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Turning the Page on Torture

By virtue of one of Obama’s first executive orders, America has turned the page on torture, and restored much of the moral authority her previous leader had so recklessly discarded. Obama aptly harkened back to the wisdom of our Founding Fathers noting that they insisted we should “observe core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard”

Not surprisingly, this order and the one closing the detention center at Guantanamo within a year are being hailed internationally and by human rights organizations here in the United States. As someone who worked vociferously to block the nomination of Alberto Gonzales four years ago, based on his authorship of rules loosening our compliance with the Geneva conventions when interrogating suspects, I am delighted and relieved that our new President wasted no time in righting these wrongs. I am especially happy with the unequivocal language of the order, and its application across all branches of government and the military.

It will be interesting to watch reaction in the coming days and weeks from those in the CIA and the military who are or were most impacted by such policies. The outgoing CIA chief, Michael Hayden, defends the now banned procedures, and the outgoing Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Michael McConnell, has repeatedly claimed that enhanced interrogation was critical in obtaining needed intelligence over the past six years. These men, however were Bush appointees. The story changes it seems when talking to career CIA agents who are more closely involved with interrogation.

Dan Froomkin in his most recentWashington Post column quotes an experienced interrogator of terrorists

"'It [Obama's order] is a significant step toward saving American lives,' said Air Force Reserve Maj. Matthew Alexander - the lead interrogator of terrorists who betrayed Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi before his 2006 killing.

"'When I was in Iraq, the No. 1 reason foreign fighters said they were coming into the country to fight was Abu Ghraib,' said Alexander, author of 'How To Break A Terrorist.'"

Retired CIA officer, John Kiriakou, has an even more sweeping positive reaction to Obama's executive order:

Kiriakou said that the reaction to Obama’s harmonization of interrogations policy would get “a very positive reaction” inside the CIA. “There are people at CIA who engaged in what were certified as enhanced [interrogation] techniques, but were never supportive of it,” he said. “This should make people very happy. No one wants to be in harm’s way [legally]. Despite what the Bush White House and Bush Justice Department said was legal, I think people at the CIA understood that this was not legal and [the techniques] were torture.”

Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of CIA operations in Europe during the Bush administration’s first term, agreed. “These people aren’t monsters,” Drumheller said. “They were doing what they were told, and what was the policy of the [Bush] administration.”

Though apologists for the "enhanced interrogation techniques" championed by the Bush Administration will fret aboutimagined lost intelligence resulting from limiting interrogation to humane techniques, they do not do justice to the success of many perfectly legal interrogations, or wish to acknowledge the real harm done to our national interest, our international reputation, or the interrogators themselves when limits are not uniformly enforced and understood. They scoff at a desire to "curry world favor", as if we are not harmed by failing to so, but instead are greatly helped when we lead by example, and generate global good will rather than hatred and animosity.

Human Rights First offers this contrast of reality vs. portrayal of interrogation on TV. Watchblog's own Stephen Daugherty competently debunked the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques in a December article.

The task force that Obama created did leave the door open for future creation of a separate set of guidelines for CIA interrogation of high risk detainees, so that high level terrorist operatives cannot use the Army Field Manual as a blueprint for preparing themselves for resisting interrogation. Obama did not equivocate, however, in asserting that no US operative, employee, or agent would engage in torture, humiliation, or degradation in their treatment of our prisoners.

With the stroke of a pen, the most grievous policy of our recent past has been reversed, and we have returned to the principles on which we were founded.

Posted by Walker Willingham at January 24, 2009 6:30 PM
Comments
Comment #274280

Walker,
It’s certainly a good thing, seeing a new president asserting the morals and ideals which make the country worth having in the first place. Unfortunately, our country failed. We were afraid. We know that know. We can all see it. But having fallen, how can the stain ever be removed? Is a stroke of the presidential pen enough? Is the cessation of torture, closing Gitmo, discontinuing blanket surveillance of Americans adequate?

There are two paths, and I see positives to both approaches. We could follow one path, and prosecute those who were entrusted by Americans to uphold the Constitution and failed because of their fear. We could prosecute war criminals in the name of justice. Future generations would thank us for pursuing that path, because it is morally right. Another path would be to turn our backs on our failed past, look forward, and move ahead with the intention of not failing again. It is a practical approach, but runs the risk of such people coming into power again.

We have two failed wars to close and a disastrous economy on our hands. Sadly, the future is not bright for this country. It will be years before we see improvement. Given the bleak decisions which must be made and implemented, there’s a lot to be said for moving on, and not dwelling on the miserable failures of the immediate past.

Posted by: phx8 at January 24, 2009 9:21 PM
Comment #274284

Guantanamo is for closing shortly,…but although everyone is worry where those terrorists are going to be, I think there is no need for apprehnsion,…not at all.

Perhaps after this dumb move , the brand new president will do another even dumber one,…perhaps he will put the terrorists in the basement of the White House , or in the basement of Camp Davis, or the president will order remodelation of some office-areas right there in the Capitol to acomodate the ‘new guests’.

You know, the possibilities are indeed, infinite, in terms of any kind of ‘plan’ for whatever thing,….and now that that the so called ‘stimulus’, or ‘rescue-package’ ,…anyway you want to call it…is getting out of hand……uuuhhh!!! …..this is just a lot of material for an adventure book series better than Harry Potter, don’t you think?

But then again, this is what the democrats wanted , right?, and so they push the envelope with all types of tricks,…FRAUD, DECEPTION , EXTORTION, etc, and others goodies.
And here we are right at the border of the abys,….well, that is life , some times.

The worst is to come of course, ….but that is for now.

Try to sleep well.
Daniel Cabrera
Merrillville, Indiana

Posted by: Daniel Cabrera at January 24, 2009 10:43 PM
Comment #274288

I don’t understand the concern over closing Gitmo. Are there some hard characters there? Fine. Provide evidence, and conduct a fair trial for those accused of terrorism. If there is insufficient evidence, they should be released to their country of origin.

Of course, the Gitmo prisoners have been incarcerated a long time, and most of them have not been tried, or even charged with a crime. Those people need to be released. If they didn’t hate America before, they probably do now. It sucks to be us.

It didn’t used to suck to be us.

In Argentina, they decided to expand a large mall. As it turns out, the area excavated was right next to what was a police station during the Dirty War. Not exactly a positive shopping experience… The digging revealed hundreds of bodies. These were people executed by the police. Just an observation.

Hopefully the American public will never again be subjected to the humiliation of secret trials. Remember the brief public appearance of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a televised portion of his show trial? He was obviously tortured. The guy was probably the real mastermind behind 9/11, but Americans never saw justice administered, or even decent revenge. Instead, we saw our own humiliation mirrored back to us in the form of the brainwashed Khalid, blandly confessing to every terrorist plot of the past decade. That was sickening.

So, there’s no going back. It is not possible to ever think of ourselves as a country representing any kind of fundamental decency anymore. It happened. Now Obama’s making the right steps forward. There’s really nothing else that can be done, except try to be better in the future.

Posted by: phx8 at January 25, 2009 1:13 AM
Comment #274289

By the way, for those of you worried about pork and fraud in the stimulus package, I just want to thank you for presenting such a charmingly quaint take on domestic economics. Really, that is just touching, and, gosh, downright cute! It’s SO 1990’s. That’s adorable!

“Go on, take the money and run.”
And they did. The financial sector, AKA Wall Street, absconded with sums of money difficult to describe. The derivatives market grew to a notional value of $62 trillion, with no oversight or regulation (Thanks, Phil Gramm!); it leveraged mortgages to a level hard to comprehend, generated enormous fees, and went bust. KABOOM! To deal with this, we suspended traditional and sensible mark-to-market accounting, and now we’re pretending that flattened derivates market does not exist and does not count against bank balance sheets. Meanwhile, there is no longer such a thing as an investment bank. Soon, we’ll create a National Bank of the United States, because the free market failed so utterly, so completely, and that will be the only possible solution remaining. Incredible. $700 billion was borrowed for TARP simply because $700 billion was how much ready cash the government could raise. In reality, the collapsed derivatives market is larger.

So Obama’s plan for the stimulus package is the right choice, because it is the only choice- infusion of large amounts of cash into the lower and middle classes, and job creation programs for the short and medium term. And in one of the ironic turns of the times, pork will be a good idea (if it adds to wealth creation through a high velocity spending stimulus among the low and middle).

But it probably won’t work. There’s too much momentum behind the asset deflation now. To put asset deflation into perspective, if the US undergoes a comparable experience to the Japanese experience that began in the 90’s, the Dow Jones Industrial Average will be down at 4259…

In the year 2026.

Posted by: phx8 at January 25, 2009 1:50 AM
Comment #274293

phx8

Well put. BHO’s plan has some weaknesses in that it provides for far too many general tax breaks. The stimulative value of tax breaks is minimal. If that was not true then after the Bush regimes tax breaks for the rich we should be in high clover.Some are campaign promises but some appear to be sops to congressional Reps. It is apparent that there is nothing he can do to get any Rep support. They would rather see the US sink to third world status than co-operate. Fine,to H—l with’um. For the plan to work we should strip the business tax cuts and apply the funds to stimulative projects. The danger is not having too big a plan, but too small a plan.

Walker
Closing GITMO and forbidding torture are steps in the right direction. We should not be so smug as to deny the US use of torture before Bush came along. Just because we did not get our hands bloody ourselves is meaningless. In Vietnam we had our S.Vietmanese thralls do most of it. For years the CIA has brought S. American dictaters to school(School of the Americas) to teach torture and intimidation methods.
To paraphrase Tom Clancy,no bleeding liberal,”Great powers must maintain at least a minimum standard of human rights or they become abominations, like Hitlers Germany or Stalin’s Russia.” This can put us at a dis-advantage against a ruthless enemy, but must be done for our own long term survival.
To answer ahead those that will undoubtedly bring up the “what if” scenario involving a terrorist knowing where a nuclear bomb is planted or some such, the response is clear. You do what you have to and be prepared to accept the consequenes. The Isrealis deal with this sort of scenario all the time and that is how they handle it. One may be forced to do wrong. One may be forced to break the law. It may be necessary. But it is never legitimate or sanctioned.

Posted by: bills at January 25, 2009 6:24 AM
Comment #274309

Bills,
It’s hard to even look at the economy right now. I just want to cover my eyes and turn away. The Federal Reserve is finished for now. They’ve done what they can to stimulate the economy with monetary policy. Like you say, the danger is the Congress will not do enough and not be creative enough with fiscal policy. It’s the last gasp. I hope it works. I don’t think it will.

Remember when virtually the only positive claim the Bush administration could make about its economic policies during the 2004 election was how more Americans now owned homes than ever? Ah, memories. Those Republicans were soooo proud of that claim. Conservative economic policies were working! Those assholes positively bragged about it in 2004.

Today, the GOP and conservatives refuse to bring that up. Instead of taking the credit for the increased home ownership, it was now a matter of blame. Increased home ownership was the fault of Democrats and those terrible, terrible poor people. How dare they own homes!

There’s a little excitement over various Obama nominations, but those are sideshows. The only one that really matters is Holder. A lot of people are terrified Holder will investigate and prosecute Americans who committed war crimes. Members of the Bush administration, the CIA and other agencies, many Republicans, and even a few Democrats know they will be in deep trouble if Holder starts asking too many questions. Holder will be attacked like no other nominee. The stakes are high. That’s the one to watch. The rest is filler.

Posted by: phx8 at January 25, 2009 2:44 PM
Comment #274340

phx8
I hope Holder goes beyond war crimes and exposes the mass instances of obstruction of justice that occured in the DOJ with political appointments to civil service jobs,overlooking and supression of investigations of Rep politicians etc. .Perhaps he will investigate oil company collusion with the Bush regime and Rep leadership in congress to stifle alternate energy developement and obtain tax subsidies. Perhaps he will once again enforce the Sherman Act. perhaps he will look into the financial ties between Fox”News” and the Rep Party.There is plenty of reasons to believe you are right in saying there will be lots of fireworks at his confirmation hearing. Thats just my wish list. More likely he will be just another good solid AG. After Gonzo that will be an improvement.

Posted by: bills at January 26, 2009 8:03 AM
Comment #274421

“Sadly, the future is not bright for this country. It will be years before we see improvement”

Recession is a fundamental process in the oscillation of economical growth, it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

Posted by: Tom at January 27, 2009 2:49 PM
Comment #274426

>Recession is a fundamental process in the oscillation of economical growth, it’s bound to happen sooner or later.
Posted by: Tom at January 27, 2009 02:49 PM

Tom,

Sadly, you are saying that we must build ‘failure’ into our economy, in order that it might function properly…?!?!?!

Posted by: Marysdude at January 27, 2009 3:56 PM
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