Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How Can We Even Be Having this Debate?

I can't believe that anyone can seriously advocate the use of torture in interrogation. Were it just a single nutcase it would be bad enough, but that its use is advocated by the President and a significant number of members of Congress is a sad reflection on our country. It's fine that a group of Republican senators led by John McCain are concerned about the precedent that it sets for the treatment of captured American soldiers, but their concern should go well beyond that:

1. The people being tortured have rarely (if ever) been charged with any crime, much less convicted of one. In other words, they're being treated as guilty until proven innocent (in the rare instance where they get the opportunity to show their innocence). And evidence is mounting that many detainees have done nothing wrong other than to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or to be named by unreliable "witnesses."

2. People die from torture.

3. Torture doesn't work.

a. Despite a claim from the Administration, not substantiated, no one has stepped forth with evidence that torture produces reliable intelligence. Given how eager the Administration is to continue its torturing, it doesn't take a great leap to make an reasonable assumption -- if the Administration had any proof whatsoever to support this naked assertion, it would be trumpeting it.

b. As the article in today's Washington Post about a Canadian sent to Syria (admittedly he was under suspicion based on a tip from Canadian authorities) under "extraordinary rendition" (yet another behavior the U.S. shouldn't engage in) demonstrates, torture induces the victim to say anything necessary to make the torture stop.

He was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan -- where he never has been -- and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for 10 months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found.

O'Connor concluded that "categorically there is no evidence" that Arar did anything wrong or was a security threat.

Let's keep in mind that the information provided by the Canadian government was probably more reliable than some of the "evidence" used to keep detainees in Guantanamo and the secret prisons in Europe. It also bears noting that this is one of the very few cases we can examine, and only because Canada decided to investigate (the U.S. refused to particpate or cooperate with the investigation). How many more innocent people have confessed to crimes they didn't commit, only to get the torture to stop?

c. Then let's consider the broader picture --

Exhibit A is the torture-extracted confession of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al Qaeda captive who told the CIA in 2001, having been "rendered" to the tender mercies of Egypt, that Saddam Hussein had trained al Qaeda to use WMD. It appears that this confession was the only information upon which, in late 2002, the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state repeatedly claimed that "credible evidence" supported that claim, even though a now-declassified Defense Intelligence Agency report from February 2002 questioned the reliability of the confession because it was likely obtained under torture. In January 2004, al-Libi recanted his "confession," and a month later, the CIA recalled all intelligence reports based on his statements.

Talk about a spectacular failure -- one could argue that rather than saving lives, this confession has contributed to every casualty from Iraq.

4. Any effort to "win the hearts and minds" of Muslims around the world is meaningless as long as the talk about our freedoms, constitution, and justice system are belied by our actions that stand in complete disregard of our principles. As Colin Powell noted in an understated letter, "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 [of the Geneva Convention] would add to those doubts."

Last night the Bush Administration offered a compromise to McCain and the other "rebel" Republicans, and it's unclear how the proposal (or future ones) will be greeted. Anyone with senators (unlike those of us in DC), I urge you to contact them and express your opposition to any legislation that will permit torture.