Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Veep for Torture

I finally had a Tuesday where I wasn't busy and was able to watch the ABC-TV drama Commander in Chief. This is of course, the show where the first woman assumes the office of President. In this episode, President Allen is informed of a terrorist being caught at the Canadian border. He was part of an Al Queda-style group who planned to blow up an elementary school in Missouri. Being that this was an Al Queda style group, they knew there were going to be simultaneous attacks within 24 hours. One of the president's aides kept saying that the US needed to get tough with the captured terrorist, meaning torture him to extract where the other targets were. President Allen is against that option and instead works with the National Security head to find the base camp that might shed light on the proposed attacks as well as where the other cells are located. In the meantime, the President allows for a more forceful interrogation, but said she didn't want to hear about torture. Long story short, the military operation was successful and the terror attacks were averted. But in the meantime, the terror suspect was tortured.

President Allen was mad. The female aide showed no shame as she said she took that to mean, she didn't want to hear of torture, not that it was forbidden. When asked if the suspect was still alive, she remarked barely. The aide argues with the President saying that the Constitution should not protect the "bastards." President Allen counters saying it wasn't meant to protect them, but to protect Americans, saying the use of torture harms our credibility. In the end, Allen fires the aide.

In the real world, we sadly have an administration that believes in exceptions for torture. In a stinging editorial, the Washington Post sets its sights on Vice President Dick Cheney's role in trying to water down the anti-torture amendment, sponsored by Sen. John McCain. He wants to exempt the CIA from the amendment despite the fact that the intelligence agency has been faulted for several lapses in human rights. The Post notes:

The CIA is holding an unknown number of prisoners in secret detention centers abroad. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, it has refused to register those detainees with the International Red Cross or to allow visits by its inspectors. Its prisoners have "disappeared," like the victims of some dictatorships. The Justice Department and the White House are known to have approved harsh interrogation techniques for some of these people, including "waterboarding," or simulated drowning; mock execution; and the deliberate withholding of pain medication. CIA personnel have been implicated in the deaths during interrogation of at least four Afghan and Iraqi detainees. Official investigations have indicated that some aberrant practices by Army personnel in Iraq originated with the CIA. Yet no CIA personnel have been held accountable for this record, and there has never been a public report on the agency's performance.

The paper then note's the veep's past role in the treatment of enemies:

It's not surprising that Mr. Cheney would be at the forefront of an attempt to ratify and legalize this shameful record. The vice president has been a prime mover behind the Bush administration's decision to violate the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and to break with decades of past practice by the U.S. military. These decisions at the top have led to hundreds of documented cases of abuse, torture and homicide in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Cheney's counsel, David S. Addington, was reportedly one of the principal authors of a legal memo justifying the torture of suspects. This summer Mr. Cheney told several Republican senators that President Bush would veto the annual defense spending bill if it contained language prohibiting the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by any U.S. personnel.

The editorial goes on to say that the Senate ignored the Vice President's threats and overwhelmingly past the McCain Amendment. The Post had words of praise for the Senate and these words pertaining to Cheney's legacy:

As for Mr. Cheney: He will be remembered as the vice president who campaigned for torture.

I've heard some say that in light of what happened on 9/11, these guys had it coming. But then, taking that approach suggest we are interested in vengance, not justice.

But that is what the Bush Administration has done. They have made this personal, forgetting that there is something larger at stake: our reputation. Our use of torture weakens any argument we have against the terrorists and will only produce more recruits for Al Queda, not less.

Principles matter. If they can't matter in times of crisis, then one wonders if they ever do matter.

What is annoying is that no one has be punished for these abuses save some low-level officers. I guess to paraphrase the memorable quote from the movie Love Story: being part of the Bush Administration means never having to say you are sorry.


At 2:48 PM, Blogger shloky said...

As in that horrible show, using the tool of torture earned results in the form of actionable intelligence. Those coming out against torture as disregard the immediate and tangible benefits of using it.


Guy tries to set off IED. We catch him. CIA talks to him to try and get names and locations of the rest of his cell. Choices: 1) sit around and slowly break him over a week, plenty of time for his cell to move. 2) torture him until he spits out the information and then toss him aside and kill 5 more bad guys.

It is great in theory to be nice to our enemies, but when boots are on the ground you cannot put them in a rut. Finding and catching bad guys one by one with independent intelligence sources is not the appropriate way to fight terrorism.

Everyone who faces the major threat of terrorism does it. The entire civilized Middle East does it. Europeans would do it if in our position.

Abstract principles are one thing. Preventing terrorist attacks is a major part of upholdong our principles.


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