Tuesday :: Dec 11, 2007

Making Torture Acceptable

by Turkana

As anyone paying attention knows, torture is nothing new to American security agencies. It was meticulously studied and practiced, and its techniques were then taught to our puppets and allies abroad. And never mind that, besides being a moral outrage and a crime against humanity, torture simply doesn't work. Our nation has engaged in it. A brief glint of sunshine may have temporarily tempered its usage, but it's never gone away.

That the Bush Administration engages in torture should come as no surprise. What it really means may be.

Hina Shamsi is a human rights observer at the U.S. military tribunal hearing of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, in Guantánamo Bay. Hamdan was supposedly Osama bin Laden's driver and bodyguard. Shamsi writes, in Salon:

At issue in Hamdan's hearing was whether under the Military Commissions Act the government had the authority to try Hamdan as an "unlawful enemy combatant." Congress passed the law in October 2006, under pressure from the Bush administration, on the eve of the midterm elections. The law circumvents due process safeguards that are a hallmark of American justice, in both the military's own court-martial system and in the federal courts. For the more than 300 men held in Guantánamo for over six years, the Military Commissions Act stripped their right to challenge detention without charge through the ancient writ mechanism of habeas corpus. (The prisoners' challenge to this provision was before the Supreme Court last Wednesday.

Hamdan's defense wants to call three witnesses who are considered "high-value" detainees, whom they claim can refute the charge that Hamdan was part of a conspiracy to murder civilians. The judge refused to allow the three to testify, because the request was not timely. This is where it gets fun.

Government lawyers argued that the three were part of a highly classified special access program -- a situation of the government's own making, of course -- and that only those with top secret clearance had access to them, which took time.

In other words, there was only one catch.

Furthermore, even though Hamdan's military defense attorney has top secret clearance, the government says treatment of the three witnesses is highly classified, and cannot be revealed, as it would undermine national security. All three, of course, have been reported by the media to have been abused, if not tortured. So, Hamdan cannot get a fair trial because the government doesn't want it known that witnesses for his defense may have been tortured. This dynamic will play out again, in the trials of "high-value detainees."

But this is where Bush administration policies will come back to haunt us with a vengeance: Unlike the majority of Guantánamo detainees who appear to be low-level players or even innocent, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others did likely engage in serious and heinous crimes. If so, they should be prosecuted and sentenced -- but based on lawfully obtained evidence in full and fair proceedings that comport with the best traditions of American justice.

But they won't be. To Bush, they can't be. People have been tortured, and for it, justice will continue to be tortured.

Shamsi writes, optimistically:

After 9/11, the Bush administration created a legal black hole in the name of national security -- and six years later, we're still trying to crawl out of it. The question now is, which direction will we take? At stake is nothing less than a return to the rule of law, the heart of American justice from which we have strayed so far.

But that doesn't appear to be forthcoming. In fact, the opposite may be happening.

Over the summer, academics, policymakers and others have begun calling for another entirely new system: a national security court, with fewer procedural and substantive safeguards, to oversee the detention (possibly indefinitely, without criminal charge) and trial of terrorism suspects. Attorney General Mukasey indicated his willingness to consider such a system in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed in August. And in June, Secretary of Defense Gates asked Congress to provide "a statutory basis for holding prisoners who should never be released and who may or may not be able to be put on trial." We face the risk that, instead of repealing the Military Commissions Act, Congress could compound its mistake and enact a new, second-tier system of secondary justice.

In other words, the legal and moral mess they have created may force them to streamline the system at even greater legal and moral costs. What we once dared to think of as basic American values will simply be abolished. R. J. Hillhouse sees something even more insidious in all this. After watching ABC's interview with former CIA case officer John Kiriakou, she was struck by his claim that every form of abuse had to be cleared through the CIA's deputy director for operations.

Kiriakou believed that the closed circuit camera were real-time for others to watch the progress of the interrogation; he didn't realize they were being taped for quality control. While some companies might video tape their employees to make sure they're not dozing off on the job, the Agency was spying on its own to make sure its officers didn't double gut punch terrorists without Headquarter's lawyers signing off.

If you'd like to waterboard, press or say 'one'...

Kiriakou wasn't trained to waterboard, he witnessed it, and experienced it when he was trained. In the interview, he pointed out that care was taken to prevent the subjects from actually drowning. Cellophane is placed over the victims' mouths. The water pressure makes them feel like they're drowning, even though they really aren't. She says that in the old-fashioned way, the way the rest of the world does it, there's no bother with cellophane. People give in or die.

In contrast, this is almost civilized.

But this is what she sees as the real point of the interview:

After watching the interview with Kiriakou, I suspect that many Americans will begin to weigh thirty seconds of a physician-monitored Saran wrap-induced terrorist discomfort against the hours we go through at airports because of terrorists. This might be exactly what the Bush Administration is hoping for by allowing this spy to come in from the cold. Kiriakou may well turn out to be the Ollie North of the rendition program.

And this returns to something I've previously written, about the Democrats continuing to investigate Bush crimes, without holding them in any way to account for what is discovered. The facts continue to trickle out, outrage upon outrage, until we're no longer capable of feeling outrage. Whereas, before, the horrors were taking place in secret, we're now learning about them. Other than bits of bloviating and blather, nothing is happening to suggest that such things are bad. We're becoming familiar with them.

At what point does familiarity numb down to complacency and comfort?

Turkana :: 12:22 PM :: Comments (9) :: Digg It!