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Saturday, January 24, 2009 | 6:40 AM

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The desperation of the conservatives is evident; we aren’t going to torture people anymore and they don’t like it. Witness this blog entry which starts, "Over the objections of a large majority of 9/11 family members, President Barack Obama is expected to sign an Executive Order today directing that the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base be closed…" Curious to see what a "majority" constituted I clicked on the reference, a link to the Washington Times and found that "a majority" by their definition constituted five family members. So out of 2000 victims, each I’m certain with a number of relative, five of them constitute a "large majority." To them this is more important than the fact that it was a clear position of Obama in running for office, and a part of what he was elected to do. And such is the fury of the Republican punditry in trying to repeal the results of the last election. Five is the majority of 10,000 and supersedes the majority of American people. Five in fact, is greater than 70 million. Aren’t you glad we’re spreading democracy? The rhetoric is being spewed out at a record pace as the Conservative spin machine looks to find some kind of traction in defending its position. The reason that they can’t get traction though is their position is untenable.

The article goes on to discuss the merits of keeping Gitmo open, "the safest place to have these trials is Guantanamo Bay. If they were to move to the homeland it would endanger all of us ," said Lorraine Arias Believeau of Barnegat, New Jersey, whose brother, Adam, was killed in the attacks. This particular blog has no special place in the argument, it just happens to be one I read, but the fallacies utilized are common to the Repub…erp…conservative media. Firstly, it assigns a false authority to the members of the 9/11 families in addressing these issues. Precisely what expertise doe Lorraine have on these matters? Does the death of her brother, as tragic as it is, imbue her with some ability to know what the rest of the world does not? Does it validate her claim that it would endanger us all? No, of course not, but the representation of her brother’s death is meant to illicit sympathy over logic, legality and morality, and cause us to agree with the idea of torture. Secondly, it allows Lorraine to make baseless statements that go unchecked. What evidence is there that if we had the trials anywhere but Guantanamo Bay it would "endanger all of us." Furthermore embedded in the rhetoric is the notion that torture works. So let’s cut through the rhetoric and examine this issue from three perspectives, the morality of it, the legality of it and the effectiveness of it.

Joe Scarborough, bloviating freshly this AM on the subject, challenged anyone, "with ears to hear" him to Google, "Geneva convention rules" and read them. The argument he addresses of course is the whole notion of an enemy combatant needing to be in "uniform." Since these are not technically "enemy combatants" the Geneva conventions don’t apply to them. The essence of this swill is ridiculous. We incarcerate them, without due process, because they are "enemy combatants" but we can do so in Cuba and torture them because they aren’t "enemy combatants." This is why the Supreme Court, the conservative Supreme Court mind you, has already struck down this entire argument . Still, a far more telling point, and one somewhat ignored by a large portion of the media, and even the blogosphere is a very basic point, and it’s one that Joe blows past without a second thought.

Henry Dumant founder of the Red Cross and the inspiration of the Geneva Conventions was motivated when he came across a battlefield, and saw 80,000 wounded soldiers not being cared for. He assimilated a group of civilians from town, mostly women and children, and they used the phrase "all are brothers." Brothers. It would be very different if the phrase were "all are soldiers." Our bestowal of basic rights to enemy combatants, whether uniformed are not, is not based upon a treaty. That treaty is an agreement on a premise that we are brothers. i.e. people. As people they deserve to be treated in a certain manner, regardless of whether they would treat others in the same way. All the rhetoric about what "they would do" and about "uniforms" and so on is designed to do one thing, dehumanize them. By dehumanizing them we justify torture. However in dehumanizing them we dehumanize ourselves. History is full of this sort of dehumanization and it’s fraught with abuse. From ancient Egypt, to ancient Rome, to early America, to World War II Germany there’s been arguments to make people less than people and it’s always followed with abuses of people, enslavement and torture and murder. The least discussed but most important issue here is not of legality, not of effectiveness but of morality. Our humanity as a nation can only be defined by how we treat our enemies. If we treat them as they would treat us we become them. What voice then do we have in the world when we talk about "spreading democracy?" How can China listen to us if we denounce them on human rights? To preach morality to the world we must be a moral society, and we cannot do that if we are advocating torture. It never fails to amaze me how in some instances the Christian Right can be all about the Bible, but in others completely ignore it. Is torture in concert with the Lord’s admonition, "love your enemy?" Sorry, for all the high minded rhetoric about morality the right fails in this regard. The primary reason we shouldn’t be in the torture business is because it is just plain wrong.

The legality, as I’ve said before is a settled issue at this point. The conservative Supreme Court has settled it, but it’s still not settled in the minds of the Conservative pundits. They cling to the same tired, defeated and wrong arguments as though they haven’t been addressed yet. Let’s not be confused, there’s a reason we are torturing people in Cuba and not in the US—it’s legal there! It has nothing to do with the safety that Ms. Believeau of Barnegat, New Jersey wants to babble about. It has everything to do with bending the rule of law. The position of some, literally is advocating for a governments right to take a person from their home in the US, and without due process, without any opportunity to consult with an attorney, without even telling them why , and ship them to Cuba where they are imprisoned, tortured and perhaps even killed. They actually w ant this to be legal!!! Not only that, they are flabbergasted over the notion that someone wouldn’t. These, the people of "small government" are pushing to legalize such a system.

It would seem to some that the problem with legalizing things like getting around little things like due process one is going to bump into some constitutional issues. However, the Republicans, true to form, have turned things on their head, and insisted that making laws against expatriation for the purpose of torture is what is "unconstitutional" in the infamous, "torture memo. " This memo, as infamous for its scholarly value as for its use, is an example of the best legal arguments the Republican machine could come up with. So why go through so much trouble to try and represent sophistry as authentic research? For one simple reason—it’s all they have. The truth is there is no legal argument to be made. Torture is wrong, and torture is illegal and there’s really nothing to even discuss Mr. Scarborough. I have a challenge for you Joe. How about you Google, "legal arguments torture " and read up on your topic before you start blathering ignorance all over my TV set next time.

Yet, in spite of the fact that it’s unchristian, immoral, and illegal, the Republicans think they have their trump card in "but what if it stops a terrorist attack" argument. Who can argue against water boarding some America-hating terrorist who would saw your head off without a second thought in order to prevent another 9/11. Here it gets interesting as they talk out of both sides of their mouth trying to defend their position. I want to hone in on that position for just a couple of minutes before heading on over to discussing whether torture actually works. They make two arguments lately. One is that this is the only way to get whatever information we want out of them and it’s the only way to stop terrorist attacks. They then prove that it stops terrorist attacks by pointing out there aren’t any. At the same time they have an entirely separate line of argument against closing Guantanamo, talking about the 61 terrorists we’ve already sent back to the battlefield to prove their point. So let’s pause a moment and consider the symmetry of these two arguments. In the first torture appears to be working to stop terrorist attacks. My question is, if it works so well why are we releasing the terrorists? After all, President Obama only signed the order yesterday, so it’s my reasonable assertion that these alleged 61 were no a result of the closing of Gitmo, but must be a result of the tactics that were used prior to his inauguration. Furthermore, if they’ve been released "to the battlefield" then that implies there is a "battlefield" and if there’s a battlefield then the torture isn’t working.

Let’s also look at the arguments separately. The "proof" that our present strategy is working is that there haven’t been any 9/11 attacks since. It reminds me of a series of jokes we used to tell when I was young. Q. "How can you tell if an elephants been in your fridge?" A. "By the footprints in your pizza." Q. Why should you keep garlic in your fridge A. To keep the elephants out. Q. Do you have elephant footprints in your fridge?. (No.) Then that proves it’s working!!! And then we all yuck it up because it’s ridiculous. The inherent logic of something preposterous not happening because we did something to prevent it form happening is shallow enough that even children can see through it. The preposterous, the outrageous, the unlikely doesn’t really happen that often. There has only been one attack on American soil after the likes of 9/11. There were some prevented before 9/11 without the use of such tactics and there’s every reason to believe that the only reason 9/11 ever happened is that conventional tactics weren’t being followed. If anything it is probably the case that our current strategy is making the Al Queda stronger, not weaker, at least if the last National Intelligence Estimate is meant to be believed . In saying that, let’s not forget that the CIA is responsible for both the report and the torturing, so I wouldn’t get to caught up in trying to present it as a case of liberal bias.

Torture simply is not an effective way to get results. I refer you to an interesting piece in the Washington Post which recounts 5 myths about torture . It’s not my intent to rewrite this article but to some up in a few easy statements, torture really doesn’t work. It is probably successful less than 10 percent of the time, and whatever time is saved by that is more than lost when people lie, especially if people don’t know anything and they are merely saying what they need to say in order to stop the torture. Torture is more than bad humanity and bad law; it’s bad interrogation.

Lastly though I want to a allude to an argument I made at the outset. President Obama ran on this platform. This is not some Jan 21 surprise that has the whole world reeling, it is part of what he was elected to do. For all their grandiose statements about backing the President and respecting the vote, the extremists on the right need to now heed their own words. If they love democracy they have to love it when it fails. We are not a center right country. America does not agree with you. The election showed it and the polls show it. I now quote about ten million internet users from eight short years ago, from when our country was enjoying peace and prosperity and Bush stole the election, "You lost, get over it."


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