07 November 2005

Sullivan on Torture Policy: good questions

Andrew Sullivan has two very good posts on the Bush torture policy, asking some excellent questions.

BUSH DIGS IN DEEPER: Here's a fascinating quote:
"There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. So you bet we will aggressively pursue them but we will do so under the law. We do not torture," -
President Bush, today. If that's the case, why threaten to veto a law that would simply codify what Bush alleges is already the current policy? If "we do not torture," how to account for the hundreds and hundreds of cases of abuse and torture by U.S. troops, documented by the government itself? If "we do not torture," why the memos that expanded exponentially the lee-way given to the military to abuse detainees in order to get intelligence? The president's only defense against being a liar is that he is defining "torture" in such a way that no other reasonable person on the planet, apart from Bush's own torture apologists (and they are now down to one who will say so publicly), would agree. The press must now ask the President: does he regard the repeated, forcible near-drowning of detainees to be torture? Does he believe that tying naked detainees up and leaving them outside all night to die of hypothermia is "torture"? Does he believe that beating the legs of a detainee until they are pulp and he dies is torture? Does he believe that beating detainees till they die is torture? Does he believe that using someone's religious faith against them in interrogations is "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment and thereby illegal? What is his definition of torture?

SOME MORE QUESTIONS: What does the president think of Ian Fishback's testimony that abuse and torture was routine and that no one in the military hierarchy would say they were not permitted during eighteen months of his trying to get an answer? What does the president make of the following quote from another servicemember of his time in Iraq: "I think our policies required abuse. There were freaking horrible things people were doing. I saw [detainees] who had feet smashed with hammers. One detainee told me he had been forced by Marines to sit on an exhaust pipe, and he had a softball-sized blister to prove it. The stuff I did was mainly torture lite: sleep deprivation, isolation, stress positions, hypothermia. We used dogs." Since the president signed the finding of September 17, setting up a series of secret CIA detention camps where 'waterboarding' is permitted, does he believe and will he state categorically that no torture has ever occurred at those camps?
Watching and listening to this man, it seems to me we have a few possible interpretations in front of us. Either the president simply does not know what is being done in his name in his own military or he is lying through his teeth to the American people and the world. I guess there is also a third possibility: that he is simply unable to acknowledge the enormity of what he has done to the honor of the United States, the success of the war and the safety of American servicemembers. And so he has gone into clinical denial. Or he is so ashamed he cannot bear to face the truth of what he has done. None of these options are, shall we say, encouraging. But there is, of course, an easy way forward for the president if this is truly what he believes: support the Congress in backing the president's own position. Pass the McCain Amendment. Given what he said today, why on earth would he not?

My response to Mr. Sullivan:

Excellent, excellent questions. The Gagglers should ask every one of them, every day, until they're answered. And the nightly news broadcasts should show Scotty trying to dodge the questions. "We don't torture," "We act within the law," are not answers to these very, very specific questions; not to mention the fact that the premise of the questions shows these kinds of answers to be lies.

What I would like to know is how can those responsible for congressional oversight justify not holding hearings to ask these questions of whoever they can from the administration, again, every day, until they are answered? The shame of such a process would force change of policy amounting to complete reversal.

You are absolutely right that this issue goes beyond ideology, and it goes beyond whether the prosecution of war in Iraq is worthwhile or not. America's reputation for "fair play" is already shot, but its very legitimacy as a "defender of freedom" is on the line, and about to go down in a way that will be very, very long and hard to recover.

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