I heard a story on NPR this morning that shook me up. Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism consultant who trains American service members to be ready for "interrogation techniques" was interviewed. It was in the context of Bush nominee Michael Mukasey's recent refusal to categorize waterboarding as torture.
Malcolm Nance denounced the practice and described it in detail. It's been called "simulated drowning" by the Bush administration and in the press, but according to Nance who has experienced it personally, there's nothing simulated about it.
The practice involves strapping the person being interrogated on to a board as pints of water are forced into his lungs through a cloth covering his face while the victim's mouth is forced open. Its effect, according to Mr Nance, is a process of slow-motion suffocation.
Typically, a victim goes into hysterics on the board as water fills his lungs. "How much the victim is to drown," Mr Nance wrote in an article for the Small Wars Journal, "depends on the desired result and the obstinacy of the subject." (The Independent)
Nance wrote an editorial for "Small Wars Journal" on the subject. He points out the dangerous precedent being set here and asks - "For what?". If the goal is reliable information, it's well established that torture does not work.
Who will complain about the new world-wide embrace of torture? America has justified it legally at the highest levels of government. Even worse, the administration has selectively leaked supposed successes of the water board such as the alleged Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessions. However, in the same breath the CIA sources for the Washington Post noted that in Mohammed’s case they got information but "not all of it reliable." Of course, when you waterboard you get all the magic answers you want -because remember, the subject will talk. They all talk! Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work.
According to the President, this is not a torture, so future torturers in other countries now have an American legal basis to perform the acts. Every hostile intelligence agency and terrorist in the world will consider it a viable tool, which can be used with impunity. It has been turned into perfectly acceptable behavior for information finding.
A torture victim can be made to say anything by an evil nation that does not abide by humanity, morality, treaties or rule of law. Today we are on the verge of becoming that nation. Is it possible that September 11 hurt us so much that we have decided to gladly adopt the tools of KGB, the Khmer Rouge, the Nazi Gestapo, the North Vietnamese, the North Koreans and the Burmese Junta?
Senate Democrats are stalling the nomination of Mukasey to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general because of his testimony that he views the practice of waterboarding as "repugnant," but does not know if it is illegal. Mukasey's also pretty sketchy about where the President's power ends. According to his testimony, the president’s authority "to defend the nation" trumps his obligation to obey the law. Scary.
So here are two actions I would appreciate you taking the time to do:
1. The first comes from Physicians for Human Rights, a twenty year old organization who's mission is "to advance health, dignity, and justice and promotes the right to health for all. Harnessing the specialized skills, rigor, and passion of doctors, nurses, public health specialists, and scientists, PHR investigates human rights abuses and works to stop them."
They are lobbying the Senate to investigate and end 20 brutal interogation techniques reportedly used by the CIA, including water boarding, induced hypothermia, sexual humiliation and rape, and mock executions.
You can send a letter to your Senators with their simple form here.
2. Tell your Senators you don't support Mukasey's confirmation. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont sums up why here:
Of course the United States government must do everything that it can to protect the American people from the dangerous threat of terrorism,” Sanders stressed, “but we can do that effectively consistent with the Constitution and the civil liberties it guarantees.We need an attorney general who does not believe the president has unlimited power. We need an attorney general who understands that torture is not what this country is about, and we need an attorney general who clearly understands the separation of powers inherent in our Constitution. Unfortunately, it is clear that Mr. Mukasey is not that person.
Find their addresses here. Use my letter if you want, or write your own:
Dear Senator ________,
Please do not support the confirmation of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. His evasive answer on waterboarding and his troubling statements about the executive branch being above the law tell me that he is a poor choice. Now more than ever we need to protect and uphold the consititution. This Bush lackey is clearly not going to fill the vital role of our constitution's chief champion.