Thursday, January 15, 2009


Yesterday, Dahlia Lithwick and Phillipe Sands wrote in Slate that they believe we've reached a turning point in our discussion of Bush administration torture policy, one that "changes everything."

I doubt it.

Here's the turning point, as they see it:

When Vice President Dick Cheney told the Weekly Standard last week, "I think on the left wing of the Democratic Party there are some people who believe that we really tortured," he probably wasn't thinking about Susan J. Crawford, convening authority of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general, is hardly the kind of hippie moonbat Cheney would like to poke fun at. And that's why everything changed [yesterday] morning when the Washington Post published a front-page interview by Bob Woodward, in which Crawford stated without equivocation that the treatment of alleged 20th Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed al-Qahtani at Guantanamo Bay was "torture."

... What changes as a result of Crawford expressly using the word
torture? ... the administration can no longer hide behind parsing the language of the Geneva Conventions and the torture statute....

Yes, but the administration and its apologists can hide behind parsing the very language Crawford used. Which is, in fact, precisely what Dick Cheney did in his subsequent interview with Jim Lehrer.

Here's what Crawford said to Woodward:

Crawford acknowledges that it was "the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health that led to her conclusion. 'The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. … This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him. … It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge' to call it torture."

Which provided a big, fat opening for Cheney:

VICE PRES. CHENEY: ... as I recall - I read the article this morning - that she said all of the techniques that were utilized were authorized. None of them were in violation of the basic fundamental tenets that we used out there. She was, as I understand it, complaining about the way in which - well, specifically, the way in which they were administered - I don't have any way to judge that; I'm sure that the Defense Department has or will thoroughly investigate it and get to the bottom of it.

They're very good at those sort of things. So it's entirely possible there was a problem in terms of how one specific prisoner was handled. I can't claim perfection....

MR. LEHRER: But just, for a general premise here, looking back, you don't - nothing happened that you feel was over the line or that you feel that was a miscalculation or mistake of some kind?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, in terms of the treatment of a specific individual, I can't say that. We had Abu Ghraib, for example. In that case, I believe, based on what I've seen, that that was the result of some military personnel who were improperly supervised - weren't given the right kind of guidance, weren't managed properly. As we dig in and look at hundreds of cases, we may well find a few people who were not properly treated. You know, I ran the Pentagon. I know that you can't absolutely guarantee, at all times, that everybody's doing it the way they're supposed to be doing it....

So there it is. We're back to the "few bad apples" argument.

I don't know what it would take to change the terms of this debate -- what it would take, in other words, to get the broad public outraged and to pin the Bushies down so they can't plausibly argue their own innocence. But, sorry to say, this isn't it.

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