Friday 22 May 2009

The big picture on torture, Guantanamo, Cheney, Pelosi

In the last few weeks, I have posted some two dozen items on the tangled mess of issues related to Guantanamo, waterboarding, etc. So I decided to sweep the whole thing into one pile, and see if the big picture makes any sense.

Here are the facts that we have in fact been able to establish.

Waterboarding is illegal, it causes more problems than it solves, it actually makes the intelligence-gathering effort harder rather than easier, and is a dumbass idea.

Cheney is a bottomless fountain of lies, fallacies, and fearmonger tactics; in particular, the notion that the Bush crime family made us more safe and Obama makes us less safe is demonstrable nonsense, and the notion that closing Guantanamo puts us in danger is also poppycock. And virtually all his bullcrap can be shot down using Republican sources.

The GOP jihad against Pelosi is also loaded with proveable lies and fallacies.

Now, the details.


Waterboarding is torture, and illegal. For that we rely on Title 18 of the U.S. Code, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Geneva Convention, and some other rules you don’t get to break. A rightwing radio host who had insisted that waterboarding isn’t torture agreed to be waterboarded – and changed his mind in exactly six seconds. McCain also refuted Cheney’s screeching on the waterboarding issue. Bob Barr, the arch-conservative who led the effort to impeach Clinton, says torture is illegal. Even Reagan jailed cops who waterboarded prisoners.

The danger of using torture and other such nonsense in a system with virtually no adult supervision is made vivid by the fact that a hundred of our detainees have already died in custody, and a third of them are already confirmed or suspected homicides; meanwhile one interrogator who hated the notion of torturing people committed suicide; details of the incident were covered up by the Pentagon. Meanwhile the Senate Armed Services Committee shot down Cheney’s claim that the abuse at Abu Ghuraib was the work of rogue guards not sanctioned by any higher authority.

**UPDATE** -- Here is a professional interrogator, neatly destroying theGOP arguments about torture. He makes clear the danger of sending untrained interrogators to torture people with no actual rules of engagement; one of the interrogators killed herself rather than torture prisoners. He notes that torture can actually interfere with effective interrogation techniques -- once you start using both methods, it's impossible to separate the good intelligence from the bad, which compromises all the intel, good and bad.

[ **UPDATE** -- And again -- the senior interrogator who found Zarqawi also blew apart Cheney’s assertions from last week. He points out that it was when the world found out about the abuses of our detainees, that angry foreign fighters streamed into Iraq to kill our soldiers – the abuse was in fact the top recruiting tool for the terrorists, and it helped get our soldiers killed. He notes that we convicted a Japanese soldier after WWII for waterboarding prisoners. He also notes that torture, unsurprisingly, makes detainees less cooperative in interrogations, and that virtually all we accomplished in the interrogations came through legal interrogation techniques, not torture; we might have had a chance to locate Usama bin Laden if we hadn’t switched from legal methods to torture with Zubayda and KSM. ]

[ And now Carl Levin, debunking Cheney, using the documents which Cheney claimed would back his story. For example:

"Mr. Cheney has also claimed that the release of classified documents would prove his view that the techniques worked. But those classified documents say nothing about numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of the abusive techniques. I hope that the documents are declassified so that people can judge for themselves what is fact and what is fiction." ]


Cheney has been spouting rather a lot of lies and logical fallacies, in addition to the big ones on waterboarding, Guantanamo etc. Bush’s own Pentagon people shot down Cheney’s claim that Saddam was linked to Al-Qa’ida and other terrorists; the one big-name terrorist who managed to get to Baghdad…was killed by Saddam. Cheney claimed that the Bush gang moved decisively against al-Qa'ida and the Taleban, ignoring the fact that the leaders of both groups are thriving because the Bush administration was too obsessive about Iraq. Cheney implied that Obama was at fault for blocking the release of key documents...It was actually an executive order by Bush. A number of Republicans have said they want Cheney to shut up.


Cheney falsely claimed that the Director of National Intelligence backed him up in claiming that torture yielded valuable intelligence we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. A CIA investigation showed no evidence that the torture yielded anything valuable. Bush’s FBI Director also rejected the idea that we got valuable intelligence. The claim that torture yielded information which prevented an attack in LA – also a lie, already debunked. Torture actually hurts the intelligence effort: two detainees admitted that they gave inaccurate intelligence just to avoid being tortured – the false intelligence pertained to the mythical Iraq-terror link which Bush and Cheney wanted so badly to establish.

Also, Cheney stressed the importance of getting good intelligence while omitting the fact the Bush gang regularly ignored or fudged the intelligence they did get.

Stopping the torture program doesn’t make us less safe. If it did, the Bush gang wouldn’t have stopped it five years ago, would they? Their own actions belie their words. Likewise Bush’s Homeland Security Secretary, Tom Ridge, refuted Cheney’s claim that Obama made us less safe, and Bush’s Director of National Intelligence shot down Cheney’s claim that releasing torture-related memos made us less safe. Bush’s generals refuted the notion that stopping the torture, or even talking about the torture issue, means we’re not supporting our troops – the generals said the torture itself is fostering terrorism and endangering our troops. And lying about it and concealing it isn’t helping our tattered credibility either.

**UPDATE** -- And now the National Security Adviser has debunked Cheney, pointing out that America is safer under Obama.


The Guantanamo detainees are not, as Cheney claims, the worst of the worst. The Bush gang stupidly offered a cash reward in the streets of Afghanistan for terrorists, no proof needed, so any local Afghan with a gun could run out and grab anybody even remotely Arab-looking, kidnap him, and collect the money. An overwhelming majority of the guys we grabbed are innocent of anything, and even the CIA admitted it way back in 2002. The New York Times reported that the released detainees were rejoining the jihad, but it was an invalid report and they had to backtrack.

If there were evidence against these guys, Bush would have taken them to court. Instead Bush was caught hiding evidence that proved the innocence of some detainees. A court spanked the Bush gang for that – it’s illegal. Privately, the Bush administration admitted to the Germans that some of the detainees were innocent – but resisted saying the same thing to the American people.

The claim that Obama is endangering us by closing Guantanamo is ridiculous. Even assuming these guys are real terrorists, which in most cases they’re not – you know how many people we have in American prisons who are genuinely dangerous? Proven to be dangerous with actual evidence?

Cheney has selective amnesia on this issue. He slammed Obama for the effort to ship detainees to other countries...a process begun by Bush and Cheney. Bush and Robert Gates, both Republicans, refuted Cheney on Guantanamo; Bush, Rice and Gates were working to shut down Guantanamo before Obama ever got to the White House.

Funny how Bush and Obama proposed exactly the same thing -- shutting down Gitmo -- and Bush gets a free pass while Obama is accused of putting a terrorist on every street corner. And the media plays along.

[**UPDATE** from AFP: Gates said in an interview that opponents of Obama's decision to close the "war on terror" prison at Guantanamo were engaging in "fear-mongering," a reference to Cheney's stance on the issue. ]

[**UPDATE** -- Also, Colin Powell ridiculed the notion that our prisons can’t handle the Guantanamo detainees; he said Gitmo has damaged our image; he pointed out that both Bush and Powell himself had called for Gitmo to be closed. ]

[**UPDATE** -- And now the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has called for the closure of Guantanamo, on the grounds that the prison is a superb recruiting tool for terrorists. He has been calling for its closure for some time. ]

[ **UPDATE** -- And now the hero of the right, Petraeus, endorses Obama both for ending the torture and for closing Guantanamo. ]


Two things which have been established firmly, are that the CIA has lied repeatedly to Congress, and that Pelosi did not know about the waterboarding as early as the Republicans claim. Kerry, Obey, Graham, Rockefeller, Specter, Fox News, House Republican leader Boehner, leading Republican Hoekstra pointed out the CIA’s lies to Congress. In fact the CIA is being investigated now, for lying to Congress. It has been established that the CIA lied about the briefings on the interrogations, and four of the above Congress members already have specifically refuted the claim that Pelosi was briefed about the waterboarding. Both the current CIA boss and Bush’s former CIA boss Porter Goss were pressed to back up the GOP accusations against Pelosi; even Goss, a rabid arch-conservative who hates everything Pelosi stands for and would love to see her destroyed, backpedaled rather than accuse her on this point. One GOP investigator not only admitted that Pelosi didn’t know about the torture, but also faulted her for not asking more questions – can’t have it both ways, guys! A logical fallacy.

Another logical fallacy by the GOP: Bush's crimes are not extenuated by anybody he claims he told about it. Telling somebody you’re committing a crime doesn’t make it legal: it makes it a criminal conspiracy.
Another fallacy: that Pelosi should have stopped the torture. Setting aside the fact that she didn’t know it was going on, she wasn’t even Speaker when all this happened – in fact she was in the minority party, during a time in which the minority party was barely allowed to eat in the cafeteria and use the toilets in the House chamber, let alone demand an investigation or legislation. Furthermore the Bush gang made clear time after time that they intended to ignore any Congressional input with respect to any issue which, in their view, infringed upon the national security prerogatives of the executive.
Another fallacy: how can the Republicans simultaneously insist that there is no scandal, and that Pelosi is implicated in…the non-existent scandal? “Pelosi should have stopped us even though we did nothing wrong!”?

Newt screeched a stream of insults at Pelosi and demanded she resign. Other Republicans demanded she apologize, or be impeached, etc etc. A new GOP ad shows Pelosi being shot. Classy bunch.

**UPDATE** -- Yet another official -- this one from the CIA -- casting doubt on the accusations against Pelosi.

...and another source indicating that Cheney and Rumsfeld were urging the CIA to lie to Congress as far back as the 1970s.


So here’s the part I don’t understand yet.

The facts are easy to establish on these issues: the GOP knows that if they push this, it will turn into a year-long probe into Bush’s crimes and follies, a total disaster for the GOP, and in the meantime they can’t gain any traction on the issues they could actually win on, like spending. An even bigger hazard: a number of former Bush administration officials have admitted that the aim of the torture was to force detainees to falsely accuse Saddam of links to terrorism in time for the 2002 elections – a full exploration of that issue could actually kill the party dead, dead, dead. So why are they doing this?

Perhaps they know their other issues are weak, as evinced by the way the attack on Obama’s spending devolved into the pathetic tea-party fiasco which had no effect whatsoever on the popularity of Obama or his policies.

Perhaps they’re worried about the coming health care battle, and want to use a side issue like this to soften him up first.

Perhaps the Pelosi thing is driven by the fact that this bunch of reactionary dead white males like beating up on girls, particularly Democrats: not long ago a Bush administration official admitted that they handled Katrina the way they did because their main aim was to make Kathleen Blanco look bad and beat her up a little. That, not managing the crisis response, was their main focus. But directing their fire at Pelosi now is silly: she and Obama are the two Democrats who are completely secure in their positions (contrary to the precarious position of Reid), and attacking Pelosi gets them nothing – not even a chance to alter the balance in the power in the House

**UPDATE** -- The fact that the GOP is targeting Pelosi because of her gender, was driven home forcefully when they ran the ad allegedly attacking her leadership skills -- and portraying her as James Bond babe Pussy Galore. And then shooting her.

Perhaps they just want to fire up the GOP base, to show that at least the Gestapo wing of the party, with all their sledgehammer political tactics, is still alive and kicking. The only things which can be relied upon to spin up the base are fear and hate, so going that route may just be force of habit for the gauleiters of today’s GOP. But that also alienates the all-important moderates and independents, two groups which the Republicans have inexplicably showed no interest in wooing this spring.

Perhaps they interpreted Obama’s expressed intent to avoid a partisan fight on these issues as a sign of weakness: “If he says he won’t fight on this, let’s just keep punching him in the teeth until he changes his mind. Bloody him up a little.” That strategy would be pretty ludicrous because if the repeated Republican harassment impelled Obama to pursue these issues he could destroy the Republicans, but as long as he continues the arm’s-length stance, they can keep taking pokes at him, and at Pelosi.

Perhaps they have no coherent party strategy at all, reflective of the continuing civil war within the GOP – some Republicans want Cheney to fight on, others want him to shut up, some want an investigation into all this, others dread it. Steele wants a probe into all these issues, but he’s an idiot: Boehner was out there insisting that Pelosi apologize, but when he was asked whether he wanted an investigation, he backpedaled. Some Republicans threatened Eric Holder (perhaps they think blacks are weak like women…?); they told him that if there is an investigation, they will fight tooth and nail to smear any Democrat they can, the way they’re doing to Pelosi. How they would make such nonsense work is debateable: perhaps they would go to the old standby – blame Clinton for everything.

So the Republicans are gambling on a laughably fallacious campaign to try to exploit an issue which could very easily blow back and kill their party, and no one can figure out why. As Herman Wouk would say, giggling idiots juggling dynamite.

It is a puzzlement.

Actually, we do know one reason why Cheney went insane and screeched a bunch of desperate nonsense in that speech, even though a lot of Republicans want him to shut up and go away. As his daughter admitted to Fox, Cheney did it because he fears prosecutions are coming.


mymatedave said...

It never ceases to amaze me how crazy politics are in the US. I mean, here in the UK politicians are largely greedy, vain and image obsessed. But no public figure would ever go as far as to be publicly pro torture or anything like that.

HelloDollyLlama said...

Both the UK and the US have some ugly stories in our past. But unlike the US, the UK seems to have outgrown it.