Realism About Torture

by Chris Borgen

P.X. Kelley and Robert F. Turner have an op-ed in today’s Washington Post on the most recent twist in the Administration’s torture policy that is a must-read. Their essay begins:

One of us was appointed commandant of the Marine Corps by President Ronald Reagan; the other served as a lawyer in the Reagan White House and has vigorously defended the constitutionality of warrantless National Security Agency wiretaps, presidential signing statements and many other controversial aspects of the war on terrorism. But we cannot in good conscience defend a decision that we believe has compromised our national honor and that may well promote the commission of war crimes by Americans and place at risk the welfare of captured American military forces for generations to come.

They go on to explain how the Administration is using bad faith interpretation to gut Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Kelley and Clark cut through the Administration’s rhetoric to lay bare the policy:

as long as the intent of the abuse is to gather intelligence or to prevent future attacks, and the abuse is not “done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual” — even if that is an inevitable consequence — the president has given the CIA carte blanche to engage in “willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse.”

There’s lots more; the entire op-ed is well worth reading.

Phil Carter at Intel Dump has a good post on this, and he asks:

What’s animating this fracture in the GOP ranks? First, I think that many of these senior GOP statesman — men who have seen war first-hand — are morally repulsed by the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policies. They care deeply about these issues for the reasons stated most eloquently by former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora:

We should care because the issues raised by a policy of cruelty are too fundamental to be left unaddressed, unanswered, or ambiguous. We should care because a tolerance of cruelty will corrode our values and our rights and degrade the world in which we live. It will corrupt our heritage, cheapen the valor of the soldiers upon whose past and present sacrifices our freedoms depend, and debase the legacy we will leave to our sons and daughters. We should care because it is intolerable to us that anyone should believe for a second that our Nation is tolerant of cruelty. And we should care because each of us knows that this issue has not gone away.

Second, I think these men feel we have traded away our national honor and moral credibility for nearly nothing in return. If nothing else, these men and women are realists. They believe that interests should guide U.S. policy, and that ideals are important both in their own right, but also because they serve U.S. interests. If we had obtained some incredibly valuable intelligence from Guantanamo, something that really justified this coercive interrogation regime, then I think these men might sing a different tune. But we haven’t. And these men are unwilling to bless a policy which has done so much to harm America’s moral standing in the world, in the absence of any tangible or visible benefit.

I think the pig-headedness of the Administration on torture is, quite frankly, stupefying. “Willful and outrageaous acts of personal abuse” are notoriously lousy ways to get credible intelligence. Moreover, the legal arguments being used to uphold the program not only do not pass the laugh-test, but they corrode efforts at upholding a rule of law to which we could hold others accountable as well. And, in the end, it is just shameful to try to go through such contortions in order to abuse human beings.

But Kelley and Turner say it better than I do:

To date in the war on terrorism, including the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s losses total about 2 percent of the forces we lost in World War II and less than 7 percent of those killed in Vietnam. Yet we did not find it necessary to compromise our honor or abandon our commitment to the rule of law to defeat Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or to resist communist aggression in Indochina. On the contrary, in Vietnam — where we both proudly served twice –America voluntarily extended the protections of the full Geneva Convention on prisoners of war to Viet Cong guerrillas who, like al-Qaeda, did not even arguably qualify for such protections.

It is time for an interrogation policy that is not illegal, immoral, and ineffective.

Hat Tip: MountainRunner for the heads-up on the Intel Dump post.

One Response

  1. It is nice to see additional persons realizing how horrible this is. Of course, Charles Gittings got this back in 2002 if not earlier. As did a Reagan Republican – William Taft the Legal Adviser at State. And I remember standing in the snow on a Presidential Visit in January 2004 with a handmade sign saying stop bush war crimes. The reason the Administration stays this way is that war crimes were committed probably before but certainly after the February 7, 2002 Presidential order that said Taliban and Al-Qaeda were not covered by the Geneva Conventions. And to prevent themselves from criminal liability they will stop at nothing to twist things to make what they did arguably at least legal under a standard that they are putting forward. That is all – nothing more important than that. It is really pitiful.



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