Monday, April 27, 2009

The Debate Over Torture

In the past, I've read Michael Scheuer, and been favorably impressed by some of his analysis, but his recent op-ed in Washington Post strikes me as off of the deep end, indeed, if a moron like this was responsible for catching Bin Laden (Scheuer was "chief of Bin Laden issue station") it's no wonder the terrorist chieftain has eluded US capture.
Now, in a single week, President Obama has eliminated two-thirds of that successful-but-not-sufficient national defense troika because his personal ideology -- a fair gist of which is "If the world likes us more we are more secure" -- cannot tolerate harsh interrogation techniques, torture or coercive interviews, call them what you will. Surprisingly, Obama now stands alongside Bush as a genuine American Jacobin, both of them seeing the world as they want it to be, not as it is. Whereas Bush saw a world of Muslims yearning to betray their God for Western secularism, Obama gazes upon a globe that he regards as largely carnivore-free and believes that remaining threats can be defused by semantic warfare; just stop saying "War on Terror" and give talks in Turkey and on al-Arabiyah television, for example.
Americans should be clear on what Obama has done. In a breathtaking display of self-righteousness and intellectual arrogance, the president told Americans that his personal beliefs are more important than protecting their country, their homes and their families.

The last part reminds me of the scene in Dr. Strangelove where Buck Turgidson tells the president "Perhaps it might be better, Mr. President, if you were more concerned with the American People than with your image in the history books" when the president says he refuses to go down in history as the greatest murder since Adolph Hitler.
What Scheuer misses is that Obama's belief is that these techniques don't protect America. Even if you disagree, it is a bogus charge to say he is putting his personal beliefs before protecting the country.
Scheuer's version of events is contradicted by his agencies own finding that torture is not helpful in providing intelligence. Even so, the agency has greatly squandered its credibility. Unlike the FBI, the CIA was ready to violate the law by torturing prisoners. The agency has no background interrogation, but were chosen clearly because they can operate in the darkness outside the rule of law and accountability.
The kind of information that can be obtained from torture is generally what one already wants to hear. This should be no surprise, the forms of torture we use are in many cases cribbed from Maoist practices explicitly designed to illicit false confessions (such torture tactics were stored in US army manuals for resistance to torture), and this seems to be what they've been used for.
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.

The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush's quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them.

Generally, we hear torture justified by people pointing to a "ticking time bomb", and arguing that torture will save American lives. In this case, torture was used in order to attempt to justify US policy and provide political cover for an administration, after all, even if such links existed (they didn't) they were hardly a pressing national security priority, and certainly didn't merit abusive treatment.

1 comment:

PNRJ said...

It's actually a weird concept to begin with: "Putting your own beliefs over the protection of the American people."

If you believe that certain actions are morally unjustified---all things considered, the protection of Americans notwithstanding---then you have sufficient reason not to do those things, particularly if you have good reasons for your beliefs.

Since Obama's beliefs on torture are in line with the majority of Americans, and the evidence seems quite clear that the torture methods we were using weren't consistently providing better information than more traditional interrogation techniques---I'd say Obama has made the right decision on this one.