Friday, February 08, 2008

A tortured explanation of torture

"We do not torture,"

-- President Bush, Nov. 7, 2005

"Waterboarding has been used on only three detainees. . . . We used it against these three high-value detainees because of the circumstances of the time."

-- CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, Feb. 5, 2008

And so begins today's lead editorial in the Washington Post. Shame, shame, on the Bush administration and its defenders of torture, says the Post. "Waterboarding is, and always has been, torture," continues the capitol's distiller of serious, sensible and, above all, moderate opinion on all matters of import to the nation at home and abroad.

Let's back up a bit.

"The halls of Congress are too often filled with cowardice and groupthink. So it is reassuring when not one but two lawmakers show the moral fortitude to defy party politics to take a stand on principle. Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Diane Feinstein showed such courage Friday when they announced their support for attorney-general nominee Michael B. Mukasey. Both are members of the Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to vote Tuesday on Mr. Mukasey's nomination. It is likely that their support salvaged Mr. Mukasey's nomination, imperiled because he would not state outright that the interrogation method known as waterboarding, or simulated drowning, is illegal. While we, like Mr. Schumer, Ms. Feinstein and others, would have wished for such an answer, supplying it would have put Mr. Mukasey in conflict with Justice Department memos that likely allow the technique -- memos that those who may have carried out or authorized waterboarding relied on for legal protection. Both Mr. Schumer and Ms. Feinstein cited Mr. Mukasey's intellect, his stellar qualifications and his reputation for being straightforward and independent as reasons to support his nomination," (emphasis added).

-- Washington Post
lead editorial, November 7, 2007.

"There was one overarching takeaway of Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey's testimony yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee: When it comes to waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques, the ends justify the means. Mr. Mukasey testified that, when evaluating the legality of an interrogation technique, the government had to weigh 'the heinousness of doing it, the cruelty of doing it balanced against the value . . . of what information you might get.' For example, he agreed that the use of waterboarding would 'shock the conscience' and be impermissible if it were used to pry information 'that wouldn't save lives.' But it could pass legal muster if used to prevent imminent harm. Mr. Mukasey's analysis is as flawed as it is disturbing. Waterboarding, which is not currently authorized under the CIA's special interrogation program, has long and unequivocally been considered torture, and therefore illegal, under international law and U.S. statutes. The United States prosecuted its own soldiers for using the technique as long ago as the Spanish-American War. As recently as 2005, Congress passed the McCain amendment to prevent just such treatment. And in 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that the Geneva Conventions apply to all detainees, including suspected al-Qaeda operatives, and not just members of an organized military force. The Bush administration's use of torture and continued use of extreme interrogation techniques have done untold damage to the moral standing of the United States. These practices have also unnecessarily increased the risk that U.S. soldiers and personnel could be subjected to such treatment at the hands of enemy forces. Having the attorney general state flatly that the technique is illegal could help the country begin to rehabilitate its image in the eyes of the world.

Instead, Mr. Mukasey mimicked his predecessor, former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales. Asked during his 2005 confirmation hearing about the legality of a litany of abusive interrogation techniques, Mr. Gonzales concluded that 'some might . . . be permissible in certain circumstances.' Both men could have come to their separate conclusions honestly. But neither man could have ignored the possibility that if they'd reached the opposite conclusion they would have found themselves in the awkward position of deciding whether members of the administration broke the law," (emphasis added).

-- Washington Post lead editorial, January 31st, 2008.

Two things should come as no surprise here. First, Michael Mukasey was nominated by President Bush because the president's inner-circle knew he would support the administration's position on torture, as well as everything else. Any idea to the contrary was just wishful thinking or, perhaps more accurately stated, pure naivete. Why in the world would an attorney general-designate take an opposite stance on such a controversial question? Think about it. Your administration comes under world-wide criticism for sanctioning torture. That criticism intensifies when you send inarticulate and not terribly smart flacks like Alberto Gonzales out to defend a position that can't be defended by insisting that U.S. interrogators aren't torturing suspects being held abroad when those closer to the truth than Gonazles had all but admitted that a phrase like "enhanced" interrogation techniques included waterboarding. And the civilized world, including the U.S., in law and in the Army Field Manual, recognizes waterboarding as torture. Mukasey's appointment was a savvy P.R. move by the administration. Gonzales was never taken seriously as a person of intellectual or policy heft. Mukasey came in much better credentialed. The Post supported him as the perfect candidate for the position, a man who would use his understanding of establishment politics to move the administration away from torture and encourage Congress to outlaw waterboarding. He didn't, and the Post is surprised.

Equally unsurprising was the Post's Casablanca-like reaction to Mukasey's defense of waterboarding and torture. I simply cannot understand how anyone, much less people close to the people that set politics and determine policy, could have taken the Bush administration at its face. The longer I live here the less capable I am of deciding whether so many people so close to the fulcrum of political power are just not bright enough to see what's really going on or are so stone cold brilliant that they have to work really hard to persuade themselves otherwise.

1 comment:

David Kaib said...

Do you think they couldn't stop laughing after writing this phrase:

"Charles Schumer and Diane Feinstein showed such courage..."

Seriously, where's the punchline?