David Kirkpatrick

January 31, 2008

Another take on US torture

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:35 pm

Here’s more on Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s testimony yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee from Scott Horton writing at Harper’s. It’s a great dissection from a legal philosophy bent.

From the article:

Watching Mukasey was a painful experience. What the public hoped for with his appointment was simple enough: that someone would occupy the office of attorney general who possessed integrity, common sense, independence and the basic skills that accompany a sound legal mind. The essence of what a lawyer owes his client is independent professional judgment.

Elihu Root, a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt’s and one of the titans of the New York Bar, put it bluntly and in terms that could not be better suited to the current predicament. “About half of the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damn fools and should stop.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee put Michael Mukasey to the test yesterday. And he left the hearing room as an embarrassment to those who have known and worked with him over the last twenty years, and who mistakenly touted his independence and commitment to do the right thing, come what may. On the other hand, Vice President Cheney, the principal author of the torture system, must be elated and relieved. Indeed, Cheney’s lawyer Shannen Coffin rushed to National Review Online to give Mukasey’s performance an enthusiastic seal of approval. Mukasey flunked the simple test that Elihu Root posed for all lawyers: he doesn’t have the gumption to tell the president that his torture program is unlawful and needs to be shutdown. Moreover, he’s fully bought in to the cover-up.

From all accounts Mukasey, as described above, was considered an independent and strong legal intellect. The equivocation over torture coming time and again from various members of the Bush 43 administration, and now Mukasey, makes you start to wonder what exactly they now know.

It’s an old dodge to get someone into a difficult position by allowing them information that must be kept secret or their head might be served up on a platter as well.

If this subject if of any interest to you I heartily recommend reading the entire article linked at the beginning of the post. Let’s just say Horton sums things up with, by all appearances the current US stance on torture is it’s fine when we do it, bad when other countries do it. Comically playground-style reasoning, but very depressing since it seems to be current US policy.


  1. The third option

    Water boarding is not torture. There are no long term physical injuries. There aren’t psychological injuries. KSM is a study in water boarding. He was strong by comparison lasting 30 seconds before indicating he had seen the light. And after 30 seconds of hell where his mind had tricked him into thinking he is drowning and where an indication of cooperation was his life preserver he was given a towel, a Koran, a doughnut and a cup of hot Joe. He proceeded to tell all giving up the entire network that potentially thwarted 9 terrorist attacks in Europe and the US and unraveled dozens of terror networks and sent a few to Club Fed. There will never be any way of telling how many hundreds of lives that well deserved 30 seconds of hell saved.

    When you were learning to swim did you ever loose footing for a second, have a wave knock you off your feet and hold you under the water life flashing in front of your eyes thinking of your mortality? And tell me when you regained your footing or got out of the water were you damaged for life? Do you still think about that incident? Or were you thanking your lucky stars that you made it out alive?

    On Abu Ghraib

    What the left with the help of the MSM neglects to remind everyone is that the 7 men in the naked pyramid had just been caught gang raping a 14 year old boy. Had the MPs not intervened all 7 men would have been beaten and lynched by the young boy’s family and village. Yes Lynndie England and a few others misbehaved and they have been punished. Lots of corrections officers in the US and other countries are routinely tried and convicted of assault and abuse. But because it happened it Iraq Bush and Cheney and the entire Military are smeared. The left and the MSM foster this incident of the criminal behavior of a few to be emblematic of Bush and the US’s presence in the region. So many sheep.

    Comment by ringwormed — February 1, 2008 @ 12:50 pm

  2. I appreciate the comment. I don’t see this as a left/right issue at all, other than in the sense Bush 43 apologists are falling over themselves to provide cover. Not unlike how Clinton apologists ran to give Bill cover for his prevarications.

    In defense of my post here are three (albeit cherry-picked) quotes from an 8/13/07 New Yorker article written by Jane Mayer. All three involve KSM’s detention, interrogation and defense. (URL for the complete article: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/08/13/070813fa_fact_mayer?printable=true)

    I’m not going to defend KSM, or any other fanatic fool, but I will always defend the reputation of the US. Freedom does come at a cost, but when we allow what has been, in the modern world, considered war crimes America is lost. At that point “Amerika” is no longer an unfair epitaph.

    The quotes:

    According to the Bush Administration, Mohammed divulged information of tremendous value during his detention. He is said to have helped point the way to the capture of Hambali, the Indonesian terrorist responsible for the 2002 bombings of night clubs in Bali. He also provided information on an Al Qaeda leader in England. Michael Sheehan, a former counterterrorism official at the State Department, said, “K.S.M. is the poster boy for using tough but legal tactics. He’s the reason these techniques exist. You can save lives with the kind of information he could give up.” Yet Mohammed’s confessions may also have muddled some key investigations. Perhaps under duress, he claimed involvement in thirty-one criminal plots—an improbable number, even for a high-level terrorist. Critics say that Mohammed’s case illustrates the cost of the C.I.A.’s desire for swift intelligence. Colonel Dwight Sullivan, the top defense lawyer at the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions, which is expected eventually to try Mohammed for war crimes, called his serial confessions “a textbook example of why we shouldn’t allow coercive methods.”


    Among the few C.I.A. officials who knew the details of the detention and interrogation program, there was a tense debate about where to draw the line in terms of treatment. John Brennan, Tenet’s former chief of staff, said, “It all comes down to individual moral barometers.” Waterboarding, in particular, troubled many officials, from both a moral and a legal perspective. Until 2002, when Bush Administration lawyers asserted that waterboarding was a permissible interrogation technique for “enemy combatants,” it was classified as a form of torture, and treated as a serious criminal offense. American soldiers were court-martialled for waterboarding captives as recently as the Vietnam War.

    A C.I.A. source said that Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding only after interrogators determined that he was hiding information from them. But Mohammed has apparently said that, even after he started coöperating, he was waterboarded. Footnotes to the 9/11 Commission report indicate that by April 17, 2003—a month and a half after he was captured—Mohammed had already started providing substantial information on Al Qaeda. Nonetheless, according to the person involved in the Council of Europe inquiry, he was kept in isolation for years. During this time, Mohammed supplied intelligence on the history of the September 11th plot, and on the structure and operations of Al Qaeda. He also described plots still in a preliminary phase of development, such as a plan to bomb targets on America’s West Coast.

    Ultimately, however, Mohammed claimed responsibility for so many crimes that his testimony became to seem inherently dubious. In addition to confessing to the Pearl murder, he said that he had hatched plans to assassinate President Clinton, President Carter, and Pope John Paul II. Bruce Riedel, who was a C.I.A. analyst for twenty-nine years, and who now works at the Brookings Institution, said, “It’s difficult to give credence to any particular area of this large a charge sheet that he confessed to, considering the situation he found himself in. K.S.M. has no prospect of ever seeing freedom again, so his only gratification in life is to portray himself as the James Bond of jihadism.”


    The problems with Mohammed’s coerced confessions are especially glaring in the Daniel Pearl case. It may be that Mohammed killed Pearl, but contradictory evidence and opinion continue to surface. Yosri Fouda, the Al Jazeera reporter who interviewed Mohammed in Karachi, said that although Mohammed handed him a package of propaganda items, including an unedited video of the Pearl murder, he never identified himself as playing a role in the killing, which occurred in the same city just two months earlier. And a federal official involved in Mohammed’s case said, “He has no history of killing with his own hands, although he’s proved happy to commit mass murder from afar.” Al Qaeda’s leadership had increasingly focussed on symbolic political targets. “For him, it’s not personal,” the official said. “It’s business.”

    Ordinarily, the U.S. legal system is known for resolving such mysteries with painstaking care. But the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program, Senator Levin said, has undermined the public’s trust in American justice, both here and abroad. “A guy as dangerous as K.S.M. is, and half the world wonders if they can believe him—is that what we want?” he asked. “Statements that can’t be believed, because people think they rely on torture?”

    Comment by davidkirkpatrick — February 1, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

  3. […] (Update: to join a conversation on the subject leave a comment on this post) […]

    Pingback by It looks like torture … « David Kirkpatrick — February 1, 2008 @ 10:00 pm

  4. So in your rebuttal you “cherry pick” from your unbiased MSM outlet the New Yorker from a neutral reporter Jane Mayer who regularly contributes to lots of other impartial mainstream news outlets like commondreams, Truthout etc. etc.

    Not only were you cherry picking so was she. She has made a career out of it.

    Despite your assertion that it isn’t a left and right issue it is. The left can no longer rail against the war since the surge is a phenomenal success and the only thing an anti-war Pentagon correspondent for the New Yorker or any other antiwar activist can cling to is torture, renditions and Abu Ghraib. It’s a proxy.

    So let me get this straight. If I distill your (and Jane Mayer’s) refutation its: KSM said some things under coercion that have turned out to be false so we should stop water boarding, shut down Guantanamo, stop sweeping up enemy combatants off the battlefield and pull out our occupation forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Any Pentagon correspondent who has made her name writing about Intel worth her salt knows it’s almost more anomalous when you get confessions that don’t include misinformation. Its cognitive dissonance. The confessor throws in some outrageous claims which he knows can be disproven to delude himself into thinking he is still in control and to take the sting out of giving up the goods. It’s in chapter one of Interrogation 101 but the public doesn’t know that and that info undermines her story, the position of the New Yorker and the Antiwar movement so it’s left out.

    I haven’t said anything about defending KSM or fanatic fools. Creative avoidance. Set up slight of hand. It’s ironic I feel like I’m defending the US and you are passing judgment after only listening to the prosecution. But do tell more of the cost of freedom and do tell more of these war crimes. Water boarding? Not extending Geneva Convention courtesies to terrorists? And “the modern world” you are so worried about is that a euphemism for Old Europe?

    Comment by ringwormed — February 2, 2008 @ 12:39 am

  5. I would say elements of both the left and the right use the Global War on Terror (and all its attendant parts, including this issue) as a proxy for ideological arguments.

    There are vocal elements of the left who want to do just what you wrote — shut down Gitmo, pull out of the Mideast, etc. And I’m pretty sure there’s parts of the right that would have no problem instituting full-blown, no questions asked systematic torture to attempt to pry information from captured combatants.

    What I meant by not a left/right issue is, the topic under discussion — waterboarding and its role in the GWOT — transcends the ideological battles described above.

    Certainly pretty much every one in opposition to the Bush administration is against our using the technique, and a number of administration supporters and members have publicly aired concerns as well. Yes, there’s a core of right wing support for waterboarding, but it is a controversial topic. Some people may make it a divisive issue, but the real debate is not inherently divisive.

    As I quoted above, as recently as Vietnam our service members were court martialed for using that very technique. The technique may or not be torture, but we defined it as such for a long period of time.

    September 11, 2001, created the change in that policy. As shocking as 9/11 was, at the highest levels of government it was not a complete surprise. We’ve known about bin Laden and al Qaeda for a long time, and knew he was plotting against our policies and person.

    The question I ask is 9/11 and the subsequent framing of the GWOT worthy of throwing out a policy of non-torture that began during the Revolutionary War and was put into practice by George Washington?

    I don’t think the tecnique is necessary to effectively prosecute the GWOT. I would particularly like to hear a sound justification from the administration why this change in policy was necessary and how it is effective. I’m sympathetic to needs of secrecy regarding the GWOT because there is a unique, and new, nature to the threats facing the US, but I also think this shift is so fundamental to our national heritage and image this debate should be conducted with much more transparency on both sides.

    Sure waterboarding is a proxy for many things left and right, but it’s also a tangible and controversial issue.

    You mention you feel I’m passing judgement after listening only to the prosecution. I feel I’ve read a wealth of material from sources on the left and right, and from journalism (biased or not) that presents facts. To date the pro-waterboarding side has not persuaded me that bin Laden and his minions require the US to radically change the way we approach the rest of the world militarily and legally. I think the America of September 10, 2001, was perfectly capable of handling the GWOT.

    Sure that Tuesday morning I was blindingly angry. I was woken in a vacation condo on the beach in Panama City Beach, Florida, to hear the World Trade Center towers were both struck by planes. When the media began reporting celebrations in Afghanistan I immediately thought of bin Laden (didn’t think of al Qaeda per se, but I was aware of bin Laden pre-9/11). My next thought was we should nuke that country back from its then (and now) Middle Age society to the Stone Age, or maybe to time before humans walked in Afghanistan.

    That was my heart. I feel no less strongly about Islamic terrorism today than I did at that moment. I do know I think the US did very well for itself before 9/11, and to me nothing occurred that warrants changing our fundamental approach to the world.

    So that’s the question I ask, and the topic I’m discussing — does the GWOT make changing our core values necessary? Or worthwhile? For me, until I learn something completely new about the topic, the answer is no.

    Comment by davidkirkpatrick — February 2, 2008 @ 2:48 am

  6. […] to this post to join a comments section conversation on waterboarding, torture and US […]

    Pingback by CIA admits to waterboarding « David Kirkpatrick — February 6, 2008 @ 12:40 am

  7. […] @ 5:24 pm … is a debate worth both time and intellectual energy. In a previous post on US torture, there was (an all too short) debate on the United States use of torture, and particularly waterboarding, in the […]

    Pingback by Why discussing the US and torture … « David Kirkpatrick — March 20, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

  8. […] is bit from a comment on a blog post of mine from February 2, 2008 (the post from January 31) on how I felt on September […]

    Pingback by Remember « David Kirkpatrick — September 11, 2010 @ 11:46 am

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