Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Torture=Bad -- I mean, duh

Okay, let me see if I’ve got this right, cuz it’s really, really, really difficult to wrap my mind around it.

There was a compromise last week between the so-called Rebel Republicans, led by Sir John McCain the Lion Hearted, and the Bush administration regarding our country’s treatment (widely regarded as torture) of terror suspects and, presumably, anyone else being detained by the military, including, but not limited to, members of the press.

A compromise.

On torture.

Meaning, sometimes it’s okay to torture people.

In the words of Pete Townshend, “Is that exactly what I though I read?”

Here’s the issue, as I understand it:
In June, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-3 vote — you can prolly guess who the three were — that the Bush Administration’s policy on handling terror suspects violated US law. We’re already in absurd territory by this point in the story, since it took a Supreme Court ruling to come up with a no-brainer like this, not to mention the fact that this no-brainer is beyond the ken of three of our Supreme Court justices. As a result of this ruling, Congress must now craft legislation regarding the military’s treatment of detainees in the War on Terror that does not violate US law, to say nothing of commonly accepted morality, both of which stick pretty close to the third Geneva Convention. The Bush Administration’s position is that the third Geneva Convention is for pussies and he can do whatever the fuck he wants. The so-called Rebel Republicans hold that some of the details of the third Geneva Convention don’t apply to the War on Terror, but that mostly it’s a righteous document so we should employ convoluted legalese to make it look like we’re adhering to international law without really doing so.

So, to recap, the POTUS, a BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIAN, who campaigned on the theme of “compassionate conservatism,” wants to torture with impunity. And Sen. McCain, the good cop in this good-cop-bad-cop routine, himself a victim of torture, wants legislation that violates inconvenient aspects of the third Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, called the compromise ‘promising.’”



In the words of David St. Hubbins, “Can somebody check me on this?”

The United States of America, the greatest nation in the history of the universe, the shining beacon of freedom and hope, is arguing in favor of torture.

There are no good reasons to torture someone, unless it’s just for shits and giggles. It is a purely sadistic exercise that produces no actionable intelligence. As Nice Guy Eddie observes in Reservoir Dogs, “If you beat him long enough, he’ll tell you who started the Chicago Fire, but it doesn’t make it so.”

The general consensus among intelligence experts is that torture doesn’t work. At best, as suggested in Seymour Hersh’s book Chain of Command, torture, when conducted by professionals, may expedite the corroboration of intelligence gathered from other sources. But how many torture professionals does a democratic republic have on hand at any given time? Not very many, hopefully. And unfortunately, with a coke-addled, dry drunk, pseudo-christian redneck at the helm in the White House, the demand for “torture professionals” has outpaced supply and the results are heartrending. As Abu Ghraib showed, once the demand is created, non-professionals rush to fill the vacuum.

“The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, ‘I love to make a grown man piss himself,’” admitted Abu Ghraib ringleader Cpl. Charles Graner.

Allowing rank-and-file jarheads like Graner, who have no training in “aggressive interrogation measures,” as they are euphemistically called, to operate utterly free from supervision, is a recipe for the very global distrust of America that we are now experiencing. When you include the fact that such measures are useless, unnecessary and morally reprehensible, our military’s professionalism plummets to sub-human levels.

But the lack of professionalism the United States brings to torture isn’t limited to the treatment of detainees. Our methods for identifying terror suspects are equally corrupt. Take Canadian telecommunications engineer Maher Arar, for example. From Wikipedia:

On September 26, 2002, Arar was returning to Montreal from a family vacation in Tunisia. During a stopover at JFK Airport he was detained by United States immigration officials. They claimed that Arar was an associate of Abdullah Almalki, a Syrian-born Ottawa man whom they suspected of having links to the al-Qaeda terror organization, and they therefore suspected Arar of being an al-Qaeda member himself. When Arar protested that he only had a casual relationship with Almalki (having once worked with Almalki's brother at an Ottawa high-tech firm), the officials produced a copy of Arar's 1997 rental lease which Almalki had co-signed. The fact that US officials had a Canadian document in their possession was later widely interpreted as evidence of the participation by Canadian authorities in Arar's detention.
He was
deported to Syria on October 7 or 8. The Canadian government was notified on October 10, 2002 and Arar was later discovered to be in the Far'Falastin detention center, near Damascus, Syria.
The deportation was condemned by the Canadian government and by groups such as
Amnesty International. On October 29, 2002, the Canadian foreign affairs department issued a travel advisory strongly cautioning Canadians born in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Sudan against travel to the United States for any reason. The advisory prompted US conservative Pat Buchanan to describe Canada as "Soviet Canuckistan".
The American ambassador to Canada,
Paul Cellucci, later told Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham that all Canadian passport holders would be treated equally. In November 2002, Canadian privacy commissioner George Radwanski recommended that birthplace information be removed from all Canadian passports, in part because of fears of profiling in the United States and other countries. The recommendation was not implemented, but Canadian passport regulations already allowed citizens to request that this field be left blank.

Arar was held in a coffin-sized cell for 10 months in Syria, where he was beaten and forced to confess to training in Afghanistan, a country he has never visited. A report by Dennis O'Connor, Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, states that no evidence exists to link Arar to any terrorist groups or activities. Arar’s lawsuit against members of the Bush Administration was dismissed due to national security concerns.

It would be nice to be able to report that Arar’s ordeal was an isolated incident, but unfortunately there are others. On New Year’s Eve 2003, Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent traveled by bus to Macedonia for vacation. Since his name closely resembles that of a suspected Al Qaeda operative — Khalid Al-Masri — Macedonian officials detained Masri and alerted the CIA. A CIA “black snatch team” flew Masri to a secret prison in Afghanistan called the “salt pit,” where they tortured and raped him. CIA investigations into Masri’s background quickly exonerated him, but they continued his detention and interrogation anyway. Eventually, word of his situation reached then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who demanded his release. In May of 2004, five months after the beginning of what was supposed to be a brief holiday, Masri was turned loose on a deserted road in Albania. After convincing Albanian border guards that he wasn’t a terrorist, Masri returned home to find that his wife and children had returned to Lebanon thinking he had abandoned them. They were eventually reunited.

Like Arar, Masri’s lawsuit against his CIA captors was dismissed for national security reasons.

Okay, so torture doesn’t work and either does our apparatus for identifying terror suspects. So, why do we keep doing it?

Because it’s fun.

Torturers from Algeria to Phnom Penh speak of the rush received when they have complete control over another person. Torture is about manipulating or controlling someone, not obtaining information. In the instances in which useful information was obtained through torture, other methods would have worked, too, and usually more quickly, as demonstrated time and again throughout history. Doesn’t President Bush know that? Doesn’t our born-again compassionate conservative president realize that by arguing in favor of torture, he is joining the ranks of Josef Mengele and the Khmer Rouge and Idi Amin and Doc Duvalier? In past decades, America was criticized for supporting despots like Amin and Duvalier; as if that wasn’t bad enough, now we are taking a gigantic step backward by adopting their methods.

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