where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil. I don't want them in our prisons. I want them there.

Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo. We ought to make sure that the terrorists -- (applause) -- and there's no question but that in a setting like that where you have a ticking bomb that the president of the United States -- not the CIA interrogator, the president of the United States -- has to make the call. And enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used -- not torture but enhanced interrogation techniques, yes.
Faced with the catastrophe and the shame of our experience at Guantanamo Bay, Mitt Romney wants to double down. And he wants to engage in the fig leaf of "enhanced interrogation techniques" that McCain was willing to call torture.

It is difficult to assess whether Romney is simply an ignorant fool or whether he believes that his audience is full of ignorant fools. All we know is that the "let's have two Gitmos" line brought applause.

Although John McCain answered this question honorably and appropriately, I have to add that he as not always been so politically courageous on this issue. It is in part because Senator McCain dropped his opposition that we now have the dreadful Military Commissions Act of 2006 which effectively immunized previous "enhanced interrogation techniques" and which makes it very difficult to call the President to account if he engages in them now or in the future. McCain's support for the MCA has enabled torture and whitewashed what the Administration has done. McCain dropped his opposition to the MCA because, in September 2006, he thought it was necessary in order to be a viable candidate for the Republican nomination. He sold his soul, and it is by no means clear that the bargain was worth it.

But listening to the Presidential debates in South Carolina the other night, one gets the sense that his surmise was entirely accurate. He had to support the MCA in order to remain a viable candidate in the Republican party. The Republican Party is the party of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, and proud of it. Which, as John McCain pointed out, is simply a nice way of saying that it is the the Party of Torture-But-We-Won't-Call-It-That (But-We-Are-Still-Proud-Of-It-Anyway).

And if Mitt Romney is elected, perhaps it will be the party of Two Gitmos. I do hope that reporters repeatedly ask him on the campaign trail why it would be such a good idea to replicate our experience at Guantanamo Bay.

At the South Carolina debates, all the candidates tried to distance themselves from George W. Bush and embrace the mantle of Ronald Reagan. But one of the most poisonous features of the past seven years of this Administration is that Bush has managed to turn his once proud party into the Party of Torture. They are running from his failures in Iraq, but, sad to say, they are not running from this.


Hillary Clinton is pro-torture too. See Can we reasonably expect the next president, whoever he or she may be, to relinquish the dictatorial powers that Congress has allowed Bush to seize?

Your belief that al-Qaeda war criminals are tortured at Gitmo is absurd. Sleep deprivation and water boarding do not constitute torture. If you want to know what torture actually is, I devoted a couple of posts over at to the subject.

Napoleon15, interesting that you don't consider waterboarding torture. After the Khmer Rouge left power, a musem was built in memorial to the wide range of atrocities he committed on the poeple of Cambodia. The only device they chose to indicate the horrors of the torture was one, the water board. Could you please show your posts to the people of Cambodia, who suffered more mightily than many populations ever do at the hands of the Khmer and help them to understand a little more about how uninformed they are about torture, and why the water board is not a torture technique?

Bart's problem is summed up in these words:

The GOP candidates and the American people are using their God given common sense when they support using every measure short of actual torture - the intentional infliction of severe pain - to gain the necessary intelligence to defeat the enemy.


If you thought you were going to die while suffering physical restraint, would that not inflict severe pain to you?

Also, why are all these successes still classified? Al-Qaeda has long known that KSM rolled. Any plots tied to his knowledge would have been aborted by now, or changes so that he could not reveal any useful details to us. Yet we only hear about plots (imagined or not) foiled through ordinary detective work (though some by plotters who would have a hard time breaking out of a wet recycled paper bag).

Come on, you've got ties to these people (at least they send you your talking points), so you or they should be able to tell us how they've saved us, without compromising anything that would actually protect us.

And answer, please.

You could even go to the alternate thread on torture and answer, because you have several unanswered questions waiting for you there.

To those who claim torture is so effective that it can not be returned to the bottle, remind yourself who it is who has worked most effectively to reign in this Administration's policies of secret torture and warrantless surveillance - the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Here's the backstory behind Comey's race with Gonzales to Ashcroft's hospital room.

A February 2006 Newsweek feature exposing the rift within DOJ over torture and warrantless wiretapping: / .

Only now, long after it happened, is there a real public spotlight on the governmental rebellion against the warrantless surveillance program. Because of its obvious dramatic appeal, our attention is drawn to the uprising at DOJ in 2004. But, its epicenter was elsewhere and the rebellion started earlier. It didn't start at DOJ.

Jack Goldsmith is a major player in these events. Goldsmith, who was in the Pentagon General Counsel's office before moving over to Main Justice, was carrying out a mandate that came from the highest levels of the JCS and NSA to put a halt to John Yoo's torture policies and Richard Addington's warrantless surveillance programs. The top brass, in quite plain terms, wanted out of those lines of business.

May I offer the proposition that the salutory changes that Goldsmith brought to DOJ wasn't just one man's influence, but that he carried the consensus message with him of the Joint Chiefs, DIA, and NSA about the suitability for continued command of the Bush-Cheney Administration.

Most immediately, the loss of confidence by the Generals was due to the Iraq War, but as the military knows, the failure of the occupation was just an outcome of some extremely ill-founded political decisions. If there is a date to be attached, it was May 28, 2003, when the Iraq Survey Group (not to be confused with the later Iraq Study Group) released its interim report that concluded that WMDs were not present inside Iraq, leaving the reader to question the sources of information that had been promoted by the Office of the Vice President received from Dougie Feith's Office of Special Plans (OSP). DIA and CIA quickly identified an agent of influence and espionage ring as the source. The Larry Franklin-AIPAC-OSP prosecution and the appointment of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate and prosecute Dick Cheney's outing of Valerie Plame was the response.

That prosecutorial initiative, I would suggest, came from within the Pentagon, without which neither case would ever have been prosecuted, and we would now be knee-deep in blood and rubble in Iran.

Mark G. Levey
Alexandria, VA

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