Friday, April 24, 2009

Torture for What End

The floodgates appear to have opened on the torture chamber that was the Bush Administration's war on "terrior"--and not to the pleasure of the Bushies and their minions. The news reports pouring out on an hourly basis are disgraceful, disturbing, and sometimes insanely surreal, not to mention thoroughly contradictory. If waterboarding drew from case hardened "terriorists" such stellar information, why did it have to be repeated 183 times in March 2003, on Kahlid Shaikh Mohammad, and 83 times in August 2003 on Abu Zubaydah--(is there something magical in the number 83?) The number of repetitions hardly bespeaks a successful technique; rather, it suggests something deeply punitive, vengeful, and sadistic, born of fear approaching utter panic that "terriorists" might once again successfully attack the U.S., the 'homeland." Filled with guilt for failing to connect large and abundant "dots" that effectively forewarned them of an impending attack prior to September 11, 2001, the Bushies demanded complete plans and plots. They believed that among their captives were "evildoers" with full knowledge of impending attacks, who were taunting them by refusing to provide imformation through standard interrogation. The Bushies wanted the dots connected by their captives, even if they were imaginary dots. Indeed, the Bushies repeatedly say the tortures provided information that helped them thwart planned attacks, without offering details.

I accept the arguments of dozens of people, including former interrogators for the FBI, that the tortures produced nothing of merit that could not have been, and often had not already been, obtained through standard interrogation. But that argument misses the point--just for one example, by traditional intelligence methods, the feds had by the August of 2001 obtained enough information, including the partial name and cell phone number of one of the 9/11 conspirators, to know that something was coming down sooner than later. The attack succeeded not because American officials lacked information or the ability to gain more quickly through friendly governments but because those officials lacked the ability to digest and act upon what was before them. That could be considered harsh and unfair were 9/11 an aberration, but it was merely the first of a string of failures of leadership in the run-up to disasters and in response to those disasters, most notably Hurricane Katrina and the global financial meltdown. Viewed through this prism, the torture of prisoners appears motivated by guilt and fear not only of another attack but also of their failures prior to the first attack being fully disclosed.

But debates over the value of the information and the motivations of the leaders who ordered torture are irrelevant, as are moral condemnations of the acts. What trumps them all is the Law. The "rule of law" is a bedrock principle of this nation that cannot be ignored because it is temporarily inconvenient. By nearly all accounts but their own, the Bushies violated the law and their oaths of office when they ordered the torture of prisoners. They must be investigated, indicted, if that's where the evidence leads, tried and if convicted sentenced to hard time befitting their crimes.

The Bushies and their minions who claim their actions were legal and justified should welcome such an investigation as a way to clear their names and reputations. Why fear the truth?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Torture My Waterboard

The New York Times posted the .pdf of the Justice Department Torture Memos from the years following the September 11, 2001, attacks, laying out chapter and verse what the CIA planned to do and did to select prisoners. What is interesting about them are the gyrations government lawyers go through to justify torture, to defend what is indefensible. The Obama's decision to release the memos is laudable, his attempt to pardon the CIA torturers before the fact of their trials lamentable. Shield torturers at home and lose the international prestige and moral authority you need to run to ground torturers from other countries.

Granted, politically, the Obama probably could not pursue a prosecution of anyone without risking violent reaction, so convinced are many people that the tortured prisoners had vital information they would have divulged no other way, and obtaining that information allowed the government to thwart new attacks on the Homeland Uber Alles...oops, that's a no-no in America. It is still acceptable to trash someone up and down as a communist, a leftist pinko coward but absolutely do not call a Nazi fruitcake a Nazi fruitcake. Call him a right leaning Republican, as if there were any other kind--or ignore the prohibitions and call him a Nazi and listen to the sound of late 20th century market capitalism deflating. Order the investigations and approve the war crimes trials of everyone through George W. Bush. That is the only way to begin to establish globally the rule of law.

The business about global terrior communications matching or exceeding pre 9/11 levels stricks me as particularly self-serving, trotted out to justify the request for and issuing of the memos. It's a bureaucratic dodge that has the added benefit of shielding the Bush from his full responsibility for the tragic fiasco of that dayl

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Obama Road Show

A quick prediction, which I made months ago but am only now recording: The Arab capital the Obama plans to visit for his major speech is Damascus, and I don't think that's much of a secret. We'll see.