Of Blogs, Terrorism and Torture
As a new blogger, I have already amassed quite an education from reading others’ sites and mulling over the well thought-out opinions contained therein. The passion with which some write can be startling and challenging, while others seem happy to continue spreading ignorance merely for the sake of hearing themselves talk. I hope to be counted among the former as I research those things that are important to me before I venture to write one syllable about anything. Always checking opposing opinions, no matter how unpleasant at times, I know it is a necessity in order to get a complete and honest outlook that may be worth a reader’s time.
In my cyber-travels, these have been the best blogs of all – those that allow for alternative views and do not automatically dismiss readers and/or commentaries that disagree. While a meeting of the minds may be too much to hope for, a robust discussion is always fun and can lead to a learning experience for both sides. And that can never be a bad thing.
With that as a preface, I have encountered so much one-sided writing about the recent squabbling in Congress over the clarification of The Geneva Convention and how it pertains to terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. At its core, it would almost seem to be an argument of semantics: “Torture” vs. “Harsh Measures” or “Coerced Interrogation”, “Clarification” vs. “nullification”. And, sadly, the argument received much mislaid attention from Senator John McCain and General Colin Powell.
To the best of my understanding, no one was asking to back out of the Geneva Convention’s provisions against torture, only wanting the language of article 3 to be clarified so detainees could not claim torture, and CIA Agents could not be prosecuted for trying to ascertain information that would protect our country from further attacks.
Geneva Convention; Common Article 3, 1. (c) prohibits:
Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.
Exactly what is humiliating and degrading treatment? Is it sleep deprivation? Loud music? Solitary confinement? A cold room? Water boarding? According to Human Rights Watch it is. But then, according to Executive Director, Kenneth Roth:
“These abuses are wrong as a matter of fundamental rights. Though done in the name of protection from terrorism, they are also counterproductive. Fighting terrorism effectively requires not just stopping existing terrorists but also preventing the generation of new ones. By all accounts, U.S. abuses in the name of fighting terrorism have been a boon to terrorist recruiters. The loss of the moral high ground has made it harder to dissuade angry young men from resorting to the deliberate killing of civilians.
Many of the abuses also reflect a counterterrorism strategy that is too narrow. Most experts insist that, in comparison with other law enforcement methods such as surveillance or searches, information garnered from interrogation plays a relatively small role in cracking secretive criminal conspiracies. The most important source of all is tips from members of the general public—ordinary citizens, often from the same community as a would-be terrorist, who might report suspicious activity next door or the approach of a terrorist recruiter. Abusive interrogation can discourage such cooperation because many potential sources of information want nothing to do with “dirty war” tactics that may be used against their neighbors or even themselves. Cooperation from other governments can be similarly undermined.”
Who are these experts he mentions? And is he suggesting we dance to the beat of a terrorist’s drum in order to appease them, in the hope of dissuading angry young men from resorting to killing civilians? If we are “nice enough”, they will suddenly be nice to us? They hate us, they hate what we stand for – that’s not going to change, regardless of how nice we are.
I hesitate to even take the time to respond to the ludicrous statement Mr. Roth makes concerning counterterrorism strategies. Surveillance, searches and neighbors who garner information is as valuable as that collected from Khalid Shakh Mohammed using harsh measures? According to ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross, Mohammed’s interrogation yielded “information that was very valuable regarding one plot which would have involved an airplane attack on the tallest building in Los Angeles”. Ross spoke of 14 cases where coerced interrogation was used, and in all 14 cases they gave up important information. As a result, more than a dozen plots were stopped. Works for me.
Now, I have my reservations about water boarding, I will admit. It does seem to border on torture, but at the same time, it produces no permanent damage. Contrast that with, say, the commission of a beheading on film for broadcast on the Internet or on Al Jazeera. And with the question of defendants seeing evidence against them, I also take issue. I believe it is an integral part of our justice system, yet also believe we cannot reveal CIA identities in the process or allow national security to be compromised. It’s comforting that an agreement has been reached in Congress that apparently satisfies most on these key points.
How ironic is it, by the way, that so many people got their undies in a knot over the revelation of Valerie Plame’s identity as a former CIA agent, and now there are those who don’t even blink at the idea of revealing the names of agents in the field to terrorists? But I digress… :-/
Despite Senator McCain’s and General Powell’s claims of our administration failing to adhere to the higher standard that makes this country great and questioning the moral basis and conscience of those who dare attempt to define Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, I believe the treatment we provide to Gitmo prisoners speaks for itself. The following can be found at the DOD website and is titled,
“Ten Facts About Guantanamo”
1. The detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility include bin Laden’s bodyguards, bomb makers, terrorist trainers and facilitators, and other suspected terrorists.
2. More money is spent on meals for detainees than on the U.S. troops stationed there. Detainees are offered up to 4,200 calories a day. The average weight gain per detainee is 20 pounds.
3. The Muslim call to prayer sounds five times a day. Arrows point detainees toward the holy city of Mecca.
4. Detainees receive medical, dental, psychiatric, and optometric care at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. In 2005, there were 35 teeth cleanings, 91 cavities filled, and 174 pairs of glasses issued.
5. The International Committee of the Red Cross visits detainees at the facility every few months. More than 20,000 messages between detainees and their families have been exchanged.
6. Recreation activities include basketball, volleyball, soccer, pingpong, and board games. High-top sneakers are provided.
7. Departing detainees receive a Koran, a jean jacket, a white T-shirt, a pair of blue jeans, high-top sneakers, a gym bag of toiletries, and a pillow and blanket for the flight home.
8. Entertainment includes Arabic language TV shows, including World Cup soccer games. The library has 3,500 volumes available in 13 languages — the most requested book is “Harry Potter.”
9. Guantanamo is the most transparent detention facility in the history of warfare. The Joint Task Force has hosted more than 1,000 journalists from more than 40 countries.
10. In 2005, Amnesty International stated that “the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times.”
I heard Laura Ingraham claim (on The O’Reilly Factor) that every prisoner over the age of 50 also gets a free colonoscopy, but I haven’t been able to substantiate that. As someone who suffers from Crohn’s Disease, I decided this might not really help my argument anyway. Laura was talking benefits, but the word torture came to my mind… :-/
Seriously, though, I would never condone torture – although, there are those who say, “Never say never”. I consider myself a pacifist, for the most part. I would not kill another person and, if serving in the military, I would have to do something other than hold a weapon. I respect John McCain’s service to our country and what he endured as a prisoner of war. This is part of the reason I can’t understand why he rejects seemingly benign methods of interrogation… certainly when compared with what he experienced. The same is true for General Powell; I have always had great respect for him as well. Their rationale for choosing this particular argument puzzles me and leads me to speculate as to their motivation. It is difficult not to conclude that politics is a major contributor here. Could Senator McCain be pandering for an upcoming presidential bid? And could General Powell be thinking “running mate”?
If this is the case, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. While politicizing and jeopardizing the safety of the citizens one hopes to govern in an attempt to gain that position is reprehensible, unfortunately, there are those for whom it works. As an average citizen, though, I feel humiliated and degraded.