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DOJ and torture: asking the right questions.

This petition effort to get Boalt Hall Professor John Yoo to resign his faculty position is silly, and, I think, a big waste of time. (My feelings on Yoo's academic freedom defense are mixed: on the one hand, the petition drive is obviously an effort to intimidate Yoo for his views; on the other hand, who in his right mind thinks he can return to Berkeley of all places after advocating against the applicability of the Geneva Conventions without provoking some student ire? I mean, this is Berkeley, for chrissakes!)


Also a waste of time, I think, are inquiries into what Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement himself knew about interrogation abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time he told the U.S. Supreme Court that the U.S. executive does not command "mild torture." (Inquiries into the role that other DOJ offices or attorneys played in approving degrading or abusive interrogation methods are not, by contrast, a waste of time, in my view.)


After much thought, and several very interesting conversations with a couple of very wise people, I'm peruaded that the important inquiries are these:


In which executive departments have attorneys been called upon to review the legality under American and international law of interrogation methods such as "water boarding" (in which people are dipped into water to make them fear they're about to be drowned) and multi-year confinement of people in total isolation? (On the strategy of permanent solitary confinement, see the Declaration of Lowell Jacoby (.pdf), Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, on which the administration has relied in court.)


What conclusions did these attorneys reach on the legality of these methods?


How were disputes among attorneys or departments about the legality of these methods resolved? By whom?


Was DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel ever asked to opine on the lawfulness of any specific methods of interrogation? On whether any specific method of interrogation or approach to interrogation constituted "torture" within the meaning of any federal statute or treaty, or a violation of any provision of the Geneva Conventions? Who prepared any such opinion? What conclusion did he or she reach? Did DOJ's position on any such question conflict with an opinion rendered in another executive department? If so, how was the dispute resolved?


Given that there was no explicit congressional authorization for techniques of this sort, was there discussion within the executive branch about whether any congressional act even implicitly approved of them? Or about whether it was necessary to inform Congress in any way about the more aggressive methods of interrogation? What position did lawyers take on these questions? How, and by whom, were any disputes on these questions resolved?


Inquiring minds want to know.

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Something I came across the other day. Why are these people allowed to continually put up this totally unsupported argument, ie., "torture saves lives", when there is absolutely no proof of that at all, and in fact, experts and even the U.S. Military rules for interrogation maintain that torture is ineffective as a means of extracting useful information.


So, how can these practices be defended?

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This whole torture debate is just a knee-jerk reaction by politicians to the impulsive attitudes of the incredibly short-sighted and ignorant American public.


Remember that right after 9/11 and during the initial phases of action in 'Stan the big question was why did the US give up assasinations and torture in the 60's. The conventional wisdom of the public then was that we were dealing with unconventional and irrational zealots who were willing to die for their cause, therefore anything less than torture were going to be ineffective. I remember seeing polls circa 2002 that had upward of 90 percent approval for torture and assasination if those methods had the potential of bearing fruit.


NOW, the public has flip-flopped again b/c of a weak stomach. On some level they now think that torturing prisoners is somehow inciting the zealots to be more brutal in their treatment of US GI's, etc.... Which was further fueled by the Pearl taped beheading, then reinforced by Berg. Then, they bought the PR ploy by terrorists who beheaded Berg when the terrorists claimed that it was a retributive act for making a couple of prisoners recreate Animal House and took pictures. They seem to forget that one really has nothing to do with the other.


Doesn't anyone else find it ironically funny that the US sits and debates the merits of the Geneva convention as we deal with those who ideologically are aligned with a movement that killed 3000+ innocents? Muslim zealots hate us. It doesn't matter of we torture them to death or put them up in 5 star hotels, they are still going to be brutal in thier treatment of any American they come across, military or civilian.


IMO, those in charge should realize that they know way, way more about the effectiveness of torture as a means to gather information that some housewife who thinks it should be a no-no. They should stop trying to react to every whimsical flip-flop on the issue by the American public and go about their business in a manner they see fit.

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