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Sunday, May 17, 2009

The War on Terror and Logic -- 2009 Edition

It's May 2009 and we're about five months into a new Presidential Administration and new Congress. The new players have had a chance to orient themselves, take a few meetings, read a few intelligence briefs and make a few decisions regarding the War on Terror (TM) and Logic. So how are they doing? Well, judging from recent events, terror seems to be holding up quite nicely. Logic? Not so much.

The Obama campaign ran on a pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay internment camp for terrorist suspects. Obama the candidate also ran on a pledge to eliminate the use of military tribunals to decide the fate of the terrorist suspects, citing material flaws with the process. Obama the President initially made good on the pledge to close Guantanamo and began pushing to move detainee trials to civilian venues but flip-flopped on the civil trials stance in the past week. That change will in turn jeopardize the ability to transfer detainees to civilian facilities and close Guantanamo as desired by January 2010.

The debate over these issues has not only drawn Dick Cheney out of his undisclosed retirement bunker back into the spotlight, but has pitted the Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi against the entire CIA, requiring its current Director and long-time Democratic power broker Leon Panetta to defend his agency from his own party. These debates and the resulting press coverage have featured several new fallacies of logic which are likely to crop up repeatedly and are thus worth documenting and discussing.

Picking up where we left off from the Bush era... (see links #1 through #5)

FALLACY #13: Enhanced interrogation techniques are required because they are uniquely capable of forcing bad guys to divulge vital security information unavailable by other means.

FALLACY #14: Enhanced interrogation techniques are not torture.

#13 and #14 are flip sides of the same bad coin. Former VP Cheney has repeatedly claimed information was gleaned from enhanced interrogation of prisoners that thwarted attacks on the United States. He claims there is a laundry list of vital facts obtained from the enhanced interrogation of key suspects and has filed a petition (rejected by the Obama Administration and CIA) to make that list public. Even if such a document exists, the fact that terrorist A provided fact X under enhanced interrogation does not prove fact X wasn't already known via other methods or that fact X could not have been learned by other means and other sources without "enhanced interrogation."

If enhanced interrogation techniques are so effective at reducing hardened terrorist suspects to compliant, truth-telling snitches, one would think one, maybe two, okay maybe FIVE trips to the interrogation room would do the trick. In reality, numerous journalists (Seymour Hersch and Jane Mayer to name two) and internal military and CIA records show that DOZENS of suspects were "interrogated" DOZENS and HUNDREDS of times over the course of months and years. So much for #13. If #13 isn't true, the continued administration of "enhanced interrogation techniques" which provided no useful information over the course of months / years is nothing BUT torture serving no strategic purpose.

FALLACY #15: Bi-partisan support of a strategy means the strategy is correct. -- The occasion of long-time political opponents suddenly agreeing upon something is often touted as a certain guarantee that X simply MUST be the correct thing to do. In reality, it doesn't mean X is right, it doesn't mean X is wrong. It simply means a multitude of political and legal forces have mysteriously shifted to temporarily align goals which may have nothing to do with the benefit of We the People. Keep in mind that until about August 2007, the vast majority of people agreed that low interest rates and zero-down mortgage loans were a great way to keep the economy moving.

#15 is currently being used by Democrats and Republicans alike to support the Obama Administration's sudden reversal on the use of military tribunals instead of American civil courts for detainees. The Obama Administration's new rational hasn't been well explained much but is clearly resulting from a combination of feedback from the military and CIA about protecting information that might come up in trials and feedback from states fearful of having "terrorists" kept in Federal or state prisons should convictions occur.

Wow. Where does one start?

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were not aimed at freeing those convicted and imprisoned for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. There's no proof that holding terrorist suspects without trials or International Red Cross access in Camp X-Ray produces any less risk of future domestic terrorist attacks than keeping them in the SUPERMAX SHU at Florence, Colorado. Arguments about where terrorist trials take place and their impact on terrorist recruitment are entirely misplaced. Recruitment of new terrorists has relatively little to do with Internet access to photos of a few naked, abused prisoners or even a few dead prisoners. Recruitment has EVERYTHING to do with the breakdown of public education in not only Iraq and Afghanistan but Pakistan as well. The militias aren't gathering recruits by holding up prison abuse photos, they're recruiting by destroying the fabric of local society and holding guns to the heads of teenage boys left with no alternative for survival.

FALLACY #16: We cannot close Guantanamo Bay because European countries are refusing to take released prisoners, Middle East countries don't want them returning to destabilize their countries and we don't want terrorists on American soil.

First of all, if any current detainees are given a fair trial and found guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism or direct attacks against the United States, they're not GOING to be released, they'll be kept in prison. If someone is worried about a convicted terrorist escaping from a SHU at an American SUPERMAX prison facility, they probably should plan a weekend drive to one of our fabulous federal prison complexes and check the place out. If we trust those facilities to hold convicted cocaine cartel bosses controlling armies of narco-terrorists, I think they can handle a few more twenty-something brain-warped Islamic terrorists. They won't get out, they won't have anyone to talk to promote more terrorism here in America or anywhere else, they'll virtually disappear.

The argument behind #16 really involves the fear of what will happen when we have to release detainees held for years without a fair trial who are IN FACT innocent or whose prosecution was compromised by gross incompetence of American officials responsible for their interrogation or subsequent internment. Arguing against releasing a detainee who is in fact INNOCENT is essentially an argument that "if they weren't a terrorist going in, they might be so angered by their unjust capture / detainment that there's a high likelihood they will BECOME a terrorist when we release them."

Wow. That's a stunningly perverted take on the most basic concept of justice and liberty. If you are falsely accused of murder and framed by a career-minded, get-tough-on-criminals DA and an accomplice providing bogus forensic tests then we find one year or ten years or twenty years later you are innocent, you STILL have to rot in jail for life because you might be really pissed and might actually kill someone upon your release? That's EXACTLY the argument being made about detainees at Guantanamo.

What about detainees with indirect or direct ties to actual terrorist plots or actual terrorist attacks? Those who use the argument behind #13 are essentially claiming others who SUPPORT the closing of Guantanamo actually want to release detainees who might have been tortured or whose convictions might be jeopardized by evidence obtained under torture -- REGARDLESS of the detainee's actual culpability. No such argument is being made. The tighter rules of evidence suggested by the Obama Administration's revised tribunal policy are virtually identical to those of civilian law. Civilian courts do not require the release of a suspect if fact X confirming his guilt was divulged via unlawful coercion of the suspect or someone else. If fact X can be proven through testimony or evidence from other sources unrelated to the tainted evidence, fact X can still be introduced to the trial and used to support a conviction. The only time the suspect must be freed is if the ONLY source of fact X is the testimony obtained via illegal means and no alternate facts obtained via legal means exist to support a conviction.

FALLACY #17: If members of both parties knew about X and said nothing to object, X must be acceptable. -- This argument is being used to damage House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who lately seems to require no outside help in undermining her credibility on virtually any issue. Dick Cheney and others have claimed Pelosi was among a handful of Congressional members who received secret briefings about both the domestic surveillance program and enhanced interrogation techniques. Giving Dick Cheney the benefit of the doubt momentarily, silence on Pelosi's part at the time doesn't indicate the programs were justified or legal. Silence on Pelosi's part merely indicates Pelosi is part of the problem and her actions require investigation like the rest of the players. The other aspect to this fallacy is that it assumes that information shared with Congress at the time about X was complete and factual. If the information conveyed what we know now, then certainly, silence on the part of those receiving it is quite daming. However, what if the information -- by mistake or intent -- was framed as "contingencies being reviewed for legality and effectiveness" and not yet actual operational policy? In that event, any defense of the actions taken using this logic collapses.

FALLACY #18: The existence of dozens or hundreds of documented cases throughout Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and other secret CIA black sites does NOT prove abuse was directed at the highest levels of government. -- New York Representative Peter King (R) was interviewed on the May 17 edition of Face the Nation and explicitly rejected any claim that abuse and torture were condoned as a matter of policy. He said the following: (#6)

No, because there was no connection at all between the CIA memos, the interrogations that were carried out, the extra interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the others, have nothing to do with with MP reservists might have been doing at Abu Ghraib. That was out-and-out torture, that was out-and-out humiliation and debasing of prisoners, and there is no way that they knew what was going on as far as the CIA examining Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That is a phony argument that’s thrown out there to try to meld it all together.

King's argument ignores the fact that descriptions of the abuse by the victims and of those inflicting the abuse are nearly identical across many sites, despite the majority of enlisted personnel having no advanced training in interrogation techniques. He also ignores the fact that military facilities like Abu Ghraib had CIA officers on site providing guidance on targets and techniques. Finally, he ignores the fact that the photos of the abuse taken by Lynndie England and her cohorts did not involve the worst of what took place at Abu Ghraib. As author Jane Mayer documented in her book The Dark Side, the worst abuse was administered in an isolated prison block referred to as "Tier Alpha One" reserved for the exclusive use of "OGAs" -- "other government agencies" -- without Army MPs present. How did the CIA officers remain on base without an agreement between Army and CIA leaders? How was that agreement not known to brass within CENTCOM, the Pentagon and Langley?

King's argument also reflects a profound ignorance of the tactics used by groups pursuing such extra-legal activities. Compartmentalization of those enlisted to do the dirty work is a key component of the strategy to guard against discovery of the larger program and chain of command when a portion of the operation is compromised. Compartmentalization is core to the strategy of the very terrorist organizations we claim to be fighting. Apparently, King understands so little about the tactics of our opponent he cannot recognize them when we use them ourselves.

The key point to remember about Peter King's appearance on Face the Nation is that he did directly state that the abuses at Abu Ghraib constituted torture. "Out-and-out torture" were his exact words (see above). He just doesn't believe that abuse was performed under the direction of senior government or military officials. Watch this space for future flip-flops.

FALLACY #19: Releasing 200 new photos of prisoner abuse will further derail our campaign against terrorism by providing more recruitment material for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. -- Let's assume that the 200 photos in question don't constitute 200 unique cases of abuse and that there might be five or ten photos of the same incidents, yielding 20 to 40 new actual cases of abuse. The United States has already publicly confirmed the existence of these photos, thus confirming the actual incidents themselves and confirming their severity as being similar to previous documented cases. If progress in the war on terror is jeopardized by photos of abuse we've already publicly confirmed, the war on terror isn't in danger of being lost due to PR on an Internet scale. It is being lost at the local level in impoverished villages where local and state governments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are failing to provide basic public services and protect the safety of their citizens. The war is being lost through brutal intimidation applied directly at the local level through grisly public dismemberments and beheadings.

The additional photos WILL be released at some point. It's only a matter of months, years or decades. The debate over the photos is really a debate about the ability of the American government and the American people to face facts and change course. We need to understand how our country came to the conclusion that organized, systemic torture was effective and appropriate in defending the country when it is neither. More importantly, we need to understand why our country continues to involve itself in so many strategies that require secrecy that is antithecal to a properly functioning government and society.


#1) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2006/05/war-on-terror-and-logic.html

#2) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2006/05/democrats-came-to-same-conclusion.html

#3) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2006/05/constitutional-crisis.html

#4) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2006/09/war-on-logic-continues.html

#5) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2007/07/war-on-terror-and-logic-have-shovel.html

#6) http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/FTN_051709.pdf