Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The countdown is on

Just 2 more weeks until I get a few days off from constant studying.  Whew.

I’ll be able to spend the extra time in the garden, killing loper worms and watering my budding tomato plants.


Maybe I’ll even get the bike overhauled and back in riding condition and put in a hundred miles or so in the off time during May.  I should have plenty of time if I actually dedicate as much time to riding as I dedicated to studying.

Congrats to all who braved the hills and weather on day 2 of the MS150.  I’m crossing my fingers that the field next year will be a little thinner than the 13000+ that have regularly taken to riding that ride, many of whom have no clue how to ride within a group of any size.  For my money, that’s about the funnest ride there is, but it’s also one of the least safe, unless you can manage to steer clear of the crowds—which happen to be everywhere.


Finally, all the media hyperventilation over the “torture memos” has gotten out of hand.  First of all, the memos aren’t “torture memos”, although the reporting on the memos is a bit tortured.  They clearly lay out a legal opinion suggesting that the proposed techniques would be protected under US law stating, effectively, that since the techniques are used in SERE school on our own men they won’t cause lasting pain or suffering and would, therefore, be ok.

Add to that the apparent (mock) outrage that KSM was water boarded 183 times (!!!) and it basically makes me want to vomit.  Would it have been better had he only been water boarded 100 times?  50?  10?

Ah, but therein lies the rub.  Even the legal opinion states that any one of the techniques proposed might not be considered torture, but several combined, possibly over a long period, becomes torture.  It’s a very fuzzy grey line that’s probably best not approached because suddenly and without even expecting it, you can find yourself far, far beyond that line on a path paved by justification.


The 1975 UN Convention on Torture defines “torture” as:

… torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Based on this definition, the actions taken do not live up to the “severe pain or suffering” as it is defined by the US legal code (per the memo) nor did the interrogation intend to “intentionally” inflict on the subjects.  That’s not to say forcing someone to hold their entire body weight up on their fingertips while leaning against a wall is not pain or suffering, or even intense pain or suffering.  But, apparently, the intent was not to inflict severe pain and suffering, merely to get information and the pain and suffering, which was not severe, was incidental to the interrogation techniques.

It’s a dubious argument, and tortured logic.  The problem is that context matters.  It’s not enough to say that because these techniques are used in SERE school, and they’re not torture in SERE school, they’re not torture in a prison where you’re attempting to extract information.  But, then again, it’s not enough to say that just because they’re used in a prison where you’re attempting to extract information they absolutely, definitely, without question are torture.

The soldiers going through SERE training can always quit the training, after all.  There will be consequences—in some cases severe consequences—for that action, but they are always free to make the training stop.  So too, one would presume, would the prisoners who are resisting traditional interrogation techniques.

The problem that keeps nagging at the back of my mind isn’t so much the concept of harsh interrogation techniques and the image of the benevolent warden being forced to do whatever is necessary to protect his pretty little curly haired baby girl back home.  The problem that keeps nagging at the back of my mind is covered by the second part of the definition up above:  “punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed”.

Much of the justification I’ve heard is not merely “gathering information to prevent another attack”, but also “and besides, these guys massacred thousands of people on our own soil”.

After all, shouldn’t we kick a bad dog?  Isn’t that what you do to a bad dog?

Except, they’re not dogs.  They’re people—human people.  And other than being “enemy combatants” on some level, the interrogator might simply be wrong.  Just because they allegedly got it right once or twice doesn’t mean they got it right once or twice out of one or two attempts.  Who else was subjected to the “enhanced interrogation” techniques but yielded nothing?  How many innocent men are on death row?  How many more innocent men would be on death row if confessions were coerced by walling or stress positions or any of these other “enhanced techniques” because the interrogator is convinced the guy knows something.

Hell, under those conditions I might have flown one of those planes if it meant the treatment might stop.  I don’t want that to happen to my son because someone in the government is CONVINCED he knows something that he’s not telling.

It’s very troublesome to have two sets of rules.  Very troublesome indeed.



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