18 December 2014

Gul Rahmân and Dick Cheney

I don't actually know who Gul Rahmân was, and neither do most Americans, which is unfortunate.  One salient fact about him is known, however -- he was not a terrorist.  Nevertheless, due to an error, he was apparently arrested on suspicion of being one.  He later died under torture in CIA custody.

Take a moment to let that sink in.  An innocent man died under torture, torture inflicted by Americans, as part of a program officially sanctioned by the American government at the time.

The horror of the situation goes beyond that, however.  Here is part of an interview with Dick Cheney, in which the case came up:

CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you, what do you say to Gul Rahman, what do you say to Sulaiman Abdula, what do you say to Khalid al-Masri? All three of these folks were detained, they had these interrogation techniques used on them. They eventually were found to be innocent. They were released, no apologies, nothing. What do we owe them?


CHUCK TODD: I mean, let me go to Gul Rahman. He was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water, froze to death in C.I.A. custody. And it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity.

DICK CHENEY: -- right. But the problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield. Of the 600 and some people who were released out of Guantanamo, 30% roughly ended up back on the battlefield. Today we're very concerned about ISIS. Terrible new terrorist organization. It is headed by named Baghdadi. Baghdadi was in the custody of the U.S. military in Iraq in Camp Bucca. He was let go and now he's out leading the terror attack against the United States. I'm more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.

CHUCK TODD: 25% of the detainees though, 25% turned out to be innocent. They were released.

DICK CHENEY: Where are you going to draw the line, Chuck? How are --

CHUCK TODD: Well, I'm asking you.

DICK CHENEY: -- you going to know?

CHUCK TODD: Is that too high? You're okay with that margin for error?

DICK CHENEY: I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.

And there you have it.  Leave aside the consensus, among most who understand the issue, that torture almost never produces reliable or useful information.  Cheney has "no problem" with using torture even though a quarter of the victims were innocent, even though at least one innocent person (and I certainly don't believe he was the only one) died under torture.  This is a former Vice President of the United States, but the words coming out of his mouth sound better suited to Lenin or Himmler.

Cheney justifies the use of torture on the basis of the 9/11 attack, which was indeed a horrific atrocity.  The problem is that almost every regime we have ever condemned for using torture could advance a comparable argument.  North Vietnam, for example, lost a lot more than 3,000 innocent civilians to American bombing during the war in which it tortured John McCain.  There are certain lines which a civilized state doesn't cross, even under that kind of provocation.  Such standards are what distinguish us from a communist dictatorship or a fascist gangster-state.

Or used to.

McCain, the only Republican to really distinguish himself honorably in the wake of the torture report's release, understands this.  The many members of his party who continue to defend the program and attack its detractors do not.

And this means that I owe some people an apology.  In the past I've been very critical of bloggers who compared the Republican party to the Nazis.  I believed that they were weakening a strong case against the Republicans by making an absurdly overblown comparison.  Yes, there is much evil in the Republican party, but comparing them to the Nazis was going much too far, offensively so.

Those bloggers were right.  I was wrong.  Not that the Republicans are guilty of everything the Nazis were guilty of, of course, but if a politician of Cheney's stature can defend torture, even torture of the innocent, and if a broad range of political figures from the party can continue to support that position, then yes, they are straying onto the same ideological turf.

These people have no idea what they've done.  This program, and the continued defense of it by a major part of our political establishment, have done damage to our country's moral authority and global standing that can probably never be repaired.

A lot of ordinary Americans don't yet understand it either.  As commenter Tommykey observed in response to last weekend's link round-up:

Of course, my Facebook feed was filled with people posting pictures of the Twin Tower burning with captions like "Waterboarding is fine with me" or some variations of approval for torture juxtaposed with a picture of 9/11, as if that automatically justifies it.

And, of course, from Pakistan to Morocco there are probably millions of people reading the revelations of the torture report and thinking "Terrorist attacks on the United States are fine with me -- now."


Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

It's not just the many members of the GOP and its followers who support torture, but according to some polls I've read over the past few days, so do a majority of Americans.

There's another vilestone we can attribute to the Bush regime: Americans feeling okay about torture. (Ha! I typed "vilestone" instead of "milestone." )

"This is a former Vice President of the United States, but the words coming out of his mouth sound better suited to Lenin or Himmler."

But...but...the TeaPublicans say Obummer is a dicktater!

18 December, 2014 05:33  
Blogger Ahab said...

Hearing political leaders, commentators, and citizens defend torture puts a knot in my stomach. This kind of moral blindness will extend to other areas of our political establishment and culture, and I fear what the other outcomes will be. The U.S. has crossed a moral line, and the ramifications have been and will continue to be ugly.

18 December, 2014 06:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: I'm more inclined to cut ordinary people some slack. They're notoriously ill-informed about issues like this, and since the report has just come out, they haven't had time to hear the arguments for the opposing viewpoint.

Still, when people wonder how an advanced and educated people like the Germans in the 1930s could have fallen for the paranoid and hateful ideology of the Nazis, one can point them to the case of the widespread US public acceptance of torture and the reasons people give for it. It can happen here too.

Ahab: This kind of moral blindness will extend to other areas of our political establishment and culture

Indeed, if this can happen here, other things that happened over there could happen here as well. If the Republican party in its present form, and the social forces it represents, ever regain full control of the government, we and the rest of the world will be in grave danger.

19 December, 2014 05:43  
Blogger maindawg said...

I know it sounds crazy , but I just dont see the republican party being able to continue much longer as a major political party. They own this now. They own torture. They own so much baggage already. What with their war on women, their war on gay people, war on immigrants and their families,their war on Muslims, War on the middle class, all while their war against communism seems to have disapearred in fact they love Putin! They are wildly out of touch with the american people. The radical redneck republican voute is about 5 % of the electorate. Then you have the brainwashed foxsooze junkies, Id say 10 % of our electorate They are the squeaky wheel that drives the whole crazy train.This train is headed off a bridge. How can you be proud of torturing innocent people to death?
Thats all I have to say to anyone who asked me.
They know they are through. Its like getting caught red handed stealing and all you can do is try to justify your crime. It cant be done. The world knows too much. There will be efforts to prosecute these men, they will never be prosecuted but there must be all out efforts.
This could flip congress. The senate easily could be flipped as it was in 12 when too many republican tea baggers had to answer some questions. They have no answer. Its the truth, they are nazis. When yoiu support torture, you are a nazi. You are a fascist.

19 December, 2014 15:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Maindawg: You may well be right. I certainly think that the Republican party in its current extremist form is doomed in the long run -- it will have to either change very drastically or dwindle to irrelevance. And it might not be such a long run, perhaps. Certainly their apparent big victory last month is just encouraging them to pour on the crazy, when in fact all that happened was a historic low-turnout election, which always favors them. 2016 should swing massively the other way, especially if the Republicans keep on acting the way they're acting now.

19 December, 2014 18:21  
Blogger Unknown said...

The only way the Republican party can continue to wield power is the way they are doing it now: gerrymandering, voter suppression, and manipulating the uninformed. Their name should be changed to the Fascist Party. And that a sick sociopath like Dick Cheney not only served as VP but is still considered by the media an authority on any subject is sickening.

Nice post.

21 December, 2014 16:34  

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