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Torture, Black Sites, and Bush Oh My!

Well it would seem we have picked up some nasty habits from that disposed dictator Saddam Hussein…


The issue of torture has dominated the national debate as of late. It was rekindled when Sen. John McCain (a Vietnam veteran who was tortured as a POW) proposed an amendment to a Defense Appropriations Bill that would prohibit the “cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of anyone held in US custody". The amendment passed in the Senate with a vote of 90-9. McCain said that the amendment was a response from the Congress to the scandal at Abu Ghraib and reports of torture elsewhere by US forces.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it includes the provision in its current form. Strange that Bush has threatened to use his veto authority for this first time in his presidency to nix a bill that bans torture of detainees. Spokesmen for Bush has said that the amendment would tie the President’s hands in the war on terror. Vice President Cheney has been lobbying for an exemption for the CIA to the McCain amendment.

“Black Sites”

A Washington Post story has reported that the CIA has been running secret detention and interrogation facilities, called “black sites”, throughout Eastern Europe and other unnamed countries. The revelation of these sites puts the issue of torture in a whole new context. Because these sites are classified, it puts them beyond the scrutiny of international organizations such as the Red Cross or Human Rights Watch. These sites also seem to explain why Cheney has been pressing for exemption of CIA to the torture ban (this might also be an indicator of what is actually going on at these sites).

Senator Bill Frist has called for an investigation...of who leaked the information. He isn’t worried about what may be going on at these “black sites”.

We Do Not Torture

President Bush, while visiting Panama this week, spoke about the torture issue:
Q. Mr. President, there has been a bit of an international outcry over the reports of secret US prisons in Europe for terrorism suspects. Will you let the Red Cross have access to them? And do you agree with Vice President Cheney that the CIA should be exempt from legislation to ban torture?

Bush: Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people. The executive branch has the obligation to protect the American people: the legislative branch has the obligation to protect the American people. And we are aggressively doing that. We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture. [emphasis added]

Notice that Bush first had to remind us that we are at war (as if we somehow forget since the last time the Bush administration reminded us). Also notice that he never actually answered the question of whether he agreed with VP Cheney on a CIA exemption. He spoke about a shadowy enemy that is out to get us, trying to invoke fear. This is Bush’s mainstay; scare the crap out of people so they are less likely to object to the fact that the US does indeed commit torture.

One of the approved "enhanced interrogation techniques" is called “waterboarding”. Apparently this involves strapping the subject to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is then wrapped over the subject's face and water poured over him. All this is done to simulate drowning and make the subject believe his death is imminent. But while this technique often gives immediate results, there is a downside.

Torture. Doesn't. Work.

The whole point of torture is to inflict pain or anguish, whether mental or physical. Inflict enough pain and the subject will tell you anything just to stop the pain. And this of course leads to unreliable intelligence. So as far as intelligence gathering, torture isn’t a very affective tool.

President Bush cited for the first time a memo that was written in 2002 by his lawyer at the time, Alberto Gonzales. The memo sets out to do two things: a) to define torture in the narrowest of terms, and b) to say that during times of war the President may do whatever he wishes to protect the American people.

By the way, Gonzales is now the Attorney General. Interesting that Bush would appoint the man whose legal strategy attempted make the President immune to prosecution for torture is now the man in charge of the prosecution. Can anyone say "conflict of interest"?

Update: National Security Advisor Steven Hadley had to clarify President Bush’s comment about how the US does not commit torture. He refused to rule out torture to thwart a major terrorist attack, arguing that in the war on terror could present a ‘difficult dilemma’ and the administration was duty bound to protect the American people. So really Bush should have said "We do no torture but if we did, it would be for your own good.”

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)