Rumsfeld Plays “M”, Gives License to Kill
Sy Hersh’s expose of an ultra-secret 00 unit of two hundred inside the Pentagon is probably the nail in the coffin of Rumsfeld’s tenure at the Department of Defense, and may well be a factor in the presidential elections.
Disturbingly, Sen. Joe Lieberman endorsed torture as an information extraction mechanism on Wolf Blitzer’s show on Sunday. He gave the tired example of whether, if one of the 9/11 hijackers had fallen into US hands, one wouldn’t have wanted all means used to extract information about the coming attack? Here’s the transcript:
“And I want to go back to the first part. Let us acknowledge that we’re in a war on terrorism. It’s a different kind of war. If there was a special interrogation unit that really was focused on suspected terrorists, and, for instance, we had such a unit before September 11th, and it could have gotten information out of those terrorists or others working with them that would have allowed us to stop September 11th, I don’t think there are many Americans who would say we shouldn’t use whatever means are necessary to extract that information. That’s one question. There’s a long way from that to Abu Ghraib and the prisoners we’ve seen.”
There are several things wrong with this stance. Although Lieberman was trying to distance himself from the Abu Ghuraib practices, he was slipping in a justification of torture under some circumstances. In fact, there is every evidence that “that” was not a long way from Abu Ghuraib at all, and it was precisely Lieberman’s reasoning that led to it, starting at Gitmo and spreading. First, torture does not work, and there is no evidence that it worked at Abu Ghuraib. (It may work tactically on a limited basis, but it doesn’t work strategically; it throws up bad information with the good and creates lots of enemies; if it worked Algeria would be French soil). Second, the argument that the ends justify the means always turns human beings into monsters. If something is morally wrong, you don’t do it if you hope to remain a moral society. Society would be a lot safer if all known heads of identified criminal organizations were taken out by police snipers. We don’t do that. Why? Sen. Lieberman should think about it. That way lies a descent into barbarity before which September 11 would pale.
Third (as a reader reminded me) there were no terrorist suspects at Abu Ghuraib, only persons suspected of knowing something about the insurgency or being involved in it (and apparently from what the Red Cross says, a lot of them were picked up in error anyway).
We Americans either stand for something or we don’t. What I always assumed we stood for was the US Constitution. Our State Department annually rates other countries by how well their record stacks up against the US Bill of Rights. That custom seems an implicit admission that we hold these rights and values to be universal, not limited to US soil or only a privilege of citizens. And here is what the founding generation of Americans thought about Abu Ghuraib and torture:
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”