On torture-8: The ‘partisan politics’ excuse

(For previous posts on torture, see here.)

Let’s continue with our look at the other excuses on the list put out by apologists.

Excuse 8: If we prosecute those who authorized torture, then this would be for purely partisan reasons for retribution by Democrats against Republicans.

The fundamental principle that is involved is that nobody is above the law. If this requires the prosecution of the officials of one party by the occupants of another party, that is just incidental. In fact, it is the very fact that the ruling party tends not to prosecute their own people that makes such cross-party prosecutions necessary. Of course, in a pro-war/pro-business oligarchy like the US, both parties are really one on issues like this, as can be seen in the way that the Obama administration is desperately trying to get out of its treaty obligations to take action against torturers. As is characteristic of oligarchies, each party protects the other when it comes to major issues, which is why other countries might step in to prosecute top US officials for torture if the US does not do so.

The idea that laws and treaties do not apply to actions by the US and its leaders is widely promoted by the oligarchy. Condoleeza Rice recently said that “by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture”. John Dean says that Obama is also guilty if his Justice Department does not prosecute because Geneva Conventions and the torture treaty require actions be taken against those who both torture and authorize torture. There is an affirmative obligation for governments to take action against those who commit torture. It does not give countries the choice, as some people think, to “let bygones be bygones”, to “look forward and not backward” and let torturers avoid prosecution and punishment. They do not have discretion in this matter. Since Attorney General Eric Holder has already conceded that waterboarding is torture, he is obliged to pursue prosecutions of those who committed torture.

Glenn Greenwald lays out the case for prosecutions clearly:

The U.S., under Ronald Reagan, legally obligated itself to investigate and prosecute any acts of torture committed by Americans (which includes authorization of torture by high level officials and also includes, under Article 3 of the Convention [against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment], acts of “rendering” detainees to countries likely to torture, as the Bush administration unquestionably did).

All of the standard excuses being offered by Bush apologists and our political class (a virtual redundancy) — namely: our leaders meant well; we were facing a dangerous enemy; government lawyers said this could be done; Congress immunized the torturers; it would be too divisive to prosecute — are explicitly barred by this treaty (i.e., binding law) as a ground for refusing to investigate and prosecute acts of torture.

This is also why the standard argument now being offered by Bush apologists (such as University of Chicago Law Professor Eric Posner, echoing his dad, Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner in Chicago) as to why prosecutions are unnecessary — namely: there is “prosecutorial discretion” that should take political factors into account in order not to prosecute — are both frivolous and lawless. The Convention explicitly bars any such “discretion”: “The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall . . . submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.” The principal purpose of the Convention is to remove the discretion involved in prosecuting acts of torture and to bar the very excuses which every torturing society proffers and which our own torturing society is now attempting to invoke (“we were dealing with real threats; there were ‘exceptional circumstances’ that justified it; we enacted laws legalizing the torture; our leaders meant well; we need to move on”)

By deciding not to pursue actions against torturers, Obama himself is violating international law, in addition to politically interfering with the actions of the Justice Department. Although people seem to have become accustomed to the Justice Department being seen as a political arm of the White House (thanks to the post of Attorney General being filled with political hacks like Alberto Gonzalez), we must not forget that it is supposed to be an independent agency, free of political control and obliged to take actions purely on the legal merits of the cases that come before it. To take direction from the political leadership, as is happening now with Obama trying to quash prosecutions of torture and illegal wiretapping, is itself wrong.

The fundamental principles involved here are really quite simple. There are certain things that civilized societies should not do, and torture is one of them. Anyone who tortures or authorizes torture has violated the law and committed a crime against humanity and can be prosecuted in any country. Nobody is above the law. Nobody.

POST SCRIPT: Bipartisan whitewash on torture

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow on how Obama is morphing into Bush/Cheney when it comes to torture, warrantless wiretapping, and other illegal activities.

Language and Evolution

(Due to the Memorial Day holiday, I am reposting an old item.)

I have always been fascinated by language. This is somewhat ironic since I have a really hard time learning a new language and almost did not make it into college in Sri Lanka because of extreme difficulty in passing the 10th-grade language requirement in my own mother tongue of Tamil! (How that happened is a long and not very interesting story.)
[Read more…]

On torture-7: The ‘acting in good faith’ excuses

(For previous posts on torture, see here.)

Let’s continue with our look at the other excuses on the list put out by apologists.

Excuse 4: Even if it did violate binding laws and treaties, it was justified because it worked to prevent another attack and thus saved lives.

See the response to excuse #2 (“Even if it was torture, it was justified because it worked to prevent another attack and thus saved lives.”)

Excuse 5: The people who committed torture should not be prosecuted because they were told it was legal and they were merely following orders.

People who bring up this argument are either extremely ignorant, being willfully obtuse, or lying. Is there anyone in this day and age who does not know that this so-called “Nuremberg defense” is not valid? The defense that people should not be punished for obeying orders was not allowed during the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war crimes after World War II and which has set the modern standard for how such crimes should be treated. Neither was the defense that the accusing parties were also guilty of the same crimes as the accused. “Just following orders” and “Others did it too” cannot be used to justify war crimes.

This principle was further reinforced in article 2, section 3 of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which states that: “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Excuse 6: If we prosecute those who committed torture, then in future they will be “always looking over their shoulders” when conducting interrogations and be hesitant to take strong actions for fear of prosecution.

That is the whole point. People with the power of life or death over others should always be concerned about stepping over the line. They should always be looking over their shoulders, and take into account that if they commit excesses, they might face prosecution. This is what keeps atrocities in check. We want police and other security personnel to be keenly aware that there are lines that must not be crossed and that if they do, they will face the consequences. They may go ahead and do it anyway, but they should not assume while doing so that they have immunity for any and all actions. That have to be conscious of the fact that they will be called to justify why they chose the actions they did. And if they cannot justify it, they should expect to be prosecuted.

Excuse 7: The people who told the torturers that it was acceptable to torture were acting in good faith and trying to protect the country, so they should not be prosecuted.

This is the same kind of argument given by any dictator, autocrat, tyrant, or sadist, that they were doing it for the “greater good”, to “defend the country against its enemies”, to “save lives”. This argument was again rejected at the Nuremberg trials where the top leadership of Nazi Germany was found guilty of war crimes for just setting policy and issuing orders. Hermann Goering said that the concentration camps were necessary to preserve order: “It was a question of removing danger.” This argument was rejected, and even those who merely gave the orders were sentenced to death. It can well be argued that the people who are in command positions and give such orders are more culpable than the lower ranks that carried them out, though the latter are not excused from culpability.

Noam Chomsky and Tom Englehardt point out that the people who excuse US torture practices on the grounds of ‘saving the country from attacks’ never seem to consider the logical extensions of that argument.

There is still much debate about whether torture has been effective in eliciting information – the assumption being, apparently, that if it is effective, then it may be justified. By the same argument, when Nicaragua captured U.S. pilot Eugene Hasenfuss in 1986, after shooting down his plane delivering aid to U.S.-supported Contra forces, they should not have tried him, found him guilty, and then sent him back to the U.S., as they did. Instead, they should have applied the CIA torture paradigm to try to extract information about other terrorist atrocities being planned and implemented in Washington, no small matter for a tiny, impoverished country under terrorist attack by the global superpower.

By the same standards, if the Nicaraguans had been able to capture the chief terrorism coordinator, John Negroponte, then U.S. ambassador in Honduras (later appointed as the first director of national intelligence, essentially counterterrorism czar, without eliciting a murmur), they should have done the same. Cuba would have been justified in acting similarly, had the Castro government been able to lay hands on the Kennedy brothers. There is no need to bring up what their victims should have done to Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, and other leading terrorist commanders, whose exploits leave al-Qaeda in the dust, and who doubtless had ample information that could have prevented further “ticking bomb” attacks.

Such considerations never seem to arise in public discussion.

The documentary Standard Operating Procedure (which I have not been able to see as yet) apparently argues that the low-level soldiers who carried out the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were merely scapegoats for the higher ups, cynically blamed for every wrong that happened while those who set the policy and encouraged these acts escaped. All the Bush administration principals discussed torture in detail so that they cannot now claim ignorance and conveniently put the blame on lower ranking ‘bad apples’.

The Nuremberg principle that leaders ‘acting in good faith’ should not escape punishment for the acts that result from their orders was further reinforced in article 2, section 2 of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which states that “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.” This is about as unequivocal a rejection of the ‘good faith’ or ‘extreme circumstances’ excuses as one is likely to find.

We did not accept this argument of imminent danger to justify the authorization of torture by Nazi leaders, we would not accept such a defense from (say) North Korean leaders, and we should not accept it from US leaders.

POST SCRIPT: The frightened and dangerous clown

I have been bemused by the media paying such respectful attention to the ravings of Dick “Vice President for Torture” Cheney. Josh Marshall gives an excellent evaluation of him and why his utterances should be mercilessly mocked.

This is an extremely gullible man who has just come off being the driving ideological force in an administration that most people can already see produced more fiascos and titanic, self-inflicted goofs than possibly any in our entire history. By any standard the guy is a monumental failure — and not one whose mistakes stem in some Lyndon Johnson fashion from tragic overreach, but just a fool who damaged his country through his own gullibility, paranoia and bad judgment. Whatever else you can say about the Cheney story it ain’t Shakespearean.

So as we see the big reporters trying to put him on some sort of equal footing with President Obama today, let’s remember that the great majority of Americans see Dick Cheney, accurately, as a clown. And mockery isn’t just the most effective but also the most morally apt response to the man.

I have always thought that Cheney is a very frightened man, something that Marshall and other commentators miss, perhaps because they have been taken in by Cheney’s tough guy talk. His entire life history, from dodging fighting in Vietnam by getting five deferments to building a secure and secret underground bunker to hide in, are all clear signs of someone who lives in fear. It is the combination of fear and power that made him so dangerous.

The words that William Shakespeare put in the mouth of Julius Caesar (Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene II) describe Cheney perfectly:

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.

On torture-6: The legal excuse

(For previous posts on torture, see here.)

Let’s continue with our look at the other excuses on the list put out by apologists.

Excuse 3: These actions did not violate any laws or treaties binding on the US.

Yes they do. That crazy, soft-on-terror ideologue Ronald Reagan signed the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1984, and such international treaties have the power of law. In a signing statement, Reagan said the following: “Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today. The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called “universal jurisdiction.” Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

Some have argued that these treaties only apply to prisoners of war, uniformed soldiers of another country captured on the battlefield, and that the so-called ‘enemy combatants’ do not warrant such protections. Charles Krauthammer who, like fellow-torture advocate Alan Dershowitz, starts from the ends he wants (the freedom for the US to torture others but not allow others to torture US citizens) and argues back to the premises, says that a captured terrorist “is by profession, indeed by definition, an unlawful combatant: He lives outside the laws of war because he does not wear a uniform, he hides among civilians, and he deliberately targets innocents. He is entitled to no protections whatsoever.” (my italics)

Apart from the incredibly barbaric nature of the assertion that anyone who is detained by security forces for whatever reason has no protection whatsoever against any brutality inflicted on them merely because someone claims that he is a terrorist, this argument is not even legally sustainable. The above-mentioned Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment says that protection against torture applies to all persons, not just those formally designated as prisoners of war.

We also need to distinguish between the third Geneva Convention which refers to prisoners of war and the fourth Geneva Convention which deals with other people involved in conflicts. Article 3 of Geneva Convention IV says:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat [i.e., out of the battle] by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. (my italics)

This idea that there can be a whole class of people who have no rights whatsoever and to whom we can freely apply torture is a bizarre new invention, created for the purpose of excusing the acts of torture authorized and condoned by the US government.

[Retired Brigadier General John Adams] made clear that during all his years of service and training, including his tenure as a professor at West Point, what he learned and what he taught was consistent: the United States military always acts under the rule of law, in accordance with the Geneva Convention, and upholds the Constitution. What was not taught, or even discussed, were terms like harsh or enhanced interrogation techniques (“I never heard those terms used”), or arguments concerning what constitutes a so-called unique enemy (“In all my training, the current discussions are the first time I ever heard that argument used”). Said Adams: “I have never known anyone in a leadership position in the military who would condone torture. They would never do it. It would go against all the training we had, and against what we were trained to do, which is to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.”

It may be possible that legal ‘brains’ similar to the infamous John Yoo and Jay Bybee in the Bush Justice administration may be able to find some tortured interpretation of the law and treaties that allow a tiny legal loophole in these treaty obligations. But it is truly disgusting to watch people who do not hesitate to apply broad sweeping moral judgments when torture is done by others suddenly retreat into nitpicking legalistic defenses when torture is done by the US. They seem to then think that if everything is ‘legal’ then it is acceptable. Some people argue that the real ‘mistake’ that the Bush administration made was in not going to Congress and getting a law passed that would have made all these practices legal, rather than depend on internal memos by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department.

That misses the point. A country cannot make torture legal by changing its internal laws. Torture is considered a crime so vile and inexcusable that it is beyond the pale of civilized behavior and thus cannot take refuge within national boundaries or jurisdictions. It is a crime against humanity and anyone anywhere can take action against any suspected perpetrators.

POST SCRIPT: Ventura ventures into the torture debate

Former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura was once a Navy SEAL and underwent waterboarding as part of the SERE training. He says that waterboarding is undoubtedly torture and that torture produces worthless information. He tells Larry King, “I’ll put it to you this way, you give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.”

He further says, “I will criticize President Obama on this level; it’s a good thing I’m not president because I would prosecute every person that was involved in that torture. I would prosecute the people that did it. I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law.”

Watch:

On torture-5: The effectiveness argument

(For previous posts on torture, see here.)

Let’s continue with our look at the other excuses on the list put out by apologists.

Excuse 2: Even if it was torture, it was justified because it worked to prevent another attack and thus saved lives.

Once you accept this argument, then you are truly a barbarian, because you can use it to justify any action at all. If torture is justified to save the lives of others, why have any limits at all? Why not drive hot spikes through people? Why not cut off their limbs? Why not bring back the rack and other devices of the Inquisition? Why not torture the families and children of detainees? Why not torture and terrorize entire communities?
[Read more…]

On torture-4: Trying to excuse the inexcusable

(For previous posts on torture, see here.)

These arguments that have been made to excuse the torture practices of the US have taken many shifting forms. In the next few posts, I list the top excuses for torture practices, followed by my responses.

Excuse 1: What was done by the US is not torture.

Excuse 2: Even if it was torture, it was justified because it worked to prevent another attack and thus saved lives.

Excuse 3: These actions did not violate any laws.

Excuse 4: Even if it did violate binding laws, it was justified because it worked to prevent another attack and thus saved lives.

Excuse 5: The people who committed torture should not be prosecuted because they were told it was legal and thus they were merely following orders.

Excuse 6: If we prosecute those who committed torture, then in future they will be “always looking over their shoulders” when conducting interrogations and hesitant to take strong actions for fear of prosecution.

Excuse 7: The people who told the torturers that it was acceptable to torture were acting in good faith and trying to protect the country, so they should not be prosecuted.

Excuse 8: If we prosecute those who authorized torture, then this would be for purely partisan reasons for retribution by Democrats against Republicans.

Excuse 9: Top Democrats were told what was going on and approved of it so that makes it ok.

Excuse 10: We need to focus on solving urgent problems like the financial and housing crisis and torture investigations will be divisive and distract us.

Excuse 11: Finally, the emotional appeal that takes various forms but one of the strongest is to invoke the extreme hypothetical: If your child was being held hostage by terrorists, wouldn’t you want any suspects to be tortured if they had information that could save your child?

Excuse 1: What was done by the US is not torture.

This argument has been put forward in two ways. One is to suggest that what was done to the detainees was mild, even routine. Sleep deprivation? Who of us haven’t had sleepless nights? Forced to stand for hours one end? Donald Rumsfeld used to wonder why the detainees were getting off so easy by being made to stand for only four hours when he often stands for 8-10 hours per day. And so on. The other is to suggest that since these torture techniques were used as part of the SERE program to train US personnel to resist torture, they cannot be torture since we wouldn’t torture our own people, would we?

Do I really need to point out why these arguments cannot be taken seriously? There is a world of difference between experiencing something voluntarily or at the hands of people you know are on your side and do not want to harm you, and having the same thing done to you by your enemies who may want to kill you. To argue otherwise is like saying that since some people voluntarily participate in S&M sexual practices, then assault or rape cannot be crimes.

Torture apologist Charles Krauthammer actually put forward the argument that the above practices could not be torture because they were used to train US troops, to which an officer in the National Guard replied:

I have friends who have been to SERE and instructed SERE students and acted as interrogators. All agree that waterboarding and other such ‘enhanced’ techniques are good for training (in a strictly controlled environment) our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on what to expect in captivity. They also agree that it is torture to anyone outside that training environment. Finally, they all agree that torture rarely results in actionable intelligence, as the victim is willing to say most anything to end the torture.

But even beyond that, many people have been quite unequivocal about calling these practices torture. As John McCain asserted during the election campaign, the US executed Japanese soldiers in World War II for the same kinds of things that were done by the US interrogators, because they were considered torture and thus war crimes. McCain said “[F]ollowing World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding,”

Gen. Barry McCaffrey has called what was done by the US torture.

Gen Antonio Taguba, who was assigned to investigate the activities following the revelations at Abu Ghraib, has said that what was done by the Bush administrations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanmo constituted war crimes “when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture.”

Brigadier General James Cullen (Ret.), former chief judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals said that giving these practices euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation techniques” does not make it not torture. What was done was unequivocally torture. “We hear a lot of arguments to try to justify ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ but we know exactly what we’re talking about. It’s torture in different packaging.”

In fact, the Senate Armed Services Committee said that the whole point of the SERE training that led to the abuses was to resist what was clearly identified as torture.

During the resistance phase of SERE training, US military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures…designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is “based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years.”

It is really quite simple. At the very minimum, if something is torture when done by others to you involuntarily, then it is still torture when done by you to others.

Next: More excuses

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart talks with a torture apologist

Clifford May comes out with the usual pathetic excuses for why torture is ok if done by the US. May is the president of something called the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and nothing says that you love democracy more than advocating torture practices.

The full and unedited interview is shown below in three parts.

Part 1:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 1
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis First 100 Days

Part 2

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 2
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis First 100 Days

Part 3:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 3
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis First 100 Days

On torture-3: What was actually done to detainees by the US

(For previous posts on torture, see here.)

An article by Mark Danner in the April 30, 2009 issue of the New York Review of Books accompanied his release of the February 2007 confidential report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on what was done to detainees in US custody. It is truly horrifying. These are the methods that were used by the US on its detainees:

  • Suffocation by water poured over a cloth placed over the nose and mouth…[i.e., ‘waterboarding’]
  • Prolonged stress standing position, naked, held with the arms extended and chained above the head…
  • Beatings by use of a collar held around the detainees’ neck and used to forcefully bang the head and body against the wall…
  • Beating and kicking, including slapping, punching, kicking to the body and face…
  • Confinement in a box to severely restrict movement…
  • Prolonged nudity…this enforced nudity lasted for periods ranging from several weeks to several months…
  • Sleep deprivation…through use of forced stress positions (standing or sitting), cold water and use of repetitive loud noises or music…
  • Exposure to cold temperature…especially via cold cells and interrogation rooms, and…use of cold water poured over the body or…held around the body by means of a plastic sheet to create an immersion bath with just the head out of water.
  • Prolonged shackling of hands and/or feet…
  • Threats of ill-treatment, to the detainee and/or his family…
  • Forced shaving of the head and beard…
  • Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food from 3 days to 1 month after arrest…

How did the US torturers even come up with the ideas for these methods? They were developed as part of the SERE (“Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape”) counter-resistance program developed by the US military, to train their own people to resist what they themselves called torture when it was done to them by others. Danner quotes a Senate Armed Services Committee report that says:

The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps and until recently, for some who attended the Navy’s SERE school, it included waterboarding.

The progression is chilling. When done by the Chinese against US prisoners, these actions were unequivocally condemned as torture. These torture techniques were then used to train US personnel to resist torture in the event they were captured by countries that did not abide by the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions or the Treaty Against Torture. And then they were used as a how-to manual by the US to torture others.

There is no doubt that the US has tortured people in violation of the law. The question now is what should be done about it.

As Danner says:

One fact, seemingly incontrovertible, after the descriptions contained and the judgments made in the ICRC report, is that officials of the United States, in interrogating prisoners in the “War on Terror,” have tortured and done so systematically. From many other sources, including the former president himself, we know that the decision to do so was taken at the highest level of the American government and carried out with the full knowledge and support of its most senior officials.

Once this is accepted as a fact, certain consequences might be expected to follow. First, that these policies, violating as they do domestic and international law, must be changed—which, as noted, President Obama began to accomplish on his first full day in office. Second, that they should be explicitly repudiated—a more complicated political process, which has, perhaps, begun, but only begun. Third, that those who ordered, designed, and applied them must be brought before the public in some societally sanctioned proceeding, made to explain what they did and how, and suffer some appropriate consequence.

And fourth, and crucially, that some judgment must be made, based on the most credible of information compiled and analyzed and weighed by the most credible of bodies, about what these policies actually accomplished: how they advanced the interests of the country, if indeed they did advance them, and how they hurt them.

But rather than following through on the logic that those who commit torture should face investigation and prosecution, what has been disgusting are the efforts to excuse and justify these actions in response to these revelations, simply because they were done by ‘our’ side.

Next: The parade of excuses for the torture committed by the US

POST SCRIPT: Hypocrisy

The Daily Show on the difference between the way Japanese torturers were treated compared to the US torturers for doing the same things.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
A Brief History of Torture
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis Political Humor

On torture-2: When sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander

(For previous posts on torture, see here.)

In the previous post in this series, I invented a hypothetical example of two American journalists tortured by North Korea to argue that the reaction in the US is quite different when torture is done by other counties, in order to illustrate the hypocrisy of condemning those actions by others that we excuse in ourselves. It now turns out that this kind of scenario actually happened. Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, who is closely related to the ruling family of that country, was caught on videotape torturing people.

Particularly damaging was the apparent involvement of a policeman in the torture and the impunity with which Sheikh Issa could act, even after the tape emerged. He is a senior prince related to powerful members of the ruling family in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan is now under investigation in the United Arab Emirates after the shocking tape showed him beating a man with a nailed plank, setting him on fire, attacking him with a cattle prod and running him over.

The UAE at first said that the matter had been privately settled between Sheikh Issa and his victim. They also added that UAE police had followed all their rules and regulations properly.

The fresh revelations about Issa’s actions will add further doubt to a pending nuclear energy deal between the UAE and the US. The deal, signed in the final days of George W Bush, is seen as vital for the UAE. It will see the US share nuclear energy expertise, fuel and technology in return for a promise to abide by non-proliferation agreements. But the deal needs to be recertified by the Obama administration and there is growing outrage in America over the tapes. Congressman James McGovern, a senior Democrat, has demanded that Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, investigate the matter and find out why US officials initially appeared to play down its significance. (my italics)

Unlike the CIA, which earlier this year revealed as a result of a lawsuit that it had destroyed 92 videotapes of its so-called “enhanced interrogations”, the prince was not savvy enough to do the same and it appears that there are over two hours of tape showing him torturing over 25 people. Now there are calls for investigations and prosecutions because of fears that otherwise his actions will create public relations problems in the US.

I don’t know why the UAE is worried. If there is any country that should understand and sympathize with the prince and seek to excuse his actions and need to torture, it is the US. Aren’t we the country that detains people indefinitely without trial, without access to lawyers, courts, and family, and subjects them to all manner of treatments that violate all norms of acceptable behavior and has led to death, permanent injury, and insanity?

As Glenn Greenwald, who has been one of the strongest voices for the investigation and prosecution of torture wherever it occurs says sarcastically:

But anyway, enough about all that divisive partisan unpleasantness — back to this brutal, criminal UAE prince: let’s watch more of those videotapes, express our outrage on behalf of international human rights standards, and threaten the UAE that their relationship with us will suffer severely unless there is a real investigation — not the whitewash they tried to get away with — along with real accountability. We simply cannot, in good conscience, maintain productive relations with a country that fails to take “torture” seriously. We are, after all, the United States.

A recent obituary in the New York Times of a US soldier who had been captured by the Chinese during the Korean war casually labels his treatment by the Chinese as torture. The obituary reads:

Col. Harold E. Fischer Jr., an American fighter pilot who was routinely tortured in a Chinese prison during and after the Korean War… From April 1953 through May 1955, Colonel Fischer — then an Air Force captain — was held at a prison outside Mukden, Manchuria. For most of that time, he was kept in a dark, damp cell with no bed and no opening except a slot in the door through which a bowl of food could be pushed. Much of the time he was handcuffed. Hour after hour, a high-frequency whistle pierced the air.

But when it comes to what the US has done to the prisoners it controls, the same paper gets all coy about using that harsh word and resorts to euphemisms. As Andrew Sullivan comments:

The NYT’s incoherence and double standards, equally, are self-evident. But I would like to know if [NYT editor] Bill Keller will remove the t-word from this obit and replace it with “harsh interrogations” as he does when referring to the US government’s use of identical techniques. If not, why not? Remember: these people won’t even use the word torture to describe a technique displayed in the Cambodian museum of torture to commemmorate [sic] the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge – as long as Americans do the torturing.

Some apologists for US torture try to trivialize it by characterizing what was done as little more than the kinds of hi-jinks done by fraternities. Glenn Greenwald applies that same logic to what was done to Fischer:

So that’s torture now? To use the prevailing American mindset: a room that doesn’t meet the standards of a Hilton and some whistling in the background is torture? My neighbor whistles all the time; does that mean he’s torturing me? It’s not as though Fischer had his eyes poked out by hot irons or was placed in a coffin-like box with bugs or was handcuffed to the ceiling.

The new Obama administration seems to have joined the chorus of people are anxious to put all this ‘nasty’ business of our own torture behind us, to ignore all the acts of torture that have been committed and to “look forward and not behind” so that we can then lecture other countries on the evils of torture.

The hypocrisy on this issue is so widespread and reaches all levels that people seem to be blinded by it, as this Tom Tomorrow cartoon indicates.

Next: What exactly did the US do to its detainees?

POST SCRIPT: Please don’t tell us about the bad stuff we do

The Daily Show says that what seems to really upset some people is not the fact that the US government tortures people but that the torture practices were revealed.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
We Don’t Torture
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On torture-1: Torture is just flat-out wrong

(For previous posts on torture, see here.)

Some of you might have heard of the case of two American journalists who are to stand trial in North Korea for having entered the country illegally on March 17, 2009. They are accused of committing acts that were hostile to that country.

It was revealed that the two had confessed to being spies for the US and had entered North Korea in order to gain information to aid a military attack on that country. The confessions came after the two journalists had been subjected to solitary confinement, waterboarded repeatedly, kept in sleep-deprived and stress positions for days on end, confined naked in a small box with insects allowed to crawl all over them, and repeatedly slammed against walls, a process known as ‘walling’.

When the US protested against this treatment of its citizens, arguing that such acts constituted torture and were a gross violation of international laws and treaties and that the confessions thus obtained were inadmissible as evidence, the North Korean government stated that President Kim Jong Il had personally authorized the actions and their Justice Department has said that all these methods had been deemed to be legal, especially in light of the imminent threat to the nation’s security because of the hostile attitude of the US towards North Korea.
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Skyhooks and cranes-9: The resurgence of natural selection and the resurgence of religion

(For other posts in this series, see here.)

I am going to conclude this series by arguing that it was more-or-less a coincidence that led to the deep-seated animosity towards evolutionary theory in America.

The early 20th century was the time when religious people in America became alarmed that they had perhaps gone too far in separating church and state in the public schools and decided to try and reverse the trend, and this movement coincided in time with the rise in acceptance of natural selection as the mechanism evolution. This theory, with its explicit rejection of a special divine plan for the human race, became seen as a potent symbol of an anti-religious way of thinking that had to be combated. Hence it was natural to use opposition to the teaching of the theory of evolution as a vanguard action that would lead to the restoration of religious instruction in schools.
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