Monday, May 4, 2009

Fact check

How are we supposed to continue promoting America as this guiding light of democracy and how are we supposed to win hearts and minds in the world as long as we continue with these actions?

Well, first of all, you do what's right. That's the most important thing -- that you make a judgment of what's right. And in terms of enhanced interrogation, and rendition, and all the issues around the detainees. Abu Ghraib is, and everyone said, Abu Ghraib was not policy. Abu Ghraib was wrong and nobody would argue with...

This is disputed. There's an excellent discussion of the issue on the PBS documentary program Frontline's page about who is to blame for Abu Graib. With the exception of Janis Karpinski, the brigadier general who was in charge of the prison, no senior official was ever punished for Abu Ghraib. Karpinski told Frontline that
"People that were under tremendous pressure to get more actionable intelligence, then through the chain of command might give instructions to do whatever you need to do to get that information. It's open to interpretation: What do you mean by 'do whatever we need to do?' "
At the time, government officials were making a number of vague "We're gonna get 'em" statements. For example, the CIA's Cofer Black told Congress that "there was "before" 9/11 and "after" 9/11. After 9/11, the gloves come off." The president's lawyer, Alberto Gonzales, wrote that "The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information. In my judgement, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners." Little specific guidance was given to local commanders who captured suspected terrorists. If this is the rhetoric from on high, it seems naive to expect a 20 year old Abu Ghraib guard to reach for his copy of the Geneva Conventions.

Except that information that's come out since then speaks against that.

No, no, no -- the information that's come out since then continues to say that Abu Ghraib was wrong. Abu Ghraib was. But in terms of the enhanced interrogation and so forth, anything that was legal and was going to make this country safer, the president wanted to do. Nothing that was illegal. And nothing that was going to make the country less safe.

And I'll tell you something. Unless you were there in a position of responsibility after September 11th, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans. And I know a lot of people are second-guessing now, but let me tell you what the second-guessing that would really have hurt me -- if the second-guessing had been about 3,000 more Americans dying because we didn't do everything we could to protect them.

If you were there in a position of authority, and watched Americans jump out of 80-story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people, then you were determined to do anything that you could that was legal to prevent that from happening again. And so I think people do understand that.

I have some sympathy for this position, and I'm sure this was a terrifying time for high officials. Immediately after the attacks, the government created a number of vaguely worded policies designed to find those responsible and prevent future attacks, including a statue passed by Congress calling for the president to "use all necessary means" to punish those responsible and prevent future attacks. Particularly controversial were the legal opinions of Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, whose memo in August 2002 argued that federal anti-torture laws did not apply to the president. Yoo's opinion stated that in order to be considered torture, techniques must produce lasting psychological damage or suffering "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." The opinion was vilified by the international law community. In an interview with the Washington Post, Yoo said that his critics did not understand the difficult circumstances in Washington after 9/11.

Now, as to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and so forth -- I agree with you. We have tried to use the trafficking in persons and all of those measures, human rights reports and so forth, to put a spotlight on the kinds of problems that you have in places like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Oman or other places. But you can't -- you don't have the luxury in foreign policy of saying, alright, I won't deal with that country because I don't like its human rights record. You don't have that luxury. So if you need Saudi Arabia to fight al Qaeda internally -- which is by the way where al Qaeda came from -- or if you need Saudi Arabia to be part of a coalition that's going to help bring a Palestinian state, you can't decide not to deal with Saudi Arabia because of its problems with human rights. Or, if you need to make sure that the Gulf is safe from Iranian influence -- you want to talk about human rights abusers? -- Iran.

This is true. It's interesting to note, along these lines, that when the Iraqi government was using chemical weapons against Iranian troops in the 1980s, the Reagan administration was giving it intelligence information, and that both the Reagan and Bush I administrations gave Saddam billions of dollars in commodity credits and import loan guarantees after the Anfal genocide of Iraqi Kurds genocide in 1988. Even after the first Gulf War, Saddam's brutal suppression of the Shi'ite uprising in 1991 was facilitated by Bush I's agreement to allow the Iraqis to use helicopters, a move made all the more cynical by the fact that Bush had encouraged the uprising in the first place. He likely had second thoughts because of fears Iraqi Shi'ites would be loyal to Iran, the only powerful Shi'a nation. In all these cases, Washington deemed it more important to defeat Iran or limit its influence in Iraq than it did to human rights concerns. Indeed, Iran has used religion to spread its regional power - it has funded Hezbollah, the Shi'a militia in Lebanon, and has been accused of funding Shi'ite groups in Iraq after the Second Gulf War. (For more information, see Kenneth Roth, "War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention" in Human Rights in the War on Terror, edited by Richard Ashby Wilson.

I'm well aware.

Excuse me?

I'm well aware.

So, foreign policy is full of tough choices. Very tough choices. The world is not a bunch of easy choices in which you get to make ones that always feel good.

I'm aware, but...[I'm sorry, we have to move]

Let him finish, let him finish.

Even in World War II, as we faced Nazi Germany -- probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced -- even then...

With all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.
Technically, it did, although its efforts were never very successful. One could also argue that an organized genocidal expansionist power with an organized army constituted the greater threat to world security, and by extension American security.

No, but they bombed our allies...

No. Just a second. Three thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

500,000 died in World War II, and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.

And we didn't torture anybody here either. Alright?
When states are accused of torture, they generally respond in one of three ways: 1)Outright denial 2) What we did wasn't torture. 3) What we did was torture, but it was necessary for the survival of the nation. Bush administration officials generally go with #2.

We tortured them in Guantanamo Bay.

No, no dear, you're wrong. Alright. You're wrong. We did not torture anyone. And Guantanamo Bay, by the way, was considered a model "medium security prison" by representatives of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe who went there to see it. Did you know that?

Rice's argument that the U.S. did not torture prisoners at Gitmo is contracted by a leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which found that interrogation techniques used at the facility constituted torture.Two former Bush administration lawyers have also described certain official acts at Gitmo as torture.

Were they present for the interrogations?

No. Did you know that the Organization -- just answer me -- did you know that the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe said Guantanamo was a model medium security prison?

No, but I feel that changes nothing...

No -- Did you know that?

I did not know that, but that changes absolutely nothing.

Alright, no -- if you didn't know that, maybe before you make allegations about Guantanamo you should read.

Now, the ICRC also had access to Guantanamo, and they made no allegations about interrogations at Guantanamo. What they did say is that they believe indefinite detention, where people didn't know whether they'd come up for trial, which is why we tried with the military commissions system to let people come up for trial. Those trials were stayed by whom? Who kept us from holding the trials?

I can't answer that question.

Do your homework first.

I have a question...

Yes. The Supreme Court.

Rice is referring to Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court case which found the Bush administration's military commissions set up to try detainees did not have "the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949." It did not, however, rule out trying them by other means, and certainly did not endorse indefinite detention.

I read a recent report, recently, that said that you did a memo, you were the one who authorized torture to the -- I'm sorry, not torture, waterboarding. Is waterboarding torture?

The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the Convention Against torture. So that's -- and by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency. That they had policy authorization subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did.

Okay. Is waterboarding torture?

I just said -- the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture.

It is interesting that Rice brings up the U.N. Convention Against Torture. A 2006 report on Guantanamo by the Committee Against Torture, the the U.N. body that monitors compliance with the Convention, called on the United States to "cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay and close the detention facility." The report found that

“The State party[the United States] should rescind any interrogation technique, including methods involving sexual humiliation, “waterboarding” [emphasis added], “short shackling” and using dogs to induce fear, that constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in all places of detention under its de facto effective control, in order to comply with its obligations under the Convention.”
(See Comments by the Government of the United States of America to the conclusions
and recommendations of the Committee against Torture. (Word doc)
The Bush administration's comments are particularly interesting.)

It is unclear what Rice means by "if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations" under the Treaty. The relevant treaty body had already called for the United States to halt waterboarding, calling it "torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." In addition, under contemporary international law, there are no circumstances under which the president could legitimately authorize torture. Certain principles, called abuses jus cogens, are considered to be so important they can never be derrogated from. These include prohibitions on slavery, genocide, and torture. Jus cogens in international law first came gained prominence after World War II, when it was used to prosecute Nazi war criminals, who argued that their actions had been legal under German law at the time.

Thank you.

You're welcome.

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