Do we or don’t we? Torture, I mean.

It seems at the highest levels of our Government, there’s some confusion about what we do with our terrorist suspects. Or should I say, some confusing:

The U.S. government has placed what appear to be irreconcilable demands on its spies. The most recent evidence came last week, when President Bush denounced torture while Vice President Dick Cheney worked behind the scenes to defeat a measure in Congress that would prohibit the CIA from “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of detainees.

The lack of clear guidance, particularly to CIA officers not accustomed to handling detainees, puts officers on the ground in an impossible position, in which they must guess what activities are allowable and hope for the best, former spies said.

Hmmm. Our beloved President says “We do not torture”, yet CIA officers and military personnel are unclear what that means in light of Vice President Cheney’s actions behind the scenes to defeat anti-torture legislation. Let’s see if we can clear up any ambiguity, shall we.

A top White House official on Sunday refused to unequivocally rule out the use of torture in a bid to prevent a terror attack, arguing the US administration was duty-bound to protect the American people.

The comment, by US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, came after US President George W Bush said during a trip to Panama earlier this month that Americans “do not torture”. It also came amid heated national debate about whether the CIA and other US intelligence agencies should be authorized to use what is being referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques” to extract information from terror suspects that may help prevent future assaults. . . .

“The president has said that we are going to do whatever we do in accordance with the law,” the national security adviser said.

He insisted that it was “a difficult dilemma to know what to do in that circumstance to both discharge our responsibility to protect the American people from terrorist attack and follow the president’s guidance of staying within the confines of law.”

I see. We don’t torture, we merely use enhanced interrogation techniques that stay within the confines of the law while still fulfilling the President’s duty to protect the American people from terrorist attack. Techniques like water boarding, e.g.?

[John Yoo’s 2002 memo regarding the legality of torture] was drafted after White House meetings convened by George W. Bush’s chief counsel, Alberto Gonzales, along with Defense Department general counsel William Haynes and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s counsel, who discussed specific interrogation techniques, says a source familiar with the discussions. Among the methods they found acceptable: “water-boarding,” or dripping water into a wet cloth over a suspect’s face, which can feel like drowning; and threatening to bring in more-brutal interrogators from other nations.

Well, perhaps they’ve stopped using water boarding. Yet, after the litany of atrocities that have come out regarding the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib,

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters, “The American public needs to understand we’re talking about rape and murder here. we’re not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience.” He did not elaborate.

at Guantanamo Bay

The judge said detainees’ lawyers had presented “deeply troubling” allegations of U.S. personnel violently shoving feeding tubes as thick as a finger through the men’s noses and into their stomachs without anesthesia or sedatives, with detainees vomiting blood as U.S. personnel mocked them.

Rumsfeld appeared to distance himself from the decision to force-feed detainees.

“I’m not a doctor and I’m not the kind of a person who would be in a position to approve or disapprove. It seems to me, looking at it from this distance, is that the responsible people are the combatant commanders. And the Army is the executive agent for detainees,” Rumsfeld said.

and in Afghanistan,

Mr. Habibullah was tortured to death on December 4, 2002 by several U.S. soldiers. They hit the chained man with so-called “peroneal strikes,” or severe blows to the side of the leg above the knee (incapacitates the leg by hitting the common peroneal nerve). . .

Dilawar, tortured to death on December 10 2002, was a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver and farmer who weighed 122 pounds and was described by his interpreters as neither violent nor aggressive.

When beaten, he repeatedly cried “Allah!” The outcry appears to have amused U.S. military personnel, as the act of striking him in order to provoke a scream of “Allah!” eventually “became a kind of running joke,” according to one of the MP’s. “People kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out ‘Allah,’ ” he said. “It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes.”

The Times reported that:

On the day of his death, Dilawar had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

“A guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

“Leave him up,” one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying. Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen.

It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

it’s a little difficult to fully accept anything the President says at face value:

Q Mr. President, I wanted to return to the question of torture. What we’ve learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law. So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that’s not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, I’m going to say it one more time. If I — maybe — maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We’re a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at those laws, and that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions out of — from me to the government.

I suppose there’s a chance he may be telling the truth. There may be no specific authorization from President Bush to anyone in the United States government regarding the violation of US law. When Bush said “we don’t torture” perhaps he only meant himself and his own circle of cronies — er — friends and advisors. Or perhaps he meant that we don’t do it anymore because we’ve out sourced that function:

In the name of the “war on terrorism,” the Bush administration is condoning and even facilitating the torture of terrorist suspects.

While the activities take place behind a veil of deniability, some excellent reporting by the Washington Post has laid bare the facts. And they aren’t pretty.

Under a practice known as “extraordinary rendition,” the CIA is delivering terror suspects into the hands of foreign intelligence services without extradition proceedings. According to the Post, the authority to do this comes from a secret “finding” by the president.

Suspects have been sent to Syria, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan, countries whose abusive practices have been documented and condemned by the State Department’s annual human rights report. “We don’t kick the s– out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the s– out of them,” an unnamed official who had participated in the rendering of prisoners told the Post. Along with the prisoner, the CIA provides the foreign intelligence services a list of questions it wants answered.

Yes, our friends in the Middle East. Nice, secretive, oppressive authoritarian regimes all. I imagine in Bush’s brain (his real brain, not Mr. Rove) it’s not torture if someone else is doing it so you can keep your hands clean. I mean what’s a little water boarding or shin busting compared to this:

According to a State Department Annual Report, torture methods in Syria include “pulling out fingernails; forcing objects into the rectum; …using a chair that bends backwards to asphyxiate the victim or fracture the spine.”

Other captives have been sent to Egypt, where, according to the State Department, suspects are routinely “stripped and blindfolded; suspended from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor; beaten with fists, whips, metal rods, or other objects; subjected to electric shocks.”

A former CIA official told Newsday about one detainee transferred from Guantánamo Bay to Egypt: “They promptly tore his fingernails out, and he started telling things.”

or this:

British and American aid intended for Iraq’s hard-pressed police service is being diverted to paramilitary commando units accused of widespread human rights abuses, including torture and extra-judicial killings, The Observer can reveal.

. . . The Observer has seen photographic evidence of post-mortem and hospital examinations of alleged terror suspects from Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle which demonstrate serious abuse of suspects including burnings, strangulation, the breaking of limbs and – in one case – the apparent use of an electric drill to perform a knee-capping.

Which brings me, in a somewhat convoluted way back to my title. You see, we have no evidence that Hitler ever, officially, in writing, authorized the concentration camps and the gas chambers of the Jewish Holocaust. There was no paper trail that explicitly led to him. But the camps existed, and he appointed the individual, Heinrich Himmler, head of the German SS, who was directly tied to the creation and operation of the Nazi death camps. And there is no doubt that Hitler, had he lived, would have been prosecuted and convicted for the mass murder of millions of Jews and other “undesirables” in the Holocaust.

You see, there’s a doctrine known as the Law of Agency, with which I’m sure President Bush, as a former officer and director of large business corporations , and holding a Masters of Business Administration from Harvard, is surely familiar. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp really. It basically says that when you give someone the authority to act on your behalf in a certain matter, such as the interrogation of detainees you hold, you are responsible for their actions taken pursuant to that authority.

Furthermore, that grant of authority (in this case Bush to Rumsfeld and Tenet and on down the intelligence and military hierarchies regarding acceptable interrogation procedures) need not be made explicitly. You can imply that someone is your agent and that their actions are pursuant to the authority you have given to them. It doesn’t have to be written down anywhere.

I’ll give you an example. A father drops his car keys into the hands of his underage teenage son, and says, “I’m going to go take a nap now.” He leaves, and the minute he does, the son jumps in the car, turns the key in the ignition and goes speeding down the street. A few minutes later the son crashes into a pedestrian on the side of the road, killing him instantly. Guess who’s responsible (besides the son)? That’s right: Dear Old Dad is. He impliedly authorized his son to drive the car when he handed him the keys, even though he knew his son was underage.

So even if there is no “smoking gun“, “double super secret” Executive Order authorizing torture, Bush is still responsible for the torture of prisoners committed on his watch. He gave the car keys to Rummy and to the CIA and to any country willing to take our War on Terror prisoners and “interrogate” them for us. Whatever they did, they did on his behalf, and under his authority.

And you know what the sad thing is? This bastard got elected last year after most of these torture allegations had been made public (the only one that didn’t to my knowledge was the secret prisons the CIA operates around the world, but I’m sure there were suspicions being bruited about in the media back then). That means in the eyes of most of the world, it’s not just Bush who’s torturing people, it’s all of us. In other words, Mr. Bush lied when he said we don’t torture, because we do.

Thank you Republicans and Bush voters. Thank you ever so much.

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