Re: revelations in the newly released Senate Armed Services Committee report on US torture that the Bush admin began planning the program in 2001 and that torture was utilized to gin up a link between Iraq and al-Qaida, what Radley Balko said:
So they tortured Gitmo detainees to get information, which turned out to be false, to build support for a war they had already made up their mind they would wage.
And keep in mind, these decisions were made by political appointees. Not JAGs, not military generals, not even veteran CIA agents (most people in all three positions actually opposed these policies). They were made by neocon warmongers with little to no actual military or interrogation experience who hadn’t the slightest idea what they were doing.
These people belong in a prison cell. To excuse them is to say that no abuse of power should be punishable so long as you can come up with some tortured justification about how you were only trying to protect the country.
‘Cheney and the apologists of torture distrust democracy.’
This is what happens when we stop demanding minimal competence in our Presidents; when we start caring more about who we would rather have a beer with than, oh, who would be most likely to seek out the best advice and listen to all sides of an argument before making an important decision, or whose judgment we can trust. We end up with people who toss aside our most fundamental values because someone who has never conducted an interrogation before thinks it might be a good idea, and no one bothers to do the basic background research on what he proposes.
Of course, keep in mind what Nell points out (and Balko implicitly recognizes) in this must-read post:
One of the most persistent and discouraging themes that crops up in discussions of torture is the question of whether it “works” or not. The people engaging this question make a fatally wrong assumption: that the goal of torturers is the same as that of legitimate interrogators — to get reliable information useful for active, circumscribed military operations or police investigations.
But torture does something else altogether, and is designed to do so: it extracts false confessions. These confessions, along with the agony of the torture itself, serve the goals of limitless, lawless “war”: to humiliate and break opponents, to divide them from supporters, to terrify those not actively in opposition into staying inactive, and, most importantly, to justify the operations of the dirty war within which torture takes place: commando raids, assassinations, spying, kidnaping, secret and/or indefinite (and unreviewable) detention, and further torture.
The mistaken assumption that those in the previous administration who set the torture policy were motivated solely by an urgent need for information has several other bad effects. It reinforces the absurd ticking-bomb hypothetical that allows so many people to justify torture to themselves. It provides a noble-sounding excuse for the officials who promoted torture, making it harder for citizens to muster the will to hold them legally accountable for their crimes: “They were just trying to keep the country safe.”
The euphemism of “enhanced interrogation” for torture was chosen by both the Nazis and the Bush-Cheney regime exactly because of its propaganda value in reinforcing this false picture: It’s just legitimate questioning that goes a little further. An error of enthusiasm, if you will. An understandable mistake, a policy difference that we sure don’t want to criminalize, looking backward with our 20-20 hindsight.
But, as useful as these effects are to the torturing regime, the most important role of the spurious linkage with intelligence-gathering and interrogation is as a screen: It hides the role of torture in creating and expanding the dirty war itself.