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September 29, 2006

Torture: Acceptable Now in the United States of America

So, now that I can again digest some of what folks have been doing and thinking and saying, here’s what I understand about what just happened in the realm of torture.  It appears that a slight majority of both houses of our Congresscritters say it’s okay for the US to torture a real live human being, even if they found that person in a rather haphazard manner, if the examples from the last three years are the norm. 

Here’s what Billmon said as we went into the discussion on torture in the Senate last month:

We are, in a sense, at the moment of truth. The sadistic and/or bizarre acts committed in Guatanamo, Abu Ghraib and the CIA's secret prisons can be written off as the crimes of a few bad apples with names like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld -- or, more charitably, as the consequences of a string of bad and brutal decisions made under emergency conditions by men who were terrified by all the things they didn't know about Al Qaeda. Either way, they were not acts of national policy, endorsed and approved by Congress after open, public debate. But, thanks to the Hamdan decision, the question is now formally on the table . . . So now we'll find out, I guess, what we're really made of as a nation -- down deep, in our core.

That both Houses of our government have just passed a bill that allows torture is beyond me.  It is of course mostly the Republicans, trying to protect the President and his minions from possible legal prosecution when the Democrats come back to power. And they somehow hope to help their lousy position in the elections this fall.  What – Vote for Republicans; they approve of torture?  Is that position really likely to win them more votes? 

But the Democrats in the Senate are capable of stopping anything if they really want to and they did not stop this bill. First they sat back and expected that the Republican “mavericks” would do their work for them.  Then, when McCain, Warner and Graham punked them yet one more time, there was little time to rally a defense.  Pathetic. 

This reminds me of the October 2002 bill that the Democrats went along with giving President Bush the right to go to war with Iraq for fear of being seen as weak on security.  And look where that got us – as Democrats, as a nation.


Here’s some information about the water-boarding torture that we’ve been hearing about lately, that is now approved for use by US interrogators under certain circumstances, i.e. when the President approves of it.

The most common, recent uses of waterboarding have been in Cambodia.  It is simulated drowning, wrapping the victim’s face in saran wrap and pouring water over him.  People to whom this has been done say it is terrifying.  And it will make them say anything to make it stop.  Anything, even if it is not true.

Here’s what David Corn says – and, if you have the stomach for it, there are photos as well:

The specific types of abuse they're taught to withstand are those that were used by our Cold War adversaries. Why is this relevant to the current debate? Because the torture techniques of North Korea, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union and its proxies--the states where US military personnel might have faced torture--were NOT designed to elicit truthful information. These techniques were designed to elicit CONFESSIONS. That's what the Khymer Rouge et al were after with their waterboarding, not truthful information.

Bottom line: Not only do waterboarding and the other types of torture currently being debated put us in company with the most vile regimes of the past half-century; they're also designed specifically to generate a (usually false) confession, not to obtain genuinely actionable intel. This isn't a matter of sacrificing moral values to keep us safe; it's sacrificing moral values for no purpose whatsoever.

They were told.  Larry Johnson, former CIA agent and Republican, is now writing about national security issues at his blog, No Quarter.  He was one of a slew of knowledgeable signatories to a letter written to the U.S. Senators.  Here’s an excerpt:

We are very concerned that the proposals now before the Congress, concerning how to handle detainees suspected of terrorist activities, run the risk of squandering the greatest resource our country enjoys in fighting the dictators and extremists who want to destroy us--our commitment as a nation to the rule of law and the protection of divinely granted human rights.

Apart from the moral considerations, we believe it is important that the Congress send a clear message that torture is not an effective or useful tactic. As noted recently by the head of Army Intelligence, Lt. Gen. John Kimmons:

No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.

Here’s what John Kerry, who it seems has learned a thing or two about being punked, said yesterday in a speech at John Hopkins University:

We must start treating our moral authority as a precious national asset that does not limit our power but magnifies our influence. That seems obvious, but this Administration still doesn’t get it. Right now – today — they are trying to rush a bill through Congress that will fundamentally undermine our moral authority, put our troops at greater risk, and make our country less safe.

Let me be clear about something—something that it seems few people are willing to say. This bill permits torture. It gives the President the discretion to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions. No matter how much well-intended United States Senators would like to believe otherwise, it gives an Administration that lobbied for torture just what it wanted.

The only guarantee we have that these provisions really will prohibit torture is the word of the President. But we have seen in Iraq the consequences of simply accepting the word of this Administration. No, we cannot just accept the word of this Administration that they will not engage in torture given that everything they’ve already done and said on this most basic question has already put our troops at greater risk and undermined the very moral authority needed to win the war on terror.

The New York Times has an editorial about the passage of this bill in which they discuss the many ways this bill is flawed, entitled “Rushing Off a Cliff”.  Here’s what they say about Habeas Corpus, one of the worst offenses in my opinion, since it reverses one of the basic provisions of the Constitution (and will likely wind up being declared unconstitutional):

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

The NYT says rightly that in the future people will not remember the flawed reasons of political expediency that propelled this bill forward, just the flawed thinking and flawed leaders who allowed it to happen.

Keep working toward a win on November 7th.  We are in the last two days of the quarter.  Good time to give money to our Northwest Blue candidates: Darcy Burner, Peter Goldmark and Larry Grant.

Posted by Lynn Allen on September 29, 2006 at 12:02 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink


I hope that bloggers realize that we need to do more than simply vote in the future. We need to prepare for the possibility of total fascist crackdown on our civil liberties. We need to prepare for war.

I encourage you to visit The American Peoples' Congress (www.apctahoma.blogspot.com) and become a part of the debate. Where we go from here is anybody's guess. But if demcoracy is to survive, it is we that have to defend it the loudest.

Posted by: Tahoma Activist | Sep 30, 2006 7:25:03 PM

*********This is not a Joke************
SUPERMAN stood for "Truth, Justice and the American Way." The passage of the Torture Bill (must I now say "Act") is a stake in the heart of all that SUPERMAN (and I believe most Americans) professes. The only revival for our beliefs is to stand up for the Constituion and the Bill of Rights the way they are written, not the way that the administration and their Supreme Court (so-called strict constructionalists) now intrepret as our written representation of our government and our American Way. We must be willing to support that which we say we believe. It took a Revolution to get us our Constitution; I only hope it doesn't take a Revolution to get it back.
*********THIS IS NOT A JOKE**************

Posted by: Jack Smith | Oct 2, 2006 6:54:35 AM

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