Thursday, September 07, 2006

Using torture to get votes

The President speechified yesterday (2 months before the mid term elections) and made several proposals and announcements that were intended solely for domestic political consumption. Let us consider the ramifications of the Presidents course of action in regards to suspected terrorists and their prosecution, and how the electorate is liable to respond.

Let us start with the observation that the Army field manual which dictates treatment of detainees under military control was released the day of the Presidents speech. It is clear that the manual only applies to detainees under military control, and not interrogations conducted by the CIA on foreign soil. In fact the President asserted in his speech his determination that detainees under CIA control ought to be harshly interrogated, and the State Department has reserved the right to have terrorism suspects captured in the future interrogated by the CIA.

Let there be no doubt. By all commonly accepted definitions the tactics employed by the CIA are torture. The uncommon definition of torture previously adopted by this administration ( only pain equivalent to major organ failure) was simply a figleaf allowing extreme tactics before the uproar over Abu Ghraib and Senators Warner/McCain put a stop to use of those tactics. Yet we now know with a certainty that the administration fully intends to use these tactics on future "high value" detainees. The President is able to say they don't torture because their definition of torture is outlandishly hard to attain.

Which brings us to the issue of what constitutes evidence. I contend that one of the reasons the administration wishes to keep evidence against suspects secret is because that evidence is gained through torture (as commonly defined). The problems with that evidence ought to be clear to anyone who gives a second of thought to the matter. Suspect A is tortured, tells the interrogators what he thinks they want to hear so they will stop, and accuses suspect B of involvement with terrorism.

In fact this has happened on several occasions, the most recent being the arrest and interrogation of Rashid Rauf in Pakistan. Pakistan broke (polite term for tortured) Rashid which led to him accusing his brother who lived in Britain of conspiring to blow up airliners bound for the U.S. This confession in turn led to the arrest of dozens of supposed terrorists in Britain and a huge scare over airline travel that nicely coincided with Ned Lamonts victory of Bush buddy Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democrat(ic) primary. A couple of weeks later though, Rashid's brother was released from custody with no charges. The release was hardly attended with the fanfare and scare mongering the arrests were made with however.

So this leads me to wonder why the administration wants to try terror suspects but keep the evidence that is used against them secret. The notion that to bring the intelligence used to accuse the suspect to their attention is to expose intelligence assets is not believable. This nation has a long and distinguished history of bringing international criminals to justice in our justice system. There didn't seem to be a problem convicting Manuel Noriega. There is a reason the druglords of South America fear extradition to the United States. It is not because they are afraid we will expose our intelligence sources when we try them!

Even closer to the point, America has a history of prosecuting international terrorists successfully as well. Omar Abdul-Rahman (widely believed to have been one of the top spiritual guides for Al Qaida) and Ramzi Yousef quickly come to mind. With this history of success in prosecuting international criminals and terrorists based upon sensitive intelligence precisely why would the administration wish to hide the evidence against terror suspects? What has changed?

Because now that evidence may be based upon torture. Be it torture at the hands of the CIA, from suspects rendered to other countries who do the dirty work, or from intelligence gained from nations who torture their own citizens. In fact the administration wishes for these trials to proceed with the implicit acknowledgement that intelligence gained by (commonly defined) torture be allowed as evidence against the accused. (They call it coercion) It is definitely in the interest of this administration that this evidence be allowed, but not brought before the public. You can't have the public feeling sympathy for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed when they find out he was waterboarded and when that didn't work the CIA authorized even worse treatment, to the point of holding his pre teen sons in custody and using them to make him talk.

Quite simply, this is heinous. As the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan (one of President Bush's allies in the war on terror) Craig Murray says, relying upon intelligence gathered in this fashion is selling our soul for dross. Our Uzbek allies boil their muslim terror suspects alive. I'll bet they get all kinds of great intelligence!

Military lawyers are not on board with this program. They fear that if the U.S. uses this logic that future POW's would face the same sort of treatment. For that reason I don't think it will be possible for the President to use this tactic to get votes by portraying Democrats as weak on terror. When the military itself calls into question the Presidents line of reasoning it is not going to be easy to say that Democrats are out of line on this one. In fact Republican Senators Warner and McCain are off the reservation on this one too.

This just leaves me shaking my head and wondering. How cynical is it to try to use the torture of terror suspects in an attempt to get out the vote? More importantly, will it actually work?

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]