Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Sanctions Against Iran and Justifying Torture of Prisoners
President Bush spoke before the UN. Iraq and Iran both figured prominently in his speech but there are doubts as to how his assurance to Muslims would play in the Islamic world. The facts about his position on Gaza, Lebanon and Iran are known. The mess resulting from his war in Iraq cannot be downplayed or glossed over. UNITED NATIONS -- President Bush on Tuesday appealed directly to Muslims to assure them that the United States is not waging war with Islam as he laid out a vision for peace in the Middle East before skeptical world leaders at the United Nations. On the sidelines, Bush pressed Iran to return at once to international talks on its nuclear program and threatened consequences if they do not."
President Bush might not get all he wants. The structure of the UN Security Council no longer allows the super powers to bully and push resolutions through but the United States still has clout and uses it.
On another front -- the issue of torture of prisoners -- despite unexpectedly hard opposition from members of his own party and worldwide condemnation the president has not given up trying to get a legislation passed to permit his administration to continue practices that contravene Article 26 of the Geneva Convention relative to The Treatment of Prisoners of War.
There are two items in today's Washington Post about this issue, both critical of the president's position.
In Torture Is Torture Eugene Robinson writes:
I wish I could turn to cheerier matters, but I just can't get past this torture issue -- the fact that George W. Bush, the president of the United States of America, persists in demanding that Congress give him the right to torture anyone he considers a "high-value" terrorist suspect. The president of the United States. Interrogation by torture. This just can't be happening.
It's past time to stop mincing words. The Decider, or maybe we should now call him the Inquisitor, sticks to anodyne euphemisms. He speaks of "alternative" questioning techniques, and his umbrella term for the whole shop of horrors is "the program." Of course, he won't fully detail the methods that were used in the secret CIA prisons -- and who knows where else? -- but various sources have said they have included not just the infamous "waterboarding," which the administration apparently will reluctantly forswear, but also sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, bombardment with ear-splitting noise and other assaults that cause not just mental duress but physical agony. That is torture, and to call it anything else is a lie.
Tom Malinowski draws comparison with methods used when Joseph Stalin ruled the former USSR. Call Cruelty What It Is
President Bush is urging Congress to let the CIA keep using "alternative" interrogation procedures -- which include, according to published accounts, forcing prisoners to stand for 40 hours, depriving them of sleep and use of the "cold cell," in which the prisoner is left naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees and doused with cold water.
Bush insists that these techniques are not torture -- after all, they don't involve pulling out fingernails or applying electric shocks. He even says that he "would hope" the standards he's proposing are adopted by other countries. But before he again invites America's enemies to use such "alternative" methods on captured Americans, he might benefit from knowing a bit of their historical origins and from hearing accounts of those who have experienced them. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for the president's reading list.
He might begin with Robert Conquest's classic work on Stalin, "The Great Terror." Conquest wrote: "When there was time, the basic [Soviet Secret police] method for obtaining confessions and breaking the accused man was the 'conveyor' -- continual interrogation by relays of police for hours and days on end. As with many phenomena of the Stalin period, it has the advantage that it could not easily be condemned by any simple principle. Clearly, it amounted to unfair pressure after a certain time and to actual physical torture later still, but when? . . . At any rate, after even twelve hours, it is extremely uncomfortable. After a day, it becomes very hard. And after two or three days, the victim is actually physically poisoned by fatigue. It was as painful as any torture."