Thursday, May 17, 2007

GOP debate: Big win for ignorance and torture

Two points on the GOP debate.

First, I find it incredible that the Fox audience, and the vast majority of MSM commentators, applauded Giuliani's take-down of Ron Paul for suggesting that al Qaeda's attacks were in some way a reaction to US policy in the mid-east.

The distance from reality that suggests is truly scary.

Further, I'm stunned at just how many people seem to be OK with torture. Not surprised mind you, I've always suspected that the lip service pay to freedom and the rule of law was about as deep as a yellow ribbon.

But for those of you who think American values has meaning beyond militarism, corporatism and gay-bashing, I recommend a couple of articles, yet again, exposing the damage torture does to both the tortured and the torturers.

Though I'm not a big believer in Evil since I think that minimizes the extent to which average people can commit acts that are themselves evil, Andrew Sullivan makes the case that torture is not only evil, but represents a threat to America which no terrorist could possibly match.

The evil of torture is therefore not just a moral one. It is a political one. A constitutional republic dedicated before everything to the protection of liberty cannot legalize torture and remain a constitutional republic. It imports into itself a tumor of pure tyranny. That tumor, we know from history, always always spreads, as it has spread in the US military these past shameful years. The fact that hefty proportions of US soldiers now support its use as a routine matter reveals how deep the rot has already gone. The fact that now a majority of Republican candidates proudly support such torture has rendered the GOP the party most inimical to liberty in America. When you combine torture's evil with the claims of the hard right that a president can ignore all laws and all treaties in wartime, and that "wartime" is now permanent, you have laid the ground for the abolition of the American experiment in self-government. Imagine another terror attack, with Rudy Giuliani as president, and a mandate to arrest and torture at will, with no need to follow or even address the rule of law. We would no longer be a republic. We would be in a protectorate of one man.

And in the Washington Post, no lesser personages than former Marine Commandant Charles C. Krulak and former Central Command commander-in-chief Joseph P. Hoar provide an analysis of how the use of torture both degrades our military and succors the terrorists.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb. Our soldiers in Iraq confront real "ticking time bomb" situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of "flexibility" about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone -- the rare exception fast becoming the rule.

To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military's mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality.

This has had disastrous consequences. Revelations of abuse feed what the Army's new counterinsurgency manual, which was drafted under the command of Gen. David Petraeus, calls the "recuperative power" of the terrorist enemy.

Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once wondered aloud whether we were creating more terrorists than we were killing. In counterinsurgency doctrine, that is precisely the right question. Victory in this kind of war comes when the enemy loses legitimacy in the society from which it seeks recruits and thus loses its "recuperative power."

The torture methods that Tenet defends have nurtured the recuperative power of the enemy. This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.

Both pieces should be read in full, and frankly memorized if possible. As the GOP debate showed, significant portions of our country are still ruled by fear and misinformation from those who seek to use that fear for their own political benefit.

But fear can be combated, not with bravado and volume, but with reason and knowledge. And for those of us in the reality-based world, reason and knowledge serve as our best armor against the forces within America which would betray its promise for an illusory promise of safety.

[And kudos to John McCain, for standing against torture. How has the GOP fallen that such a stand would be controversial?]


napoleon15 said...

America does not torture people. If you want some examples of torture, then you can check the examples I posted at Sleep deprivation and other interrogation methods do not constitute torture.

Citizen Kang said...

Um, that the methods the US routinely uses aren't as hideous as the most extreme examples listed in your post isn't much of a defense.

Woohoo, we're not as degenerate as the WWII era Japanese! USA! USA! USA!

Besides which, your premise doesn't account for episodes like this:

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.


At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen.

And now the punchline:

It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

Sorry, but denial isn't a defense, and it does nothing to remove this evil from America's soul.