Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Torture Is Wrong. Period.

Charles Krauthammer's ongoing justification of torture reeks of the rationalization and intellectual selling out that produced torture in the first. For this reason alone and if you can stomach it, his latest column is worth reading. A nation can justify a torture policy, Krauthammer writes, under two circumstances:
the ticking time bomb scenario and its less extreme variant in which a high-value terrorist refuses to divulge crucial information that could save innocent lives.
But Krauthammer offers no evidence that the Bush Administration considered either justification as it sought legal validation for torture. To the contrary, the Administration appears to have applied torture indiscriminately on the questionable legal basis that the president's wartime powers were such that they overrode all limitations imposed by the Constitution and international treaties.

Krauthammer then offers an example -- and they always have one -- of an instance where the "crucial information" exception applied:
On Oct. 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel's existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered, as we now say, this enhanced interrogation explained without apology: "If we'd been so careful to follow the ('87) Landau Commission (guidelines), we would never have found out where Waxman was being held."
First of all, it's news to me that the American conduct should be governed by standards ignored in a bitter central Asian racial and religious struggle. Second, who's to say that the Palestinians did not regard Cpl Waxman as a "high value terrorist" refusing to "divulge critical information that could save lives"? After all, the Bush Administration mistakenly considered Osama bin Laden's driver as a high value. Under Krauthammer's logic, the Palestinians were justified in torturing Cpl. Waxman, which they of course were not.

Of course, if he reads this, Krauthammer will marshal his considerable skill in ad hominem attacks, accuse me of drawing a moral equivalency where none exists, and add that by doing so I had forfeited the moral ground to argue about torture at all. This line of argument raises the specter of exceptionalism, under which a nation's (in this case, Israel and the United States) singular moral standing with God is so exalted that any and all of its actions enjoy moral sanction by definition. In practice, exceptionalism serves as an excuse for a powerful nation to do whatever it wants to do to weaker nations because God is on its side. One saw exceptionalism at work in the British Empire's plundering of Asia, Imperial Japan's expansionist policy toward East Asia that touched off World War II, and the United States' Indian policy and, most recently, invasion of Iraq.

Moreover, Krauthammer barely deals with just who can decide whether his circumstances have been met. He writes vaguely about the "reasonable man" legal concept and seems to include the likes of Dick Cheney and Alan Dershowitz among them. I'll pass on that one. Moreover, I doubt that many of Krauthammer's "reasonable men" could be found in Guantanamo or the rendition prisons. We certainly didn't see evidence of them at Abu Ghraib.

He goes on to airily cite the "fact" that Nancy Pelosi knew about torture as somehow relevant to its morality because Pelosi is an elected figure. (I guess that means that Adolf Hitler was essentially moral because he assumed power by democratic means.) Pelosi has pushed back on CIA claims and has received plenty of support in doing so (see Just My Little Piece of the World here and here). Let's face it: Historically, the agency that brought us the Shah of Iran, the Bay of Pigs, and the "slam dunk" of WED's in Iraq has little reputation for either competence or probity.

Krauthammer doesn't address at all the possibility that his "standards" would lead to the slippery slope of indiscriminate torture even though it is clear that that is exactly what happened. Is it justifiable to torture an innocent person in the interests of extracting "crucial information"? What is the likelihood that torture will result in wrong information that leads to grave policy errors? Are these risks worth taking? Is torture the only means of disarming the "ticking time bomb"? Does torture expose captured American soldiers to greater risk? These questions have no place in the Krauhammerian world where you can tell the bad guys by their turbans.

Back in 2004, Dick Cheney asserted that "detainees interrogated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp had revealed that Iraq had trained al Qaida operatives in chemical and biological warfare," a claim we now know to be factually untrue (if not a lie). As this article points out, it's now known that interrogators at Guantanamo were under tremendous pressure to produce evidence of a connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. As the article points out
During the same period, two alleged senior al Qaida operatives in CIA custody were waterboarded repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times and Khalid Sheik Mohammed at least 183 times.
Did this torture produce the false information that helped justify the debacle in Iraq? Was it reasonable men putting the pressure on interrogators to justify a conclusion that had already been reached? Torture is wrong. It's always wrong. No nation, especially one that sees itself as divinely blessed, can justify it under any circumstances. The Bush Administration approved of torture because it could, because torture made the chickenhawks who got us into Iraq feel powerful. It's that simple. It's that pathetic...

There just ain't no cure for the "Summertime Blues". Stupid and Contagious writes:
With its legendary guitar riff, and its combination of striking verite, innovation, elan, sparseness, and anti-establishment angst, "Summertime Blues" established a template for countless other songs, from the Fifties onwards.

In fact , it could be said that, in many ways, "Summertime Blues" opened the door for the most important music revolutions of the Sixties and, via punk, of the Seventies too. Almost all the significant artists from those periods have paid Eddie, and this specific song, glowing tributes...

Fade to gray at the foot of Canal Street...

1 comment:

Foxessa said...

Have you seen the Noam Chomsky essay on torture at "Tom's Dispatch?"

It's here.

Love, C.