Friday, April 17, 2009

Torture Memo Release = Big Mistake

One of my biggest concerns about Obama was always that I felt he was weak on national security and I felt he would make the nation less safe. I never thought he would actually deliberately put the nation at risk, I don't mean it in that way, but that I believe he is naive in the ways of our enemies and holds too much to the "if they love us they won't hurt us" philosophy.

The release of the torture memos just confirms this in my mind.

The techniques of waterboarding and sleep deprivation have already been widely reported, Obama, early on, prohibited their use, and there is no real serious legal reason to release these, so why do it?

In any important decision, you have to weigh the benefits against the consequences and make a determination which is the best thing for you to do. So what are the benefits in releasing these memos? That the world will love us? To the contrary - the world will look at these and only feel affirmation in their disgust of Americans, an affirmation which is confirmed by Obama's constant apologies for America.

The consequences involved in releasing the memos is not so much that they reveal that we waterboarded prisoners (three, actually), but that it slams the door for any future president to possibly reinstate any of the interrogation methods. Obama has, as Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasey said in the WSJ this morning, effectively tied his own hands and not just his own but those of everyone else.

Professor William Jacobson made a good point in his post on the subject when he said that, "What is important to note at the outset, however, is to distinguish between the law and morality. Not everything which is immoral is illegal" [emphasis mine]. Jacobson analyzes the legalities involved of the torture statute and you should take a look at that.

So putting a guy in a confined area with a caterpillar and telling him it will sting him is now illegal torture? It might be cruel, but it's not torture, but that's another issue.

Should we capture Bin Laden and bring him to an interrogation room, we are now restricted to only the Army Field Manual as an interrogation guide. Child's play for someone like Bin Laden. I'm pretty sure he's not afraid of caterpillars either.

As Mukasey and Hayden point out, and any good law enforcement officer would tell you, there is a difference between interrogation and intelligence. With interrogation you already know the answers. Intelligence would be information you don't have yet but can confirm. Big difference.

Hayden discloses that "as late as 2006, even with the growing success of other intelligence tools, fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from those interrogations."

What American could disagree with the fact that knowing about al Qaeda and how they operate absolutely makes us a safer nation?

These are not common, battleground informants that we're concerned with when it comes to intelligence gathering. We're talking about terrorists that cut off people's heads (remember Daniel Pearl and Nicholas Berg?) They will not care if America no longer deprives them of sleep or puts them in cages with caterpillars. We must retain the ability to gather information from hardened terrorists when it comes down to saving American lives, otherwise we're simply dealing with these prisoners in a penal, law enforcement capacity rather than an intelligence gathering capacity and this is a huge mistake.

America now finds itself in the position of being unable to effectively interrogate prisoners for the purpose of gathering intelligence because we have now given away our secrets, our methods, and have enabled our enemies to train for and plan against them should any future president decide they are needed.


Anonymous said...

I would fervently hope that no future president would stoop to employ such methods.

Please note: "...the United States condemns coercive interrogation techniques and other practices employed by other countries. Certain of the techniques the United States has condemned appear to bear some resemblance to CIA interrogation techniques.

The State Department’s inclusion of nudity, water dousing, sleep deprivation, and food deprivation among the conduct it condemns is significant and provides some indication of an executive foreign relations tradition condemning the use of these techniques..."

These words are from the "torture memos" from OLC Chief Steven Bradbury and plainly illustrate the hypocrisy of our actions. How do we stand as a leading moral force in this world when we commit the very atrocities that we condemn in others?

Anonymoose! said...

Another way to save a lot of typing on this blog entry would be to say "I think torture is perfectly fine!"

However, my guess would be that this blog would be the first to complain if Americans were tortured by foreign governments in the same fashion.

As the anonymous poster already laid out - you can't have a double standard in this area.

Pat Austin Becker said...

So sorry you missed the point. Maybe next time.

Anonymous said...

I am curious, really, what is the point?

You say that the next president won't be able to do these things, but if the US considers these actions torture when done by other countries then why would you even want the next president to be able to do these things?

What am I missing here?

s said...

Dear anon.,
Just because you assert that these activities are torture doesn't make them torture. You're begging the question.

yukio ngaby said...

Hey Anonymous:

Maybe before commenting you should use the link to the WSJ article and have a better idea this post is referencing.

From the WSJ: "Its effect [the release of the docs] will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001"

And later from same article: "public disclosure of the OLC opinions, and thus of the techniques themselves, assures that terrorists are now aware of the absolute limit of what the U.S. government could do to extract information from them, and can supplement their training accordingly and thus diminish the effectiveness of these techniques as they have the ones in the Army Field Manual."

I would suggest that people need to grow up and face some ugly truths about the world outside of America and Europe, but that's pointless.

If anybody with a name really wants a hint about how morally complicated life can be in the third world (if we use still use that terminology) I would suggest a book to START with (not the end-all or a perfect analogy by any means) is "Killing Pablo" by Mark Bowden. Then come back and tell everyone what the right and moral thing to do in that sort of situation would have been.

Anonymous said...


It is true that my assertions of torture does not make it so. That is why I used the words found in OLC Chief Steven Bradbury's own words in a memo he wrote to justify Bush administration interrogation policy in my original comment. He admits that we codemn "coercive interrogation techniques and other practices employed by other countries." and yet our own actions "resembl(e)" those acts.

So, yes, I am begging the question: "what makes other countries wrong and us right?"

yukio ngaby
I would suggest that people need to grow up and face some ugly truths about America, but that's pointless.

If the country wishes to engage in acts for which it condemns others for; by all means, join the descent into barbarity. All that I wish is a true acknowledgement of what we have become. We are either true to ourselves and our laws or we are the very thing that we condemn.

snaggletoothie said...

You say, "He admits that we condemn "coercive interrogation techniques and other practices employed by other countries." and yet our own actions "resemble' those acts."
I'm not sure that coercive techniques are the same as torture. And if our actions 'resemble' other actions that would mean that they are not the same.
You continue to beg the question (that is a logical fallacy where you assume something to be true without evidence or sufficient warrant).

Anonymous said...

Is waterboarding torture? former Attorney General Mukasey stated that if it happened to him he would consider it torture.

According to the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.

You, snaggletoothie, say that coercive techniques are not the same as torture. You let semantics distract you from the act. In this case the only difference between the acts we condemn and the acts that we practice that "resemble" them is the perpetrators. It is only right when we do it, eh?

yukio ngaby said...

Anonymous: "I would suggest that people need to grow up and face some ugly truths about America, but that's pointless."

Oh, I think you'd find I'm all grown up and well aware of some ugly truths about America. Have you ever heard of the Phoenix project back during the Vietnam war? Various brutal black ops in the Phillipines and South America? I've known about those too-- and there are more.

And I know some other ugly truths about America, though they're probably not what you're suggesting. I know that many arrogant Americans blithely assign our moral values as universal and believe that making nice with people who fervently wish to kill us and destroy our country keeps us safe.

Anon: "If the country wishes to engage in acts for which it condemns others for; by all means, join the descent into barbarity. All that I wish is a true acknowledgement of what we have become. We are either true to ourselves and our laws or we are the very thing that we condemn."

Barbarity is a useless term. It was defined by the Greeks based on the way they heard non-Greek speakers' languages "bar... bar... bar..." much like "blah... blah... blah..." Descent suggests the more civilized a person the higher order they belong to. You wouldn't be a fan of "Heart of Darkness" by any chance? I believe that the elitist concept you suggest is nonsense.

What you're really talking about is a question of morality. And political expedience is rarely governed by morality.

But brushing all this political reality aside, I would ask if "being true to ourselves and our laws" is your definition of moral? I'm betting the majority of Al Queda (spelling?) terrorists are being true to their own selves and their deeply held beliefs. I don't think they're hypocrites. Iran is true to their own laws as they publicly hang homosexuals and stone women to death for accusations of adultery. Are they as moral as we are? Why not?

By attempting to protect ourselves with ugly acts, do Americans in fact become "the very thing that we condemn?" Do we stone women? Would it suddenly be moral if Congress made it legal to do so? Of course not, but why wouldn't it be?

Your basis for your arguments are simple moral platitudes. You would hold the US govt. to a higher standard than others without any reason to do so. You only want to criticize with no moral base for your attacks. You would say it is moral to allow people to be murdered rather than exercise torture (I will use this word even though we're arguing about its meaning), but offer no justification for this stance.

I don't think the world is that simple. Isolated as we are in the US, cut off from the brutal realities of places like the Congo, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Columbia, Liberia, etc. we Americans believe that the world is a simple right/wrong puzzle. Maybe it is... I offer no answer to that, but you would have us believe that your unsupported opinions and belief in your "true self" offers irrefutably absolute answers to these tough questions. Nonsense.

Oh... and your "All that I wish is a true acknowledgement of what we have become," is a lie. You wish for more than that. It's obvious. Be honest.

Sorry for the length of this comment.

snaggletoothie said...

You could be right about me becoming distracted. I have a tendency to be very literal. I have very mixed feelings about water boarding. But I truly don't know if it is torture. And I also think that it is more complicated than we have been treating it. There is our everyday use of the word and then there is a much more rigorous legal definition of the word.
Most people in the world would love to exist in a situation where water boarding was the worst they had to fear. I think America can hold it head up proudly in this area. Many of the European and English speaking countries that are so quick to cast blame are not so guiltless. They are saved from some external threats because Americans make hard choices. And Americans undertake actions that render them safe and free of those choices. It is easy enough for them to claim they wouldn't engage in these acts while someone else is freeing them from the attacks and threats that very well might make them more than willing to water board or more.
And when asked to accept Gitmo detainees all of these high and mighty bastions of morality have something better to do.
There is nobody here who doesn't have some blood on their hands. It is just that some of you want to act like you don't. You would rather nit pick and play at definitions than look into your own soul.
You're probably secretly that someone guards the wall and you won't even say thanks.

snaggletoothie said...

I sorry that I used the words 'nitpicking and playing at definitions.' These really are important issues worthy of serious discussion.
I am frustrated that you do not appear to consider many points brought up by others concerning the larger context. You seem determined to just accuse others which is cheap, not serious and not admirable. This is not a foundation for the serious discussion these issues deserve.
Especially since you walk away feeling superior and untouched without ever having ever dealt completely and fully with the issues at hand.
The last sentence in my last comment should have read, "You're probably secretly GLAD that someone guards the wall and you won't even say thanks."

G.R said...

Anonymous said...
"I am curious, really, what is the point?" (in reference to not knowing why disclosing US secrets is harmful to the safety of this country's security.)

The point is this, and it's simple, certain US Intelligence gathering techniques have been compromised and now basically useless. Once you've burned a source, it's gone.

"So, yes, I am begging the question: "what makes other countries wrong and us right?"

Anon, you probably need to pull your head of the sand and wake up.

We live in a dangerous world. There are countries in this world who hate us and want to kill us. That should be enough said, but know it's not enough, so I'll go on.

I've seen thing that no human being shoud ever have to see. There is evil in this world, I know I've seen it, and it wasn't at the hands of Americans or its allies.

There is really other way to say this but to say it, the intelligence business is a dity business and people do get hurt or killed because of it. Those are facts, and for some old hardened buzzard like me, it even sickens me, but "C'est La Vie, but better him than you and me!"

Also, stop condemning every thing the US does and look at groups like FARC, a Maxist revolutionaary insurgency group in Columbia, who are some real evil S.O.B.'s If you think putting a caterpillar in a box containing a "bug fearing" terrorist suspect is bad; you need to think about what is real evil. Ask Elvia Cortez. Oh! you can't, because she's because FARC locked a "collar bomb" around her neck in, I think, May 2000. FARC wanted Cortez and her family to pay a ransom.

When the ransom wasn't paid, the bomb was detonated, and there was collateral damage in that incident. Three or four soldiers trying to deactivate the bomb were severly injured. One lost an arm. Eva was decapitated.

I wish I was making this story up, but it, along with thousands of other stories of horror that wasn't caused by Evil Americans, really happened.

But what can I say, we're the bad guys, because we deprived someone of their sleep for 96 hours, or poured water over a cloth covered face.

If you can't tell the difference between and coercive interrogation techniques and torture, then there's nothing anyone can tell you to help you.

The Camera Fanatic said...

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For too long, Conservatives have let themselves be defined by the media. Mr. Levin's book recasts what it is to be a proud Conservative, and gives voice to those who are often silent in the face of ideological slander. If you believe in this great country, if you believe in truth and honesty, if you believe in life and principles, if you believe in freedom and patriotism, if you believe that all people are created equal and it is up to the individual to succeed according to their talents and interests, and if you believe in a smaller efficient government, and lower taxes, then this book is for you.

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Anonymous said...

Hello everyone. I am sorry that I took so long to respond, but life outside of the blogosphere presents its own demands.

I will attempt to address several commenters and the opinions that they expressed, so please forgive if this gets too long and unwieldy. Here we go...

Several of you find fault with my declaration of torture in describing these acts in spite of the fact that I used the words of Bush administration officials to give credence to my claims. After all, who would know torture better than the perpetrators of the acts? Nevertheless in an attempt to bolster my use of that specific word, "torture" I will offer these facts:

The United States Supreme Court in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, said that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights "does not of its own force impose obligations as a matter of international law."However, the United States has a historical record of regarding waterboarding as a war crime, and has prosecuted as war criminals individuals for the use of the practice in the past. In 1947, the United States prosecuted a Japanese military officer, Yukio Asano, for carrying out various acts of torture including kicking, clubbing, burning with cigarettes and using a form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian during World War II. Yukio Asano received a sentence of 15 years of hard labor.The charges of Violation of the Laws and Customs of War against Asano also included "beating using hands, fists, club; kicking; burning using cigarettes; strapping on a stretcher head downward."In addition, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in February 2008 that local considerations do not negate the absolute torture prohibition under international law...

...In its 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the U.S. Department of State formally recognized "submersion of the head in water" as torture in its examination of Tunisia's poor human rights record, and critics of waterboarding draw parallels between the two techniques, citing the similar usage of water on the subject.

On September 6, 2006, the U.S. Department of Defense released a revised Army Field Manual entitled Human Intelligence Collector Operations that prohibits the use of waterboarding by U.S. military personnel. The department adopted the manual amid widespread criticism of U.S. handling of prisoners in the War on Terrorism, and prohibits other practices in addition to waterboarding. The revised manual applies only to U.S. military personnel, and as such does not apply to the practices of the CIA. Nevertheless Steven G. Bradbury, acting head of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel, on February 14, 2008 testified:

There has been no determination by the Justice Department that the use of waterboarding, under any circumstances, would be lawful under current law.

In addition, both under the War Crimes Act and international law, violators of the laws of war are criminally liable under the command responsibility, and they could still be prosecuted for war crimes. Commenting on the so-called "torture memoranda" Scott Horton pointed out

the possibility that the authors of these memoranda counseled the use of lethal and unlawful techniques, and therefore face criminal culpability themselves. That, after all, is the teaching of United States v. Altstötter, the Nuremberg case brought against German Justice Department lawyers whose memoranda crafted the basis for implementation of the infamous "Night and Fog Decree." - source:[
Another point that I would like to make is that this nation's love affair with the "ticking time bomb" scenario, ala the tv show "24", notwithstanding, these "torture memos" were used to justify a program of "enhanced interrogation techniques". This was no act of expedient desperation but a long drawn out act against multiple individuals using the cumulative affects of multiple acts that "appear to bear some resemblance" to "coercive interrogation techniques" that our own government condemns other countries for...According to the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.

On page 37 of the OLC memo, in a passage discussing the differences between SERE techniques and the torture used with detainees, the memo explains:

The CIA used the waterboard "at least 83 times during August 2002" in the interrogation of Zubaydah. IG Report at 90, and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of KSM, see id. at 91.

Note, the information comes from the CIA IG report which, in the case of Abu Zubaydah, is based on having viewed the torture tapes as well as other materials. source-
There are those of you who think me naive or somehow elitist to expect this nation to "play by the rules", as it were, while being faced with a menace that is unencumbered by such restraints as a respect for law and a regard for the dignity of man. I certainly appreciate your concern for the clarity of my vision or the lack thereof. However, I would counter by asking you "what is the point of rules and laws if we discard them as soon as someone breaks them?" If someone robs your home should you be able to go on a rampage through your town seeking some redress? If the laws of this country have ever done you a disservice should you be allowed to opt out of your lawful requirements? I assure you that I am no doe-eyed youth with dreams of a world singing "kumbaya" in universal harmony. I know that the world is a cruel and unforgiving place made even more so by the depredations that man is so willing to visit upon his brethren. Yes, desperate times call for desperate measures, and all that. But tell me: How do you defeat the enemy when you become him?

My last point (the crowd cheers...). I don't "blame America first. I expect more of America. The fact that the Saudis are murderous hypocrites or that the Iraqis - in the eyes of some - are ungrateful curs for a lack of appreciation of the sacrifices that we have made to rid them of the scourge of Saddam disappoints me. The fact that the Pakistanis are cowards for their hesitance in confronting their most radical elements in the hinterlands of their nation or that Iran has nuclear ambitions and a virulently anti-Semitic worldview concerns me. But I am appalled by the fact that my country, The United States of America, has openly gone far outside the bounds of the well-established laws and values that it claims to cherish so much. That other countries don't even attempt to live up to their claims don't overly concern me. That the nation that I cherish has decided to follow their example wounds me dearly.

I don't expect any of you to change your minds. Your beliefs are your own and honestly acquired. I respect that. I would like nothing more than to be done with this GWOT and see ourselves as safe, secure and oblivious as we were the day before the day that changed everything...the day that changed nothing at all.

Good night all...

Jordan said...

I'm glad Anon took the time to spell out his arguement, but he's still living in a utopian world in which we're somehow the only nation that is perfect.

I wrote on this when I came across an article on the American Prospect. Its very admirable that Anon and others want to keep our morals clean as a virgin gown, but its simply not possible when we are engaged in a war against fanatic covert agents of a transnational terrorist group.