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Law Morality National Security Politics The Bush Legacy The War on Terrorism

Name, Rank and Serial Number

[digg-reddit-me]Our enemies do not subscribe to the rules of the Marquis of Queensbury. “Name, rank and serial number” does not apply to non-state actors but is, regrettably, the only question this administration wants us to ask.

Porter Goss, former director of the CIA, in the Washington Post.

Right-wingers from the National Review to Rush Limbaugh to Porter Goss has repeated this line ad infinitum – this constant suggestion or occasionally accusation that opponents of torture only want to ask members of al Qaeda for their “name, rank and serial number.” This is a distortion of the position many opponents of torture take – that the Geneva Conventions do apply even to terrorists. A commenter called salubrius provides a decent breakdown:

There are two standards for interrogation in the Geneva Convention. One standard applies to POWs or prisoners of war. These prisoners have a preferred status in that they may not be coerced to provide information other than their name, rank and serial number. The other standard applies to those who do not qualify as POWs. These are also referred to as unlawful enemy combatants. The Supreme Court in 1942 referred to this classification of lawful and unlawful combatants. 

Terrorists and suspected terrorists are still protected under the Geneva Conventions – though not to the extent of prisoners of war or civilians. Geneva provides certain mininimal protections for “those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.” Namely, Geneva provides that such persons “shall nevertheless be treated with humanity” and “shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed by the present Convention.” This is the position held by most if not all of those who insist that Geneva still applies to terrorists.

Proponents of torture try to mislead those not following the political conversation closely by disingenously claiming that their opponents consider asking anything more than “name, rank, and serial number” to be torture. In fact, the most successful interrogators of terrorists so far have also been opponents of torture – from Ali Soufan of the FBI to Matthew Alexander of military intelligence.

Categories
Criticism National Security Politics The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

The Significance of Jack Bauer

[digg-reddit-me]Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek:

The most influential legal thinker in the development of modern American interrogation policy is not a behavioral psychologist, international lawyer or counterinsurgency expert…the prime mover of American interrogation doctrine is none other than the star of Fox television’s “24,” Jack Bauer.

Though Lithwick’s statement may sound like an exaggeration, the most common defense of America’s torture policy has been to invoke the character of Jack Bauer on 24. John Yoo, Diane Beaver, Michael Chertoff, Tom Tancredo, and most famously Antonin Scalia have all invoked the TV show 24 in describing and defending national security law under George W. Bush. U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, saw the show’s influence as so pernicious that he he flew to visit the show’s producers to ask them to stop representing torture in such a positive light as it was undermining national security:

[Brigadier General] Finnegan told the producers that “24,” by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country’s image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ ” He continued, “The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”

It sounds as if the gullible students in Finnegan’s class have taken their lead from Justice Scalia who, in defending the extraordinary measures of the Bush administration, asked: 

Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles…He saved hundreds of thousands of lives…Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?

Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, whose legal memoranda aided the justification torture, claimed that Jack Bauer “gave people lots of ideas” about how to interrogate prisoners.

One thing that most of these defenders of torture do not mention – and that many opponents of torture fail to bring up – is that torture doesn’t seem to work. This is in many respects a secondary question – as the morality of torture and the “by any means necessary” approach of Jack Bauer as well as the Bush administration is debated. But Matthew Alexander, a pseodonym for a military interrogator who led the team that found Abu al-Zarqawi in Iraq, has been a vocal defender of the view that torture is an inefficient and counterproductive interrogation tool. The FBI has long maintained that their methods are proven and get reliable information from subjects – as opposed to the new torture techniques that do not. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists interrogated their high-value detainees – not because of their respect for human rights, but because they saw what was most effective. The greatest Nazi interrogator was a Hanns-Joachim Schraff who never even raised his voice, let alone tortured his subjects. He was one of the few top Nazis not tried for war crimes. Matthew Alexander – the man who got the intelligence that led to Zarqawi’s death – was one of the few adherents to Schraff’s view of interrogation in Iraq. His interrogation tools, rather than fear, violence, torture, religious persecution, and intimidation were “respect, rapport, hope, cunning, and deception.” 

Ann Applebaum points to the obvious question:

Given the overwhelmingly negative evidence, the really interesting question is not whether torture works but why so many people in our society want to believe that it works.

It may be unfair to blame 24 for this belief in the efficacy of torture. There is something deeper at work here than the propaganda of a television show. But 24 puts forth a persuasive cultural argument in which the extreme circumstances that occur every hour on the show justify extreme actions (such as threatening to harm an infant, mock executions of children; regular torture) are then used to justify American policies.