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How Should President Obama Deal with Torture?

(Photos by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with journalist Mark Danner and legal scholar Bruce Fein about revelations that the United States engaged in torture during the previous administration, and what President Obama and Congress should do now.

Danner said that Obama might not want to focus on torture due to its political divisiveness:

“This is an issue that, as he has put it, ‘divides the country.’ But because it divides the country, in my opinion, is one reason we have to confront it. The idea that this is about the past is simply wrong. It’s not about the past – it’s about our present politics… I support prosecutions, but I believe there needs to be a full investigation that will not only tell us in minute terms what was done – we already know a lot about this – but that will educate the country. Not only about what was done, but what was lost, and why this is important.”

Fein said that Obama avoid setting a precedent of lawlessness:

“We ratified the convention against torture in the Senate. We passed it and made it a crime – it’s not a Republican or Democratic issue… In 2004, we confronted the same problem we had with Nixon – he wasn’t going to investigate Watergate… But now the President and Vice President who authorized this are gone, so there’s no obstacle. If President Obama didn’t want to be President and faithfully enforce the laws, he shouldn’t be there… If Obama thinks that these people, as he’s said, have committed torture, and he doesn’t believe it should go forward for political reasons, he needs to pardon them… Then, at least, we do not have a situation where we have set a precedent that lies around like a weapon, that you can violate the law with impunity.”

What do you think?

  • Should President Obama and Congress push for an independent investigation of torture by the United States government?

  • If yes, should perpetrators be pardoned? Prosecuted?

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    McCain has been there & I side with him, but, did Shock & Awe impress the Arab leaders so they prevented additional attacks on American soil?

    Outrage over Abu Grave happening much less being possible, is justified but there are crazies in our population & the military will attrack them-so why did the commanders allow this stupid incident that incited rage with Arabs as well as Americans?!

    No question 9\11 shocked the world, and the burden on our leaders was beyond imagination. I do not believe Bush or Chaney did anything without putting our country first. Maybe there decisions resulted from the pendulem swinging to far to protectionism, but this should have been delt with while they were in office OR all of the Zombie Congress is complicit.

    Billy Bob, Florida

    Do not re-air this stupidity again! Have secret, procutions--if Congress were trustworthy that could be done.

    But Congress is controlled by Zombies that allowed a Usuary Law to fall by the wayside & now say 25% or 30% is good for those with poor credit ratings.

    Maybe retired judges, generals, whoever could handle justice without inflaming the enemy AGAIN!

    Don't be STUPID twice!

    Billy Bob, Florida

    There is nothing so evil that it can’t be moralized and nothing so good that it can’t be demoralized.
    Faith in Christ is faith in the ‘Power of Love’.
    There is no definition, meaning, clarity, exactness, justice or security save in the ‘Spirit of Love’.
    Abuse to achieve a state of non-abuse is the height of hypocrisy.
    Only they that shed it can cleanse the land of blood.

    One of these tough talking wimps finally ponies up. Mancow Muller, a conservative radio commentator, agreed to be waterboarded. He thought he could easily last 30 seconds, but he only lasted a whole 6 seconds. This is why Hannity the manatee won’t take Olbermann up on his offer.

    I second beecham: Obama is a spokesmodel, sticking to the talking points. Not only can we not be assured torture is not continuing in black sites and via rendition, prosecution of long held prisoners has reverted now to military tribunals. People have no access for redress. Senate hearings are cleared of single-payer healthcare advocates (arrested) so that a narrow pro- big insurance agenda can be set (and this as insurance giants are bailed out with more billions). All we get on the car front is dealerships turned into compost depots and weak CAFE standards decades behind the technology. Just this week more permits were approved for mountaintop coal mining (Bushism yet reigns). The trade portion of the "cap and trade" is being handed out to the worst, biggest polluters free of charge by Congress. There seems little change in Afghanistan strategy either, except for a little less Christian missionary work. There are no jobs for even the best and brightest new college graduates who owe record loan and credit amounts, unless they can join the FBI or ICE. The only sector with new jobs is the Federal government, and you better have connections.

    Tonight's news on CBS sickened me when Katie Cutetrick reported on a graduate educated Korean-American couple in Chicago who had to put their two children into temporary foster care after losing their jobs and home. (They were living on a train platform, just like in India.)There is no safety net, no fall-back position for working people in this country and Obama doesn't care. He really is beginning to sound like Daddy Reagan, except now there are no bogus job ads in newspapers to hold up. Anyone will tell you that you must "network" to get work, except they can't explain what "network" means. 90% of hires get work this way, and not on the Internet. "Network" means you have to get to an influential person in authority, maybe do them a favor, or your loved ones do them a favor. Most people are all favored out, just scared they'll be fired next. And the crap for brains experts on talk shows say start your own business....WHAT! Curves or Subway? Sometimes two on the same block. What a nation of butt sniffing dogs! I'm gonna count down from 10-9-8, and we're all gonna cancel our health insurance simultaneously, 3-2-.... Am I under house arrest yet? (Don't swim across the lake to talk. You'll get me in hot water! And I hate to be tortured, again, as I was in Guatemala in 1983.)

    It isn't up to Obama. He does what he's told. He has no power.

    Of course torture should be stopped and those who committed it should be prosecuted. But that's not going to happen. This is America. The greater the crime, the less likely you are to be held responsible.

    Mr Moyers and Mr. Danner
    Your article further stimulated my questions about America's torture policy.
    I asked the following questions of Allen Derschowitz regarding the arguments he put forward in discussion of "Democracy Tortured",a PBS Frontline program

    If , as Mr Derschowitz implied, it might be construed that the torturer could be seen as a hero in the "24" show sense, yet, he has violated the most basic of laws that distinguish American society from our "enemies". Should he/she be punished? It is a basic theme of many cultures including the classic Greek and the Japanese that the Hero is faced with a dilema of opposing loyalties or moral choices. The Hero chooses to do his heoric deed putting himself in the position of "outlaw", the consequence of which he does not shirk. This theme can be seen in ancient theatre and modern American movies.
    It is entirely proper that our American hero may have to accept his punishment as a law violator in order to serve his nation by obtaining "illicit information by forbidden means".

    The prosecution of this "hero torturerer" would uphold the proper horror in which our society needs to view torture. Such a trial would also expose to sctutiny, what kind of torture was applied in the case. (threatened or actual execution of the detainee's children in serial order? for instance.) And it would hold us to discovering whether "the time bomb was actually ticking" and whether torture was the only feasible choice in disaster prevention. And it would allow us to quantify the actual casualties and trade offs. The prosecution should extend to the highest level of officer or official who consented or implied the legitimacy of the use of the torture method in order that justice may fully comprehend the crime.

    Further, we can question , just exactly what constitutes a "ticking time bomb". John McCain , undoubtedly an American Hero, was captured during a period in which the North Vietnamese were being frequently bombed. He was not a LtJg but a higher ranking officer with access to Admirals. It stands to reason that he had knowledge of the factors (and weights given them) in deciding when and where to bomb, the next bombing foray date, from what altitude, at what speed, with what weapons system, with what explosives. This is urgent information that could certainly be used by the North Vietnamese in preventing imanent predictable and enourmous casualties.Was McCain's torture, then, “necessary torture.”?

    Is this comparable to the Derschowitz notion of a “ticking time bomb”? What about a captive American sergeant or a corporal, who has important information of the US military units deployed in his area, their armament, their morale, supply concerns and perhaps of operations upcomming during the next week or so? Thus, is the torture of our captured American nationals or soldiers necessary in a world moral view?

    Professor Derschowitz stated that information developed through "necessary torture" in a ticking time bomb senario would not be admissable in court in any prosecution of the tortured detainee. All to the good. He says torture may be necessary to intervene in "locating and disabling the bomb." The fact of torture, however, could then be introduced in a trial of the TORTURER for rights violation or assault or some like violation, even in some situation that may be said to constitute, "necessary torture"

    The Professor referred me to "his books" for the answer, but in searching his oeuvre I have not found the pertinent answers.. My conclusion: Shall torturers be tried, yes, they have violated law and sperit, and the circumstances under which they did so must be clearly established for posterity. The same is true for their superiors and those who attempted to “normalize” and “institutionalize” torture.

    David P. Williams PhD
    3181 Micmac St
    Halifax, Nova Scotia B3L 3W3
    (902) 454-9564

    There was a troubling relativistic tone to Mrrk Danner's comments on this highly informative and interesting discussion. Danner seemed to miss the main point of Bruce Fein's conservative viewpoint - the rule of law demands adherence to law. That means, consistent with the principles of our founding fathers and the text of the Constitution, governmental power is LIMITED and, of course, so is the executive's power. Unless permitted by law, the government can not take a person's life, liberty or property. Indeed, this goes to the very issue of torture, which is that the most fundamental rights of a human is that we can not be denied the protection of law. (The principle is enshrined in our Constitution in many places but pominently in the dictate that the governmenet may not use cruel or unusual punishments). What is so unsettling about the Bush Aminsitration is that they acted not as an executive subject to Constitutional restraint but rather as imperial masters. The administration decided that it could determine not only who were enemies of the State but also it determined how these persons may be treated. This goes to the heart of our Republic and is not negotiable. For this reason alone, Congress should have begun impeachment proceedings (a point that Fein made).

    Unfortunately, Danner (and many others) are cut from a different cloth and profess that we do a balancing. They argue that torture is okay if successfully recovers valuable information. (He accepts Cheney's argument.) This argument is wrong legally (By law and International treaty, the government may not excuse torture by pointing to its "success" - torture is UNLAWFUL), morally (We diminish ourselves and our ideals if we stoop to deny our rights when they are most tested) and historically (this same argumenet was made by Nazis after WWII at Nuremburg. Remember that under Nazi law torture was legal, denial of rights were "legal" and they were just following orders.)

    Get a clue Danner. this is not a balancing act between two lawful views, but rather a lawful view and a view not grounded in law, history, reason or morality.

    In the play, A Man For All Seasons, Robert Bolt gives Sir Thomas More the words to express how dangerous it is to permit one's integrity to be compromised by expediency. Sir Thomas, faced with execution if he fails to break his oath and bend to the King's will, beautifully explains to his daughter and wife why death is his only option:

    When a man takes an oath, Meg, he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. (He cups his hands) And if he opens his fingers then-he needn't hope to find himself again. Some men aren't capable of this, but I'd be loathe to think your father one of them.

    I hope that the Bush Administration has not opened America's hands and let ourselves be lost. I hope we can make things right by investigating this tragedy and bring those responsible to justice.

    Somewhat off-topic, but Mr. Fein needs to control himself (or be reined in) during these discussions. I enjoy the Journal in part because it doesn't have the shrill and unproductive shouting matches so often seen on cable news.

    The lack of civilized and logical debate is, to my mind, one of the great fundamental problems facing our republic right now. For example, when people at a Senate Finance Committee hearing politely insisted that their views be represented, the Senators had them forcibly removed and then they joked and laughed about it.

    The core of the problem is that our nation has gone over to our darker past side and placed the rights of corporations and the rich over the rights of the people and the environment.

    We have a shameful history of Ameican exploitation. We also have a rich history of being noble people in the face of evil. Currently I watch American jobs being taken out of our country to maximize the profits of a few.

    Locally, I watch D'Youville College in Buffalo, New York (located down the street from my home) being allowed to purchase, destroy, and turn homes into parking lots without a transparent process of development expansion. I see a college that places parking lots up against the walls of my working/retired neighbors homes on two and three sides. A college that is supposed to be teaching ethics and enlightenment but practices manifest development over community self determination. I observe the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority blighting homes and pushing a development agenda that contributes to increasing respiratory disease and pushes people out of their homes for expanded truck and car movement over the health of this community. I observe slum lords on my block filling our street with drug dealers/users and a city that turns it's back on housing enforcement. My neighbors and I see the value of our homes being decreased, and our rights as citizen's being trounced for housing profit mongers who have no stake in our community. The quality of life is now better in Rwanda than it is in the City of Buffalo.

    As a firefighter I am told by the City of Buffalo that the cancer I suffer is not the responsibility of my employer. I am told that I am sick from cancer and not injured on duty from cancer. Cancer for firefighters is an occupational hazard in our line of work and cannot be totally prevented. Firefighters are exposed to more toxic first and second hand smoke than our predecessors. Now I understand how miners with black lung disease, Vietnam veterans exposed to agent orange, Bethlehem Steel workers exposed to radioactivity from the Manhattan Project, Love Canal (Niagara Falls) and Hickory Woods (Buffalo) residents exposed to buried toxins, citizens on the West Side near the Peace Bridge exposed to elevated levels of ozone and particulate matter from car and truck exhaust feel when their government lies to them.

    My current life experience places me on a common ground with Japanese Americans who were caged in U.S.concentration camps, Seneca Nation people who had their land taken for authority dams, the Cherokee people who were robbed of their land and marched on the trail of tears and people who were enslaved and workers who are being exploited.

    If water boarding was a wrongful practice for a sheriff in Texas and WWII Japanese generals than as far as I'm concerned it is still a wrongful practice in the United States of America. The war that began on 911 should not be used as an excuse to abandon our countries values and laws. In fact we play into the enemies hands when we behave like them and become like them.

    The ethical failure in our country to allow those who are rich and powerful to get away with high crimes and misdemeanors is an injustice to our dignity and humanity. The failure to hold those at the top responsible while punishing the masses is the path of privilege and selfishness that runs through our species history.

    Our government is tainted like the government of Chile and Argentina was when they disappeared, tortured, and murdered those they pronounced as enemies of the state. There is no way for a government for, by and of people to determine if their government is working the way it was designed when secrecy and subterfuge is being employed by a President. President George W. Bush was on my television set telling me that the United States of America does not torture. We were collectively lied to about this issue and about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

    As a citizen I am profoundly disappointed that the Obama Administration is not bringing U.S. government officials who broke International law and basic, ethical, human decency into court to allow a jury of their peers or a military tribunal such as the one in Nuremberg to decide if crimes against humanity were or were not committed. A person in my city is not allowed to torture an animal. Would we allow another human being to water board a dog? Torture is wrongful and is an excuse used by those who break laws by convenience and willful intent.

    We have an ethical disaster as a society when we do not stand up to those who torture and call them out for this wrong doing.

    We also have a problem maintaining our freedom when the control of our government and information is in the hands of a few corporations. The corporate strangle hold on our process of government and news coverage requires a leveling of the playing field that gives greater control to we the people.

    No matter how many attorneys, politicians, or media commentators sling the use of torture it will always be the tool employed by tyrants and criminals.

    You can find the article 'Of Black Holes and Radio Silence' on Truthout. Thanks.

    Posted by: Reinder H. van der Heide

    And an even earlier work of "literature" written by Boris Pasternak in his novel "Doctor Zhivago" has his fictional doctor comment oligarchy and the attending appartchiks, "All is swamped by Pharisaism. To live life to the end is not a childish task."

    A human being is truly lost, philosophically, when s/he "complicates" in their own mind what rights "government" has in decreeing how others should die.

    Considering what the Obama administration and/or a special prosecutor's office should or should not do in this matter for now has to take in account what Elizabeth de la Vega has said and written about the legal complexities that could create an adverse result (nice for Bush and his fiends) when they would simply start to prosecute etc. You can find the article 'Of Black Holes and Radio Silence' on Truthout. Thanks.

    Here another thought. If the GDP is an indicator used to determine recessions and depressions, then how did the Bush admin determine that our recession started in Dec. ’07? Here’s a fuzzy math spreadsheet:

    Personally, I think the recession started in mid to late 2005, but our government's numbers disproves this.

    Well, I guess the WHO, CDC and HHS have finally stopped using the media to scare the public with this bogus swine flu virus. This whole shenanigan smells like when Bush was President. Remember when unfavorable neocon news would begin to circulate, then a bogus news story would be dressed up (made sensational) to upstage it, and push it aside.

    Let’s see, the flu scare started about 2 weeks ago, so what was an unfavorable story that was beginning to circulate at that time? Was it something about the Octobabies being Palin’s grandchildren? Or, maybe it had something to do with the Armed Services' torture report. That’s got to be it, because I think torture is supposed to be against the law…or at least it used to be.,8599,1893015,00.html

    Why was torture so important to the Bush admin? The report told us that they used it to try to create a link between Saddam and al-Qaida. But after this had failed, why did they keep breaking the law? Why did they break the law by wiretapping? Why is our government (local, state and federal) and a large portion of our population in overwhelming debt?

    CONTROL!!! These are all methods of control.

    After the Saudis’ next terrorist attack and/or they jack up the oil prices again and/or they start pulling all their money out of our stock market, the depression will be official, and these control methods will be used to stop or slow down our rebound. Then in 2012, President Jeb and Veep Palin will lower the boom with the third Patriot Act. The Bush’s are like a flu virus. They both go dormant for a period, but then they’re back with a Prescottian vengeance.

    “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” ~ JFK

    The only way to prevent torture is to rigorously investigate and prosecute every last incident, perpetrator, and enabler.

    Military officers must be certain that they will be severely punished for any torture allowed under their command. And every last soldier must understand clearly that he will be severely punished, and publicly disgraced, if he obeys an illegal order to commit torture.

    It is precisely to prevent torture that EVERY soldier is already required to take an oath to obey only LAWFUL orders:

    "I, (state your name), do solemly swear to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States; to bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and to obey, to the best of my ability, the LAWFUL orders of the Commander-in-Chief and the officers appointed over me, in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

    The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) was adopted into the U.S. Code (federal law) in response to atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II. Many soldiers defended their participation in atrocities by arguing that they were "only following orders."

    We adopted the UCMJ, and require every soldier to swear the oath, in order to prevent torture. It is a way of assuring soldiers that they will be held responsible for any violations.

    Unfortunately, the importance of the UCMJ and the oath is rarely impressed upon soldiers. Few soldiers can recite the oath, and few ever understand it to begin with.

    The only way to prevent torture is to thoroughly investigate, vigorously prosecute, and publicly humiliate those who embarass an entire country by forgetting their oath, violating the law, and torturing their unfortunate fellow human beings.

    The letters here covered a wide range of info...we as a country of people bombarded by info are familiar with the reported facts. The thing one needs to think about is whether we actually want to permit torture which is actually illegal contrary to people who think it's sometimes legal or not always illegal. The ability of 'supposed torturers' to lie to us is logical and I suppose would be countered by right wing militia types who always cite the need to preempt any possible viloation of our sovereignty. I have a sense that when facts are known about the history of the torture we have employed we will find out that possibly some of the threats to our security that have occurred are a RESULT of the use of torture on the participants. I perceive some people in the US government can and will lie about anything. We just don't know the circumstances of the genesis of this whole story of torture. Where did this start. We need acountability--a lost word on a planet of people who apparently don't care a bit about being pathetically lied to.

    During your very interesting May 1 podcast about torture, one of the guests several times used the phrase "banana republic" to describe a country which doesn't follow the rule of law. This is a very offensive and racist term. It refers to the small countries of the Caribbean and Central America which were long dominated by US fruit and sugar interests, which had unstable and oppressive governments and were prevented from developing stable democracy in large part by the US businesses and the CIA. I can't tell which guest it was from the audio podcast, but please point out to him the objectionable nature of this term. It is a blot on an excellent discussion and your generally wonderful show.

    We had Egypt question Shikh al Libi for us (with torture) and learned that Saddam Hussein provided training in chemical weapons to al Qaeda.

    Just what the questioners wanted to hear. Unfortunately, not true. Got us a war.

    I guess torture provided "valuable" information -- for someone's agenda. Not accurate though.

    Proper job handling a difficult subject Bill Moyers...
    While it is difficult to do what is morally and legally right When you know someone has the necessary information to prevent many deaths and great destruction; it is a different story when you have paid a lot of money to a desperate informer to accuse someone of being involved in terrorism and are trying to extract information about which they are clueless.
    It is my understanding that the interrogators were more interested in breaking people's spirit than actually acquiring information.
    At the present time we seem to be backing into a lawless feudal system with no concern for the sanctity of human life. It seems there is a concerted effort to create hate and discontent.
    While it is essential to face reality realistically, it is also necessary to understand the consequences of our actions. Creating hell on earth is a bad idea no matter what. We fought two world wars without torturing people. Like FDR said, "What we need to fear most is fear itself".
    If we are going to salvage our moral principles; it will be necessary to reconstruct our values and priorities.

    Waterboarding is NOT torture.

    Investigate torture?
    Investigate Democracy, that's the real sickness, and it didn't come from pigs. Or did it?


    The United States government is a barbaric, lawless, unconstitutional, and immoral institution. Our past proves this without a doubt. We torture, we overthrow democracies, we install right-wing dictators, we support death-squads, we assassinate civilians, we oppress other countries and steal their resources (often with help from the IMF and the World Bank), we stage false-flag and go to war for profit and control, we spy on and repress people (including our own citizens), etc. Read The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. (And by we, I mean the US government.)

    All this is NOT by the will of the people, it is by the will of economic elitists, who control the government. It is by the will of those bankers that are getting hundreds of billions of dollars with no strings attached from the US taxpayers. (Yes, we are being robbed.)

    It requires lots of money to run for political office. Corporations and the wealthy put up the money to candidates who will support their interests over everybody else's. When we vote for McCain or Obama, we vote for who the Establishment has put in front of our face. Either way we vote, we lose. And the Establishment wins. Obama ACTUALLY got the bulk of his campaign contributions from corporations and the financial industry--and much more than McCain did. In essence, political contributions is equivalent to legalized bribery and corruption.

    Your false conceptions of the United States are brought to you primarily by our education system and our mainstream media. The wealthy own the latter, and through the government, control the former. The Establishment has made our world more Orwellian than not. Read The Essential Chomsky.

    Why is all this happening? Why all this corruption? Quite frankly, it is because of the monetary system itself. Money can corrupt almost anyone. Since the world's economies operate based on money, corruption inundates our societies. Essentially, capitalism is the church of greed--a greed rewarding system. For example, the entire Federal Reserve is a fraud--a private bank that leeches off the entire US economy for no other reason than the greed of its owners. (For more information, check out

    If We the People do not fight to spread the truth and to take back our government, we will be the targets, by the elitists. Torture is not known to give reliable information. But it is known as a tool for social repression. Figure it out people, before it's too late.

    For more information and details, click on my name, below.

    PS: Mark Danner is an Establishment apologist.

    The following are the techniques we used to "TORTURE' a few terrorists, confined to Gitmo. Remember, these are the guys who planned 9/11.

    These techniques, we learn, included: “Waterboarding,” “Sleep deprivation,” “Nudity,” “Dietary Manipulation,” “Abdominal Slap,” “Attention Grasp,” “Water Dousing,” “Confinement With Insects,” and “Walling”

    This last one is when the interrogator “quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall…The head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel … to help prevent whiplash.” I think I remember that one, from my old football coach,—only he left out the rolled hoods and towels.
    Some of the others have sometimes been used to 'torture' those pledging fraternities.
    Traffic Jamming Subjects are placed in cars and made to endure daily commutes of up to four hours, five days a week. Technique may be enhanced by alternating the interior temperature by means of A/C and heat; also by having radio set to a Janeane Garofalo radio show or Christian Broadcasting stations at high volume.
    Telephoning Subjects are given rotary dial telephones and told that they will be released if they call Direct TV and follow the prompts, which will instruct them to “press” various numbers. As subjects dial the numbers, the prompts will respond that their did not understand and repeat their instruction.
    Televisioning Subjects are ushered into comfortable TV rooms with state-of-the-art TVs with cable, DVD, video game players, etc. TV will display cable guide with hundreds of channels, all themed to delight murderous religious fanatics, e.g.: TALIBAN TODAY, DRIVING ISRAEL INTO THE SEA, THE IED CHANNEL, WHO WANTS TO BE A MARTYR?
    No matter which button or combination of buttons are pressed on the nine remote controls, nothing happens. After several hours, screen will spontaneously display the 1960 movie Exodus, which will remain on no matter which button is pressed or even if electrical cord is yanked out of wall socket. (Note: the International Court of Justice at the Hague has ruled that being forced to watch Exodus constitutes “torture.”)
    Confinement With Joe Biden or Dick Cheney In this “extreme” technique, the subject is placed in a confined area with Vice President Joe Biden or Dick Cheney. In past experiments, most subjects have broken “within minutes.”

    Great article from the Washington Post. Michael Scheuer was the head of the Bin Laden unit of the CIA for a few years.

    Say It's Osama. What If He Won't Talk?

    In surprisingly good English, the captive quietly answers: 'Yes, all thanks to God, I do know when the mujaheddin will, with God's permission, detonate a nuclear weapon in the United States, and I also know how many and in which cities." Startled, the CIA interrogators quickly demand more detail. Smiling his trademark shy smile, the captive says nothing. Reporting the interrogation's results to the White House, the CIA director can only shrug when the president asks: "What can we do to make Osama bin Laden talk?"

    So if the above worst-case scenario ever comes to pass, Americans will have at least two things from which to take solace, even after the loss of major cities and tens of thousands of countrymen. First, they will know that their president believes that those losses are a small price to pay for stopping interrogations and making foreign peoples like us more. And second, they will see Osama bin Laden's shy smile turn into a calm and beautiful God-is-Great grin

    As always, the 2009 May 1st "Journal" was thought provoking and enlightening.
    Thanks again to PBS,Mr. Moyers, and his credible, credentialed guests.

    Several of the comments here
    concern me, because I strongly feel the logic employed is (in several instances) unsound.

    Regarding the "relative" merits of "enhanced" (wow,
    what a euphemism!) interrogations: Just because no one was murdered
    outright at Abu Ghraib, for example, doesn't mean those
    techniques didn't meet the definition of torture,
    they DID. Vicious and inhumane tactics are just
    that, even if other nations
    are guilty of even more cruelty and violence.

    Here's my proposal to America at large: Let's stop cutting ourselves so much slack, bragging that we're the greatest nation on Earth, denying our failings; every previous
    world empire made similar claims, and where are they now?

    Instead, we must admit that every human has a dark side, and keep trying to fulfill that wise adjuration, "The rule of law, not of men".
    amber f. ladeira

    Do godly men really expect the CIA to protect them from calamity?

    The Miccosukee Indians believe that the white man will blow himself off the face of the planet one day.

    The fact that it hasn't happened yet, leads me to believe in the existence of GOD.

    We need to have the torture debate, over the techniques used by the CIA.

    Those who are against using these techniques must first be able to answer NO to the question:
    "If terrorist had a member of your family and the CIA held a captive, who had information that could save them, would you give the order to use these techniques?"

    These techniques, we learn, included: “Waterboarding,” “Sleep deprivation,” “Nudity,” "Loud Music", “Dietary Manipulation,” “Abdominal Slap,” “Attention Grasp,” “Water Dousing,” “Confinement With Insects,” and “Walling”

    By the way, I once debated my Mother-in-law, who was a real LIBERAL , about torture and she was completely opposed until I asked this question. Her answer was: YES. CUT OFF THEIR FINGERS!

    "However, I am thoroughly persuaded that Mr. Bush unabashedly had the safety of the people of this country on his mind when or if he issued these directives."

    Posted by: Benyomin

    Would that what Benyomin writes were true. However, when one detainee is waterboarded EIGHTY-THREE TIMES AND ANOTHER ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY PLUS TIMES, methinks the purpose had little to do with protecting the American people but rather to force a confession that there was a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam/Iraq. Just as the congress made legal wiretapping after the fact, Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld were hoping for justification for their invasion and destruction of Iraq after the fact.
    Thank God the tortured didn't give in.
    (Oh, and by the way, one of those detainees had been in custody for four months prior to the first waterboarding. Therefore, unlikely that there was a "ticking time bomb" urgency to whatever information they were coercing out of him.)
    Bush and Cheney should help us prove that we are a nation of laws, not men. They should be subject to the laws they broke.
    Obama, when accused of trying to do too much, said our government can walk and chew gum at the same time. Politics or no politics, we can investigate and try and hold accountable the people who allowed the terrorists to win.

    Your guest Mark Danner said that Mohammed was waterboarded 6 times a day for a month. Since you didn't correct him, I guess you are unaware of how they count. Each time the water is poured, counts as one.

    Despite Reports, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Was Not Waterboarded 183 Times

    The New York Times reported last week that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was waterboarded 183 times in one month by CIA interrogators. The "183 times" was widely circulated by news outlets throughout the world.
    It was shocking. And it was highly misleading. The number is a vast inflation, according to information from a U.S. official and the testimony of the terrorists themselves.
    A U.S. official with knowledge of the interrogation program told FOX News that the much-cited figure represents the number of times water was poured onto Mohammed's face -- not the number of times the CIA applied the simulated-drowning technique on the terror suspect. According to a 2007 Red Cross report, he was subjected a total of "five sessions of ill-treatment."
    "The water was poured 183 times -- there were 183 pours," the official explained, adding that "each pour was a matter of seconds."

    Fein's point is well taken. What the Bush admin did is against the law, and was covered up by claims of security. The people who tortured should therefore be prosecuted, and those who covered it up should be prosecuted for the cover-up as well. For his failure to prosecute, Obama should be impeached, too. The argument that nations make laws to suit themselves - the argument of Oliver Wendell Holmes and the legal realists - doesn't apply, but it does point to the reason why we have never previously confronted this kind of thing. Under this line of reasoning law is a matter of politics and politics in this country has been reduced in Jefferson's words to "you tickle me and I'll tickle you." One can argue that such behavior would put us back to an age when previous rulers were sent to the Tower, but it must be acknowledged that making everything a matter of opinion is a far cry from society based on ideals of truth and honesty. And how that argument can be reconciled with the use of torture is beyond me. The Taliban is ahead of us, I think, on this point.

    I have empathy for those being tortured. I appreciated particularly Mr. Fines perspective. And I'm admittedly, somewhat naive regarding the nature of the "letter of the law" as it pertains to this issue. However, I think that at least two points were were not addressed during this discussion. Furthermore, it seems that these points are never considered in the public debate.

    Notwithstanding the issue concerning the definition of what torture is...

    1. Were alleged issuances from "higher up" of the directive to "torture" conducted for the mere sake of sadistic entertainment or were they intended solely for the purpose of extracting necessary intelligence? If the latter is the case, to what historical reference point could such torture be equated? Could this "torture" be accurately equated to Auschwitz as Dick Durbin said on the senate floor?

    2. To what extent do the "consequences of choice" play in this debate? Our culture has progressively headed its merry way down the path of "unaccountability" for the choices we make. If a girl gets pregnant she gets an abortion. If an individual loses a finger using a power tool, he sues the tool manufacturer for not having an appropriate warning on the product (assuming that the plaintiff is expected to have common sense). If a captured jihadist willfully chooses to withhold information that could save lives he should be spared pain and suffering?

    I agree... If less violent means of interrogation are KNOWN to be as effective in every case I would, most assuredly, take the "more liberal" view point. However, I am thoroughly persuaded that Mr. Bush unabashedly had the safety of the people of this country on his mind when or if he issued these directives.

    In training for Vietnam duty I was subjected to treatment which later formed the basis for the techniques used in the enhanced interrogations of foreign illegal combatants. On the basis of experience, I completely reject what is accepted without question by Fein and Danner: that the chief planner of 9/11 was subjected to "torture". Torture is what John McCain and Daniel Pearl endured. Torture is what happened to persons trapped on the upper floors of the twin towers. Isolation, slamming, and psychological pressure under the constraints imposed to ensure the safety of the recipients are not torture.

    International laws designed to protect uniformed individuals in the service of sovereign nations do not apply to Terrorists in the service of Al Quaeda, and other non-state murderers.

    Have the advocates of investigations and prosecutions included the Clinton Administration officials who sanctioned Rendition as targets? No, because this is just partisan politics at its worst.

    You and your guests, Messrs Danner and Fein did a fine analysis of many of the issues related to the dangers inherent in failing to prosecute the abhorrent, unAmerican and illegal behavior of people in the federal government vis-a-vis torture.

    As noted, permitting these infractions to elude justice could very well permit future such occasions -- or worse.

    But there should be another concern, and that is the adverse effect that such casual indifference to the rule of law, coming from our leaders, adversely influences the attitudes toward law, and ultimately the behaviour of our fellow citizens.

    Leo Toribio
    Pittsburgh, PA

    George Will's article Reconciliation's Slippery Path may reveal very plausible reasons why the President, some of his Cabinet and Congress are not willing, and therefore not likely, to go down the path proposed by both of your guests. Such is the privilege of power!

    "Four things are clear. First, torture is illegal. Second, if an enemy used some of the "enhanced interrogation" techniques against any American, most Americans would call that torture. Third, that does not mean that the memos defending the legality of those techniques were indefensible, let alone criminal, because: Fourth, the president might be mistaken in saying that there is no difficult choice because coercive interrogation techniques are ineffective.

    "A congressional panel, or one akin to the 9/11 commission, should discover what former CIA Director George Tenet meant when he said: 'I know that this program has saved lives. I know we've disrupted plots.' And what former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell meant when he said: 'We have people walking around in this country that are alive today because this process happened.'

    "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was frequently briefed as a member of the Intelligence Committee, could usefully answer the question: What did you know and when did you know it? She regularly conquered reticence about her disapproval of the Bush administration. Why not about the interrogation methods?

    "Furthermore, four of the president's 15 Cabinet members are former members of Congress, as are the president, vice president and White House chief of staff. So seven of the administration's 18 most senior figures might usefully answer those questions, and this one: What did you do about what you knew?"

    The torture "debate" is NOT about a a false choice of either "looking backwards" or "looking ahead."

    It is most assuredly about our FUTURE!
    To truly look ahead, we must know, understand, and DEAL WITH our past transgressions which reach the level of war crimes.

    At any time people who supported the abuse of our laws and Constitution might be back in charge.

    Even while the Obama Administration is nominally in charge, the highly-funded community of powerful lobbies that brokered no-bid military contracts and pursued aggressive policies abroad with or without serious intelligence, still can be pulling strings and organizing politically and strategically to continue to have the US pursue unlawful policies.

    We, who so much talk about INSURANCE (we ARE the Insurance Culture, par excellence), in spite of the recent total collapse of AIG, should see punishing torturers is OUR insurance policy for a future of laws and not dictators.

    As your guests may have noted, (1) the US is already obligated under international law to prosecute those acts which are illegal under the international laws to which the US is a signatory. Obama is violating international law by _not_ prosecuting. The Constitution obligates the president to adhere to treaty obligations to which the US has committed itself. So President Obama is also violating US law by not prosecuting.

    (2) Following the Second World War, at Nuremberg, the United States prosecuted Japanese officers for _waterboarding_!

    The staggering hypocrisy and cowardice of the Obama administration utterly undermines the promise and promises of his campaign. Obama should be ashamed. He is now complicit in the crimes of the Bush administration.

    And, by the way, none of this begins to address the crime against humanity which has been the Iraq war itself. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead at American hands as a result of wholly baseless Bush assertions. This is one of the worst war crimes of the past 30 years and arguably of the past 60 years.

    My question is more basic. I hear this sanctimonious talk about "inhumane treatment" of human beings. I want to hear how this "indignitaries" can so righteously proclaim their concern for the helpless when abortion, partial birth abortion and even infanticide are "legal". This seems the height of "Secular Humanist" hypocrisy and disregard for traditional Judeo-Christian morality. Sadaam and the enemies of our country know what real torture is.

    For most of the preceding two decades corporate media stumped nightly from their rostrums that America was soft on crime. We were inundated with stories depicting statutory and common offenses as if to make some ideological point.

    Yet at the same time our nation is facing allegedly the most blatant law-breaking by senior officials within national government, news outlets have abandoned this mantra because it no longer suits there hawkish principles. Instead, these bastions of daily influence have subtly shifted our concerns for absolving criminal intent by elected leaders to the legal notion of executive privilege.

    We can and must do better as a nation than to hand get out of jail cards free to those out the top. What kind of precedent does this establish ?


    Torture must never be condoned. As a nation, especially during a "fear filled" time, we must uphold the laws, treaties, and moral high ground - that this nation aspires as an ideal! Torture dehumanizes both the inflicter and the inflicted. And after all of the lies, that have been told in respect to Iran, I have no belief in those that justify these actions as necessary!

    I believe that the lawyers that "creatively authorized" the abuse should be disbarred, and those on high, that even thought to authorize this treatment should be prosecuted! We prosecuted the troops (that were committing these acts) in the pictures and they were following orders, why should the people that gave these orders go unpunished!

    Torture is always wrong and, when officially sanctioned by a government, must be considered a war crime. We must hold not only the authorizers but also the perpetrators of torture accountable for their actions. Anything less debases our democracy and is offensive to justice.

    The premise that law-breakers should be prosecuted reflects equality in justice. Rather it is robbing a bank, torture, or fraud, prosecution is the way.

    When $700 billion in small unmarked bills is demanded within 48 hrs. or else our country will fail, then there should be investigation into fraud, as the FBI had sounded the alarm about the reckless risk being undertaken by Wall Street, that was ignored.

    Open, relentless, thorough, Congressional hearings should also be held OR vote all the Congressmen out in 2010. Most Congressmen had a hand in removing Usuary laws, oversight was overlooked, and Mainstreet was ignored for the large corporate campaign contributions.

    Prosecute torture, as well as this surprise, financial crisis!

    Billy Bob, Florida where we like the stimulius as long as 'they' tax 'them'

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