Friday, May 01, 2009

The Glass is Half Full of It

Following up on Jon Stewart's April 28 Cliff May interview:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

In the first part of the extended interview, Cliff May had an intriguing interpretation of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) "torture memos" that I had not heard anyone make before. May contends [2:10] that the OLC was bending over backward to define the line between "aggressive techniques" and torture to ensure that the U.S. did not accidentally stray over that line. They are if anything, he says, "anti-torture memos":
Here's what they say. They say there is a line that you may not cross. You can inflict discomfort. Even some pain. But if you cross this line, it's torture. And we're going to tell you what that line is, and you may not cross it under any circumstances.
In May's view, the "glass is half full" question the memos were trying to answer was: Where is the line between coercion and torture, so we do not accidentally cross it?

That is the ostensible purpose of the OLC memos. But as reflected in the Senate Armed Services Committee report, the single-mindedness administration officials displayed in pursuing "enhanced techniques" and the careless disregard they showed for their own JAG and military interrogation experts' opposition to them (for non-CIA detainees) suggests another interpretation.

Established legal methods of interrogation went unexamined. The comparative effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation methods went unexamined. Employing the "enhanced techniques" was as much a forgone conclusion as the invasion of Iraq, and pursued with the same "don't bother me with the facts" doggedness.

Physical coercion was the only tool in the toolbox, so the OLC provided similar "get tough" advice to both the military and the CIA. Days ago, the Los Angeles Times reported on CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson's non-review of the techniques' effectiveness:
[N]either the inspector general's report nor the other audits examined the effectiveness of interrogation techniques in detail or sought to scrutinize the assertions of CIA counter-terrorism officials that so-called enhanced methods were essential to the program's results. One report by a former government official -- not an interrogation expert -- was about 10 pages long and amounted to a glowing review of interrogation efforts.

"Nobody with expertise or experience in interrogation ever took a rigorous, systematic review of the various techniques -- enhanced or otherwise -- to see what resulted in the best information," said a senior U.S. intelligence official involved in overseeing the interrogation program.

As a result, there was never a determination of "what you could do without the use of enhanced techniques," said the official, who like others described internal discussions on condition of anonymity.


The limited resources spent examining whether the interrogation measures worked were in stark contrast to the energy the CIA devoted to collecting memos declaring the program legal.
Much like the energy Cliff May and Bush apologists have displayed in defense of both the memos and the legality of using the enhanced techniques. More like CYA than CIA.

Their efforts suggest that the "glass is half empty" question the torture memos were really trying to answer was: Just how much pain and suffering may we inflict on a detainee and still plausibly deny that we are committing war crimes?

No comments: