Diana Johnstone has an excellent article on the popularity of 9/11 conspiracy theories. She goes over the implausibility of various versions, then summarizes the danger of this mode of thinking:
The most profound motive for criticizing the 9/11 conspiracy theory is that it partakes of the very sort of moral dualism advocated by the Bushites and neo-cons, but just turns it around. Instead of evil Arabs gratuitously attacking innocent Americans, all evil acts are committed by the villains in Washington. The Arabs are innocent of everything. However, I believe it is more intelligent, and more realistic, to acknowledge that Arabs in general are, on the one hand, innocent victims of U.S. and Israeli aggression, and, on the other hand, that some of them (for that very reason) want to strike back at the United States by any means possible. Israelis abuse Palestinians with a clear conscience because they have convinced themselves that all Jews are under perpetual threat of a new Holocaust. This chronic fear leads them to commit crimes. We are nearing a state of war of all against all, in which it is absolutely necessary for the sake of survival to keep a cool head and try to understand why people do the terrible things they do, in order to find solutions. The interaction of causal factors is complex, and often may not easily be “comprehended by the general public”. But the proper task of honest journalists is to try to guide the public through those complexities.
One can tell that these theories are supported by a manichean psychology of good and evil by seeing the attacks launched on critics of the conspiracy views. A facade of concern for reasoned debate and evidence collapses quickly into a mode of accusation and counter-accusation.
Daily Kos diarist psychologist “ Valkin ” elaborates on the subtleties around the definition of “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment” [CID] to argue that Powell, McCain and Graham are really arguing not, against torture and CID, but to protect the ability of the United States to engage in torture as usual.
I will not summarize its argument, but I strongly advise people to read the Pentagon’s Legal Brief on Proposed Counter-Resistance Strategies that Valkin has unearthed. [Note: Find the Legal Brief after the memos proposing and endorsing the list of enhanced interrogation techniques.] It shows how the administration relies upon the US Reservations to the UN Convention on Torture to protect a wide variety of torture techniques. Remember, the US Reservations [and the new American Psychological Association "anti-torture" resolution] restrict the definition of CID to those actions prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution, thus proclaiming the irrelevance of international law or standards.
Here are some excerpts from the Legal Brief not quoted by Valkin:
Ultimately, an Eighth Amendment analysis is based primarily on whether the government had a good faith legitimate government interest, and did not act maliciously or sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm….”
“ANALYSIS: The counter-resistance strategies proposed in the JTF-170-J2 memorandum are lawful because they do not violate the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution or the federal torture statue as explained below. An international law analysis is not required for the current proposal because the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the detainees since they are not EPWs….”
“With regard to Category II methods, the use of stress positions such as the proposed standing for four hours, the use of isolation for up to thirty days, and interrogating the detainee in an environment other than the standard interrogation booth are all legally permissible so long as no sever physical pain is inflicted and prolonged mental harm intended, and because there is a legitimate governmental objective in obtaining the information necessary that the high value detainees on which these methods would be utilized possess, for the protection of the national security of the United States, its citizens, and allies. Furthermore, these methods would not be utilized for the ‘very malicious and sadistic purpose of causing harm,’ and absent medical evidence to the contrary, there is no evidence that prolonged mental harm would result from the use of these strategies. The use of falsified documents is legally permissible because interrogators may use deception to achieve their purpose….
There is no legal requirement that detainees must receive four hours of sleep per night, but if a U.S. court ever had to rule on this procedure, in order to pass Eighth Amendment scrutiny, and as a cautionary measure, they should receive some amount of sleep so that no sever physical or mental harm will result….”
“With regard to the Category III advanced counter-resistance strategies, the use of scenarios designed to convince the detainee that death or severely painful consequences are imminent is not illegal for the same aforementioned reasons that there is a compelling governmental interest and it is not done intentionally to cause prolonged harm. However, caution should be utilized with this technique because the torture statue specifically mentions making death threats as an example of inflicting mental pain and suffering…. The use of a wet towel to induce the misperception of suffocation would also be permissible if not done with the specific intent to cause prolonged mental harm, and absent medical evidence that it would. Caution should be exercised with this method, as foreign courts have already advised about the potential mental harm that this method may cause.”
These extracts should make it clear how dangerous these US Reservations are and what a scandal it is that the APA endorsed them.
By the way, it is interesting that this Legal Brief is actually incorrect. Unstated in the legal analysis in the Brief is that the US Reservations refers to three Constitutional Amendments, not just the Eighth. Most commentators believe that the Fourteenth Amendment is essentially irrelevant and some believe that the Eighth Amendment (forbidding cruel and unusual punishment) may not even apply if the behavior is not “punishement,” but part of an interrogation. Thus, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, many commentators believe that the central issue involves the Fifth Amendment and its guarantee for respect for due process of law, which, according to the Supreme Court, depends upon a “shocks the conscience” standard that is subject to situational ethics of the worst sort.