Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, November 05, 2007

More Opposition to Waterboarding

Four retired JAGs have written to Senator Patrick Leahy to express their grave concerns about waterboarding and Mukasey's hedging on it (via Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars). Here's their superb letter.

Dear Chairman Leahy,

In the course of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s consideration of President Bush’s nominee for the post of Attorney General, there has been much discussion, but little clarity, about the legality of “waterboarding” under United States and international law. We write Because this issue above all demands clarity: Waterboarding is inhumane, it is torture, and it is illegal.

In 2006 the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the authority to prosecute terrorists under the war crimes provisions of Title 18 of the U.S. Code. In connection with those hearings the sitting Judge Advocates General of the military services were asked to submit written responses to a series of questions regarding “the use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of drowning (i.e., waterboarding) . . .” Major General Scott Black, U.S. Army Judge Advocate General, Major General Jack Rives, U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General, Rear Admiral Bruce MacDonald, U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General, and Brigadier Gen. Kevin Sandkuhler, Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, unanimously and unambiguously agreed that such conduct is inhumane and illegal and would constitute a violation of international law, to include Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

We agree with our active duty colleagues. This is a critically important issue - but it is not, and never has been, a complex issue, and even to suggest otherwise does a terrible disservice to this nation. All U.S. Government agencies and personnel, and not just America’s military forces, must abide by both the spirit and letter of the controlling provisions of international law. Cruelty and torture - no less than wanton killing - is neither justified nor legal in any circumstance. It is essential to be clear, specific and unambiguous about this fact - as in fact we have been throughout America’s history, at least until the last few years. Abu Ghraib and other notorious examples of detainee abuse have been the product, at least in part, of a self-serving and destructive disregard for the well-established legal principles applicable to this issue. This must end.

The Rule of Law is fundamental to our existence as a civilized nation. The Rule of Law is not a goal which we merely aspire to achieve; it is the floor below which we must not sink. For the Rule of Law to function effectively, however, it must provide actual rules yhat can be followed. In this instance, the relevant rule - the law - as long been clear: Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances. To suggest otherwise - or even to give credence to such a suggestion - represents both an affront to the law and to the core values of our nation.

We respectfully urge you to consider these principles in connection with the nomination of Judge Mukasey.


Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter, United States Navy (Ret.)
Judge Advocate General of the Navy, 2000-02

Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, United States Navy (Ret.)
Judge Advocate General of the Navy, 1997-2000

Major General John L. Fugh, United States Army (Ret.)
Judge Advocate General of the Army, 1991-93

Brigadier General David M. Brahms, United States Marine Corps (Ret.)
Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant, 1985-88

I'm interested to see how Uncle Jimbo and the torture apologist crowd respond to this one. The JAGs have also opposed stripping prisoners of their habeas and other rights. They understand the importance of rule of law and due process.

Meanwhile, Countdown (also via Crooks and Liars) has the appalling (but sadly, not surprising) story of former acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin. He volunteered to undergo waterboarding to see what it was like, and quite sensibly affirmed previous laws that it was torture and unacceptable. Because of this, the Bush administration pushed him out of the Department of Justice.

NPR's Fresh Air recently ran two interviews on Guantanamo. The first one, with Clive Stafford Smith, is extraordinary. He covers the systemic mistreatment of prisoners, the deeply corrupt process by which many prisoners were arrested in the first place, and the government's apathy (or outright hostility) toward due process and freeing the innocent.

Daniel Levin's case shows yet again that the Bush administration was warned that their horrendous judgment was wrong but they just didn't give a damn. Not only did they ignore the sane, wise, moral and legal opinions, they moved to destroy those that held them. Broder and the usual gang of idiots will continue to pretend that if only Bush's critics — over 70% of Americans at this point — were polite, Bush would listen to reason. Nevermind the mountain of evidence to the contrary. The Bush administration and the neocons are stupid, cruel and vicious. They're also astoundingly arrogant, in inverse proportion to their actual competence. They are reckless at best, truly evil at worst.

If you think such terms are too strong, ask yourself, what kind of people go to such extraordinary lengths to subvert the rule of law, all vetting and all normal decision-making? I don't see how any normal terms can apply to them. What kind of human being fights so hard and viciously to torture other human beings? How pathetic, weak and morally bankrupt is Bush that he not only let Cheney, Addington and the rest run roughshod over his own Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, but even egged them on — for torture? Even for people so stunted as to seek a war and lie to get it, it's atrocious. Not even all the obtuse, pompous hawks still congratulating themselves for invading Iraq are for torture (although sadly but surprisingly, some are). What sort of human being thinks, however unconsciously, "This shall be my life's work. I must crush all opposition to achieve this. Centuries of laws, testimony, common sense, basic morality and religious teachings are all wrong. My political opponents and my own colleagues are all wrong. All the experience of all our own interrogators and of torture victims are wrong and have no bearing. I am right, as I have been about everything. Everyone who says that torture is illegal, immoral and ineffective is wrong. I shall not be budged. We must inflict great pain on other human beings. We must torture."

They clearly have always known that others will view what they do as wrong. Theirs are not the honest mistakes of people trying to do good, and it's naive and dangerous to think so. It may be in part egomania, megalomania or some other form of mental illness on their part (and a psychiatrist could probably make a better evaluation), but "sociopath," with its egomania and lack of empathy and remorse seems to be the strongest fit.

(For that matter, what kind of person is more upset by harsh words for the Bush administration than he or she is by torture?)

Bush wants to leave his mark in the history books, and he will. He is and shall be remembered, among many other well-deserved epithets, as the Torture President.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

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