Journalists and commentators are obsessed with the “ticking time bomb” justification of torture. I heard Ariel Dorfman assaulted with it on an NPR talk show today. The interviewer [I don't recall who it was] combined the Dukakis attack with the traditional ticking time bomb” question: if someone kidnapped his daughter and was going to harm her, would Dorfman torture the man to find out where the daughter was. The interviewer kept on hammering at Dorfman with this unlikely scenario, as if her life depended on justifying torture. Unfortunately, I don’t think Dorfman did that well with the question.
Well, now Alfred McCoy, in The Myth of the Ticking Time Bomb directly tackles this silly question. He shows how it is built on improbable assumptions: that investigators catch a terrorist and know exactly what the terrorist knows, except for that one tiny piece of information they have to torture out of him; that torture would, in fact, get that information; and that the interrogators would recognize truthful information if the torture did succeed.
He then discusses the reasons for such an ineffective technique as torture, one which has the “side effect” of radically increasing opposition to the rule of the torturers:
These dismal conclusions lead to a last, uncomfortable question: If torture produces limited gains at such high political cost, why does any rational American leader condone interrogation practices “tantamount to torture”?
One answer to this question seems to lie with a prescient CIA Cold War observation about Soviet leaders in times of stress. “When feelings of insecurity develop within those holding power,” reads an agency analysis of Kremlin leadership applicable to the post-9/11 White House, “they become increasingly suspicious and put great pressures upon the secret police to obtain arrests and confessions. At such times, police officials are inclined to condone anything which produces a speedy ‘confession,’ and brutality may become widespread.” In sum, the powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis, not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment.
Further, torture frequently doesn’t stop there. What, after all, is to be done with the evidence, all those broken bodies connected to mouths that might talk?
As we slide down the slippery slope to torture in general, we should also realize that there is a chasm at the bottom called extrajudicial execution. With the agency’s multinational gulag full of dozens, even hundreds, of detainees of dwindling utility, CIA agents, active and retired, have been vocal in their complaints about the costs and inconvenience of limitless, even lifetime, incarceration for these tortured terrorists. The ideal solution to this conundrum from an agency perspective is pump and dump, as in Vietnam—pump the terrorists for information, and then dump the bodies. After all, the systematic French torture of thousands from the Casbah of Algiers in 1957 also entailed more than 3,000 “summary executions” as “an inseparable part” of this campaign, largely, as one French general put it, to ensure that “the machine of justice” not be “clogged with cases.” For similar reasons, the CIA’s Phoenix program produced, by the agency’s own count, over 20,000 extrajudicial killings.
Of course, another strategy may be to keep them locked away forever, in a Southern concentration camp, where escape is impossible and the law does not reach. Hence the need for Guantanamo forever.
he US Central Intelligence Agency paid Pakistan millions of dollars for handing over more than 350 suspected al-Qaeda terrorists to the United States, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has reportedly said.
The assertions come in the military ruler’s upcoming memoir “In the Line of Fire,” serialized in The Times newspaper.
Musharraf does not reveal how much Pakistan was paid for the 369 Al-Qaeda suspects he ordered should be handed over to the United States, the newspaper said, noting, however, that such payments are banned by the US government.
Even US officials admit this is wrong:
In response a US Department of Justice official was quoted as saying: “We didn’t know about this. It should not happen. These bounty payments are for private individuals who help to trace terrorists on the FBI’s most wanted list, not foreign governments.”
If the US keeps those slave in bondage at Guantanamo, aren’t the responsible officials also engaging in slavery?
Will the [In]Justice Department begin a slavery investigation of the CIA? Or are laws [and indignation] only for the other guys?
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) named three measures that he said would no longer be allowed under a provision barring techniques that cause serious mental or physical suffering by U.S. detainees: extreme sleep deprivation, forced hypothermia and “waterboarding,” which simulates drowning. He also said other “extreme measures” would be banned.
Trouble is, those whose opinions matter, namely the torturer-in-chief and his retinue, refuse to commit themselves:
Aides said he did not clear his remarks with the Bush administration in advance, and spokesmen for the CIA and the White House declined to say yesterday whether they accept McCain’s conclusions.
“We cannot and will not comment on specific interrogation measures,” CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said, adding that the agency will act lawfully. The CIA has asserted unofficially that its most extreme measures were used on only a handful of detainees.
The Washington Post claims:
McCain’s reading of it may carry weight in any court battle over its meaning.
But McCain made it clear that he supports moderate torture and only is opposed to “extreme” techniques:
McCain — who has previously described being beaten and painfully bound by ropes in Vietnam — said yesterday he recognizes that stress positions could be “important” and that while it “was never our intent” to stop the CIA interrogation program, he wanted to stop the “extreme application” of such techniques.
As the torture debate unfolded, President Bush said his version of the bill was necessary to “clarify” the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3. He seems to have accomplished just that:
As lawmakers and officials struggled to find compromise language, they consulted a dictionary Web site’s entries for the words “momentary,” “temporary,” “transitory” and “fleeting,” two congressional sources said.
Why don’t reporters ask Bush why he accepted a compromise that was the opposite of what he said he wanted? Or did they know from the beginning that, rather, than clarity, maximal ambiguity was what was really desired? Now the [In]Justice Department and White House counsel can write new dictionaries to consult. Perhaps the New American Dictionary of Ambiguous Usage.
momentary: adj: lasting for less than it takes to drown.