Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The curious matter of torture

Vice President Cheney, not content with his role in Plamegate, has been leaning on John McCain to accept a loophole in the Senate's anti-torture amendment to the defense appropriation bill.

Basically, and stripped of needless circumlocution, Cheney wants it written into the bill that the CIA can conduct torture whenever it wants to, and that any American governmental action on foreign soil deemed to be a counterterrorism operation can also resort to torture.

You have to wonder what in the hell Bush and Cheney think the authority to torture people will get them. The entire world now knows they have been using torture--in fact we know that some CIA-held prisoners have died in custody, presumably interrogated a little too intensively--and given the Bush administration obsession with power, the most charitable explanation of why they want to keep this power is that they value power for its own sake, and are simply loath to give up any they presently have.

But it looks like they would step back and ask a simple question, which is: what has their de-facto power to torture, and their willing use of that power, gotten them in the way of "intelligence"?

I mean, most of the civilized world considers torture to be wrong on moral grounds, not pragmatic ones. But even for people with a palsied sense of morality, like Bush and Cheney, you'd think the atrophy of the moral sentiments would not necessarily imply an equal atrophy of their wits. Look at what the power to torture has gotten us. We have tortured people to death in Afghanistan, and Bin Laden is still out there, as is Mullah Omar (remember him?) and the re-grouping Taliban is in fact getting stronger. Evidently torture has not helped us in Afghanistan very much.

How about Iraq? Well, that's pretty easy to answer. We see the results every day.

What of importance did Manadel Jamadi tell us? He was a prisoner at Abu Ghraib prison, tortured to death by the CIA, and then photographed packed in ice by soldiers at the prison. At that point "a high-level CIA operative" supposedly tried to hide the facts of Jamadi's death after Army personnel found his corpse. So did we learn from Jamadi the location of the WMDs?

If Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld had actually gotten any useful information from a tortured prisoner, do you think they would have failed to trumpet it? The Bushies are totally willing to imperil our national security to further their political agenda, as we have seen in the outing of Valerie Plame. So does anyone imagine that if we had gotten the least shred of useful information from a tortured prisoner, that such "success" would not have become an instant talking point with the Administration and its trained parrots in the media?

That was a rhetorical question, as you can see.

Maybe the explanation of Cheney's pro-torture campaign is that Bush and Cheney are simply addicted to hearing what they want to hear. And it is becoming harder and harder for them to hear it. And the one thing a tortured prisoner can be relied on to do, is tell you what you want to hear.

Or to put it in less of a tasteless joke way, I think the roots of torture lie with the psychological needs of the torturer. An obsession with control and power is the hallmark of the Bush government, far beyond any need for results or any pragmatic consequence. In that psychological context the continued power to torture must seem both logical and necessary to the White House.

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