Should Congress Concern Itself with Interrogration Techniques?

Discussion in 'Middle East - General' started by Adam's Apple, Jan 19, 2005.

  1. Adam's Apple

    Adam's Apple Senior Member

    Apr 25, 2004
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    'Torture' on Trial

    The Graner jury just rejected the media's Abu Ghraib narrative.

    Tuesday, January 18, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST

    The conviction of Army Reserve Specialist Charles Graner is hardly the last word on what really happened at Abu Ghraib prison. But the 10-year sentence for the abuse ringleader shows that the military justice system is taking the issue as seriously as it should. And the Army jury that handed it down clearly didn't buy his "just-following-orders" defense.

    We doubt Specialist Graner's peers would have packed him off to prison for so long had he produced any evidence at all that his actions had something to do with interrogation practices approved by his superiors. Particularly telling was the fact that he didn't seem to have enough confidence in his own story to take the stand and face cross examination.

    Senior officers are still being investigated, as they should be, but so far the military trials have done nothing to prove what writer Heather Mac Donald recently described as the "torture narrative." That is, they have not supported the widely promulgated theory that Bush Administration legal discussions about the range of permissible interrogation techniques for al Qaeda detainees outside the Iraqi theater of operations somehow led to Abu Ghraib.

    And yet none of this evidence seems to stop the effort, in the media and Congress, to use Abu Ghraib to hamstring American interrogators in the war on terror. Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, went so far as to try to write language into last year's intelligence bill demanding that the CIA report to Congress on what interrogation methods it's using. The White House quietly sought to have this removed--which it reluctantly was--only to be tarred once again last week in some news reports with promoting "torture" for having done so.

    We wish that the White House had challenged Senator Durbin publicly for compromising the executive branch's ability to fight the war on terror. A requirement to involve Congress in the particulars of interrogations is one of the worst ideas we've seen in a long time from Capitol Hill, which is saying something.

    As a practical matter, it is a form of micromanagement that would make it harder to get information from detainees. It's akin to requiring an Army brigade commander to report to Senator Soundbite on how he engaged the enemy in Mosul. Interrogators are almost certainly going to be cowed by the prospect of being invited up for their own interrogation before Senator Durbin, perhaps to the point of being too restrained in getting vital information.

    This has already been happening, as the Washington Post described in a story last summer headlined: "CIA Puts Harsh Interrogation Tactics on Hold." The U.S. does not in fact torture people, but ambiguity about what is possible can be an important tool in gaining cooperation. Such headlines tell the next KSM or Abu Zubaydah that he has nothing to fear from capture and should keep quiet.

    What's really going on here is that Mr. Durbin wants to set a political trap for the Bush Administration. His proposal would in practice limit U.S. interrogation techniques without him having to take responsibility for having done so. Mr. Durbin can get good press coverage for deploring "torture" and condemning the Bush Administration, but he won't be blamed if our interrogators fail to elicit the information needed to deter another terrorist attack. His proposal is the war on terror's version of the Boland Amendment, the 1982 language that ambiguously sought to bar U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan Contras. If anyone in Congress really wants to ban certain kinds of interrogating, then they ought to stand up and say so specifically--and see if the public agrees with them.

    Perhaps sensing the damage they've done, some in the media have started arguing that "torture doesn't work anyway" because detainees just lie. Well, yes, but nobody outside of academia is proposing torture. We're talking about coercive interrogations involving good-cop bad-cop routines, stress positions such as kneeling for a long time and the like, which are used by every serious military and police force in the world because they do work.

    Rather than keeping quiet and absorbing all of this political criticism, maybe it's time for the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress to demand some legal and moral clarity for those in the CIA and military who are responsible for breaking the likes of KSM, who did after all plan the September 11 attacks. In President Bush's first term, that task would have fallen to John Ashcroft, who didn't mind bucking the Democratic-media consensus. We hope soon-to-be Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has learned from his own rough confirmation hearings that failing to fight back gets you nothing

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