Friday, December 14, 2007

Torture is in the eye of the beholder

President Bush declares "we don't torture." But that's only true if you accept his definition of the term -- which apparently doesn't include several techniques that most other people consider torture. Dan Froomkin writes:

The bill would require U.S. intelligence agencies to follow interrogation rules adopted by the armed forces last year....

Those rules explicitly prohibit "forcing detainees to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner; placing hoods or sacks over detainees' heads or duct tape over their eyes; beating, shocking, or burning detainees; threatening them with military dogs; exposing them to extreme heat or cold; conducting mock executions; depriving them of food, water, or medical care; and waterboarding."

Okay, I'll side with Bush on the forcing to be naked and sexual posing. That's humiliating, and shouldn't be allowed, but it's not torture.

But the rest?

Bush relies on the sophistry of "not telling our enemies what methods we use" as his excuse for opposing such clear bills. But that makes little sense. Yes, you don't publish a manual of interrogation methods. But if you can't label a given technique torture, then you can't meaningfully apply a law that outlaws torture -- and thus any claims that "we don't torture" are meaningless and unenforceable.

Froomkin also covers the contempt of Congress citations issued to Karl Rove and Josh Bolten for refusing to turn over documents related to the U.S. attorney firings. Interestingly, Republican senators Arlen Specter and Charles Grassley voted in favor of the citations -- deflating to some extent accusation that the charges are purely politically motivated.

For its part, the White House repeated its meaningless offer to let Rove and Bolten be interviewed without oaths or transcripts. And it vowed that the Justice Department would not enforce the contempt citations, preventing the issue -- which, questions of right or wrong aside, boils down to a separation-of-powers spat -- from being heard in the courts.

As Froomkin writes:

The White House position, of course, exposes an amazing conundrum: That the same Justice Department whose politicization is being investigated is also in a position to hand out get-out-of-testifying-free cards.

This may be within the executive's power, but it's not right. Both sides should agree to have the matter reviewed by the judiciary, which can rule on whether Congress has the power of oversight in this matter. If so, the documents must be turned over; if not, they don't.

But the scorched earth stonewalling by the White House serves no legitimate purpose.

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Anonymous Caracarn said...

Perhaps the best word to describe most of what comes out of Bush's mouth. I don't know how anybody can take what he says seriously anymore. Bush has the been the figurehead for perhaps the biggest web of deception ever laid upon this country.
In a sense it makes things easy--you can immediately rule out one possible reality just by listening to what Bush says.
- Caracarn

12/17/2007 3:36 PM  
Anonymous caracarn said...

btw, glad to see you back, Sean.

12/17/2007 3:37 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Thanks, caracarn.

I don't think Bush is actively evil, but he's sure willing to lie and play word games in order to get his way.

12/17/2007 9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know---our country has been through many wars and times of great threats. But I don't EVER recall a time when a political party sought to have the inner-workings of the CIA----our intelligence agency,secret by it's very nature----revealed to the world. And all this coming after what was the worst attack ever on our home soil---9/11. That is amazing to me.

It's not up to people to VOTE on what is torture, what is not, and how interrogations will or will not take place. Leave it to the professionals. We don't need the details, never did. What we need are the results. And there is no doubt that the water-boarding done on the TOP three Al Qaeda operatives captured SAVED many, many lives. The fact that they may have felt for 2 1/2 minutes (max) they might die is of no concern to me. What they revealed IS of utmost importance to me. And I applaud those CIA agents who got the information. And they did it WITHOUT chopping anybody's head or fingers off. Great technique, IMHO.


12/23/2007 7:55 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

t's not up to people to VOTE on what is torture, what is not, and how interrogations will or will not take place.

Are you kidding? Sure it is! The people have a right to say what they will and will not allow to happen in their name.

Leave it to the professionals. We don't need the details, never did.

Unbelievable. You're willing to let the government do anything -- torture babies, maybe? -- so that you can feel safe. Just so long as they don't bother you with the details, you can sleep at night.

We should have higher standards than that, both for the government and for ourselves.

12/31/2007 5:22 PM  

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