Torture Should Be Accounted For

Torture is among the most heinous crimes known to humankind. It should never be excused, it should never go unpunished. It is not about who the tortured are, or what the tortured know. It is not about what they have done, what they believe, or whether they would do the same. It is about who we are, and how human beings should be treated. It is about our humanity, that is all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Interrogating the Interrogators

Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee performed an interrogation. First there were two panels of witnesses, including Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, the woman whose legal brief ended up being the sole legal advise attached to the list of interrogation techniques written by William J. Haynes II, and signed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in late 2002. Including Lt. Col Daniel Baumgartner and Dr. Jerald Ogrisseg, from the SERE program, who testified repeatedly that the program was never intended to train people to interrogate enemy prisoners.

Evidence has mounted that the idea of using SERE this way originated in the Pentagon, not down at Guantanamo at one of Diane Beaver's brainstorming sessions. We didn't hear about the show '24' today, but that was another source for those sessions, as it also informs at least one of the august justices at the Supreme Court, the very one who wrote a dissenting opinion to last week's habeas corpus ruling, Boumediene v. Bush, warning of death at the hands of "radical Islamists" (p. 111).

The Senate Hearings

The testimony changed to interrogation when Jim Haynes was empaneled. People really were expecting to hear this person, whom Philippe Sands believes was at the nexus of the torture team that created the regimes of torture that were used first on Mohammed al Qahtani, a.k.a. detainee 063, later on others at Guantanamo, and spread to Afghanistan and Iraq, surfacing for the American public in the nightmarish photographs from Abu Ghraib (Philippe Sands, The Torture Team).

There were expectations of fireworks on FireDogLake, where they live blogged the event. I cleared my schedule, rearranging to do things from my desk, where I could watch on CSPAN-3 while I worked. After all, the man had agreed to testify, voluntarily. During the earlier sessions a lot of blanks got filled. SERE is not just a testosterone laced nightmare training regimen, like we see in the movies, it includes all forms of interrogation, even those more to the liking of the FBI, and Dr. Ogrisseg testified that, at least in the program he was both a constructor of, and a program evaluator for, backed up by journal articles and logs of findings, they don't do waterboarding. The reason is just as chilling as the technique itself: The point of their program is to build up defenses against interrogation, for the purposes of helping captured troops to defend their dignity, their honor, and their sanity. Waterboarding breaks a person, and even afterward, the person to whom it is done retains an inordinate fear of the waterboarding devices. Consequently, since breaking peoples' personalities is inconsistent with building them up, the technique is not used in his training. Likewise, the sleep deprivation (extreme closed confinement was not discussed by Dr. Ogrisseg) is not extreme, they aren't trying to hurt people, just train them.

Chilling, for what it says about the real techniques, so expertly reverse-engineered, that their real application is too injurious to use for training.

Chilling that with the very real inhumane and torturous treatment that went on in al Qahtani's case, at Guantanamo, that one of the people who helped construct that program, Diane Beaver, should let slip her outrage at Captain Carolyn Wood, who she regards as a really malevolent person who creates real torture: Under her watch at Bagram, people were beaten to death, and then she worked up the techniques used at Abu Ghraib.

Mr. Haynes Knits His Brow in Vain

But the star of the show, the man who was going to tell everyone just how the techniques studied for the SERE program ended up being used for interrogations, his testimony consisted of admitting the obvious whenever a Senator angrily stated that they had the letters from [name your source, chiefly the military JAGs] to prove it, but otherwise repeatedly failed to recall meeting after meeting after memo after trip after phone call, in a manner that would have made former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales very proud. When someone made the mistake of asking him what he did recall, the Washington Post got their take home quote of the day: "What I remember about the summer of 2002 was a government-wide concern about the possibility of another terrorist attack as the anniversary of September 11." To be fair, they, like much of the press, found more that was newsworthy by poring over the documents the committee released than listening to Mr. Haynes' much promised fireworks.

But if you are looking for the mindset that led to the judgements that Senator Lindsey Graham so aptly characterized, "The guidance that was provided during this period of time, I think, will go down in history as some of the most irresponsible and shortsighted legal analysis ever provided to our nation's military and intelligence communities," if you really want to know how such a thing happened, then perhaps questioning Mr. Haynes on what everyone pretty much already knows, and knows he won't disclose, isn't the right place to look.

That mindset has been building for a long time. You could hear it when the House Judiciary Committee Republicans questioned David Rivkin, and chuckled over the idea that anyone would believe that rapport building would be effective against the unhuman al Qaeda operatives. You could hear it when Senator Inhofe was doubting whether a man who was a twentieth hijacker would respond without more incentives, citing a list of all the reasons for haste in getting information in December 2002. You could hear it in the comment of Senator Jeff Sessions. Mr. Sessions ridiculed the notion that the techniques to which Mohammed al Qahtani was subjected were in any way harsh. He singled out one for disdain. In a comment reminiscent of Donald Rumsfeld's priceless footnote to Jim Haynes list of tactics, Mr. Rumsfeld famously complained that 4 hours of standing was too short, after all he stood for 9 or 10 hours a day at his desk. Today, Jeff Sessions remarked that 30 days of solitary confinement wasn't much, after all, we confine people in federal custody for longer than that.

The Knowing Chuckle Frame

Does anyone notice these little comments, does anyone pay attention to the frame that they build? The ridicule of thirty days is a ridicule of Articles 89 and 90 of the Third Geneva Convention, perhaps Mr. Sessions believes it's, um, quaint. The standing, is double the limit in Article 89, which limits "Fatigue duties" to two hours. If thirty days is light, given U.S. prison conditions, and it is for some U.S. federal penitentiaries, then the criticism is on the penitentiaries, not on the Geneva Conventions. Humanitarian law is based on the essential dignity of man, what Alberto Mora today termed inalienable rights, rights that should accrue to every member of the species. The Supreme Court opinion finds the basis for the rock bottom fundamental nature of habeas corpus in the works of that guy Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, those documents in which the Federalist Society and Samuel J. Alito, Jr. find tea leaves supporting signing statements, unitary executives, and unbridled power.

The building of the frame of scoffing at international agreements on human dignity, the frame in which people need to earn the right to be treated as human beings, the frame in which inalienable rights are confined to the prepared statements of quiet heroes, has been going on for a long time. It is a swirling mess: Ancient enmities from around the globe, generation long disputes over small territories in the Middle East, child soldiers, slaves, and genocide ignored in Africa, hardening over starvation in Somalia, suicide bombing out of a bitter Hindu-Buddhist war in South Asia, all descending on minds and drying them to an unfeeling core that believes that they are the only sensible people left, and so the insanity they create is the only proper response to the great evil always outside the gates. One almost expected Jeff Sessions and Jim Haynes to lean back over their laugh and reach for a brew, and reminisce about the old days, when men were men and torture victims could be starved, put in the hole, and beaten for a lot more than a mere 30 days without doing a wimpy thing like going insane or dying. I'm reading La Question, by Henri Alleg, I'll let you know about the good ol' days when I finish.

If America truly wants to become something it has ceased to be, it will need to heed the statements of genuine humanitarians like Alberto Mora, and remember that it once thought human beings were endowed with inalienable rights, and that We the People do not believe in cruelty, and that we'd rather dissolve the ties which bind men into nations than see people imprisoned without habeas corpus. In this country, such humanitarianism is obligatio erga omnes, lest that 'new nation' perish from the earth.

Notice: There is a new panel on the sidebar, for June 26th. As we discover them, we will add events people have planned to help end torture this month. They can be sent to any of us, if you have them. Feel free to use the graphic if it helps with your efforts. Get some orange ribbons, or find a local lecture. Or set one up: I've been surprised how much people who do the work on this issue appreciate the opportunity to talk to any crowd you can assemble.

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