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September 18, 2006

The Torturer Tries to
Save His Own Hide


by Paul Craig Roberts

President George Bush, betrayed by the neoconservatives whom he elevated to power and by his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, who gave him wrong legal advice, is locked in a desperate struggle with the Republican Congress to save himself from war crimes charges at the expense of America's reputation and our soldiers' fate.

Beguiled by neoconservatives, who told him that the virtuous goals of the American empire justified any means, and misled by an incompetent attorney general, who told him that the president of the U.S. is above the law, Bush was deceived into committing war crimes under Article 3 of the Geneva Convention and the U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996. Bush is now desperately trying to save himself by having the U.S. Congress retroactively repeal both Article 3 and U.S. law.

Under the U.S. Constitution, retroactive law is without force, but desperate men will try anything.

President Bush has given no thought to the impact on America's reputation of his strident campaign to write torture into U.S. law. He has given no thought to what saving himself means for captured U.S. troops if the U.S. government guts Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

How could he care? This is the same president who prevented the world from intervening to stop Israel's slaughter of Lebanese civilians. This is the same president who describes tens of thousands of slaughtered Iraqi and Afghan civilians as "collateral damage." What sort of war is it when civilian casualties far outnumber casualties among combatants?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was used by Bush to lie to the UN in order to create a pretext for Bush's illegal invasion of Iraq, denounced Bush's attempt to repeal Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Powell said Bush's proposal causes the world to "doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism" and will "put our own troops at risk." Republican Senators John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham agree with Powell, although their arms may yet be twisted out of their sockets.

Bush's claim that America cannot fight the "war on terror" without employing torture is just another Bush lie. It is a known fact that torture produces unreliable information. Torture can make people talk, but it cannot make them give reliable information.

Very few of the tens of thousands of "suspects" that the U.S. has detained are guilty of anything. We know this because the U.S. Iraqi Command says that 18,700 Iraqis have been released since June 2004. U.S. officers told the International Red Cross that 70 to 90 percent of the Iraqi detentions were "mistakes."

Most of these mistakes were people who were simply pulled out of their beds or grabbed off streets as "suspected insurgents," victims of military sweeps akin to the KGB street sweeps of the Stalin era, which resulted in so many Soviet citizens disappearing into the gulag. Others were sold to naive Americans by warlords who collected a bounty for turning in "terrorists."

When innocent people are tortured, they invent information in order to stop the pain. Sometimes they settle a score with a personal enemy or someone they dislike by giving their name. People who experienced Soviet torture and survived say they tried to remember names of deceased persons to identify as "enemies of the state."

An actual terrorist or insurgent who believes in his cause is not going to give accurate information. If his torturers demand information on a pending attack, he will give the wrong location. If they demand the identities of his group, he will give the wrong names. He is worth very little as an information source, because his colleagues, aware that he is captured or missing, will change plans and arrangements.

The U.S. military has not learned anything from torturing detainees and continues to lose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan despite its widespread use of torture.

Lying is now a full-time occupation for U.S. military spokespersons as well as for President Bush. Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, a spokesman for U.S. military detainee operations in Iraq, says that every detainee "is detained because he poses a security threat to the government of Iraq, the people of Iraq or coalition forces." President Bush says, "These are enemy combatants who are waging war on our nation." Someone needs to tell Bush and Curry that what they allege cannot be true if 70-90 percent of detainees are mistaken detentions and 18,700 detainees have been released in the last 14 months.

Baghdad shopkeeper Amjad Qassim al-Aliyawi is a good example. He languished in detention limbo for 20 months without charges and without apology when released.

Many studies have concluded that people who go into interrogation and police work are bullies who like to exercise power and hurt people. Bush is willing to make such people even less accountable in order to protect himself from war crimes charges.

If Bush were a real man, he would fire Gonzales and the neocons. He would say he was given bad advice, and regrets that he didn't know better than to follow it. He would order closed all the secret prisons, end the illegal policy of rendition, and order that all U.S. military detention facilities be run in strict accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

This would serve Bush and America's reputation far better than his attempt to legalize torture.


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    Paul Craig Roberts wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and was assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was associate editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and contributing editor of National Review. He is author or co-author of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon chair in political economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and senior research fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and testified before Congress on 30 occasions. He has been awarded the U.S. Treasury's Meritorious Service Award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a reviewer for the Journal of Political Economy under editor Robert Mundell.

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