Our torture leaders and defenders are less than forthright

by Rob Tiller

The Wall Street Journal is a great newspaper, and its greatest isn’t undermined, by its ultrca onservative opinion pages.  The opinon pages define right wing lunacy so that any child can understand it and keep a safe distance.  It serves as a type of zoo, where the oddities can be confined and observed.

 I ordinarily find the opinion pages overly bitter, and review them only when I’m prepared to deal with a sudden spurt of adrenaline and bile.  Yesterday, though, I saw a piece by Michael Mukasey and Michael Hayden on the American Torture Program, and I just had to have a look.  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123993446103128041.html

The immediate occasion for Mukasy and Hayden to spew was the new Administration’s release of CIA memoranda sitting forth in detail tactics such a hooding, slamming heads against walls, and water boarding used on captives of interest.  Mukasey and Hayen attacked the release of the memos and also attacked those who doubt that their techniques were effective and always applied with appropriate discretion.

Most of the argument was generalized fear mongering of the type that the Bush administration used for eight years to keep the citizenry terrified or at least confused enough to vote Republican.  They remind us of the rare but dramatic events of violence by Al Queda and assure us there will be more if we don’t take drastic measures.  The problem with these arguments is that they contain some truth — not 100 percent, but some.  There are bad guys who will do bad things if we don’t don’t stop them.   But our gentle authors believe we must at all times have at our disposal the tools of torture to stop them.  

They appear to take no account of the Geneva Convention and other international law that makes such activity illegal.  They also appear to have ignored completely the effect that our systematic violations of international law have had on out international standing.   They and their associates in the Bush administration have stained our national honor.  For citizen bystanders like me who failed to protest against the medieval horrors, our moral compass has been compromised.  For those who organized and carried out the tortured program, a part of their soul has been destroyed.

Could the terror program have been worth the huge cost to our country?   Could it have saved so many lives that our moral concerns would seem exaggerated?  We have almost no evidence of such achievements.  Many intelligence professionals contend that torture is unnecessary and ineffective in obtaining useful information.   Hayden and Mukasey say otherwise, but for evidence they cite only with one example:  the case of Abu Zubaydeh, an al Queada operative.  When one first reads their descriptions, it sounds like the torture proved its effectiveness in getting Abu Zubaydeh to give up useful intelligence about high level terrorists.

But Abu Zubaydeh gave up all his useful information before he was subjected to sessions of water boarding and other brutal tortures.  This is explained in a front page story in today’s New York Times.   http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/18/world/middleeast/18zubaydah.html?hp  The torture sessions of Abu Zubaydeh did not result in useful information, because he’d already given up all his useful information. If  the Times is correct,  Mukasey and Hayden have intentionally misled their readers.  Hard to believe that  the CIA and DOJ leaders and defenders of the torture system would do such a thing.