Torture works: we have Bush’s word on it

In more important news —

Talking Points Memo reports that President Bush has vetoed the Senate authorization bill, which would have effectively outlawed waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques for the CIA. Bush asserts,

The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror — the CIA program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives. This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us prevent a number of attacks. The program helped us stop a plot to strike a U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles, and a plot to crash passenger planes into Heathrow Airport or buildings in downtown London.

But the President would say that, wouldn’t he? He isn’t about to say, “No good has come of the CIA’s torture program — we’ve thrown America’s reputation under the bus when it comes to human rights, and gained nothing in return.”

Maybe the President is telling the truth. The trouble is, we only have his word on it. All of the supporting information is confidential. We’ll have to be satisfied with the President’s summary: “Here are all the terrible evils that torture has prevented.”

But the President isn’t the only person with access to the classified information. The Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee (D-WV) had this to say:

I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an imminent terrorist attack. And I have heard nothing that makes me think the information obtained from these techniques could not have been obtained through traditional interrogation methods used by military and law enforcement interrogators. On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop.

Our government needs to have clear standards for interrogations, and that standard should be the tried and true methods in the Army Field Manual. These methods have been used by military and law enforcement interrogators for decades, often in life and death situations on the battlefield and in counter-terror investigations.

The President says / the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says. Ultimately it comes down to the President’s credibility. He has none with me.

btw:
Yes, I believe there is something more important going on than the Democratic nomination process. In fact, the reason I care so passionately about this year’s U.S. election is because it’s past time to consign George “Dubya” Bush to the dustbin of history. Americans are overdue to sweep their house clean.

Which means “No” to John McCain, too. McCain also opposed the bill, despite his reputation as someone who implacably opposes torture.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Random
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 05:10:49

    “The President says / the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says. Ultimately it comes down to the President’s credibility. He has none with me.”

    The difference is that the president has cited concrete examples in support of his position and the chairman has not. It is most unlikely that the president has simply made this stuff up, or the chairman would have called him on it. Which means chairman Rockefeller saw the same information and isn’t challenging the substance of it. Not also how careful his language is – “I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an imminent terrorist attack.” Presumably if the plan to crash a plane into central London was six months away from completion this wouldn’t count as “imminent” and therefore breaking it up would be of no concern to chairman Rockefeller. As somebody who commutes into London for business purposes several times a year I would beg to differ frankly.

    “Our government needs to have clear standards for interrogations, and that standard should be the tried and true methods in the Army Field Manual. These methods have been used by military and law enforcement interrogators for decades, often in life and death situations on the battlefield and in counter-terror investigations.”

    I hate to use such blunt language, but as we discussed on your other blog this is a straight lie. The Army Field Manual was extensively revised after John McCain got the Detainee Treatment Act through Congress to get round the restrictions in the act and the provisions on interrogation of detainees were classified for the first time. This was barely three years ago, not “decades”. If chairman Rockefeller is lying about this, then what else is he lying about?

    “Which means “No” to John McCain, too. McCain also opposed the bill, despite his reputation as someone who implacably opposes torture.”

    Because of course it couldn’t possibly be the case that the Democrats are playing games in an election year by trying to attack the Republican nominee on what is one of his strongest suits without caring too much about any effect this might have on national security, could it?

    John McCain isn’t somebody who has a reputation as somebody who implacably opposes torture – John McCain *is* somebody who implacably opposes torture. He carries the marks of it on his own body to this day, for crying out loud. However, given that you have linked to the discussion we had last time on this, can I take it that you have now answered my question on whether you believe Donald Rumsfeld’s definition of torture is morally superior to John McCain’s, and that you have sided with Rumsfeld?

    Reply

  2. Stephen (aka Q)
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 06:56:47

    The difference is that the president has cited concrete examples in support of his position and the chairman has not. It is most unlikely that the president has simply made this stuff up.

    When I say that the President has zero credibility with me, I mean it literally. I don’t put it past him to make stuff up.

    It’s all classified information. It serves his purposes to lie, and no one can call him on it. You’re proving the point. Even when the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says (paraphrasing), “There’s no data to support the President’s claims,” you continue to believe the President.

    This President hasn’t earned our trust. No, that’s too weak: this President has earned our distrust.

    John McCain *is* somebody who implacably opposes torture.

    We don’t know that anymore. He has raised question marks against his position by voting against this bill. It was his first opportunity to put his money where his mouth is — and he took a pass.

    I’ve been reading about McCain, and he’s not nearly the straight talker his reputation suggests. Everyone admires him so much for his war record, they’ve papered over his equivocations. But the man is a serial flip-flopper.

    Would he flip-flop on such a gravely important issue as torture? I hesitate to believe such a thing of him, but that’s what this vote suggests. We’re now in the position of having to negotiate with McCain: what is and what isn’t torture?

    He opposes waterboarding — that’s a start. But McCain wasn’t waterboarded in Vietnam, and we all agree that he was tortured. Stress positions and beatings are torture then, right? So why is McCain waffling, leaving the door open to a narrower definition?

    Reply

  3. Random
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 10:23:11

    “It’s all classified information. It serves his purposes to lie, and no one can call him on it.”

    The chairman can, and presumably the rest of the SIC too (and that’s ignoring the fact that stuff like this tends to leak anyway if the president really has been lying). It would be trivial to say “none of that stuff is in the report” – unless of course it actually was in the report, hence careful evasions like the use of “imminent”, which appear to be working if your response is anything to go by.

    ““There’s no data to support the President’s claims,” you continue to believe the President.”

    I beleive the report basically says what Bush reports it as saying, for the reasons given above. I do not automatically believe it is correct when it says the data recovered from interrogation has produced the results claimed.

    “It was his first opportunity to put his money where his mouth is — and he took a pass.”

    *First* opportunity, Stephen? Did you really miss that discussion we had on your other blog about the Detainee Treatment Act? That was 2005, and it was McCain’s work.

    “Would he flip-flop on such a gravely important issue as torture? I hesitate to believe such a thing of him, but that’s what this vote suggests. ”

    Except that he isn’t flip-flopping. The Detainee Treatment Act recognised that the Army Field Manual wasn’t an appropriate vehicle for regularising interrogation practices by the CIA and other civilian agencies, and this was widely discussed and agreed at the time – 90 senators, including all the Democrats (i.e. Rockefeller, Clinton, Obama…), supported this view at the time. The ones who have flip-flopped are the ones who, in less than 3 years, have gone from saying the AFM was undesirable to saying it’s essential. McCain has been consistent all along. But then in 2005 he wasn’t the Republican candidate for president and the Democrats weren’t looking for devices to slime the author of the Detainee Treatment Act as soft on torture. If you really want to find out who’s playing politics with this the look at the people who have changed their views in an election year.

    Oh and BTW you still haven’t explained why you think Donald Rumsfeld’s position on torture is morally superior to John McCain’s.

    Reply

  4. Bill
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 14:31:13

    Before the Iraq war On Page 4 of the National Intelligence Estimate, dealing with terrorism sent to the Whitehouse on Oct 1 2002 The CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and the other U.S. spy agencies unanimously agreed that Baghdad:
    • had not sponsored past terrorist attacks against America,
    • was not operating in concert with al-Qaida,
    • and was not a terrorist threat to America.
    George Bush, speaking in October 2002, said that “The stated policy of the United States is regime change… However, if [Hussein] were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I have described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed.”
    The invasion happened and for months after the invasion, George W. Bush told the public that he had based his decision to invade Iraq on “good, solid intelligence.”
    Later Colin Powell said on MTP, “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading.”
    Weapons inspectors found no evidence of WMD After the invasion, the Iraq Survey Group concluded that Iraq had ended its WMD programs in 1991, which proved the National Intelligence Estimate to be correct.
    Either Bush was stupid in believing bad intel over good intel or he lied I suspect that because as Bush stated “The stated policy of the United States is regime change” that he lied.

    So should anyone trust his word?

    Reply

  5. Stephen
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 09:32:38

    Random:
    Did you really miss that discussion we had on your other blog about the Detainee Treatment Act?

    Yes: at least, I missed a key part of your argument. I did a little bit of research yesterday and realized what you were saying: that McCain exempted the CIA from that anti-torture bill, consistent with his current position.

    So you’re right, this isn’t the flip-flop I was accusing him of. Mea culpa.

    That said, I continue to be concerned. As I indicated in the previous post, McCain supports “extra measures” for the CIA. That’s very vague terminology, and I’m concerned that some of those “extra measures” would constitute torture by any common sense definition of the term.

    (i.e., excluding the sort of parsing of plain language that is the bailiwick of lawyers)

    McCain appears to be aiming for middle ground on torture. That isn’t good enough for me, and it isn’t just a question of anti-Republican political spin.

    It should be made clear to the world that the USA does not employ torture — no equivocations, no exceptions, no half-measures, no ifs ands or buts. Supporting “extra measures” for the CIA without defining what those “extra measures” are doesn’t provide the necessary degree of clarity.

    • Bill:
    Thanks for the supporting data.

    Reply

  6. Random
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 12:04:30

    Stephen,

    Thanks for the measured response. For what it’s worth, I’m pretty confident that I understand McCain’s basic position and it boils down to saying that the Army Field Manual is not a good guide to interrogation practice because the army is strictly limited by international and domestic law to the sort of questions it is able to ask and how it is able to ask them (the famous “name, rank and serial number” format). Civilian agencies such as the FBI, CIA and police have a much wider range of powers when it comes to interrogating prisoners but are still forbidden from torturing them (not least by the Detainee Treatment Act). it’s this gap between what the AFM permits and what is illegal (because it’s torture) that McCain and others are seeking to preserve. But yes, I agree that a lot of heat would go out of this debate if the CIA’s own interrogation guidelines were to be published and we could see what their understanding was of what they were allowed to do under the DTA.

    I guess I’m basically saying that on the one hand we are entitled to be suspicious of those who have flip-flopped on this in an election year and on the other that McCain has a long enough track record on this issue to have earned our trust, especially when he is trying to be consistent to a long held position that was the overwhelming consensus of the senate only 3 years ago.

    Reply

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