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domingo, junio 22, 2008

On National Numbness

This morning's Docudharma Times led off with a New York Times story about the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. It's worth reading all the way through. I found it extremely disturbing, and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. Hence, this essay is an expansion of this comment.

As Viet71 appropriately noted in the comments, the Times story
tries to put a "human face" on the CIA torture of prisoners by focusing on a CIA interrogator who doesn't seem to be such a bad guy at all.

The writer displays absolutely no disgust for the topic about which he writes and paints a fairly calm picture of the CIA renditions and harsh methods.

There is no mention in the article of high-level administration approval of torture.

All in all, I believe this article is aimed at causing people to believe that what the CIA did in these renditions just wasn't that bad.
In other words, the story appears to be propaganda for the acceptance of CIA behavior in extraordinary renditions illegal extraditions and harsh interrogation techniques torture.

I agree with the comment. How, I wonder, can the arrest, detention in a secret prison in Poland, illegal extradition, and yes, torture, of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad not provoke outrage? How, I wonder, did we end up with a story focusing on the "good cop" in the interrogation, and virtually ignoring the "bad cops", the ones with whom the "good cop" was acting in concert in the interrogation, the "knuckledraggers" who admittedly, repeatedly abused the prisoner? Do we just overlook the war crimes and human rights violations? Are we numb?

Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, by all accounts might be a very, very bad man. But hasn't the law in the US recognized, especially in death penalty cases like this one, that death is different and that extensive procedural safeguards are appropriate especially when dealing with the very worst of bad men? Put another way, isn't it in dealing with people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammad that the most safeguards are required if we are to make a fair, unbiased, reliable appraisal of guilt? And isn't this story glossing over the "shortcuts" and "deviations" that were taken and continue in this case? Are we oblivious to the lack of procedure despite 400 years of common law? Are we numb?

Buried deep in the Times story is this:
Mr. Mohammed met his captors at first with cocky defiance, telling one veteran C.I.A. officer, a former Pakistan station chief, that he would talk only when he got to New York and was assigned a lawyer - the experience of his nephew and partner in terrorism, Ramzi Yousef, after Mr. Yousef's arrest in 1995.

But the rules had changed, and the tough treatment began shortly after Mr. Mohammed was delivered to Poland. By several accounts, he proved especially resistant, chanting from the Koran, doling out innocuous information or offering obvious fabrications. The Times reported last year that the intensity of his treatment - various harsh techniques, including waterboarding, used about 100 times over a period of two weeks - prompted worries that officers might have crossed the boundary into illegal torture.
So. "Cocky defiance" is the same thing as attempting to assert the right to counsel and the right to remain silent. The Constitutional rights enumerated in Miranda v. Arizona include, "You have the right to remain silent," and "You have a right to a lawyer." Evidently, Mr. Mohammad tried to assert both rights. But, unbeknownst to him, refusing to provide counsel or ceasing the interrogation until one was present was OK because "the rules had changed" in his case. Mohammad probably didn't get the memo about that. Nor to be frank, did I. So instead of not interrogating until the prisoner had counsel, the US used "various harsh techniques including waterboarding" about 100 times within two weeks. And the article opines that this might be torture.

Might be torture? Let's to the arithmetic. 100 techniques divided by 14 days is 7 techniques per day. Are we anesthetized? Are we numb?

And then there's something else. When Mohammad said he wanted counsel and didn't want to talk, did the interrogators have to go up the chain of command to decide what to do? Or did they already know to deny the request because it had been planned for? Where are the memos that explain all of this, the ones that explain that "enemy combatants" have no rights to silence or to lawyers? They're classified and we cannot see them. But we don't make a big deal about that. Are we numb?

Forgive me if I sound alarmist, but uncritical acceptance of stories like this one, and failure to follow up on the questions they raise, is a step toward a United States that believes that torture is all right in some cases, that warrantless wiretapping is all right in some cases, that illegal extraditions are all right in some cases, the secret prisons are all right in some cases, that detention without access to the courts is all right in some cases, in sum, that doing monstrous and unprecedented things is all right in some cases because it might make the US safer and the US is afraid not to.

There's an obvious problem with all of this. A US that guts its principles, rips up its Constitution, and justifies these terrible policies and even more won't be the US you used to know. It will have been transformed into something else, something totalitarian and oppressive.

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