What Fresh Hell Is This?

May 8, 2011

Jack Kelly Sunday

Jack fumbles on torture.

In this week's column in the Post-Gazette, columnist Jack Kelly parrots the hardly surprising hard-right meme that whatever President Obama did, he did it wrong.

In this case he's talking about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Our friend Jack took issue with the sometimes contradictory reports of bin Laden's death:
John Brennan, the president's counterterrorism adviser, told reporters Monday that bin Laden, gun in hand, was killed while trying to use his wife as a human shield. On Tuesday, the White House backtracked. Bin Laden wasn't armed. He didn't try to use his wife as a human shield.

Mr. Brennan may merely have been confused about the details. But shouldn't the counterterrorism adviser know such details before talking to reporters?
On this he is, perhaps, correct, though Jack Kelly complaining about other people getting details wrong is an odd thought to ponder.

Isn't it?

But let's get right to the important lie of today's column:
Vital clues to bin Laden's whereabouts came from al-Qaida bigwigs interrogated in secret CIA prisons and at Guantanamo Bay. Two apparently didn't divulge their secrets until they were waterboarded.

Waterboarding is torture, Candidate Obama said. He promised to close Gitmo, but it's still open.
If we didn't know the truth, what can we surmise that Jack's saying here?
  • Some al-Qaida big wigs were waterboarded
  • They gave up the vital clues to bin Laden's whereabouts in direct response to that waterboarding,
The implication, of course, is that since the waterboarding led directly to the killing bin Laden, Obama was wrong to denounce it. And that we should all siddown and STFU about it.

That's the argument, but is it valid? While the first above bullet is certainly true, the second is not so true.

Let's see if we can inject some facts into this discussion.

Dan Froomkin is a good place to start:
Chronological details of the hunt for bin Laden remain murky, but piecing together various statements from administration and intelligence officials, it appears the first step may have been the CIA learning the nickname of an al Qaeda courier -- Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti -- from several detainees picked up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Then, in 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind, was captured, beaten, slammed into walls, shackled in stress positions and made to feel like he was drowning 183 times in a month. When asked about al-Kuwaiti, however, KSM denied that the he had anything to do with al Qaeda.

In 2004, officials detained a man named Hassan Ghul and brought him to one of the CIA’s black sites, where he identified al-Kuwaiti as a key courier.

A third detainee, Abu Faraj al-Libi, was arrested in 2005 and under CIA interrogation apparently denied knowing al-Kuwaiti at all.

Once the courier's real name was established -- about four years ago, and by other means -- intelligence analysts stayed on the lookout for him. After he was picked up on a monitored phone call last year, he ultimately led authorities to bin Laden.

The link between the Bush-era interrogation regime and bin Laden’s killing, then, appears tenuous -- especially since two of the three detainees in question apparently provided deceptive information about the courier even after being interrogated under durress.
So it didn't work. And even if it did, even if a tidbit or two (or twelve) of actionable intelligence were to be squeezed out of a prisoner, it's still illegal.

From the Convention against Torture (made into US Law in 1996):
Article 1

1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Article 2

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
Still, it didn't work. And repeating the lie a thousand times won't change that.

Let me push back a little (or at least try to):
  • Torture doesn't work.
  • Torture is illegal.

1 comment:

EdHeath said...

My personal beef with this operation is that as far as I can tell we could have just as easily captured bin Laden and had him taken back to the US. I think that the world would have reacted favorably to that, and that people we be just as happy for bin Laden to have been killed on the fourth of July as they were about him being killed last week.

What got me about the Kelly column was the utterly bizarre suggestion that somebody else authorized the mission to kill bin Laden. As if there is some secret constitution that allows the top Republican elected official to take over the government in times of crisis or something. Even if Kelly was just repeating some lunatics' opinion, I have to wonder if Kelly is just intentionally trying to whip up Democrats with this, that stupid, or possibly just as crazy as the guy he is quoting. Kelly even just mentioning this silly idea gives it a level of credibility it doesn't deserve.

And by the way, it is not the same thing as the 9/11 truthers, although let me say I do not believe Bush either deliberately did nothing to prevent or had any serious foreknowledge that 9/11 was going to occur. Bush was briefed shortly before the attack about the possibility of an attack, but since it was one of probably 200 briefings a President get a year, there is no reason it should have stood out more.