November 11, 2005


Pervasive silence about torture issue (Tim Rutten, November 5, 2005, LA Times)

OF all the ways in which the American news media have failed since Sept. 11, none may be more consequential than the mild and deferential eye it has cast on the Bush administration's adoption of torture as state policy.

Who can forget the giddy months through the fall of 2001 when U.S. cable networks and newspaper op-ed pages actually staged debates — in some cases in front of live audiences —over how far we should go to "extract information" from any Al Qaeda members who fell into our hands?

Ostensibly responsible Americans — officials and commentators alike — unashamedly sat and publicly discussed not only whether torture was licit, but also how and when it should be applied.

The whole sorry spectacle reached its nadir when a purported civil libertarian, Harvard Law professor Allen Dershowitz, proposed procedures for obtaining "torture warrants." (The relevance of due process to a moral universe that sanctions the torment of other human beings is apparently an irony against which a Harvard professorship armors the mind.) [...]

Now, why do we suppose our government wants to hold people secretly in foreign countries? Maybe it's because they want to do things to them that would be illegal inside the United States ... like, say, torture them?

That would explain why Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director Porter J. Goss have so stubbornly resisted language written into the defense spending bill by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a one-time Vietnam POW, that would prohibit the cruel or inhumane treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody, including those held by the CIA. Cheney and Goss aren't concerned, as their surrogates have argued, about tying the intelligence agencies' hands in some future, theoretical moment of national emergency. They're worried that they'll have to close down the clandestine torture chambers that are in operation now.

And the American press continues to abet their sinister evasions with an indifference to consequence and diffidence to power that only can be called what it is: moral cowardice.

When torture is the only option (David Gelernter, 11/11/05, Jewish World Review)
ou don't have to be "pro-torture" to oppose the McCain amendment. That naive misunderstanding summarizes the threat posed by this good-hearted, wrong-headed legislation. Those who oppose the amendment don't think the CIA should be permitted to use torture or other rough interrogation techniques. What they think is that sometimes the CIA should be required to squeeze the truth out of prisoners. Not because the CIA wants to torture people, but because it may be the only option we've got.

McCain's amendment is a trap for the lazy minded. Whenever a position seems so obvious that you don't even have to stop and think — stop and think.

Americans will never be permitted to use torture as punishment or vengeance. A criminal might deserve to be tortured; we refuse to torture him nonetheless, because to do so degrades us. But if torturing a terrorist (or carrying out some other form of rough interrogation) is the only way to save innocent lives, we have no right to refuse.

Most human beings recoil from committing torture. But sometimes we have an obligation to do hard things for the good of the nation — as no man knows better than McCain, who fought for his country and suffered long years as a brutally mistreated POW.

But his amendment lets the CIA do what he refused to do. It lets the CIA take an easy out.

In 1982, the philosopher Michael Levin published an article challenging the popular view that the U.S. must never engage in torture. "Someday soon," he concluded, "a terrorist will threaten tens of thousands of lives, and torture will be the only way to save them."

Suppose a nuclear bomb is primed to detonate somewhere in Manhattan, Levin wrote, and we've captured a terrorist who knows where the bomb is. But he won't talk. By forbidding torture, you inflict death on many thousands of innocents and endless suffering on the families of those who died at a terrorist's whim — and who might have lived had government done its ugly duty.

The tortue that is being advocated is an issue like abortion for victims of rape and incest that is so limted in its applicability as to be a near nullity. We will all too rarely manage to lay our hands on terrorists who may have knowledge of ongoing plans or about al Qaeda's infrastructure. However, the idea that we shouldn't torture them to obtain what they know in those rare circumstances is not morally defensible, it depends on the notion that we should let fellow citizens die rather than offend the delicate sensibilities of folks like Mr. McCain & Mr. Rutten. What Congress should do is write tight rules governing the use of torture, including a requirement that it be expressly authorized by the President and/or Attorney General and/or Secretary of Defense in each instance and that it be publicized as soon as the information extracted is acted upon.

U.S., Jordan Forge Closer Ties in Covert War on Terrorism (Ken Silverstein, November 11, 2005. LA Times)

Jordan's General Intelligence Directorate, or GID, has surpassed Israel's Mossad as America's most effective allied counter-terrorism agency in the Middle East. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, its cooperation with the CIA has grown even closer.

The GID has aggressively hunted Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born head of the extremist group Al Qaeda in Iraq and suspected planner of Wednesday's bombings. Last year, Jordanian agents arrested several Zarqawi associates, reportedly foiling truck bomb attacks on the U.S. Embassy and government targets in Amman, the capital. [...]

The U.S. provides secret financial assistance to subsidize the GID's budget, former senior U.S. intelligence officials said, adding that the two intelligence agencies conduct sophisticated joint operations and routinely share information.

Jordan's intelligence partnership with the U.S. is so close, in fact, that the CIA has had technical personnel "virtually embedded" at GID headquarters, said a former CIA official in the Middle East. One former CIA official said he was allowed to roam the halls of the GID unescorted.

Most recently, Jordan has emerged as a hub for "extraordinary renditions," the controversial, covert transfer of suspected extremists from U.S. custody to foreign intelligence agencies.

GID personnel are characterized as highly capable interrogators by Frank Anderson, a former CIA Middle East division chief. "They're going to get more information [from a terrorism suspect] because they're going to know his language, his culture, his associates — and more about the network he belongs to," he said.

It's no coincidence that the two best intelligence agencies in the Middle East use torture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 11, 2005 9:17 AM

Yes, but the legal use of torture is just one of the various instruments of depotism that fuel political unrest and violence you say W's crusade will end.

I am very wary of giving the govt power to torture. I do not believe that once authorized to do so that the govt will only use them in the "right" cases and never abuse the power.

I am not aware of instances of attacks that would have been presented if we had allowed torture. But I am aware of several attacks that were not prevented even though the terrorists had broken existed laws. 9/11 was not caused because the govt could not do its job, but because the govt was too incompetent even though they already had the necessary powers to prevent it.

It seems to me that the govt already has the power to win the war and defeat the terrorists than introducing the odious concept of torture.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at November 11, 2005 10:28 AM

On the other hand, if every single case has to have the direct, personal approval of the President, the number of cases will be somewhat limited. The essence of despotism isn't things like torture, but the lack of accountability for them. If you make the President personally accountable, that's a rather strong limit on how much it can be abused. I'm not sure OJ is correct here, but I think he makes a good case.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at November 11, 2005 11:16 AM

Why is it no surpise that this non-issue has become big news thanks to the moral vanity of people like Senator Keating-McCain? It serves for the non-religious Left the same purpose as the "porkbusters" campaign does for the non-religious Right: it's an opportunity for moral exhibitionism and displays of righteous indignation.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 11, 2005 11:57 AM