Friday, April 17, 2009

The Bybee Torture Memos

I've just arrived home for the night (yes, I wrote this post last night; I hate to shatter the illusion that I get up early every day to write this stuff but it's true) so I haven't had time to sufficiently sift through the memos about torture authorized by the Bush administration that were released by President Barack Obama yesterday so I'll just cut and paste what I consider some relevant initial thoughts.

This comment by Kevin Drum (via Andrew Sullivan) says much of what I assume that I will have to say about these documents at a later date:

Reading the OLC torture memos is enough to make you ill. The techniques in question are plainly and instinctively abhorrent by any common sense definition, and the authors of the memos obviously know it. But somehow they have to conclude otherwise, so they write page after mind-numbing page of sterile legal language designed to justify authorizing it anyway. It's not torture if the victim survives it intact. It's not against the law if it takes place outside the United States. Waterboarding is OK as long as it isn't performed more than twice in a 24-hour period. Sleep deprivation of shackled prisoners for seven days at a time is permissible as long as the victim's diaper is changed frequently. And on and on and on.

Do they know this is torture? Of course they do.
Yes, this is torture, committed by our own government in the eve of the 21st century. This is what we tried Nazi soldiers who "were just following orders" for at Nuremberg, it's why we to this day vilify the vile acts of the Khmer Rouge and it's why we were justified (if not the reason initially given, of course) for invading Iraq and subsequently executing Saddam Hussein. And to let these inhumane acts be committed against other human beings and go unanswered by our own government would be an act of judicial cowardice for this proud country.

As an aside, here is the reaction of my neoconservative counterpart Donald Douglas to the release of these documents detailing the extra-legal acts of our government:
I must admit, though, having "insects placed in a confinement box" with a remorseless terrorist jihadi killer is absolutely inhumane. God, that's worse the [sic] waterboarding - the horrors!
People like this seem so sure of other's guilt and their own righteousness, don't they? And a few quotes of the day by, again, Andrew Sullivan (is it any wonder why I love reading this man's blog?):
"You would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him," - Jay Bybee, judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

"‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal,’" - George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four.
Now perhaps Zubaydah well deserved this sort of treatment but without at least a cursory administrative trial, how are we to know? Of course to people like Douglas, just saying that, "Well, he's been incarcerated as a terrorist so naturally he deserves whatever is done to him" is a satisfactory answer but I'm of the opinion that the United States of America should have standards that are a bit more stringent than those of black-or-white world-view simpletons. I promise to follow up with more on this as I have time.

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