--by Sebastian Holsclaw
Though it is crass to quote yourself, I'm going to reprint most of my open letter to my party, the Republican Party, from here anyway. Then I'm going to discuss more recent developments:
There has been a drip, drip, drip that we have mostly ignored. It does us no credit to continue. There are many sources for this information, but the New Yorker has an excellent overview. The Bush administration has engaged in a very troubling pattern of legitimizing torture by dramatically expanding the practice of "extraordinary rendition". This practice essentially amounts to sending people to other countries to be tortured. An excellent blog source for information on this practice is available on a section of ObsidianWings. It has gotten to the point where it is obvious that this is more than a bad agent or two and it has expanded to far beyond just a few of the most hardened and obvious Al Qaeda operatives.
I wish I could just mention the program and assume that I didn't have to argue against it. Unfortunately I'm not entirely sure that is true. So before I get to what Republicans should do to stop it, I'm going to briefly outline why we should act to stop it:
Torture is wrong. The practice of extraordinary rendition began as a classic Clintonian hairsplitting exercise in the mid 1990s to avoid the clear letter of the laws which prohibit America from using torture. This is the kind of avoidance of the law and ridiculous semantics that we decried when employed by the Clinton administration. It has gotten no more attractive just because Bush has decided to continue the program.
We are torturing non-terrorists. Perhaps some people would be willing to torture Al Qaeda members. I'm not one of them, but perhaps some are. The problem with that mindset is that we aren't just torturing Al Qaeda members. It is becoming completely obvious that some of the people being tortured are innocent. See especially the ObsidianWings link above. That is crazy. There isn't any information we are getting that could possibly justify the torture of innocent people.
Torture is ineffective. Torture isn't ineffective at getting information per se. It is ineffective at getting useful information. That is because the victim either snaps completely, or starts trying to mold his story to fit what the torturer wants to hear. There is evidence that we have relied on information obtained through torture, only to find that it was very wrong.
Torture also opens us up to the legitimate criticism that we are acting out the very barbarism that we want to fight. I think as Republicans we have heard that charge so many times employed against practices where the analogy was completely inappropriate, that we have become inured to the charge when properly employed. This is a case where the charge has force. Go watch the Nick Berg Beheading Video and then imagine the blood pouring from his neck being just like the blood oozing from the fingers of an innocent torture victim sent to his fate by the CIA. That is the barbarism we are fighting, and that is the barbarism we must not become a part of. I know we have heard the charge that we are acting "just like them" thrown at us over trivial concerns like suggesting that we pay a bit more attention to visa-holders from other countries. This is NOT THAT CASE. This is the case of saying we are acting just like them because we are torturing people--acting just like them.
Therefore extraordinary rendition is a moral sinkhole, which is being employed on people we are not sure are guilty, and which doesn't even get good information. It cannot be continued.
The Republican Party has spent so many years in the minority that sometimes I think we have not adjusted to the fact that we are in power. We are in power now. We control both Houses of Congress and we have our people throughout the administration. We don't need to wait for the Democrats to raise this issue. We can't hide behind the worry that exploring our practices is going to get a President elected who is going to retreat from Iraq. We are the party which leads the most powerful country in the world. And lead it we must. President Bush must be shown that the Republican Party is not willing to stand for the perversion of our moral standards. The Republican-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House can close the loophole which allows for extraordinary rendition and can loudly reaffirm that torture is not something we do. We are the majority party, and we claim to be a party that cares about the moral health of the nation. We are damning ourselves if we sit back and let it continue. This practice is foolish in the proverbial sense of the word--it perverts our moral core and gains us nothing but the illusion of doing something important.
Since I wrote this, we have more proof that torture isn't effective at getting good intelligence, and can in fact obtain dramatically misleading misinformation. This is especially true because we have been copying the torture techniques of Communist countries:
How did American interrogation tactics after 9/11 come to include abuse rising to the level of torture? Much has been said about the illegality of these tactics, but the strategic error that led to their adoption has been overlooked.
The Pentagon effectively signed off on a strategy that mimics Red Army methods. But those tactics were not only inhumane, they were ineffective. For Communist interrogators, truth was beside the point: their aim was to force compliance to the point of false confession.
Fearful of future terrorist attacks and frustrated by the slow progress of intelligence-gathering from prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Pentagon officials turned to the closest thing on their organizational charts to a school for torture. That was a classified program at Fort Bragg, N.C., known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners, SERE was intended to train American soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in enemy custody.
The Pentagon appears to have flipped SERE's teachings on their head, mining the program not for resistance techniques but for interrogation methods. At a June 2004 briefing, the chief of the United States Southern Command, Gen. James T. Hill, said a team from Guantánamo went "up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques" for "high-profile, high-value" detainees. General Hill had sent this list - which included prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation, stress positions, physical assault and the exploitation of detainees' phobias - to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who approved most of the tactics in December 2002.
Some within the Pentagon warned that these tactics constituted torture, but a top adviser to Secretary Rumsfeld justified them by pointing to their use in SERE training, a senior Pentagon official told us last month.
When internal F.B.I. e-mail messages critical of these methods were made public earlier this year, references to SERE were redacted. But we've obtained a less-redacted version of an e-mail exchange among F.B.I. officials, who refer to the methods as "SERE techniques." We also learned from a Pentagon official that the SERE program's chief psychologist, Col. Morgan Banks, issued guidance in early 2003 for the "behavioral science consultants" who helped to devise Guantánamo's interrogation strategy (we've been unable to learn the content of that guidance).
SERE methods are classified, but the program's principles are known. It sought to recreate the brutal conditions American prisoners of war experienced in Korea and Vietnam, where Communist interrogators forced false confessions from some detainees, and broke the spirits of many more, through Pavlovian and other conditioning. Prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, painful body positions and punitive control over life's most intimate functions produced overwhelming stress in these prisoners. Stress led in turn to despair, uncontrollable anxiety and a collapse of self-esteem. Sometimes hallucinations and delusions ensued. Prisoners who had been through this treatment became pliable and craved companionship, easing the way for captors to obtain the "confessions" they sought.
SERE, as originally envisioned, inoculates American soldiers against these techniques. Its psychologists create mock prison regimens to study the effects of various tactics and identify the coping styles most likely to withstand them. At Guantánamo, SERE-trained mental health professionals applied this knowledge to detainees, working with guards and medical personnel to uncover resistant prisoners' vulnerabilities. "We know if you've been despondent; we know if you've been homesick," General Hill said. "That is given to interrogators and that helps the interrogators" make their plans.
Within the SERE program, abuse is carefully controlled, with the goal of teaching trainees to cope. But under combat conditions, brutal tactics can't be dispassionately "dosed." Fear, fury and loyalty to fellow soldiers facing mortal danger make limits almost impossible to sustain.
[Hat Tip The Power of Narrative]
This details two serious practical problems (as if the moral problems weren't enough) with the use of torture as envisioned by the Bush administration. First, the aims of torture as actually practiced by those we were 'learning' from are not in line with our aims. Communist torturers were not attempting to get good military intelligence from their victims. They were trying to get propaganda victories by breaking someone and forcing them to say what the torturers wanted to hear. Torture doesn't work as well as other techniques if what you want is good intelligence. Second, the idea of a carefully controlled torture isn't feasible in real-life situations. It is a well known conservative understanding of reality that people tend to push a little bit past the rules so the rules can't be set right at the very edge of the morally permissible. If carefully dosed bits of torture are legal, in the real world torture will run far past the proscribed limits.
In this case there is no dilemma between the moral and practical actions. We don't have to decide between morally abstaining from torture and the practicality of getting good intelligence information in a carefully controlled manner. The decision is between abstaining from a monsterous practice while also avoiding something which has little practical use and which can't be carefully controlled or alternatively using a monsterous practice which has little practical use and will tend to be out of control.
There are lots of hard problems in the war on terror. We shouldn't waste so much time on the easy ones.