From Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

“Yesterday was a vital day of clarity for what has happened to America in the Bush presidency. …

“Q Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?

“THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President “for torture.” We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we’re party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.”

It’s not torture. It’s a “dunk in water.” Like baptism. Or maybe like the dunk tank at the school carnival.

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By way of Marie, a post from Chicago crime writer Sara Paretsky on the cost of going along with the war and the rest of it:

“I’ve recently returned from a publicity tour of Scandinavia, where my recent novel Fire Sale was published in translation. While I was there, 40,000 Hungarians—out of a population of 10 million—stood outside their president’s house in silent protest because he had lied about the economy to get elected. In almost every press interview I gave, journalists didn’t have any questions about my work, my deathless prose or my characters, or about me. They wanted to know why Americans weren’t in the streets, or some place, protesting what has been done in our names. They weren’t asking in an aggressive, or censorious way; they were asking out of anguish, because we are so powerful, and what we do affects the whole world.”

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Plainclothes Torturers

Excellent story this week in The Legal Times (subscription required) about newly declassified memos by military lawyers on the subject of stretching the legal definition of torture to allow more pressure to be put on our Global War on Terrorism prisoners. Civilian lawyers in the Justice Department (including a faculty member at my current workplace, Boalt Hall) advised our commander-in-chief he was standing on firm legal ground in allowing the military to take the gloves off.

How did the civilians’ counterparts in the armed forces — the judge advocates general — feel about expanding the definition of torture to allow more rough stuff and, presumably, get more actionable intelligence (Interrogator: “How does that feel?” Prisoner: “Aiyee! That really hurts!” Interrogator: “Captain, he says it hurts.”)?

In a word, they were against. According to The Legal Times story:

“… The military lawyers predicted that adopting more aggressive interrogation techniques to fight the war on terror would undermine America’s relationships with allies, hurt the reputation of the military, and possibly put U.S. troops in harm’s way. …

“… ‘Will the American people find we have missed the forest for the trees by condoning practices that, while technically legal, are inconsistent with our most fundamental values? How would such perceptions affect our ability to prosecute the Global War on Terrorism?’ wrote Rear Adm. Michael Lohr, then-judge advocate general of the Navy.

“The new documents reveal deep disagreement between top uniformed lawyers in the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps and the administration’s civilian attorneys at the Pentagon and the Justice Department. The JAGs’ memos blast legal positions taken by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and point to a secret memo from OLC lawyers that appears to have given the green light for U.S. troops to use interrogation

tactics in violation of military law.”

’24’: Week in Review

Earlier in the season, “24” was getting some heat for its depiction of Middle Eastern Muslims as remorseless though very clever killers. The show, and the Fox network, responded with some public-service announcements informing viewers that not every Muslim is bad. And one episode portrayed a pair of young Arab-American sporting-goods store owners fighting alongside the show’s hero against a team of bad guys deployed by a ruthless U.S. defense contractor.

Last night’s episode introduced a new group of cartoonish evil-abetters.

The terrorists hijack a nuclear weapon in an ambush described as happening variously “in Iowa,” “in mountainous terrain” and at latitude 37 degrees north and longitude 115 degrees west, a point that happens to be a scrubby patch of desert about 60 miles north of Las Vegas. The geographic niceties aside, the bad guys have a bomb and appear to be heading for a big city — Chicago? — to set it off. The U.S. counterterrorism force has one chance of finding the mastermind and stopping the attack, though — a bad guy they’ve captured at an L.A.-area marina. To get the information they need to avert the attack, it’s clear they’re going to torture the suspect.

But the terrorist leader is one step ahead of them. He actually has one of his henchmen call a liberal civil-liberties lawyer (working for a group called Amnesty Global). The lawyer manages to wake up a federal judge, present his case that the government is about to abuse an upstanding U.S. citizen, get an injunction, and hightail it down to counterterrorism HQ to stop the torture session — all in 10 minutes on the show’s real-time clock. Of course, none of that process happens on camera. All we know is that, just as the interrogators are about to do their stuff, they’re halted by an insufferably smug attorney spouting some Bill of Rights crap. Of course, no one, including the president of the United States, is willing to contravene the court order halting the interrogation, even though millions of lives are at stake; and though the civil-liberties lawyer managed to get a judge to turn handsprings in the middle of the night and get an order in a millisecond, the script explains the government is powerless to appeal the order until the following day.

Luckily, it turns out that there’s one man willing to defy the misguided application of constitutional protections: Jack Bauer, who gets hold of the suspect and, after an agonizing couple of minutes and several shattered suspect fingers, finds out everything he wants to know.

Like I said — the civil-liberties lawyer is just a cartoonish dupe. Just as the greedy, amoral defense-firm execs were earlier in the show. But you have to wonder how many people are watching this, saying, “Goddamn liberals!” and cheering for the torture. Lots and lots, I bet.

Our Torture Problem

Andrew Sullivan, of Andrew Sullivan fame, has a huge and absorbing piece in The New York Times Sunday Book Review on Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the Bush administration (along with the rest of us) and torture. He’s reviewing a couple of newly published books that document the administration’s policy on and practice of torture (“Torture and Truth,” by Mark Danner, and “The Abu Ghraib Investigations,” edited by Steven Strasser),

Sullivan’s take is thoughtful. He supported going to war in Iraq, still supports it, but has become a forceful critic of the Bush administration’s handling of it. His critique of the administration’s rationalization of torture and abusive tactics is pretty devastating. Although I’ll never agree with him on going to war in Iraq, I respect his willingness to look at his own, and other citizens’, complicity in what has taken place:

“Did those of us who fought so passionately for a ruthless war against terrorists give an unwitting green light to these abuses? Were we naïve in believing that characterizing complex conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq as a single simple war against ”evil” might not filter down and lead to decisions that could dehumanize the enemy and lead to abuse? Did our conviction of our own rightness in this struggle make it hard for us to acknowledge when that good cause had become endangered? I fear the answer to each of these questions is yes. …

“I’m not saying that those who unwittingly made this torture possible are as guilty as those who inflicted it. I am saying that when the results are this horrifying, it’s worth a thorough reassessment of rhetoric and war methods. Perhaps the saddest evidence of our communal denial in this respect was the election campaign. The fact that American soldiers were guilty of torturing inmates to death barely came up. It went unmentioned in every one of the three presidential debates. John F. Kerry, the ”heroic” protester of Vietnam, ducked the issue out of what? Fear? Ignorance? Or a belief that the American public ultimately did not care, that the consequences of seeming to criticize the conduct of troops would be more of an electoral liability than holding a president accountable for enabling the torture of innocents? I fear it was the last of these. Worse, I fear he may have been right.”