Torture and Truth and The Logic of Torture
June 4, 2004 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Torture and Truth and The Logic of Torture--Mark Danner writes about Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade (The Taguba Report) and Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Protected Persons by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq During Arrest, Internment and Interrogation in the former and concludes thusly in the latter:

Behind the exotic brutality so painstakingly recorded in Abu Ghraib, and the multiple tangled plotlines that will be teased out in the coming weeks and months about responsibility, knowledge, and culpability, lies a simple truth, well known but not yet publicly admitted in Washington: that since the attacks of September 11, 2001, officials of the United States, at various locations around the world, from Bagram in Afghanistan to Guantanamo in Cuba to Abu Ghraib in Iraq, have been torturing prisoners.     (More Within)
posted by y2karl (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What's in a Word? Torture writes Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost, a history of how, during the turn of the last century, Belgium’s King Leopold II, under the guise of humanitarianism, plundered the natural resources of the Congo, with 10 million Congolese losing their lives as a result. In that book he notes that the public outcry against Leopold's atrocities was fed by pictures:

A central part of almost every Congo protest meeting was a slide show, comprising some sixty vivid photos of life under Leopold’s rule; half a dozen of them showed mutilated Africans or their cut-off hands. The pictures, ultimately seen in meetings and the press by millions of people, provided evidence that no propaganda could refute..

Similarly, Susan Sontag wrote Regarding the Torture of Others for the New York TImes, where recently Frank Rich also noted a new culture war meme being spun out of Abu Ghraib: It Was the Porn That Made Them Do It.

Or maybe, it's the intensely male culture of the military, aka The military's hazing hell.

Let it be noted here that sexual assaults In Army have risen by 25%, according to a study prompted by the Denver Post's recent Betrayal In The Ranks series.

Nor is this a recent phenomenom--as noted in the Miami Herald's Historians Looking at U.S. GIs After D-Day, a similar pattern occurred during the five months the U.S. Army occupied post-war France. In his book, The GIs' Hidden Face, Robert Lilly, criminology professor at Northern Kentucky University, estimates there were 3,620 rapes by U.S. soldiers in France from June 1944 to June 1945, based on military records he analyzed.

As for Abu Ghraib, and the so-called "bad apples," the story is not over:

Military Completed Death Certificates for 20 Prisoners Only After Months Passed
Abuse of Captives More Widespread, Says Army Survey
Army Investigates Wider Iraq Offenses
Abu Ghraib Inquiry Is Said to Focus on Head of Its Interrogation Center
The Abu Ghraib Scandal Cover-Up?

General Says Rumsfeld Reviews Guantanamo Methods and
Methods Used on 2 at Guantanamo would suggest there are a few more steps on the ladder of responsibility.

But this is old news, as Dana Priest and Barton Gellman noted in the December 27, 2002 edition of the Washington Post: US turns to torture to crack prisoners of war .

The oft since repeated money quote there is

At a joint hearing of the House and Senate intelligence committees in September, Cofer Black, then head of the CIA Counterterrorist Centre, spoke cryptically about the agency's new forms of "operational flexibility" in dealing with suspected terrorists. "All you need to know is that there was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11," Mr Black said. "After 9/11 the gloves come off."

Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, wrote of this in the Atlantic--The Dark Art of Interrogation and spoke of it in the accompanying interview, The Truth About Torture :

You conclude that "coercion should be banned but also quietly practiced," because legalized coercion, even when closely regulated, is the ultimate "slippery slope." Yet if coercion is officially banned, how will Americans come to a consensus about what kind of coercion is and isn't appropriate? It's hard to have a debate about something that officially doesn't happen.

Well, I think that part of the strategy here of the current Administration is not to have a debate on it--not to talk about it. And that's actually a very smart way of handling this. Because this is a realm where a certain amount of two-facedness is called for, unfortunately. I believe that it would be wrong to license all coercion, but by the same token, I believe that it would wrong not to practice it in certain cases. So I agree with Jessica Montell, the very articulate activist I interviewed in Israel, in saying that if the law bans torture, at least those people who are practicing coercion have to face the possibility of being held accountable for their actions. The law acts as a constraint on the use of coercion. But it's also unrealistic under the present circumstances to conclude that anybody is ever going to be brought to justice for violating the spirit of international agreements against torture.

As for those legal implications, there is Interrogation, Torture, the Constitution, and the Courts, where Joanne Mariner observes

In concluding last month that prisoners held on the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba have the right to challenge their detention in federal court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit focused on the question of Guantanamo's legal status. Much of the court's long and scholarly opinion is taken up by a close examination of the terms of the 1903 lease agreement between the U.S. and Cuba, their meaning in Spanish, their interpretation in analogous treaties, and other fairly technical minutiae.

But a few phrases that lie near the end of the majority opinion grab the reader's attention. According to the government's stated position in the case, the detainees have absolutely no legal right to question U.S. actions on Guantanamo. Federal court jurisdiction should be foreclosed, government counsel insisted during oral argument before the Ninth Circuit, even if the plaintiffs were to claim that their captors were committing "acts of torture" on Guantanamo or were "summarily executing the detainees."

The government's assertion that torture and summary executions might be carried out without recourse to the law clearly shocked the court. Reminiscent of Argentina's "dirty war" or the Soviet Gulag, the notion of a legal vacuum in which abuses can be freely committed hardly squares with American constitutional traditions. Indeed, the court emphasized, "to our knowledge, prior to the current detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, the U.S. government has never before asserted such a grave and startling proposition."

But not to worry, as the American Forces Information Service perkily notes GITMO Yielding Valuable Intelligence in a Safe, Disciplined Environment !

And, for future reference, please consult the University Of Minnesota Human Rights Library, and, more especially, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, G.A. res. 39/46, [annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984)], entered into force June 26, 1987.
posted by y2karl at 12:51 PM on June 4, 2004

It is very easy to create a pretext for why it is necessary to torture a prisoner when we have fear and anger in us. When we have compassion, we can always find another way. When you torture a living being, you die as a human being because the other person’s suffering is your own suffering....An act of cruelty is born of many conditions coming together, without any separate, individual actor. When we hold retreats for war veterans I tell them they are the flame at the tip of the candle, they are the ones who feel the heat, but the whole candle is burning, not only the flame. All of us are responsible.

---This Is What War Looks interview with Thich Nhat Hanh
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:59 PM on June 4, 2004

This is an amazing (and disturbing) post, y2karl. Thanks for all the links.

Also of interest, a recent piece by John McCain: In Praise of Do-Gooders.
posted by homunculus at 1:16 PM on June 4, 2004

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick points out that the DOJ seems to have learned the wrong lesson from all this in the Jose Padilla case:

"The lesson of Abu Ghraib was that we no longer trust what happens in dark dungeons, where the rule of law has been cast aside. To reassure us, the Justice Department responds with the assurance that no one there trusts what happens in the bright light of a constitutional democracy."
posted by homunculus at 1:19 PM on June 4, 2004

posted by dejah420 at 1:30 PM on June 4, 2004

Excellent opinion piece in the WSJ by McCain, in addition to another monster post by y2Karl. Question to no one in particular: Can we trade Zell Miller for John McCain?
posted by psmealey at 1:39 PM on June 4, 2004

no, Miller's shtick would scare even the Republicans. they'll keep McCain.
and unlike George W. Bush, the RNC would never trade Sammy Sosa
posted by matteo at 1:57 PM on June 4, 2004

y2karl remains my hero.
posted by squirrel at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2004

On a purely 'meta' note, I'd like to point out that this post could probably be made into an entire web site -- just throw in some images and formatting, break it into different pages (you know, instead of just running the various topics together), dig the text out of the mouse-over boxes and put them in plain view, and the like.

It'd be a lot easier to read, too.

That said, the point of the post -- that the various abuses, torture-incidents, and so forth, are all of a piece and are the direct result of the Bush administration's policies whether the shots were called from the top or not -- is a good one and I'm glad it's being discussed.
posted by Mark Doner at 3:21 PM on June 4, 2004

The Roots of Torture

Memos Reveal War Crimes Warnings

The White House's top lawyer warned more than two years ago that U.S. officials could be prosecuted for "war crimes" as a result of new and unorthodox measures used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism, according to an internal White House memo and interviews with participants in the debate over the issue.

The concern about possible future prosecution for war crimes—and that it might even apply to Bush adminstration officials themselves— is contained in a crucial portion of an internal January 25, 2002, memo by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales obtained by Newsweek. It urges President George Bush declare the war in Afghanistan, including the detention of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, exempt from the provisions of the Geneva Convention.

In the memo, the White House lawyer focused on a little known 1996 law passed by Congress, known as the War Crimes Act, that banned any Americans from committing war crimes—defined in part as "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions. Noting that the law applies to "U.S. officials" and that punishments for violators "include the death penalty," Gonzales told Bush that "it was difficult to predict with confidence" how Justice Department prosecutors might apply the law in the future. This was especially the case given that some of the language in the Geneva Conventions—such as that outlawing "outrages upon personal dignity" and "inhuman treatment" of prisoners—was "undefined."
One key advantage of declaring that Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters did not have Geneva Convention protections is that it "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act," Gonzales wrote.

"It is difficult to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges based on Section 2441 [the War Crimes Act]," Gonzales wrote.

posted by y2karl at 4:21 PM on June 4, 2004

We Should Call Torture By Its Proper Name

And once again torture is in the hands of historians, but historians of contemporary society and their successors, who will ask the same questions as historians have always asked about it.. How is evidence to be acquired and assessed before torture comes into play? Is the “ticking bomb theory” anything more than an abstract, hypothetical, exceptional case that is so far removed from actual circumstances as to be useless? Who is to be the torturer? Will his or her work become, as it was in earlier periods, a métier vil – that is, how will torturers live with fellow citizens after their work is done and known? Will torture have been done openly or clandestinely? Who will be tortured – one of an us or one of a them? What of deaths occurring under torture – since medical personnel, both physicians and nurses, are prohibited by their own professional organizations from participating in torture – will torture be administered by amateur neurologists? Is the “war on terrorism” not the equivalent of a permanent emergency? Can torture in any form and for any purpose exist in a legal system founded on principles diametrically opposed to it? Can a state that is signatory to the modern network of conventions, treaties, declarations of human rights, and closely observed not only by other signatories, but also by official and unofficial compliance monitors and a worldwide public engage in torture under any circumstances except according to the substantially weakened doctrine of state sovereignty? That is, can the entire moral and legal apparatus erected to protect human rights during the second half of the twentieth century survive at all if torture, however selectively and dispassionately applied, is introduced into a democratic society?
posted by y2karl at 7:40 PM on June 4, 2004

One point that hasn't been addressed anywhere, at least that I'm aware of is, what kind of life are these "interrogators" expected to lead once their "service" is over and they are returned to the United States?
posted by keithl at 9:00 AM on June 5, 2004

Sadly enough, keithl, many of them will return to service in the various state Departments of Corrections (where such conduct is encouraged) from whence they came.
posted by psmealey at 9:40 AM on June 5, 2004

American torture, American porn: Abu Ghraib and "The Passion of the Christ" are connected in a dark basement of the American psyche.
posted by homunculus at 8:57 PM on June 6, 2004

Pentagon Report Set Framework For Use of Torture

Bush administration lawyers contended last year that the president wasn't bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn't be prosecuted by the Justice Department.

The advice was part of a classified report on interrogation methods prepared for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after commanders at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained in late 2002 that with conventional methods they weren't getting enough information from prisoners.

The report outlined U.S. laws and international treaties forbidding torture, and why those restrictions might be overcome by national-security considerations or legal technicalities. In a March 6, 2003, draft of the report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, passages were deleted as was an attachment listing specific interrogation techniques and whether Mr. Rumsfeld himself or other officials must grant permission before they could be used. The complete draft document was classified "secret" by Mr. Rumsfeld and scheduled for declassification in 2013.

The draft report, which exceeds 100 pages, deals with a range of legal issues related to interrogations, offering definitions of the degree of pain or psychological manipulation that could be considered lawful. But at its core is an exceptional argument that because nothing is more important than "obtaining intelligence vital to the protection of untold thousands of American citizens," normal strictures on torture might not apply.

The president, despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture, the report argued. Civilian or military personnel accused of torture or other war crimes have several potential defenses, including the "necessity" of using such methods to extract information to head off an attack, or "superior orders," sometimes known as the Nuremberg defense: namely that the accused was acting pursuant to an order and, as the Nuremberg tribunal put it, no "moral choice was in fact possible."

posted by y2karl at 2:41 PM on June 7, 2004 [1 favorite]

This one's for Swerdloff:

A Moral Chernobyl by one Christopher Hitchens:

...Skill, in these matters, depends on taking pains and not on inflicting them. You make the chap go through his story several times, preferably on video, and then you ask his friends a huge number of tedious questions, and then you go through it all again to check for discrepancies, and then you watch the first (very boring and sexless) video all over once more, and then you make him answer all the same questions and perhaps a couple of new and clever ones. If you have got the wrong guy—and it does happen—you let him go and offer him a ride home and an apology. And you know what? It often works. Only a lazy and incompetent dirtbag looks for brutal shortcuts so that he can get off his shift early. And sometimes, gunmen and bombers even have changes of heart, as well as mind.

Yes, but what about the ticking bomb? Listen: There's always going to be a ticking bomb somewhere. Some of these will go off, and it's just as likely to be in my part of Washington, D.C., as anywhere else. But we shall be fighting a war against jihad for decades to come. And the jihadists will continue to make big mistakes based on their mad theory. And they are not superhuman: They can be infiltrated, bribed, and turned. You don't have to tell them what time of day it is, or where they are, or when the next meal will be served. (Though it must be served.) But you must not bring in that pig or that electrode. That way lies madness and corruption and the extraction of junk confessions. So even if law and principle didn't enter into the question, we sure as hell know what doesn't work. The cranky Puritan voice of Sir Edmund Compton comes back to me down the corridor of the years: If it gives anyone pleasure, then you are doing it wrong and doing wrong into the bargain.

posted by y2karl at 9:36 AM on June 15, 2004

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