Tuesday, May 20, 2008

DeLong: Bill Moyer interviews Philippe Sands

Today Bloglines tossed up 112 DeLong posts.

It does that sometimes. The Analytic Engine gets sand in the gears then suddenly lurches onward.

I knew DeLong couldn't have been that quiet.

Among the posts is an extended excerpt from an interview Bill Moyers did with Philippe Sands. Mr. Sands is a scholar of modern torture who's studied the impact of British torture on the IRA. He believes that the torture strengthened the IRA, and prolonged the conflict, by increasing support from otherwise ambivalent Irish Catholics. Whatever intelligence was gained was outweighed by the damage to Britain's reputation.

Of course this is a pragmatic argument. It is also wrong to cause harm and pain, and while some violence may be lesser of two wrongs (invasion of Afghanistan) that has not been so of cruelty. The distinction is perhaps comparable to the difference between killing in self-defense and calculated murder.

Lastly, it is important to again recall that humans do slide down slipper slopes very easily. It is in our nature. We have "commandments" and their like for a reason. Legal cruelty is so very, very, dangerous ...

Yes, it is hard to continue to read, and write, about the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice/Feith/GOP torture regime. On the other hand, as civil duties go, this one's relatively easy sledding. So be a citizen and at least scan the interview.

By way of background, here's the book blurb on Amazon

On December 2, 2002 the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, signed his name at the bottom of a document that listed eighteen techniques of interrogation--techniques that defied international definitions of torture. The Rumsfeld Memo authorized the controversial interrogation practices that later migrated to Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, as part of the policy of extraordinary rendition. From a behind-the-scenes vantage point, Phillipe Sands investigates how the Rumsfeld Memo set the stage for a divergence from the Geneva Convention and the Torture Convention and holds the individual gatekeepers in the Bush administration accountable for their failure to safeguard international law.

The Torture Team delves deep into the Bush administration to reveal:

  • How the policy of abuse originated with Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, and was promoted by their most senior lawyers
  • Personal accounts, through interview, of those most closely involved in the decisions
  • How the Joint Chiefs and normal military decision-making processes were circumvented
  • How Fox TV’s 24 contributed to torture planning
  • How interrogation techniques were approved for use
  • How the new techniques were used on Mohammed Al Qahtani, alleged to be “the 20th highjacker”
  • How the senior lawyers who crafted the policy of abuse exposed themselves to the risk of war crimes charges

and from the interview (editing, links, paragraph insertions, emphasis mine)...

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Semi-Daily Journal Economist Brad DeLong

...BILL MOYERS: You subtitle the book Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. Tell me briefly about that memo and why it betrayed American values.

PHILIPPE SANDS: The memo appears to be the very first time that the upper echelons of the military or the administration have abandoned President Lincoln's famous disposition of 1863: the U.S. military doesn't do cruelty.... It's called the U.S. Army Field Manual, and it's the bible for the military. And the military, of course, has fallen into error, and have been previous examples of abuse.... But apparently, what hasn't happened before is the abandonment of the rules against cruelty. And the Geneva Conventions were set aside, as Doug Feith, told me, precisely in order to clear the slate and allow aggressive interrogation... at the insistence of Doug Feith and a small group, including some lawyers. And the memo by Donald Rumsfeld then came in December, 2002, after they had identified Muhammed al-Qahtani. But it was permitted to occupy the space that had been created by clearing away the brush work of the Geneva Conventions. And by removing Geneva, that memo became possible.

Why does it abandon American values? It abandons American values because this military in this country has a very fine tradition, as we've been discussing, of not doing cruelty. It's a proud tradition, and it's a tradition born on issues of principle, but also pragmatism. No country is more exposed internationally than the United States.

I've listened, for example, to Justice Antonin Scalia saying, if the president wants to authorize torture, there's nothing in our constitution which stops it. Now, pause for a moment. That is such a foolish thing to say. If the United States president can do that, then why can't the Iranian president do that, or the British prime minister do that, or the Egyptian president do that? You open the door in that way, to all sorts of abuses, and you expose the American military to real dangers, which is why the backlash began with the U.S. Military.... It slipped into a culture of cruelty. There was a, it was put very pithily for me by a clinical psychologist, Mike Gellers, who is with the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, spending time down at Guantanamo, who described to me how once you open the door to a little bit of cruelty, people will believe that more cruelty is a good thing. And once the dogs are unleashed, it's impossible to put them back on. And that's the basis for the belief amongst a lot of people in the military that the interrogation techniques basically slipped from Guantanamo to Iraq, and to Abu Ghraib. And that's why, that's why the administration has to resist the argument and the claim that this came from the top.... It started with a few bad eggs. The administration has talked about a few bad eggs. I don't think the bad eggs are at the bottom. I think the bad eggs are at the top. And what they did was open a door which allowed the migration of abuse, of cruelty and torture to other parts of the world in ways that I think the United States will be struggling to contain for many years to come.

We have a long road of recovery ahead -- if we take it. Electing John McCain, who's abandoned his former opposition to torture, means we take the slippery road instead.

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