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Because I have an opinion about everything…

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.

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12 thoughts on “Of Blogs, Terrorism and Torture

  1. I think you’re right, I think it’s very much about politicization, but I think the debate over what is and isn’t torture and what is and isn’t illegal detention has much more to do with the immediate Congressional elections than with a possible McCain/Powell bid, although, if they’re successful, you can bet they’ll fondly recall their humanitarian efforts should they run for the Big House in ’08.

    I recently read two different reports that put the civilian death toll in Iraq at over 6,000 for the months of July and August alone. Now we’re entering Ramadan, and violence has only escalated during this period in recent years. I can’t help wondering why there aren’t passionate bipartisan debates about that. I think waterboarding is torture. I think torture sucks, no matter what the results. I think ít’s extremely debatable, as do many intelligence analysts, just how unique and valuable all the “evidence” we’re getting from these “methods” really is. But isn’t all this a little bit of a sideshow compared with the massive bloodshed in Iraq? That’s not to say it’s not an important issue. But is it the most important thing these politicians could be discussing right now?

  2. You’re right, the civilian death toll is getting to an obscene level, yet how much of that is due to the insurgency… and how much of the insurgency is “our” fault? Can these numbers be calculated fairly and accurately?

    I conceded my misgivings about waterboarding; it is a severe method, to be sure. But when I think of those poor hostages who were beheaded, or the torture endured by the victims in the Trade Center or the Pentagon or Flight 93… “Should I jump out of this 79th story window or have the flesh burnt away from my bones?” “Should I go back into the pentagon to save my colleague who is burning to death?” “Should we just let the hijackers crash this plane into the Capitol or should we try to rush the cabin?” Suddenly, waterboarding doesn’t sound quite as bad. And I can’t argue with the information gathered from Khalid Mohammed that saved countless lives in L.A. I’m sure each of them would be grateful for evidence they believe to be reliable.

    …which is not to say the bloodshed in Iraq is not an important issue – it most definitely is. No easy answers there.

    As you said, politicians discuss what further their objectives [for the most part, anyway]. Perhaps they felt this was something they could handle rather quickly before they went on recess… :-/

  3. Nice post. Well thought-out and documented. I agree with you that McCain and Powell are using this as part of a political strategy. I also suspect that McCain still holds a grudge about not getting the nomination for the 2000 run and that he finds things to oppose Bush with.

    I hear differnt numbers for the civilian death toll and I’m not sure who collects them or how they are tallied. I don’t have high confidence in the accuracy of reporting from the media in general so the whole subject is questionable to me. So, I guess I can’t really comment on that.

    Though perhaps you can answer a question for me: what the heck is water-boarding? I have heard that term a lot, though no one ever explains what it is. Can you tell me? Or point me to an article or something that explains it?

    Again, good post. Keep up the good work.
    WC

  4. WC,

    Thanks for stopping by and for your kind and interesting comments. Your point about McCain still holding a grudge concerning the 2000 nomination is a good one – it could certainly play into his motivation for this politically based argument.

    I agree that it’s difficult to get an accurate view of the death toll, or anything else, from the media. Gathering information from as many different sources as possible and sifting through it all with whatever common sense we have is probably the best method for trying to get at the truth about the things that matter to us.

    As far as water boarding is concerned, Wikipedia describes it as follows:

    The modern practice of waterboarding, characterized in 2005 by former CIA director Porter J. Goss as a “professional interrogation technique”, involves tying the victim to a board with the head lower than the feet so that he or she is unable to move. A piece of cloth is held tightly over the face, and water is poured onto the cloth. Breathing is extremely difficult and the victim will be in fear of imminent death by asphyxiation. Journalists Brian Ross and Richard Esposito described the CIA’s waterboarding technique as follows:
    The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

    – Debi

  5. Debi,
    Thanks for the definition – duh, why didn’t I think of Wiki? It does sound pretty bad – but I have to be honest, I am conflicted. While under normal circumstances I would abhor such a thing – during war and especially the current conflict I’m not sure I’m against anything that will get us intelligence that would save lives. It’s not as though these folks are boyscouts who have just been led astray. And given the chance they would certainly do that and MUCH worse to any American they held in custody. It is a moral dilemma- regardless of whether or not we grant Geneva Convention principles to them, anyone with half a brain knows they won’t reciprocate – so why should we?

    In theory, I suppose the answer would be ‘because we don’t want to become the enemy we are fighting’ ‘lower ourselves to the moral low-ground.’ But one has to also consider the practicality of the situation as well – know thy enemy. Being kind to them, giving them better food and perhaps medical treatment than we give our own troops may be perceived by them as a sign of weakness and gives them empowerment.

    It’s hard not to go with gut reaction on this one for me – I guess I’m just glad I don’t have to make the decision – it would be very tough.
    WC

  6. If we reduce the problem to an issue of whether or not forcefully interrogating detainees helps to prevent civilian casualties, then I suppose I would wholeheartedly agree with you. As WC said, I wouldn’t want to make that choice. But maybe it’s a choice that has to be made. And it is an issue that has to be considered.

    I’m just fundamentally mistrustful of the greater scheme–and I don’t mean “scheme” in a perjorative sense, I really mean just that, the whole picture that is propagated whereby you have these detainees allegedly allied with sectarian terrorist organizations who are taken into these dark rooms, and who knows what is or is not done to them, and what it does or does not prevent? The only concrete statements to that effect I know of come from the President and from the members of his administration–they don’t come from independent analysts. Independent analysts will tell you that it’s an unknown, what these coersive methods produce.

    So I would potentially agree that violence–if not specifically torture in the humanitarian sense–is not always intrinsically a bad thing if the results are clearly beneficial. But they have to be very clearly and transparently beneficial, and the fact is, in the situation we’re talking about, they’re not clearly beneficial. They are ostensibly beneficial because the Dear Leader says they are. That’s my problem. But you probably know that about me by now. :-)

  7. To WC-

    We ARE taking the moral high ground, as evidenced by the fact that a debate over the treatment of these prisoners is taking place at all. Indeed, these decisions require us to dig deep into our moral conscience for answers, which is why it is a subject worth discussing in the first place – I believe.

    But to treat these prisoners so well in light of what they’ve been accused of doing seems immoral, too. They eat better than our soldiers and get better medical care than *I* do! Just last week, I had to cancel a dental appointment because I had to use the money for bills and groceries. Because I have no dental insurance, I’ve not been to the dentist for more than two years and now I have a cavity. It’s nice to know that our terrorist friends all have healthy teeth – at taxpayers’ expense.

    Again, I do not favor torture, but coerced interrogation that saves lives is another thing altogether.

    – Debi

    P.S. Visited your site and loved it! “Int’l Talk Like a Pirate Day”? What a hoot! :-) Great piece about Chavez – very clever.

    To Tellitlikeitis –

    I understand your mistrust of anything government or, maybe more specifically, anything without oversight. Ideally, a scenario where the fox does not report to the hen house would probably work better. But independent reports have cited beneficial results, one of which was Brian Ross’ (above), as in the case of Khalid Shakh Mohammed. Other such reports probably produce conflicting results, but it’s hard to argue with the lives that were saved as a result of the information gathered from that interview.

    Still, bottom line is, it would seem we almost agree… gasp! :-) Although, this part you won’t like: I think the reason we vote for our leaders (or the reason I do, anyway), is so when times like these are upon us, we can have someone we trust in charge. I shudder to think what lies ahead when Bush leaves office, or what could have been if Gore had been elected. To me, Bush is a trustworthy man.

    By the way, isn’t “Dear Leader” reserved for Kim Jong-il? :-/

    And Curt, now that I figured out how to use the avatar, I’ve got my eye on you… :-)

    – Debi

  8. I can understand the concern about whether or not these forms of coercion get results – but I’m not sure we’ll ever know. Nor am I sure we should. I think we do elect leaders so that they can make the hard choices, so that we can go about our daily lives without the weight of the world constantly pushing on us. It is the price we pay for the piece of mind (I know, maybe it’s not too much piece of mind but it’s more than say the National Security Adviser) – and opting to give someone else the responsibility of success or failure with the job.

    But really, don’t we have to delegate at some point? I mean we can’t do everything by committee, can we? Would anything ever get done? Have you ever tried to accomplish something and had to go through endless approval lines to even start? Can you imagine being the leader of the free world and having to do that? It’s always going to be impossible to prove a negative – how many lives weren’t taken, how many attacks didn’t happen, how many cities weren’t destroyed and so on. And of course, any accomplishment that has occurred isn’t likely to be reported on since the media doesn’t like good news. That would put them out of business. It has to be bad and the badder the better.

    Debi, thanks for the lively discussion – and for dropping by my site. I’m glad you got a chuckle out of it.

    WC

  9. WC –

    I like the way you expressed your thoughts above about “delegating the difficult choices”. It’s in keeping with my philosophy to vote for someone who we ultimately feel we can trust. And maybe it’s a sign of ignorance on my part, but there actually are some things I would prefer not to know. I remember that thought crossing my mind when watching a documentary about the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. As you say, if I wanted to know, and wanted the pressure/responsibility of all the decisions, perhaps I would also want to be in the position of National Security Advisor… or President!

    You are also correct about the media: good news is no news and bad news is great news. I don’t want the media to keep telling me about another cat that was saved from a tree, but it would be nice to hear about the progress in Iraq as well as all the horror (and I know there is some progress because, if you dig, you can find it).

    Please come back and share your comments any time, I’ve enjoyed our conversation… :-)

    – Debi

  10. Hi Debi,
    Seems we’ve had a meeting of the minds. LOL.
    Have you seen Richard Minnitar’s article about Git’mo? I heard an interview he did on Talk Radio the other night. Talk about infuriating! I’m going to track down the article soon and I’ll send you the link.

    I’ve enjoyed our conversations too. I check in as often as I can. Keep up the good work. I’ll be doing a couple of rants next week.

    WC

  11. WC,

    No, I haven’t seen the article, but am interested in receiving your link, thanks! I haven’t been infuriated for at least 45 minutes or so… :-)

    Will be checking for your rants,

    Debi

  12. Debi
    The post is up, you can find it here: http://writerchick.wordpress.com/2006/09/30/this-is-torture/
    Hope you don’t mind me pimping my own post – if you do, just take it down.
    WC

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