Torture, Still, Again

torture imageIf you google the phrase “black sites” now, at 4:05 this afternoon, you get hits that are mostly websites about African Americans. Soon enough, however, a search of “black sites,” like “waterboarding” and “stress position,” will reveal a list of pages that, alleged or proven, irrevocably connect the United States to the practice of torture. And we learned this morning in an article in the Washington Post that we’re doing it where the Soviets used to, at secret sites in Eastern Europe. Sure, they were torturing dissidents and we’re torturing terrorists — or people who are most likely terrorists — but is the rest of the world going to do us the favor of making that distinction with us?

Last month Senator McCain attached a rider to a defense spending bill that required US troops to hold to the Army Field Manual when handling prisoners. Nine Senators voted against it. Nine Senators? Nine US Senators are against holding ourselves to the rules we already wrote down and supposedly follow anyway? And now the President is asking for a loophole the size of Nebraska on the rider, namely, that it apply to members of the Armed Services but not the CIA. Who, if we are to believe the Washington Post, are the ones doing the torturing in the first place.

What happens in the “black sites” that the Post reported? If we’re talking about secret sites several countries around the world, this is more than a few bad apples, right? Are those other ninety Senators getting serious now, and are we going to get some answers higher up the chain of command? And why is the CIA talking about this in the first place?

Josh White

Reporter on the Pentagon beat, The Washington Post

John Cloonan

Risk expert with Clayton Consultants

25-year FBI veteran; former counterterrorism agent, responsible for creating the legal case against Osama Bin Laden

Darius Rejali

Professor of political science, Reed College

Torture and Modernity: Self, Society and State in Modern Iran (Westview 1994), the forthcoming Torture and Democracy (Princeton 2005), and Approaches to Violence (forthcoming Princeton 2006),

Extra Credit Reading

Gene from Cape Cod, one of our callers, says this book answers a lot of the questions raised in this hour: One Woman’s Army: The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story.

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  • ismael

    “Sure, they were torturing dissidents and we’re torturing terrorists”.

    That’s one of the biggest preconceptions ever made. Sure, to American eyes, a guy with an AKA 47 in Irak or Afghanistan is a terrorist (just because he is The Enemy, really), but you could fairly consider that guy a dissident fighting a foreign army which has indeed invaded his country. Was the French Resistance a terrorist group? Would armed americans become terrorist were they to defend their country against an occupying army?

    I’m not personally for any kind of aggression, but I think the name “terrorist” is applied just to conveniently by American statu-quo these days. Bush’s rethoric of war has pervaded even those who pretend to oppose him.

  • BarryO

    VP wants CIA exempted from torture rules. We now know CIA has secret jails. No one now can deny US is involved in this unsupportable position. Why doesn’t Congress make a law to make fighting US troops a US crime, get rid of these secret jails and land these dudes in US jails. End of story.

  • Potter

    So most of these detainees have no real value to us!!!

    Isn’t the EU getting after these countries that are taking our prisoners? Poland, already a member. Romania a candidate?

  • Perhaps I am naive, but I didn’t think that the United States engaged in torture. The Geneva Convention and the military has codes of conduct to follow, and I firmly believed we were exemplary in our actions worldwide. Abu Ghraib was shocking to me, but I thought it was an aberration, the result of a few individuals acting in a way that is not condoned by the United States military. I wanted to believe this.

    To hear that the United States CIA is now engaging in torture regularly, in secret places from which there can be no independent observation and no accountabilty is deeply disturbing to me. I cannot believe that as a society we can accept this behavior, we have a code of conduct to uphold and as the most powerful nation in the world, I believe we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. Apparently, the Bush Administration does not believe this. As a conscientious world citizen, I am ashamed to say I am an American, because it appears we have become a people that I no longer recognize. And our government sanctions this?

  • Potter

    “an underground Holiday Inn chain” … Chris

  • Potter

    This was a meaningful hour; it makes your heart just sink.

  • Jon

    Extraordinary show. This show, together with your NeoCons show earlier in the week, has provided a great service. While the rich fabric of information you have provided is new, and even shocking, it is at the same time confirmatory. Confirmatory of very serious policy decisions that have been taken in the name of our country. As your caller from Worcester pointed out tonight, we may still be reaping the fruits of these policies forty years from now and beyond. It’s already late–very late. Yet, even at this late stage in this epic story, what can we as concerned citizens effectively do to begin reversing the course of our country? How much more evidence of such scandalous behaviour taken in our names must we endure?

  • kemole

    This is what you get when you turn the nation over to a “bunch of draft doging ‘coke snorting’ party boys” that had “daddy” fix every thing. Not one of this cabol that are in the White House now; i.e. on the ground and down-range of someone, not one of them should by rights command the respect of any “Soldger” in the feild. This is just the poisionus Arcinic lased ice-berg named ‘tRUE treasion.”.

  • smtcapecod

    1) That’s cabal, I believe.

    2) I understand to keep the pace of discussion moving along, and appreciate the host’s level of interest in prodding the guests to be forthcoming. But I’m afraid this is one of the only times I’ve wished he would check his eagerness just a bit. Cloonan did speak a bit slowly and at length, but his words and statements were laden with content and for me, formed the main substantive content of the show. The interruptions were a little distraction.

    3) I can’t believe the whole hour passed without a discusion of the War Crimes Tribunal and the extent to which U.S. military and governmental officials could — in theory and in practice (recognizing they are difernt) be held accountable for transgressions against Geneva and/or humanity. It was a rich subject as presented, but the U.S.’s recalcitrance when it comes to signing the treaty, and the extent to which its behavior might be construed as consistent with other nations that won’t sign, or where the ICC has endicted individuals would’ve been illucidating.

  • sealegman

    It is time to charge the vice president with crimes against humanity.

    Not everyone who is captured is a terrorist. The US used to be better than this.

  • smtcapecod

    Some context/fodder for my prior (11/4) suggestion.

  • manning120

    I haven’t had time to listen to the program. The comments all fail to expressly discuss the concept of self defense. The Bush administration’s policy, while ineptly stated, attempts to make out an argument that torture is sometimes justified as self defense. I think there’s some validity to this.

    Laws universally (to my knowledge) affirm that sometimes force, even deadly force, may be used to defend oneself or others from threatened or actual illicit use of force. On the moral level, self defense is not only permissible; in some circumstances morality demands it. “Torture� connotes the infliction of severe pain or injury because of the pleasure derived therefrom by the torturer. Nothing could be more reprehensible. Yet if the infliction of severe pain or injury could be reasonably expected to result in saving the lives of others, it might be just as reasonable to inflict pain or injury as to use deadly force.

    Although sometimes legally and morally acceptable or necessary, self defense is fraught with difficulty. Many circumstances have to be taken into account, including past dealings of the parties, the appearance of threat, the imminence of the danger, etc. Infliction of pain or injury on suspected terrorists in self defense will involve even more difficulty than the usual forms of self defense. The stakes have been raised sufficiently by 9/11 to require looking at this matter anew. National and international law should delineate exactly what specific factors would possibly bring this form of self defense into play. Leaving the CIA to its own devices just won’t do.

    As mentioned, one must never forget that torture, not used strictly for self defense, is totally immoral. Anyone who would derive pleasure from torture should be removed forthwith from all possibility of inflicting pain or injury, even in self defense. I believe the U.S. could earn respect internationally through strict adherence to these principles.

  • smtcapecod

    Its an amazing thing, and a rich topic for conversation, when morality becomes subjective. As is the divide between the law-enforcement and militaristic approaches to national security. Self-defense and vengefulness might be rationalized under Hamurabi’s code, or under the Old Testament model, not so much if you apply the new-testament standard. Of course there are innumberable subtleties to those citations, but I don’t accept that self-defence is an inherently or universally legitimate rationale for torture. And the case-in-point cites the fact that the application of drastic measures may have been applied far afield of the circumstances likely to produce solid, credible intelligence. In addition, its an inherently weak argument because ‘self defense’ presumes some future action in this context – the gathering of intelligence its fundamentally anticipatory.

    I still maintain that we can’t claim to be the nation and culture of laws, and then seek ways to exonerate ourselves from the misuse, abuse or infringement on them. We can’t maintain that our constitution sets forth universal truths, and then exempt certain men. Universals apply to each (individually), not just to all (in the aggregate). And its even more hyperbolic and hypocritical if we allow the rational of bringing our legalistic and principled society to these afflicted areas as the impetus for our military action- which then perpetrates the transgressions being discussed.

    If we stand for human values, if we stand for righteousness we can not engage in the abuse of those principles for the sake of (or on the premise of) their very defense. Standing for these things has some costs — in every respect.

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