Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Torture Correlations

From a post here a couple of days ago:
Deception has also dominated the bits of information the public has received through officials inserting disinformation through their favorite - and often near-breathless - media mouthpieces. Just do a google to display how many times a news report has portrayed the torture story as something we know today it is not. Everything is a creation of the administration, those involved at the CIA, and a pliant media. It's all in the details - the photo of KSM in his undershirt was staged by his captors; the case of Abdul Hakim Murad was largely a media fabrication encouraged at select moments by administration and intelligence officials (see Stephanie Athey's terrific essay on this here); etc. The intent has always been to create a hall of mirrors.
The torture policy-makers (such as Dick Cheney) and apologists (such as Mark Thiessen again in the Washington Post yesterday) have been trying to staunch the bleeding from their enhanced interrogation, terrorism-thwarting mirage. They're doing so by trying again to frame the issue in implied terms of the bogus time bomb hypothesis, of individual cases of torture of really bad people, and of civilization-rescuing information. In the Post piece Thiessen writes,
...interrogation with enhanced techniques "led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the 'Second Wave,' 'to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into' a building in Los Angeles." KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. The memo explains that "information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemmah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the 'Second Wave.' " In other words, without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.
But, as Timothy Noah remarks yesterday in a quickly produced response in Slate,
In a White House press briefing, Bush's counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, told reporters that the cell leader was arrested in February 2002, and "at that point, the other members of the cell" (later arrested) "believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward" [italics mine]. A subsequent fact sheet released by the Bush White House states, "In 2002, we broke up [italics mine] a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast." These two statements make clear that however far the plot to attack the Library Tower ever got—an unnamed senior FBI official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush's characterization of it as a "disrupted plot" was "ludicrous"—that plot was foiled in 2002. But Sheikh Mohammed wasn't captured until March 2003.
Like I said, disinformation.... But the "torture worked" claims are going to proliferate the closer we get to serious DOJ or international investigations of Bush administration torture. That is going to be the defense to counter the war crimes prosecutions (if we get that far). And it will run alongside the incoherent assertion that not torturing means coddling the rights of evil terrorists.

That defense requires at least three features to carry any weight at all. First, investigators and/or prosecuting judges must be convinced of the special-ness of the state of emergency or necessity such that it might be considered an overwhelming mitigating circumstance in any verdict. Second, that the pragmatic "worked" morally outweighs considerations such as the basic principles of liberal democratic society or the flouting of international and US constitutional law. And third, that "worked" makes any sense in the first place in relation to the referent of information gained from torture. That is, on this latter point, does "work" mean getting verified information on where bin Laden's driver once had breakfast or on a plot such as the LA tower one advanced above by torture apologists?

Keep that in mind. This is what is going to run up against the most fundamental of human rights abuses and war crimes; a policy of illegal torture produced from the White House that violates international law and the US Constitution; an ever-widening institution of torture; the moral and psychological corruption of those involved in the torture; the torture, abuse, and indefinite detention of "innocents" and children as well; the plummet in international standing, trust, and legitimacy, which are key to American soft power in the world; the probability that US torture has, in the view of new recruits to the cause, proven al Qaeda right about the aggression, hypocrisy, and corruption of the US; and the damage to Americans' self-image of being grander than a banana republic.

Furthermore, let's say Dick Cheney's bluff is called and all the torture memos are released. Let's hold him and the other apologists to their own standard and ask where the ticking time bomb is or was. Would it even be possible to correlate with any precision the information from torture and the prevention of some grave plot? And even if so, professional interrogators say they have more efficient and accurate and non-torturous means of gaining information - why was a regime of torture necessary at all?

Update (3:28):

And get a load of this:
A Republican strategist explains how he knows whether a person should be tortured for intelligence. The combination of bigotry, stupidity and violence that the last president empowered for eight years in the name of national security is truly terrifying.


troutsky said...

It's a brave new world where the ends justify the means and you are guilty till proven innocent. Each argument from the 1800s has to be revisited, civics 101 has to replace American Idol for a few months.

MikeD said...

Yes, it both baffles and infuriates me that the "it worked" justification seems to be accepted at face value in the media and popular discussion of this topic. It runs completely counter to any claim of being a nation based on the rule of law. Why doesn't anyone in one of these Cheney interviews simply respond to his assertion with "So what? It's against the law." Allowing him and other torture supporters to reframe the debate around whether it works or not seems to be missing the point. It seems much more logical to me (and I am no lawyer nor a philosopher) that one would progress along a path of "it's against the law, we can't do that" to "let's change the law and make it legal" and then you can have the debate about whether it works or not. But the torture supporters just skip right over that and assume they are not breaking the law because it works which is nonsensical.

info said...

We have conflicting information in the memos.

Who was the leader of the Guraba cell?

I was under the impression that it was Omar Al-Faruq, who was captured after Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded.

Waterboarding KSM led to the capture of 3 members of the Guraba cell, Hambali, Zabir, and al-Halid.

The question remains: Who is the leader of the Guraba cell, and how was he discovered? Also, just because they captured him in February 2002, WHEN were the plans of the plot discovered?

I personally think Francesco got the dates wrong.

Regardless, the memos are loaded with mentions of information obtained by enhanced interrogation, much of which is redacted.

Auto Accident Attorney Houston, Texas said...

Tortures have there own purposes.It is necessary in some cases to gain information.