Michael's Dispatches

Torture is Wrong

107 Comments

24 April 2009

From Borneo

The British Army runs various jungle training courses in the friendly country of Brunei, on Borneo Island.  I am with a British Army Gurkha battalion and am going through 21 days of combat tracking training at one of the best tracking schools in the world.  Most of the students and all of the instructors are combat veterans.  Very good group to be with. There are Dutch, British and Gurkha students.  This course is about combat, so it’s doggone clear that the Dutch are serious about fighting in Afghanistan.  Nobody would need this course unless they were planning on tracking down bad guys.  (Part of the training deals with preparation for Afghanistan.)  Obviously the Brits/Gurkhas are serious about Afghanistan, so no more needs to be said on that.

We are very busy with the tracking training, so I've got just short periods at a time to write.  It's refreshingly hot and humid in Borneo.  Sweat is the scent of the day.  Last couple of days was all jungle time and had one good overnight in the jungle so far.  The jungle is very nice here, not like some jungles I’ve seen.  Only a few mosquitoes, for instance, but some other jungles are like mosquito farms.

But I am trying to also track on the mushrooming torture issue.  This sad issue is damaging our great country.  I've written extensively on the issue but actually published very little.  Joe Galloway has something out again today.  Looks like Joe is polishing up his bat to start punishing the Obama crowd.  Many of us remember that Joe treated the Bush bunch like baby seals.

I've got to get back to the training.  Can't keep the British Army waiting.  Meanwhile, please see this column by the one and only, Joe Galloway:

Commentary: Obama and D.C. dance the torture minuet
By Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers

There they go again, those folks in Washington, D.C. Everyone wants the power; nobody wants the responsibility.

We're back to the question of which Bush administration officials ordered Justice Department lawyers to concoct some legal way to use illegal torture methods on the prisoners we were taking in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

It appears that no one in power or recently out of power wants to know the answer to that question.

The Republicans in Congress, who resemble nothing so much as a dwindling flock of whooping cranes, have been nothing but surly since last November. Now they’re threatening to get nasty if the Democrats across the aisle insist on unearthing the truth - the who, what, when, where and why - about the torture question.

(Spare me your e-mails about how waterboarding isn't torture; even John McCain, who knows more about torture than you do, agrees that it is.)

President Barack Obama doesn't want or need this issue sucking all the oxygen out of the Congress and his ambitious agenda, and he just wishes it would go away. His position, if you can call it that, changes daily, if not hourly. He and his people look and sound like a hokey-pokey line on the issue.

The problem is that they're all thinking and acting like politicians, and there's nothing in this issue for any of them except an opportunity to do the right thing. Whoever won an election by doing the right thing? Talking about doing the right thing is another matter.

Torture, however, isn't a political problem, but a legal and moral problem, and therein lies the painful rub.

The new president and his administration released a few of the Top Secret memos that show how and why the lawyers in the Bush Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) went to work turning criminal acts into just another day at the office for CIA and military interrogation officials.

Then, however, the president hurried out to McLean, Va. to assure CIA employees that none of them will ever face prosecution for just following orders and using methods that they thought were legal - even though one of his first acts as chief executive was to halt the use of torture and order the closing of Guantanamo prison.

Next, the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, released a long-delayed timeline of how the torture issue wended its way from the highest offices in the land to the OLC and across the Potomac to the Pentagon and CIA headquarters and down to cells in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and rent-a-dungeons hidden away around the world.

In the process, we learned that one high-ranking al Qaida prisoner was subjected to waterboarding, a barbaric tool in the torturer's kit that involves suffocation and near-drowning, not one time for 20 seconds, as reported earlier, but 83 times. Khalid Sheikh Mohamed got the same treatment 183 times, or an average of six times a day.

The new director of national intelligence, Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, said that some useful information was squeezed out of the torture chambers, but he isn't certain that this information couldn't have been gained without resorting to techniques borrowed from the Spanish Inquisition.

Former Bush administration luminaries, beginning with former Vice President Darth Cheney and proceeding down the chain, hasten to declare that torturing those people made America safe, or safer than it was on 9/11, when they were all ignoring a CIA warning that Osama bin Laden was "determined to strike in U.S.."

Even if you believe that the end justifies the means and ignore the numerous factual flaws in this ex post facto defense, it doesn't address the question of how many of the 4,954 American troops who’ve been killed to date in Afghanistan and Iraq were killed by Islamic jihadists who were recruited in part by the revelations that we were torturing helpless Muslims. How much safer did those orders to torture make our young men and women?

The plain fact is that waterboarding is illegal under U.S. law. It's illegal under international laws and treaties that we helped negotiate, we approved and we adhered to until President Bush and his men and women decided that we wouldn't.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont has revived his proposal for a bipartisan Truth Commission to investigate the well-known and less well-known authors of this legal and moral outrage. If the Republicans continue to refuse to participate, as they have so far, he says, then he's prepared to launch a congressional investigation.

What's truly disheartening is to watch all the ducking, bobbing and weaving in the nation's capital - like so many powder-haired dandies prancing a minuet.

Yes, it's an ugly chapter in the life of a nation that prides itself on its freedoms and its rule of law. But it's more than that: It's a splendid opportunity for a bunch of politicians from both parties to find their spines, or borrow some, and get to work cleaning out the dark corners in the White House and emptying the closets of skeletons.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    J.H. · 12 years ago
    Facts and the truth.

    I voted for Bush both times for me I like someone I think will push the button, someone with guts to make the hard calls.

    By having a little discussion here about whether water boarding is tortureƒ??is too late in the game.

    We did the wrong thing in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of some of our fellow Americans. To try and change your mind or to try and change the worlds mind is for the most part impossible.

    If we did not do it to start with, then all of the books that are in the book stores in many countries and the news specials around the world would not be trashing America, making more people hate us!
    There is more to come on this issue, other pictures will be released within the next month and it just adds up and hurts our country.

    The ƒ??RESULTƒ? of what we did is now the focus in the world! Trying to make them believe what is or is not torture is after the fact.

    I will say this again:

    Having moral courage and the spine to stand straight when someone has wronged you without taking the low road and doing torture on them is something up until now America could be proud of. America has no problem with handing out punishment to the bay guys here. America just does not stand so tall in the world any more because of the torture and in the long run has hurt our country more because of it.

    We did the wrong thing for ALL of the right reasons; our country has been and will continue to be hurt by what we did.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cecil Trotter · 12 years ago
    Why is now "too late in the game" to discuss whether or not waterboarding is torture? That is THE issue, if it isn't torture, the rest is moot. As far as what "the world" thinks, I really don't give a $%^&. As you have already been reminded by "senorlechero" the world doesn't seem to care too much about the REAL torture going on in other parts of the world, and am I supposed to get frantic about what the world thinks of our giving KSM what amounts to a over the top water park ride? Do you really think the leftists of the world didn't already hate us before KSM was waterboarded? Are you really that naive?

    As for the pending release of pictures, you do know that involves prisoners held in Iraq (IE Abu Ghraib etc.) being mistreated by errant soldiers acting on their own initiative and has absolutely nothing to do with government sanctioned enhanced interrogation being sparingly and selectively used on three high ranking AQ detainees? You can see the difference there, right?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CJ · 12 years ago
    We are treading dangerous waters, and our President seems not only unable to decide which course to take, he seems incapable of understanding his role as leader comes with more responsibility than a community organizer (for example) might have.



    I have followed, closely, the recent back and forth on the issue of waterboarding, memos, prosecutions (or not), and various other volleys fired from the incompetent children in charge.



    Did you know, for instance, that waterboarding is employed on our own members of Special Forces during training?



    Or that we are, in fact, arguing over three cases of waterboarding and the most celebrated of which, Abu Zubaydah, suddenly got very cooperative and gave up Ramzi bin al-Shibh - a member of bin Laden's inner circle - who in turn gave up Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 plot, and the uncovering of a plot to target the West Coast in a second wave of attacks?



    Do you know why you may not have heard about this?



    Because while the Obama administration struts and preens, continuously patting themselves on the backs for not being Bush, they only give the American people half the story. It's a tactic aimed at appeasing the far left, and so far it's worked.



    I'm with former V.P., Dick Cheney, when I ask Mr. Obama to make good on his campaign promise of transparency in government.



    If he's going to release confidential CIA memos regarding interrogation techniques, let's also see the memos detailing the successes, and failures, those techniques brought us.



    As it stands, the Obama administration is sending a very clear message to the intelligence community. And that message is "stand down" or run the risk of prosecution for following orders from the highest office in the land.

    As former CIA Director Michael Hayden has said, the effect of the release is to "invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001."

    It also has the effect of making other operatives around the world shy away from cooperating with the United States' intelligence offices.



    As I said, we tread dangerous waters and if we do not pay attention here those waters will become shark-infested.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brian · 12 years ago
    I'm conservative, politically, but morally, I believe in the golden rule.

    I don't know much about waterboarding, but it sounds like the "water cure" that President Theodore Roosevelt called torture. The old water cure from the Phillipines was treated as torture, and officers responsible for ordering it were court-martialed, according to a 25 Feb 2008 New Yorker article by Paul Kramer. You should read it. [http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/02/25/080225fa_fact_kramer?currentPage=all]

    I think waterboarding would terrify me, but I'm afraid of drowning. I'm probably not tough enough to withstand it, and admitting that doesn't create in me any self-doubt about my worth or manhood.

    The people who claim to have been waterboarded as part of an exercise haven't really been waterboarded. If you're being waterboarded by your enemy, you must surely have at least a doubt in your mind that you will survive. If you're on a waterboard as part of an exercise, you know that people are at the ready to help you if things go wrong. In a true waterboarding, it's that seed of doubt about your survival that creates the terror in your mind.

    It seems to me the people who justify waterboarding because of its effectiveness are on weak logical and moral grounds. Just because A is effective doesn't mean B, C or D are not also effective. And being effective doesn't make it moral.

    It's easy to deceive ourselves that something an ally did is right. Those who react before they examine, and I am often one of them, may live to regret it.

    Any politician who is now saying that that he was not briefed about the waterboarding when in fact he, or she, was aware of it at the time, approved of it, or didn't object to it, is the worst sort of coward.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brian · 12 years ago
    I'm conservative, politically, but morally, I believe in the golden rule.

    I don't know much about waterboarding, but it sounds like the "water cure" that President Theodore Roosevelt called torture. The old water cure from the Phillipines was treated as torture, and officers responsible for ordering it were court-martialed, according to a 25 Feb 2008 New Yorker article by Paul Kramer. You should read it. [http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/02/25/080225fa_fact_kramer?currentPage=all]

    I think waterboarding would terrify me, but I'm afraid of drowning. I'm probably not tough enough to withstand it, and admitting that doesn't create in me any self-doubt about my worth or manhood.

    The people who claim to have been waterboarded as part of an exercise haven't really been waterboarded. If you're being waterboarded by your enemy, you must surely have at least a doubt in your mind that you will survive. If you're on a waterboard as part of an exercise, you know that people are at the ready to help you if things go wrong. In a true waterboarding, it's that seed of doubt about your survival that creates the terror in your mind.

    It seems to me the people who justify waterboarding because of its effectiveness are on weak logical and moral grounds. Just because A is effective doesn't mean B, C or D are not also effective. And being effective doesn't make it moral.

    It's easy to deceive ourselves that something an ally did is right. Those who react before they examine, and I am often one of them, may live to regret it.

    Any politician who is now saying that that he was not briefed about the waterboarding when in fact he, or she, was aware of it at the time, approved of it, or didn't object to it, is the worst sort of coward.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brian · 12 years ago
    I'm conservative, politically, but morally, I believe in the golden rule.

    I don't know much about waterboarding, but it sounds like the "water cure" that President Theodore Roosevelt called torture. The old water cure from the Phillipines was treated as torture, and officers responsible for ordering it were court-martialed, according to a 25 Feb 2008 New Yorker article by Paul Kramer. You should read it. [http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/02/25/080225fa_fact_kramer?currentPage=all]

    I think waterboarding would terrify me, but I'm afraid of drowning. I'm probably not tough enough to withstand it, and admitting that doesn't create in me any self-doubt about my worth or manhood.

    The people who claim to have been waterboarded as part of an exercise haven't really been waterboarded. If you're being waterboarded by your enemy, you must surely have at least a doubt in your mind that you will survive. If you're on a waterboard as part of an exercise, you know that people are at the ready to help you if things go wrong. In a true waterboarding, it's that seed of doubt about your survival that creates the terror in your mind.

    It seems to me the people who justify waterboarding because of its effectiveness are on weak logical and moral grounds. Just because A is effective doesn't mean B, C or D are not also effective. And being effective doesn't make it moral.

    It's easy to deceive ourselves that something an ally did is right. Those who react before they examine, and I am often one of them, may live to regret it.

    Any politician who is now saying that that he was not briefed about the waterboarding when in fact he, or she, was aware of it at the time, approved of it, or didn't object to it, is the worst sort of coward.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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