Wednesday, December 31, 2014

All Aboard!


Hop on board the train for 2015. It's pulling out of the station tonight at midnight. Some of us may not be ready to go yet but we have no choice. The Time Train keeps to its annual schedule whether we like it or not.

When you're young, it seems like that old train is just chugging along at about 20 miles an hour. "Come on!" you want to say, "I want my driver's license!  I want to graduate! I want to be able to go in the bars! I want to be an adult!"

As you get older, the train seems to pick up speed. "Can my little baby really be in school already, have we really been married 20 years, is that really a gray hair I see?"

The Time Train drags a little into your late 50's and early 60's, at least if you're like I was. "Man, I've worked 50 years, I am so so ready to retire and do as I please with my time." Finally, it happens. You get your Medicare card. You turn in your retirement letter. You work your last day.

And now, you want the damn train to stop altogether for a while. You had to walk right up to old age for retirement to happen but you'd really don't want to get any older. "I think I'll stop right here, thank you very much."

But, nope, darned if the engineer doesn't kick it into overdrive and you're 66, 67, 68 before you know it and next year you'll be 69 (at least if you my age, you will be be) and the year after that, oh, my God, 70!

So, you know, if I had my druthers, I'd just hang out in 2014 for another year but of course, I don't have my druthers and neither does anyone else.

I hear the whistle now. Time to climb on.

I hope you all have a wonderful ride through 2015.

Friday, December 12, 2014

No Excuses for Torture


Here is my unequivocal statement: torture is always wrong; it is always immoral; it should always be forbidden by peoples and governments that consider themselves civilized members of  the species. Period. No if, ands or buts.

Per the recently released Senate Intelligence Report on Torture, these are some of the things we did to our captives: we subjected them to "rectal rehydration", we beat them, we exposed them to extreme temperatures (at least, one man died of hypothermia), we forced them to maintain stress positions (hanging from their wrists with toes barely touching the floor, for instance) for up to 48 hours, put them in ice baths, confined them in small boxes. We isolated them with no human contact for over a month. We shocked them and deprived them of sleep for days at a time, bombarded them with constant bright lights and loud music. We threatened their children, threatened to rape their mothers, threatened to cut their wife's throat.  And, of course, we waterboarded them, some many times.

They often suffered hallucinations, paranoia (well, yeah!), insomnia and other psychological issues of various kinds. They often attempted to commit suicide. Doesn't this sound like the ideal candidate from whom to receive valid intelligence to you?

So, you might say, "who cares, they were Al Qaida monsters who killed our people". (Sort of makes you think of the "who cares, they're thugs" meme, doesn't it)? But one reason we should care is that we didn't necessarily know that. We didn't take great pains to make sure. It was often a matter of "well, they might have...." So, we most likely did these things to some innocent people.

Another reason we should care is that torture doesn't work. Before our new torture program started, the F.B.I. was in charge. They were skilled at interrogation techniques that didn't involve torture and they were getting results. Abu Zubaydah, for instance, was our first high value capture. He answered all the F.B.I.'s questions until the C.I.A., booted the agency out and took over, subjecting Zubaydah to their new torture techniques. He never gave them anymore actionable intelligence.

John McCain, who endured torture himself, told us that from the git-go but the Bush administration did not want to hear it.

We often hear the scenario about imminent threat as a rationale for torture (the so-called "dirty bomb" scenario") but when the C.I.A. took control of Zubaydah, they kept him in solitary confinement for 42 days. Does that sound like they thought any information he might have was "urgent"? They waterboarded him at least 83 times (and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed over twice as many times). Really? It takes that many times to "break" someone or did they just keep doing it for the pure vindictiveness of it?

Many of both the F.B.I. and C.I.A. agents themselves were aghast at the new program. Many of them quit because of it. The whole program was amateur hour from the word go. The report notes that "numerous CIA officers involved had serious documented personal and professional problems, including histories of violence and records of abusive treatment to others". Well, hell, that's no surprise, is it? It takes a certain kind of individual to be able to perform this kind of "task".  On one occasion, they accidentally detained and tortured two of their own informants before they realized their error.

Much of the program was out-sourced (about 85 percent were private contractors toward the end). Quoted in the report: "two contract psychologists devised the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program." This, although they had no experience with Al Qaida or interrogation. These two eventually incorporated themselves precisely to continue their CIA contract work for which American taxpayers paid them $81 million. Jesus, and we worry about our taxes going for a welfare mom getting food stamps or an immigrant child getting medical treatment!

And the final reason we should care about torture is because of what it does to us. When we brutalize other people, we brutalize ourselves. When we radically go against our own moral code, we are no longer moral ourselves. There are no excuses. I am not religious so I don't base my objections on faith but if you actually believe all these things your god tell you, then you should.

We in the U.S. like to think of ourselves as the "best" country and in many ways, we are, although we've fallen down on the job often enough. But when we approve of torture, it's hard to make that claim. I don't care what they did, we are not them, or at least, we like to believe we're not.

Lastly, I'd like to share my thoughts on what torture is. It isn't violence and it isn't even murder. To me, torture involves time. If you believe someone has intelligence that could save your child, I could easily see threatening to, say, shoot that person in the kneecap and then if they refuse to tell you, actually doing it. Then threatening to shoot the second one. Even killing them in the end. So, it is not like I am saying that any form of painful coercion is necessarily wrong or unjustified.

What defines torture is the long, systematic application of unbearable pain or fear or humiliation. Keeping someone in seclusion for 42 days doesn't seem like intelligence-gathering, it seem like sadism. Waterboarding someone 83 times doesn't seem like intelligence-gathering, it seems like vengeance. Sticking a tube up someone's butt and letting food flow into it until their belly swells, doesn't seem like intelligence-gathering, it seems like the actions of someone who simply gets off on inflicting pain.

I don't want it done in my name....not ever. I want to believe my country is better than that.

Many of our captives who were released from custody have now joined ISIS. Are you surprised? Torture simply ups the ante. They think of even worse things to do to us, we think of worse things to do to them.....and on and on.