Longest War, Enhanced Interrogations and Extraordinary Renditions

Many Americans seem hardly aware that the war in Afghanistan has not only earned the “honor” of being America’s longest war—see Peter L. Bergen, The Longest War:  The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda (2011) —but, when combined with the decidedly more pointless war in Iraq, has enormously contributed to the nation’s struggles with our deficits and national debt.   If the Tea Party movement ever manages to become resolved to pursue genuine libertarianism, renouncing its predilection for views that are more neo-conservative than libertarian (See "Tea Party:  Neo-Conservative or Libertarian?," posted 18 Feb. 2011), America not only might meaningfully address its deficit/debt woes, but might even renew its commitment to fundamental human rights.   Tea Party advocates would benefit immensely from a solid perusal of Bergen’s Longest War book, together with a genuine commitment to honoring the people’s rights.  If they did, it would prompt some re-thinking of priorities coming into the 2012 presidential election.  (But the signs are not good.  I recently received an e-mail purporting to come from the Tea Party that complained bitterly of Obama’s inclination to search for “foreigners he can apologize to for America’s actions,” and as “acting so anti-American.”   And this statement is a virtual paraphrase of expression of extremist neo-conservative views by Michele Bachman—one of the nation’s defenders of “enhanced interrogation” who asserts that the critical response was limited to the “blame America first” crowd.)

Based on the Bush administration’s engagement in “enhanced interrogation” and “extraordinary rendition,” Bergen offers the view that virtually none of the key figures establishing detention and interrogation policy had ever served as federal prosecutors or knew much of anything about “the value and efficacy of standard, noncoercive interrogation techniques.”  (97)  Hence “the Bush team’s . . . decisions to jettison the country’s core principle: that it is a nation of laws.”  (Id.)  Many don’t even know that the administration “outsourced more than fifty suspected terrorists to countries that practice torture, set up a prison camp at Guantanamo for around 800 prisoners where the Geneva Convention supposedly did not apply, and authorized coercive interrogations of some two dozen prisoners, which in some cases amounted to torture.”  (98)

On extraordinary rendition, American agents, as early as February of 2003, captured Abu Omar in Italy, where he had been living in exile, and shipped him back to Egypt, where he was from.  And for the next four years Omar was subject to every imaginable form of torture.   After paragraphs recounting the whole messy business, Bergen writes:  “Was it illegal for American officials to transport Abu Omar to Egypt?  Yes, according the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which prohibits delivering someone to a country where there are ‘substantial grounds’ to assume that he might be tortured.  Were there substantial grounds to believe that transferring Abu Omar to Egypt would result in his being tortured?  Plenty, according to a State Department report that detailed the methods used by Egypt’s security services during the year that Abu Omar was abducted and confined.  Those methods included the stripping and blindfolding of prisoners; beatings with fists, whips, and metal rods; administering electric shocks; and sexual assault.”  (100)  The administration routinely denied that it had known that torture would occur, but “in the case of Abu Omar,” such assertions “were demonstrably false.”  (Id.)  Bergen observes that a leading constitutional scholar stated that the administration’s approach was “an approach we associate with crime families, not with great nations.”  (101)

Such renditions were “part of a larger pattern in which the United States ceded the moral high ground in an often futile, counterproductive, and extralegal effort to protect itself.”  (103)   Bergen spells out the conclusions of many in the State Department, the FBI, and military lawyers, who were appalled at the strategies employed to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists.  Bergen’s treatment in his recent book merely confirms what numerous observers and scholars have concluded after carefully reviewing the tactics and strategies of the Bush administration.  Contrast these efforts with some of those thrown out by some of the candidates for president.  Newt Gringich, as one example, back in 1997—speaking for “Republicans” —made clear “our unwavering commitment to human rights and individual liberty,” and condemned China’s making “place for abuse in what must be considered the family of man.”  He opposed “torture and arbitrary detention,” “forced confessions,” and “intolerance of dissent.”  Yet in May of 2009, Gingrich insisted that waterboarding was not torture, since it had been used in training of America’s special forces; and purported not to know whether waterboarding was legal or not (let alone violation well established international human rights).  Similarly, Michele Bachmann endorsed “enhanced interrogation,” and even spoke favorably about waterboarding.  As with many on the right, following the lead of Dick Cheney, Bachmann claims that waterboarding and other acts of enhanced interrogation, have been successful in yielding “life-saving” information.  The only problem is that the evidence cuts sharply against this perspective.

And, of course, former Vice President Dick Cheney, in his “get back” memoirs, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” managed to deny what volumes of careful documentation have overwhelmingly demonstrated.  He described Guantanamo, observes Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times, as a “model facility – safe, secure, and humane,” and insisted that the administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were “safe, legal, and effective.”  There are virtually no serious constitutional or international law scholars who concur with Cheney’s assessment of Bush administration tactics.   That the contemporary era’s equivalents of the John Birch Society would size things up differently says far less about the prior or current administrations than of the sorry state of affairs of our political discourse, caused in part by our dangerous world and the current recession.

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