Sunday, November 04, 2007

To Waterboard or Not To Waterboard, That IS the Question

Waterboarding is again in the news as the Senate asks Bush’s choice for Attorney General, Michael Mukasey whether he equates waterboarding with torture. As reported on the Voice of America, “Mukasey told the committee that he personally considers waterboarding repugnant but could not say whether it constitutes torture because he has not been briefed on classified information as he is still a private citizen.”

In other words, he’s all for it but doesn’t want to say so because some people think that waterboarding is torture.

Those “some people” include the people who wrote the US Army Field Manual, FM 34-52 Intelligence Interrogation. From Chapter 1:
“The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor. condoned by the US Government. Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”
I think that waterboarding would come under the notion of “unpleasant and inhumane treatment”. They say it produces a sensation of drowning, but you never drown.

And see? I got that off the internet in 3 minutes of Googling. Mukasey is an idiot if he expects us to believe that he can’t offer an opinion because he hasn’t been briefed on it.

There are those who say that waterboarding saves lives as in the case of the waterboarding of Al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Yes, maybe, but you have to ask at what price? If waterboarding is torture and the Field Manual says it is, then we have lost our moral authority in the world’s eye. We can no longer decry human rights abuses in other countries when our agencies of government ignore our own military’s interrogation guidelines, as well as the agreement made by all countries who signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

And then there are the nutjobs who claim that waterboarding is OK in this case because those we are waterboarding are not soldiers in a war, they are terrorists. They exist outside of the agreements. But that’s because they haven’t read the agreements. Terrorists do not exist outside of the UN Convention Against Torture. Article 2:
“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
But in the end, the argument will be made that since waterboarding takes place within the authority of the CIA and the CIA is an agency that operates without the rules that are binding on the rest of us, it’s all copasetic.

Really. That’s what they are saying.

In a discussion of this very subject this morning on CNN, Diane Feinstein D-CA suggested that an amendment to the soon to be considered FISA bill should be included that requires the CIA to operate under the Army Field Manuals. Arlen Spector R-PA claimed that he did just that less than a year ago only to have that bill go down in defeat by a vote of 53 to 46.

I say that there is no way that this is going to be fixed this year or next. Not when you have a supreme court that refuses to hear a case, a lawsuit brought by a man who was abducted, tortured and then released by the CIA when they discovered that they had the wrong man. The reason? State secrets would be revealed if the case were allowed to proceed.

How can you argue against logic like that?


Pedagoge said...

The practice is forbidden to American troops, as well it should be. It is not forbidden to the CIA, and the US Senate expressly declined to declare it unlawful. Why should some Senators expect an attorney general nominee to declare unlawful what the world's greatest deliberative body would not?

Is it really of interest, if the practice saved lives in the case of Sheikh Mohammed, to inquire "at what cost?" The sort answer is, at the cost of some temporary extreme unpleasantness for Mr. Mohammed. As for "losing our moral authority in the eyes of the world," I am moved to doubt.

In 1944 US prison guards tortured seven German prisoners until they confessed to having murdered one of their fellow POW's. Having confessed, they were hanged, one after another. Is waterboarding Sheikh Mohammed to gain life-saving intelligence more reprehensible morally than torturing POW's to extract confessions to a crime?

Hal said...

Where I can agree with you is that torturing our detainees does not necessarily cause America to lose its moral authority because since starting the War in Iraq the US has lost any moral authority it already had - and torturing prisoners is all part and parcel.

We can be better than this.

But besides the moral issue, there are issues of practicality. I go back to the original statements in the field manuals. Information extracted by torture is tainted by the fact that the tortured will say anything the torturer wants to hear.