Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Torture by Design and Other Stuff

For those who boast or whine
About intelligent design
And draw lessons from scripture
To create a picture
Of what we humans have done
For security or fun
Need to re-check and squint
To see if we followed the blueprint

We need to review the bidding on torture and related violations of law and the Constitution before we blithely travel down the road to tomorrow’s legal issues. We have endured the painful if titillating exposes of hypocrites wailing over their peccadilloes. Governor Sanford and Senators Ensign and Vitter are merely the latest in a long series of failed humans; some of whom seem bent on throwing stones while forgetting that their positions in life place them in glass houses in full view of the people whom they both resemble and represent. Human failing appears to be part of the human condition and fully bipartisan. If there is a difference, it is that the conservatives run on a platform of holiness and purity while they stumble and fall at the same rate as liberals who are just as human and fallible, but run on platforms that are unrelated to personal perfection. Let us accept that these practices will continue and then devote some energy to issues of Constitutional and international law before we get too distracted.
Let me begin with the absurd posturing by our former Vice President Dick Cheney re the efficacy of torture. While that assertion that torture “worked” is not relevant to the law, it must still be challenged. Let us return to the design of the torture program and how it either evolved or was the product of intelligent design since that is a common mantra of the right wing. We experienced considerable torture at the hands of Chinese and North Korean Communists during the Korean Conflict. The torture resulted in scores of false confessions that were distributed internationally and decried as inhuman and cruel by our government and even our press. The purpose of the torture that was structurally inherent in the design was to elicit confessions…false confessions. After review of the military subjected to torture and countless interviews and study, we recognized that our soldiers were not prepared for the process and that, if they were given an orientation to the techniques of torture, that perhaps there would be increased resistance to signing false statements and fewer incidents in future conflicts. The SERE program was then designed and presented to our military to reduce false confessions by our soldiers. Many of our military personnel were then trained to resist by subjecting them to abbreviated torture techniques. It was not done to train our soldiers in how to inflict torture, but rather to familiarize them with the techniques so that they might be better prepared to resist.
Think about this. The Communists designed a program to elicit false confessions and then exploited those false confessions on the world stage. That was their design and the system worked according to that design. At no time did the Communists assume that their extracted confessions were “truth through torture,” but rather that the many Americans, although not all, were weak enough to succumb to the techniques. The design worked exactly as it should. Given that we, after failing to prevent 9/11, moved to round up “targets” like Sheik Mohammed and torture them without any essential redesign of the program used by the Communists, then why should we suddenly believe that the same design under similar conditions would suddenly produce Truth? This is the equivalent of designing a physical system to extract water from a stone and expecting it to produce fine wine. It’s a miracle! We can be absolute in expecting that physical system to extract water, not wine and we can fully expect that the torture of prisoners by our government produced false confessions. That is the beauty of design. Incidentally, that design is not affected by the good intentions of the torturers to get Truth, or the righteousness of our cause to find the perpetrators of 9/11. Sheik Mohammed has admitted to giving false answers to stop the torture he was subjected to much as our soldiers did upon return to a safe environment at home. Hmm. If Cheney can create wine from water, he missed his calling.
In addition to the problem of a system working according to design, there is the nagging reality of the law. Our Constitution and international laws to which we are party specifically prohibits torture. Techniques such as waterboarding have been cited repeatedly in precedent as prohibited and illegal. Our own findings in the Nuremburg trials led to punishment of the perpetrators and even to the officials and legal authorities that provided covering opinions. Herbert Klemm was convicted by a U.S. military tribunal for a legal position he took that advocated taking rights away from people that contributed to the abuse of these groups. This places Yoo and other Bush administration lawyers in the similar position of supporting torture through memos and other means that advocated positions that attempted to rewrite common definitions of torture, for example, to provide a fig leaf to cover Bush and Cheney. Limiting the definition of torture as “deliberately inflicting grievous bodily harm such as organ failure” is a bogus opinion on its face and could be prosecuted by others using our own precedent against Klemm. Even if some court would exonerate Bush and Cheney due to their ignorance, Yoo and others might be prosecuted based upon the assumption that an attorney would be required to issue an opinion that recognizes common international law and our own laws on the subject. A lawyer calling a pig a diamond does not materially alter the nature of the pig. Torture is torture regardless of what Yoo called it.
More recently, we have been informed that Cheney apparently failed to notify Congress of an assassination program being established in violation of specific law created by our Legislature that required briefing on CIA programs. Further, an earlier Congress eliminated political assassinations as policy in the 1970s as a result of the Phoenix Program disclosures in Vietnam and Cambodia. This is a double problem for the Cheney office (hiding an illegal program from Congress). We probably all guessed that Cheney who apparently drinks liberally but is conservative in most other aspects of life would be on the wrong side of the law, but we simply did not understand the depth of his involvement. It now seems that Cheney was not only personally cherry-picking intelligence, but he was directing actions to change the rules of behavior for our intelligence forces and perhaps saw himself as 007 with license to kill. This is troubling on an international as well as a national level because, just as we did not inform Congress, we also failed to inform our allies. That usually gets them ticked off.
Where to from here? We cannot make believe that this history did not happen. We have a major economic crisis, yes, but the law is always with us. The crisis in economics will pass. If we do not pursue the law, then some day, when we least expect it, the law may pursue us. On that tenuous note, we are all guilty of contributing to the delinquency of an administration if we look the other way…and that is true for both the perpetrating Bush Administration and the following Obama Administration. I am fully aware that Obama does not want to delay health care and recovery from this recession, but just how many people will it require to simply follow the law where it takes us? Will history be any kinder to Obama for doing nothing than it will for Bush and Cheney for the violations? Should it?
We need to use our powers as citizens to cry out for justice. It will take months and compromise is unacceptable, but we cannot simply stand by and allow our great nation to shrink from our joint and aggregate responsibility to ensure that justice prevails. Is it worse to admit our failings and to repair them or to pretend that we have no faults when the hypocrisy is screaming to us and to the world as we wait? Remember Sanford, Ensign and Vitter? It is not their failings but their hypocrisy that angers us. Let us not be hypocrites. Yes, we failed. Now let us repair the damage by welcoming Justice without reservation and let the lady with the blindfold do her thing.

George Giacoppe
15 July 2009

No comments: