Saturday, January 02, 2010

Torture is still on the table

Andrew Sullivan is one of the few prominent commentators trying to roll back the easy approval of torture as a reasonable or even necessary tactic which of course the United States must use (bold indicates my emphasis):

The Bush administration treated the shoe-bomber exactly as the Obama administration has treated the pantie-bomber - and convicted him the way no one has yet convicted anyone directly connected to 9/11. But after years of banging the drum for torture as a routine tool for US government, and accountable only to one supreme leader, the right has now shifted the goalposts again. The ticking time bomb is now an ancient criterion. Torture, for Cheney, is about treating every seized terror suspect as an intelligence target, and the entire system he created - of lawless prisons, disappearances, black sites, freezing cells, stress position shackles, upright coffins, neck-braces to slam prisoners repeatedly against plywood walls, waterboards, sensory deprivation techniques, dietary manipulation, forced-feeding, threats against relatives and children - was designed for torture as its end.

Marc Thiessen, one of those most committed to institutionalizing torture as part of the Western tradition, wants to torture the Detroit pantie-bomber:

It likely would not be necessary to use the waterboard to get Abdulmutallab to talk — only 3 terrorists underwent it and only 30 had any enhanced techniques used at all. But the vast majority of Americans have it right: You don’t put an enemy combatant who just committed an act of war into the criminal-justice system — and you certainly don’t give him a lawyer and tell him “you have the right to remain silent.” You make him tell you what he knows so you can prevent new attacks.

There is a lie in this, of course. Far, far more than thirty people were subjected to the torture techniques Cheney borrowed from the Gestapo, the Communist Chinese and the Khmer Rouge. Hundreds were treated this way at Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Camp Nama (under the authority of Stanley McChrystal), Bagram and in many secret sites taken over from the KGB (yes, I'm not making this up!) in Eastern Europe.

But here's the critical line:

You make him tell you what he knows so you can prevent new attacks.

That's the line that defines torture. If you can impose enough mental or physical pain or suffering to make someone tell you something you want to hear you have forced them to say something, true or false, to get the torture to stop. The fact of the matter is: this is illegal under any rational understanding of domestic and international law. In fact, domestic and international law mandates that governments do not even contemplate such measures, especially in extreme circumstances.

So National Review is urging law-breaking at the very highest levels of government. They are urging an extra-legal, extra-constitutional apparatus to seize and torture terror suspects outside of ticking time bomb scenarios as a matter of first resort. And yes, if they are advocating it against the pantie-bomber now, days after his capture, it is a first resort.

This is how far Cheney and the pro-torture camp have moved the debate, and why Obama's calm attempt to overlook it is dangerous in the message it sends. What the Cheneyites themselves once refused to do, with Reid, they are now demanding Obama do to the pantie-bomber.

More here.

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