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Author Topic: The Conservative Case Against Torture
David Ricardo
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Recently, it was suggested that I lay out the actual case for widespread torture, and present a solution to it. That's a good idea, though I find that Dale Franks largely beat me to it. Still, I want to be a bit more explicit, so I'll start by repeating what Dale wrote because it's damned well worth repeating. Then I'll give some specifics:

As expected, posting the cartoon yesterday provoked arguments from the usual suspects who, for whatever reason, seem entirely uninterested in the fact that our troops are killing prisoners in their custody. For those who are counting, the death toll currently looks like this.

Not that you care.

In brief, the situation, as it has developed so far, looks like this:

The Army has concluded that 27 of the detainees who died in U.S. custody in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2002 were the victims of homicide or suspected homicide, military officials said in a report released Friday.

The number is higher than Pentagon officials have acknowledged, and it indicates that criminal acts caused a significant portion of the dozens of prisoner deaths that occurred in U.S. custody

Another Army investigation found systematic abuse and possible torture of Iraqi prisoners at a base near Mosul just as top military officials became aware of abuse allegations at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, documents released Friday show.

Records previously released by the Army have detailed abuses at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq as well as at sites in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The documents released Friday were the first to reveal abuses at the jail in Mosul and are among the few to allege torture directly.

An officer found that detainees "were being systematically and intentionally mistreated" at the holding facility near Mosul in December 2003. The 311th Military Intelligence Battalion of the Army's 101st Airborne Division ran the lockup.

"There is evidence that suggests the 311th MI personnel and/or translators engaged in physical torture of the detainees," a memo from the investigator said. The January 2004 report said the prisoners' rights under the Geneva Conventions were violated.

And, of course, that’s what we know as of now. In some cases, it appears that investigations have gotten...uh...bogged down. But, in any event, as far as we can tell, out of 108 prisoner death in US Military custody, at least 27 of them, or 25% appear to be murders committed mainly by US Military personnel, although in one case, the Justice Department is investigating since the suspects are CIA employees. Compare that, to say, 2001, when, in the US corrections system—both state and federal—homicides accounted for 57 of the 3,311 deaths that year, or 1.7%. And that, by the way, includes homicides of inmates by other inmates. The number killed by prison guards, while not broken out, is no doubt substantially smaller still.

25% v.1.7%

I’d say that’s a bit of a discrepancy, wouldn’t you? No, strike that last phrase. Some of you won’t feel it’s a discrepancy at all. Or, if you do, don’t particularly care.

It doesn’t matter that our terrorist enemies are evil. It doesn’t matter what they do to their prisoners, in terms of beheading, or what have you. We don’t judge our behavior by the standards of barbarians. We judge it by our own standards, and, so far, it looks like we haven’t been doing as good a job as we should of living up to those standards. Pointing that out somehow makes me Andrew Sullivan. Well, that’s fine. I’d rather be Andrew Sullivan than a moral cripple. Some of you appear content to be the latter.

Now, you can bitch and moan that some lefty cartoonist makes the military look bad. But, if you’re honest, you have to acknowledge that if the military wasn’t, in fact, torturing and murdering any prisoners, the snide little cartoonist wouldn’t be able to draw his little cartoon. And, when our guys are torturing prisoners to death, then the cartoon, no matter how distasteful you find it, has some relevance, and, indeed, some truth. [...]

It is to our credit that CID is looking into this stuff, and pressing criminal charges. But something is causing entire units to mistreat prisoners, torture them, and kill them. And let’s not hide behind any of this “Well, if it’s needed to stop another 9/11...” crap. Clearly, in the cases cited so far, it wasn’t necessary. It was being done at places like Bagram because the interrogators made it regular practice. Why? How did it become regular practice? I guarantee it wasn’t because some Staff Sergeant exceeded his authority. And, while we’re on the subject, why was the CID’s initial work at Bagram so shoddy that CID headquarters had the investigation reassigned from local CID agents and given to a team in Virginia? Apparently, some of our guys feel perfectly comfortable engaging in barbarism. Since there are no bad troops, only bad leadership, I have to wonder how complicit the chain of command is, at least at the local level, at turning a blind eye to this stuff.

Murdering prisoners is wrong. Period. Torturing prisoners is wrong. Period. Those are, in fact, supposed to be the types of principles that separate us from the terrorists. But as far as I can tell, there seems to be some problem getting this message down through the whole chain of command. It doesn’t matter whether that’s by negligence, or by design, it has to stop. Even if you don’t care about the prisoners themselves, you have to at least acknowledge that torturing and killing prisoners creates a propaganda and moral defeat for our side. It’s unwise on purely utilitarian grounds, let alone moral ones.

Finally, it’s too bad if it offends you to read criticism of our soldiers here. But, after putting in 10 years on active duty as a trigger-puller myself, I’ve pretty much earned the right to make any criticisms I think are appropriate.

Here's the case for widespread abuse:

Prisoner deaths investigated as involving criminal homicide or abuse by U.S. personnel:

_Mohammed Sayari, Afghanistan, April 28, 2002. Army Special Forces captain reprimanded.

_Mullah Habibullah, about 28, Bagram, Afghanistan, Dec. 3, 2002. Sgt. James P. Boland, 377th Military Police Company, charged with dereliction of duty; more charges possible against others.

_Dilawar, 22, Bagram, Dec. 10, 2002. Pfc. Willie V. Brand, 377th Military Police Company, charged with involuntary manslaughter, according to documents obtained by Human Rights Watch. Boland charged with dereliction, assault and maltreatment, more charges possible against others.

_Unidentified person, Wazi Village, Afghanistan, January 2003. Under investigation.

_Jamal Naseer, 18, Gardez, Afghanistan, March 2003. Under investigation.

_Unidentified person, Camp Bucca, Iraq, May 12, 2003. Soldier reprimanded for not using warning shots before killing someone trying to enter the camp.

_Abdul Wali, 28, Asadabad, Afghanistan, June 2, 2003. CIA contractor David Passaro charged with assault.

_Dilar Dababa, Baghdad, June 13, 2003. Died of head injury. USA Today reported he died during interrogation.

_Obeed Hethere Radad, Tikrit, Iraq, Sept. 11, 2003. Soldier discharged for voluntary manslaughter for not warning escaping prisoner before shooting him.

_Manadel al-Jamadi, Abu Ghraib, Iraq, Nov. 4, 2003. Died during interrogation. Several Navy SEALs charged; and two CIA personnel under investigation.

_Abdul Wahid, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 6, 2003. Badly wounded man dies in U.S. custody. No U.S. charges The Denver Post reported he died at interrogation facility while shackled and gagged.

_Muhamad Husain Kadir, Taal Al Jal, Iraq, Feb. 28, 2004. Pfc. Edward Richmond, 25th Infantry Division, received three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.

_Karim Hassan, 36, Kufa, Iraq, May 21, 2004. Capt. Rogelio Maynulet, 1st Armored Division, facing court-martial over what he described as mercy killing of wounded Iraq militiaman.

_Unidentified person, 16, Sadr City, Iraq, Aug. 18, 2004. Staff Sgt. Johnny M. Horne Jr., Fort Riley, Kan., sentenced to three years in prison in another purported mercy killing. Staff Sgt. Cardenas J. Alban, also from Fort Riley, convicted and sentenced to one year confinement.

_Three unidentified people, Sadr City, August 2004. Sgt. Michael P. Williams and Spc. Brent May, from Fort Riley, facing murder charges.

_At least 6 more investigated by U.S. Army.

So that's 21 deaths throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, with penalties ranging from nothing at all to a reprimand to 1 year confinement to 3 years in prison to actual murder charges. 10 more deaths are "Unknown or still under investigation".

There are also 21 more deaths that have been ruled "Natural causes or accident", including one fellow who "accidentally" died "while bound and blindfolded", and 11 who died "accidentally" or of natural causes at Abu Ghraib Prison. It's entirely plausible that prisoners died of natural causes or by accident, but since the US frequently denies prisoner access to the Red Cross, and even, on at least one occassion according to the Taguba Report, "moved [detainees] around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) survey team".

Actually, as it later turned out, it happened on far more than one occassion. According to "Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, who was second in command of the intelligence gathering effort at Abu Ghraib while the abuse was occurring", "other government agencies" and a secretive elite task force "routinely brought in detainees for a short period of time" and that the detainees were held without an internment number, and their names were kept off the books." This was the result of a documented agreement between the CIA and Army Military Intelligence officials, and resulted in detainees being "kept from international human rights organizations".

This also happened in Afghanistan, where "the CIA's secret U.S. interrogation center in Kabul is known as 'The Pit'", and their "purpose is to hold suspected terrorists or insurgents for interrogation and safekeeping while avoiding U.S. or international court systems, where proceedings and evidence against the accused would be aired in public. Some are even held by foreign governments at the informal request of the United States".

So, really, there's no way of telling what's happening there. But certainly the all-wise, all-beneficient government is treating them properly. Unless, of course, it's treating them like this:

In November 2002 ... A CIA case officer at the "Salt Pit," a secret U.S.-run prison just north of Kabul, ordered guards to "strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets," ... Afghan guards "paid by the CIA and working under CIA supervision" dragged the prisoner around the concrete floor of the facility, "bruising and scraping his skin," before placing him in a cell for the night without clothes. An autopsy by a medic listed "hypothermia" as the cause of death, and the man was buried in an "unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery." A U.S. government official interviewed told the Post: "He just disappeared from the face of the earth."

By the way, the average temperature in Kabul, Afghanistan in November is 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Presumably, it is much lower at night.

There are, of course, plenty of additional examples.

Guantanamo Bay, of course, is a bit harder to get information out of. The people who come out typically allege abuse, but how can we tell if they're telling the truth? Would you sooner trust a member of the Taliban or a United States Soldier? All else equal, I'd trust a US Soldier. Here's one:

Sgt. Erik Saar, a soldier who spent three months in the interrogation rooms at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, tells ... a [story] of bizarre, even sadistic, treatment of detainees in the American prison camp. ... Saar said, some U.S. military intelligence personnel used cruelty, and even bizarre sexual tactics against the prisoners.

If such tactics didn't get out to the wider world, that was partly because visiting observers saw interrogations "rigged to fool the visiting VIPs."

Another US Soldier was told to participate in a guard training drill, pretending to be a detainee, and barely lived to tell about it. You see, his commanding officer neglected to inform the IRF team that it was just a drill. The IRF team inflicted a traumatic brain injury on him, despite the fact that his "resistance" amounted to lifting his head to tell them that he was a US soldier.

The videotape of the training incident immediately went missing.

There's plenty more. As Andrew Sullivan documented in the New York Times, other instances included acts like these:

—- "these incidents ... were everywhere: from Guantánamo Bay to Afghanistan, Baghdad, Basra, Ramadi and Tikrit and, for all we know, in any number of hidden jails affecting ''ghost detainees'' kept from the purview of the Red Cross. They were committed by the Marines, the Army, the Military Police, Navy Seals, reservists, Special Forces and on and on. The use of hooding was ubiquitous; the same goes for forced nudity, sexual humiliation and brutal beatings; there are examples of rape and electric shocks."

—- "a captain in military intelligence ... wrote: 'The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees, Col. Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken'."

—- "hooded and cuffed with flexicuffs, threatened to be tortured and killed, urinated on, kicked in the head, lower back and groin, force-fed a baseball which was tied into the mouth using a scarf and deprived of sleep for four consecutive days."

—- "When he said he would complain to the I.C.R.C. he was allegedly beaten more. An I.C.R.C. medical examination revealed hematoma in the lower back, blood in urine, sensory loss in the right hand due to tight handcuffing with flexicuffs, and a broken rib."

—- "hooded, handcuffed in the back, and made to lie face down, on a hot surface during transportation. This had caused severe skin burns that required three months' hospitalization"

—- "They threw pepper on my face and the beating started. This went on for a half hour. And then he started beating me with the chair until the chair was broken. After that they started choking me. At that time I thought I was going to die, but it's a miracle I lived. And then they started beating me again. They concentrated on beating me in my heart until they got tired from beating me. They took a little break and then they started kicking me very hard with their feet until I passed out."

—- "three marines in Mahmudiya used an electric transformer, forcing a detainee to ''dance'' as the electricity coursed through him."

—- "burning cigarettes were placed in the ears of detainees."

—- "M.P.'s jumped onto his back and legs. He was beaten with a broom and a chemical light was broken and poured over his body. . . . During this abuse a police stick was used to sodomize DETAINEE-07 and two female M.P.'s were hitting him, throwing a ball at his penis, and taking photographs."

And while I know that both Andrew Sullivan and the New York Times are given quite a lot of skepticism among the people who would like to play down such accusations, bear in mind that he was simply repeating facts from "official government and Red Cross reports".

Others in a position to know have documented this torture, too. FBI employees, for instance....

Detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were shackled to the floor in fetal positions for more than 24 hours at a time, left without food and water, and allowed to defecate on themselves, an FBI agent who said he witnessed such abuse reported in a memo to supervisors, according to documents released yesterday.
In another e-mail, an unidentified FBI agent describes at least three incidents involving Guantanamo detainees being chained to the floor for extended periods of time and being subjected to extreme heat, extreme cold or "extremely loud rap music."

...and this...

The new ACLU documents detail abuses seen by FBI personnel serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, including incidents in which military interrogators grabbed prisoners' genitals, bent back their fingers and, in one case, placed duct tape over a prisoner's mouth for reciting the Koran.

In late 2002, an FBI agent recounted that one detainee at Guantanamo Bay had been subjected to "intense isolation" for more than three months and that his cell was constantly flooded with light. The agent reported that "the detainee was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma," including hearing voices, crouching in a corner for hours and talking to imaginary people.

Torture and abuse is widespread, punishment is minimal, the government denies almost everything, right up to the point that they have to admit it, and dozens of people have been murdered.

And that's just the part that we've managed to find out. Perhaps they've revealed everything. Perhaps....but I don't make a habit of betting on government bureaucracies going against against their own self-interest. And I don't make a habit of trusting government entities because they say "trust us...transparency is overrated and due process is for suckers".

I side with Gregory Djerejian, who wrote that...

... anyone with half a brain who continues to insist that the torture (sorry, "abuse") story is about a few bad apples taking a frat hazing a tad too much to heart at Abu Ghraib alone are full of it and doing the country a disservice through their intellectual dishonesty. It's clear that, while not some God-awful American gulag archipelago—torture has manifestly occurred in detention facilities from Afghanistan to Iraq to Cuba. [...]

...it's time for intellectuals who care about the moral fiber of our polity, on both the Left and Right, to start speaking more loudly about these worrisome trends. America's better angels, and our more aspirational national narratives, simply demand it.

Widespread torture doesn't simply, oops, "just happen". In the isolated instances in which it does happen, it is the result of a very major breakdown in the command structure. As Dale Franks wrote: "Since there are no bad troops, only bad leadership, I have to wonder how complicit the chain of command is..." Indeed, that is the question: if the discipline breaks down so terribly at one place, the problem may well be at a local level. If discipline is breaking down at a lot of Military Intelligence detention centers across the globe over the course of years, then the chain of command is implicitly broken all the way to the top.

Alternately, they might be "just following orders".

There are more examples of torture—and I haven't even gone into extraordinary rendition—but I think the point is made. Moving forward, what do we do about it? I think the only thing we—i.e., bloggers and readers—can do is to make a fuss about it; to make sure the abuse gets noticed, as does our dissatisfaction.

The Chain of Command, however—to include the White House—needs to assert itself. Reprimands and 1-3 year prison sentences are insufficient. We need examples. We need to treat the deaths of Iraqis and Afghans as seriously as we treat deaths in our own country. Moreso, perhaps.

Torture and abuse is not just a moral or legal failure. It is a strategic failure in the War on Terror. Certainly, we will never be nice enough to convince Zarqawi—and the ~20,000 like him—to stop killing Americans. But there are another 55 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan who may still be convinced of our moral superiority to the Islamic fundamentalists, the terrorists and their ilk; another 55 million people whose hearts and minds may still be won.

Only, they may not be won if we keep killing, torturing and abusing them. We can never make them all love us, but we can certainly stop giving them good reasons to hate us.

Nevertheless, there is still the problem of prisoners. To that end, I would suggest that we operate absolutely above-board—even if it means we put ourselves at some risk in certain instances. All detainees should be housed in prisons perfectly accessible to the ICRC and various Human Rights organizations. The Geneva Convention should be observed strictly.

While it might be nice to get that occassional tip out of an insurgent, we can win the war without it. We cannot win the war without the support of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and that may be the price of sacrificing our moral high ground to beat up some insurgents.

Of course, strict observance of the Geneva Convention still allows us to do a great deal. As Dale noted previously...

My preferred method of dealing with these terror prisoners would be to get two captains and a major together as a tribunal, declare them to be unlawful combatants, and put them in front of a firing squad. Now, maybe, because we're nice guys, we could let them know that if any of them give us verifiable, useful information, then we'll commute their sentences, and won't shoot them. Otherwise, however, it's a blindfold and a last cigarette for the lot of 'em.

The difference of course, is that doing so would be legal.

And William F Buckley wrote...

Reforms are something we need in Guantanamo, where we have isolated a new species not previously known in the taxonomic order: the man who is not a prisoner of war, not a traitor, but an enemy combatant. If there is reason to be vexed by Secretary Rumsfeld, it is surely that he has not encouraged a Table of Organization that deals with that phenomenon other than simply by sticking him in a corner of Cuba without any avenue of hope or resolution. If it was decided that he should face the firing squad, then at least there would be judicial proceedings to contend with, successfully or unsuccessfully.

That's just about where I stand: full transparency and due process, followed by 1) release, 2) a prison cell and POW status, or 3) an execution.

But the current state of affairs, with undeniable widespread abuse, torture and murder—either ordered, tacitly condoned, or at least not stopped, by the chain of command—is simply unacceptable. It deserves bipartisan outrage, especially from those of us who support the Bush administration's execution of the War on Terror. For if we cannot stand against torture and murder, then what do we stand for at all?

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Thanks for posting that David.

Contact your congressperson:

Contact your senator:

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Pete at Home
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The Abu Ghraib mess did really look like a frat-house gone over the edge, for the first few months. Then the other bodies started showing up. The connection to the 2 horrid 2002 torture-slayings in Afghanistan that showed up 2 weeks ago brought in some damning evidence, showing that alleged torturers were brought from the Afghan torture prison and given positions of authority in Abu Ghraib.

And that's not even counting the "rendition" torture program that started under #42 and has grown exponentially since 9-11.

This horror has united a number of strange bedfellows. We have one famous civil libertarian saying that if we're going to torture people, that we should get judges to issue "torture warrants," and conservatives who say never, no way, no how.

You are right that there should be bipartisan outrage, and there IS. Unfortunately there is also bipartisan complicity. Some Democratic senators who were wielding the filibuster to keep the world safe for D&X practitioners and same-sex marriage, let Alberto Gonzalez into the AG chair.

But crimes against humanity notwithstanding, there's no excuse for bad logic and false analogies.

But, in any event, as far as we can tell, out of 108 prisoner death in US Military custody, at least 27 of them, or 25% appear to be murders committed mainly by US Military personnel, although in one case, the Justice Department is investigating since the suspects are CIA employees. Compare that, to say, 2001, when, in the US corrections system—both state and federal—homicides accounted for 57 of the 3,311 deaths that year, or 1.7%. And that, by the way, includes homicides of inmates by other inmates.
Am I the only one who supposes that Californian check-bouncers, drunk drivers, pot-smugglers, and battered girlfriends who killed their lovers in "imperfect" self-defense and copped a plea for voluntary homicide, are going to be less violent and require less dangerous interaction with guards than terrorists who must be regularly lawfully interrogated?

Sure, some of the folks in Gitmo are doubtlessly innocents who were picked up by merc tribes and framed for money. But how the hell does that distinguish from US prisons, where most of the folks doing time are in on coercive plea-bargains, and juries give a 90% rubber stamp conviction rate to prosecutors who often make their promotions and names by convictions?

The horror cases of men hung by arms, their legs pulverized, and hung out to die, hit a couple low-key news items last week, but most of America is talking about an alleged Qu'ran flushing. [Frown]

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