Posts Tagged ‘journalists’

REPRISE: Consorting with the Devil? The Debate over the Efficacy of Torture

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Given the renewed debate in the U.S over the efficacy of torture in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, the article republished below, written on April 24, 2009 and first published here on October 1, 2009, puts current arguments in perspective.

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CONSORTING WITH THE DEVIL? THE DEBATE OVER THE EFFICACY OF TORTURE

April 24, 2009–The current debate over whether the use of torture by the Bush administration produced valuable information throws into sharp relief the moral depths to which the United States has sunk–from leading politicians and policymakers to large portions of the press and millions of average citizens. One cannot but wonder whether the rampant corruption in the mortgage market, in stock analysts’ recommendations, and in financial behavior which has brought this country to a new nadir, might not be related to a general lack of ethical and spiritual moorings in broad swathes of the population.

Painfully few religious, business or other leaders have taken continued, strong public stands against our use of torture. With notable exceptions, journalists even today shrink from describing so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” including water boarding as “torture”. Fear of litigation should not completely muzzle the press. The lack of awareness of history reflected in news reports and analyses and debates among officials is astounding, and suggests that the education of even many of our most educated public servants and journalists has a glaring gap at its moral core. That is, even with the best educations at the best universities, this ethical gap and lack of a moral core has not been remedied.

The principle of due obedience, rejected at Nuremberg and accepted but only for a while in Argentina, is quietly accepted without reference to either of those precedents. Or to the facts and considerations that led to the adoption and ratification of the torture convention.

To a nation which cheered episodes of “24” depicting torture by U.S. agents, the correct principle seems to be: “If torture works, we should use it to protect ourselves.”

It is a matter of immense sorrow to note that our leading pundits make scant reference to the fact that the sons and daughters of the Enlightenment, including the drafters of our own Constitution, rejected torture on moral, not utilitarian, grounds.

Let us then, for the sake of argument, postulate that torture in some cases produces useful information. Assuming, arguendo, that this is the case, the question for debate is simply this: “Is the use of torture, if effective, state behavior that is morally justified?

In other words, let’s skip the efficacy debate, which debases all who defend torture on utilitarian grounds. Let us debate the central moral issue: “Is torture, even if effective, morally acceptable, and why or why not?”

In this debate, it is worth bearing in mind that the entire edifice of international human rights rests on the inviolability of the physical integrity of the human person. This core principle is deeply rooted in the religious belief that in each human being there resides a part of the divine. It is a stunning testimony to the depths to which our nation has sunk to listen to the debate over the efficacy of torture as if effectiveness were the essential question. Instead of spymasters and doctors and psychologists who have consorted with the devil, it is time for us to listen to others, to our religious and moral leaders, and to politicians and other leading figures who believe there is a moral framework within which our actions—both as individuals and as a nation–are to be judged. It is time for these leaders to stand up and to speak out loudly and clearly on the morality of torture. It is time for them to take an unequivocal position on the torture our government has adopted as a policy and executed in the bowels of hell. It is time for them to demand the full truth and details of what our government has done, acting in our name.

There is no more fundamental human right than the right to the physical integrity of the human person. This right was recognized at Nuremberg, and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, in 1948. It was specifically protected in the Geneva conventions on the law of war (humanitarian law), in 1949. The right is the cornerstone of numerous human rights treaties to which the U.S. is a party including the U.N. Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The right is also fully protected in the European Convention on Human Rights, which establishes the constitutional norms and fundamental law on the subject in the nations of Europe.

So let’s hear the debate on whether the underpinnings of these human rights conventions are to be ripped out by allowing torture, and on the ultimate issue of the morality of the use of torture by the state against the individual. In engaging in this discussion, let us also avoid any semblance of the sophomoric debates that took place in our government, in which the question of torture was addressed as if it were a tabula rasa, in blithe ignorance of the history, religious positions, and legal developments that had taken place in the past.

The Trenchant Observer

www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv
observer@trenchantobserver.com

See also

The Trenchant Observer, “Bin Laden and the Debate Over Torture–Revived, May 7, 2011 ;

Mark Benjamin, “The torture debate is back, but what about the criminal probe?” TIME, May 4, 2011;

The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 20, 2010; and

The Trenchant Observer, “Craig’s Departure, the Ban on Publication of Any Torture Photograph, and Reaffirmation of the Prohibition Against Torture,” November 25, 2009

Bin Laden and the Debate Over Torture–Revived

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Some former U.S. officials responsible for torture under the Bush administration have claimed that the trail to Bin Laden was uncovered by the use of torture. The Telegraph (London) reports:

Jose Rodriguez, the agency’s former head of counterterrorism, said vital information had come from bin Laden deputies Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Aby Faraj al Libbi, who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

–Gordon Rayner, “Osama bin Laden dead: torture unlocked bin Laden hideout ex-CIA man says — Key intelligence that led the US to Osama bin Laden’s hideout was obtained under torture in secret “black site” prisons, a former CIA officer has claimed, The Telegraph, May 5, 2011.

John Yoo, the author the legal memoranda authorizing torture under the Bush administration, writes is on Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal:


Sunday’s success also vindicates the Bush administration, whose intelligence architecture marked the path to bin Laden’s door. According to current and former administration officials, CIA interrogators gathered the initial information that ultimately led to bin Laden’s death. The United States located al Qaeda’s leader by learning the identity of a trusted courier from the tough interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi.

Armed with the courier’s nom de guerre, American intelligence agencies later found him thanks to his phone call to a contact already under electronic surveillance. Last August, the courier traveled to bin Laden’s compound, but it took another eight months before the CIA became certain that the al Qaeda leader was hiding inside.
Armed with the courier’s nom de guerre, American intelligence agencies later found him thanks to his phone call to a contact already under electronic surveillance. Last August, the courier traveled to bin Laden’s compound, but it took another eight months before the CIA became certain that the al Qaeda leader was hiding inside.

–John Yoo (Op-ed), “From Guantanamo to Abbottabad,” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2011.

The apologists for the torture policy of the Bush administration raise a hard question for President Obama, but not the one they think:

Why have John Yoo and other architects of the Bush administration’s policy of torure not been prosecuted, in accordance with U.S. law and the international legal obligations of the United States under the Convention Against Torture?

See Mark Benjamin, “The torture debate is back, but what about the criminal probe?” TIME, May 4, 2011.

The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 20, 2010.

The Trenchant Observer, “Craig’s Departure, the Ban on Publication of Any Torture Photograph, and Reaffirmation of the Prohibition Against Torture,” November 25, 2009

The claims of the torture apologists have been rebutted by a number of current and past U.S. officials, though that is really beside the point here.

On the fundamental moral issues involved in the debate over the efficacy of torture, see The Trenchant Observer, “Consorting with the Devil? The Debate over the Efficacy of Torture,” October 1, 2009 (written April 24, 2009).

Meanwhile, there appear to be few moral doubts about the efficacy of torture among the leaders of Libya, Syria, and many other countries.

Are we OK with their use of torture? If not, what can we say to them to urge them to stop?

The Trenchant Observer

www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

LUTTE POUR LA SURVIE de Karzaï en Afghanistan: l’ampleur réelle de la fraude électorale, les chances d’Abdullah, et la réponse de Washington

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

L’OBSERVATEUR INCISIF

Publié le 24 octobre, 2009
Traduit de l’anglais du 16 octobre, 2009

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Si la Commission des plaintes électorales en Afghanistan est susceptible de décider que Karzai a remporté 47% des bulletins de vote et Abdullah a gagné 28% au premier tour des élections le 20 août, pourquoi aurait Karzaï tant lutté pour éviter un second tour?

Serait-ce que l’ECC a utilisé un échantillonnage statistique très limmité des résultats des élections du 20 août, qui a conduit a l’éxamen des bureaux de vote qui représentent seulement les cas les plus flagrants de fraude, ainsi laissant sous-estimer largement l’étendue réelle de la fraude, et par conséquent la possibilité de que Karzaï peuve
effectivement être battu par Abdullah dans un second tour?

Si cela était vrai, cela expliquerait l’opposition farouche de Karzaï à la tenue d’un second tour de scrutin, car un run-off pourrait effectivement donner une majorité de voix et la présidence à Abdullah, qui aboutirait à une remise arrachant du pouvoir, avec la perte concomitante d’emplois, d’influence et de favoritisme pour Karzaï et ses partisans.

Comment les États-Unis, l’OTAN et l’Organisation des Nations Unies réagissent pour gérer la crise qui éclatera dans le cas où Kazaï rechignerait d’acccepter les conclusions de la ECC aura un impact décisif sur la légitimité du prochain gouvernement. Cette semaine, la personne nommée à l’ECC par Karzaï a démissionné, affirmant d’abusives pressions étrangères contre la Commission. Les déclarations de l’Ambassadeur Áfghran aux États-Unis, en disant q’un deuxième tour était probable, aurait été interprété par plusieurs comme un signe de que Karzaï accepterait un second tour. Aujourd’hui, pourtant, des déclarations faites par les autorités de Kaboul suggèrent que la réponse de M. Karzaï est encore dans l’air.

La stratégie des Etats-Unis paraît être cela de pressioner à Abdullah pour accepter un accord pour se joindre à un gouvernement de coalition dans lequel Karzaï restera à la barre. Sinon, pourquoi serait-il nécessaire pour les membres de l’OTAN de déclarer comme ils l’ont fait récemment qu’ils croyaient Karzaï serait le gagnant dans un second tour, et pourquoi s’auraiat-elle sentie le Secrétaire d’État Clinton le besoin de affirmer, vendredi, que Karzaï serait le probable gagnant dans un second tour? Les États-Unis ont apparemment fait pression sur Abdullah dès les premiers jours après les élections du 20 aoút. Les autorités américaines n’ont guère agi dans le noir, parce que les services de renseignements américaines auraient sûrement une idée plus précise de l’ampleur de la fraude que même celle des chiffres rapportés par l’ECC, ceux qui devraient être publiés dans quelques jours.

Par ailleurs, à quoi faire se trouve-t-il l’ancien ambassadeur américain Zalmay Khalilzad à Kaboul? L’ambassadeur américain à Kaboul de 2003-2005, M. Khalilzad a été candidat pour un poste conjuré de «Premier ministre» de l’Afghanistan sous Karzaï dans la période précédant les élections, une possibilité qui s’est prouvée illusoire. Est-ce qu’il agit de sa propre entreprise? S’il agit pour l’administration Obama, il serait intéressant de connaître sa tâche. Est-ce pour tirer le fer hors de l’incendie pour Karzaï, ou quelque chose d’autre? Espérons qu’il y ait plus à lui que l’improvisation désespérée, et il faut espérer de même qu’il reflète quelque chose en plus que le désarroi politique américaine à Washington lors d’une phase très critique dans nos relations avec l’Afghanistan.

Pourquoi la Presse n’a-t-elle vraiment investigué jusqu’au fond dans tout cela, au lieu de résumer simplement les opinions de différents responsables des États-Unis et de l’OTAN, avec les observations d’un ou d’un autre expert universitaire jetées la dedans pour faire bonne mesure?

Dans un bulletin d’informations à la télévision la semaine dernière, un homme de la rue à Kaboul a fait observer que l’OTAN était contre Abdullah, de sorte que celui ne pouvait pas gagner la présidence. Sa déclaration a sonné vraie. De telles déclarations devront être inquiétantes pour ceux qui craignaient que les États-Unis peuvent être aperçus par les Afghans comme une force occupante et qui en tant veut imposer sa volonté sur le peuple de l’Afghanistan. N’est-il pas le temps maintenant pour une revision d’urgence de notre politique envers le gouvernement Karzaï, avec une vue vers l’action décisive dans les prochains jours? Au cours la crise des missiles de Cuba en 1962, il est utile de rappeler, le Président John F. Kennedy n’était pas engagé dans un examen des politiques de grand envergure, mais plutôt utilisait son Comité exécutif pour l’aider à décider comment faire face à de navires soviétiques portant de missiles chargés qui, dans un premier moment descendaient sur Cuba, et dans un second puis directement sur les navires américains bloquent leur chemin.

L’examen de la politique en Afghanistan conduit par le président Obama est précieux et doit continuer, mais le président a besoin de se concentrer maintenant sur les navires qui descendent sur nous et l’Afghanistan dans les prochains jours.

The Trenchant Observer
(Le Observateur Incisif)

www.trenchantobserver.com
Suivre sur www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

Les commentaires et les débats sont invités.

KARZAI’S FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL IN AFGHANISTAN—THE REAL EXTENT OF THE ELECTORAL FRAUD, ABDULLAH’S CHANCES, AND WASHINGTON’S RESPONSE

Friday, October 16th, 2009

If the Electoral Complaints Commission in Afghanistan is likely to decide that Karzai won 47% of the ballots and Abdullah won 28% in the first round elections on August 20, why is Karzai fighting so hard to avoid a second round?

Could it be that the ECC’s very limited statistical sampling of the August 20 election results–examining only polling stations representing the most egregious cases of fraud–vastly understates the real extent of the fraud, and hence the likelihood that Karzai can actually beat Abdullah in a second round?

If this were true, it would explain Karzai’s fierce opposition to holding a second round of voting, because a run-off could actually give a majority of votes and the Presidency to Abdullah. That would produce a wrenching handover of power, and concomitant loss of jobs, influence, and patronage for Karzai and his supporters.

How the U.S., NATO and the United Nations manage the crisis which will erupt if Karzai balks at the ECC’s findings will have a fateful impact on the legitimacy of the next government. This week Karzai’s appointee on the ECC resigned, claiming improper foreign pressures on the Commission. Statements by Karzai’s Ambassador to the U.S. saying a second round was likely were interpreted as a sign Karzai would accept a second round. Yet later statements by officials in Kabul suggest that Karzai’s response is still up in the air.

The strategy of the U.S. seems to be to pressure Abdullah into an agreement to join a coalition government in which Karzai will remain at the helm. Otherwise, why would it be necessary for NATO members to declare as they did recently that they believed Karzai would be the winner in a second round, and why would Secretary of State Clinton feel moved to state, on Friday, that Karzai would be the likely winner in a runoff? The U.S. has apparently been pressuring Abdullah since days after the August 20 elections. U.S. officials have hardly been operating in the dark, for U.S. intelligence surely has a more accurate picture of the extent of the fraud than even the reported ECC figures, expected to be published within a day or two.

Moreover, what is former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad doing in Kabul? U.S. Ambassador to Kabul from 2003-2005, Khalilzad was a candidate for a conjured-up position of “prime minister” of Afghanistan under Karzai in the run-up to the elections, a prospect which proved illusory. Is he acting on his own now? If he is acting for the Obama administration, it would be interesting to know his brief. Is it to pull the iron out of the fire for Karzai, or something else? Hopefully there is more to it than desperate improvisation, and hopefully it reflects something more than U.S. policy disarray in Washington at a highly critical juncture in our relations with Afghanistan.

Why isn’t the press digging into all of this, instead of simply summarizing the views of different U.S. and NATO officials, with those of an occasional academic thrown in for good measure?

In a television news report last week, a man on the street in Kabul observed that NATO was against Abdullah, so he couldn’t win the presidency. His statement had the ring of truth. Such statements should be disquieting to those concerned that the U.S. may be perceived by Afghans as an occupying force and as imposing its will on the people of Afghanistan. Isn’t it time now for an emergency revision in our policy towards the Karzai government, with a view toward decisive action in the coming days? During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, it is worth recalling, President John F. Kennedy was not engaged in a wide-ranging policy review, but rather using his Executive Committee to help him decide how to deal with missile-laden Soviet ships bearing down first on Cuba, and then directly on U.S. navy warships blocking their path.

President Obama’s policy review is valuable and should continue, but he needs to focus now on the ships bearing down on us and Afghanistan in the next few days.

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
follow on www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv
e-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

Comments and debate are invited.

CONSORTING WITH THE DEVIL? THE DEBATE OVER THE EFFICACY OF TORTURE

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

April 24, 2009–The current debate over whether the use of torture by the Bush administration produced valuable information throws into sharp relief the moral depths to which the United States has sunk–from leading politicians and policymakers to large portions of the press and millions of average citizens. One cannot but wonder whether the rampant corruption in the mortgage market, in stock analysts’ recommendations, and in financial behavior which has brought this country to a new nadir, might not be related to a general lack of ethical and spiritual moorings in broad swathes of the population.

Painfully few religious, business or other leaders have taken continued, strong public stands against our use of torture. With notable exceptions, journalists even today shrink from describing so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” including water boarding as “torture”. Fear of litigation should not completely muzzle the press. The lack of awareness of history reflected in news reports and analyses and debates among officials is astounding, and suggests that the education of even many of our most educated public servants and journalists has a glaring gap at its moral core. That is, even with the best educations at the best universities, this ethical gap and lack of a moral core has not been remedied.

The principle of due obedience, rejected at Nuremberg and accepted but only for a while in Argentina, is quietly accepted without reference to either of those precedents. Or to the facts and considerations that led to the adoption and ratification of the torture convention.

To a nation which cheered episodes of “24” depicting torture by U.S. agents, the correct principle seems to be: “If torture works, we should use it to protect ourselves.”

It is a matter of immense sorrow to note that our leading pundits make scant reference to the fact that the sons and daughters of the Enlightenment, including the drafters of our own Constitution, rejected torture on moral, not utilitarian, grounds.

Let us then, for the sake of argument, postulate that torture in some cases produces useful information. Assuming, arguendo, that this is the case, the question for debate is simply this: “Is the use of torture, if effective, state behavior that is morally justified?

In other words, let’s skip the efficacy debate, which debases all who defend torture on utilitarian grounds. Let us debate the central moral issue: “Is torture, even if effective, morally acceptable, and why or why not?”

In this debate, it is worth bearing in mind that the entire edifice of international human rights rests on the inviolability of the physical integrity of the human person. This core principle is deeply rooted in the religious belief that in each human being there resides a part of the divine. It is a stunning testimony to the depths to which our nation has sunk to listen to the debate over the efficacy of torture as if effectiveness were the essential question. Instead of spymasters and doctors and psychologists who have consorted with the devil, it is time for us to listen to others, to our religious and moral leaders, and to politicians and other leading figures who believe there is a moral framework within which our actions—both as individuals and as a nation–are to be judged. It is time for these leaders to stand up and to speak out loudly and clearly on the morality of torture. It is time for them to take an unequivocal position on the torture our government has adopted as a policy and executed in the bowels of hell. It is time for them to demand the full truth and details of what our government has done, acting in our name.

There is no more fundamental human right than the right to the physical integrity of the human person. This right was recognized at Nuremberg, and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, in 1948. It was specifically protected in the Geneva conventions on the law of war (humanitarian law), in 1949. The right is the cornerstone of numerous human rights treaties to which the U.S. is a party including the U.N. Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The right is also fully protected in the European Convention on Human Rights, which establishes the constitutional norms and fundamental law on the subject in the nations of Europe.

So let’s hear the debate on whether the underpinnings of these human rights conventions are to be ripped out by allowing torture, and on the ultimate issue of the morality of the use of torture by the state against the individual. In engaging in this discussion, let us also avoid any semblance of the sophomoric debates that took place in our government, in which the question of torture was addressed as if it were a tabula rasa, in blithe ignorance of the history, religious positions, and legal developments that had taken place in the past.

The Trenchant Observer
observer@trenchantobserver.com