Sunday, April 26, 2009

Republicans' Tortured Logic

The Republican leadership, or what's left of it, has gone off the deep end in its response to the Bush administration torture memos. They all follow the same predictable, even hackneyed pattern we've seen so often over the past eight years. First deny and then justify and attack your critics.

The denial at first was a blanket, "America doesn't torture" rebuttal. Oh there might have been a couple of waterboardings but no biggie because America doesn't torture. Now that we learn that one Qaeda operative was waterboarded a mind-boggling 183-times in the span of two months that story has moved on down the denial line.

Now the denial tactic is to claim that waterboarding isn't torture anyway. They point to the SERE programme, an acronym that stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, in which some military personnel experience waterboarding - sort of. It's the "sort of" that's overlooked although it reflects the difference between being shot with a gun or shot with a water pistol.

I watched the Vanity Fair clip of Chris Hitchens enduring a staggering 10-seconds of waterboarding and it drove home how what Hitchens experienced was nothing remotely like waterboarding. Yes he was strapped to his board. Yes they put a towel over his face. Yes they poured water onto the towel. But Hitchens trial by torture didn't begin to resemble what the al-Qaeda suspects received.

The essence of torture is to make the subject helpless. All power passes to his tormenter. The victim has no control. His fate is totally in the torturer's hands. The victim is psychologically prepared for the experience - incarceration, isolation, beatings, stress positions, deprivations and abuse of all varieties. By the time he comes before his torturer he's been well and truly tuned up. He never knows when his ordeal will end nor does he know how it will end, whether he will even survive.

Hitchens, like the US military's SERE students, were never placed in that position of desperate helplessness. They knew they were there to experience something, to become somewhat familiar with some aspects of it, but never to truly endure it. Hitchens, for example, never lost control, not for a second. He was given a safe word, 'red.' As soon as he said the word the demonstration (the name actually used by his instructors) would immediately stop. He was given two metal rods, one for each hand, that he merely needed to drop and that would also bring the demonstration to an immediate end.

What the Republicans say their own military personnel experience and what the Republican leadership and functionaries inflicted on their captives were as night and day. It's pure sophistry to dismiss one as the same as the other. It's a cowardly, baldfaced lie.

Those more directly in the spotlight, Dick Cheney and former CIA Director Porter Goss, are playing a different game. In a wicked double-team, Cheney is calling for the release of sensitive CIA reports while Goss attacks Obama for exposing the CIA's secrets to America's enemies. This is truly standing logic on its head. What the government has released so far doesn't compromise the CIA's operational secrets unless it's now become a torture agency instead of an intelligence agency. However it's entirely conceivable that the reports Cheney wants made public could well expose CIA operational secrets. Once the bad guys know what the torture victim actually said and put that together with what happened, they'll know what else may be coming and what tactics they need to do to counter the threats.

I have no doubt that Cheney knows Obama can't release the reports he claims will justify his misdeeds. It's because Cheney knows it that he's challenged Obama to do it, to create his excuse. He'll be able to say that anyone prosecuting him is out on a political vendetta that has nothing to do with the waterboarding. Which is precisely why Cheney ought to be the very first indicted. This cowardly, devious bully has done too much, dodged too much to be allowed to get away with this.

What's never mentioned by the Repugs is just what Cheney had in mind when he ordered an individual waterboarded nine score times. The veep who has never been known to be honest says he was after 'intelligence' on the terrorists and their other plots against the United States. The intense scheduling of these inquisitions, however, supports an alternate account of the whys and wherefores. This comes from the interrogators themselves who have come clean and said they were under constant and heavy pressure to extract a confession from their victims of a link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

And that explanation is consistent with the very nature of torture because that's what torture has always been about - manufacturing facts that didn't exist before the thumbscrews were turned. Torture is used for extracting admissions about things real or imaginary. The only thing that matters is what the torturer wants to hear, not what the subject truly knows. That's why torture is the tool of monsters and why its victims are normally executed quiety afterward.

Cheney's lies became too much for an FBI interrogator, Ali Soufan, who recently went public in The New York Times:

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use. It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

--There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

--One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.

False confessions, false accusations, trumped up excuses for war - a veritable vipers' nest of lies, manipulation and betrayal. And how many innocent lives have fallen victim to the connivances of these monsters?

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