Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The implications of legal torture

-- by Dave

Digby notes the tortuous illogic that has reigned so far in the Bush administration's ongoing defense of the use of torture on American prisoners:
He goes on to quote at length from this speech, in which this high level legal counsel finds it impossible to condemn this torture even if inflicted on American soldiers.

That, alas, has been one of the little-observed but overwhelming reasons to oppose any kind of torture for these prisoners, and has been all along, ever since it was outlawed internationally and nationally: that condoning any kind of abuse provides a pretext for our enemies to do the same, or worse, to American prisoners held abroad.

Recall, for instance, that we prosecuted a number of Japanese officers after World War II for committing torture -- including waterboarding -- against American prisoners.

Moreover, even the slightest hint of abuse of American prisoners during the war brought the house down upon anyone thinking of it. For instance, during the efforts to ascertain the loyalties of Japanese prisoners incarcerated during the war -- a subject explored in great detail in Eric Muller's superb new book, American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Loyalty in World War II, -- it happened that some of the interrogators at the Fort Missoula internment camp, where a couple thousand suspect Japanese nationals were being held, began applying abusive techniques, and nearly created an international incident in the process.

Carol Van Valkenburg, in her book An Alien Place: The Fort Missoula, Montana, Detention Camp, 1941-44 describes this in some detail:
While Alien Hearing Boards were investigating the loyalties of the hapless Japanese, Immigration Service immigrant inspectors were busy interrogating many Japanese at Fort Missoula who they suspected were in the United States illegally. Those interrogations created an incident with international repercussions considered so potentially severe the United States government kept information about it under wraps for more than forty years.

The incident began when Herman Schwandt, an inspector in charge of detention and deportation, came to Fort Missoula from Seattle in late March 1942, bringing with him some Japanese who were to be detained in the compound. While in an office building at the fort, he overheard these shouted remarks: "You lying yellow son-of-a-bitch, you have been lying long enough! If you don't tell the truth now I am going to knock your teeth down your throat!"

Schwandt reported what he had overheard and the Justice Department immediately launched an investigation. What caused apprehension in Washington, however, was a formal complaint filed with the State Department in June 1942 through the Spanish consulate in San Francisco. The International Red Cross had been told of claims of mistreatment when a representative visited Fort Missoula. It was reported to the Spanish ambassador, whose embassy acted on Italy's behalf since diplomatic relations between the United States and Italy were severed when war was declared. The United States government was particularly concerned that any mistreatment be stopped because it feared reprisals against Americans held in enemy countries if word of the mistreatment spread.

Eventually, the Justice Department investigation showed that a number of Immigration Service interrogators, trying to determine whether certain suspect prisoners were in the United States legally, took to slapping, punching, pushing and otherwise physically and verbally abusing their subjects. In the end, two inspectors -- both Koreans who were fluent in Japanese -- were fired and several others reprimanded, and the matter was all hushed up.

But now we have an administration that claims it can torture prisoners because we've given them an extralegal "enemy combatant" designation. Yet what no one seems to have noticed is that, in the process, they are implicitly giving the green light for our enemies to do the same -- which they no doubt will do, and worse.

And they just don't seem to care. So much for "support the troops".

No comments: