Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Torture questions

Our lives are full of good things and those that are not so good. I can well understand why many people would rather not think about the question of torture. Avoid knowing and escape responsibility. Others are horrified at what was done but feel it is over, won't happen again; so why talk about it. Some believe it was the right thing-- nuff said. From the political right has come a constant drone that whether we tortured isn't the question but that it should never have been revealed!

Would the same argument, that we must never reveal official wrong doing, work for when the Catholic Church finally admitted it had priests who abused children and that the church hierarchy tried to pay off the victims and hide the actions? Was their mistake that they ever admitted their part in it?

Peggy Noonan, (past speech writer for President Reagan) who seems more and more weird to me and not sure if it's Botox or pills but she just doesn't sound or look like a real person whenever I see her on any interview program, has said the torture memos should not have been released. Her reasoning, with an inane smile, is some mystery is necessary in life, and sometimes we just have to walk on. How many times in history have people tried to hide things and smiled sweetly while trying to walk on?

Jon Stewart aptly mimicked her by saying walking on from genocide, walking on from slavery. He didn't ask it but should walking on have been what was done after WWII when it was oh so unpleasant to realize what some human beings had thought of and done during the Holocaust? When do you decide that you will reveal evil deeds? Don't reveal it when it ruins your reputation? Does such revelation only come after a war has been lost and then it's the victors who do it? Saddam Hussein found ordering the torturing and killing of people had a high price; but then he lost a war, didn't he?

Some would say the Bush/Cheney administration's torture was not evil. It was done to bad people, and therefore was okay. Further they argue, that it kept the United States safe from further attacks. The latter fact has yet to be proven; but even if it was, would that justify doing what we have prosecuted, executed and condemned other soldiers and nations for doing?

Well the question of releasing the memos has been decided. Whether you agree or not, and I happen to agree with their release, it's not a question left to decide. I think it was right to reveal what had been done because to get past something in our lives, we need to take responsibility for what it was. Head in the sand doesn't cut it for personal living or national choices. Besides which, the information of the torture was already out there. What Americans needed to know was to what extent it went up the chain of command. We know that now-- to the top.

As Americans, we are left with a big question: do we prosecute those who ordered such acts? The right says no, we have to walk on. The left says the law must be obeyed. To the right, whatever the United States does, must be correct because the motives were pure-- even if the acts were not. To the left that is hogwash and sometimes even good people go down wrong paths. Revealing the extent to which we did might be our best insurance of not repeating it. On the other hand, David Broder makes the opposite case as he says Stop Scapegoating.

Rove said that if we punish the previous administration (in short possibly him) for crimes it may have committed, it would be like what Third World/Latin American countries do when one regime is overthrown by another. Despite how Rove would like to paint it, the question here is not one of policies but the law.

It's obvious after the last month that the right wing has already decided we didn't have a free election. They also have amnesia where it comes to looking for crimes in previous administrations (the Bush people went after Clinton for the pardons). Logic is irrelevant where passion reigns.

Rove's catch phrase became quite popular with pundits and even ended up with a few senators echoing it. To follow this train of thought, you have to ignore that what the Bush/Cheney administration did for eight years was more like Third World/Latin American juntas. It never matters what is true. It matters how it sounds-- and that sounded good to the right.

I understand why the Obama administration would hate to get into this. This is the kind of thing that could swallow an administration's energy if they became involved. Some say if it is prosecuted, it's about vengeance. Is it or is instead about justice? If there were no criminal acts, than there is nothing to prosecute; but what if there were?

Can we trust the Justice Department to figure out if crimes were committed under American law. The right does not trust that because it is used to a totally partisan Justice Department. Some say, Nixon made this case, that if the president did it, it's legal. Do we really want to say that? Would the right like that idea now that a new president is in power?

Obama has another consideration and not from the reasonable right but rather the fringe. We saw it from the tea baggers; and if you listen to right wing talk or get those emails, you already are hearing or reading it. There are those who think Obama is trying to turn our whole country over to terrorists, clandestinely give it to the Muslim extremists. Can you imagine the screaming from them if he doesn't stop an investigation into torture involving the Bush/Cheney administration? They are already being whipped up to think it would be part of his plot to destroy the country.

Despite pressure from the right (the supposed law-and-order bunch), if laws were broken, how does our country ignore that-- and even if it leads to people on the left? How do we talk to the rest of the world about our ethics if we set them aside when it's inconvenient? Wouldn't it leave the message in our country that laws are only for the lowly?

My thought on how to resolve this is to investigate what happened. This should be done by the legal system, not the Democrats. Some have suggested it should be done by retired judges.

We now know what was done. The United States authorized and used torture and sexual humiliation to gain secrets-- they hoped. The right wants to make the point of this to be: Did it work.?. Perhaps the better question is why was it done?

From what I have read, the interrogation tapes were ordered destroyed, but the people there, some who didn't want to be there, perhaps through them, the truth might come out regarding the questions asked of the prisoners if this nation's people demand to know.

From the sounds of it, torture was done to many (some who have since disappeared and may have been killed during these harsh interrogation techniques). Some likely was done for revenge. Wanting revenge now is no reason to find out what was done. The question should be instead one of motive and the answers might lie with the harsh torture done to two Al Qaeda operatives who likely had something to do with planning and ordering 9/11. I use the word likely because information gathered during torture does not stand in a court of law; but let's assume these two did what the government is saying they did.

After the investigation, if the primary reason for the torture was not about future attacks, which these guys in prison likely didn't know about anyway, but rather what we are hearing now-- to prove that Iraq was connected to 9/11 and to justify the Bush/Cheney administration's decision to attack Iraq, then doesn't this change the situation from an administration who was trying to protect America to one who was trying to protect its own power? It would mean that month of endless torture was not to get new information but rather false information.

Some might make a case that in a situation, where a country had faced such a horrible terrorist attack, drastic means must be used to prevent further attacks. I would still say it is not the right choice. Not just because of the bad guys we might be torturing, but what it does to us as a nation to toss our ethics aside as soon as it's personally inconvenient.

Does anyone who justifies torture think about what this must be like for those who were ordered to do it? If they were sadists already, it would encourage that quality in them-- but my bet is these soldiers were rarely if ever sadists. They did not enjoy it. They hated it. They were ordered to do it. Some requested to be released from that duty. Others felt it was necessary. The military branches all said it not only didn't work but that they wanted it stopped. The administration, and who knows what that means, decided it would not be stopped.

For people forced to torture others, such acts could lead to nightmares for the rest of their lives. Suicide possibly from taking part in abusive interrogations?

Also it's cavalierly mentioned that doctors oversaw the torture to be sure it didn't kill these prisoners. This sounds like what was done under the Nazis. Doctors are supposed to heal, ease the suffering of others, what did that do to them to be ordered to go against their every instinct and training?

Leaving aside those who did this, what will it say about us as a nation if we throw aside our ethics when it's to keep ourselves safe? Once we do it for one reason, how about others that keep us more comfortable? Where do we draw the line if we decide the law isn't there for us whenever it gets in our way?

For those who would say yeah it's okay if I am in danger, can they also make a case that it's okay to torture someone to admit to something that prisoner says over and over is not true? If the torture is only to justify a policy position, would even the right wing think that was justified?

Well actually wing-nuts like Limbaugh, Beck, etc. would probably go along with even that (Limbaugh to defend Cheney and Beck because he's a nut) but how about some of the more reasonable on the right? If the torture was actually only to make the Bush people and in particular Dick Cheney, look correct, would anyone say that was justified?

Today, out there on the talk show circuit, who do we have most trying to defend the previous administration's use of torture? It's not Bush but rather Dick Cheney. Did we think we would be rid of him when his time in power ended? If we did, we have been badly mistaken.

The writer, Maureen Dowd, was telling George Lucas that she had compared Cheney to Darth Vader from his Star Wars series. She wondered if that was fair. Lucas answered that George W. Bush was Darth Vader, a young man who became corrupted but started out good and ended up in the end choosing good.

Lucas said Cheney was The Emperor. When you think about that possibility, and yes, I know it's movies, but movies that use real political and human motivations, then the responsibility for the torture, the cover-ups, the whole thing likely goes to Dick Cheney who is out there right now trying to sabotage yet another administration. Think about it!

Krugman had an excellent column on the topic: Reclaiming America's Soul. Most especially if you are one who wants to just walk on, read the article and think about what the price might be of just walking on.


ugich konitari said...

Rules and laws made by those folks , long gone, who participated in the building of a nation, often have a lot of thought and foresight. Todays, airy-light politicians, tunnel-visioned for their own prosperity( and the nation be damned), are unappreciaticve of this.
Crimes must be investigated.

We have a slightly different problem here in Mumbai. The lone living terrorist of the 26/Nov carnage is up for his trial. With massive evidence. He was granted a lawyer paid by the State, then the lawyer was penalised for conflict of interest, and another , more expensive lawyer was appointed. This guy is doing various things to put spokes in the wheel, like suddenly claiming that the terrorist chap is a minor. The state has ordered a medical investigation about his age.

There is a sense of the judge being more than fair to the defendant. A lot of people think they should get on with it and simply hang the guy. But if you think about it, a careful proper ly conducted case, will set a precedent for such things in the future. Unpopular as it may look now. We also have our politicians, and quick buck makers.

But somewhere, the old system of justice , creaking under the weight of a huge volume of cases, continues to work and guide.

Rain said...

That was beneficial to have your perspective on this, Ugich, since these questions all run together.

This was a good column this morning by Kristof in the NY Times. He presented some ideas that seem to me would work of how to go after this in a way that benefits us and doesn't get us stuck in yet another quagmire.

Parapluie said...

Kristof may not give the American people enough credit. We have made a mistake to use torture in the recent past. If we are attacked again we will realize that torture does more to increase hate than it helps to gain information which at best would be old and no longer valid. We are unlikely to be attacked as long as we are extending a sincere hand. We can nolonger swagger in supposed superiority as a aggresive empire.

Rain said...

Another piece with good links to explore what was 'gained' by United States torture and the growing reasons to think why it may have been done. The banality of evil

Parapluie said...

I do not label people evil even if they twist religion for selfish purpose as did Hitler. I do not label people evil when they are greedy, have hidden agendas, and much to gain if our democracy falls to anarchy. I believe the word "evil" is worse than an unnecessary word. Evil has so much emotional content that it removes all objectivity and is a catalysis for allowing reactionary bad behavior. When objectivity is gone we are apt to become bad like the people we label as being "evil." We had an administration who believed they were fighting a religious war and labeled the captured suspected terrorists as evil. That was their first mistake and the lesson the United States needs to learn. I know Obama knows what has happened. He has said clearly that we are not fighting a war against Islam and never will. He has spoke in the context of a religious gathering of the dangers of labeling people as "evil." The question is: Does Obama know we are ready to learn? Or must he step aside until due process of the law divides us further? I am thinking he will find the right moment to communicate as clearly as possible. This is not a biggy like getting the world economy working, universal health care, and sound education for our youth.

Paul said...

I am being tortured by the thought that the issue of torture could tear this country apart. And the people who hate us would love to see it happen. Obama knows this too - I await his actions in the matter.

Rain said...

Another good article looking at this question from a political and factual perspective: Myth and Reality about Torture. To say it's not simple is to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Yes....don't faint...I'm actually beginning to slowly emerge back into the blog world! And thank you for all of your comments, support and kindness these past two months.
This is quite a subject, as the length of your post demonstrates.
My opinion is....what they did went against the Geneva Convention. Plain and simple. And yes...that should be investigated and prosecuted if necessary. (MY God, they made damn sure Clinton was impeached for a ......well, we all know what for)

Anonymous said...

The only person Clinton tortured was Hilary - with his infidelity !

Kay Dennison said...

I say hang the b*st*rds!!!!! Their blatant disregard for the Constitution and the Geneva Convention merits this.

Paul said...

They may well be guilty, but let's don't rush to judgement here . They are innocent until PROVEN guilty in a court of law.

Ingineer66 said...

Fisrt off I agree torture is a bad thing and we should be better than that. But I have to ask some questions here.

Geneva Convention??? What flag were the people fighting under when they were captured? What uniform were they wearing? The Geneva Convention does not apply.

As for Al Qaida hating us, they are not going to hate us more or less because we water boarded some of the captives. They hate us plenty now and they have for about 20 years. They want to see us dead. I do not understand why people do not get that. We are not talking about rational thinking people here. This is not like trying to negotiate with Iran or Cuba, this is trying to deal with people that only hate and only want us dead. And they only understand one thing, military might. They use it to strong-arm their own people. They would kill their children if it advanced their cause.

Rain said...

Torture, such as it was used is not military might, and you are making an assumption about others that you don't know, ingineer. We could have used the same argument here in this country against the British but the more unfair acts that were done, the more people were willing to put their lives on the line.

The main point here though is being missed by you. What does it do to US as a people that we would do such things (when experts say they only give unreliable information ie people will say anything to get it to stop).

And what if it turns out only to try to get al Qaeda agents to admit to something untrue or revenge? You want to defend that? If you do, you are among about 20% of our citizens, maybe not that many, which explains why we are becoming a one party system-- not a good thing btw. You also doubtless watch 24/7 or things like it and believe what you see in a movie is how life works

Ingineer66 said...

We pretty much agree on this subject. I went off on a tangent. And you are correct I have not met anybody that told me they were an Al Qaida operative but I have read books and articles and watched documentaries about what is going on in Afghanistan. And I have talked to Marines that have been over there.