Saturday, February 16, 2008

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Roman road: Terror, torture and the death of the Republic
By David Irvine

Breaking news by courier: Ostia, Italy, Sept. 11, 68 B.C.

To the Senate and People of Rome: Pirates have attacked this strategic port city barely 20 miles from Rome itself. The consular war fleet has been destroyed. Senators Clintonia and McCainius have been kidnapped. The city is afire. These pirates are not in the pay of the sly Egyptians or Carthaginian dead-enders. The leader calls himself Binladenius.

The pirate raid on Ostia was the Roman equivalent of 9/11. Romans were utterly panicked. Pompey the Great saw this as an opportunity, and a flunky proposed a law under which he would be given absolute and unlimited power to save Rome from the terrorists. His cronies on talk forum stoked public fear. It was the Patriot Act of 68 B.C. and all of our president's signing statements (and then some) rolled into the Lex Gabinia.

Pompey emptied the Roman treasury for his war on terror and handily defeated the pirates. But his dictatorship was never rescinded. A few years later, Julius Caesar overthrew Pompey, retained his extraordinary powers, had himself declared emperor, and the rest is history. The republic of Rome disappeared. The eventual fall of Rome's empire began with that expensive trade of liberty for security.

In our own republic, last week was historic. Our imperial president finally confirmed to the world that yes, we do practice torture when it suits his purposes. We just pretend that it's "enhanced interrogation."

While the focus has been on waterboarding, that remnant from the Spanish Inquisition which every civilized nation (including ours until 2002) correctly considers to be torture, other "enhanced interrogation techniques" also include nudity and sexual humiliation; chaining naked prisoners in isolation cells where temperatures can be manipulated from 100 degrees down to 10 degrees, with periodic dousings of ice water; withholding food and water; withholding medical treatment; prolonged sleep deprivation; prolonged sensory deprivation; prolonged and excruciatingly painful stress positions; or combinations of any or all of these.
All of these "enhanced techniques" - torture to any reasonable person or jurist - have been practiced by agents of the U.S. government, whether in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Iraq, or at CIA secret sites around the world. Like Pompey's Romans, we have been scared into assuming that these grotesqueries are necessary for our president to keep us safe. In truth, they only endanger us more. If these practices are not deemed by us to be torture, what claim do we have under international law or common morality to object when an enemy practices the very same torture upon our men and women who become prisoners? Why would al-Qaida agents ever defect if they expect to be tortured?

President Bush gave a remarkable interview recently to Fox News, in which he claimed that waterboarding was legal when it was used by the CIA in 2002 and 2003 against three al-Qaida operatives. That claim defies the state of the law. The United States charged and executed Japanese soldiers as war criminals after World War II for waterboarding prisoners. Waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" methods violate federal laws prohibiting torture, which were in place prior to George W. Bush taking office. To claim otherwise is false.

Then the president dug the hole deeper. "The American people have got to know that what we did in the past gained information that prevented an attack. And for those who criticize what we did, I ask them which attack they would have [permitted]?"

There is only one instance where torture has been linked by the administration to breaking up a terrorist plot: the foiled plan to hijack airliners over the Pacific Ocean. However, this plot was not foiled by anything Hakim Murad confessed under torture; all of the critical information came from his computer hard drive. The question remains: What attacks, exactly, have been stopped through torture?
The Bush administration simply refuses to answer that question, and a supine Congress does not demand an answer. Instead, people hide behind the canard that such information is classified and to reveal it would compromise sources and methods for gathering intelligence.

There's a fatal flaw in that claim. We already know what method, waterboarding, was used on three sources who supposedly confessed to other plots in progress. All of this happened more than six years ago. There is no possible harm which could now follow from fully explaining why the CIA's resort to barbarism was either necessary or useful. Produce the tapes or transcripts of those confessions.

President Bush wants to ensure that the CIA can continue to torture under his direction. Supposedly this is our only defense against the ticking bomb. That mantra makes some otherwise smart people turn off their powers of reason. What makes anyone infallibly sure that Mr. X knows all? Or, what if Mr. X, like one CIA-tortured, high-value prisoner, dies before revealing anything? Worse, what if Mr. X, or a hundred others like him, are innocent but still tortured out of their minds?

The real question, however, is this: What did the three (or more) waterboarded prisoners say that was worth the price we have paid to become a rogue nation in the eyes of the rest of the world? Torture by the CIA is still torture by Americans. Before making Pompey a dictator, the Roman Senate should have very carefully considered where the road from Ostia might really lead. So should our own.
* DAVID IRVINE is a Salt Lake attorney residing in Bountiful. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army Reserve as a strategic intelligence officer in 1967 and retired as a brigadier general. He taught prisoner of war interrogation and military law for 18 years for the Sixth United States Army Intelligence School.

Title quote attributed to George Santayana


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Anonymous said...

While I agree that the methods you describe as “torture” should not be used indiscriminately, I do feel they should be available in certain situations. It seems that 35 seconds of waterboarding was enough to convince Abu Zubaydah to answer every question. Answers which “disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks”
Could you also please provide some support to the statement that these methods “only endanger us more”. How exactly does the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, someone who escaped a death sentence in Jordan for a plot to blow up 2 hotels, was a key planner of the 9/11 attacks, was the field commander of the attack on the USS Cole, and was planning who knows how many more attacks , how does his 35 seconds of “torture”, specifically, put Americans in danger?
I think we all know how well our US POW’s have been treated in Japan, Germany, Bosnia, and Iraq. There were absolutely no stories of these POW’s being tortured were there? So given that we know our POW’s will be tortured of what merit is the statement “what claim do we have under international law or common morality to object when an enemy practices the very same torture upon our men and women who become prisoners?”. Barbaric enemies are not going to abide by international law anyway. That you would even equate what our POW’s have suffered with the comparatively mild methods we use is astounding.
I don’t think that anyone is making the argument that “torture” is “our only defense against the ticking bomb.” The argument is that it is needed in certain situations. Now we can probably agree that some of these methods have been used too often. That’s an indictment of the people responsible and is a separate argument from “all torture is bad”, that you seem to be making.
Again where is your evidence that the US has “become a rogue nation in the eyes of the rest of the world?” Are we the new North Korea? Is that what you really believe?
So what exactly is the “price” we pay? Are US corporations denied opportunities because we use “torture”? Have our ambassadors been thrown out of places we care about because of “torture”? How much of the billions of dollars we spend on foreign aid in the Middle East and North Africa has been refused? How many countries have refused to talk with the US because of these practices? Where is the cost?
Until you can give a concrete example of how the waterboarding of 3 terrorist has negatively impacted our nation (general statements about how we are viewed by the “world”, do not count), I’ll vote for allowing harsh interrogation methods of high level terrorists. Give me a viable alternative to get useful information from someone like Abu Zubaydah in a comparable time period.

Davis Didjeridu said...

anonymous, you are completely wrong. Gen. Irvine knows what he is talking about; you do not. He knows that our POWs were tortured in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Have you heard of Bataan? The Japanese tortured, using waterboarding, many people. One of these was Brigham City resident Col. Chase Nielsen, who was tortured after his plane crashed during the Doolittle raid. There were 54 counts of inhumane treatment against the Japanese and the Germans repeatedly massacred American POWs. There were no American POWs in Bosnia or Kosovo.
Did you even read the article? Did you read when Gen. Irvine asked: "Why would al-Qaida agents ever defect if they expect to be tortured?"
Also, you watch too much 24 if you think there is such a thing as a "ticking-time bomb scenario."
The cost of our torture is apparent when our CIA agents are charged with kidnapping in Italy. The cost is apparent when we cannot get NATO allies to join in operations in Afghanistan. There are viable alternatives; they are used everyday in every police station, every FBI office, every Armed Forces detention facility where the Armed Forces, not the CIA are in charge. They used time-tested, useful ways to gain the trust and respect of the suspect. The other cost you don't see is that we lose qualified interrogators (and potential interrogators) when they don't want to be associated with torture.

Anonymous said...

Still waiting for an answer to "Give me a viable alternative to get useful information from someone like Abu Zubaydah in a COMPARABLE TIME PERIOD". I beg to disagree that our use of "torture" is why the CIA was charged in Italy, of why our so called "NATO Allies" refuse to join us. Just tell me how many of the countries that signed on in the UN to Iraq sanctions abided by it? So what is your point in recounting our POW's that were tortured? I don't recall hearing about a Guantanamo death march, maybe I missed it in the news. I don't recall hearing about having the detainees dig their own graves, then being beheaded and pushed in, maybe you can provide such references? If you disagree with the use of "torture" on moral grounds, great, I respect your opinion. I think there are facts on both sides of the argument. From my point of view, it has produced tangible results, well worth the "cost" as you outlined. Has it been overused, probably.
But the larger issue, when we are attacked again, if we are fortunate enough to capture some terrorist in the know, what is an acceptable time frame to get information? Or do we just wait until he/she is ready to talk to us? If your position is we wait, that's fine. But others view the world differently.