The biggest splash in this weekend's media coverage of the torture issue came from these results of a WaPo/ABC News poll:
- Obama has said that under his administration the United States will not use torture as part of the U.S. campaign against terrorism, no matter what the circumstance. Do you support this position not to use torture, or do you think there are cases in which the United States should consider torture against terrorism suspects?
Support not There are cases
using torture to consider torture No opinion
4/24/09 49 48 2
1/16/09 58 40 2
It's the right question if you're polling the popularity of the popular torture porn fantasy show 24. And it's the right question if you're looking to jump on the Republican bandwagon that seeks to define the torture issue as a "policy difference." And it's the right question if you're interested in knowing what Americans would do if they found themselves faced with the hackneyed (but admittedly very worrying) ticking time bomb scenario.
But it's the wrong question if your interest is in whether or not Americans support what George W. Bush and Dick Cheney ordered done in the real world. Because in the real world, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney ordered torture for political purposes, specifically to try to coerce a "confession" out of detainees that would lend support to their discredited, crackpot theories about connections between Iraq and 9/11, which they promised to uncover as justification for having jumped headfirst into the biggest foreign policy and military blunder ever made.
The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.
Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.
What do we think would be the results of polling that question? Not, "Do you think there are cases in which the United States should consider torture against terrorism suspects?" but, "Do you think we ought to allow the president and vice president to order torture to extract information that will help them politically?"
I imagine the percentages there would be considerably lower.
Of course, Republican torture apologists (there's a difference between "normal people" who can imagine emergency circumstances and partisans who don't need to imagine anything more than cheering for their own team) will protest that finding such a connection could have important national security consequences. They might even have been right, had such connections existed. But of course, the time for finding those connections was before the invasion. Their counter to that, of course, was that they didn't want the "smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud." But even if you buy that, once we were there, found no WMD, and found no connections between Iraq, 9/11 and/or al Qaeda, I don't think there are many people outside of the most hard-bitten dead-enders who would be on board with this:
"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.
"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."
It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.
"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.
"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."
Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.
That's the "policy difference."
Not "should we ever use torture," but "is it OK to use torture if it will prevent political embarrassment to the president?"
That's what we can't "look backwards" at.
And we can't do it, they say, because they (want you to) believe that 48% of Americans believe torture people for political purposes is OK, even though that wasn't even nearly the question asked, and truly having to contemplate the fact that that question reflected real world "policy" in the Bush White House would probably cause people to vomit in the streets as they were asked. We all know what those 48% had in mind when they answered: ticking time bombs. How many would change their minds if they knew how and why the torture was really used?
We could have gotten that answer, too. We could have known. But we're not asking. And what's more, the Bush "administration" did and is still doing everything it can to prevent us from knowing or asking. Not only are they doing their own level best to run a parallel campaign of virtually criminalizing the "policy differences." For instance, 90s washout Newt Gingrich, between nibbles of shabu shabu, calls people with questions "anti-American."
But more to the point, these tactics about which the Republican torture apologists are so defensive, and the ticking time bomb scenarios they insist were in play, and the critical information they claim was revealed were all at one time perfectly provable, if they actually existed. Because these interrogation sessions were videotaped.
But alas, the people who were so proud of their techniques, their "safety" guidelines, and of the information they extracted which supposedly saved American lives were apparently too humble to claim credit or a place in history, because the same "unitary executive" that proclaimed its will supreme and unstoppable by any power in America was somehow -- aw, shucks! -- unable to stop the destruction of those video tapes. Gosh darn it! Now there's no evidence of all the good stuff people said was a result of that torture! Well, you're just going to have to take their word for it, and imagine that it was the ticking time bomb scenario, and that they did get information that saved lives by following procedures that were in compliance with their "safety" guidelines.
But Americans are an imaginative people, so we have confidence that you'll do so!
Why do some of us want to "look backward" here? Because it's not merely a "policy difference" when the president (or vice president) declares himself empowered to torture people into "proving" he was right when the world knows he was wrong. And in addition, Americans remember well what it means when taped evidence of what presidents have been to turns out -- whoopsies! -- to have been destroyed.
So when are we going to get a question on how we feel about what actually happened, as opposed to what they'd like us to imagine happened? Because now that we know, calling any investigation into that "criminalizing policy differences" seems woefully inadequate as an excuse not to even ask.
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their gang turned out to be wrong about their justifications for the worst and costliest misstep in American history, and they actually pushed interrogators to torture people to pry out "confessions" that they could hold up and point to as "evidence" that they were right. They didn't get it, destroyed the evidence of how they tried to pursue it, and the price was America's soul.
No questions, please. You'll upset David Broder's lunch.