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Torture, Again

I don’t want a CIA that routinely waterboards, but I do think that there might arise a situation where torture might actually save some American lives and would have to be considered as an option.  That is why you have an intelligence service and why the intelligence service gives the government “plausible denial” over actions that are nearly always illegal and often immoral.  But the actions of a spy service should be proportionate to the threat, not a process of going around bumping off lots of people who might be thinking of something naughty.  We appear to have lost that sense of proportion in our misguided GWOT.

So the rare use of waterboarding turns out to be 183 times on KSM alone.  That our government authorized procedures that most of the world thinks to be war crimes is undeniable.  The question becomes what kind of accountability should there be, if any.  Should the guy who attached the electrodes be tried or the guy who ordered the electrodes to be attached?  There is no simple answer to that, but much of the information now coming out goes beyond disturbing.  The NYT article detailing how the torturers went about their work complete with visitors from CIA headquarters watching the procedure was chilling.  And the torture went on in spite of the judgment of the local station chief in Thailand that the victim had no more information to give.  Somehow the videotaping and record keeping is reminiscent of the meticulous records that the Soviets and Nazis kept on what they did to their victims.  And the article also describes how the torture did not produce any usable information.  So the whole thing was really idiotic. That we engaged in war crimes for nothing would seem to be the only possible conclusion and the senior officers and White House people who drove the process should be held accountable for being stupid if for nothing else. 

I for one would like to know how this happened.  We need to know more about the torturers, the doctors who assisted, and the senior officers who approved the procedures.  What could possibly have been going through their heads to justify what they were doing and what did they think they would achieve?  I don’t think people should be lined up against a wall and shot (with the possible exception of George Tenet), but there must be some accountability in all of this so that everyone will understand what was gained and what was lost by walking down that road.

Alternatively, the appointment of an independent investigator would enable both the government and CIA to have an opportunity to demonstrate that torturing people did save thousands of American lives, as has often been asserted without any evidence whatsoever.   If they can make that case, then we as a country can possibly start a genuine debate on what we should be doing or not doing in the name of national security.

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#1 Comment By Bill Pearlman On April 20, 2009 @ 5:53 am

Only in your world is Khalid Muhammad the aggrieved victim. I would wager that if you go outside the TAC or the Huffpo most Americans wouldn’t care if you put the guy up against a wall.

#2 Comment By MattSwartz On April 20, 2009 @ 7:49 am

I don’t want a CIA that routinely waterboards, but I do think that there might arise a situation where torture might actually save some American lives and would have to be considered as an option.

That’s the problem.

Human nature is such that torture, once accepted as a possibility in the worst-case scenarios, becomes commonplace. I don’t trust anyone in any military or intelligence agency with the discretionary power to decide whether torture is really necessary or not.

Power abhors a vacuum, so the answer will tend to be yes if and when the question is framed that way. Also, I’m skeptical of how independent the investigators could possibly be in the aftermath of another terror attack. It seems as though they’d just follow the example of our government and give carte blanche to the torturers out of fear and vengefulness.

#3 Comment By WRW On April 20, 2009 @ 11:38 am

The idea of restricting “carte blanche” for torture (without wholly forbidding it) was Dershowitz’s idea for a “torture warrant.” Of course, Dersho doesn’t point out that the FISA court has yet to refuse a warrant application–raising the question of whether a “torture court” would be any more substantive.

And shouldn’t we have empirical evidence that torture works at all before even maintaining it as a possibility, whether subject to carte blanche or restrictions?

P.S. Cue the usual suspects with their tiresome posture that I am naive, don’t want to fight, etc. etc.

#4 Comment By afrjc On April 20, 2009 @ 11:58 am

Should the guy who attached the electrodes be tried or the guy who ordered the electrodes to be attached? There is no simple answer to that, but much of the information now coming out goes beyond disturbing.

Why this perpetual muddying of the waters. Of course there’s a simple answer to that: try them both since credible initial evidence suggests both committed crimes and the only way to be sure they did or didn’t is to take it out of the hands of politicians (for whom all calculations are difficult) and put it into the hands of experienced prosecutors (who can presumably follow the evidence where it leads quite readily — given the chance).

Only people someone comfortable with the politicization of justice could think that the answer to this question was anything but simple. Again: both.

#5 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On April 20, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

WRW, Perhaps we need to ask Dershowitz if such a warrant would apply to Jonathan Pollard. Many torture enthusiasts assume only Arabs/Muslims would be the targets.

#6 Pingback By Torture? Just Walk On By … – The Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com On April 20, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

[…] links to a post at the American Conservative by Philip Giraldi, a former C.I.A. agent, in which Giraldi writes: The NYT article detailing how the torturers went about their work complete with visitors from CIA […]

#7 Comment By TomT On April 20, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

ALL my remarks come AFTER I acknowledge Philip Giraldi, both for his service to America in the military as an intelligence officer, and with the CIA. Also, the gift of insider knowledge to TAC, and this blog, is invaluable. Our thanks for throwing out a rough draft that we can critique, and that can help inform the USA and the World, our friends AND enemies.

Particularly, thanks for this article:
[1]

And we salute your efforts with the ACDA:
[2]

To help with my research of this subject, Mr Giraldi, could you point to any article that you have ever published that is critical of any of the top management of the Clinton administration, or the Obama administration? (Other than, of course, mentioning in passing that Clinton was trying to gut the CIA’s budget, and placed his cronies and supporters in many positions). You mentioned that “before the 90’s” torture was not a serious consideration. Yet none of your comments seem to address what changes in this area were happening prior to 2000.

I was easily able to find your absolute distaste of anything “Bushie”, meaning Bush 43, though you seemed somewhat more at peace with Bush 41.

Do you have any idea how many of these CLINTON PEOPLE in the rank and file of the CIA (presumably with left-leaning sympathies), were replaced prior to 9/11?

I am a little puzzled why you have changed philosophy so suddenly, unless it was for the purpose of helping us start this present discussion. You have intimated earlier that you think upper level management are the primary targets of your desire to prosecute.

But today you introduce the twin concepts of allowing torture in some cases, and plausible deniability (which means that it is ok for the LOWER echelons to decide to torture, and that it’s okay not to tell their bosses).

Your excellent article for the HUFFINGTON POST said, “McCain’s flip-flop on torture is perhaps his greatest hypocrisy…”. Help us to understand why it’s different with you.

You have previously said there is no such thing as a “ticking bomb scenario” like we see on TV, and that good information cannot come from torture. Today, however, now that Obama is in control, we learn that you envision a situation where this would be a useful tool, if we put you in charge.

The “torture memos” said TWO PEOPLE, up to 2004, were waterboarded. You have stated that they waterboarded those 2, A LOT. Could you cite some references for us, to point to HOW MANY PEOPLE were waterboarded? Or should we be satisfied with the statement by the New York Times that the number 183, has shocked many neocons into silence?

In your EXCELLENT insider’s view of the CIA that you provided to TAC, you talked about torture, and a lot of corruption, and a lot of mismanagement. But I wonder about the IMPORTANT stuff. Did Israel give us the false intel, or was it manufactured by rogue elements within the CIA, or did the BUSH ADMINISTRATION invent it, or what?

If you were allowed to parade George Tenent in front of a firing squad, would you include Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson, et al, who were waging war on a sitting commander in chief under cover of CIA protection, and thereby destroying CIA credibility and secrecy?

Finally, I guess, now that the LIBs are in control, if you re-instituted torture, would it be the weak brand practiced by Bush’s boys, or would it be the real deal, like they did in the ‘NAM?

#8 Comment By Angela On April 20, 2009 @ 8:38 pm

I know very little about military justice, but if there is a need for torture tactics ( and I will defer to the author on this point) it seems the answer to this dilemma could lie in a “jury nullification” process, similar to the civilian protections against unjust laws.

I also agree with afrjc – try them all.

#9 Comment By TomT On April 21, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

We can expect to see the LIBs begin to pirouette like a russian ballerina, now that we discover that Obama has been hiding documentation on the efficacy of CIA interrogation techniques.

[3]

Cheney is betting that he and “Bushie” will be exonerated if he can get Obama to release some of those documents. Anybody taking bets on whether those will be released to the public?

#10 Comment By eep On April 22, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

I think the government officials were like children acting out their fantasy of being Jack Bauer. This fictional character is said to be an inspiration for John Yoo. We need a new tv rating sticker: Not Suitable for Government Officials!

#11 Comment By Intelligent On June 30, 2010 @ 3:21 am

Since when are American rights more important than the rights of foreigners? You Conservatives are always talking about the Constitution, which says ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL. You can’t read that to say ALL AMERICANS ARE CREATED EQUAL AND FOREIGNERS ARE INFERIOR.

And on top of that, you Conservatives are all “pro-life” but then you go wanting to torture people, shoot people, execute people…sometimes the Republican party makes me sick!

#12 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 20, 2012 @ 10:54 am

Intelligent,

your contention is inaccurate.

Sadly, all conservatives are not pro-life

Happily, very few conservatives want to torture, shoot or execute anyone. Times of war bring out the filth of human beings copnservative or liberal.

For a time, in response to a very lucky strike, the US lost oits collective mind. I am not sure how long this will continue. But it is a safe bet that when the revelations of this behavior first became public, conservatives were no less appalled than most.

#13 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 20, 2012 @ 10:56 am

I would think that JFK’s approval of the President of Vietnam, licensing the CIA to investigate the civil rights fight for employment, voting, fair treatment by the law north and south, would have abated this constant attacks about conservative moral motivations or the lack thereof.

#14 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 20, 2012 @ 11:36 am

Excuse the typographical errors (or not), excuse me

I would think that JFK’s approval of the murder President of Vietnam, licensing the CIA to investigate the civil rights fight for employment, voting, fair treatment by the law north and south, would have abated this constant attacks about conservative moral motivations or the lack thereof.