Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Destroying evidence clinches the case for torture

I must admit that if you read the "torture memos" released last Thursday without much prior knowledge they have a certain plausibility -- except for the fact that Bybee and Bradbury, in their memos of advice to the CIA take all the assurances of the CIA that in using face-slaps, head-grabbing, wall-pushing, sleep deprivation and so on they are taking tender care to make sure there is no lasting damage and that the detainees are always under medical supervision. There's no evidence of anything resembling independent investigation into whether the assurances were accurate, or whether the detainees actually did suffer lasting damage, especially mental damage. Links to the four memos are here, here, here, and here.

The only thing that seems to bother the DOJ lawyers is waterboarding, and they even come to the conclusion that that isn't torture either. But then there's the astounding offhanded acknowledgment that waterboarding was used 266 times on just two detainees -- 183 on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed alone. That certainly put the lie to the story the Bushies were trying to peddle for years that KSM wilted after what was inferred to be a single waterboarding and started spilling his guts eagerly. It also makes it questionable that it was all that effective. If they had to use it 183 times, it must not have been all that productive of actionable intelligence. Or was that sheer sadism?

The key thing to know, however, as Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, is that the CIA, after lying to the 9/11 Commission about their existence, destroyed the tapes of KSM's interrogation. If it really were effective, those tapes would have been invaluable for training purposes, and something the CIA was proud of. They had to be deeply ashamed and/or aware that they would be clear evidence of the use of torture.

Then there's the evidence of what the techniques did to detainees. The evidence is that KSM was reduced to a quivering mass of protoplasm. Jose Padilla, the US citizen kept in solitary in a Navy brig and not even waterboarded, was deemed unfit to contribute to his defense. The statutory definition of torture includes lasting mental or psychological harm. The interrogation certainly did that to more than one detainee -- and several died during interrogation as well.

A shameful episode in our history. Phil Zelikow of the 9/11 Commission has some thoughts on how we got there -- mainly by focusing on possible lawfulness rather than morality, and suggestions for going forward, not all of which I would endorse.

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