Monday, December 10, 2007

Selling Our Souls For Dross

The evidence that this administration officially sanctioned the torture of suspects affiliated with Al Qaeda is simply irrefutable. The latest confirmation comes from John Kiriakou, the CIA officer who interrogated Abu Zubaydah.

Kiriakou says that waterboarding Zubaydah broke him in 35 seconds, after which he freely admitted to scores of plots and provided reams of extremely valuable intelligence. Kiriakou says that waterboarding is torture, and he thinks torturing detainees may have been necessary after 9/11: "What happens if we don't waterboard a person, and we don't get that nugget of information, and there's an attack," Kiriakou said. "I would have trouble forgiving myself."

This is the crux of the pro torture logic. The ends justify the means if the ends is to save innocent life from the terrorists. In fact, when considering the torture issue from that neoconnish us vs them, good/evil, black/white outlook, the sense of torturing Al Qaeda suspects isn't really even debatable. Of course the evildoers who want to kill us should be tortured in order to save innocent lives!

But it seems to me that that same logic may be used by all people throughout the course of human kind. In fact Andrew Sullivan's exposure of the Nazi justifications for torturing partisans (even to the point of calling it "enhanced interrogation") follow the modern day pro torture arguments precisely. Those partisans were captured out of uniform, plotting to kill indiscriminately far removed from any front line, resulting in random acts of violence which had to be stopped in the name of saving lives. Those arguments did not win the day at Nuremburg and the fact that the Bush administration is echoing the wrong side of those war crimes is beyond appalling.

In fact Kiriakou takes note of the example passed to us from the "greatest generation", and how they handled their intelligence gathering at the time. Yet rather than learning from that example, Kiriakou dismisses those old fashioned notions thusly:
I had heard stories of-- of captured German prisoners from the Second World War playing chess with their interrogators. And over the course of many weeks and months of playing chess they develop a rapport, and the German ended up giving information. Al Qaeda is not like a World War Two German POW. It's a different world.

These guys hate us more than they love life. And so they're not-- you're not gonna convince them that because you're a nice guy and they can trust you and they have a rapport with you that they're going to confess and-- and give you their operations. It's-- it's different. It's a different world.
Reading this, I don't think Kiriakou is well schooled in the attitudes of the generation which fought WWII. They were fed the most vitriolic propaganda instilling racism and hatred for the enemy. There can be no doubt as to the certain knowledge of that generation that the enemy at that time wanted every one of us dead, and that we were in a fight to bitter end... it was either us or them. It was ok with that generation to firebomb the enemies population centers for goodness sakes! The perception of modern day interrogators that the enemy we face today is particularly vicious and deadly is hardly a new found conviction only applicable to our generation.

Frankly, the truth of the matter is the WWII generation actually had a far greater reason to fear their enemy than we do to fear terrorists. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died in a four year war with the Axis. The death toll in the 6 year war on terror has not yet approached 10k. They were fighting the national superpowers of their ages, with huge war machines bent on world domination. We are fighting a backwards sect of religious fundamentalist cave dwelling freakazoids who are bent on world domination. Where are the stories of Axis prisoners being waterboarded in order to root out plots and stratagems which actually cost lives by the thousands in that war? Claiming that the modern threat to Americans is such that we are called upon to forsake the principles which our fathers and their fathers through the generations established is simply nonsensical. It really makes no sense, and yet that is how the torture apologists want us to think as they call upon you to be afraid and let that fear guide you in deciding whether or not to cast off the principles that make us American.

Past generations of Americans faced with mortal danger never responded to the crisis of their times by lowering themselves to the depths which the Bush administration has taken us to. They never officially condoned torture in order to save their own lives. Lives which they gave willingly in order to pass along fundamental ideals which guided America for over 230 years, but which ideals the Bush administration allowed to be subverted out of fear. I am just appalled that this happened with my generation... on our watch!

The Bush administration has cheapened the sacrifice, lives and suffering of past generations of patriots... and in the course of doing so we are telling history that our forefathers had it wrong. They should have broken their prisoners to save themselves. George Washington, facing the definition of worst threat to the nation while founding America by revolting against the world superpower of the day, was wrong to not break British prisoners in order to get intelligence. Roosevelt was wrong to not waterboard Axis prisoners and use the intelligence we would have gotten to save allied lives by the thousands.

There is no doubt in my mind on this simple fact. It is not our forefathers who were wrong to hold American ideals which found the mistreatment of prisoners unacceptable. It is this abominable President who is wrong.

The title of this post was coined by the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, describing the wests reliance upon intelligence gained by the most hideous forms of torture used by the tyrant of Tashkent as selling our souls for dross. If you link around enough, you can see that evidence for yourself, and it is particularly gruesome. The Uzbeki government barely attempts to conceal the awful truth. By way of graphic example they contend that two brothers whose bodies actually had water lines burned into them from being dipped alive into boiling water had died after engaging in a tea fight. I'm certain there were many plots and terrorists exposed in the final moments of those brothers existence, and the thought that our intelligence services would actually use such evidence should shock the conscience. Shame!

We may not be boiling people alive, but our allies are. And it seems to me it's harder for America to call upon the rest of the world to toe the line on humanitarian concerns when it is clear that the President of the United States authorized the torture of prisoners. We sell our souls for dross and impugn the past sacrifices of those patriots who handed down American ideals rather than allowing fear of the threats they faced to forsake those principles by allowing this President and his cronies to get away with this. There really has to be an accounting for this. A war crime in 1946 must still be a war crime in 2001 and beyond.

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