Bush said it was unfair to ask Mukasey about interrogation techniques on which he has not been briefed. "He doesn't know whether we use that technique or not," the president told a group of reporters invited into the Oval Office.
Further, Bush said, "It doesn't make any sense to tell an enemy what we're doing."
Without saying whether interrogators use water boarding, a technique that simulates drowning, Bush said, "The American people must know that whatever techniques we use are within the law." Asked whether he considers water boarding legal, Bush replied, "I'm not going to talk about techniques. There's an enemy out there."
But let's take a look at those statements. We have heard them before—or ones similar to that. I call it the “big secret” excuse. On its face it appears to be judicious and smart. It is always logical to keep secret that which you do not want your enemies to know, but in the case of water boarding, who exactly would benefit from the knowledge that we are or are not using water boarding as part of our interrogation techniques?
Let's be logical. Start with the “enemy” in this so-called “War on Terror.” Are we really trying to keep our enemies from knowing whether or not we use water boarding? Imagine yourself a terrorist, with ready access to stories from Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, rendition sites, the various information that has naturally leaked already from published documents, interviews, word of mouth from survivors of these places, the tales of rendition victims, in addition to which is a whole literature regarding the torture techniques of the Syrians, the SAVAK under the Shah of Iran, the infamous Egyptian and Pakistani secret services. This of course, is not to mention documented cases from human rights groups like Amnesty International, court documents, etc. All of this information is in the public sphere.
Additionally, we know that our armed services use water boarding as part of the training for members of our military who might be captured . In fact, as has been sufficiently documented over the past few years, survival training has included water boarding as a way of preparing our airmen, for example, for the kind of treatment they may receive. We know for example, that psychiatrists are present at interrogation sessions to counsel on the mental damage that could result.
Since water boarding has been known about and documented since the time of the Spanish Inquisition and has been condemned as torture by any number of religious and state authorities, there is no question that the technique is torture. Further, since we have punished both Japanese, German, and—in rare instances--our own military for using the technique, there is hardly any doubt as to its general condemnation. Do I need to remind us that in addition to treaties we have signed, we also have our own domestic anti-torture statutes?
Furthermore, we have ample evidence that torture of any kind tends to produce whatever information the torturer wants to hear, and for that reason is unreliable as a source of information. Torture victims may indeed go one step further and confess to things they did not do, or fabricate information which they think the torturer may want to hear. (At which point the torturer is then forced to vet the information and waste further valuable resources.)
Since this information is not only available to terrorists but also to their training officers, and in fact to the rest of the world, the matter of secrecy about whether or not we use water boarding is an illogical one to use. One would expect that any terrorists (or spy or ordinary sophisticated world traveler for that matter) always act on the basis of the philosophy of assuming the worst treatment will be applied by a torturer.
No, if George Bush truly thinks that not admitting whether water boarding is being used protects the people of the United States from terrorists, he is either disingenuous, stupid, or ignorant. Make no mistake about it, however, he knows the truth. No, I think he is being disingenuous. He is in fact attempting to keep information not from the terrorists but from the people of the United States. What he does not want is to make a statement that can be used to show that our government policy has been in fact illegal.
The Australian detainee at Guantanamo, David Hicks, pleaded guilty to a charge of “supporting terrorism” and was released from Guantanamo to serve out the balance of the agreed sentence in Australia. Part of the agreement was that he was not to make any statements about his treatment by the United States, and that he was not to be released from prison until after the next Parliamentary election. What a strange agreement! What a strange deal. And why do it unless you have something to hide?
This morning on the radio, I heard the President insist that since Mukasy had not been briefed on confidential matters yet, it was wrong of the Senators to expect him to answer their questions. But that too is disingenuous, because the matter the Senators are investigating is not one of confidentiality but definition: is water boarding torture? That Mukasy refuses to answer means only one thing: he knows—or at the very least strongly suspects that water boarding is being done. On a practical matter, he knows that if he declares water boarding to be torture, he will enter the position as an adversary of the president. But he wants the job, and the President wants him for the job. Mukasy has a chance to become a patriot here, but I suspect that he will not.
This is a very distressing state of affairs. Congress, especially some Republicans, had better stand up against this administration. I won't hold my breath. The world will stand up and cheer after January 19, 2009. If we ever get there with our Constitutional form of government intact.