April 24, 2009

Our torture policy

And the more we learn about it, the worse it gets. Likewise, I might add, the more we see the right defending torture to a sickening degree. Some cling to the idea that what we did wasn't actually torture by downplaying stress positions and hypothermia and making jokes about getting slapped. But still others openly embrace our torture and say that the techniques honed in the KGB and Nazi regime are perfectly at home in our society--all because of the evil we fight. Techniques designed, of course, to elicit false confessions.


Now, as Obsidian Wings notes, we learn that the administration had very little knowledge of the history of the SERE program, and seemed to have no interest in learning. They simply wanted a program that would give them what they already believed. That is right, according to other reports, the torture was used to get proof of the connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda to justify the war. Hmm. Using a technique designed to produce false confessions? To get proof that didn't exist?

TPM interviewed a sleep expert who was very surprised to find his work on sleep deprivation quoted in some of these torture justifying memos. The guy was pretty saddened that his work on sleep deprivation became a justification for torture. And further, he noted, that sleep-deprived people have very reduced mental abilities.
"I don't understand what you're going to get out of it," he said. "You can no longer think rationally, you just become more of an automaton ... These people will just be spewing nonsense anyway."
Meanwhile Dick Cheney is on a full court press to prove that their tactics saved us from an attack. Republicans everywhere are scrambling to defend torture and call it "policy differences." See? Reasonable people can disagree. Some say it is torture and that is ok, and others disagree. Everything is ok.

Yet, when they were in power, they certainly did not appear to see those who said it was torture, or those who said it was wrong as "agreeing to disagree." According to former Bush State Dept lawyer, and Condi Rice advisor, Philip Zelikow, he wrote a memo criticizing the techniques and arguing that it was "unlikely that any federal court would agree (that the approval of harsh interrogation techniques) ... was a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution." He was told by colleagues that the White House ordered all copies of that memo destroyed.

As I have said, I am most disappointed in the large number of Americans and conservatives who really don't have a problem with torture. Oh, they may not want to call it torture, but they have no problem with those techniques. All of it is framed in the moral equivalency of applying these techniques to people who are evil. As if, as we keep saying, our moral standard is now set by the terrorists who hate us. It is utterly baffling, and especially disappointing when Tony reports that SBC ministers have defended torture as consistent with Christianity.

Lawrence O'Donnell was in rare form last night on Olbermann. He said that people like Sean Hannity believe that torture works because it would work on Hannity. He didn't have a very good explanation why these people are so morally challenged that they then endorse torture.

I have no idea what we should do now. I think a good start would be to impeach Jay Bybee, under the idea that we don't appoint war criminals to a lifetime bench seat. I don't know if prosecutions will actually work or ever happen. But I would like for those who defended torture to feel a modicum of shame.

We shall see.


Monk-in-Training said...

Political conservatives are one thing, but this adminstration was ostensibly one of the most overtly "Christian" in decades.

How could followers of Jesus not hear His words? Pray for those who persecute you, pray for your enemy, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, etc etc.

Did they have misgivings in their hearts? I just don't understand how any Christian could be part of that.

Tony said...

I talked to another Christian from another church today (we were prepping for a benefit for the local children's home) and one country boy was telling a racist joke. That led to talk about Obama, naturally. One said "The terrorists won when Obama went into office."

I quietly disagreed. However, when they saw that I was not going to relent or change my mind, they changed the subject. Sure, defend torture as a Christian virtue, but if you do then you better have the cojones to defend your view.

leighton said...

It depends on how you define "Christian." Just as some people say "America" and mean "the United States" (which annoys some of our Canadian clients), some people say "Christian" and mean "patriotic U.S. citizen," for some sufficiently jingoistic version of patriotism. It may not be reasonable to expect much in the way of contemplation from people who wouldn't blink at the suggestion that Jesus was crucified in 1776 and treat church gatherings more as a comfort zone than a community.

steves said...

I have watched a variety of people defend torture, aka "enhanced interviewing," over the past few weeks and usually end up turning off the TV. I am always willing to watch a good debate or an intelligent discussion, but that usually doesn't come from the torture fans.

I will admit that when they bring up specific examples where it has produced good results, I do find that somewhat persuasive. It is kind of like the death penalty. My opposition to that weakens when I hear about somewhat raping and murdering a child. One of the problem with both of these situations (and there are others) is that a fair number of people that are subjected to this didn't do anything, nor do these methods typically do anything to help society.

Prior to the Miranda case in the Supreme Court, many police agencies used brutal techniques to get confessions and information. Now that they no longer do that, police point out that the information they do get is often more reliable and likely to get real results. Besides being offensive, torture just plain doesn't work.

I would like to see some kind of hearings, but I doubt that many of our elected officials are truly interested in seeing justice.

leighton said...

Just to be clear, I'm not saying using "American" to mean "resident of the United States" is stupid or dangerous the way using "Christian" to mean "flag-worshipper" is; I was going after the imprecision in the language.

"United States" just doesn't have a good single-word adjective form. "USCs" (meaning US citizens in immigration-speak) doesn't work, because of the great many LPRs (lawful permanent residents) who live here and pay taxes (but don't vote). There's no quick fix that isn't irksome to some people who happen to share a hemisphere with us.

leighton said...

Regarding the death penalty, I know virtually nothing about criminal law, but my nonspecialist take is that it is too much about emotionally-driven vengeance and not enough about deterrence or fair punishment (with "fair" defined in utilitarian terms). I think if the death penalty was off the table for the late Ken Lay and is off the table for Bernie Madoff, it should be off the table for everyone.

steves said...

I don't know a great deal about the death penalty, either. My state does not have it. One of my law school profs was very active in trying to get rid of the death penalty (she is a federal magistrate). My impressionis that it is not evenly applied. There is research that shows the poor being far more likely to get it.

Bootleg Blogger said...

I moved to Texas and then to Georgia. During that time there were no terrorist attacks. Therefore, I am responsible for the absence of terrorist attacks. You can send me a check in lieu of thanks

Leighton's point about how you define christianity is well taken. Several years ago in the early days of the invasion of Iraq, I had conversations with australian, thai, malaysian, and filipino christians who were asking me to explain the support the american "christian" church had for the war. These christians, conservative by even american standards, felt that preemptive war was obviously wrong and couldn't believe how nationalism seemed to trump the "faith". I can't imagine what they must be thinking as they observe the torture revelations.

As the christian center continues its move south, I'm sure we'll hear "american" used as of a qualifier more than it is already e.g. "american church", "american christian world view", etc... within christian circles. FWIW- BB