Let's Face It, We're War Criminals

Cia torture

Says Cheney, "I would do it again in a minute."

I'm sure he means, "I will do it again in a minute," referring to torture. How else is he supposed to enjoy his retirement without re-living his glory years? (I shudder at the thought of Cheney's reaction when one of the housekeepers does something stupid like misplace his watch. "Time to go to the box, Rosa.")

es, former Vice-President Dick Cheney is certain that his administration's utilization of "enhanced interrogation techniques" provided real and actionable intelligence. Notice he provides no evidence backing such a claim (due to national security reasons of course). There are two distinct argumentative paths he follows: one, that we didn't use "torture," only "enhanced interrogation"; and two, that the techniques used that weren't technically "torture" were actually effective.

His arguments actually work at cross-purposes. If it was truly successful in stopping imminent terrorist threats, then would it matter to him if it was torture or not? And if it wasn't torture, does it matter whether we were saved by the tactics or that they only achieved smaller ends? His black-and-white thinking is suddenly exposed to some gray areas.

I argue here that we have done things, defined as "torture" or not, that do not live up to our ideals. And in what seems to be an endless war, standing by our principles is more important than ever, something that Cheney fails to grasp.

Let's first look at a few cases from the Senate report.

Case 1: the box.

These great patriots and defenders of our freedom often liked to utilize boxes to help them along with interrogations, striking fear in their prisoners and providing an easy metaphor for the subjects' looming (or eventual) four-walled descent into an unmarked grave. Two sizes are listed in the report, one coffin-sized and the other a mere 30"x30"x21" (visualize the size of this box for yourself and you will be amazed). The coffin-shaped box was additionally infested with insects when dealing with a certain suspect suffering from a crippling fear of bugs. Over a 20 day period, the same inmate spent 12 days boxed up, with 29 hours of that stuffed into the small box. Mental anguish to be sure, combined with physical in the case of the mini-box. How are the inmates to know when (or if) they will be released, or if there is a stable air supply, etc.
Who is going to go on a hunger strike when the final result is a painful and humiliating ass-stretching?

Case 2: forced "rectal rehydration" and "rectal feeding".

This was the "medical" procedure wherein CIA officers would break the inmates' strikes against drinking and eating via sodomy. This procedure is medically undesirable, as there are far better ways to deliver nutrients (mouth, IV) but psychologically, god damn it must have worked. Who is going to go on a hunger strike when the final result is a painful and humiliating ass-stretching? Cheney and others have claimed medical reasons for such a procedure, but again, there had to have been much better options if the goal was the provision of mandatory nutrients. The goal here was to cause psychological pain to the detainees in order to influence an outcome, namely for the detainees to stop going on hunger strikes.

Anyways, if you really want to forcibly feed your detainee, why not use the tried-and-true method of pouring water (or even a delicious smoothie) down his throat while holding his head back (a.k.a. waterboarding for the dense reader.)?
Sampling of other procedures.

  • Exposure to cold. One inmate died of hypothermia (no charges filed).
  • Mock executions.
  • Sleep Deprivation. Prisoners were reportedly kept awake for up to 180 hours (7.5 days).
  • Russian roulette. (Not authorized, but again no charges filed).

These procedures, for the record, were not reported to have procured any real intelligence of an imminent threat. Not only that, many were tortured and later cleared of any involvement in terrorism. One prisoner, Abu Hudhaife, was provided with 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation and ice water baths before the CIA figured out that he wasn't who their intelligence had told them. Tough luck for a guy who just happened to share a name with an enemy combatant.

Their moral compass says that the cost of treating a few men like dogs does not measure up to the benefit of staying safe.
The point is not to debate whether or not the actions constitute "torture" under the many differing definitions of the word, but to debate whether the United States should be doing these specific acts in the context of an unending war.

The policy makers don't see a problem with it. Their moral compass says that the cost of treating a few men like dogs does not measure up to the benefit of staying safe. But then why can't they demonstrate just how this made us safer?

It's because it is all about blood-lust Cheney and Co. wanted revenge, not justice. Justice would have involved not ruining the lives of many innocents, as well as not ruining the (already questionable) reputation of the United States . (Justice would have also involved owning up to your actions, and facing a legal challenge.)

We are different from the terrorists, but in fact, Cheney and his cronies might as well be looking in a mirror when they peer through the one-way glass into the interrogation cell. The barbaric violence of groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS is present in our policies because our leaders have similarly dogmatic ideologies that perceive and interact in a kill-or-be-killed, eye-for-an-eye style.

In fact, there are other ways. Of course there was a necessity for action against the people responsible for 9/11 and probably looking for further chances to strike. But, that action needed to be carried out in a way that left the United States as a clear alternative for the people being recruited by these groups, and not as just another enemy to fear.

Interrogations were necessary, but throwing out the rules of war did not appear to be so. Anyways, if the information gleaned from the "enhanced interrogations" cannot be revealed (even in part) this many years later that leads one to believe it doesn't exist.

So was it torture? Not torture?

Does it even matter? However you define the word, if the tactics listed in the report don't sound like torture to you, then you probably have a robot heart just like Mr. Cheney.

But the point is that we shouldn't be arguing over a word. We should be arguing over actions, but unfortunately our legal and political systems have utterly failed to hear that debate.

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