Monday, March 10, 2008

Bush Affirms His Legacy, Vetoes Ban On Torture

President Bush announced on Saturday that he had vetoed an intelligence authorization bill passed by both houses of Congress.

The mainstream press has focused on one particularly gruesome aspect of his decision: the bill the president vetoed would have restricted the range of interrogation techniques that could be used by the CIA; in particular, it would have banned waterboarding -- simulated drowning which has been recognized as torture and banned by all civilized countries for centuries.

In his weekly radio address to the nation, our first openly pro-torture president said:
The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror — the C.I.A. program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives.
It wouldn't do that, of course. It wouldn't stop the C.I.A. from detaining people. And it wouldn't stop the C.I.A. from questioning them. It would only limit the techniques that could be used during the questioning.

But it would establish a limit. This is one of the crucial points -- and one which has nothing to do with the core issues. The bill would place limits on the president and his administration, and therefore it must be vetoed. Bush will never willingly sign any legislation which limits what he and his administration can do.

Fortunately for the president, this bill concerns terrorism, so it gives him a chance to use his favorite line:
We have no higher responsibility than stopping terrorist attacks.
This is false, of course. The president's neglect, or abdication, or repudiation, of his higher responsibility -- to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, as required by his oath of office -- is sufficient grounds not only for impeachment and removal from office, but also for criminal charges of treason, followed by a trial which could only end in a conviction and a public execution. No person of peace and goodwill could deny this; one could only hope that some "enhanced techniques" would be applied along the way.

But unfortunately much of the American public remains unaware of this, and the president is not about to tell them. Instead he continues to catapult the propaganda. Thus, in keeping with his self-appointed "highest responsibility", Bush listed the "plots" that have been "foiled" by "enhanced" interrogations:
The program helped us stop a plot to strike a U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles, and a plot to crash passenger planes into Heathrow Airport or buildings in downtown London. [...] Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that Al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.
If you've never heard of any of these claims about how interrogations under torture have led to foiled terrorist plots, don't feel badly about it. Nobody else has ever heard them either -- not even the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, who said:
"I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an imminent terrorist attack."
In trying to justify his veto to the nation, the president said:
The main reason this program has been effective is that it allows the C.I.A. to use specialized interrogation procedures to question a small number of the most dangerous terrorists under careful supervision.
This statement is potentially misleading on many fronts simultaneously, but it's tough to tell because so much about the detainees and the means by which they have been interrogated is classified, and because so much of what the government has told us about these things has proven to be false.

Of special interest is the assertion -- made continually by the administration and others (including some supposedly dissident journalists) -- that "specialized interrogation procedures" have been used against "a small number of the most dangerous terrorists".

To make sense of this assertion, you have to do some mental gymnastics.

By "specialized interrogation procedures" he means the techniques prohibited by the Army Field Manual. As the AP reports, the Field Manual prohibits
hooding prisoners or putting duct tape across their eyes; stripping prisoners naked; forcing prisoners to perform or mimic sexual acts; beating, burning or physically hurting them in other ways; subjecting prisoners to hypothermia or mock executions; and waterboarding
The president says the "enhanced" techniques are only to be used against "a small number of the most dangerous terrorists". What does he mean by "small"?

According to Reuters,
CIA Director Michael Hayden told Congress last month that government interrogators used waterboarding on three suspects captured after the September 11 attacks.
Elsewhere it has been claimed that "enhanced interrogation techniques have been used against only 14 of the most hardened al Q'aeda terrorists.

But it is very difficult to take these assertions seriously.

When the furore over destroyed interrogation videotapes erupted, we were told the interrogations were taped because "enhanced techniques" were being used and the tapes were meant to provide insurance against potential claims of excessive force or abusive behavior. But if this is so, then why were the tapes destroyed? If they showed no abuse of detainees, they would have provided powerful support for the government's position that only legal techniques were used.

In the absence of those tapes, one can do little more than speculate about the reasons why an additional 24,000 interrogations at Guantanamo were also videotaped. Were "enhanced techniques" used in those interrogations as well? If so, then we've been lied to about the extent of abusive interrogation. And if not, why not? The prisoners at Guantanamo are said to be "the worst of the worst"; the "enhanced techniques" are said to yield crucial information; why wouldn't our interrogators use all the tools available to them? Don't they want us to be safe?

We can only speculate here because the truth is so comprehensively buried. But it's reasonable to assume that torturers don't want us to know much about what they're doing. As Bush explained in his radio address, he vetoed the bill in part because it banned secret techniques.
The bill Congress sent me [...] would restrict the C.I.A.’s range of acceptable interrogation methods to those provided in the Army field manual. [...] Limiting the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods to those in the Army field manual would be dangerous because the manual is publicly available and easily accessible on the Internet. Shortly after 9/11, we learned that key Al Qaeda operatives had been trained to resist the methods outlined in the manual. And this is why we created alternative procedures...
Given the torturers' penchant for secrecy, we must assume that we don't know very much about torture and "enhanced" interrogations -- that what we do know is only the "tip of the iceberg".

But what we already know is enormous and horrific; and the government's justification for its practices have all turned out to be false!

Professor Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall Law School has been leading a team of researchers through the documentation pertaining to the detainees at Guantanamo, as provided by the government. The research team has been using the government's own data to evaluate the claims made by the administration and has produced a series of reports whose conclusions are eerily similar: the government's assertions which are supposed to justify the policies have been spectacularly untrue.

One report, "The Meaning of Battlefield", provides the following executive summary:
The Department of Defense has continually relied upon the premise of “battlefield capture” to justify the indefinite detention of so-called “enemy combatants” at Guantánamo Bay. The “battlefield capture” proposition -- although proven false in almost all cases -- has been an important proposition for the Government, which has used it to frame detainee status as a military question as to which the Department of Defense should be granted considerable deference.

Further, just as the Government has characterized detainee’s initial captures as “on the battlefield,” Government officials have repeatedly claimed that ex-detainees have “returned to the battlefield,” where they have been re-captured or killed.

Implicit in the Government’s claim that detainees have “returned to the battlefield” is the notion that those detainees had been on a battlefield prior to their detention in Guantánamo. Revealed by the Department of Defense data, however, is that:

• only twenty-one (21)—or four percent (4%)—of 516 Combatant Status Review Tribunal unclassified summaries of the evidence alleged that a detainee had ever been on any battlefield;

• only twenty-four (24)—or five percent (5%)—of unclassified summaries alleged that a detainee had been captured by United States forces;

• and exactly one (1) of 516 unclassified summaries alleged that a detainee was captured by United States forces on a battlefield.

Just as the Government’s claims that the Guantánamo detainees “were picked up on the battlefield, fighting American forces, trying to kill American forces,” do not comport with the Department of Defense’s own data, neither do its claims that former detainees have “returned to the fight.”

The Department of Defense has publicly insisted that “just short of thirty” former Guantánamo detainees have “returned” to the battlefield, where they have been re-captured or killed, but to date the Department has described at most fifteen (15) possible recidivists, and has identified only seven (7) of these individuals by name. According to the data provided by the Department of Defense:

• at least eight (8) of the fifteen (15) individuals alleged by the Government to have “returned to the fight” are accused of nothing more than speaking critically of the Government’s detention policies;

• ten (10) of the individuals have neither been re-captured nor killed by anyone;

• and of the five (5) individuals who are alleged to have been re-captured or killed, the names of two (2) do not appear on the list of individuals who have at any time been detained at Guantánamo, and the remaining three (3) include one (1) individual who was killed in an apartment complex in Russia by local authorities and one (1) who is not listed among former Guantánamo detainees but who, after his death, has been alleged to have been detained under a different name.

Thus, the data provided by the Department of Defense indicates that every public statement made by Department of Defense officials regarding the number of detainees who have been released and thereafter killed or re-captured on the battlefield was false.
We knew it was false all along, didn't we? At least we should have suspected it. There's a tendency for this administration to lie about everything.

Unfortunately, most of our so-called "opposition" politicians haven't caught a whiff of this tendency, or else they've chosen to ignore it in the hope that it will go away. So the political reactions to the veto were interesting.

Senator Ted Kennedy, the "Massachusetts liberal" much derided by "conservatives", suggested that Congress should override the veto, which shows how out of touch with reality he is. As if more than a dozen Republican Senators and more than 50 Republican Congressmen would ever vote with the Democrats, against the president, for a bill he had already vetoed! But Kennedy said:
"Unless Congress overrides the veto, it will go down in history as a flagrant insult to the rule of law and a serious stain on the good name of America in the eyes of the world."
America's "good name" "in the eyes of the world" was gone a long time ago, but Senator Kennedy cannot mention that and remain in national office. Politicians of both parties must maintain the fiction that America is beloved in the eyes of the world, or else they risk being marginalized as "not serious". Forget the truth of the situation; the rhetoric is all that matters.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, one of the key Democratic enablers of the current administration, gets this point, if nothing else; she threw in some sanctimonious manure of her own:
"Failing to legally prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh torture techniques undermines our nation's moral authority, puts American military and diplomatic personnel at risk, and undermines the quality of intelligence."
Talk about undermining our nation's moral authority!

Let's talk about failing to initiate impeachment proceedings -- oh no, let's not! Impeachment is off the table!

And once again the story-line has been predictable: a pack of lies from a president who was never legitimately elected in the first place, followed by some ass-covering by the people who should have been standing in his way for years, all wrapped up with a bow by the allegedly liberal New York Times, which headlined this particular story "Bush's Veto of Bill on C.I.A.Tactics Affirms His Legacy".

In one sense, it's impossible to argue: Bush's legacy is now securely more despicable than any two American presidents combined, and he's still counting.

But in another sense, it's impossible not to scream!