Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cheers for Anne Applebaum on Torture

She has tended to support Bush's various wars, and she says still believes in, and refers to, the War on Terror. But she has questioned torture for a long time, saying it is not only illegal and immoral--it probably doesn't work.

Now she says there are some specific cases of U.S. torture that need to be investigated--and prosecutions probably need to take place.

But the political rights and wrongs of this failed policy are no longer the point. What matters now is that our laws be enforced. America is not and never was a fascist state, and the CIA prisons were not the Gulag. These 14 prisoners were not tortured as part of an ordinary and accepted routine, in other words, but according to special rules and procedures, set up at the highest level of government by leaders who surely knew that they were illegal, or they would not have limited them so carefully. What we need now, therefore, is not an endless, politicized circus of a congressional investigation into every aspect of George W. Bush's White House but a very specific, carefully targeted legal investigation of the CIA's invisible prisons: Who gave the orders to use torture, who carried the orders out, what exactly was done, who objected? The guilty, however senior, should be named, forced to testify, and called to account—because the rule of law, and nothing else, is what makes us exceptional.


As I recall, Marty Lederman, now holding a senior position in the Obama administration, used to argue that getting soldiers in uniform to commit torture is even worse than getting the CIA to do it. Soldiers have the added obligations of the Code of Military Justice, which are violated by torture--and of course, they have reason to fear that they or their colleagues will get the same treatment they dish out. Perhaps the most bizarre part of the Bush approach was the rather proud boasting about it all: "We're tough enough to get the job done. Of course, we're Boy Scouts, so we don't really torture. But then, we never want to lose any fight, no matter how dirty, so we torture when we have to do. But (a bit defensively) less than anyone else, and somehow more nicely. In fact, come to think of it, we're Boy Scouts, so whatever we do isn't torture." Presumably a President or someone close to him can decide to attempt torture in certain circumstances. The fact should not be advertised, and the President should have deniability.

Applebaum, interestingly enough, questions whether there is any proof that Israel relies on torture. On my old blog I once sorted through a story to the effect that the Israelis relied on tortured testimony from a prisoner in Jordan to identify the perpetrators of the Black September attack on Israeli athletes; the information was wrong, and they killed the wrong guys in "retaliation."

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