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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Battle Torture - Iron Blogger Green - Closing Statement

Before I close, I would like to strongly congratulate the Challenger. Some felt this would be a lock for me, but the Challenger put up a fierce defense of his position, and put the outcome very much in doubt. Whatever the outcome, he has done an excellent job, and I thank him for helping me to find new ways to examine my own ideas.

I also would like to add my voice to those who have praised this project. We seem to be living in a time in which reasoned debate has almost entirely vanished. Political leaders on both sides do little more than bicker and blame, polarizing the nation and in many ways the world so deeply and bitterly that trying to comprehend or even acknowledge the opposing point of view is an art that is very nearly extinct. This project is original in this format, and visionary in its scope. Recent years have led me to almost despair of any hope or optimism I may once have held in my species. This project, and the growing number of people from all reaches of the ideological spectrum who come here to find new ideas and an insight into the opposition, have given me, if not optimism, at least some sense of hope. For that, I am sincerely grateful to the Chairman, and to you all.

This debate has been incredibly broad. We have covered philosophy, history, current events, ethics, justice, and more. The previous two battles were primarily focused on current events: the career and actions of Donald Rumsfeld (with some measure of this topic as well); and the current furor over same-sex marriage, and how that issue reflects the basic civil rights of gay, lesbian and transgendered people. Both were hard-fought, well-researched battles, but primarily based in contemporary events.

The debate over torture is as old as humanity itself. Going all the way back to the Sumerians and the Code of Hammurabi, the use of torture, both as punishment and as interrogation, has shown up in practically every place and every time. Ancient Middle East and Europe, pre-colonized South America and post-colonized North America, modern Africa and Asia, and everywhere in between.

What I have tried to show is that, by looking at history, we can see that whenever it is used, for whatever reason, torture always seems to have a way of slipping out of control very quickly and often with monstrous results. Whether it is used for confession and conversion (as in the Witch Persecutions), criminal punishment and retribution (as in the French Revolution), or as a means of enforcing the perceived moral imperative of one group over another (as in the Nazi Holocaust), the use of torture too easily turns to intolerance, revenge, and genocide. As a tool, it is untrustworthy. One has to dehumanize an opponent before one can go to the extent of inflicting intentional harm on them, but once the dehumanization process has begun, it is far more difficult to stop it at a predetermined point. Soon the heretic, the criminal, or the perceived enemy becomes an ‘other’, something whose feelings, rights, and life no longer seem to matter. Whether through sadism or obsession, torture eventually becomes its own goal.

Tragically, there is ample evidence of this even in our current situation. Although much is still under investigation, it appears already that the clearance to begin torturing prisoners in first Guantanamo Bay, then Afghanistan, now Iraq, came down from the highest levels of the American Government, despite internal protest and warnings. The command carried down through military ranks, into the direction of intelligence officers (whose primary concern is not justice or law, but the gathering of information) and civilian mercenaries (answerable literally to no one, their motives are profit and whatever personally motivates them into the situation to begin with.

The intelligence gained through torture is questionable. In the Persecutions and the Inquisition, people signed confessions to incredible crimes that no sane person today would believe. Often they were executed as a result. Today, the interrogations of Saddam Hussein appear to have produced little, if any, useful information, and the torture of prisoners in American military custody has not ended the ‘insurgency’ against the occupation; it has not revealed weapons of mass destruction, the given reason for the invasion; it has not produced evidence that Iraq was collaborating with Osama bin Laden and his al Quaeda network prior to the war. What it has done is to inflame passionate hatred against the occupying forces and their nations, passion inspired not only by disgust and horror at the revelations of torture, but also by religious indignation at the intentionally anti-Muslim methods being employed. The Islamic world has not forgotten that George W. Bush, in the initial stages of this ‘War on Terror’, referred to it as a ‘Crusade’. The actions taken by America under his command have provided ample evidence that that reference was not one of historical ignorance; indeed, it may have been uttered precisely as it was intended.

From the beginning of this debate, I remained open to the possibility that, perhaps, even the use of so vile and bloody a tool as torture might be justifiable, if its benefits could be shown to outweigh its own horrific nature. The Challenger has put forward a mighty effort to show that that is so. However, I remain unconvinced. There is no evidence that the use of torture in our time has saved lives, particularly not the lives of entire nations. There is, contrarily, massive evidence that the invasion, occupation and subsequent treatment of civilians in those nations has caused widespread lawlessness, religious and nationalistic resentment, and almost universal suffering.

I chose, specifically, to debate this topic without resorting to the use of graphic descriptions of maiming and injuring. It would, I felt, have been far easier for me to argue my point by illustrating the hideous effects of torture, particularly on the victims in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. To some extent, that material has come up; it’s practically unavoidable in a debate like this. But what I hoped to accomplish is to show, without going for shock value, that torture is at best unproductive and at worst sadistically addictive, that the intelligence gained through its use is questionable, and that the cultural effects produced by it are overwhelmingly negative.

What I’ve left unsaid, up to this point, is the sheer cruelty, the crippling or lethal effects, the savaged lives left in its wake. It is integral to this debate. There are reasons why torture has been outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, by the United Nations, by the United States of America herself.

In America, torture at the hands of civilian authorities is criminal. Police officers, detectives and intelligence agents are not permitted to torture American citizens, for any reason. In spite of this, the occurrence is widespread. And when it is discovered, those responsible are investigated for police brutality and overuse of force, as in the famous cases of Rodney King and Abner Louima. In the United States, even law enforcement officers are not permitted to break the law.

In February 2002, the Bush administration declared that Taliban fighters among the prisoners taken during the war in Afghanistan would be fully protected by the Geneva Conventions…but would not be classified as war prisoners. "Legal experts and human-rights advocates said Bush's decision to continue classifying Taliban detainees as 'unlawful combatants' instead of POWs allows the White House to use secret military commissions to try the individuals."

"The Geneva Conventions apply to every one of the prisoners held at Guantanamo and those detained in Afghanistan," said Vienna Colucci of Amnesty International USA. "The conventions require that when there is a dispute over a prisoner's status, a 'competent tribunal' must make the final determination on a case-by-case basis. The president cannot fulfill that role."

According to Rumsfeld, Bush 'decided' that al Quaeda does not fit under the Conventions, because al Quaeda is not a state; however he did decide to apply the Conventions to the Taliban prisoners "even though neither the United Nations nor virtually any country in the world recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government."

Despite the objections of both the uniformed military and Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rumsfeld continued to fight against applying the Conventions to the Guantanamo prisoners. He later relented, but earlier this month again reversed himself by claiming that "the Geneva Conventions did not 'precisely apply' and were simply basic rules. The conventions are not exactly optional. They are the law of the land, signed by the president and ratified by Congress. Rumsfeld's concern—that Al Qaeda members do not wear uniforms and are thus 'unlawful combatants'—is understandable, but that is a determination that a military court would have to make."

Amnesty International has been investigating charges of torture on prisoners by Americans for over a year. They have documented several horrifying cases, and have uncovered "consistent allegations of brutality and cruelty by US agents against detainees in Iraq and other US detention facilities across the world at the highest levels of the US Government, including the White House, the Department of Defense, and the State Department for the past two years"

The administration has tried since the scandal broke to blame it on the uniformed soldiers, referring to them as "a few bad apples". However, the most well-known photograph, that of a hooded man standing on a box with electrical wires attached to his hands, feet and penis, is not just a bizarre fetish dreamed up by a few low-ranking soldiers. "That's because the practice shown in that photo is an arcane torture method known only to veterans of the interrogation trade. 'Was that something that [an MP] dreamed up by herself? Think again,' says Darius Rejali, an expert on the use of torture by democracies. 'That's a standard torture. It's called "the Vietnam." But it's not common knowledge. Ordinary American soldiers did this, but someone taught them.'"

Last week, America and Britain added insult to injury by pressuring the United Nations to grant full immunity from prosecution for any criminal conduct in Iraq after the hypothetical June 30 handover of power. Even British MP's are decrying this decision. "Last night MPs demanded that Iraqi citizens should have some form of legal redress following allegations that people had died unnecessarily during gunfights with British forces. 'How is anyone in Iraq expected to bring a case in the British courts?' said Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East, who has been credited with uncovering many of the claims made against British troops. 'It is taking the idea of diplomatic immunity and applying it to 130,000 troops. There is a danger that you are actually going from immunity to being able to act with impunity.'"

Then, to make certain it had a friend in power in Iraq, the two nations chose Dr. Ilyad Allawi to be the new Iraqi Prime Minister. Dr. Allawi, who was the source for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's now-infamous claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes, is not a popular choice among Iraqis.

"[H]is reputation among Iraqis for working first with Saddam's intelligence agents and then with MI6 and the CIA may make it impossible for them to accept him as leader of an independent Iraq."

As one embittered Iraqi [said] from Baghdad on Friday: "'The appointment must have been orchestrated by Ahmed Chalabi in order to discredit the entire process.' He was not entirely joking, given the fact that Chalabi joined the rest of the Governing Council in voting for Allawi despite their long and vicious rivalry."

The Challenger has argued that our invasion and occupation has brought salvation and new rights and freedoms to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, in Iraq, more than a year after George W. Bush declared 'major combat operations' to be over, even the generations-long feud between Sunnis and Shi'ites has been put aside in favor of a joint effort against the occupying troops.

I will close my case with this: On May 13, 2004, When asked by Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) how they would feel about a video showing American troops or civilians "'...in control of a foreign power, in a cell block, naked with a bag over their head, squatting with their arms uplifted for 45 minutes, would you describe that as a good interrogation technique or a violation of the Geneva Convention?'" Marine General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "I would describe it as a violation." And Paul D. Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy and ideological soulmate, answered "What you’ve described to me sounds to me like a violation of the Geneva Convention."

Yeah...me, too.


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