Torture Spin

One objective of the Bush Administration's modified limited hangout on the Torture Memos and the accompanying partial data dump, has been to sell the voter, and the chattering classes, the story that while some lower-down officials were having philosophical discussions about torture, none of this was ever reflected in the actual orders given by higher ups.

There are a large number of reasons to be more than a little wary about this spin on the story.

First, there are the obvious gaps in the story provided by the Administration — less and less information about the orders given by higher-ups as we get closer to the present day, the period in which administration desperation about events in Iraq could only have increased.

Second, there is the absence of any information about the instructions to the CIA at any time.

Third, there is the bureaucratic reality that the vast number of memos and working groups were not the result of spontaneous organizational combustion. People very close to the top asked for those. We know Rumsfeld and Gonzales did; we don't know how much they consulted with their boss, and he's having memory problems on the subject of torture.

Fourth, we know that the proponents of torture were not just philosophizing, or casting about for policy options, or presenting balanced options to their bosses, but rather were so intent on getting their way that they ruthlessly cut their bureaucratic opponents out of the loop.

According to today's Washington Post, in January 2002, the State Department Legal Advisor — one of the higher ranking lawyers in government, and traditionally an authoritative interpreter of existing treaties within the executive branch — opined that the Justice Department approach to the torture issue and to the Geneva Conventions was

“seriously flawed” and its reasoning was “incorrect as well as incomplete.” Justice's arguments were “contrary to the official position of the United States, the United Nations and all other states that have considered the issue,” Taft said.

That letter somehow didn't get into this week's data dump. Nor did the reaction from Justice and Defense: they started trying to exclude the weak-livered folk from State from meeetings.

One result of the rancorous debate, according to participants, was that Yoo, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and senior civilians at the Pentagon no longer sought to include the State Department or the Joint Staff in deliberations about the precise protections afforded to detainees by the Geneva Conventions.

For example, the officials said, a 50-page Justice Department memo in August 2002 about the meaning of various anti-torture laws and treaties was not discussed or shared with the Joint Chiefs or the State Department. It was drafted by Justice for the CIA and sent directly to the White House.

(I happened to be talking to a mid-level foreign service officer, who is not a lawyer, last week and he expressed his disgust that the US government had, for the first time, interpreted treaties without even consulting the state department.)

These actions are consistent with a picture of an administration that sought a way to use, and intended to use, violence to question people. It is not airtight proof, and one hopes they pulled back from the brink…but at the very least there are many questions left to answered.

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19 Responses to Torture Spin

  1. MP says:

    “These actions are consistent with a picture of an administration that sought a way to use, and intended to use, violence to question people.”

    The majority of intelligent and moral Americans do not support violent questioning in certain situations. They may not want to see pictures of it, but they feel it does need to be done. There are strong moral arguments in favor of the prudent use of violence, just as there are those against it.

    What amazes me is the unwillingness of the left to construct any persuasive argument on whey a total ban on violent questioning is morally or practically appropriate.

    Again, the arrogance of the legal academy is at play–it now assumes that it can simply announce a policy position on the subject, and need not persuade the average American of anything.

  2. MP says:

    Typo:
    “The majority of intelligent and moral Americans do not support violent questioning in certain situations.”
    Should read:
    The majority of intelligent and moral Americans do support violent questioning in certain situations.

  3. Eli Rabett says:

    MP clearly is the first or second little pig (I forget which) who lived in a straw house so he could build better strawmen. I think it was Instapundit who channelled the opinion of a teacher of his (Charles Black) that in the ticking bomb case, it would be right to torture the captive, but afterwards the torturer should place himself under arrest and be tried.

    The problem is that our (and that hurts, because it is OUR) government has institutionalized torture. Since MP does not speak for the average American, the arrogance argument is also a strawman. Of course, when the wolf comes…….don’t expect much sympathy from others.

  4. peter jung says:

    MP wrote:

    “What amazes me is the unwillingness of the left to construct any persuasive argument on why a total ban on violent questioning is morally or practically appropriate.”

    MP,

    For starters, the Right has yet to offer us a persuasive argument on why “violent questioning is morally or practically appropriate.” Second, information extracted under torture is notoriously unreliable- the desperate victim will say anything to end his misery. Third, if a self-proclaimed “moral beacon” such as the USA is going to engage in torture, we put our own soldiers and citizens at great risk. Groups like Al Queda play the retribution game for keeps.

  5. JC says:

    MP @ 11:40 A majority favor violent questioning in certain circumstances? Hmmm. If so, Bush’s post 9/11 work of terror and fear 24/7 is truly Mission Accomplished. If so, we can begin a full-scale dismantling (or more likely a drip, drip dismantling) of our Bill of Rights.

    The key, I suspect MP would argue, is “certain circumstances”. But, even if we wanted to go down that slippery slope: Who decides, and how? Do we take before a judge a request to unleash snarling dogs on sleep-deprived physically-stressed naked detainees?

    Land of the free! Home of the Brave!

  6. Here is a link to the press conference where Gonzales officially dumped the torture documents that he, well, dumped (he didn’t dump all the docs the administration has, you see):

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/06/20040622-14.html

    Well, the good lawyer yammers on and on about how wonderful and noble the administration has been as they’ve waged their war on terror, how humane their practices were intended to be, how they never condoned or ordered any torture. But not once does he make any attempt to inform us on exactly how the abuses at Abu Ghraib – or any other detention facility – came about. And this is not because the White House does not now know the process by which they came about, it’s simply because they do not want to tell us, they do not want us to know.

    Let me repeat: the White House now knows the hows, whys and whens of these despicable deeds. They know the advice they were given via these memos and now we also know a lot of what was given…but we don’t know ALL of what was given. And the White House knows what they told Rumsfeld, they know what Rumsfeld told Abizaid, they know what Abizaid told Sanchez, they know what Sanchez told Miller, they know what Miller conveyed to the troops and civilians at Abu Ghraib…

    Now, while I grant that the White House might not have known all the details behind these things before the scandal broke, they know ALL of these things now. The reason I know they know this is because I know that they are not stupid enough to fail to find out. The only hope they have of keeping the whole sordid story from coming out is to first find out exactly what the whole story is for only by doing so can they ever know ALL of the steps they need to take in order to contain it.

    The White House knows this story but they aren’t about to tell it. And don’t for a minute believe that the various investigations currently under way will ever reveal the ultimate truth of this story. These investigations will fill in many details of what happened and will uncover a fair number of goats for their scaping but the driving forces behind these scapable deeds will not be revealed by anyone currently aligned, even in small ways, with this administration. The ultimate truth behind these despicable deeds will have to be brought forth by other means.

    Most likely, we’ll have to be beat it out of them…figuratively speaking, of course.

  7. MP says:

    Since the left doesn’t know how to argue against the use of torture, let me pose some questions that can assist their thinking:

    1. Has information obtained through violent means proven helpful and saved lives in our war against terror, or has no useful information been forthcoming? How do we know?

    2. Have the “victims” of “violent” interrogation techniques suffered irreparably, or do most people recover physically and mentally from the techniques employed? How do we know?

    3. What are the circumstances surrounding the dention of prisoners in Iraq and Cuba? In other words, how did they get there in the first place? Did they lay down arms and surrender, or were they picked up through investigatory techniques? Why should we ignore the difference between a citizen accused of domestic violence and a person who has surrendered his AK47 and hand-grenades to a US soldier in some godforsaken part of Afghanistan? The latter seems to have no implications for the Bill of Rights.

    4. What is the real implication of retribution upon our own captured troops? What leads us to believe that pampering captured alqueda fighters would have prevented the Berg and Korean beheadings? Are there strategical implications? Will our enemies be less likely to engage US forces if they know that surrender later in the battle will lead to shame? Are they more or less likely to fight to the death? Will they treat our captured troops better to prove their moral superiority?

    The above are examples of questions that a thinking citizen asks, discusses, and argues with his fellow citizens. All I see on this thread and others are mindless knee-jerk attacks against the government and Bush, with no logical support, reason, or foundation.

  8. Eli Rabett says:

    Dear MP, while living in your straw house did you read in the newspaper that got tossed through the door yesterday, that the UN has refused to renew exemption of US troops from the International Criminal Court. If you want to see why, ask Kofi Annan. The words Abu Ghraib occur. You like them bananas.

  9. peter jung says:

    “The above are examples of questions that a thinking citizen asks, discusses, and argues with his fellow citizens.”

    MP,

    You are correct. These things were indeed discussed at great length by the citizenry. The result is the Geneva Convention, one of mankind’s more notable acheivements.

  10. JC says:

    MP, We always live in times that somehow demand that we suspend things like the Geneva Convention or Bill of Rights — see Japanese interment during WWII, commies under our beds in the 1950s, hippies and others destroying our univerities and cities, Muslims hating freedom….

    That’s why we need to fight to protect our rights, resist politcians that thrive on pushing fear and hate, and to fight against those who think they can ignore or set aside the law.

    Home of the Free. Land of the Brave.

  11. MP says:

    Not a single question directly addressed.

  12. JC says:

    MP Your questions seek to justify torture. Even George Bush, publically anyway, says we are not the type of country that condones torture.

    Besides, I think the Professor has addressed the legal, moral and ethical justification issues rather extensively throughout the last several weeks.

    As P Jung states above, these issues have been discussed at great lengths, resulting in the Geneva Conventions. See also various War Tribunals, and attempts to justify inhumane actions.

  13. peter jung says:

    MP,

    OK, I quit, you win. The moral low ground is yours alone.

  14. Andy says:

    If anyone’s still reading this thread … apparently Taft IV was one of “Nader’s Raider’s” way back when. Anyone know about his involvement?

  15. romdinstler jones says:

    1. Has information obtained through violent means proven helpful and saved lives in our war against terror, or has no useful information been forthcoming? How do we know?

    No one, except members of the military, the intelligence agencies and the Bush administration – who ain’t telling – knows if any such information has been helpful or saved lives. And that includes you, of course.

    2. Have the “victims” of “violent” interrogation techniques suffered irreparably, or do most people recover physically and mentally from the techniques employed? How do we know?

    Some have indeed suffered irreparably; in fact, some have died. As for whether or not most recover, only those with inside info would have any idea. But again, they ain’t telling.

    3. What are the circumstances surrounding the dention of prisoners in Iraq and Cuba? In other words, how did they get there in the first place? Did they lay down arms and surrender, or were they picked up through investigatory techniques? Why should we ignore the difference between a citizen accused of domestic violence and a person who has surrendered his AK47 and hand-grenades to a US soldier in some godforsaken part of Afghanistan? The latter seems to have no implications for the Bill of Rights.

    As far as the first question, no one in the public has even close to the full story on that. And, given that we in the public don’t even know who is at Gitmo or in Iraqi prisons (or in any of the various prisons we have set up around the world) , it is not possible to answer your second and third questions.

    4. What is the real implication of retribution upon our own captured troops? What leads us to believe that pampering captured alqueda fighters would have prevented the Berg and Korean beheadings?

    Torturing these fighters might inflame others to such a state that they become terrorists too. Thus, we might end up with more terrorists if we torture as opposed to how many there would be if we pamper. I’ve seen reports that suggest that this is indeed the case.

    Are there strategical implications? Will our enemies be less likely to engage US forces if they know that surrender later in the battle will lead to shame? Are they more or less likely to fight to the death? Will they treat our captured troops better to prove their moral superiority?

    I answer no to these questions. But given that torture is rarely productive – according to those who have studied the issue – why do it?

  16. MP says:

    Finally, romdinstler jones shows what it looks like when a person thinks things out.

    It is fair to say he would agree that there are many unknowns on the torture issue, and many areas that any rational person would need more information on before formulating a policy position.

    If there were more like you on this board, it might actually live up to its name.

  17. peter jung says:

    MP,

    Rational and moral people don’t need to jump through your hoops to understand that torture is both wrong and dumb. Most of the civilized world reached that conclusion a long time ago….

  18. Romdinstler Jones says:

    It is fair to say he would agree that there are many unknowns on the torture issue, and many areas that any rational person would need more information on before formulating a policy position.

    There are indeed many unknowns but these unknowns do not exist in the minds of the members of the Bush administration, they exist only in the minds of the general public. As I said in my initial post above, the Bush administration knows the entire story behind the detentions at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and other US prisons around the world. And everything I’ve seen about that story tells me that the policy in need of formulation is one that includes the arrest, trial, impeachment and/or punishment of those responsible for the despicable acts that make up its narrative. The Bush administration knows who is responsible but they will not let on. I suspect that this is because most of those who have the knowledge required for this “letting on” would themselves be implicated by its public release. Still, there are some people who have access to at least part of the real story as the leaking of some of these memos has shown. The rest of the real story will come out in due time as the various and sundry guilty parties go about their attempts at saving themselves. But not all of them will be saved…

  19. Romdinstler Jones says:

    I asked the question, “But given that torture is rarely productive – according to those who have studied the issue – why do it?”

    Even if torture was productive as a general rule, it would still be immoral to engage in it as a general rule.

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