Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Defending the Torture Memos

If you thought the torture memos were bad, wait till you see David Rivkin’s attempt to defend them at the Room for Debate blog at the New York Times. Doug Kmiec refers to the “tortuous reasoning” in the memos. David Cole nails the Bush administration for using “twisted and macabre legal reasoning to authorize the unspeakable.” But Rivkin, who served in the White House under the first President Bush, offers an entirely unconvincing defense of the memos. In fact, he seems to be the only person this side of John Yoo who actually thinks those memos were well reasoned:

The memos are well-written, and feature careful and nuanced legal analysis. They weave together the facts and the law. They are grounded in real world experience, because nine out of 10 techniques, used against high-value detainees, were also used over a period of many years in SERE training courses, with thousands and thousands of American participants.

This data is analyzed in great detail to establish that the use of these techniques does not inflict either physical or psychological damage. The conclusions the memos reach — that the specific interrogation techniques used by the C.I.A. did not constitute torture — are eminently reasonable. To any fair-minded observer, these documents definitively establish that the Bush administration did not engage in torture. They go a long way toward rebutting shrill and unfair attacks on the integrity of Bush administration officials, and, more generally, on America’s honor.

Jesus Christ, this is absolutely delusional. First of all, they use those very brief and modified versions of those techniques in SERE training precisely because they are torture and they want to train our soldiers to resist them if captured. Malcolm Nance, who ran the SERE school and used those techniques on the soldiers there for that purpose, bluntly calls waterboarding torture.

Second, the notion that the legal analysis in these memos was thorough is absurd. As Hilzoy points out, the memos do not even mention the many cases in which the US has prosecuted soldiers from Germany and Japan (and even our own, twice) for waterboarding prisoners as a war crime. Only a liar or an idiot could consider a legal analysis comprehensive and thoughtful when it fails to mention that we ourselves have prosecuted dozens of people for the very crime we now claim is okay.

Third, the notion that the memos present lots of data that this abuse did not cause long-term psychological damage is simply nuts. Again as Hilzoy notes, the memos state unequivocally that the CIA does its own mental assessments of each detainee before and after interrogation yet there is no citations of those assessments for any of the people who were actually tortured:

With all those psychological workups having been conducted on CIA detainees over a period of nearly three years, one might think that the CIA, and specifically its Office of Medical Services, would have lots of information on whether or not the techniques under discussion actually did produce any “prolonged mental harm.” And yet, strange to say, the memos don’t mention any evidence at all about the effects of these techniques on CIA detainees*.

It’s pretty strange that the CIA had all that data about the psychiatric effects of its interrogation techniques ready to hand, and yet no one mentions it.

Or then again, maybe not.

You simply cannot read the list of ghastly techniques used on those men and claim, with a straight face, that they weren’t torture because they didn’t cause “prolonged mental harm.” This is moral madness.