Sunday, September 17, 2006

Land of the Tortured

King of Pain
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
A lot has been written and said about President Bush’s demand that Congress “clarify” the part of the Geneva Conventions that, in effect, outlaws the use of torture under any circumstances.

We know that the world would see this action as a U.S. repudiation of the rules that bind civilized nations. We also know that an extraordinary lineup of former military and intelligence leaders, including Colin Powell, have spoken out against the Bush plan, warning that it would further damage America’s faltering moral standing, and end up endangering U.S. troops.

But I haven’t seen much discussion of the underlying question: why is Mr. Bush so determined to engage in torture?

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. According to an ABC News report from last fall, procedures used by C.I.A. interrogators have included forcing prisoners to “stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours”; the “cold cell,” in which prisoners are forced “to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees,” while being doused with cold water; and, of course, water boarding, in which “the prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet,” then “cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him,” inducing “a terrifying fear of drowning.”

And bear in mind that the “few bad apples” excuse doesn’t apply; these were officially approved tactics — and Mr. Bush wants at least some of these tactics to remain in use.

I’m ashamed that my government does this sort of thing. I’d be ashamed even if I were sure that only genuine terrorists were being tortured — and I’m not. Remember that the Bush administration has imprisoned a number of innocent men at Guantánamo, and in some cases continues to imprison them even though it knows they are innocent.

Is torture a necessary evil in a post-9/11 world? No. People with actual knowledge of intelligence work tell us that reality isn’t like TV dramas, in which the good guys have to torture the bad guy to find out where he planted the ticking time bomb.

What torture produces in practice is misinformation, as its victims, desperate to end the pain, tell interrogators whatever they want to hear. Thus Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi — who ABC News says was subjected to both the cold cell and water boarding — told his questioners that Saddam Hussein’s regime had trained members of Al Qaeda in the use of biochemical weapons. This “confession” became a key part of the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq — but it was pure invention.

So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

To show that it can.

The central drive of the Bush administration — more fundamental than any particular policy — has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president’s power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it’s a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of U.S. policy, they’re asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.

And many of our politicians are willing to go along. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is poised to vote in favor of the administration’s plan to, in effect, declare torture legal. Most Republican senators are equally willing to go along, although a few, to their credit, have stood with the Democrats in opposing the administration.

Mr. Bush would have us believe that the difference between him and those opposing him on this issue is that he’s willing to do what’s necessary to protect America, and they aren’t. But the record says otherwise.

The fact is that for all his talk of being a “war president,” Mr. Bush has been conspicuously unwilling to ask Americans to make sacrifices on behalf of the cause — even when, in the days after 9/11, the nation longed to be called to a higher purpose. His admirers looked at him and thought they saw Winston Churchill. But instead of offering us blood, toil, tears and sweat, he told us to go shopping and promised tax cuts.

Only now, five years after 9/11, has Mr. Bush finally found some things he wants us to sacrifice. And those things turn out to be our principles and our self-respect.

Photo credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

Also See:

  • Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the "War on Terror"

  • Torture and the Content of our Character:
    Brecher and Smith warn: "Republican support for a law that countenances torture, prisoner abuse and repudiation of the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the Geneva Conventions could provide an important issue for Democratic Congressional candidates. But Democratic House candidates can't criticize Republicans if they are supporting Bush's legislation themselves - as a majority of Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee have done."
  • The View From Guant�namo - New York Times
    Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Abu Bakker Qassim writes about 9/11 attacks, saying: "I too was its victim. I would never have experienced the ordeal and humiliation of Guantanamo if this horrific event had not taken place."
  • Sidney Blumenthal: How Bush Rules: The Torturer-in-Chief

  • Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the "War on Terror"

  • Rules for the Real World
    The White House has been acting lately as though the struggle over the proper way to handle prisoners is a debate about how tough to get with Osama bin Laden if he’s ever actually caught. This week, we’ve had two powerful reminders of the real issue: when a government puts itself above the law, innocent people are put at risk.
  • Canadians Fault U.S. for Its Role in Torture Case - New York Times

  • 14,000 Held in Secret US Prisons
    "In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law.
    Disclosures of torture and long-term arbitrary detentions have won rebuke from leading voices including the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. Supreme Court. But the bitterest words come from inside the system, the size of several major U.S. penitentiaries.
    'It was hard to believe I'd get out,' Baghdad shopkeeper Amjad Qassim al-Aliyawi told The Associated Press after his release - without charge - last month. 'I lived with the Americans for one year and eight months as if I was living in hell.'"


Joe Craine said...

Mr. Krugman,

While I disagree with the importance of your reason they want to violate our morals, traditions and laws, your expression of righteous indignation is right on.

My opinion is that this administration is using misinformation to cover their tracks. Torture produces misinformation and it satisfies the lust for vengeance of those who believe that constitutional protections are "for Americans" only - helping the polls.

Very similar to the very successful effort to suggest that a president who protected America for 8 years and brought fiscal and economic harmony somehow did a worse job than a president who (at the minimum) permitted two successful terrorist attacks within our borders and is making everyone, other than his friends, worse off.

That a president who violated his obligations to his profession somehow is more despicable than a president who violated his obligations to the constitution and to a nation.

Follow the money.

PT said...

I wouldn't let a former Enron advisor like Krugman change the oil in my car. Having this jackleg support of a position does nothing but diminish its standing with rational human beings.

The Unknown Candidate said...

Pt, having taking a brief visit to your Ann Coulter Shrine of a blog, I considered the source of your comment -- and promptly dismissed it.

Perhaps you should read about Krugman's brief relationship with Enron (he sat on an Enron advisory board briefly in 1999) in his own words here.

I'd hardly reduce Mr. Krugman to a "jackleg" as you so "graciously" do -- based on his appearance at one Enron advisory board meeting where he was asked to speak about the Asian financial crisis.

Maybe one day, right-wingers such as yourself will learn to discuss issues fairly, constructively, and factually without resorting to personal criticism, name calling and infantile slurs.

That day cannot come soon enough for me.

So exactly what is it in Krugman's article with which you disagree? Do you favor torture -- even when our own military is adamantly opposed to it?

Is that the kind of America you dream about? If so, I suggest you visit a few fascist countries and see if they may be more to your liking. As for me, I prefer the America of my youth, where we prided ourselves on living the values written into our Constitution by the founding fathers of this country -- and I will settle for nothing less.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I think they just *like* to torture and kill people...

PT said...

The only thing I object to in your non-sensical rant is that whole 'right-wing' assertion of yours.

I will give you a pass because reading comprehension is clearly not your strong suit, especially since you spent 3 seconds at a site devoted to making fun of Ann Coulter, with books against Ann Coulter in one sidebar and Media Matters in the other and decided ...

I must be a right-wing nutcase???

Is it because I think Krugman is a hack in one article? Be serious. We have years of him being a hack to back that up, not one article. Your trolling to drum up attention for a book deal that ain't coming isn't making a lot of ground so you will use ad-hominem attacks on people? Not 'round these parts.

The Unknown Candidate said...

Excuse me, but the rant is not coming from me, friend. Your response -- resorting to the same insults, non-facts, and baseless accusations -- proves my earlier point about you. As for your blog, anyone who claims to be against Coulter while posting every vicious, anti-liberal statement she has ever spewed is obviously confused. If you don't want to give her credibility, you ignore her; you don't post her personal slurs all over the internet in order to give her more media attention. You're not fooling anyone.

By the way, I never called you a 'nutcase;' you did. I don't like to resort to name-calling, remember? That's Ann's and your game, not mine.

As for your last paragraph, I have no clue what you are talking about in regards to a book deal??!!

And I still haven't heard one concrete reason based on one concrete fact why you are trashing one of the most respected economists and academics of our time -- namely, Mr. Krugman.

And I still haven't heard what you object to in Krugman's column -- aside from the fact that he is the author. I'll ask again, 'Do you condone torture?'

Davol White said...

I guess I'll jump in the middle of this argument with the blog troll. I've enjoyed Krugman's writings since it was uncool to enjoy Krugman. He's been a refreshing wrench in the Bush Administration from way before Bush became a case study in failure and how not to prosecute a war. This proud to be a liberal thinks Paul Krugman is right on.

PT said...

Davol, at least you're honest in your blind obedience for the wrong reasons. I refuse to be told I am endorsing torture if I think Krugman is a hack.

I don't endorse people because they make Bush look stupid - that's like kicking a retarded kid - but I am also not going to be insulted into accepting the 99% of Krugman that is crap because he is right once. Even a blind squirrel is right once in a while.

Nonetheless, anyone who cites that clown as a legitimate source for any position is pretty weak authority.

The Unknown Candidate said...

PT, you have refused to answer the original question. What specifically do you refute in Krugman's op ed? Attacking a man with slurs and no facts is cowardly, vindictive, and ignorant -- which is exactly what you have done -- over and over again. Your comments amount to little more than slander and are not in the least constructive. They have no place in this forum. Comments that express an opinion about a subject based on fact are welcome here. Until you can do that, kindly refrain from posting further comments.

Gary said...

I have been a fan of the intelligent and persuasive Krugman since he was dissing what passed for economic thought among Clinton advisers. His increasing dismay and now outright loathing of the Bush administration is a refreshing blast of honesty in "the old grey lady." PT is a confused troll.