Adam Ash

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

US Diary: torture is an old American tradition

Three posts about torture: one about arguments pro and con; one about how long we've been at it (for decades); and one about the possible future international prosecution of some of our torture-promoting officials.

1.The Abolition of Torture -- by Andrew Sullivan

Why is torture wrong? It may seem like an obvious question, or even one beneath discussion. But it is now inescapably before us, with the introduction of the McCain Amendment banning all "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of detainees by American soldiers and CIA operatives anywhere in the world. The amendment lies in legislative limbo. It passed the Senate in October by a vote of 90 to nine, but President Bush has vowed to veto any such blanket ban on torture or abuse; Vice President Cheney has prevailed upon enough senators and congressmen to prevent the amendment--and the defense appropriations bill to which it is attached--from moving out of conference; and my friend Charles Krauthammer, one of the most respected conservative intellectuals in Washington (and a New Republic contributing editor) has written a widely praised cover essay for The Weekly Standard endorsing the legalization of full-fledged torture by the United States under strictly curtailed conditions. We stand on the brink of an enormously important choice--one that is critical, morally as well as strategically, to get right.

This debate takes place after three years in which the Bush administration has defined "torture" in the narrowest terms and has permitted coercive, physical abuse of enemy combatants if "military necessity" demands it. It comes also after several internal Pentagon reports found widespread and severe abuse of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere that has led to at least two dozen deaths during interrogation. Journalistic accounts and reports by the International Committee of the Red Cross paint an even darker picture of secret torture sites in Eastern Europe and innocent detainees being murdered. Behind all this, the grim images of Abu Ghraib--the worst of which have yet to be released--linger in the public consciousness.

In this inevitably emotional debate, perhaps the greatest failing of those of us who have been arguing against all torture and "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of detainees is that we have assumed the reasons why torture is always a moral evil, rather than explicating them. But, when you fully ponder them, I think it becomes clearer why, contrary to Krauthammer's argument, torture, in any form and under any circumstances, is both antithetical to the most basic principles for which the United States stands and a profound impediment to winning a wider war that we cannot afford to lose.

Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty. What torture does is use these involuntary, self-protective, self-defining resources of human beings against the integrity of the human being himself. It takes what is most involuntary in a person and uses it to break that person's will. It takes what is animal in us and deploys it against what makes us human. As an American commander wrote in an August 2003 e-mail about his instructions to torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib, "The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees, Col. Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken."

What does it mean to "break" an individual? As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne once commented, and Shakespeare echoed, even the greatest philosophers have difficulty thinking clearly when they have a toothache. These wise men were describing the inescapable frailty of the human experience, mocking the claims of some seers to be above basic human feelings and bodily needs. If that frailty is exposed by a toothache, it is beyond dispute in the case of torture. The infliction of physical pain on a person with no means of defending himself is designed to render that person completely subservient to his torturers. It is designed to extirpate his autonomy as a human being, to render his control as an individual beyond his own reach. That is why the term "break" is instructive. Something broken can be put back together, but it will never regain the status of being unbroken--of having integrity. When you break a human being, you turn him into something subhuman. You enslave him. This is why the Romans reserved torture for slaves, not citizens, and why slavery and torture were inextricably linked in the antebellum South.

What you see in the relationship between torturer and tortured is the absolute darkness of totalitarianism. You see one individual granted the most complete power he can ever hold over another. Not just confinement of his mobility--the abolition of his very agency. Torture uses a person's body to remove from his own control his conscience, his thoughts, his faith, his selfhood. The CIA's definition of "waterboarding"--recently leaked to ABC News--describes that process in plain English: "The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt." The ABC report then noted, "According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the waterboarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said Al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two and a half minutes before begging to confess."

Before the Bush administration, two documented cases of the U.S. Armed Forces using "waterboarding" resulted in courts-martial for the soldiers implicated. In Donald Rumsfeld's post-September 11 Pentagon, the technique is approved and, we recently learned, has been used on at least eleven detainees, possibly many more. What you see here is the deployment of a very basic and inescapable human reflex--the desire not to drown and suffocate--in order to destroy a person's autonomy. Even the most hardened fanatic can only endure two and a half minutes. After that, he is indeed "broken."

The entire structure of Western freedom grew in part out of the searing experience of state-sanctioned torture. The use of torture in Europe's religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is still etched in our communal consciousness, as it should be. Then, governments deployed torture not only to uncover perceived threats to their faith-based autocracies, but also to "save" the victim's soul. Torturers understood that religious conversion was a difficult thing, because it necessitated a shift in the deepest recesses of the human soul. The only way to reach those depths was to deploy physical terror in the hopes of completely destroying the heretic's autonomy. They would, in other words, destroy a human being's soul in order to save it. That is what burning at the stake was--an indescribably agonizing act of torture that could be ended at a moment's notice if the victim recanted. In a state where theological doctrine always trumped individual liberty, this was a natural tactic.

Indeed, the very concept of Western liberty sprung in part from an understanding that, if the state has the power to reach that deep into a person's soul and can do that much damage to a human being's person, then the state has extinguished all oxygen necessary for freedom to survive. That is why, in George Orwell's totalitarian nightmare, the final ordeal is, of course, torture. Any polity that endorses torture has incorporated into its own DNA a totalitarian mutation. If the point of the U.S. Constitution is the preservation of liberty, the formal incorporation into U.S. law of the state's right to torture--by legally codifying physical coercion, abuse, and even, in Krauthammer's case, full-fledged torture of detainees by the CIA--would effectively end the American experiment of a political society based on inalienable human freedom protected not by the good graces of the executive, but by the rule of law.

The founders understood this argument. Its preeminent proponent was George Washington himself. As historian David Hackett Fischer memorably recounts in his 2004 book, Washington's Crossing : "Always some dark spirits wished to visit the same cruelties on the British and Hessians that had been inflicted on American captives. But Washington's example carried growing weight, more so than his written orders and prohibitions. He often reminded his men that they were an army of liberty and freedom, and that the rights of humanity for which they were fighting should extend even to their enemies. ... Even in the most urgent moments of the war, these men were concerned about ethical questions in the Revolution."

Krauthammer has described Washington's convictions concerning torture as "pieties" that can be dispensed with today. He doesn't argue that torture is not evil. Indeed, he denounces it in unequivocal moral terms: "[T]orture is a terrible and monstrous thing, as degrading and morally corrupting to those who practice it as any conceivable human activity including its moral twin, capital punishment." But he maintains that the nature of the Islamofascist enemy after September 11 radically altered our interrogative options and that we are now not only permitted, but actually "morally compelled," to torture.

This is a radical and daring idea: that we must extinguish human freedom in a few cases in order to maintain it for everyone else. It goes beyond even the Bush administration's own formal position, which states that the United States will not endorse torture but merely "coercive interrogation techniques." (Such techniques, in the administration's elaborate definition, are those that employ physical force short of threatening immediate death or major organ failure.) And it is based on a premise that deserves further examination: that our enemies actually deserve torture; that some human beings are so depraved that, in Krauthammer's words, they "are entitled to no humane treatment."

Let me state for the record that I am second to none in decrying, loathing, and desiring to defeat those who wish to replace freedom with religious tyranny of the most brutal kind--and who have murdered countless innocent civilians in cold blood. Their acts are monstrous and barbaric. But I differ from Krauthammer by believing that monsters remain human beings. In fact, to reduce them to a subhuman level is to exonerate them of their acts of terrorism and mass murder--just as animals are not deemed morally responsible for killing. Insisting on the humanity of terrorists is, in fact, critical to maintaining their profound responsibility for the evil they commit.

And, if they are human, then they must necessarily not be treated in an inhuman fashion. You cannot lower the moral baseline of a terrorist to the subhuman without betraying a fundamental value. That is why the Geneva Conventions have a very basic ban on "cruel treatment and torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment"--even when dealing with illegal combatants like terrorists. That is why the Declaration of Independence did not restrict its endorsement of freedom merely to those lucky enough to find themselves on U.S. soil--but extended it to all human beings, wherever they are in the world, simply because they are human.

Nevertheless, it is important to address Krauthammer's practical points. He is asking us to steel ourselves and accept that, whether we like it or not, torture and abuse may be essential in a war where our very survival may be at stake. He presents two scenarios in which he believes torture is permissible. The first is the "ticking bomb" scenario, a hypothetical rarity in which the following conditions apply: a) a terrorist cell has planted a nuclear weapon or something nearly as devastating in a major city; b) we have captured someone in this cell; c) we know for a fact that he knows where the bomb is. In practice, of course, the likelihood of such a scenario is extraordinarily remote. Uncovering a terrorist plot is hard enough; capturing a conspirator involved in that plot is even harder; and realizing in advance that the person knows the whereabouts of the bomb is nearly impossible. (Remember, in the war on terrorism, we have already detained--and even killed--many innocents. Pentagon reports have acknowledged that up to 90 percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, many of whom were abused and tortured, were not guilty of anything.) But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that all of Krauthammer's conditions apply. Do we have a right to torture our hypothetical detainee?

According to Krauthammer, of course we do. No responsible public official put in that position would refuse to sanction torture if he believed it could save thousands of lives. And, if it's necessary, Krauthammer argues, it should be made legal. If you have conceded that torture may be justified in one case, Krauthammer believes, you have conceded that it may be justified in many more. In his words, "Once you've established the principle, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, all that's left to haggle about is the price."

But this is too easy and too glib a formulation. It is possible to concede that, in an extremely rare circumstance, torture may be used without conceding that it should be legalized. One imperfect but instructive analogy is civil disobedience. In that case, laws are indeed broken, but that does not establish that the laws should be broken. In fact, civil disobedience implies precisely that laws should not be broken, and protesters who engage in it present themselves promptly for imprisonment and legal sanction on exactly those grounds. They do so for demonstrative reasons. They are not saying that laws don't matter. They are saying that laws do matter, that they should be enforced, but that their conscience in this instance demands that they disobey them.

In extremis, a rough parallel can be drawn for a president faced with the kind of horrendous decision on which Krauthammer rests his entire case. What should a president do? The answer is simple: He may have to break the law. In the Krauthammer scenario, a president might well decide that, if the survival of the nation is at stake, he must make an exception. At the same time, he must subject himself--and so must those assigned to conduct the torture--to the consequences of an illegal act. Those guilty of torturing another human being must be punished--or pardoned ex-post-facto. If the torture is revealed to be useless, if the tortured man is shown to have been innocent or ignorant of the information he was tortured to reveal, then those responsible must face the full brunt of the law for, in Krauthammer's words, such a "terrible and monstrous thing." In Michael Walzer's formulation, if we are to have dirty hands, it is essential that we show them to be dirty.

What Krauthammer is proposing, however, is not this compromise, which allows us to retain our soul as a free republic while protecting us from catastrophe in an extremely rare case. He is proposing something very different: that our "dirty hands" be wiped legally clean before and after the fact. That is a Rubicon we should not cross, because it marks the boundary between a free country and an unfree one.

Krauthammer, moreover, misses a key lesson learned these past few years. What the hundreds of abuse and torture incidents have shown is that, once you permit torture for someone somewhere, it has a habit of spreading. Remember that torture was originally sanctioned in administration memos only for use against illegal combatants in rare cases. Within months of that decision, abuse and torture had become endemic throughout Iraq, a theater of war in which, even Bush officials agree, the Geneva Conventions apply. The extremely coercive interrogation tactics used at Guantánamo Bay "migrated" to Abu Ghraib. In fact, General Geoffrey Miller was sent to Abu Ghraib specifically to replicate Guantánamo's techniques. According to former Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who had original responsibility for the prison, Miller ordered her to treat all detainees "like dogs." When Captain Ian Fishback, a West Point graduate and member of the 82nd Airborne, witnessed routine beatings and abuse of detainees at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, often for sport, he tried to stop it. It took him a year and a half to get any response from the military command, and he had to go to Senator John McCain to make his case.

In short, what was originally supposed to be safe, sanctioned, and rare became endemic, disorganized, and brutal. The lesson is that it is impossible to quarantine torture in a hermetic box; it will inevitably contaminate the military as a whole. Once you have declared that some enemies are subhuman, you have told every soldier that every potential detainee he comes across might be exactly that kind of prisoner--and that anything can therefore be done to him. That is what the disgrace at Abu Ghraib proved. And Abu Ghraib produced a tiny fraction of the number of abuse, torture, and murder cases that have been subsequently revealed. The only way to control torture is to ban it outright. Everywhere. Even then, in wartime, some "bad apples" will always commit abuse. But at least we will have done all we can to constrain it.

Krauthammer's second case for torture is equally unpersuasive. For "slow-fuse" detainees--high-level prisoners like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with potentially, if not immediately, useful intelligence--Krauthammer again takes the most extreme case and uses it to establish a general rule. He concedes that torture, according to almost every careful student and expert, yields highly unreliable information. Anyone can see that. If you are screaming for relief after a few seconds of waterboarding, you're likely to tell your captors anything, true or untrue, to stop the agony and terror. But Krauthammer then argues that, unless you can prove that torture never works, it should always be retained as an option. "It may indeed be true that torture is not a reliable tool," he argues. "But that is very different from saying that it is never useful." And if it cannot be deemed always useless, it must be permitted--even when an imminent threat is not in the picture.

The problem here is an obvious one. You have made the extreme exception the basis for a new rule. You have said that, if you cannot absolutely rule out torture as effective in every single case, it should be ruled in as an option for many. Moreover, if allowing torture even in the "ticking bomb" scenario makes the migration of torture throughout the military likely, this loophole blows the doors wide open. And how do we tell good intelligence from bad intelligence in such torture-infested interrogation? The short answer is: We cannot. By allowing torture for "slow-fuse" detainees, you sacrifice a vital principle for intelligence that is uniformly corrupted at best and useless at worst.

In fact, the use of torture and coercive interrogation by U.S. forces in this war may have contributed to a profound worsening of our actionable intelligence. The key to intelligence in Iraq and, indeed, in Muslim enclaves in the West, is gaining the support and trust of those who give terrorists cover but who are not terrorists themselves. We need human intelligence from Muslims and Arabs prepared to spy on and inform on their neighbors and friends and even family and tribe members. The only way they will do that is if they perceive the gains of America's intervention as greater than the costs, if they see clearly that cooperating with the West will lead to a better life and a freer world rather than more of the same.

What our practical endorsement of torture has done is to remove that clear boundary between the Islamists and the West and make the two equivalent in the Muslim mind. Saddam Hussein used Abu Ghraib to torture innocents; so did the Americans. Yes, what Saddam did was exponentially worse. But, in doing what we did, we blurred the critical, bright line between the Arab past and what we are proposing as the Arab future. We gave Al Qaeda an enormous propaganda coup, as we have done with Guantánamo and Bagram, the "Salt Pit" torture chambers in Afghanistan, and the secret torture sites in Eastern Europe. In World War II, American soldiers were often tortured by the Japanese when captured. But FDR refused to reciprocate. Why? Because he knew that the goal of the war was not just Japan's defeat but Japan's transformation into a democracy. He knew that, if the beacon of democracy--the United States of America--had succumbed to the hallmark of totalitarianism, then the chance for democratization would be deeply compromised in the wake of victory.

No one should ever underestimate the profound impact that the conduct of American troops in World War II had on the citizens of the eventually defeated Axis powers. Germans saw the difference between being liberated by the Anglo-Americans and being liberated by the Red Army. If you saw an American or British uniform, you were safe. If you didn't, the terror would continue in different ways. Ask any German or Japanese of the generation that built democracy in those countries, and they will remind you of American values--not trumpeted by presidents in front of handpicked audiences, but demonstrated by the conduct of the U.S. military during occupation. I grew up in Great Britain, a country with similar memories. In the dark days of the cold war, I was taught that America, for all its faults, was still America. And that America did not, and constitutively could not, torture anyone.

If American conduct was important in Japan and Germany, how much more important is it in Iraq and Afghanistan. The entire point of the war on terrorism, according to the president, is to advance freedom and democracy in the Arab world. In Iraq, we had a chance not just to tell but to show the Iraqi people how a democracy acts. And, tragically, in one critical respect, we failed. That failure undoubtedly contributed to the increased legitimacy of the insurgency and illegitimacy of the occupation, and it made collaboration between informed Sunnis and U.S. forces far less likely. What minuscule intelligence we might have plausibly gained from torturing and abusing detainees is vastly outweighed by the intelligence we have forfeited by alienating many otherwise sympathetic Iraqis and Afghans, by deepening the divide between the democracies, and by sullying the West's reputation in the Middle East. Ask yourself: Why does Al Qaeda tell its detainees to claim torture regardless of what happens to them in U.S. custody? Because Al Qaeda knows that one of America's greatest weapons in this war is its reputation as a repository of freedom and decency. Our policy of permissible torture has handed Al Qaeda this weapon--to use against us. It is not just a moral tragedy. It is a pragmatic disaster. Why compound these crimes and errors by subsequently legalizing them, as Krauthammer (explicitly) and the president (implicitly) are proposing?

Will a ban on all "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" render interrogations useless? By no means. There are many techniques for gaining intelligence from detainees other than using their bodies against their souls. You can start with the 17 that appear in the Army Field Manual, tested by decades of armed conflict only to be discarded by this administration with barely the blink of an eye. Isolation, psychological disorientation, intense questioning, and any number of other creative techniques are possible. Some of the most productive may well be those in which interrogators are so versed in Islamic theology and Islamist subcultures that they win the confidence of prisoners and pry information out of them--something the United States, with its dearth of Arabic speakers, is unfortunately ill-equipped to do.

Enemy combatants need not be accorded every privilege granted legitimate prisoners of war; but they must be treated as human beings. This means that, in addition to physical torture, wanton abuse of their religious faith is out of bounds. No human freedom is meaningful without religious freedom. The fact that Koran abuse has been documented at Guantánamo; that one prisoner at Abu Ghraib was forced to eat pork and drink liquor; that fake menstrual blood was used to disorient a strict Muslim prisoner at Guantánamo--these make winning the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims far harder. Such tactics have resulted in hunger strikes at Guantánamo--perhaps the ultimate sign that the coercive and abusive attempts to gain the cooperation of detainees has completely failed to achieve the desired results.

The war on terrorism is, after all, a religious war in many senses. It is a war to defend the separation of church and state as critical to the existence of freedom, including religious freedom. It is a war to persuade the silent majority of Muslims that the West offers a better way--more decency, freedom, and humanity than the autocracies they live under and the totalitarian theocracies waiting in the wings. By endorsing torture--on anyone, anywhere, for any reason--we help obliterate the very values we are trying to promote. You can see this contradiction in Krauthammer's own words: We are "morally compelled" to commit "a terrible and monstrous thing." We are obliged to destroy the village in order to save it. We have to extinguish the most basic principle that defines America in order to save America.

No, we don't. In order to retain fundamental American values, we have to banish from the United States the totalitarian impulse that is integral to every act of torture. We have to ensure that the virus of tyranny is never given an opening to infect the Constitution and replicate into something that corrupts as deeply as it wounds. We should mark the words of Ian Fishback, one of the heroes of this war: "Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is 'America.'" If we legalize torture, even under constrained conditions, we will have given up a large part of the idea that is America. We will have lost the war before we have given ourselves the chance to win it.

2. 'Never Before!' Our Amnesiac Torture Debate -- by Naomi Klein

It was the "Mission Accomplished" of George W. Bush's second term, and an announcement of that magnitude called for a suitably dramatic location. But what was the right backdrop for the infamous "We do not torture" declaration? With characteristic audacity, the Bush team settled on downtown Panama City.

It was certainly bold. An hour and a half's drive from where Bush stood, the US military ran the notorious School of the Americas from 1946 to 1984, a sinister educational institution that, if it had a motto, might have been "We do torture." It is here in Panama and, later, at the school's new location in Fort Benning, Georgia, where the roots of the current torture scandals can be found. According to declassified training manuals, SOA students--military and police officers from across the hemisphere--were instructed in many of the same "coercive interrogation" techniques that have since migrated to Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib: early morning capture to maximize shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food "manipulation," humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions--and worse. In 1996 President Clinton's Intelligence Oversight Board admitted that US-produced training materials condoned "execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion and false imprisonment."

Some of the Panama school's graduates returned to their countries to commit the continent's greatest war crimes of the past half-century: the murders of Archbishop Oscar Romero and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador, the systematic theft of babies from Argentina's "disappeared" prisoners, the massacre of 900 civilians in El Mozote in El Salvador and military coups too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that choosing Panama to declare "We do not torture" is a little like dropping by a slaughterhouse to pronounce the United States a nation of vegetarians.

And yet when covering the Bush announcement, not a single mainstream news outlet mentioned the sordid history of its location. How could they? To do so would require something totally absent from the current debate: an admission that the embrace of torture by US officials long predates the Bush Administration and has in fact been integral to US foreign policy since the Vietnam War.

It's a history that has been exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his upcoming book A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy synthesizes this unwieldy cache of evidence, producing an indispensable and riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls "no-touch torture," based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs.

It's not only apologists for torture who ignore this history when they blame abuses on "a few bad apples"--so too do many of torture's most prominent opponents. Apparently forgetting everything they once knew about US cold war misadventures, a startling number have begun to subscribe to an antihistorical narrative in which the idea of torturing prisoners first occurred to US officials on September 11, 2001, at which point the interrogation methods used in Guantánamo apparently emerged, fully formed, from the sadistic recesses of Dick Cheney's and Donald Rumsfeld's brains. Up until that moment, we are told, America fought its enemies while keeping its humanity intact.

The principal propagator of this narrative (what Garry Wills termed "original sinlessness") is Senator John McCain. Writing recently in Newsweek on the need for a ban on torture, McCain says that when he was a prisoner of war in Hanoi, he held fast to the knowledge "that we were different from our enemies...that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or approving such mistreatment of them." It is a stunning historical distortion. By the time McCain was taken captive, the CIA had already launched the Phoenix program and, as McCoy writes, "its agents were operating forty interrogation centers in South Vietnam that killed more than twenty thousand suspects and tortured thousands more," a claim he backs up with pages of quotes from press reports as well as Congressional and Senate probes.

Does it somehow lessen the horrors of today to admit that this is not the first time the US government has used torture to wipe out its political opponents--that it has operated secret prisons before, that it has actively supported regimes that tried to erase the left by dropping students out of airplanes? That, at home, photographs of lynchings were traded and sold as trophies and warnings? Many seem to think so. On November 8 Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott made the astonishing claim to the House of Representatives that "America has never had a question about its moral integrity, until now." Molly Ivins, expressing her shock that the United States is running a prison gulag, wrote that "it's just this one administration...and even at that, it seems to be mostly Vice President Dick Cheney." And in the November issue of Harper's, William Pfaff argues that what truly sets the Bush Administration apart from its predecessors is "its installation of torture as integral to American military and clandestine operations." Pfaff acknowledges that long before Abu Ghraib, there were those who claimed that the School of the Americas was a "torture school," but he says that he was "inclined to doubt that it was really so." Perhaps it's time for Pfaff to have a look at the SOA textbooks coaching illegal torture techniques, all readily available in both Spanish and English, as well as the hair-raising list of SOA grads.

Other cultures deal with a legacy of torture by declaring "Never again!" Why do so many Americans insist on dealing with the current torture crisis by crying "Never Before"? I suspect it has to do with a sincere desire to convey the seriousness of this Administration's crimes. And the Bush Administration's open embrace of torture is indeed unprecedented--but let's be clear about what is unprecedented about it: not the torture but the openness. Past administrations tactfully kept their "black ops" secret; the crimes were sanctioned but they were practiced in the shadows, officially denied and condemned. The Bush Administration has broken this deal: Post-9/11, it demanded the right to torture without shame, legitimized by new definitions and new laws.

Despite all the talk of outsourced torture, the Bush Administration's real innovation has been its in-sourcing, with prisoners being abused by US citizens in US-run prisons and transported to third countries in US planes. It is this departure from clandestine etiquette, more than the actual crimes, that has so much of the military and intelligence community up in arms: By daring to torture unapologetically and out in the open, Bush has robbed everyone of plausible deniability.

For those nervously wondering if it is time to start using alarmist words like totalitarianism, this shift is of huge significance. When torture is covertly practiced but officially and legally repudiated, there is still the hope that if atrocities are exposed, justice could prevail. When torture is pseudo-legal and when those responsible merely deny that it is torture, what dies is what Hannah Arendt called "the juridical person in man"; soon enough, victims no longer bother to search for justice, so sure are they of the futility (and danger) of that quest. This impunity is a mass version of what happens inside the torture chamber, when prisoners are told they can scream all they want because no one can hear them and no one is going to save them.

In Latin America the revelations of US torture in Iraq have not been met with shock and disbelief but with powerful déjà vu and reawakened fears. Hector Mondragon, a Colombian activist who was tortured in the 1970s by an officer trained at the School of the Americas, wrote: "It was hard to see the photos of the torture in Iraq because I too was tortured. I saw myself naked with my feet fastened together and my hands tied behind my back. I saw my own head covered with a cloth bag. I remembered my feelings--the humiliation, pain." Dianna Ortiz, an American nun who was brutally tortured in a Guatemalan jail, said, "I could not even stand to look at those many of the things in the photographs had also been done to me. I was tortured with a frightening dog and also rats. And they were always filming."

Ortiz has testified that the men who raped her and burned her with cigarettes more than 100 times deferred to a man who spoke Spanish with an American accent whom they called "Boss." It is one of many stories told by prisoners in Latin America of mysterious English-speaking men walking in and out of their torture cells, proposing questions, offering tips. Several of these cases are documented in Jennifer Harbury's powerful new book, Truth, Torture, and the American Way.

Some of the countries that were mauled by US-sponsored torture regimes have tried to repair their social fabric through truth commissions and war crimes trials. In most cases, justice has been elusive, but past abuses have been entered into the official record and entire societies have asked themselves questions not only about individual responsibility but collective complicity. The United States, though an active participant in these "dirty wars," has gone through no parallel process of national soul-searching.

The result is that the memory of US complicity in far-away crimes remains fragile, living on in old newspaper articles, out-of-print books and tenacious grassroots initiatives like the annual protests outside the School of the Americas (which has been renamed but remains largely unchanged). The terrible irony of the anti-historicism of the current torture debate is that in the name of eradicating future abuses, these past crimes are being erased from the record. Every time Americans repeat the fairy tale about their pre-Cheney innocence, these already hazy memories fade even further. The hard evidence still exists, of course, carefully archived in the tens of thousands of declassified documents available from the National Security Archive. But inside US collective memory, the disappeared are being disappeared all over again.

This casual amnesia does a profound disservice not only to the victims of these crimes but also to the cause of trying to remove torture from the US policy arsenal once and for all. Already there are signs that the Administration will deal with the current torture uproar by returning to the cold war model of plausible deniability. The McCain amendment protects every "individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government"; it says nothing about torture training or buying information from the exploding industry of for-profit interrogators. And in Iraq the dirty work is already being handed over to Iraqi death squads, trained by US commanders like Jim Steele, who prepared for the job by setting up similarly lawless units in El Salvador. The US role in training and supervising Iraq's Interior Ministry was forgotten, moreover, when 173 prisoners were recently discovered in a Ministry dungeon, some tortured so badly that their skin was falling off. "Look, it's a sovereign country. The Iraqi government exists," Rumsfeld said. He sounded just like the CIA's William Colby, who when asked in a 1971 Congressional probe about the thousands killed under Phoenix--a program he helped launch--replied that it was now "entirely a South Vietnamese program."

And that's the problem with pretending that the Bush Administration invented torture. "If you don't understand the history and the depths of the institutional and public complicity," says McCoy, "then you can't begin to undertake meaningful reforms." Lawmakers will respond to pressure by eliminating one small piece of the torture apparatus--closing a prison, shutting down a program, even demanding the resignation of a really bad apple like Rumsfeld. But, McCoy says, "they will preserve the prerogative to torture."

The Center for American Progress has just launched an advertising campaign called "Torture is not US." The hard truth is that for at least five decades it has been. But it doesn't have to be.

(Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, and, most recently, Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate.)

3. The Torture Administration -- by Anthony Lewis

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933 and proceeded to carry out their savagery, many in the outside world asked how this could have happened in the land of Goethe and Beethoven. Would the people of other societies as readily accept tyranny? Sinclair Lewis, in 1935, imagined Americans turning to dictatorship under the pressures of economic distress in the Depression. He called his novel, ironically, It Can't Happen Here.

Hannah Arendt and many others have stripped us, since then, of confidence that people will resist evil in times of fear. When Serbs and Rwandan Hutus were told that they were threatened, they slaughtered their neighbors. Lately Philip Roth was plausible enough when he imagined anti-Semitism surging after an isolationist America elected Charles Lindbergh as President in 1940.

But it still comes as a shock to discover that American leaders will open the way for the torture of prisoners, that lawyers will invent justifications for it, that the President of the United States will strenuously resist legislation prohibiting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners-and that much of the American public will be indifferent to what is being done in its name.

The pictures from Abu Ghraib, first shown to the public on April 28, 2004, evoked a powerful reaction. Americans were outraged when they saw grinning US soldiers tormenting Iraqi prisoners. But it was seeing the mistreatment that produced the outrage, or so we must now conclude. Since then the Bush Administration and its lawyers have prevented the release of any more photographs or videotapes. And the public has not reacted similarly to the disclosure, without pictures, of worse actions, including murder.

The American Civil Liberties Union released documents on forty-four deaths of prisoners in US custody, twenty-one of them officially classified as homicides. For example, an Iraqi prisoner died while being interrogated in 2004. He had been deprived of sleep, exposed to extreme temperatures, doused with cold water and kept hooded. The official report said hypothermia may have contributed to his death.

Writing recently in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer described the killing of an Iraqi prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, in Abu Ghraib in 2003. His head was covered with a plastic bag, and he was shackled in a position that led to his asphyxiation. The death was classified as a homicide. But so far no charges have been brought by the Justice Department against the man who had custody of the prisoner, a CIA officer named Mark Swanner.

In addition to murder and torture, humiliation and indignity have been widely used as aids to interrogation. Time quoted at length earlier this year from the official log of how one prisoner in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was interrogated. Over a period of weeks he was questioned for as long as twenty hours at a stretch, forbidden to urinate until finally he "went" on himself, made to bark like a dog. His treatment was an exercise in humiliation. Other reports have described prisoners chained hand and foot to the floor for twenty-four hours, until they urinated and defecated on themselves.

Several provisions of law forbid not only torture but humiliation of prisoners. The Geneva Conventions prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating or degrading treatment" of war captives. The UN Convention Against Torture condemns "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment"-and Congress enforced the provisions of the convention in a criminal statute. The Uniform Code of Military Justice makes cruelty, oppression or "maltreatment" of prisoners by US forces a crime.

Then how can it be that hundreds of Americans, at a modest estimate, have been involved in the tormenting of prisoners, using the "waterboard" technique to bring them to the brink of drowning, beating them or worse? The answer is that the cue for these outrages came from the top of the American government.

Soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Justice Department-then under Attorney General John Ashcroft-began producing memorandums that opened the way to torture and mistreatment of prisoners. The memos gave an extremely narrow definition of torture: producing pain equivalent to that from "serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." They argued that the President, in his constitutional role as Commander in Chief, had the power to order the use of torture no matter what treaties or US statutes said. And they said the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the prisoners at Guantánamo.

It is important to note that these legal opinions came almost entirely from political appointees, not longtime Justice Department lawyers. Similarly, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his aides overrode objections from most military lawyers and other officers. Secretary of State Colin Powell, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a notable opponent of the memos.

The very purpose of these radical legal opinions was to override objections to torture from those in the services and the law who wanted to carry on the American tradition of humane treatment of prisoners. And there was a further, crucial purpose: to immunize those who actually carried out torture or inhumane treatment from criminal prosecution. If charged, they could maintain that their actions were authorized from above.

One more legal interpretation by the Bush lawyers, especially clever, should be mentioned: It concluded that the Convention Against Torture (and its enforcement by criminal statute) did not apply to actions taken against non-Americans outside the United States-for example, the torture of Jamadi in Abu Ghraib under CIA auspices. A soldier who tortured would still be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But under this legal theory no criminal law would apply to a CIA torturer. It was to preserve this impunity that Vice President Cheney fought to exempt the CIA from the ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment proposed by Senator John McCain and passed, 90 to 9, by the Senate.

When George W. Bush was asked about torture in early November, he said: "Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture." How could he say that after the hundreds of convincing reports of torture and maltreatment? One possible answer is that he has not allowed himself to know the truth. Another is that his lawyers have so gutted the law governing these matters that not much, in their view, is unlawful.

But there is another explanation for Bush's words: confidence that words can overcome reality. Just as a large part of the American people could be led to believe in nonexistent links between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 bombers, so it could be persuaded-in the teeth of the evidence-that "we do not torture." And there is reason for that confidence.

Congress has shown no great zeal for tracking down responsibility for the abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. It has reacted with the equivalent of a yawn to the disclosure of "extraordinary rendition," the shipment of prisoners to Egypt, Syria and other places where torture is common practice. The Senate, moved by the power of John McCain's example, voted for his ban on prisoner abuse. But then it approved a devastating prohibition on the use of habeas corpus by Guantánamo prisoners to test the lawfulness of their imprisonment.

The truth is that most members of Congress are scared to do anything that could be portrayed, in a campaign, as being soft on terrorists. They worry that if there is another terrorist strike in this country, any vote to hold true to the law of war or even to investigate what has happened could be held against them.

Playing cat's-paw to the Administration, Congress has turned aside all demands for an independent investigation of Abu Ghraib and the other horrors-and of the policies that led to them. When Dana Priest of the Washington Post uncovered the chain of secret CIA prisons around the world, the reaction of Republican leaders of the House and Senate was not to look into the agency's doings but to demand an investigation of the leak.

The press has provided flickering light on the torture scandal, with some notable stories but not the sustained, relentless attention of Watergate. In the daily papers the outstanding performer has been Priest, who uncovered the Justice Department memos that took such a permissive view of torture. Seymour Hersh told us about Abu Ghraib and much else in The New Yorker.

The public, as I have indicated, seemed to lose its sense of outrage once the visual evidence from Abu Ghraib faded. As in every war through American history, it looked primarily to the President to ease its anxiety. The fear aroused by September 11 did not easily dissipate.

Not one of the major actors in the torture story has been effectively called to account: not Rumsfeld, who loosened the rules on interrogation of prisoners; not Alberto Gonzales, now Attorney General, who as White House Counsel approved the torture memorandums; and not the Justice Department lawyers who wrote them.

Among those officials there is no sign of repentance. One of them has indeed become a kind of preacher of the legitimacy of using pressure on suspected terrorists. He is John Yoo, who was a lawyer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003 and is now a professor at the law school of the University of California, Berkeley, and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. In frequent television appearances and public forums he argues a theme of those torture memos: that President Bush as Commander in Chief is empowered by the Constitution to order what treatment he wishes for detainees in the "war on terror." His constitutional argument, that the Framers of the Constitution intended to clothe the President with the war powers of a king, conflicts with the near universal understanding of the constitutional text, with its careful balancing of executive, legislative and judicial power.

A New York lawyer who has contributed greatly to exposure of the torture phenomenon, Scott Horton, has suggested that Yoo's views echo those of a German legal thinker of the period between the world wars, Carl Schmitt. Schmitt argued that when it came to degraded enemies like the Soviet Union, the idea of complying with international law was a romantic delusion. The enemy, rather, must be seen as absolute-stripped of all legal rights.

Those who want to relax the laws against torture often make the "ticking bomb" argument: that if a prisoner may know the location of a bomb set to go off shortly, torturing him is justified to save lives. If captors believe that, they may well resort to forceful interrogation. But to write such an exception into the rules invites the systematic use of torture. I had a lesson in the danger of the ticking-bomb argument years ago in Israel. I was interviewing Jacobo Timerman, the Argentine publisher who was imprisoned and tortured by the military regime that for a time took over Argentina. (Intervention by the Carter Administration saved Timerman's life; on release from prison he immigrated to Israel.) Timerman turned the interview around and asked me questions about torture, positing the ticking-bomb situation. I tried to avoid the question, but he pressed me to answer. Finally, I said that I might authorize torture in such a situation. "No!" he shouted. "You must never start down that road."

Americans are not immune from evil; no people are. We know now that American soldiers, improperly led, can beat to death prisoners they have in their minds dehumanized. What can we do to limit the evil?

Investigation is one idea, widely endorsed. An independent body like the one that carried out the 9/11 investigation could tell us much that we do not know: not just an authoritative account of the wrongs done but a timeline of the official opinions and actions that opened the way for them. But I think a more effective solution would be the appointment of a special prosecutor. He or she would have the power not just to find the facts but to prosecute the wrongdoers. For we must not forget that not only treaties but criminal laws forbid the torture, mistreatment and humiliation of those we take in conflict.

It is unimaginable that President Bush would agree to a special prosecutor for war crimes if ever the public and Congress grew exercised enough to demand one. But you never know about history. The other day, on the sixtieth anniversary of the Nuremberg prosecution of Nazi officials, Scott Horton recalled that Nuremberg established the principle of command responsibility for abuse-and punished those who wrote legal memorandums counseling German officials to ignore the conventions protecting prisoners.

The chief American prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert H. Jackson of the Supreme Court, warned that "the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our lips as well."

Horton said the moment of historical reckoning for American officials may come. "A number of key Bush officials," he wrote, "are more likely to be the Pinochets of the next generation-blocked from international travel and forever fending off extradition warrants and prosecutors' questions."


At 1/07/2006 4:55 PM, Blogger Chip Morgan said...

I came across your blog by accident....then was intrigued! Chip


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