Today, President Bush used his weekly radio address to defend his veto of a bill that would have banned the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture by the CIA. The president’s first point was to remind America that al-Qaeda is out there and wanting to attack. “Al Qaida remains determined to attack America again. Two years ago, Osama bin Laden warned the American people, “Operations are under preparation, and you will see them on your own ground once they are finished.” Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists.”
He then launched into a defense of his veto by claiming that torture is the reason why the U.S. has not been attacked since 9/11. “The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror — the CIA program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives. This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us prevent a number of attacks. The program helped us stop a plot to strike a U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles, and a plot to crash passenger planes into Heathrow Airport or buildings in downtown London.”
Bush was careful to avoid the use of the word torture. “The main reason this program has been effective is that it allows the CIA to use specialized interrogation procedures to question a small number of the most dangerous terrorists under careful supervision. The bill Congress sent me would deprive the CIA of the authority to use these safe and lawful techniques. Instead, it would restrict the CIA’s range of acceptable interrogation methods to those provided in the Army Field Manual. The procedures in this manual were designed for use by soldiers questioning lawful combatants captured on the battlefield. They were not intended for intelligence professionals trained to question hardened terrorists.”
Let me see if I understand this. There is a difference between terrorists and enemy combatants, but when a suspect is captured the administration has based their justification for unlimited detention without legal rights on their status as enemy combatants. Can a terrorism suspect also be an enemy combatant? Isn’t the definition of an enemy combatant based on the notion these are people who could attack the United States or our troops? Why is it necessary to have two sets of rules? Since these classifications are subjective, the administration can easily label a person a terrorist and torture without having to prove anything to anyone. These detainees are whatever the administration claims they are.
President Bush claims that the U.S. must torture because al-Qaeda can read the Army Field Manual. “Limiting the CIA’s interrogation methods to those in the Army Field Manual would be dangerous because the manual is publicly available and easily accessible on the Internet. Shortly after 9/11, we learned that key al Qaida operatives had been trained to resist the methods outlined in the manual. And this is why we created alternative procedures to question the most dangerous al Qaida operatives, particularly those who might have knowledge of attacks planned on our homeland. The best source of information about terrorist attacks is the terrorists themselves. If we were to shut down this program and restrict the CIA to methods in the Field Manual, we could lose vital information from senior al Qaida terrorists, and that could cost American lives.”
The above is another defense of the flawed belief that torture works. It doesn’t. If a person is tortured long enough they will eventually say anything to get the pain to stop. Sure, you might get the individual to talk, but are they going to be telling the truth, or saying what they think their captors want to hear? During the Cold War, the United States often criticized the show trials in the Soviet Union because they convicted people based on information gained through torture. This has been a tactic of repressive regimes around the world throughout history, and the United States has gone from being a defender of human rights, to trying to morally justify torture.
In closing, President Bush reiterated the belief that torture is the reason that America has not been attacked since 9/11. “The fact that we have not been attacked over the past six-and-a-half years is not a matter of chance. It is the result of good policies and the determined efforts of individuals carrying them out. We owe these individuals our thanks, and we owe them the authorities they need to do their jobs effectively. We have no higher responsibility than stopping terrorist attacks. And this is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe.”
If the Republican Party’s plan for the 2008 election is to run on the issues of terrorism and national security, then they should be prepared to lose badly. When it comes to terrorism, President Bush is the boy who cried wolf. The post-9/11 panic and fear are not there for the GOP to exploit anymore. If John McCain chooses to use the logic of this administration and avoids talking about important issues such as the economy and health care, then he will look like an out of touch old man. Hopefully, the next president will be able to remove the black eye to our moral conscience that President Bush’s justifications of torture created.