Monday, April 27, 2009

How We Learn

Last Monday President Obama went to visit the CIA. He needed to buddy up to the agency and let them know he was still on their side.

"What makes the United States special, and what makes you special, is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and ideals even when it's hard -- not just when it's easy," he said, "Don't be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we've made some mistakes. That's how we learn.”

Oh, yes, the United States is special. You’re special. I’m special. The torturers are special. Yes, we are ALL special! We violate our nation’s values, ideals, (and laws) call them mistakes instead of crimes, and now look forward to moving on. Let’s look forward to our bright shiny future where America has failed to hold anyone accountable for violating the Geneva Convention and committing criminal acts that we prosecuted people for in the past.

Yes, that’s how we learn. And that’s how future presidents learn. They learn to break any law that gets in their way of exercising whatever abuse of power they wish.

Remember what we learned from Nixon? “When the president does it that means it is not illegal.”

Now we are learning something from Obama. If the president allows it to go unpunished that means it’s not a crime.

Don’t you just love learning how to be good Americans from politicians?

He also told them no agent would be charged for face slapping, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, wall slamming, stress positioning, wall shackling, or confining detainees in small boxes with insects. Nor would they be held liable for waterboarding detainees on an average of six times a day. Why not? Well, because they were “just following orders”, of course. Not only did Obama assure them the famous Nazi Nuremberg Defense was good enough to be their get-out-of-jail-free card, he softened the whole deal with a nicer term. Nobody was tortured. No, nothing so savage and brutal, it was merely a few “mistakes” that were made.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the idea of not prosecuting underlings in order to get the information to hold their superiors accountable. I just don’t see how anybody will face justice here without pressuring the agents into revealing the chain of orders for torture.

Oddly, some of the advocates of looking forward actually used the word torture.

Recently House Minority Leader John Boehner, accidently I’m sure, uttered a bit of truth slippage. “Last week, they released these memos outlining torture techniques—that was clearly a political decision.”

On Sunday corporate media insider David Broder wrote in the Washington Post, “The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places -- the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department -- by the proper officials.”

How about that? If torture is approved by deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places, then it’s all fine and legal. All you need are a few hand picked, sycophantic, cold blooded lawyers to make your brutality legitimate.

Of course this is mere child’s play after you successfully deceived the country into a politically motivated illegal war of aggression that may well last another six years.

Broder continued, “One administration later, a different group of individuals occupying the same offices has -- thankfully -- made the opposite decision. Do they now go back and investigate or indict their predecessors?

That way, inevitably, lies endless political warfare. It would set the precedent for turning all future policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold bitterness -- and injustice.

Suppose that Obama backs down and Holder or someone else starts hauling Bush administration lawyers and operatives into hearings and courtrooms.
Suppose the investigators decide that the country does not want to see the former president and vice president in the dock. Then underlings pay the price while big shots go free. But at some point, if he is at all a man of honor, George W. Bush would feel bound to say: That was my policy. I was the president. If you want to indict anyone for it, indict me.

Is that where we want to go? I don't think so. Obama can prevent it by sticking to his guns.”

Aren’t you relieved to learn all this is only about policy disagreements? And if we’ve learned nothing else during the past eight years, we can be sure George W. Bush certainly IS a man of honor.

But there’s another voice out there. Someone with personal experience in the interrogations wrote a piece in the April 23rd edition of the New York Times.

Ali Soufan was an F.B.I. supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005.

He wrote: “For seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false.”

But, then again, how can this insignificant peon know better than our wise and fearless media and political leadership?

I understand Obama is reluctant to open the huge can of worms. It’s a political powder keg. Maybe the Justice Department will initiate an investigation, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for it.

As William Butler Yeats wrote, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

Now, haven’t we all learned a lot from these mistakes? I don’t know about you, but I sure am feeling a lot prouder, and smarter, for being an American.


Kulkuri said...

This is shaping up to be something like argument about Vietnam. We'll be arguing whether it was right or wrong decades into the future. There are those that can't see past the end of their nose who think torture kept us safe and there are the rest of us who know torture is wrong regardless of the circumstances. If Cheney had had his way, we would have had the US version of "Stasi" questioning people and wiretapping, etc........... As long as those that OKed torture are walking free, we are not a nation of laws!!

I think Obama is trying to get his policies passed and if he was to say he would go after those responsible for torture, he would piss off too many in Congress to get anything done. I have a feeling DOJ is working on this and we may hear something in the future, I hope. These things take time and I'm not expecting anything soon.

Ever since Ford pardoned Nixon nobody has been held accountable, but maybe it's time to change that attitude.

Unknown said...

Kulkuri says,
"These things take time and I'm not expecting anything soon."BS!!!!! Congress and politics acts slow, only when it negatively affects the wealthy ruling class.

Things like the fascist manifesto known better as the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the TARP Bailout, just to name a few, were drafted and flew through Congress, faster than you can get a car loan. Don't insult my intelligence by telling me 'these things take time'.

Dave Dubya said...

Marv, Kulkuri, and Tim,

We all dread the same thing here. Even with a "liberal" president and "democratic" congress, our government remains a right wing engine of empire. It is a tool for corporate power to leverage the public treasure unto itself.

Our government's ability and/or interest in applying justice in this matter has been short circuited by institutionalized corruption.

We shouldn't be under the illusion that the war crimes of the Bush/Cheney syndicate will ever be tried in any court of law.

In the court of world opinion and in the moral judgment of every American with a conscience, they are guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.

Prosecution is, like impeachment was earlier, off the table.

It seems Obama has decided to trade justice for easier facilitation, but still with no guarantee, of his proposed agenda.

They got away with it. Period.

Any resulting whitewash will only be cosmetic.