November 06, 2005

Torture Update

According to Edward Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Dick Cheney's office is directly responsible for the U.S.'s practice of torturing prisoners. His staff also spied on the National Security Council, to the extent that the NSC stopped using e-mail. As the apostropher points out, there's no reason not to impeach him for this. And if the United States won't prosecute him for this, I hope that (perhaps at some saner moment in U.S. and world politics) the Hague will.

In an early case, torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi yielded false information that the Bush Administration used to claim that Iraq was training Al-Qaeda in the use of weapons of mass destruction. As early as February 2002 the D.I.A. warned that Libi's information was unreliable, but Powell nevertheless used it as a basis for his speech to the United Nations.

As Mark Kleiman points out, Hobbes knew 350 years ago that torture was an unreliable means of gathering information. (I've got a bit of a professional interest in this, since one of my areas of research concerns the relation between our justification to believe testimony and the speaker's free choice about what to say. Torture takes away the speaker's freedom and also eliminates our ordinary justification for believing him.) The D.I.A. report said, "Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest"; in other words, he was telling his torturers what they want to hear in an effort to get them to stop. Of course it's not clear that the people who ordered the torture even wanted accurate information. I'm not quite sure why they didn't save the U.S. a bit of moral credibility and just make stuff up. If they really wanted an informant, they could have had Scooter dress up in a fake mustache, introduce himself as al-Libby, and spout all the bullshit that they wanted to hear.

In a little-noted story, a supposed top al-Qaeda operative escaped from a prison camp in Afghanistan before he could become the first detainee to testify against a soldier in the Afghan prisoner torture right. Tristero is right; this stinks to high heaven. The very very very nicest construal that can be made is that our eagerness to keep dangerous prisoners in places where it's easier to torture them is compromising our security. But is it implausible that the escape was allowed or staged to stop his testimony?

Torture is wrong in and of itself. But the Administration insists on torture in the face of all the evidence that it hurts us from a purely pragmatic point of view. It's as though they're doing it for fun. They need to be impeached, and then they need to be in prison. And, as the Poor Man points out, "they" means G.W. Bush. Cheney can't issue Executive Orders.

Posted by Matt Weiner at November 6, 2005 07:53 AM