Thursday, September 07, 2006

Liar-in-Chief, Torturer-in-Chief

So, Bush gives a speech denying that his administration tortures people, but defending that non-existent torture at the same time. Yes, such is the post-modernist abrogation of all objective truth that we have come to expect from the Bush administration. He claimed:
"The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it -- and I will not authorize it."
Lie. I've blogged about this before. But wait, there is nuance, you see. There is no torture, but there are certain procedures. Bush actually then defends the use of these procedures on Abu Zubaydah, a captured Al Qaeda terrorist:

"We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking. As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used--I think you understand why--if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary."
As Andrew Sullivan notes, the secrecy is a joke. Every dog on the street knows what these procedures are. Bush just doesn't want to talk about them in polite company. He doesn't want to speak about how he has violated basic moral principles. Just look at the language he uses: "safe, and lawful, and necessary". Doesn't that sound like the way certain politicians justify their support for abortion-on-demand? Isn't it performing the same kind of equivocation, the same kind of end-justifies-the-means consequentialist reasoning? And isn't it the same kind of arms-length distancing that refuses to even discuss, let alone admit to, the objective moral evil in question?

Well, let's pull back the curtain. ABC News mentions six procedures in particular:

"The first -- the attention grab, involving the rough shaking of a prisoner. Second -- the attention slap, an open-handed slap to the face.Third -- belly slap, meant to cause temporary pain, but no internal injuries. Fourth -- long-term standing and sleep deprivation, 40 hours at least, described as the most effective technique. Fifth -- the cold room. Prisoners left naked in cells kept in the 50s and frequently doused with cold water. The CIA sources say the sixth, and harshest, technique was called "water boarding," in which a prisoner's face was covered withcellophane, and water is poured over it -- meant to trigger an unbearable gag reflex."
According to Bush, none of this constitutes torture. Well, as Andrew Sullivan points out, the United Nations declaration (to which the United States is a signatory) defines torture as follows:
"[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession ... when such pain or suffering is inflicted at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."
Or how about going back to basics, to the great Second Vatican Council document Gaudium Et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church inthe Modern World), which condemns in no uncertain terms:
"all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures."
But no, let the Orwellian double-speak proceed: these are procedures that are safe, legal, and necessary. Torture is something only bad people do. Incidentally, the Bushites should be told that the condemnation of torture occurs in the same sentence as the condemnation of abortion in Gaudium Et Spes. But consistency is probably too much to expect from a group that uses the gospel for narrow political ends.

When discussing these techniques, an obvious question is how the United States would react if its troops were on the receiving end of such foul treatment? Jack Balkin performs a little thought experiment:

"It was terrible news. Several of our American soldiers were apprehended by terrorists and interrogated for hours on end. Al Qaeda operatives slapped them repeatedly in the face and the stomach to cause pain, then they shook them violently over and over again to disorient them. Then, after softening them up, they deprived the Americans of sleep and forced them to stand for over 40 hours at a time...Then, for those who had not already cracked, Al Qaeda stripped the Americans naked, put them in cold rooms kept at around 50 degrees and repeatedly doused them with cold water. A few American soldiers wouldn't crack even under this treatment. For them Al Qaeda had a special technique: They strapped the Americans to a horizontal board with their heads tilted downward slightly. Then they covered the American soldiers' faces with cellophane and continuously poured water over them to make the Americans think they were drowning. This technique caused an unbearable gag reflex....

As soon as the White House found out about the interrogations, they were outraged at the abuse and mistreatment of American soldiers. They immediately protested in all the diplomatic and military channels they could think of. Eventually they got a
response: These techniques were not torture. Al Qaeda insisted that it does not believe in torture and does not practice torture. That was just American propaganda. Rather, these techniques were an "alternative set of procedures" that were "designed to be safe," complied with the Geneva Conventions, and were far less painful than the American infidels deserved."
Bush's lies in this speech do not end here. As Ron Suskind documents in The One Percent Doctrine, Zubaydah was mentally handicapped. His captured diaries displayed clear split personality and mental illness. In Suskind's words, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered." And when he was tortured, he blathered about everything. Shopping malls. Banks. Supermarkets. Water systems. Nuclear plants of course. And apartment buildings. Remember all the bogus alerts in 2002? This was the genesis of them!

But Bush has been lying about Zubaydah for a long time. Suskind notes that he was gloating over the capture of Al Qaeda's number three, the "chief of operations" in 2002. Of course, it detracted attention from the fact that his incompetence let Al Qaeda's number one and number two escape, but that's another story. In reality, Zubaydah was nowhere close to being number three, being merely a low ranked "travel agent.. the guy who booked your flights". And the lying continues today. Spencer Ackerman notes that Bush's speech also claimed that his special procedures allowed the authorities to identify another al- Qaeda operative, Ramzi bin al Shibh. But this is ridiculous, another clear lie, as the identity of bin Al Shibh was widely known before Zubaydah's capture. So different lies, different times, but lies all the same.

Interestingly, Suskind notes that Zubaydah did indeed give up the real name of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But here's what Bush won't tell you: it happened after the torture ended. A skilled interrogator exploited the al Qaeda operative belief in predestination, and quoted freely from the Koran to convince Zubaydah that his pre-ordained purpose was to give names to his captors! So, I guess that means good old-fashioned interrogation techniques work just fine, and that torture is not necessary after all. There's no need to sell your soul. Tell that to the Bush administration.

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