Thursday, September 07, 2006

Who Are You Gonna Believe?

So the other day the president said:

Within months of September the 11th, 2001, we captured a man known as Abu Zubaydah. . . Zubaydah was severely wounded during the firefight that brought him into custody -- and he survived only because of the medical care arranged by the CIA. . . We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking. As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used -- I think you understand why -- if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.

Thus "an alternative set of procedures" joins "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" in the sad lexicon of this administration.

As it so happens, I'm reading The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind, and I have just reached the section on Abu Zubaydah. From page 100:
His injuries were serious, but he'd been moved from a hospital near Faisalabad to several locations in central Pakistan. The CIA found some of the finest medical professionals in America. CIA agents alighted at their medical offices and soon they were on flights to Pakistan.

"He received the finest medical attention on the planet," said one CIA official. "We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him."
The book also says that he wasn't any kind of big time operative, but more like a travel agent for Al Qaeda. Plus, he was nuts. Juan Cole runs through the details.

We shouldn't torture people, because it's morally wrong and it doesn't work. That should be enough. But Jack Balkin imagines the nightmare scenario that provides a more practical, and gruesome, reason why we should hold ourselves to a higher standard:
Al Qaeda insisted that it does not believe in torture and does not practice torture. That was just American propaganda. Rather, these techniques were an "alternative set of procedures" that were "designed to be safe," complied with the Geneva Conventions, and were far less painful than the American infidels deserved. Moreover, these techniques had been thoroughly vetted at the highest levels of Al Qaeda and by a number of highly trained legal scholars to ensure that they complied with international law and with basic standards of human decency. They were absolutely necessary if Al Qaeda was to get the intelligence it needed to win against the American imperialists.
Also, Andrew Sullivan is not without his problems, but he deserves credit for strenuously arguing on the right side of this issue for a long time. Here's his latest.

1 comment:

Heraldblog said...

I'm reading One Percent Solution too, and I'd recommend it to everyone. Suskind shows us that the Bushies signed on the torture because the tried and true methods of interrogation take too long. Those methods include building trust, and trading favors for information. But Cheney and others, with souls overdosed on Tom Clancy novels, anticipated a cascade of ticking time bomb scenarios, and favored the faster way. Zubaydah identified Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and that was it. That's no small thing, but it's not worth trading our souls for a thing, no matter how big.