Dumbest Argument of the Day: Gitmo Is Good Mkay?

I’ve been trying to hold off on talking about torture and suspending habeus for “enemy combatants” and the whole mess completely because I’ve got a book review to post within the next couple of days that goes right to the heart of such things.

Still, every once in a while you read something so dumb, so incomprehensibly backwards in its logic that it becomes impossible to bite ones tongue for long.

James Taranto, writing for the WSJ’s Opinion Journal, produced one such piece. We are talking about a piece so amazingly stupid I think I very well may have lost a couple of IQ points reading it, and therefore apologize in advance if my talking gets stupider.

I mean, let’s take a look at the lede:

Proposals to treat detainees as criminal defendants make a mockery of international humanitarian law.

Er… right. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Because Gitmo, where SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) techniques, techniques used to essentially innoculate American military personnel against torture (in other words torture), are used to interrogate the “enemy combatants” that we have deemed terrorists.

Funnily enough there are two arguments that kind of go against the idea that this kind of stuff is good. For one, we have found that of the population of those being held at Gitmo, VERY VERY FEW are actually terrorists, and of that even fewer are terrorists of any kind of significance. But that’s not all. The real kicker here is that:


SERE techniques have been refined for decades, the result of study from back when we first saw westerners detained by Communist nations and then go on trial confessing to things that they wouldn’t have or couldn’t have done. In our attempts to figure out how the hell the commies did that, we went through decades worth of experiments to develop those kinds of techniques that break a person’s will.

Waterboarding, forced standing for prolonged periods of time, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, all techniques that sound easier on the ears because they don’t sound as painful as, say, having your fingernails ripped out. But they are torture nonetheless, and do have both profound psychological and physical effects on the target.

Great way to make someone talk, right? Except, not really. Torture is not designed to get at the truth, and it never has been. The truth is not something that can be gotten to through torture, but only through the discretion of the person being asked.

In truth, torture doesn’t get the truth, it gets whatever you want to hear. If you ask someone if they are a terrorist, they’re going to say no, no matter the truth. But if you ask someone if they are a terrorist, and you torture them, they are going to say yes, no matter the truth.

The point of torture is that it places everything on the interrogator. The detainee is fully and totally dependent upon the interrogator for everything, and if pain is inflicted long enough, and basic needs withheld long enough, than the detainee will do what he feels is necessary to please the interrogator in order to stop the pain, and get what he needs.

Just like those confessions of the early cold war era.

Where Guantanamo comes in is simple. It is a rather unique base there; it’s not US soil, it’s Cuban. We’re just leasing it, and though he hasn’t cashed any of them, we’ve been sending Castro a check for about four grand a year since the sixties to use it. This has helped the Bush legal ninjas hack away at the law and the Geneva convention to ensure that torture can exist over in sunny Gitmo.

And for the likes of Taranto, they can’t see the problem. They’re the bad guys, we’re the good guys, they deserve it. But what apologists don’t realize is that the key ingredient to combatting terror is to prevent recruitment, as the discussion that my friend Cernig dug up from oh so long ago points out.

If you want to prevent massive terror attacks, QUIT DOING SHIT THAT HELPS THEIR RECRUITMENT! For instance, if you take one person, just one, who was totally innocent, detain him, rip away any shadow of habeus corpus, and torture him, when that story gets told around the world, you bet your sweet torture lovin’ ass that you’re going to have a bunch of pissed off people ready to take up the cause in their name.

But there is a disconnect somewhere among the torture apologists, one that prevents them from seeing reason, and makes them believe that because they might be terrorists they deserve to be punished. There is a kind of eye for an eye mentality that puts us at grave danger, a desire to seek revenge that leads many to not just justify torture, but to find legal justification for it as well.

Meanwhile, folks like Taranto become so blinded by their hate/fear/revenge filled arguments that they can’t even see the ludicrous quality of their justification. When confronted with Colin Powell’s belief that detainees should not be just let go, but put in our court system fairly, Taranto states:

Mr. Powell claimed that “I would not let any of [the detainees] go,” but his proposal would inevitably have that effect. Once inside the criminal justice system, detainees would become defendants with full constitutional rights, including the right to be charged or released, the right to exclude tainted evidence, and the right to be freed unless found guilty of a specific crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Initially, I thought this a misfire. No one could be so dumb as to put something so self defeating in their argument, but Taranto does. The thing is, maybe, and I’m just guessing this, that the reason courts would let a lot of these guys go is because… I know… it’s tough to believe, but maybe it’s because they didn’t do anything?

Heavens no, we can’t subject them to a trial, they might be innocent and then we can’t torture em anymore because they look like terrorists.

But wait… the logic gets even MORE sdrawcab:

In the long run, it could also imperil the civil liberties of Americans. Leniency toward detainees is on the table today only because al Qaeda has so far failed to strike America since 9/11. If it succeeded again, public pressure for harsher measures would be hard for politicians to resist. And if enemy combatants had been transferred to the criminal justice system, those measures would be much more likely to diminish the rights of citizens who have nothing to do with terrorism.

This fails to work on so many levels, it almost feels as though my brain is broken. Not to say that I think Taranto actually cares about civil liberties much, but still, the simple thing is this, the best way to protect civil liberties is to follow the letter of the law, and act in good faith of the system we use to enforce the law. Not, as he would suggest, continue to subvert the law and engage in a war of semantics that allow gross human rights violations as we have done in the administrations quest to find a term to call these detainees that allow them to skirt both our constitution and the Geneva convention.

This is, after all, just another Bush/Cheney policy that in the end has contributed to the rise in worldwide terrorism not its decline. It’s a shock that we haven’t been hit again. In closing Taranto cleans up with the conflagration de grace.

By keeping terrorists out of America, Guantanamo protects Americans’ physical safety. By keeping them out of our justice system, it also protects our freedom.

The implication? Keep us safe by any means necessary, please, or we’ll die terrible deaths and those of us who are alive will lose all our rights.

I agree, let’s keep us safe. How do we do that? You have the neocon theory which is making war wherever we can and torturing those who look like terrorists. We’ve been doing this for the past few years, and it doesn’t work. Or you can subscribe to the more nuanced theory that you treat terrorists like crime (a la Kerry) which has the effect of taking away much of the driving force behind terrorism.

Terrorism is essentially a political act, and by treating it quietly, you are taking away the political impact.

Also, in trying to reduce terrorism, you can follow the Cernig/Mr. M doctrine that you treat people with respect, you isolate the leaders, and work actively to reduce the kind of environment that leads to terrorist recruitment. I’ve said it a million times, there will always be radicals from virtually every faith and cause, and they will always seek to do harm, but the way we act, as a nation, as citizens of the planet, can have a profound impact on how much power these people have.

When you act in benevolence, they are treated as outsiders, as whackjobs and extremists. But when you play the part of the monster (et tu Abu Ghraib?) these radicals become saviors.

UPDATE: For even more information on US torture techniques, please check out my book review for American Torture.

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