Monday, May 11, 2009

Selling Torture

Roy Eidelson has an interesting piece posted on CommonDreams today that discusses the American public's perception of torture. I am in agreement that when we discuss this issue, we also must take a look at how torture has been sold to the public by its proponents. Just as marketing has had an effect on selling the public everything from the latest soft drink to the latest war in the Middle East, it is essential to look at the message that has been, and continues to be, emphasized.

Eidelson does a good job in boiling this message down to five main points that the Bush Administration and other torture supporters have used:

1. Instilling fear into the minds of Americans by perpetuating the post-9/11 fears that this country is in imminent danger.

2. Torture is necessary in keeping Americans safe.

This second point is interesting because when the interrogation policies of the Bush Administration were still under lock and key, we didn't really see this strategy being used publicly. Only now, after more details continue to emerge, do we see the likes of Dick Cheney and other torture apologists coming out and saying that these polices were instrumental in keeping Americans safe. I would amend this point slightly to say that pre-emptive war policy (torture is included in this) was sold to Americans as necessary in keeping American's safe.

3. Those who are being tortured are monsters and do not adhere to the normal conduct of war.

4. The United States does not want to use torture, but only uses it for the greater good and to save American lives.

5. Critics of interrogation policies (including human rights groups, leaders, and activists) can not and should not be trusted.

I would also say that this fifth point was coupled with labeling the opposition to these policies as being stuck in a "pre 9/11 mindset". That somehow on 9/11 everything, including the lengths that we were willing to go to as a moral country, were forced upon us by an unconventional enemy.

I think that these points are important and necessary to understand in looking at the ongoing debate over the interrogation policies of the Bush Administration. These points continue to be used, most notably, by former Vice President Cheney in defending the Administration's role in approving these policies. Cheney continues to claim that President Obama is making the country less safe by discontinuing argument that he deduces directly from his flawed premised outlined in point number two above.

Also, today we have learned of the suicide of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Al-Libi ran an Al-Qaeda training camp and after his capture in 2002 by the United States, was tortured. During his interrogation he stated that Saddam Hussein was working with Al-Qaeda and these claims were echoed by President Bush in a speech in Cincinnati and Colin Powell in his infamous speech to the United Nations to make the case for an invasion of Iraq. This information, was obviously wrong and according to the Senate Intelligence Committee's September 8, 2006 report (emphasis mine):

Postwar findings support the DIA February 2002 assessment that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was likely intentionally misleading his debriefers when he said that Iraq provided two al-Qa'ida associates with chemical and biological weapons (CBW) training in 2000… Postwar findings do not support the CIA's assessment that his reporting was credible… No postwar information has been found that indicates CBW training occurred and the detainee who provided the key prewar reporting about this training recanted his claims after the war… CIA's January 2003 version of Iraqi Support for Terrorism described al-Libi's reporting for CBW training "credible", but noted that the individuals who traveled to Iraq for CBW training had not returned, so al-Libi was not in position to know if the training had taken place… In January 2004, al-Libi recanted his allegations about CBW training and many of his other claims about Iraq's links to al Qa'ida. He told debriefers that, to the best of his knowledge, al-Qa'ida never sent any individuals into Iraq for any kind of support in chemical or biological weapons. Al-libi told debriefers that he fabricated information while in U.S. custody to receive better treatment and in response to threats of being transferred to a foreign intelligence service which he believed would torture him… He said that later, while he was being debriefed by a (REDACTED) foreign intelligence service, he fabricated more information in response to physical abuse and threats of torture.

Torture is necessary to keep Americans safe, or manipulate their opinion to get them to support invading a country that the Bush Administration already had their sights set upon attacking.

Same thing.

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