Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tick Tick Tick

(click here for graphic source)

For a long time NPR news has minimized (June 2006), dismissed (February 2007), ignored (April 2007), covered over (October 2007), and collaborated with (December 2007) the use of torture by agencies and agents of the US government. You can search NPR news in vain for any original investigative work on exposing torture or on any serious elucidation of the laws and conventions that prohibit the US from committing torture and require prosecution for violators.

Yesterday and today feature NPR continuing its function of justifying and sanitizing the US torture regime. On Monday's ATC, Alex Spielgel provides a long and sympathetic venue to torture psychologist and apologist Bryce Lefever. I posted this brief critique on NPR's website:
Norris says Spiegel is letting Lefever offer a "different view"? Different from what? When has NPR offered a thorough investigative critique of the war crimes committed by Lefever and his cohorts? NPR can barely even use the word torture when it covers these crimes. Norris also sees no irony in mentioning that Lefever went to work at Bagram in 2002 (that was a pleasant time there!).

It doesn't surprise me that liars and sadists like Lefever did what they did. What is disgusting is how NPR and other "news" outlets aided and abetted these torturers through refusing to report, cover and investigate the torture story that was breaking as early as 2002. And now NPR insults us by offering a "different view"? What a sad excuse for journalism...uggghhh.
Then on Tuesday morning Dina Temple-Raston is on to critique what Steve Inskeep describes as "the strongest argument for torture...the ticking time bomb scenario...." This is interesting, to say the least, since NPR has been a promoter of this argument before. As it turns out the report is not much of a critique.

Temple-Raston's strongest critic is CIA-award-winning terrorism scholar Bruce Hoffman who states that "I've personally been told that they happen...but I have to admit...I've become increasingly skeptical...." To his credit he notes that the ticking time bomb scenario "becomes a default assumption, which in turn...becomes a legitimization or justification for torture...I've yet to see an actual documented case independently of what I was told."

Not a bad start, but in the ever shifting world of NPR moral relativism we have to get the "other side" on this one. Who better than a former member of the torture organization itself, former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, who we get to hear claim, "I happen to know at least through 2004 these activities were very productive, broke up plots aimed at our allies, and aimed against the domestic United States." Finally we are told that Michael Hayden claims torture produced good intelligence, while the FBI claims that's not true.

One of the most striking features of NPR's coverage of the torture issue is how rarely the featured "experts" are human rights or international law advocates or experts. Instead they are usually members or former members of various US government agencies - frequently of the very ones implicated in formulating and carrying out torture. Why is the flimsy "ticking time bomb" given a place of prominence and treated as worthy of debate? Why isn't the role of torture as an assault on the rule of law considered, or the way in which US torture is typical of all occupiers and imperialists, or the fact that most tortured detainees are innocent? Who decided that the only legitimate questions are whether torture "works" or what situations make it okay. NPR's framing of the "debate" gives legitimacy to torture and decontextualizes its historic role as a repulsive and pornographic tool of state terror which always falls most heavily on those who have done nothing but resist the repressive actions of the torture state.


Anonymous said...

Why is the flimsy "ticking time bomb" given a place of prominence and treated as worthy of debate?"

because that's all they have.

And it's not much.

Most high school students could see the fatal flaws in the logic..
but just in case not, they can read what the flaws are hereI find it laughable that we're just supposed to accept the word of liars and quacks like Bush, Yoo, Bybee, and Gonzales on torture over the careful considerations of some of the greatest legal and military minds of the twentieth century.

There are very good reasons why the Geneva Conventions and other treaties banning torture were drawn up (and ratified by the US).

Those reasons have not magically "vanished" overnight just because some dishonest, grovelling bureaucrat in our government decided that they should.

It is absurd to think that they have, but that is precisely what NPR would have us believe.

If the whole thing were not so grotesque, it would be comical.

Anonymous said...

Sheuer is almost always portrayed in the media as an intelligence "expert".

But on what is probably his most important claim -- of a link between Saddam Hussein and OBL -- he was dead wrong.

"in 2002, Scheuer wrote the book Through Our Enemies' Eyes, in which he cited numerous pieces of evidence showing that there was, in fact, a working relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda." -- Thomas Joscelyn of Weekly Standard

That's a preety major f...up. In fact, it's what got us into the Iraq war.

So it no exaggeration to say that bogus "analysis" like Sheuer's is responsible for the death of over 4000 US troops and God only knows how many innocent Iraqis.

You really have to wonder what else Sheuer is wrong about.

For example, when interviewed by O'Reilly, he said the floowing

"SCHEUER: Yes, sir. We certainly have to kill more of the enemy. That's the first step.
O'REILLY: Any way we can?
SCHEUER: Anywhere we can, whenever we can, without a great deal of concern for civilian casualties."

But as we have just seen, "killing more of the enemy... without a great deal of concern for civilian casualties" sometimes has the opposite effect that it was supposed to have.

Case in point: drone attacks in Pakistan.

"The top adviser to the US army chief in Afghanistan, David Kilcullen, has observed that the US drone strikes in Pakistan are creating more enemies than eliminating them, and hence, needed to be "called off." -- Asia news International

Despite his resume, Sheurer is not a particularly intelligent man, in my opinion.

And Sheuer comes across as more than a little irrational in this interview

WarOnWarOff said...

Physicians for Human Rights has called for an outside investigation of the American Psychological Association, which has released some emails to the Dark Side here.You can read the process by which these monsters invoke utilitarianism in order to justify torture. Some are not totally on board, and there is some discussion of "Nazi Doctors," but in the end the monsters (led by Lefever) win out.

larry, dfh said...

Maybe it's O.K. w/ npr because alan dershowitz says it's O.K. And pornographic is exactly the right word. No one will ever convince me they weren't making snuff films.

Anonymous said...

Michael G. Gelles, (Psy.D. Chief Psychologist
Naval Criminal Investigative Service) wrote in one of those listserv memos:

"Do no harm. Competence is a critical issue. This includes not just the appropriate training but the appropriate level of experience and oversight. Talking with other professionals regarding the complex nature of consulting on national security and national safety issues is critical. In some cases, doing nothing can also do harm. Understand the context in which you are operating and use other professionals not just other psychologists. Develop as set of competencies and operate within them."

Do no harm...[but] In some cases, doing nothing can also do harm.

So, how are we to interpret that?

Does it mean one should stop an interrogation from going forward when the interrogators have gone too far?


That is probably the interpretation most Medical doctors would read and abide by, having taken the Hippocratic Oath.

Or does it mean not going far enough to get the needed information to save lives? (ie, the ticking time bomb scenario)

It's not at all clear what is intended.

But given that the Pentagon was trying to get psychologists "on board" (so to speak) in the interrogation program, it is impossible to rule out the latter interpretation, which is not at all what the Hippocratic oath is about.

In fact, the latter would be a gross perversion of that oath.

The Hippocratic Oath ("Above all, Do no harm") applies specifically to the "patient" and does not weigh that against what wikipedia refers to as "other conflicting 'good purposes,' such as community welfare, conserving economic resources, supporting the criminal justice system,")

Of course, to characterize an interrogation subject as a "patient" (in the traditional doctor/patient sense) is already a stretch, to say the least.

Archtype said...

Torture is listening to NPR these days:


Anonymous said...

"alan dershowitz says it's O.K"

Actually, that's not precisely what he said.

Essentially, he said if the government is going to use torture (eg, in the ticking bomb scenario), then it should be done with a "torture" warrant.

But unfortunately, many people (including, presumably many in the Bush admin) conveniently ignored the latter caveat and said "Hey, if Derschowitz (a "liberal" Harvard law prof) says torture is OK, it must be."

Derschowitz' caveat does not let him off the hook, of course. He is certainly smart enough to understand that what he said/wrote would almost certainly be misinterpreted and/or misused (in whole or in part). So he bears some responsibility in that regard.

Which highlights the basic problem. Once you start down the slippery torture slope, it's hard if not impossible to stop from sliding all the way to the bottom (which is what has obviously happened). No surprises there.

of course, Derschowitz would probably now say "See, if we had required warrants, things would have been handled much differently."

But we saw what happened in the case of FISA, didn't we? A warrant/judge order was required and Bush nonetheless ignored it.

Besides, what judge is going to say "NO" to a request for a "torture warrant" when you tell them that if they do not allow torture, a nuclear bomb is going to level NY city?

The "torture warrant" is a really dumb idea for the latter reason alone. Torture would probably never be turned down, but on the down side, the warrant would make the process legal, which is opening up a whole can of worms.

WarOnWarOff said...

Of course, to characterize an interrogation subject as a "patient" (in the traditional doctor/patient sense) is already a stretch, to say the least.Found it revealing that early on in the listserv emails, somebody comes right and and says that "the client" is "The Agency," and not the prisoner.

Porter Melmoth said...

I suspect that the next campaign in defending the US's use of torture will be: 'the terrorists FORCED US to be torturers.'

Anonymous said...

But "the terrorists FORCED US to be torturers" already is the implicit excuse isn't it?

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Rice and others would almost certainly argue that terrorist organizations like al Qaida gave them no choice other than to use torture.

Blaming the victim has a long history as a defense in American jurisprudence.

Porter Melmoth said...

Yes indeed. I guess what I meant to say is that we can expect new and 'improved' mutations on 'the devil made me do it'.

Anonymous said...

What makes the whole torture "debate" so absurd is that it takes place completely outside its original context: the law. In fact, it treats the law as if it did not even exist.

The "experts" interviewed by NPR, media talking heads and even our elected public officials (many of them with degrees from what are supposed to be the best law schools in the country: Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford) talk about torture as if it were some sort of paper towel for which absorbency (ie, "efficacy") is the most (and only) important issue.

It's just nutty.

The fact that the President of the United States (himself a Harvard law grad) would provide what essentially amounts to the Nuremberg defense used by Nazi war criminals ("Just following orders") as a rationale for letting torturers off the hook is too absurd (and pathetic) for words.

It really makes me wonder whether the law schools in this country are teaching anything.

WarOnWarOff said...

It really makes me wonder whether the law schools in this country are teaching anything.Many years ago I was working a lowly, low-paying clerical job at the University of Texas Law School, and started helping workers organize for higher wages. Bastards fired me.

That told me all I needed to know about "law schools."

Anonymous said...

For anyone who wants context on the latest version of the CIA torture program, listen to Professor McCoy Exposes the History of CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on TerrorThis stuff has a very long history and is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

McCoy points out that the Abu Ghraib photos have CIA "sensory deprivation" (hoods) and "self-inflicted pain" (having victims stand for hours on end) written all over them. These were techniques developed at the height of the cold war.

At Guantanamo, the CIA added "phobias" (eg, fear of dogs, menstrual blood, etc) to their standard "bread and butter" sensory deprivation techniques.

This torture stuff is nothing new. What is new is that it is being discussed in a public forum.

make no mistake. These guys are scared s...less that their dirty laundry is being aired where everyone can see it.

The internet makes it not only possible but almost certain that once this stuff is released, EVERYONE will see it.

Even Congress (particularly the Senate, which has traditionally had very tight control over what the public sees and does not see) has lost control over this stuff.

Feinstein and reid just said they want "closed-door" hearings on this stuff. I don't know if they appreciate how dumb they sound, but I hate to break it to them: the cat is out of the bag and no number of closed-door hearings and whitewash "report" coming out of them is going to succeed in getting the cat back in.

It's really a cruel joke (and by the way, what scares me more than anything else is that idiots like those two are leading the Congress).

I think Obama actually thought he would be able to release the memos, absolve those whoe were involved of any responsibility ("They were, after all, just following orders" and then "Move forward" and not look back.

Leaders in Congress (especially Pelosi and Rockafellar who were most likely privy at least to the broadbrush details of the Bush torture program, including waterboarding) would certainly like to "look forward not backward" -- ie, have the public forget.

But it remains to be seen whether the American public will go along with this plan.

If they will not simply look forward and act as if nothing happened -- and that is a big IF -- it will become a HUGE problem for some members of Congress, for Obama and especially for those who actually planned and carried out the torture.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, Senator Chris Dodd's response to the release of the torture memos is interesting.


He asks who the "genius" was in the Obama administration who decided to release the memos with no intention to follow them up with investigations and/or prosecutions.

On its face, this seems logical, bu the "genius" statement is also curious.

I suppose one translation might be the following: "Why did you release those memos if you have no intention of prosecuting? Do you have any idea of what kind of pressure we Senators will now be under to actually do or jobs?"

In other words, the emphasis seem to be on the difficulties this has presented for members of Senate for whom there is now no longer the option of simply letting the issue die an obscure death in some closed door Senate committee. minute.

Dodd himself is REALLY put on the spot (or in the spotlight) by this because his father was a war crimes prosecutor in Nuremberg.

Simply ignoring the fact that Obama is ignoring his oath of office (which might at least have been an option before Obama released the torture memos) is no longer even an option for someone like Dodd.

Obama took an oath to faithfully execute the office of President, including faithfully executing the laws and treaties of the United States (including the Geneva Conventions and other treaties banning torture).

Dodd understands all too well how bad it will look if he does not come out strongly in favor of at least further investigating the torture.

of course, Dodd himself could call for investigations and given his belief that waterboarding IS torture, his statement that if "people did do something illegal it ought to be pursued." is a bit curious.

IF they did something illegal?

Come on Senator.

The memos prove that people were water-boarded (at least one of them more than a hundred times)

And torture is banned by several treaties to which the United states is a party.

I have a suggestion for Dodd and other Senators who are not sure whether anything illegal was done:

Read the Geneva Convention, the "United nations Convention Against torture" and the Eighth Amednament to the US constitution and then read the torture memos.

UN Convention Against Torture:

Part I (Articles 1-16) defines torture (Article 1), and commits parties to taking effective measures to prevent any act of torture in any territory under their jurisdiction (Article 2). These include ensuring that torture is a criminal offence (Article 4), establishing jurisdiction over acts of torture committed by or against a party's citizens (Article 5), ensuring that torture is an extraditable offence (Article 8), and establishing universal jurisdiction to try cases of torture where an alleged torturer cannot be extradited (Article 5). Parties must promptly investigate any allegation of torture (Articles 12 & 13), and victims of torture must have an enforceable right to compensation (Article 14). Parties must also ban the use of evidence produced by torture in their courts (Article 15), and are barred from deporting, extraditing or refouling people where there are substantial grounds for believing they will be tortured

As i said above, I'm really concerned about the law schools in this country.

Anonymous said...

looks like Nancy Pelosi has some "splaining to do.
"ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorist suspect Abu Zubaydah in September 2002, according to a report prepared by the Director of National Intelligence’s office and obtained by ABC News."

"The report, submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee and other Capitol Hill officials Wednesday, appears to contradict Pelosi’s statement last month that she was never told about the use of waterboarding or other special interrogation tactics."

scathew said...

The disturbing part of this interview is there was exactly zero, zip, zilch opposing viewpoint given.

It was a defacto PSA for torture.