Monday, January 12, 2009
...but I have absolutely no problem with torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or that George W. Bush might have given the order to do so. Does that mean that I support every such decision that might have been made at various levels of government in the last eight years? Absolutely not. Obviously, Abu Ghraib was substantively horrible, and Guantanimo has been a public relations disaster (largely because of the double standard applied to the United States in such things). KSM, however, was as close a call as we are likely to get on the cost and benefits of -- I'll say it -- torture. Under the circumstances of the decision, it is hard for anybody to say honestly that if they were sitting in George W. Bush's seat and actually devoted to protecting Americans they would have done differently.
Would you have any objection to making these presidential decisions reviewable by the judiciary? What was really terrifying a lot of us on the left was the combination of torture with legal theories that would exempt presidential decisions to torture people from judicial oversight. A country where the president is empowered to order the torture of anybody he wants without any repercussions is in serious trouble.
I have a bunch more objections when torture is allowed as a general policy of interrogation, rather than a one-off thing for high-value captives. The best interrogators don't torture -- consider Nazi Germany's most successful interrogator during WWII, Hanns Scharff. People you torture are likely to lie (if they have the information) or just make up stories (if they don't). I've heard that this is why notorious pacifist Genghis Khan banned torture in his empire.
Perhaps if we had a truly effective intelligence effort from our various spy agencies we wouldn't be reduced to relying on the capture of one of the bad guys with the hope he'll give up the goods under coercive interrogation.
Neil, all good points, and I directionally agree. No, I would not make the decision reviewable by the judiciary, but perhaps that is because I have a very dim view of the ability of judges to review high stakes executive decisions in context (whether made by a president or a CEO). They simply are not well equipped for it. Instead, I would make it clear that *only* the president can order it, and require his signature on the order. That puts the decision right where it needs to be, and will make torture legal, but rare. I believe, actually, that is John McCain's position.
I agree also that the best interrogators probably do not use torture. However, they are almost always backed by the credible threat of torture. If you are Nazi Germany's best interrogator, you have a certain credibility when you imply that things can get a lot worse from here, so I am not blown away by the Scharff argument. Similarly, people have argued that the Israelis are successful without torture, and no doubt that is true. However, the anti-Israeli propaganda in the Arab world is such that, again, the "credible" threat of torture is always there, even if it is not credible. The problem the United States has, or had, is that the threat of torture was not credible. Perhaps, then, all the bad stories about Gitmo and secret prisons have had the perverse effect of making our threats more credible, which in turn will allow us to avoid torture in the future. Who knows.
I live with a Liberal Academic (horror) and as expected, she used to pull the "Guantanamo" and "torture" cards at any mention of Bush.
But when asked if she would torture someone - say our daughter was kidnapped - under the right circumstances, silence was the answer.
One can only hope that the choice to employ torture is never faced. Most liberals would rather avoid having to make the decision because they know that they would do it.
Would you have any objection to making these presidential decisions reviewable by the judiciary?
TH can answer for himself, but I'd like to chime in on this one too if I may. The phrase "review by the judiciary" is touching in it's faith in the legal system, but the idea should be totally irrelevant here, because no one has made a constitutional argument, at least that I've heard. And, don't tell me we're violating the Geneva accords, because al Qaeda is no signatory of those accords. It's a treaty, for crying out loud, not the eleventh commandment.
Unless there is a larger constitutional issue to be discussed, individual decisions of the executive branch are outside the role of the judiciary. If the Congress wants to debate some decision, and try to pull the decision into the political fray, like the idea of waterboarding terrorists, then I invite them to have at it. Hold a debate on the floor of the House.
Hiding behind the skirts of the judiciary, as if that invests a particular viewpoint with special seriousness, is just Congress hiding from it's constitutional responsibility. If Nancy Pelosi wants to argue the real job of the President is to let Khalid Sheik Mohammad kill tens of thousands of Americans, just so we can live of to a singularly American standard of squeamishness, then have at it.
The President is the equal of the judiciary, unless he is acting unconstitutionally. The Courts have no role to play in "reviewing" specific individual decisions, except and unless an argument can be made that the executive is violating his constitutional obligations in some manner.
And, don't tell me we're violating the Geneva accords, because al Qaeda is no signatory of those accords.
I'm not sure I understand your point here. Burger King also didn't sign the Geneva accords. This doesn't mean we're allowed to torture Burger King employees. It's not like al-Qaeda is a nation or something that has the stature to sign or not sign treaties. So it seems to me that we remain bound.
Now, you can cook up a complicated hypothetical situation where I'll say that torture and the violation of international law are justified. I don't yet see evidence that this was it, though. Why didn't we hand him over to our best Schraff types? If you have time, and we did, don't violate the Geneva Conventions by torturing until you've tried that. And then there are all the practical objections -- how can you tell he won't be lying.
Now, one way to get around these particular issues would be to regard KSM as a domestic criminal. After all, he was involved in a big domestic crime. But that process is overseen by the Judiciary, and the president can't just order the criminal justice system to torture people. There's also the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits any cruel and unusual punishments. (Maybe you want to say that torture for information doesn't count as a punishment? I don't know if that works.)
In general, I hope people can appreciate the value of checks and balances on the President's torturing powers. This isn't mere squeamishness, this is the desire to make sure those powers don't get applied in ill-informed or corrupt ways. I don't want Nixon to be able to torture whoever he wants, and you wouldn't want Hillary Clinton to be able to torture whoever she wants, so let's keep the president from doing that at least unless some independent body says it's really necessary.
Neil, you still haven't said what the legal basis is for your suggestion of "judicial review". Since I'm not aware of any constitutional (ie, legal) block on the powers of the president in this area that would justify your idea of some sort of situational legal review, my basic challenge to you still stands. However, since neither you nor I are Constitutional legal scholars, perhaps we should set this point aside. My basic point still stands though: There is no reason why the judiciary should become involved in a political debate about the effectiveness of the methods and national mores.
My reference to the Geneva accords might have confused the issue a bit, but I was only anticipating some appeal to the treaty in your response. As far as using "international law" goes, I would point out to you that our Constitution does not acknowledge the primacy of any international check on the powers of our national government, President included.
If you can agree, then we can move on to my other point. In our system the Congress has a special role of politicizing executive decisions and winning support for changing a President's behavior in instances like this one where there is significant grounds for debate on the "right" policy. Nancy Pelosi and the leaders of the Democrat Congress have shirked their responsibility to your side in this argument, by not holding a debate on the floor.
If you believe the President has done wrong in waterboarding KSM, you should petition Congress to debate the issue publicly. I look forward to the debate. Watching your side argue to American voters, on national TV, that many thousands of them should die in lieu of waterboarding KSM is going to do more for the Bush legacy and the GOP than most anything else I can think of, short of a sudden national movement for federal and state spending discipline and lower taxes.
If you want to "check the President's torturing powers", which is a heck of a phrasing, I suggest you elect different leaders. Oh wait, you did that! Now, let's see how interested our new President is your views now that he is responsible, first and foremost, for defending the Constitution (and protecting the prerogatives of the President), as well as having an implied responsibility to defend the inalienable rights of the American people to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Waterboarding KSM, or even torturing him I suppose, is well within the wartime powers of the President, and could even be his duty under some circumstances. President Obama will agree, I have no doubt, even if Candidate Obama did not.
... ignoring the issue of checks and balances, which I think are necessary for many things, can anyone actually argue that time is on your side when dealing with someone like KSM? His knowledge was short in duration, and once he was out of circulation, or known to be captured, the clock started ticking.
A friend of a friend was the LTC who, early on in the war, was run out for putting a gun to the head of a rat to encourage information flow. He didn't shoot him, but led the rat to believe he was about to. That action led to thwarting an attack that would've cost the lives of many servicepeople.
I read once that what cracked KSM was something silly, like a porno mag or certain food. He know he was done, and just opened up. IMO, we should deal with combatants with extreme prejudice in absolute secrecy, and deal on a case by case basis whether torture, jelly doughnuts, sluts, asswhippings, etc. are the appropriate method for extracting what we need to know. And, it should not happen where it can be judged by anyone. Period. If that means we kill each guy after we're done, then so be it.
We are at war. If we must use a yardstick, let's use nice guys as our basis of comparison. I'm going with Russia, but am willing to soften to the methods of the enemy.
Two articles may be instructive. One from Wall Street Journal and the other from the Council of Foreign Relations.
In its May 17, 2004 article "Geneva for Demagogues- The facts about the rules of war and U.S. interrogation in Iraq"
The Wall Street Journal states "...Mr. Reed should have his staff get him the Geneva Conventions to read. What he'd learn is that the treatment in his hypothetical question would be barred because U.S. soldiers wearing the uniform would be classified as "prisoners of war."
Even tempting detainees who are POWs with a candy bar to answer questions beyond name, rank and serial number violates the Third Geneva Convention. As for his hypothetical "American citizen," he or she might benefit from the civilian protections of the Fourth Geneva Convention depending on circumstances.
These distinctions matter, because the Geneva Conventions are about more than subjective opinions of what constitutes "humane" treatment. The Conventions themselves make very clear distinctions between POWs and others; and it's clear that the terrorists held at Guantanamo don't meet the criteria spelled out in the Third Geneva Convention for designation as POWs. Perhaps Mr. Reed's constituents would like to know that under the standard he wants imposed, even al Qaeda detainees would be off-limits to all but pro forma interrogation.
A reading would also inform the Senator that--apart from Iraqi soldiers detained in uniform and certain members of Saddam Hussein's chain of command--most Iraqi detainees are arrested as civilians and fall under the protection not of the Third Geneva Convention but of the Fourth.
The Fourth allows--indeed obliges--an occupying power to use its discretion within wide parameters to maintain law and order (Article 64), and contains no specific restriction on interrogation, other than saying that "protected persons" not be subjected to "physical or moral coercion" (Article 31). But--note well--protected persons are defined as "persons taking no active part in the hostilities" (Article 3).
In other words, the Geneva Conventions do not speak specifically to the interrogation treatment of non-uniformed Baathist or jihadi guerrillas detained in connection with attacks on U.S. forces or Iraqi civilians. Except that the Fourth does permit us to execute them (Article 68)--a practice often seen in the less politically correct wars of years past.
With that in mind, we'll risk liberal censure and suggest that 45 minutes of uncomfortable posture (the guidelines' limit) and the other techniques that were on General Sanchez's list are certainly appropriate. The U.S. holds some very dangerous people in Iraq, and it's easy to forget that the point of interrogating them is to better protect both U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi civilians that the Geneva Conventions oblige us to safeguard..."
The Council on Foreign Relations "Iraq: Interogation and Torture" Includes what was allowed in Iraq and Guantanamo.
" What techniques are approved for use in Guantanamo?
According to The Washington Post, they include:
reversing detainees’ normal sleep patterns;
exposing detainees to heat, cold, and “sensory assault,” including loud music and bright lights; and
forcing prisoners to stand for up to four hours at a time.
Interrogators must justify that harsh treatment is “militarily necessary,” according to accounts of the document. Once approved, the treatment must be accompanied by “appropriate medical monitoring.” U.S. officials have declared prisoners in Guantanamo Bay “illegal combatants” and therefore not covered by the Geneva Conventions.
Were the same techniques approved for use in Iraq?
U.S. officials say that because the protections of the Geneva Conventions apply to prisoners in Iraq, interrogation procedures approved for use there are more restrictive than those in use in Guantanamo. The list of coercive measures used in Guantanamo interrogations was given to commanders in Iraq, Lieutenant General Lance Smith, the deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, said in congressional testimony May 11. But, he said, it had been made clear that “many” of those measures could not be used.
Before they were largely banned by Sanchez’s order, approved measures in Iraq, according to the Senate list, included:
dietary manipulation, such as modifying meal times and food served;
sleep adjustment, including reversing detainees’ normal sleep patterns;
sleep deprivation, including keeping detainees awake for up to 72 hours;
isolation for longer than 30 days;
permitting the presence of muzzled military dogs during interrogations;
forcing detainees to stand or sit in an uncomfortable position for up to 45 minutes; and
sensory deprivation, such as complete darkness and isolation, for up to 72 hours.
Interrogators who wished to use these techniques needed Sanchez’s approval on a case-by-case basis, according to the document. Under the new policy announced May 14, only isolation for more than 30 days will be allowed and only with Sanchez’s approval, news accounts reported.
Legal theories aside...
The idea that physical coercion leads to bad intelligence as a matter of course is wrong. W-R-O-N-G. If it were so worthless, who would use it?
Using torture like, say, the Syrian secret police often uses torture (i.e. arrest some guy and then torture him until he confesses, and viola you've solved your case) is, of course, worthless to us. Not only is the confession probably false, but in those cases the actual perpetrator is still on the loose. It simply acts as a deterrent for behavior that might attract the attention of the secret police; quite useful in maintaining authoritarian rule.
However, torture can be used constructively for intelligence. Let's say you have heard, with your own ears, (electronic eavesdropping is magical) Suspect A talk about a large-scale terrorist operation scheduled to go down in, oh, three days. You nab him that night in a cordon and search. Now you have two and a half days to get those operational details.
Do you really think that sympathizing with his feelings and giving him a cigarette is going to make him break down and spill his guts to you? Really? He's only got to hold out for a couple of days, and then hundreds or thousands of us will die.
Tactics like Scharff's *only work* because the captives EXPECTED to be beaten, shocked, or executed. When they are confronted with relative gentleness by the interrogator, it surprises them. They often or are lead to believe that it is only the nice interrogator in front of them that is protecting them from a horrible fate. If only they would give up a little bit, something insignificant, then he, the reluctant and moral interrogator, can preserve them from their horrible fate. So they do. And they are. And the fact that they are can be leaked to other prisoners (depending on the prisoners) to make it more likely for them to break for this guy.
But all of this works because the *possibility of torture exists,* and the prisoners want to avoid it and believe that they can by giving up "small" amounts of information.
Illiterate Iraqi flunkies captured by the Americans eat this stuff up... they've been fed all sorts of propaganda about how horrible the Americans are and how badly they treat Muslims. When their expectations turn out to be false, many realize that they've been lied to by people they trusted and are positively eager to give up the goods on their 'allies.' Some others simply decide that the Americans are weak, and these guys need different interrogation tactics to break them. Threatening them with extradition to other, less-nice countries where they have criminal records often works.
But anyway, guy's like KSM are often hard-core ideologues and veteran operatives who know damned well that the Americans are pansies when it comes to interrogation. In the old days, (before 2002 or so, when most of the camps were blown up or siezed) AQ operatives were trained to resist torture by much nastier folks than us. Think floggings, electroshock, flaying, and targeting of loved ones. You know the sayings about Turkish prisons, right? Well almost the entire Arab world used to be ruled by the Turks. In comparison, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and diet control are utterly laughable; inconveniences even. These guys have to be subjected to tougher measures, or they just won't break. Especially with regard to time sensitive information, like Suspect A and his knowledge of a major attack in 48 hours.
Having a nasty reputation helps, too. Many captured Arabs in the Palestinian territories in the 1970s and 80s would immediately confess everything they knew to Israeli captors, begging not to be turned over to Shin Bet interrogators. While Shin Bet could be rough, their reputation far outstripped the reality. (partially because captured Arabs who got released would have to justify their giving up of information to the Zionist enemy, and they excused themselves by making up ever more fantastic and horrible stories of inhuman torture)
It has its uses.
The question, in my mind, hinges almost entirely upon whether the torture is a matter of American policy. What happened to KSM was an engagement on the battlefield, essentially no different from American soldiers threatening or executing their opponents in the midst of active fighting, and might be condoned for that reason. But Gitmo, Abu-Graib, and the other prisons where torture was practiced were created as a matter of American government policy, and must be eliminated. For Americans, there can be no government policy of torture. It would lead inexorably to our destruction (besides being counter-productive to the war effort).
In response to Dawnfire's assertions, I think the following is interesting reading: China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo).
However, since neither you nor I are Constitutional legal scholars, perhaps we should set this point aside.
Sure. There's plenty else to talk about anyway.
There is no reason why the judiciary should become involved in a political debate about the effectiveness of the methods and national mores.
Well, I'm just looking for checks on executive power, to make sure that people aren't being tortured by a President for corrupt reasons or by mistake. Since this case involves the treatment of a captive, which is something the Judiciary deals with in other cases, that would be a nice place to get the checks and balances.
You suggest the legislative branch. But things relating to individual captives aren't really what the legislative branch is designed to deal with.
that many thousands of them should die in lieu of waterboarding KSM
Do you have any evidence that we saved any lives by waterboarding KSM? In any event, if I've got a Schraff and you've only got a waterboard, I'm thinking I'll save more lives.
I suggest you elect different leaders. Oh wait, you did that!
Happy to have done so! But again, the proper treatment of individual captives is exactly the sort of thing that courts are good at assessing in a timely and specific manner. Elections are slower and bundle together a wide range of issues. Do you want leaders who torture the wrong people to stay in power just because America dug their spending proposals?
There's a reason we have a judicial branch. It's to deal with stuff like this.
" Do you have any evidence that we saved any lives by waterboarding KSM? "
That IS the question, you never prove that you saved lives are how many, you can only tell the number when the dead are laying in the street.
Years ago I was a store detective, my boss was waxing philisophical one day and told me, you know Dan if we do a REALLY good job and the shoplifters stay away from this store and go elswhere, our bosses will decide they don't need us.
PS every person in the service who has gone through SERE escape and evasion training was been waterboarded.
"And, don't tell me we're violating the Geneva accords, because al Qaeda is no signatory of those accords.
I'm not sure I understand your point here. Burger King also didn't sign the Geneva accords. This doesn't mean we're allowed to torture Burger King employees. It's not like al-Qaeda is a nation or something that has the stature to sign or not sign treaties. So it seems to me that we remain bound."
We are bound by the Accords because we are a signatory, that said, nonuniformed combatants are NOT protected persons under the accords, you can put a bullet through the back of their heads.
Protected persons are
Legal combatants under a valid surrender flag
Legal combatants hors de combat
anyone else may summarily executed
Dan, the Geneva Conventions only apply to "honorable" prisoners of war, acting as soldiers for a state. Terrorists are specifically exempted. Eric Holder himself made this argument, putting it this way:
"One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention that you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people.
It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war."
As to the question Neil raised, did waterboarding really save lives, this is an assertion made by every government source I've seen, even Congressional Democrat sources. Obviously, though, there isn't an any sort of "accounting" available, so you have to decide for yourself. The ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross, no friend of the Bush administration, put it this way in a FOX News interview:
"ROSS: That has happened in some cases where the material that's been given has not been accurate, has been essentially to stop the torture.
In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the information was very valuable, particularly names and addresses of people who were involved with al Qaeda in this country and in Europe.
And in one particular plot, which would involve an airline attack on the tallest building in Los Angeles, known as the Library Tower."
If I had been in the position Bush was in, choosing between waterboarding KSM and saving lives, I'd have had no qualms at all. I suspect you too, if you were to be honest about it, would have made that same decision, as I expect Obama will.
"But Gitmo, Abu-Graib, and the other prisons where torture was practiced were created as a matter of American government policy, and must be eliminated."
Boil this statement down and you you get, 'These prisons must be eliminated.'
No prisons = either all the captives are released, they are sent to other powers, or they are all killed. Pick one.
And as for torture being a 'matter of policy,' that's one particular sick fantasy that the left has seized upon and propped up upon its dead horse in the face of all evidence and testimony, for years. It. Is. Baseless.
Personal example. I was actually at Fort Huachuca one time when command sent out a message that no one was to use a particular gate at the base. It seems that a bunch of hippy protesters had convinced themselves that school X on post was teaching torture techniques to the soldiers going there and they showed up by the busload to yell about it.
I was AT said school. I and my classmates found the self-righteous ignorance of the hippy protesters to be hilarious, but they never saw us laughing because the post commander forbade interaction with them.
Even joking about torture could get you counseled and/or thrown out of class.
I think there are two dichotomies that get thrown by the wayside in these discussions, and I have seem them passed over in a couple of places here: torturing people that could, by most sane standards, be proven to possess information vital to the lives of citizens of the United States vs less solid claims, and torture by ideal actors vs actual actors.
Regarding the former, it is my understanding that the Clinton administration practiced extraordinary rendition in a couple of cases, but no one really objected because 1) these were very few cases, and 2) the targets were generally exceptionally high-profile. These are the proven criminal actors like Dawnfire's Suspect A, (assuming there was no ambiguity in the magical intelligence,) and most people I know take no serious issue with that. The cases that DO raise objection, which I think are categorically different, are the ones where circumstantial evidence creates a "likelihood" of a person possessing knowledge; these are exactly the cases that might yield bad info while raising abuse of power harms. I know that if the gov't picked me up off the street and starting demanding to know "where the bomb was", (or started beating me with a sack of potatoes, or made me believe they would drown me, or attached jumper cables to my toes) I would protest until I thought they wouldn't listen and then just make up what they wanted to hear to prevent organ failure or perceived death. As much as we all might like to think that the average citizen possess the fortitude to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to the scary man with the hose, I don't think that's a reasonable assumption. This becomes even more of a concern when there are cases of the US picking up people who turned out innocent, which should never, ever, happen under the high-profile, indisputable evidence paradigm.
The second split, ideal vs. actual actors, revolves around what I think is an obvious fear: sometimes, political figures (and even Presidents,) are unethical to the point of immorality. It happens. I hesitate to think what Nixon or McCarthy would have wanted (or done) in a world where torture was more commonplace, given the outlandish and CREEPy things they did even under more stringent laws. It's interesting to believe that phenomenal power will not get abused, but every instance of gov't or telephone company employees peeking at confidential records, or every Abu Grahib or police state prison, speaks to the contrary.
Finally, my own question: let's say we set aside the (relatively) bright line of "people whom we can basically prove know something," and scale our actions based on a weighted perceived harm to the US and likelihood of success; more extreme measure for those we are more certain about, or for whom the perceived deed is worse. When we set aside that line, why does it not better fit the social calculus to torture (in degrees) various offenders in society based on their (theoretical) crime? Serial killers aren't that different from regular killers, who aren't so much worse than violent torture/rapists, who aren't that different from pedophile kidnappers, who aren't that different from regular kidnappers, who are basically committing assault anyway, right?
No prisons = either all the captives are released, they are sent to other powers, or they are all killed. Pick one.
The option most of us like is none of those. It's to try them in the real American judicial system, not in the weird shadow system of Guantanamo. Real trials, not military commissions.
Neil, in World War II the United States had prison camps in the continental US. Should German POWs have been tried in US courts?
Let's take another case. Let's say that the US captured some Serbian soldiers who were attempting to kill US personnel and incarcerated them at a US base in Bosnia. Should these Serbian soldiers be tried in US courts?
Do you see where I'm going with this?
"The option most of us like is none of those."
You are completely deluding yourself if you believe that.
Also, what Jonathan said.
"inally, my own question: let's say we set aside the... who aren't that different from regular kidnappers, who are basically committing assault anyway, right?"
Torture isn't about punishment. At least, not to our society. It's about getting time sensitive information.
@DF: The question I was trying to pose was not "why not torture these people for punishment," it was "why not torture these people for information, such as about accomplices or details of the crime they could only know if they did it."
Jonathan, those guys were POWs, and I'm guessing that they generally got freed at the end of the fighting, like POWs do. We've chosen not to treat the people at Guantanamo as POWs. So the other legitimate option is as criminals in the USA.
It's not an either/or proposition. International law recognizes the existence of people who are neither soldiers nor criminals, for example, partisans. Illegal combatants are neither soldiers or criminals, and should be treated like partisans.
We've chosen not to treat the people at Guantanamo as POWs. So the other legitimate option is as criminals in the USA.
It's hard being polite when idiocy like this is commonly spread about. Criminal trials in the US require standards of evdence that the army and marines simply cannot produce from battlefields. Saying that these terrorists should bwe tried as criminals is stupid.
Suggesting that not treating these terrorists at Guantanamo is our "choice" is equally ignorant. They are not POW's. Fact, not choice. They do not qualify for the protections of the Geneva accords. Fact, not choice. They can legitimately be shot under international law, for merely being caught fighting as irregular troops on a battlefield. Fact.
"@ Anon: if the case is so sealed, why do we keep letting people go?"
Because people like you bitch about them still being in prison!
"@DF: The question I was trying to pose was not "why not torture these people for punishment," it was "why not torture these people for information, such as about accomplices or details of the crime they could only know if they did it."
Oh, you mean really why don't we do that here in the US? Because we have fairly strict laws that prohibit certain interrogation tactics for law enforcement.
As for 'details of the crime they could only know if they did it,' what's the point? You've already arrested them, meaning that you you've presumably already got sufficient evidence to secure formal charges, and their guilt or innocence will be determined by a jury. Are you just looking for reasons to put hot irons into people's flesh?
@ DF: Are you contending that not a single person released from Gitmo was cut loose due to insufficient evidence, like hearsay, or lack of grounds? That every instance of, presumably, actively endangering the American populace was done out of annoyance with blog commenters and their ilk?
Also, regarding why not to do it in the US: I think you're begging the question. Fine, we have those laws now, but by the logic from posters above, why not repeal those laws? "It's the law" is almost always (in my experience) a pretty lame justification, because theoretically the laws are based in something other than mere existence and the typical response is "alright, so maybe the law is bad, too." Also, trials and lawyers are expensive, no one likes being on jury duty; if we have an easy way to get to the bottom of many cases, it sounds like a pareto improvement. All else fails, they go to trial anyway.
I'm not looking for reasons to put hot irons in people's flesh, I am looking for failsafe reasons to torture these people and not those people. I thought that failsafe was "high profile, nigh irrefutably guilty targets," but more and more often I hear justifications that sweep up the citizenry with the supervillains. At the point where we deny them appeals based on due process anyway, it looks like the citizenry has no recourse but to rely on the benevolence of some (potentially) McCarthyesque people.
They can legitimately be shot under international law, for merely being caught fighting as irregular troops on a battlefield.
In many cases, there isn't even evidence that they were doing that.
Take Abdul Razzaq Hekmati. This guy was helping future Northern Alliance commanders break out of Taliban prisons in 1999. Then some political opponents accused him of being a Taliban commander (high-ranking members of the Karzai government dispute these assertions, and he said he wasn't even in Afghanistan at the time).
Anyway, we put him in Guantanamo until he died of cancer. I would've liked this guy to have a real trial, with lawyers and real evidence.
I don't really see the point of imprisoning Taliban foot soldiers who were just fighting because their village headman promised them a few goats or something. And it's really bad if you're imprisoning innocent people. But when there's a good chance you're imprisoning your allies, well, things are totally screwed up.
"@ DF: Are you contending that not a single person released from Gitmo was cut loose due to insufficient evidence, like hearsay, or lack of grounds? That every instance of, presumably, actively endangering the American populace was done out of annoyance with blog commenters and their ilk?"
No, you just wish I was contending that. If you address what I actually say instead of asking leading questions and trying to put words in my mouth, this would go a lot easier.
"I'm not looking for reasons to put hot irons in people's flesh, I am looking for failsafe reasons to torture these people and not those people."
If you cannot or refuse to understand the difference between a domestic criminal justice system that deals with criminals and a military/intelligence system designed to deal with foreign security services and terrorist organizations, then there is no point even talking to you.
The worst serial killers in history are small potatoes compared to terrorist organizations; organizations composed of foreign nationals who choose their targets and design their operations to alter national policies and affect entire systems. They poison wells. They blow up buildings, buses, passenger aircraft, and trains. They carry use rifles, missile launchers, and car bombs. They overthrow governments, sabotage economies, distribute drugs, and massacre children. They kill thousands. The use of torture a guy who might know enough to stop these operations ahead of time is completely justified.
If you can look into the eyes of victims and say to them, 'I could have gotten the information necessary to have prevented this and saved your family, but I just didn't think it was right,' then you have no business being involved in national security. If you can't, then you're on my side after all.
It's very easy to sit on the sidelines and snipe like a football spectator, and lay down sweeping pronouncements and moral judgments on those beneath you because you have no responsibility, and no idea what it takes to secure this nation.
Last comment: here is the Obama policy of waterboarding and worse:
"For Obama, who repeatedly insisted during the 2008 presidential campaign and the transition period that "America doesn't torture," a classified loophole would allow him to follow through on his promise to end harsh interrogations while retaining a full range of presidential options in conducting the war against terrorism.
The proposed loophole, which could come in the form of a classified annex to the manual, is designed to satisfy intelligence experts who fear that an outright ban of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques would limit the government in obtaining threat information that could save American lives. It would also preserve Obama's flexibility to authorize any interrogation tactics he might deem necessary for national security."
In other words, if the President decides he has no other option, waterboarding, and anything else he feels is appropriate, will be used. Can't blame that one on Bush.