Back In The Day
In the beginning, when Dick Cheney created the Bush administration, the U.S. anti-terrorism policy was pretty straightforward. Then Cheney said “let there be Rumsfeld,” and there was suddenly a formless void and darkness: Rumsfeld.
And Cheney saw that Rumsfeld was evil, and that pleased him. Together they worked to cover the world in darkness. Cheney called Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense, and Cheney called himself Lord. And there was torture and there was war, the first Bush administration.
Well, that’s the abridged version.
The average person doesn’t know or care much about the human rights abuses (if you subscribe to the argument that we were engaged in a “war on terror” then they are war crimes) committed by the United States following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. People vaguely remember Abu Ghraib, waterboarding, and a few Daily Show clips, but that’s about it.
Well, stop for a second. If you are reading this blog you are probably an American (If not, first let me say: Welcome! Second, favorite is not spelled ‘favourite’ you pompous jackass).
It’s well-established that we have tortured over a hundred people in prisons around the world since 2002. That’s not up for debate.
Maybe you have a serious problem with this, maybe you are ambivalent, maybe you don’t care. Either way, your government tortured (and killed) human beings in your name, using tax dollars from your pockets and your parent’s pockets and your grandparent’s pockets – allegedly to protect you and prevent further attacks. What’s been established for some time, though only recently admitted publicly by the government, is that all of this horrible stuff did not make Americans safer by giving us reliable intelligence, it did the opposite.
It seems to me that the least you could do is take the time to read about what was done in your name, to protect you, by a government agency that has been lying to you about it for more than a decade.
Why, You Ask?
This post is intended to be (amongst other things) a thorough summary of U.S. torture since 9/11 (We tortured before that, multiple times, just an FYI).
Why should you listen to me? Though in my more megalomaniacal moments I might call myself an authority on the NBA, literature, film, music or other topics, I wrote an entire Master’s thesis on the torture tactics of the Bush administration, so in this case I am (humbly) something of an expert.
Let’s get started.
A Brief History
Before YouTube, Facebook and iPhones, there was torture. Actually, torture has been around for millennia. Waterboarding has been around since the Spanish Inquisition in the 1500s.
For what it is worth, America’s founding fathers were opposed to the practice and had this opposition enumerated in the Constitution. I add the qualifier to that sentence because some of these men owned slaves, making them hypocrites on any human rights issue. Nevertheless, even slaveowners in 18th century America expressed an opposition to torture and thought it had no place in a society of laws.
The United States prosecuted the Germans and Japanese for using these tactics (waterboarding, e.g.) during World War 2. When the Gestapo did this to people we called it torture and prosecuted their leaders for war crimes. When we did this to people our president called it an “enhanced interrogation technique” and none of our leaders were prosecuted.
(A brief aside: I think making Nazi comparisons is generally an overused tactic and a bad idea. But we employed literally the same methods as they did, and the leaders that ordered the use of these methods are totally unapologetic, therefore the comparison is appropriate).
The Bush administration began torturing as early as 2002 and, in fine Republican form, came up with a fantastically disgusting euphemism for these tactics: “enhanced interrogation techniques.” This phrase makes torture sound like a communication strategy. Bush, Cheney and Co. continue to maintain that the U.S. didn’t torture.
The public first heard about this behavior when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004. That was portrayed as an isolated incident perpetrated by “bad apples.” What we know now is that the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib were official U.S. policy. Bush and Cheney approved of these methods and high-level officials (the Principals Committee) in the Bush administration met regularly to discuss the interrogations and the treatment of specific prisoners.
It’s taken more than a decade, but finally the U.S. government (well, part of it) is officially acknowledging that we tortured over a hundred people beginning in 2002. Progress!
The Senate Report
The full 6,000 page Senate Intelligence Committee report is classified, but a 524-page executive summary has been released (the CIA broke into the computer’s of the Democratic Party staff members that were writing the report). The following facts and conclusions are contained in the summary:
The information in the report is solely the result of CIA records because the Bush administration refuses to turn over White House records. (Hm, sure sounds like they aren’t worried about any potential criminal liability).
Roughly 22% – 26 out of 119 – of the tortured prisoners were mistakenly imprisoned.
Several of those we “mistakenly” tortured were our own informants.
One CIA agent killed a detainee during an interrogation. This agent was not punished.
Many of the CIA interrogators were not properly trained. Several had documented anger management issues as well as histories of sexual assault. And they were allowed to improvise in terms of the methods they used.
The CIA took an “intellectually challenged” man named Nazer Ali hostage, with full knowledge that he was innocent. They tortured him and kept him imprisoned to gain leverage over a family member.
Torture harmed the global reputation of the U.S. (obviously) and impeded national security missions.
Torture did not yield valuable intelligence. Torture yielded lies, because a person will say anything to get the torture to stop. Accurate and important intelligence, such as the information about the location of Osama bin Laden, was gained through conventional and legal interrogation methods, not torture.
Not surprisingly, Bush administration officials – most prominently Dick Cheney – claim that we did not torture, that whatever we did do was justified, that the Senate report is full of lies, and, most importantly, that torture yielded valuable information.
These claims have been repeated for almost a decade. But they are never substantiated. If torture was so valuable, what information did we gain from it? Silence. If torture was justified solely in order to gain valuable intelligence, then how do you justify torturing the wrong person? Crickets.
Instead of proof, we are asked merely to take the word of people that ordered the use of torture and continue to lie about it.
When Obama took office in 2009, many human rights supporters hoped for prosecutions of high-level officials that approved torture. We believed – correctly – that failing to prosecute these individuals would send a message that these tactics were acceptable, and would shift the debate until we had lost any sense of morality or legality on this issue.
That is where we stand today. The Obama administration has not prosecuted a single torturer. Instead they prosecuted the man who revealed the program to the public.
The primary debate should be how to punish those who approved torture, which has been at odds with America’s self-described ethos since the time of George Washington – who specifically forbade the torture of British POWs during the Revolutionary War at a time when the practice was common. Instead we ask if torture was justified.
We tortured, we tortured the wrong people, and we lied about it. Those who defend it claim that it helped us get valuable intelligence. It didn’t. What it did do was create more terrorists and motivate people to do us harm, which makes sense. That’s what torture does.
If the law has no impact, if no one is prosecuted under it and if those whom it allegedly protects are instead locked away in dungeons and secret military bases for years, then what is its use? Why even call it a law?
If our principles, the bedrock of what we claim this country stands for, are just words without force, easily thrown aside in times of uncertainty, then what purpose do they serve? Can we really call them principles?