Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tortured Logic

When historians in the future pass judgment on the Bush administration, I'd wager that some of their attention will be focused on the White House's support of torture.

Sure, a lot of attention will be devoted to how Bush destroyed the American economy and instituted a barter system based on animal skins; some will of course explore his inadvertant nuclear strike against Spokane, Washington; and some will want to know just how he got his dog Barney onto the Supreme Court. But there will be plenty of work to go around, and surely some of these historians will want to explore the administration's approach to torture.

Fittingly, the administration has taken a rather tortured approach to the issue itself. On one hand, the administration has been insisting loudly that it does not ever torture people and that it would never ever want to torture people, but all things considered, it would like to keep the option open.

The administration's desire -- to have its nipple clamps and use them too -- has led to some Clintonian parsing of language. Sometimes, the schizophrenia of the administration appears in the form of two people. We saw this a couple weeks ago, when Bush was insisting we don't torture and Cheney was at that very moment lobbying the Senate for the right to torture. And we saw it again in this odd exchange between Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and JCS Chief General Peter Pace:
PACE: It is absolutely responsibility of every U.S. service member if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it. . . .

RUMSFELD: I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it, it's to report it.

PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.
Nice to see the military commanders have a higher standard than their civilian overseers. Scary, but nice.

Currently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is taking the Tortured Logic Show on the road to Europe. "As a matter of U.S. policy,” she said, “the United States' obligations under the CAT (Convention against Torture), which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment -- those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States." While the press has generally treated this as another denial -- of reality, perhaps -- Eric Umansky does a nice job of digging into the language and coming up with the essence:
Now, here’s the trick: Do “those obligations” apply to U.S. treatment of foreigners abroad? Not according to the Justice Department’s legal opinion. And bonus weasel: The anti-torture treaty also says that countries are only responsible for the actions that occur in "any territory under its jurisdiction." Those secret CIA prisons? They aren't in "territory under U.S. jurisdiction," so, in the administration's opinion, the U.S. isn't responsible. QED!
The Rice Exception is perhaps best illustrated by the administration's use of "torture by proxy" -- where America gets to keep its hands clean, but the people we want tortured get tortured all the same. It's win-win, really! And, despite the constant denials, it seems this is something we actually do:
Although Bush administration officials have denied that they transfer terrorism suspects to countries where they are likely to be abused, a classified memorandum described in a court case indicates that the Pentagon has considered sending a captured militant abroad to be interrogated under threat of torture.

The classified memo is summarized — its actual contents are blacked out — in a petition filed by attorneys for Majid Mahmud Abdu Ahmad, a detainee held by the Pentagon at its Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility.

The March 17, 2004, Defense Department memo indicated that American officials were frustrated in trying to obtain information from Ahmad, according to the description of the classified memo in the court petition. The officials suggested sending Ahmad to an unspecified foreign country that employed torture in order to increase chances of extracting information from him, according to the petition's description of the memo. ...

The memo appears to call into question repeated assertions by the administration that it does not use foreign governments to abuse suspected militants — what critics call "torture by proxy."
Hey, we've outsourced everything else. Why not our torture industry, too?

There are so many reasons why we, as a nation, should be solidly against torture. Practically, it doesn't work. Politically, it makes us look bad and cripples our efforts to bring allies to our cause.

But most important of all, we don't torture because we're the good guys. I don't care if there's a ticking nuclear bomb underneath a pile of adorable puppies and unborn fetuses, we don't torture. No ifs, ands, or buts, my moral relativists on the hawkish side. We don't torture. If you want to torture, there are plenty of piece-of-shit countries out there that enjoy that sort of thing. We just toppled the ruler of one, in fact.

Come on. You're better than that, America.

(A tip of the hat to Atrios and Kevin Drum for some of the links.)


Thrillhous said...

Great call on the moral relativism of torture advocates. It seems like instead of saying it's wrong to torture because we're the good guys, they say it's fine to torture -- because we're the good guys.

They even relativize around on the meaning of the word "torture" itself. Sure, a few dog attacks, some stress positioning, maybe a little organ failure or death here or there, but torture? Never!

Otto Man said...

Yeah, if liberals are moral relativists because they don't think gays should be stoned to death, then conservatives are certainly much worse for insisting that we don't torture while we do.

InanimateCarbonRod said...

I may someday be in a position where I have to run a red light to get my son to the hospital. Therefore, we should abolish all red lights.

Otto Man said...

You've really got to respect people who insist that not only are American values and ideals worth fighting for, they're even worth destroying in order to defend them.

Otto Man said...

By the way, I saw that the Daily Show used this same title in their segment on torture last night. Rest assured that our crack legal team will be contacting them shortly.

Literally, they're on crack. But so affordable.