Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Torture Never Stops

Knives and spikes, and guns and the likes of every tool of pain.
And a sinister midget, with a bucket and a mop, where the blood goes down the drain....
And it stinks so bad, his bones been chokin', and weepin' greenish drops.
In the night of the iron sausage, where the torture never stops. -- Frank Zappa

There will come a point in time, not too distant in the future I believe, when we will look back at Bush's righteous petulance over the peons daring to question his divinely-gifted wisdom, and perhaps mark a turning point when the idea of the American government torturing prisoners and spying on its citizens lost some of the Jack Bauer bad-boy frisson. The transcript doesn't quite give the full flavor of the seething anger and emanating from the (literally) bully pulpit, as an increasingly impotent unitary executive starts to feel all that accumulated power slipping, and he squirms under the questioning of David Gregory, of all people:

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

Mr. President, critics of your proposed bill on interrogation rules say there's another important test. These critics include John McCain, who you've mentioned several times this morning.

And that test is this: If a CIA officer, paramilitary or special operations soldier from the United States were captured in Iran or North Korea and they were roughed up and those governments said, "Well, they were interrogated in accordance with our interpretation of the Geneva Conventions," and then they were put on trial and they were convicted based on secret evidence that they were not able to see, how would you react to that as commander in chief?

BUSH: My reaction is, is that if the nations such as those you name adopted the standards within the Detainee Detention Act, the world would be better. That's my reaction.

We're trying to clarify law. We're trying to set high standards, not ambiguous standards.

And let me just repeat: We can debate this issue all we want, but the practical matter is, if our professionals don't have clear standards in the law, the program is not going to go forward.

You cannot ask a young intelligence officer to violate the law. And they're not going to. They -- let me finish please -- they will not violate the law.

You can ask this question all you want, but the bottom line is -- and the American people have got to understand this -- that this program won't go forward if there's vague standards applied like those in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. It's just not going to go forward.

You can't ask a young professional on the front line of protecting this country to violate law.

Now, I know they say they're not going to prosecute them. Think about that, you know. "Go ahead and violate it, we won't prosecute you." These people aren't going to do that.

Now, we can justify anything you want and bring up this example or that example. I'm just telling you the bottom line. And that's why this debate is important and it's a vital debate.

Now, perhaps, some in Congress don't think the program is important. That's fine. I don't know if they do or don't.

I think it's vital and I have the obligation to make sure that our professionals who I would ask to go conduct interrogations to find out what might be happening or who might be coming to this country -- I got to give them the tools they need, and that is clear law.

QUESTION: This is an important point, and I think it...

BUSH: The point I just made is the most important point, and that is the program is not going forward.

You can give a hypothetical about North Korea or any other country. The point is that the program is not going to go forward if our professionals do not have clarity in the law.

And the best way to provide clarity in the law is to make sure the Detainee Treatment Act is the crux of the law. That's how we define Common Article 3. And it sets a good standard for the countries that you just talked about.

Next man?

QUESTION: But wait a second. I think this is an important point.

BUSH: I know you think it's an important point.

QUESTION: But, sir, with respect, if other countries interpret the Geneva Conventions as they see fit, as they see fit, you're saying that you'd be OK with that?

BUSH: I am saying that I would hope that they would adopt the same standards we adopt; and that by clarifying Article 3 we make it stronger, we make it clearer, we make it definite.

And I will tell you again, you can ask every hypothetical you want, but the American people have got to know the facts.

And the bottom line is simple: If Congress passes a law that does not clarify the rules -- if they do not do that, the program's not going forward.

QUESTION: This will not endanger U.S. troops in your...

BUSH: Next man?

QUESTION: This will not endanger...

BUSH: David, next man please. Thank you.

Took you a long time to unravel, and it took you a long time to ask your question.

Actually, the bottom line here is that this is all just a bunch of ex post facto ass-covering for what's been going on for several years, and Bush can't handle that some of his heretofore favorite sock puppets are at least appearing to stray off the reservation.

This is actually an interesting dilemma, for a hardwired skeptic such as myself. On the one hand, it smells like a group head-fake to convince fence-sitters down the homestretch that Republicans are just as squeamish about torture as you are, but gosh, there's just no other possible options available in the universe, and we don't need no stinking FISA oversight on our wiretaps either. On the other hand, Bush has been getting pummeled for the last year straight, and even in good times, he'd always rather throw a minion under the bus than take a political hit himself. You wanna talk about character, that's very clearly his character.

So I guess I'm cautiously "optimistic" about this, that there's a slightly better chance that McCain et al are sincere in their public dissent, than that they're all in cahoots to set Junior up for some magnanimous October gesture where he takes the idea and assumes ownership of it.

And hey, kudos to the Democrats for sitting back and allowing the renegade Republicans take the lead on this issue. Way to step up on issues of principle.

Bush has made Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the reputed operations planner of the 9/11 attacks, his central argument in being able to utilize extreme coercive efforts. But as Jeff Wells points out, there's a story behind that as well [emphases in original, and there are many more links in this excerpt and throughout Jeff's post, so check it out]:

There remains the mystery of his arrest, which even today can only be called an alleged arrest, not least because he was confidently reported killed in a shootout on 9/11's first anniversary. ("Now it has emerged that Kuwaiti national Khalid Shaikh Mohammed did indeed perish in the raid," said Asia Times.)

A witness present in the house when Khalid was said to have finally been seized was adament that "the only people in the house were my brother, his wife and their kids.... I have absolutely no idea why the police came here." For The Guardian, Isobel Hilton wrote that in Pakistan, the story of his arrest "appears to be almost entirely fictional." And there's the famous photo of Khalid, fat and unshaven against a wall of peeling paint. But according to The Sunday Times a "thorough search of the house shows there is no such wall."

To allay doubts of Khalid's capture, Pakistan's ISI held a first-ever press briefing and screened a laughable eight minutes of footage purportedly taken during the raid. "Broken doors, blood-stained walls and wrists in handcuffs were all shown but curiously, no face shots...not even the well publicized 'arrest' photo of Mohammed that has been widely circulated and questioned. When one CNN reporter, Tom Minter asked why, the ISI said the tape had been edited but that the actual footage did record his face but had been edited out for the presentation." Pakistani intelligence had its own good reasons to attempt deception as, like 9/11 paymaster Omar Saeed Sheikh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was not only an al Qaeda commander but also an ISI operative. Which is why both men wanted Daniel Pearl dead.

If Khalid actually is in custody, he has remained out-of-sight from all but his CIA minders. The Kean Commission relied heavily upon Khalid's account of 9/11 to construct their own story - he's mentioned in 272 paragraphs of the report - but no commission representative was permitted to meet him or take his testimony: there is no corroboration that the account given was actually his own. The commission supplied questions to his captors, and his captors returned transcripts of interrogations that allegedly contained Khalid's answers. Its claim of authenticity rests solely upon the goodwill of the Agency.

Remember all the intel info we kept hearing in the aftermath of 9/11, how interagency squabbles, a lack of agents and contacts in the field, and an abundance of leads yet a serious shortage of qualified analysis to sort them all led to the massive failure of our $40+bn/year intelligence apparatus? Well, it seems another part of the puzzle is that we were relying on the ISI for some of our intel as well, and they have been playing both sides the whole time. They were enabling the Taliban to gain prominence in Afghanistan, and are still probably at least aware of bin Laden's whereabouts, and it was criminally underreported in the American media that ISI General Mahmoud Ahmad, who was later found to have wired $100K to Mohammed Atta, breakfasted with Porter Goss (you know, the guy who later appointed DCI to clean house) and Bob Graham on the morning of September 11, 2001.

And as Jeff mentions, the account of Khalid's arrest was rife with suspicious inconsistencies.

I'm sure this sounds like Conspiracy Guy boilerplate, but too bad. The immense secrecy and lack of oversight this administration has deliberately and systematically engendered just fuels the fires of reasonable speculation.

The fact is, Bush is the one that keeps bringing up Khalid as of late. And I humbly suggest a very simple way to put an end as to whether this reasonable speculation is just unfair conspiracy-mongering, or if there's more to it. The next time Bush brings him up -- and he will, he's Pavlovian in his utter predictability -- just ask him, "So where's Khalid now?". It can't be any huge state secret if he's warming a cot at Gitmo, waiting for his military tribunal and charges that may never come. But who knows, he may also have been beaten with a flashlight and chained to a ceiling in some dank Afghan dungeon, left to die like a dog and used as some sort of cheap intel totem. It's not like it hasn't happened before, and it's not like these people ever voluntarily admit that they might be wrong about something.

Too-clever-by-half false equivalencies just won't fly anymore. This is not about whether the Nazis or Imperial Japan openly flouted the Geneva Conventions. One expects such behavior from the brutal regimes that brought us concentration camps and Unit 731. The fact is that it's never been about them, but about us, and all the cheap elisions won't change that. I understand the impulse, but even if one were to give in to such things, at this point, knowing what we know about the people running this country, how could we ever trust such enormous power to them without any oversight whatsoever. There's no reason for them to insist on evading FISA, yet they do. And despite their protests and vague allusions to the utility of torturing prisoners who still have never even been charged, all the academic data militates otherwise. It doesn't work, and it brings us slowly, inexorably down to the level of the people we keep insisting we're better than.

And the more Bush flails and froths at being challenged, the more clear it becomes that he should not be trusted with much of anything, but especially not life-or-death powers with no oversight and no accountability. It would be something if the self-proclaimed Party O' Personal Responsibility would grow a pair and address that question at long last. Because this is really the last best chance for a heretofore shamelessly complaisant Congress to reassert itself, and reiterate proper separation of powers. Overall, this is really just another attempt to establish a unitary executive branch, a president with practically monarchic powers, and it's long past time for the people's representatives, the legislative branch, to get off their knees and start fighting back.


sigyn said...

Never mind that definitions of torture were deliberately left vague, thus discouraging loophole scrying and slouching right up to legal limits.

I understand that useless _______ [swear!swear!swear! what's the policy here?] claims not to understand the phrase "outrages upon human dignity"!

Seems to me the average pre-schooler could tell you that, for example...say, stripping people naked and forcing them into human pyramids is an outrage upon human dignity. And don't even get me started on cases like Dilawar's, where somebody obviously slid down that slippery slope into the tarpit of major organ failure.

Gaah! that man just gives me fits! I only meant to say that if the concept of human dignity is beyond one's ken, they shouldn't be allowed around small children or helpless animals, much less be nominally running a country.

Miss Emily

sigyn said...

Sudden mood swing, you said David Gregory "of all people"; I was under the impression that Gregory has been a bit of a thorn in Bush's side for several years; not much of a problem, but occasionally annoying. Do you know something I don't?

I mean, about David Gregory, let's leave aside all the other stuff m'kay?

Heywood J. said...

Emily, the thing about Gregory is that he's only a thorn in a comparative sense. He's as house-trained as the rest of them. I persist in my contention that what we know is only the tip of the iceberg, and the journalist that actually breaks a useful, momentous story will be the one that has actually done something worthwhile.

Asking "tough" questions about things we all already know, yet are not yet allowed to voice in polite company, qualifies as journalistic bravery only because the bar has been set so damned low.