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Law, Not Torture, Protects National Security

Posted on Aug 27, 2009

Predictably as always, the Republicans in Congress and in the conservative media are berating Attorney General Eric Holder for deciding to investigate the CIA’s use of abusive interrogation methods on terror suspects.

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They warn that probing this sensitive history will compromise intelligence operations and endanger the nation. They insist that these techniques have, in the words of former Vice President Dick Cheney, saved thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives. They suggest that the attorney general should simply ignore the evidence of illegal conduct and “investigate the terrorists instead,” as if the Justice Department cannot do both.

But as those politicians and pundits ought to understand by now, the American system of justice was always meant to do both—that is, to apprehend and prosecute criminals, and to ensure that those who apprehend them do not violate the law in doing so. That system routinely investigates law enforcement officials who use excessive force because we recognize that the credibility and authority of the law depends on universal accountability.

Voices on the right have often protested prosecutions of police officers and sheriffs because, they claim, such accountability will lead to higher crime. Yet in fact, the declining crime rates of the past three decades have coincided with stronger efforts to ensure that the police observe the rights of suspects and avoid the use of undue violence.

By the same principle, any nation that professes to live under constitutional governance must be able to ensure that its intelligence professionals observe relevant laws, including the international treaties that ban torture and abuse of prisoners. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution, even the president’s wartime authority, that permits the chief executive and his minions to assume dictatorial power. So the attorney general must investigate abuses committed in their name.


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According to Cheney, however, preserving the rule of law will expose the nation to devastating terror attacks. He has repeatedly claimed that waterboarding as well as other abusive methods are all that stand between us and a repetition of 9/11 or much worse. But during his years in office, and especially during the prelude to the invasion of Iraq, he became notorious for exaggerating and fabricating scary “intelligence” that was designed to ram through his political agenda.

Evidence that has emerged in recent days, through the release of the 2004 CIA inspector general’s report on the agency’s use of “enhanced interrogation,” provides little support for the former vice president’s bluster. As Spencer Ackerman notes in The Washington Independent, the uncensored portions of the IG report honestly concede that the effectiveness of those techniques is open to doubt.

The report does not conclude that Abu Zubaydah or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the two ranking al-Qaida operatives captured after 9/11, revealed critical intelligence information because they were waterboarded dozens of times. Instead, the report indicates that most if not all vital information about the jihadi terror network was obtained through normal investigative work and questioning.

What Cheney and his supporters have tried to do, by grabbing brief quotations out of context, is to confuse interrogation per se with the abusive techniques. And what they purposely omit is the inspector general’s damning conclusions about the contradiction between official U.S. human rights policy, especially our condemnation of torture by other states, and the lawless brutality approved by the Bush-Cheney administration.

As for the argument that we cannot protect our security while upholding the law, that is an old canard that reappears—usually, but not always, in the mouths of Republicans—whenever intelligence abuses require investigation and possible prosecution. Many of the same people, including Cheney, uttered the same warnings back in the 1970s and ’80s, when Congress and federal prosecutors probed lawbreaking by the CIA.

But those landmark investigations were followed not by a diminishing of American security and power, but by the fall of the Soviet Union. It is the past eight years, when the Cheney outlook prevailed, that have seen a ruinous reduction in our prestige and influence—and perhaps our future security, as well.

Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer.

© 2009

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By Mary Ann McNeely, August 27, 2009 at 11:18 am Link to this comment

Both Bush and Cheney are monstrous cowards.  The resort to torture and the delight they took and continue to take in it is the proof.  They are both a couple of sadistic, sociopathic children pulling the wings off flies.  “National security” never had a thing to do with it.  Sticking it to Arabs and Muslims (terrorists or not, mostly not) was entirely the point.  And now Obama, former constitutional lawyer turned pimp for the ruling class, continues the practice.

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By Big B, August 27, 2009 at 5:18 am Link to this comment

What I worry about is this, if we are willing to look the other way and give torturers a free pass, what else are we willing to ignore, or have ignored?

Does no one else see the irony of defending freedom by taking freedom away from someone else?

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By amex, August 27, 2009 at 4:41 am Link to this comment

I voted for Obama on the naive assumpion that he would hold up to some of his promises - maybe the bigs ones anyway, like we are a land of laws and those that the laws are to be held accountable.

Now I sit and watch that maggot Cheney spewing forth to the world that we torture and rightly so.

I do not condone torture you psychopathic, murdering, war criminal!!!

I hope the world is aware enough to realize that most of us would like to see him cattle prodded.

Try him and hang him - if he is innocent let him go free - But I want the trial to be held at the Hague and not the Banana Republic

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By ardee, August 27, 2009 at 3:57 am Link to this comment

The law is above all of us, it rules and protects. Without law we are not a nation, without law freedom is impossible.

Those who place themselves above the law must be brought back under its umbrella or we suffer dire consequences indeed. If lawbreakers go unpunished the entire edifice that is our democratic republic cracks and breaks.

When Barack Obama insists that we go forward, that we turn our backs on grave constitutional violations, he does a grave injustice to all of the people who respect and submit to the law. The law is, in fact, a creation of the people, it expresses the will and desire of all of us to live in freedom and security.

I would offer my highest praise to our Attorney General, Eric Holder, for his courageous refusal to ignore his sworn duty. I would offer my deep criticism and distrust of the motives of President Obama for turning his back on his own sworn duty.

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By diamond, August 27, 2009 at 3:30 am Link to this comment

All very well and good Joe but the fact is, as long as you refuse to admit that it was the intelligence services, the Pentagon and the neo cons that planned and executed 9/11 you haven’t got a leg to stand on. 9/11 is their ace in the hole. As long as they can go on pretending that some Muslim students from Hamburg joined up with some Saudis and Pakistanis and flew hijacked planes all over America while the US Air Force stayed on the ground and did nothing, they will be able to tear chunks out of the constitution and trample all over the Convention Against Torture and the Declaration of Human Rights. Somehow, someone has to have the guts to tell the truth. As Gandhi said: even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.

A few days ago I heard a man who used to work for the CIA on the radio saying that if the man they had imprisoned for the Lockerbie bombing had got his appeal into court he would have been released because there was a mountain of evidence that proved he didn’t do the bombing that was withheld from the defence in the original trial. So clearly, even if 9/11 had been treated as a criminal case and investigated as such, there is no way of knowing if that would have put the perpetrators in jail either. A Scottish woman who lost her son in the bombing was also interviewed and said that there has never been a credible investigation into the Lockerbie bombing and she also said it was not the work of one man and she was not satisfied that the man they locked up was the right one.

9/11 was not an aberration either: there are a string of such incidents. The Bay of Tonkin attack that never happened allowed America to go to war with Vietnam. The US engineered attack on the SS Liberty was meant to allow America to get involved in Irael’s war with Egypt but it went disastrously wrong. And, of course there’s the anthrax letter attacks which were carried out by CIA operatives with anthrax from an illegal CIA bio warfare weapons program but were meant to implicate Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Which is why Cheney was swallowing Cipro on the evening of 9/11 as Rumsfeld rushed around ordering underlings to bring him evidence that Saddam did the 9/11 attacks. As long as these lies are perpetuated you will have Cheney wandering around like a monkey in a suit claiming that torture prevented further terror attacks. And how do you refute it when he’s protected by the Big Lie?

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By godistwaddle, August 27, 2009 at 2:48 am Link to this comment

If torture makes a nation secure, why did the Red Army get to Berlin?

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