Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Bush Administration Continues to Torture with Republican Congressional Support. Democratic Underground explains why it's such a terrible idea.
Aside from the fact that the torture provisions in this bill are morally shameful, disgrace the United States in the eyes of the world, obliterate fundamental rights provided in the U.S. constitution and the Geneva Conventions, and put U.S. prisoners at grave risk of being tortured when captured, it is imperative that we consider the value of our torture policies to our “War on Terror”. Since the “War on Terror” is the only subject on which the U.S. population trusts Republicans as much or more than Democrats, and since Republicans have repeatedly sought to make democrats appear “weak on terror” or “soft on terrorists” for their efforts to preserve our Constitution, it is only right and fair that Democrats focus on this issue and seriously question the value of the Republican torture policies.
A brief historical perspective
Since George W. Bush’s rhetoric on his “War on Terror” has been characterized by various right wing corporate media whores as “Churchillian”, let’s take a look at a quote by Winston Churchill on the subject. This quote, following World War I, expresses as well as anything I’ve seen just how useless and out of the mainstream torture was considered by the civilized world even as long ago as the early 20th Century. Referring to the barbarity of that war, Churchill said:
In order to make official the views of the civilized world on the treatment of prisoners of war, including torture, the Geneva Convention of 1949 on “The Treatment of Prisoners of War” made explicit, in Article 3, international prohibitions against cruel, humiliating or degrading treatment, “outrages upon personal dignity”, and torture, as well as the judicial rights of prisoners. The United States was a signatory to this and, until the administration of George W. Bush, has always supported it.
The role of torture in justifying the Iraq War
Beyond the reasons that I’ve already mentioned, one of the main arguments against torture is that the information obtained from it is of highly questionable value. A person who is being tortured is highly motivated to say whatever he/she thinks will stop the torture. This means that the tortured person is likely to say what he/she believes the torturers want to hear, rather than the truth.
An excellent example of this is provided by the attempt of the U.S. government to obtain information that would support a war against Iraq: In January of 2002, captured Al Qaeda operative, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, stated while being tortured that Al Qaeda had received chemical weapons from Iraq. A Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) intelligence summary the following month said that al-Libi’s statement about Al Qaeda receiving chemical weapons from Iraq lacked pertinent details and that it was most likely false and based solely on his desire to stop being tortured.
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Colin Powell from using the information obtained from al-Libi under torture, in his speech to the United Nations, as part of the Bush administration’s “proof” that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, and therefore as part of the justification for our ill advised invasion of Iraq.
Additional evidence of the Bush administration’s eagerness to use information obtained through torture, not to identify real threats, but to justify policies already decided upon, is provided by a description by Ron Suskind of statements made by Bush to CIA Director George Tenet about captured Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah: “I said he was important, you’re not going to let me lose face on this are you?... Do some of those harsh methods really work?” Zudaydah was then tortured and spoke of several Al Qaeda plots.
As Four Star General, former Supreme NATO Commander, former Democratic Presidential candidate, and hopefully future President of the United States, Wesley Clark (whom I’m guessing knows a lot more about these matters than George Bush or any other Bush administration architects of the Iraq War, none of whom have had any military experience except for Colin Powell) says in this video, torture does not work. General Clark explains that the United States has never treated its prisoners as the current Bush administration treats its prisoners. During World War II, for example, we treated our German prisoners as human beings. Consequently, they felt safe with us, and they “sang like canaries”.
Effect on the enemy’s will to fight
It is well known that the end of World War I was substantially facilitated by a massive surrender of German soldiers to Allied forces, even against the orders of their command. The precise reasons for this are not fully understood, and there is little question that the Allies would have won the war even without the massive late war surrender of German soldiers. But certainly these events spared a lot of lives of American and other Allied soldiers. Similarly, as World War II in Europe was coming to a close, with the Americans closing in from the West and the Russians from the East, the German soldiers did everything that they could to surrender to the Americans rather than the Russians. Can anyone seriously doubt that in both cases the willingness of the Germans to surrender to the Americans was based upon their knowledge that they would be treated as human beings? Can anyone seriously believe that they would have been as willing to surrender if our military had operated under current Bush administration torture policies? General Clark’s words, from the above noted video, make it clear how the humane treatment of prisoners works much better than torture, both for obtaining useful information and for encouraging the enemy to surrender.
Effects on the Iraq insurgency
It is a well known fact of guerilla warfare that support of the local population is critical in determining the probability of success for either side. With that in mind, perhaps the most striking series of polls to graphically illustrate the sinking fortunes of the U.S. military in Iraq are the public opinion polls sponsored by the Coalition Provisional Authority asking Iraqis If Coalition forces left immediately, would you feel more safe or less safe? The results for those answering less safe were as follows:
November 2003: 11%
January 2004: 28%
April 2004: 55%
May 2004: 55%
That same poll, in May 2004, indicated that 92% of Iraqis saw the Coalition forces as occupiers, versus 2% who saw them as liberators and 3% who saw them as peace keepers. And 86% wanted the Coalition forces to either leave immediately (41%) or as soon as a permanent government is election (45%).
These statistics obviously raise the question of what caused such a dramatic and abrupt rise in the discomfort that Iraqis felt with the presence of U.S./Coalition forces. One likely answer, it seems to me, is the awareness of how we were treating Iraqi prisoners. The revelations of the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib under the auspices of the U.S. government were first made in April 2004. Though we have no way of knowing precisely when Iraqis first became aware of this, it would seem likely that the revelations in April did not come as a complete surprise to many Iraqis.
How might this have impacted U.S. casualties? I don't know, but for the year beginning April 2003 there were 540 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, compared to 929 during the year beginning April 2004, approximately concurrent with the rather abrupt rise in the percentage of Iraqis who felt less safe with Coalition forces present than absent (though we don’t know precisely when the rise occurred or how abrupt it was).
How is all this related to support for Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?
A World Public Opinion (WPO) poll of Iraqis, released just a few days ago, September 27th, sheds additional light on the current situation.
George Bush and his neoconservative cronies would have us believe that our current purpose for being in Iraq is, first, to “fight the terrorists so that we don’t have to fight them here”, and secondly, to stabilize and bring democracy to Iraq. With regard to the second purpose, polls clearly show that the Iraqis don’t want us there, or at the very most they want us to propose a plan or timeline for leaving – so it’s difficult to make the case that we’re fighting for their benefit.
If our military operations in Iraq were really centered around the fight against Al Qaeda, it seems that one would expect to see increased support for Al Qaeda among the Iraqi population concurrent with their desire to see Coalition forces leave and the escalation of U.S. casualties. Yet, the current WPO poll shows overwhelming hostility of Iraqis for Al Qaeda and bin Laden, with 82% having a very unfavorable opinion of them and an additional 12% having a somewhat unfavorable opinion of them. I don’t claim that this represents proof, and I’m certainly no expert on military matters, but it’s difficult for me to see how a guerilla group could be so successful in fighting off the most powerful military in the world when the local population is so overwhelmingly against them. Remember, our military problems in Vietnam were largely related to the fact that the Viet Cong enjoyed a great deal of support from the local population.
Current attitudes of Iraqis towards the U.S. military/Coalition forces
The same September 2006 WPO poll also shows that the opinions of Iraqis towards Coalition forces differ little from what they were following the Abu Ghraib revelations in late April of 2004: 71% would like the “US-led forces” to withdraw within six months (37%) or a year (34%). An additional 20% would like them to withdraw within 2 years – the important point being that the great majority want us to withdraw. 78% believe that the U.S. military is provoking more conflict that it is preventing. 58% say they believe that a U.S. withdrawal in the next six months would likely decrease the amount of inter-ethnic violence, and 61% say that that would increase the amount of day to day security.
But most important is evidence of the strength of feelings against the U.S. presence. 61% of Iraqis (up from 47% in January) feel strongly enough about the U.S. presence in Iraq to actually approve of the attacks against U.S. forces. A question that this raises is why, if only 37% of Iraqis favor U.S. withdrawal within six months, do 61% approve of attacks on U.S. forces. WPO believes that this apparent paradox is based on the Iraqi belief in U.S. imperialistic intentions (related to our torture policies?). 77% of Iraqis believe that the U.S. plans to have permanent military bases in Iraq, and 78% believe that if the Iraqi government told U.S. forces to leave within six months they would refuse to do so. These beliefs are highly correlated with approval of the attacks on U.S. forces.
U.S. torture policies in Iraq and elsewhere, ever since the onset of George W. Bush’s “War on Terror”, are barbaric, a disgrace to our country, and a gross violation of the norms of civilized society, unprecedented as official policy of the United States Government since it came into existence. Nevertheless, many Republican voters are willing to accept all that if they believe that these policies will make them safer. Furthermore, many of them project their cowardice onto Democrats, which they rationalize based on the efforts of Democrats to treat our prisoners, whether or not they are suspected of terrorism, as the human beings that they are (and only a small minority of them actually are terrorists anyhow).
What these Republicans don’t understand is that, for many reasons described in this post, our torture policies make us substantially less safe, not more safe, and they greatly obstruct our efforts against terrorism and terrorists. This is a point that Democrats need to drive home prior to November 7th.