Why Not "In Defense of Murder"?

by dday

I wonder what other violations of international law that have been prosecuted by American lawyers against the Japanese after WWII that Mark Bowden will decide to justify. Should he offer a stirring defense of the Rape of Nanking? Using humans for experiments? Cannibalism against Allied POWs? Comfort women?

Of course, in Bowden's Hammurabic code-eye's-view of the world, Abu Zubaydah was a very bad terrorist (or a mentally ill fringe player, your mileage may vary), thus allowing American interrogators to sink to his level and engage in their own terrorism.

At the time of his capture in 2002, just six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, there was strong reason to believe Zubaydah knew virtually the entire organizational structure and agenda of al-Qaeda around the world. He was supervising ongoing plots to kill hundreds if not thousands of people. He was, for obvious reasons, disinclined to share this knowledge. Subjected briefly to waterboarding - less than a minute, according to published reports - he became cooperative and provided information that, according to the government, resulted in preventing planned attacks and capturing other key al-Qaeda leaders.

In the six years that have passed since the Manhattan towers collapsed, we have gained (partly through the interrogation of men like Zubaydah) a much clearer understanding of al-Qaeda and the threat it poses.

Of course, Bowden doesn't explain exactly what we have learned; nobody who wishes to justify torture ever does. But rest assured, we're all safer thanks to the supervised drowning of Abu Zubaydah, and you'll just have to trust your leaders.

Bowden's core argument is that, even if Zubaydah gave bad information, it was reasonable to expect that he wouldn't, and anyway, sometimes tortured suspects tell the truth, so it was well worth it. Which is of course the whole point. SOMETIMES tortured suspects tell the truth, sometimes they lie. And there's no way to know the difference, especially when the overriding concern is just to get SOME information to justify the torturing. The reason we can assert that these CIA interrogations were immoral and illegal is by the fact that they stopped videotaping them, against all accepted and standardized methods of intelligence gathering.

By their own accounting, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have not videotaped the interrogations of potentially hundreds of other terrorism suspects. That indicates an outmoded level of secrecy and unprofessionalism, the interrogation experts contend.

They say that the U.S. is behind the curve of current best practices, and that videotaping is an essential tool in improving the methods -- and results -- of terrorism interrogations. And the accountability provided by recording is needed to address international concerns about the United States' use of harsh, potentially illegal techniques, these experts add.

They say that the United States could learn a lot from methods used by Israel, Britain and other countries with decades of experience in interrogating terrorists but that so far, it has not.

"We are operating in a vacuum," said Col. Steven M. Kleinman, a reserve senior intelligence officer for the Air Force's Special Operations Command who was a military interrogator in Panama, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and in Iraq in 2003. "We are not giving our interrogators the skill set or the tool chest to get the information that we need in the war on terrorism."

It's because those in charge were more concerned with getting information fast than getting it right. And now, their only concern is avoiding prosecution. So their enablers will use any argument to avoid the inevitable conclusion, that torturing human beings is inescapably wrong. Here's someone in a position to know, someone who tried waterboarding on himself.

The water fills the hole in the saran wrap so that there is either water or vaccum in your mouth. The water pours into your sinuses and throat. You struggle to expel water periodically by building enough pressure in your lungs. With the saran wrap though each time I expelled water, I was able to draw in less air. Finally the lungs can no longer expel water and you begin to draw it up into your respiratory tract.

It seems that there is a point that is hardwired in us. When we draw water into our respiratory tract to this point we are no longer in control. All hell breaks loose. Instinct tells us we are dying.

I have never been more panicked in my whole life. Once your lungs are empty and collapsed and they start to draw fluid it is simply all over. You know you are dead and it's too late. Involuntary and total panic.

There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It would be like telling you not to blink while I stuck a hot needle in your eye.

At the time my lungs emptied and I began to draw water, I would have sold my children to escape. There was no choice, or chance, and willpower was not involved.

I never felt anything like it, and this was self-inflicted with a watering can, where I was in total control and never in any danger [...]

I'll put it this way. If I had the choice of being waterboarded by a third party or having my fingers smashed one at a time by a sledgehammer, I'd take the fingers, no question.

It's horrible, terrible, inhuman torture. I can hardly imagine worse. I'd prefer permanent damage and disability to experiencing it again. I'd give up anything, say anything, do anything.

The Spanish Inquisition knew this. It was one of their favorite methods.

It's torture. No question. Terrible terrible torture. To experience it and understand it and then do it to another human being is to leave the realm of sanity and humanity forever. No question in my mind.

Sounds like something to advocate for.