20 June 2004

Torture | Because I could...

Torture's dark allure
In fact, as George Browder explains in his powerful book 'Hitler's Enforcers,' 'the Gestapo, like police anywhere, could not do its work without public support.' The Gestapo's enormous success against the resistance, first in Germany and then elsewhere, depended heavily on bureaucratic files, police informants (G-men or V-men) and collaborators in foreign countries. 'Increased reliance on interrogation through torture during the war years reflects the declining professionalism of an overextended staff much watered down with neophytes,' Browder writes.

The priority in America's war on terror should be on developing human intelligence. Working one's way into a terror cell is not unlike working one's way into organized crime in the United States. One has to turn potential terrorists into double agents and to win the confidence and cooperation of the communities that shelter them. Technology is no substitute for this. Nor is torture.

Abu Ghraib should teach us what America's founders would have told us: that we are our own worst enemy. Leaders of dictatorships sign on to the Geneva Conventions only out of prudential fear of what other states might do to their POWs. Leaders of democracies sign on to them because they understand the evil that lurks in the heart of all human beings. Those who choose to abide by the rules do so not simply to restrain others but to restrain themselves.

Unrestrained power leaves behind a legacy of destruction that takes generations to undo. Torture, like incest, is the gift that keeps on giving. Democratic societies that legalized torture or tried to constrain its use have come to two ends. Some, like the Greeks and Romans, created tiered societies where authorities could torture whole classes of people (slaves or lesser citizens) and those who were beyond torture. Others, like the Italian city-states, were unable to prevent the executive branch from torturing more and more citizens and in the end fell to its dictatorial power.

The first result is hardly a model for modern democracies, and the second serves as a warning. In modern times, France routinized torture in Algeria, producing a racist, tiered society and an aggressive military government that almost overthrew French democracy. Proponents of torture would argue that destroying democratic institutions -- and the individuals involved -- is worth it if torture, as for the French in Algeria, succeeds in defeating terrorism.

Bill Clinton was interviewed by CBS on 17 June about his affair with Monica Lewinski.

RATHER The central question, if I may, and I know this is difficult, the central question is why?"

CLINTON I think I did something for the worst possible reason -- just because I could. I think that's the most , just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything. When you do something just because you could ... I've thought about it a lot. And there are lots of more sophisticated explanations, more complicated psychological explanations. But none of them are an excuse ... Only a fool does not look to explain his mistakes.

It would be laughable to compare Clinton's affair with Bush's launching an unjust war on untrue premises and with inadequate resources, and then trying to substitute torture for policy failure, but then it's laughable that Clinton faced impeachment and Bush has not. Bush also has a record of projecting himself (somewhat inaccurately) as a strong man in politics.

I'm the commander - see, I don't need to explain - I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation.

911 did not change everything. The law is still the law. The Bush administration may think that everything changed.

There was a before-9/11 and an after-9/11," as Cofer Black, the onetime director of the CIA's counterterrorist unit, put it in testimony to Congress in early 2002. "After 9/11 the gloves came off." Many Americans thrilled to the martial rhetoric at the time, and agreed that Al Qaeda could not be fought according to traditional rules. But it is only now that we are learning what, precisely, it meant to take the gloves off.

As the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment provides:

Article 2
Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

No exceptional circumstances whatever... And if, as Darius Rejali argues, torture is ineffective as well as unlawful, then the real question is why the Bush administration not only thinks it's above the law, but that what failed for the Gestapo and the KGB will work for them.

No comments: