Saturday, November 03, 2007

The American People Are Being Water-Boarded by Equivocation!

I can barely contain myself from publishing today's piece in its entirety from my favorite columnist in The Los Angeles Times. But Vigilante demands succinctness, so here's my best effort.

Tim Rutten starts off saying that he doubts that there's anything

more pernicious than the persistent confusion between fairness and moral indifference. . . . Edward R. Murrow delivered about the best possible judgment on this confusion's impact, when he decried a faux notion of journalistic fairness that is willing to concede "the word of Judas equal weight with that of Jesus."

It's the kind of he-said-she-said news coverage that would have reported the Sermon on the Mount this way:
On a mountainside in Galilee today, a popular young rabbi argued that 'the meek shall inherit the earth.' Other religious authorities, however, pointed out that if God did not want the rich to fleece the poor, he would not have allowed them to behave like sheep.
This week, Americans were treated to their latest rehearsal of this phony fairness in the coverage of U.S. Atty. Gen.-designate Michael B. Mukasey's attempts to win Senate confirmation. President George W. Bush hopes to replace the haplessly sycophantic Alberto Gonzales with the former federal judge from New York, but the nomination is in trouble because Mukasey refuses to tell members of the Senate's Judiciary Committee whether he believes waterboarding is torture and, therefore, illegal.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are insistent that any discussion of the issue is precluded by the exigencies of national security and the war on terror. Cut to the core of their real argument, however, and it boils down to the naked assertion that whatever the president says is legal is legal -- including torture, which isn't torture, if the president says it isn't.

As the Washington Post, which has done more than any other news outlet to bring to light this administration's construction of a secret gulag where torture is routine, reported this week:
Waterboarding generally involves strapping a prisoner to a board, covering his face or mouth with a cloth, and pouring water over his face to create the sensation of drowning, human rights groups say. The practice dates at least to the Spanish Inquisition and has been prosecuted as torture in U.S. military courts since the Spanish-American War. The State Department has condemned its use in other countries.

Officials have said the Bush administration authorized the use of waterboarding on at least three prisoners kept in secret detention by the CIA after the Justice Department said it was legal, including alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
The Post might have added that after World War II, the United States prosecuted Japanese officers who had presided over waterboarding as war criminals.

So what we have here is a president and vice president who want to install as the country's chief law enforcement official a man who refuses to flatly say that the United States of America should not torture people. Putting aside the surreal question of how our elected officials ever equivocated themselves into a debate over whether to torture, the descent of most of the press into comfortable euphemism this week has been a stomach-turning experience.

The New York Times, for example, reported that Mukasey's confirmation is
in doubt over his refusal to state a clear legal position on a classified Central Intelligence Agency program to interrogate terrorism suspects . . .
Yet nothing about this impasse has anything real to do with classification or intelligence work; it has everything to do with whether we now wish to place our nation among those that ignore basic human rights and elemental moral decency as a matter of state policy. Meanwhile, this newspaper and others repeatedly described waterboarding as a "harsh technique" or as a "coercive measure." It is neither of those things. It is torture, and the refusal to make that point each and every time this repugnant practice comes up is a form of rhetorical squeamishness indistinguishable from moral cowardice.

Strangely enough, this week's clearest statement of what the fight in Washington is really all about didn't appear in any newspaper or broadcast news outlet, but on an Internet site Small Wars Journal popular with unconventional warfare and intelligence professionals. The author is Malcolm W. Nance, a veteran special operations consultant to various U.S. intelligence agencies and a master instructor in the U.S. Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program in San Diego. Nance also is an experienced Arabic-speaking interrogator. He wrote that one of the things he did when helping to develop the program that trains navy fliers and others on how to stand up to torture was to visit Cambodia:
Before arriving for my assignment at SERE, I traveled . . . to visit the torture camps of the Khmer Rouge. . . . I wanted to know how real torturers and terror camp guards would behave and learn how to resist them from survivors of such horrors. . . . It was in the S-21 death camp known as Tuol Sleng in downtown Phnom Penh, where I found a perfectly intact inclined water board. Next to it was the painting on how it was used. . . .

On a Mekong River trip, I met a 60-year-old man, happy to be alive and a cheerful travel companion, who survived the genocide and torture. He spoke openly about it and gave me a valuable lesson. . . . In torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia. He was actually just a schoolteacher whose crime was that he once spoke French. He remembered 'the Barrel' version of waterboarding quite well. Head first until the water filled the lungs, then you talk.
Nance has no time for euphemisms and no doubt that waterboarding is anything other than torture:
Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word. Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim's face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration -- usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right, it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threatened with its use again and again.
In other words, this is not, as George Bush wants to portray it: just about playing politics.

Rutten finishes up:


That's what really is at issue in the Mukasey confirmation hearing. When the media characterize it as a political struggle between the White House and congressional Democrats or as a complex debate over national security in a post Sept. 11 world -- two convenient dodges -- they aren't being realistic or fair. What the media really are doing is engaging in a sophisticated fan dance -- a convenient act of concealment.

What's really at stake is whether this country will continue to stand with the framers of our Constitution and our authentic moral traditions or whether we now will allow Bush and Cheney to put us shoulder to shoulder with Pol Pot.

How did I do, Vigil?

21 Moderated Comments:

Blogger M.D. said...

Retired JAGs: "Waterboarding is inhumane, it is torture, and it is illegal."

That was easy. Too bad this idea is so hard to grasp for so many politicians.

Excellent post.

11/03/2007 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Nice job, Emily, as usual.

But I feel I have to prepare you. Our friend and frequent commenting visitor, Wizard, emphatically believes all of this hubbub is only about 'politics as usual'. He's saying that objecting to Michael Mulkasey rises only to the level of objecting to Don Imus.

But I would agree with you. Toxic and hard-to-stomach as Imus is, waterboarding is unconscionable as state policy. Not to mention, unconstitutional, as M.D. ably documents above.

11/04/2007 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger Boris said...

How could stone-walling the worst, most unconstitutional, war-mongering president in U.S. history be considered 'politics as usual'? Those of you who are religious had better pray hard that such conditions as these not become usual.

11/04/2007 08:06:00 AM  
Blogger TomCat said...

Boris, those who are religious, and in the theocon camp, are the first to come to the defense of torture, and its prime adherent, Texas Torquemada.

11/05/2007 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger MadMike said...

This is all so very noble! Of course I have to wonder what I would do should I be faced with a prisoner who, I was certain, had information that could save the lives of millions of people. You know, one of those Jack Bauer type bad guys that just won't talk after being deprived of coffee and cigarettes. I think I would waterboard him, maybe castrate him, maybe a dry run of drawing and quartering. Yup! I have no time to stand on ceremony. I would torture the shit out of him until I got the information that would save those millions of people. I guess that makes me evil but it still won't make me a Republican.

11/05/2007 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Boris said...

Waterboarding, castrating? How about anally raping a suspect, Mike? Would you do that?

11/05/2007 07:13:00 PM  
Blogger Indicted Plagiarist said...

Al Gore is taking the media to task for its he-said, she-said coverage of global warming:

you don’t take — you don’t search out for someone who still believes the Earth is flat and give them equal time.

11/06/2007 06:43:00 AM  
Blogger MadMike said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/07/2007 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger MadMike said...

You are an idiot Boris! The fact that you would mention such a thing suggests you should be talking to Larry Craig and those of his ilk.

You can curl up with your principles and your naivete, but I prefer a touch of realism. Under special circumstances extreme measures are required to obtain intelligence. Ask yourself the big question Boris, using the following scenario:

"I, Boris, know that suspect Ahmet Sezgin is a terrorist who has information that could save the lives of the millions of people who live in Atlanta. He refuses to give up that information by conventional means. Under duress he may well give up the information needed to save those millions of people. My family lives in Atlanta. What to do..what to do....??"

Now try and look at the situation without your rose colored glasses Boris. Of course torture is despicable but so is the murder of millions of people. From time to time tough decisions have to be made. This would be one of those times.

In closing, Boris, I suggest you not insult me again.

11/07/2007 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger Boris said...

Insult you? I cannot do your image any worse than you have yourself. You have been watching too much "24". (That's where your scenario comes from.) Torture rots the system. Torture is illegal. We punished the Japs for the same shit that Arlen Specter and you think is "fuzzy". You cannot be insulted. You have put yourself beyond insulting.

11/07/2007 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger GetaLife-ReadUrNews said...

Actually, you don't have to go to "24". that rare situation described by former President Clinton in an interview with National Public Radio:

"You picked up someone you know is the No. 2 aide to Osama bin Laden. And you know they have an operation planned for the United States or some European capital in the next three days. And you know this guy knows it. Right, that's the clearest example. And you think you can only get it out of this guy by shooting him full of some drugs or waterboarding him or otherwise working him over."

Clinton thinks Congress should draw a narrow statute

"which would permit the president to make a finding in a case like I just outlined, and then that finding could be submitted even if after the fact to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."

The president would have to "take personal responsibility" for authorizing torture in such an extreme situation. Sen. John McCain has also said that as president he would take responsibility for authorizing torture in that "one in a million" situation.

11/07/2007 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger Messenger said...

Above, Boris poses an interesting question of Mad Michael who ducks it.

The question is, if Mike is all that convinced that 'Ahmet Sezgin' has information of the imminent slaughter of millions, what does Mad Mike resort to after water boarding fails to deliver actionable intelligence? Mike doesn't want to answer this, because his ass is already on the slippery slope into the mediaevality of Torquemada. The problem with torture is that there is no end in sight. If you torture and you don't get "The Truth", you can't stop because that would mean admitting you grabbed the wrong man. So you have to resort to more 'extreme measures' to vindicate your 'choice of suspect'.

And so, Mad Mike whimps out of Boris' question by feigning insult.

On the fuzzy-thinking exhibited by Arlen Spector, Bill Clinton and Mad Mike:

In late 2005, Congress passed the McCain Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibited the U.S. government from using “cruel, inhumane, or degrading” interrogation methods. The Times revealed that the Justice Department responded to the new law with another secret memo declaring that all the techniques listed above were not “cruel, inhumane or degrading.” The secret torture memos, written by Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, relied on “a Supreme Court finding that only conduct that ‘shocks the conscience’” would go too far.

Well, that's really a fine piece of reassuring criterion isn't it, when one reflects upon whose 'conscience' they are talking about?

I could maybe trust Mad Mike's 'conscience', but Mike's conscience doesn't have much writ in this administration, does it?

11/07/2007 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger MadMike said...

Boris I can assure you that my scenario did not come from "24" although I do enjoy that show.

Messenger I appreciate your thoughts. They are well written and you make valid points without resorting to insults as did boris and me. If torture does not obtain the needed information chances are good to excellent that the suspect does not have that information so draconian measures must no longer be used.

Finally, I am a realist and am quite flattered to be in the company of Bill Clinton and Arlen Spectre, also realists. The fact is tough decisions must be made [carefully] when it comes to extracting information and the methods used to do it. I know that people will confess to anything under torture. That is why the information must be verifiable both before and after interrogation. I am opposed to extreme methods as a matter of principle and practice but sometimes extreme measures are all that is left. It is about saving lives. Peace.....

11/08/2007 05:11:00 AM  
Blogger Boris said...

What an unbelievably frank and disclosing comment. Yeah, I believe you do enjoy "24".

And, if you are

"quite flattered to be in the company of Bill Clinton and Arlen Spectre",

there is nothing I can say to embarrass you.

And what an unbelievable statement of contradictions:

"I am opposed to extreme methods as a matter of principle and practice but sometimes extreme measures are all that is left."

There's a big gap between your 'principles' and your 'practices' but not much of a gap between your shoulders and those of Pol Pot.

I didn't say that. Tim Rutten said that (above). You take it up with him.

11/08/2007 07:38:00 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Vigilante, I apologize in advance for the length of this comment. It's just too difficult to excerpt Rosa Brooks' Torture: the New Abortion today:

Remember that golden, innocent time -- the 1980s and '90s -- when the phrase "political litmus test" was associated with the debate about abortion rights, and torture was associated with the Spanish Inquisition?

Those days are gone. And, as usual in life, there's good news and bad news.

The good news? Abortion isn't nearly as divisive an issue as it used to be. The bad news? For the GOP, torture is the new abortion.

Of course, the abortion debate was never just about abortion. It was also about the role of the judiciary, the role of individual freedom, the role of women and the role of religion..

. . . . Today, though, the GOP's interest in abortion appears greatly diminished.

. . . . These days, you can forget that old-style GOP rhetoric about "values," "human dignity" and the "culture of life." Because the GOP has a new litmus test for its nominees: Will you or will you not protect U.S. officials who order the torture of prisoners?

. . . . For further evidence that torture is the new abortion -- at least when it comes to the GOP -- look at the Republican presidential hopefuls. This time around, rigorously antiabortion evangelicals such as Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee gained little traction, while Rudy Giuliani -- who supports abortion rights -- has a solid lead. On Wednesday, Giuliani gained the coveted endorsement of Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition.

Giuliani's main selling point with GOP stalwarts is his toughness on terrorism, symbolized by his "gloves-off" approach to interrogations. In the campaign's first GOP presidential debate, Giuliani told a cheering crowd that if the U.S. captured a suspect believed to be planning a terrorist attack, "I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they can think of." Pressed on whether that would include waterboarding, Giuliani repeated, "Every method they could think of, and I would support them in doing that." More recently, Giuliani claimed that whether or not waterboarding is torture "depends on who does it."

. . . . Far more than the abortion debate ever did, the debate about torture goes to the very heart of what (if anything) this country stands for. Do we want to be the nation imagined by the signers of the Declaration of Independence, a nation with "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," committed to a vision of human dignity and unalienable rights, limited government and the rule of law?

Or would we rather bring back the methods of the Spanish Inquisition?

As litmus tests go, that's not such a bad one.

11/08/2007 08:05:00 AM  
Blogger MadMike said...

Boris I noticed that you failed to answer my original question. You know! The one about what would you do if your family lived in Atlanta and it was about to burn. Would you resort to extreme measures if you were satisfied the suspect had information that could not only save your family but millions of people? Just answer it Boris and save your whining naivety for a later time. As a matter of fact I would enjoy knowing what anyone would do given the dire circumstances.

11/08/2007 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger LTE said...

Mad Mike, I noticed that John McCain has observed:

There’s a clear division between those who have a military background and experience in these issues and people like Giuliani, Romney and Thompson who don’t — who chose to do other things when this nation was fighting its wars.

Unfortunately, McCain didn’t mention Ron Paul, whose candidacy is surging. Paul was a flight surgeon during the Vietnam War and opposes waterboarding.

Poseur Giuliani’s response on waterboarding:

I’m very reluctant to take away presidential prerogatives and decision making, maybe because I’ve faced crisis more than the other ones have.

Mad Mike, are you comfortable posing shoulder-to-shoulder with Chickenhawks like Benito Giuliani?

11/09/2007 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Come on guys & girls! Back off my pal, Mike! Re-deploy! All Mike is doing is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Keifer Sutherland & Jack Bauer. Chill!

11/09/2007 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Boris said...

If I were granted immunity in advance, Mike, there's nothing I wouldn't do to "Ahmet Sezgin". And, I wouldn't stop with Ahmet Sezgin. I'd keep grabbing people off the street in Atlanta, until I got the answer I wanted. You better send me your picture, so I'll know when to stop.

11/09/2007 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger MadMike said...

Ite:

Anyone who has spent anytime on my blog knows I am hardly comfortable consorting or agreeing with the enemy, which is almost all Republicans. Like many others I have spent time in the military and a little time in battle, the latter of which was not my choice, nor something I am anxious to do again. This does not change my position. I still maintain that under certain desperate circumstances, circumstances which meet tested criteria, interrogation beyond the normal is called for when the end justifies the means, such as the saving of lives that are not those of the enemy. I do not believe this decision should be made by field agents, but a protocol needs to be established. Curiously men have little compunction about killing or maiming that same enemy but when it comes to questioning him there is a reluctance to offer anything more forceful than a cup of cold coffee when the stakes are high. I never quite got that confused standard of morality.

Friend Vigil:

Bauer 2008!!! :-) :-)

11/09/2007 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger HILLBLOGGER said...

"Would you resort to extreme measures if you were satisfied the suspect had information that could not only save your family but millions of people? " - Madmike

I suppose Madmike wouldn't take it against those who would apply torture on American GIs to obtain info that the torturers believe would get them somewhere?

You embark on that sort of dogma and you will come out no better than Al Qaeda operatives.

Democracy? Forget it!

11/16/2007 07:58:00 AM  

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