Critics Still Haven’t Read the ‘Torture’ Memos – WSJ.com

Critics Still Haven’t Read the ‘Torture’ Memos – WSJ.com.

Ms. Roensing recently wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. She starts her article with the following paragraphs:

“Sen. Patrick Leahy wants an independent commission to investigate them. Rep. John Conyers wants the Obama Justice Department to prosecute them. Liberal lawyers want to disbar them, and the media maligns them.

What did the Justice Department attorneys at George W. Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) — John Yoo and Jay Bybee — do to garner such scorn? They analyzed a 1994 criminal statute prohibiting torture when the CIA asked for legal guidance on interrogation techniques for a high-level al Qaeda detainee (Abu Zubaydah).”

Is it right for attorneys to be prosecuted for providing an interpretation of the law? From no critic (or anyone else for that matter) have I read or heard anything that contradicts their interpretation. In other words, it appears that their interpretation of the law was sound. These attorneys acted like judges ideally should – they interpreted according to the law. If people do not like the laws, they should try to change them. Yet, how much have people (namely Congress) tried to change the laws regarding Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) and torture? As Ms. Roensing points out, “the Senate rejected a bill in 2006 to make waterboarding illegal.

Ms. Roensing also wrote about the laws about torture:

“The Gonzales memo analyzed “torture” under American and international law. It noted that our courts, under a civil statute, have interpreted “severe” physical or mental pain or suffering to require extreme acts: The person had to be shot, beaten or raped, threatened with death or removal of extremities, or denied medical care. One federal court distinguished between torture and acts that were “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” So have international courts. The European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ireland v. United Kingdom (1978) specifically found that wall standing (to produce muscle fatigue), hooding, and sleep and food deprivation were not torture.

Even waterboarding (which I am opposed to) is not illegal (as referenced above). One columnist for the Washington Post stated his belief (which mirrors many other liberals) about the legality of waterboarding: “waterboarding will almost certainly be deemed illegal if put under judicial scrutiny.” What this means right now is that waterboarding, again, is not illegal. As far as I’m aware, under no U.S. or international law – at present – is waterboarding officially considered torture. Some legal experts and politicians have expressed their opinions that waterboarding is torture but those are all unofficial opinions and have not been codified into law or statutes.

I do have to point out that the Wikipedia article on waterboarding states the following: “Waterboarding is a form of torture.” Well, I guess since it is on Wikipedia, it must be true! Further, the citation for that statement about waterboarding being torture is a Vanity Fair article [Update: This reference has been removed between when I wrote this article and now {May 25, 2009}. At least some of the introduction to the waterboarding article on Wikipedia has been edited a bit]. Now that’s a definitive legal source! The whole Wikipedia article (from my quick skim of it) is quite biased against waterboarding. It starts off with the statement that waterboarding is torture when that in fact has not been legally determined (which is the logical fallacy called begging the question). How is this begging the question? According to United States law (and all or most international law), waterboarding is neither torture nor is it illegal (Pres. Obama calling for the end of its use does not make it illegal – he is part of the executive branch and not the legislative branch). Thus, hinging an argument against waterboarding on the basis of it being torture is begging the question.

Do I think waterboarding should be outlawed? I think there are more arguments against its use than for its use. Does that mean I want it outlawed? I’m not sure. What is the cost of doing so? Is its use justified if it provides real results even once that save lives? Should we not have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan to end WWII? Doing so, according to the best estimates, saved the lives of millions of Japanese and hundreds of thousands or millions of Allied forces. Sometimes when lives are at stake we need to make hard decisions. I know some people say we should never have dropped those bombs but that is the minority opinion and it’s easy to criticize in hindsight without really understanding the circumstances of the time.

What I do not support is any sort of legal reprimand or trial of CIA personnel or of Bush administration Justice Department personnel or anyone else (including Nancy Pelosi) for the use of EITs. If you do not like the procedures, fine. Get laws passed outlawing them and go forward from there. Let’s stop all this bickering and finger-pointing.

Update: I came across a transcript of a speech Sen. Ted Kennedy gave during Michael Mukasey’s nomination approval meetings.

Here’s a key part: “Make no mistake about it: waterboarding is already illegal under United States law. It’s illegal under the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit outrages upon personal dignity, including cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment. It’s illegal under the Torture Act, which prohibits acts specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. It’s illegal under the Detainee Treatment Act…” (emphasis added).

The problem is that Sen. Kennedy is wrong. Waterboarding is not illegal under U.S. law. Whether or not the Geneva Conventions apply to these “enemy combatants” or “detainees” or whatever they are called (other than terrorists) is debatable. Waterboarding is neither illegal under the Torture Act nor the Detainee Treatment Act because it has not been officially declared as torture by any significant governmental entity. What is interesting is to do a Google search on the legality of waterboarding (not that a Google search finds definitive sources but it is interesting). You get everything from “waterboarding is illegal and has been for 40 years [other sites say 100 – which is it?]” to “waterboarding may not be illegal but it should be” to “waterboarding is torture” to “waterboarding is inhumane” and so forth. So, is it illegal?

My favorite is this chain: “Waterboarding = Drowning = Torture = Illegal = Immoral.” Waterboarding does not equal drowning. Waterboarding simulates drowning but that does not mean it is exactly the same as drowning (which the equal sign signifies). Waterboarding is immoral though. Of course, war is immoral too and war is sometimes justified (this brings in the whole discussion of moral dilemmas). Terrorism is immoral too. So, is it justified to do something that is immoral – namely waterboarding – but not physically or even psychologically harmful in the long term (if anyone can point me to research showing that waterboarding produces lasting physical or psychological harm, I’ll gladly revise my statement)  in order to try to prevent terrorist acts? Do the ends justify the means? Do we need to sometimes make the hard choices in order to save lives?

Obama Opposes Release of Detainee Abuse Photos – WSJ.com

Obama Opposes Release of Detainee Abuse Photos – WSJ.com.

This is the best news so far in Obama’s administration. I think the prisoner abuses are sick and immoral, however, no good would come from releasing the photos. They would only serve as fodder for terrorist organizations to use as anti-American propaganda and recruitment tools.

Further, there is no evidence that such abuses were mandated or condoned at all. In any case, the Stanford Prison Experiment shows what happens when normal people are placed in stressful prison situations. I’m not approving or excusing the abuse but just because the abuse occured does not mean that it was condoned or tolerated from anyone “higher up.” It’s important to try and safeguard against such abuses in the future but releasing more photos is not the solution.

White House Boosts Deficit Projections – WSJ.com

White House Boosts Deficit Projections – WSJ.com.

The budget deficit was predicted (by the administration) to be $1.752 trillion for the current fiscal year. How much money is that? It’s $1,752,000,000,000. That’s too large a number to really understand. If you took $1 bills and laid them end to end around the earth, you would wrap around the earth 6,477,130,690 times! That’s about 6.5 billion times. That’s still too large a number to really understand. Using the same end-to-end laying of $1 bills, you could travel to the sun and back 865,700.554 times! What that means is that using $1 bills, we could travel 1,731,401.11 AU (astronomical units). That’s 27.38 light years! These are astronomical amounts.

Of course, my use of the length of the U.S. $1 bill was arbitrary, I could have made any number of other comparisons but the point remains the same; that is a lot of money. And that’s just the projected 1 year budget deficit! Of course, that deficit includes additional bailout money Congress might not approve but even so, we’ll have at least a $1.5 trillion budget deficit with another large one next year (and so on for the forseeable future). I’m not even going to broach the subject of the actual national debt.

I appreciate that Pres. Obama and Congress are trying to address the weak economy and the budget shortfalls but right now Pres. Obama seems too much like Pres. Lyndon Johnson trying to escalate the Vietnam War while pushing for his Great Society; it was more than he could handle so he wasn’t particularly successful at either. I’m not saying all of the Great Society programs were bad – many were good – but he was not able to focus on both social and military programs at the same time. He should have done one or the other, not both. Pres. Obama, like LBJ, is trying to do everything. I think he’s more capable than LBJ was but Pres. Obama is not only trying to “fix” the economy, he is trying to create his own Great Society while fighting the War on Terrorism (including two ongoing campaigns – Iraq and Afghanistan). I recognize that Pres. Obama was thrown some flaming torches and asked to juggle them but instead of letting some fall and go out, he decided to keep juggling them all while asking for more.

I applaude that Pres. Obama did not implement his original plan to start taking troops out of Iraq immediately, at least he listened to his military leaders and implemented what is essentially Pres. Bush’s withdrawal plan (although Pres. Bush did not like that word). I think some bailouts were probably necessary, although they should have been much smaller than were approved, but much of Pres. Obama’s “stimulus” or other budgetary monies are going towards social programs at a time when we cannot afford them. Increaing Pell Grants is a nice idea (I know many other conservatives disagree) and as a researcher, I always appreciate having more money available for reserach grants, but this money is borrowed money. It’s not real; we are borrowing against the future for things we cannot afford now. Fix the budget first, then try to work on social programs. We need to cut spending, not increase it.

Iraqi leader: U.S. raid that killed 2 breached accord – CNN.com

Iraqi leader: U.S. raid that killed 2 breached accord – CNN.com.

Let me get this straight. The Iraqi government accuses the U.S. military of participating in a raid without authorization, which resulted in the deaths of 2 people: “Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is accusing U.S. troops of violating the security agreement between the two countries after a raid in Wasit province Sunday that left two people dead.”

However, the U.S. states the raid was “fully coordinated and approved by the Iraqi government.” So whom do we believe, especially since “Al-Maliki has asked Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to release the suspects detained in the raid, and to hand over ‘those who committed the crime’ — or U.S. troops — to the Iraqi judiciary, state television reported.”?

Here’s the answer: “Iraqi State TV reported that Iraq’s defense ministry ordered the arrest of two Iraqi commanders in Kut who apparently allowed the U.S. military to carry out the raid.”

So if the U.S. conducted an unauthorized raid, why did Iraq arrest two of its own commanders for providing authorization to the U.S. for the raid?

This kind of behavior reminds me of the former Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf who is famous for such gems as: “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!”

Abu Ghraib head finds vindication in newly released memos – CNN.com

Abu Ghraib head finds vindication in newly released memos – CNN.com.

I think Col. Karpinski – no offense intended – is exhibiting a flaw in her logic. She might just have been a scapegoat, I’m not denying that possibility, but she states that the newly released memos “vindicate” her.

Col. Karpinski stated, “That is what we have been saying from the very beginning, that, wait a minute, why are you inside pointing the finger at me, why are you pointing the fingers at the soldiers here? There’s a bigger story here.”

What is the “bigger story”?

“The Senate Armed Forces Committee released a report Tuesday, five days after the memos were released, stating that senior Bush administration officials authorized aggressive interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, despite concerns from military psychologists and attorneys.

“The report points to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s approval of such techniques — including stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli — in December 2002 for detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. His OK prompted interrogators in Afghanistan and Iraq to adopt the aggressive techniques.”

These so-called aggressive interrogation techniques (which some people call torture but others do not. There is no consensus that they are torture.) that were “approved” included keeping prisoners temporarily naked, or sensory deprived, or made to think that an object of a phobia is present (which may or may not be true). What was not “authorized” in the memos written by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee and other people was what occurred at Abu Ghraib.

This is where Col. Karpinski’s logic breaks down. How does allowing prisoners to be kept temporarily naked suddenly equal “stacking” naked prisoners on top of each other and taking photos of them? Those are completely different things. In any case, calling what was done “torture” begs the question. Was it really torture? Some people think it was, others do not. Col. Karpinski says it was torture.

“I think it was torture, absolutely. You know, I was never inside an interrogation room where they were conducting interrogations, but I read the memorandums many times over,” she said. “Waterboarding is torture.”

Again, that’s begging the question. In any case, the parts of the memos I’ve read in no way authorized what occured at Abu Ghraib. Maybe what was authorized and some of what occured only differ by degrees but those degrees make a large difference. In no way am I defending what occurred at Abu Ghraib, I think it was despicable. However, saying these memos vindicate her is an awfully large and faulty leap in logic by Col. Karpinski. She might have been unfairly punished but that’s not a judgment I can make.

6 years later, progress and doubts are legacy of Iraq war – CNN.com

6 years later, progress and doubts are legacy of Iraq war – CNN.com.

The war in Iraq started 6 years ago. As is noted in the CNN article, it is one of America’s longest wars. However, it is one of the least deadly wars we’ve fought. There have been 4,261 American fatalities in just under 2200 days. That’s less than 2 deaths a day (of Americans – there have been many more Iraqis killed). Any death is too much but we have to face the truth that as far as America is concerned, this has been a very “safe” war. It cost us a lot of money but can you put a price tag on freedom and democracy? I have to add that I don’t think we should have started the war in Iraq but we did so the point is moot.

If the troops had been home instead, quite a few of them would have died in car accidents or other accidents, statistically speaking. 18-30 year old men are naturally quite accident-prone so it’s a statistical given that there would be many accident-related and natural deaths in that group. There are about 42,000,000 people between the ages of 15 and 25 in the United States. While that include people a little younger (and not quite as old as some of the soldiers in Iraq, it will serve as a decent estimate for this post). Roughly 162 per 100,000 people between 15 and 25 die each year in the United States (Source). According to one NewsWeek source, by December 2007 there had been 1.5 million troops deployed to Iraq. This number is higher than another one I found (500,000 by July 2006); it doesn’t seem likely that there were 1,000,000 different troops deployed in the subsequent 16 months.

For my analysis, I’ll make an estimate and say there have been 1,100,000 deployments since the start of the war. That means that at those numbers, if the soldiers were all home from Iraq (and not deployed elsewhere) we would expect approximately 1,800 deaths. That’s possibly high because the number of deployments does not equal number of people. I’ll be a little more conservative and say there have been 900,000 different people from the U.S. deployed. That means there would have been about 1450 deaths over the same time period if all the troops were home.

My numbers could be off because I haven’t found a good definitive source for the number of individuals deployed in the past 6 years in Iraq. The number could be anywhere between 700,000 and 1,700,000, which is not very precise. My numbers are also off because the demographic data I used to calculate my numbers was a combination of 15-19 and 20-24 age groups. The military tends to be 18-25 with a significant number on into their 30s. Most are in their 20s though. The numbers should be accurate enough for this informal analysis.

In any case, this means that of the 4,261 deaths in Iraq, the number of deaths above and beyond a national baserate of death for that age group is about 2,700. That’s still a lot of people but overall it’s been a fairly “safe” war. [Note: I know there have been many physical and psychological injuries caused by the war; my post was focused strictly on deaths].

Thoughts on War

I’ve never been in a fight in my life – I had the occasional squabble with siblings when I was growing up but I’ve never really fought anyone, ever. I despise conflict and ill-feelings. I believe in cooperation over competition. I also hate war and the suffering it causes. I think there is little on earth more wasteful of life than war. I wish that all conflicts in life could be ended without war. However, and this is a big however, I also recognize that war is sometimes and unfortunately very necessary.

There will always be those who believe that violence is the only way to further their ideals of oppression and restriction of freedoms. Some people believe that violence is the only way to solve their perceived problems. As long as such people exist, there will always be the need to respond in kind. We also need people who are willing to respond in kind. I’m not one of those people. I’ll fight if called upon to fight, I will even volunteer to fight if I feel that that is the course my life is supposed to take, but I will not start the fight. There are few people who hate war more than those who have to fight the wars because they are most affected by war. There will always be some among all people who enjoy warmongering, but I believe them to be relatively few.

For me the greatest anti-war sermons have been preached not by war protesters but by those who simply report on or depict war without trying to promote an anti-war agenda. The strongest arguments made against war are in the simple yet horrendous destruction of the lives of so many people. That is why some of the strongest anti-war messages are good war movies. The anti-war protests on the 60s and 70s did far more damage to our country than good, in my opinion. I deal often with people who served in Vietnam then had to come home to a country that demonized what the soldiers were doing over there. A significant portion of these veterans continue to suffer psychologically to this day because of the ill treatment and hate they encountered upon returning home from their military service. Most of them were just trying to do the jobs they were called upon to do in the best and nicest way possible. By no means were all the soldiers saints – many soldiers in Vietnam were involved in immoral acts, drug abuse, and criminal behavior – but most were just there doing their jobs. They were normal people – neighbors, friends, and family – who were often asked to do horrible things (all war is horrible).

U.S. soldiers repeatedly go out of their way to minimize innocent causalities, even to their own detriment. This trait is thankfully not unique to Americans. It’s found in all cultures, religions, nations, and peoples.

Some may wonder how I can be anti-war yet still support the war in Iraq. Sometimes we are called upon to do hard things. Abraham Lincoln was anti-war, yet he was a great president who endured the hardest of wars – that between friends; he did not flinch when hard decisions needed to be made. General Douglas MacArthur was similarly anti-war if his statements before Congress and West Point are to be believed, yet he was a great general [I recognize that some of his war tactics were severe but he wanted to do what he thought would end war the fastest (while hopefully preventing future wars as well)]. It’s not hypocrisy, it’s necessity and reality. I’m not comparing myself to Lincoln or MacArthur, I’m merely making the point that you can be anti-war but fight wars. You hate what you have to do but do your duty because it is the right thing to do.