Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin, North End, Boston



Friday, May 22, 2009


The most estimable (O)CT(O)PUS of The Swash Zone asks this question in what I believe is a very well thought out comment on the torture issue in the post below. It is so good that I asked my 8-armed friend if I could use it as a post so that all who wished to could read it and enter into a discussion about torture.

We have heard the arguments back and forth: The Cheney claim that torture can extract useful information; the rebuttal that says torture yields false and misleading information; those who say torture degrades our national character; those who say the law is unclear on the use of waterboarding; those who want Congress to explicitly outlaw waterboarding; those who consider the issue too divisive to serve the cause of justice or the public interest; and those who call for prosecutions to prevent future abuses.

These are the facts: In its zeal to extract intelligence, the government relied on lawyers to find loopholes in the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. They scoured legal texts for opinions that would give the administration exactly what it wanted. Any scholar will tell you that any work of literature can support any interpretation or conclusion, and it doesn’t matter whether one quotes the Constitution, the Bible, the Qur'an, or Shakespeare. An honest accountant says: “Two and two equals four.” The toady says: “What do you want two and two to equal?” Thus, any argument, no matter how thin, can be made plausible.

When we engage in this kind of debate, we lose sight of a simple truth and what is really at stake. The arguments, the artless legalisms, the words remove us from the reality of naked bodies and broken bones, of windowless cells in extraordinary rendition sites, of years of confinement without the right to prove one’s guilt or innocence. When preoccupied with the argument, we forget the immediacy of a sixteen-year old kid, more victim than terrorist, lost in the gulag of self-indulgent words.

This was the reality of Maher Arar, for instance, a Canadian citizen who was detained at JFK Airport, held in solitary confinement, denied access to legal counsel, and deported to Syria where he endured tortured for a year. Although innocent, our government violated his constitutional, civil, and international human rights yet, to this day, failed to acknowledge this miscarriage of justice with a simple apology.

Should we pass more laws? What good are more laws when those who break them get a free pass?

Shall we say some human beings and some human rights are more equal than others … and dismiss the immorality of our actions in the name of national self-interest?

Why not discuss the merits of lynching, castration, and rape with the same moderation and civility? Of course, there are Republicans out to protect their brand, their image, their cronies, and themselves … as there are accused murderers and rapists who always deny their crimes. Is moral relativism a necessary consequence of political expediency?

These are NOT WEDGE ISSUES! This debate will define our national character ... whether we are truly a moral and civilized people, or whether we are hypocritical savages making convenient arguments to justify what 60 years of International Law have clearly defined as criminal behavior:

The Nuremberg Trials, 1945-46
The Genocide Convention, 1948
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
Nuremberg Principles, 1950
Convention on the Abolition of the Statute of Limitations on War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, 1968
The Geneva Convention, 1949
Geneva Convention Supplementary Protocols, 1977
The International Law Commission, 1950

The fragile veneer of civilization is tenuous at best, and all we have are legal precedents that bind us to core principles. Once we ignore this body of law, we turn into savages once more--having learned nothing from history.
On his radio show this morning, “conservative libertarian” talker Eric “Mancow” Muller set out to prove that waterboarding isn’t torture by having himself waterboarded. But instead, after enduring “6 or 7 seconds” of the interrogation technique, Mancow admitted that it was “absolutely torture”:
Turns out the stunt wasn’t so funny. Witnesses said Muller thrashed on the table, and even instantly threw the toy cow he was holding as his emergency tool to signify when he wanted the experiment to stop. He only lasted 6 or 7 seconds.
“It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that’s no joke,”Mancow said, likening it to a time when he nearly drowned as a child. “It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back…It was instantaneous…and I don’t want to say this: absolutely torture.”
“I wanted to prove it wasn’t torture,” Mancow said. “They cut off our heads, we put water on their face…I got voted to do this but I really thought ‘I’m going to laugh this off.’”


Arthurstone said...

Bad enough the invasion of Iraq is one of the low points of US foreign policy. And bad enough torture has been used in 'intelligence gathering' during the post invasion era.

Now it turns out prisoners were tortured prior to 2003 in hopes of forging a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq as the previous administration scrambled for a rationale for an invasion which it was prepared to launch despite the absence of any meaningful threat from Saddam Hussein's regime.

This is a shameful episode in our nation's history and those responsible should be held accountable for their actions.

AdamS said...

100% agree. So true.

Many neocons are deluding themselves about who is being tortured (apparently they're all hardcore mass murderers despite the shortage of evidence), and whether waterboarding is torture, as your example details.

Honestly, anyone who adheres to libertarian principles (rather than just adding the name tag) wouldn't try to play down torture or suspension of legal processes.

Now though, many of the people who supported the police state to "fight Al-Qaeda" under Bush, are now finding themselves implicated as terrorists in those DHS documents. One is reminded of that old (Christian) principle, "treat others as you would have them treat you". You reap what you sow I guess.

I hope we can stop the police state bandwagon before it's more than "just Muslims" getting detained and tortured w/o trial.

TAO said...

"Is moral relativism a necessary consequence of political expediency?"

Yes it is.

Morality falls by the wayside in so many aspects of our lives because it becomes an impediment in our efforts to get from "Point A" to "Point B" in so many different avenues of our lives.

Just take a step back and look at the issue of torture; we are discussing waterboarding which I find it hard to believe that anyone who has been swimming and stayed underwater too long would not acknowledge is cruel covers up the fact that we are labelling everyone at GITMO as 'terrorists' or we have found them guilty of a crime without means of a trial.

We have held 1,000's of people against their will without anything other than the fact that they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as a justification.

After 9/11 we had the whole world on our side, including Iran, and we could have used that moment in a variety of ways to achieve our goals but we opted for the lowest road.

Morality appears to only be a convenience not an obligation nowadays.


A civil discussion is impossible because of the emotions involved. And many good and bad emotions come into play. Revenge. Hatred. Bigotry. As well as patriotism. I wish those that support torture, or as they sanitize it, "enhanced interrogation" would realize that torture is not an excersize in patriotism. It is barbarism beneath us as Americans and human beings. I totally understand wanting to punish those that do us harm. People die in combat. When captured, torture is nothing but premeditated cruelty.

Shaw Kenawe said...

U.S. Officials Admitted that Boys Were Sodomized In Iraq Prison

Many people have heard Pulitzer prize winning reporter Seymour Hersh's claim that boys were sodomized at Abu Ghraib and that the Pentagon has video of the rapes.

Many people think that they'll believe it when and if they ever see the video. But we don't need to wait for the military to release the videos. There is already proof that Hersh is right.

The Guardian wrote in 2004:

The October 12 memorandum, reported in the Washington Post...came to light as more details emerged of the extent of detainee abuse. Formal statements by inmates published yesterday describe horrific treatment at the hands of guards, including the rape of a teenage Iraqi boy by an army translator...

According to the leaked memorandum ... it also called for military intelligence officials to work more closely with the military police guards at the prison to "manipulate an internee's emotions and weaknesses"...

In the Washington Post report, one detainee, Kasim Hilas, describes the rape of an Iraqi boy by a man in uniform, whose name has been blacked out of the statement, but who appears to be a translator working for the army.

"I saw fucking a kid, his age would be about 15-18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard the screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn't covered and I saw , who was wearing the military uniform putting his dick in the little kid's ass," Mr Hilas told military investigators. "I couldn't see the face of the kid because his face wasn't in front of the door. And the female soldier was taking pictures."

The Telegraph wrote in 2004:

America was braced last night for new allegations of torture in Iraq after military officials said that photographs apparently showing US soldiers beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death and having sex with a female PoW were about to be released.

The officials told the US television network NBC that other images showed soldiers "acting inappropriately with a dead body". A videotape, apparently made by US personnel, is said to show Iraqi guards raping young boys.

There you have it: the Telegraph implied in 2004 that U.S. officials admitted that there was a video of guards raping boys. Even if the Telegraph's implication is wrong, there is strong evidence that such rapes did in fact occur as Hersh said.

And whether or not any of the rapists were U.S. soldiers or contractors, at the very least, American soldiers aided and abetted the rape by standing around and taking videos and photographs."

I wonder if Mr. Cheney believes this horrendous chapter in our country's history makes us safer and more of a Beacon of Liberty.

What a tragic disgrace.


Christopher said...

When Obama mans up and signs off on supporting a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute the lawless depravity of Cheney Inc., the former vice president had better be afraid -- very afraid, because he may very likely find his fat ass in a Federal prison.

Nonso Umunna said...

The debate on torture and Guantánamo Bay poses an important question for the United States and that is, that it is one thing to have a constitution or laws, and entirely another matter when it comes to carrying them out in trying times when abandoning those laws and principles would seem most expedient. For totalitarian governments the choice is easy, but for democratic ones it is a moment of truth.

There was a reason German soldiers preferred to be captured by American forces during World War II, and this was because they knew how they would be treated in United States custody as opposed to being captured by the Russians. If we were to agree with Dick Cheney’s argument, that choice easily made by the Germans years ago would be a difficult one to make today.

The true character of a nation or person is not best measured on a pleasant day, but rather it is made manifest on days when all precepts are tested to the core.

Nonso Umunna

libhom said...

Obama should stop making excuses and release the photos ASAP. The Muslim world already knows what happened. It's Americans who need to be forced out of their slumbers.

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