Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Torture Party?

At what point did Republicans become the party of torture? I wish this were simple hyperbole, but judging by my Twitter feed and no less than the pages of the Grey Lady herself, Republicans are voluntarily lining-up to defend one of the most reprehensible policies of the previous administration.

Ross Douthat in his NYT debut today laments that Dick Cheney didn’t run for President:

We tried running the maverick reformer, the argument goes, and look what it got us. What Americans want is real conservatism, not some crypto-liberal imitation.

“Real conservatism,” in this narrative, means a particular strain of right-wingery: a conservatism of supply-side economics and stress positions, uninterested in social policy and dismissive of libertarian qualms about the national-security state. (emphasis and unimaginable nightmare scenario in original)

Since when do economics have anything to do with torture? Only hacks like Naomi Klein think free markets are synonymous with torture, right…RIGHT?!?!?! (I'm not assigning this thought to Ross, but it must be prevalent enough among GOPers if he's writing about it. I'm guessing he and I have similar people in our Twitter feeds)

While I understand that the Bushies were awful by nearly every metric, the violation of human rights is not the extant Bush policy banner under which to rally the troops. Even if you believe, conveniently disregarding the numerous intelligence and military experts who have practiced and suffered through them, that these “techniques” do not constitute torture per se, I fail to see the correlation that they represent anything resembling conservative principles, nor in exaggerating their negligible intelligence value. But what, pray tell, is gained by placing the Republican standard firmly into the ground upon which one must abide by a particular definition of torture? Have we, as conservatives, fallen so far that this is what we’ve left to offer the American people: a tenuous (and I would argue, unworkable) definition of interrogation that errs on the side of barbarity?

The ban on cruel and unusual punishment was placed into the Constitution not solely to protect the innocent, but to protect the rule of law and our institutions as instruments of justice, insulated from the vengeful blood-thirst of the mob. Punishments meted out for vengeance corrupt the participants as well as our image as Americans. Furthermore, and more dangerously, allowance of these tactics opens the door to torturing Americans. For while we can agree that the full text of the Constitution doesn’t apply to foreign nationals, the arguments set forth in the OLC memos authorizing these methods allow for their application against Americans by Americans if you take them to their logical conclusion. To do so, all that would be required would be Executive diktat to the effect that it’s needed for “national security.”

Former State Department lawyer Philip Zelikow:

The underlying absurdity of the administration's position can be summarized this way. Once you get to a substantive compliance analysis for "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" you get the position that the substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous U.S. constitutional law. So the OLC must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail.

In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, water-boarded, and all the rest -- if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.

Some may argue that these methods weren’t used for retribution. Well, unless they wanted a heaping pile of crap to go along with good intel, the methods compelled Khalid Sheik Mohammed to provide “less than satisfactory” explanations to some of their questioning—even after being water-boarded nearly 200 times—according to the 9/11 Commission Report (cf. p. 514; Chap 7, fn. 4) and the still-classified memo on which their finding was based. Regardless of your take, their effectiveness is far from conclusive and with interrogation professionals undoubtedly aware of this, I find it unlikely that the powers that be would choose such unreliable methods so quickly for any other reason.

As Julian Sanchez noted earlier today, “Khalid Sheik Mohammed [probably] deserves to be water-boarded and worse. We do not deserve to become the country that does it to him.” Nor, might I add, should the Republican Party and its so-called conservatives be the people advocating it as national policy.

Hat tip to David Rittgers for the 9/11 Commission cite.

1 comment:

Libby said...

I have nothing of value to add to this article, but reading your recent torture posts reminds me of Mel Gibson on South Park: "You'd all like to torture me, wouldn't you?!?!? Well, go ahead- I can take it!!"