Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bush Defends Use of Not-Quite-Torture

The newspaper today had a classically clueless headline, "Bush Acknowledges U.S. Use of Secret Prisons." The headline should read "Bush Defends Use of Not-Quite-Torture," because that was what his speech was manifestly about. Needless to say he did not actually say not-quite-torture, but used euphamisms such as "an alternative set of procedures,""this program," "sensitive questioning," and "the most important source of information on where the terrorists are hiding and what they are planning is the terrorists, themselves." Some of the speech was simply the usual blather that we don't torture, that all detainees in Guantanamo are hard-core terrorists, and that Guantanamo is a "model prison" where no abuse has ever taken place. This is not worth discussing. But more important are the clear and specific allegations about what we have gained by not-quite-torture. This is important, not just because these allegations are new, but because people who will lie in meaningless generalities are often ashamed to lie about specific details.

Some of these allegations were semi-general; that not-quite torture had identified terrorists (by photograph or voice), hiding places, structure, finance, communications, logistics, travel routes, and how to make sense out of captured documents and computer records. He did not explain why captured terrorists would be so eager to give us this information without being tortured.

In addition to these, Bush made some very specific allegations:

(1) The first high-ranking Al Qaeda member we captured was Abu Zubaydah, who was wounded but survived because of medical care provided by the CIA. Thanks to not-quite-torture, Zabaydah gave up terrorist Ramzi bin al-Shibh. The two of them, when not-quite-tortured, gave us Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the mastermind of 9/11.

(2) KSM, when not-quite-tortured, revealed a chain of terrorists, which led to the breaking up of a cell of 17 southeast Asian terrorists who were plotting attacks on the United States, probably using airplanes.

(3) Other plots KSM revealed under not-quite-torture included:

(A) A biological weapons program using anthrax
(B) An attack on Marines in Djibouti using explosive water tanks
(C) A car bomb attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi
(D) A plot to hijack airplanes in England and fly them into Heathrow or the Canary Wharf
(E) A plot to blow up buildings in the U.S., planting the explosives high enough that people above the explosions could not escape by jumping out the windows.

It is an impressive sounding list, and abstract principles against the torture of the guilty are easily weakened in the face of evidence that it has saved lives of the innocent. On the other hand, given George Bush's general history of veracity in matters regarding the War on Terror, I would like some independent confirmation before accepting his statements at face value.

So far, I am only aware of the allegations about Zubaydah being directly challenged. KSM's capture has also been attributed to a tipster, who turned him in for a $25 million reward, or a lead from the Sultan of Qatar. Ron Suskind, author of One Percent Solution has alleged that Zubaydah gave a great deal of false information under not-quite-torture.

I am not aware of any direct challenges to Bush's other allegations, but then, most people do not have adequate information to know whether Bush is telling the whole truth. Before I accept George Bush at his word that we cannot win the War on Terror without resorting to not-quite-torture, I would like some of the following questions asked:

(1) How many false leads has not-quite-torture led to? We know of at least one, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi's statement that Saddam Hussein was training Al Qaeda members in chemical weapons. How many others? What is the ratio between true and false leads generated by not-quite-torture?

(2) How many of the genunie plots uncovered were "more aspirational than operational," as so many recently uncovered ones have turned out to be? Granted, there are good reasons to stop terrorist plots early on. But many "aspirational" plots fall through or are cancelled. And the less advanced a plot, the less the urgency and the easier it is to stick to legal methods without having to resort to not-quite-torture.

(3) How much of the information extracted by not-quite-torture could have been gotten, albeit more slowly, by other means such as signals intelligence, paying off tipsters, and study of documents and computers captured with the terrorists?

(4) And finally, granting that legitimate means of terrorist hunting are slower than not-quite-torture, how much could they be sped up and made more efficient by recruiting and training more translators and analysts who speak Arabic and understand Mideastern culture?

Needless, to say, we will not learn the answers to these questions. If pressed, the Bush administration will say that they cannot answer without revealing classified information vital to national security.



Blogger Jeff's Page said...

hey, love your blog!!

12:04 PM  

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