In the update to a post earlier today (See Protection Racket: Obama Gets Tough to Shield Bush Torturers], I took Ken Gude to task for his column in the Guardian which I took to be a defense of the Obama Administration’s action in pressuring a UK court to quash credible evidence of torture at Guantanamo Bay. Ken asked to respond to my piece — and we are happy to oblige. Here’s his reply, and my rejoinder.
A RESPONSE FROM KEN GUDE:
Emotions clearly and understandably run high when discussing the morally bankrupt and functionally disastrous Bush administration policies of torture, detention, and extraordinary rendition. The case of Binyam Mohamed is a shining example of the Bush administration’s failure. I have no idea whether he is guilty of the crimes he is accused of, but I do know that he has been subject to disgraceful and unlawful treatment during his sad seven years of detention.
With respect, I think Chris misses the argument that I am making in my Guardian column today. I am not trying to exonerate anyone, let alone the US government simply because it is now led by a Democrat. Nor am I trying to ingratiate myself with the powers that be by sounding or talking tough.
The point of my column is that I do not believe Mohamed’s treatment is at issue in this court case any longer. What is at stake is whether a seven paragraph summary of 42 documents that describe the treatment he received should be made public. My assessment is that disclosure of this information would be of little value and it could have serious negative ramifications. Chris obviously disagrees.
I contend that we are not likely to learn anything more from such a disclosure than what we already know – that Mohamed was subject to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and most likely tortured. In my view, the benefit of public disclosure in this particular case is negligible.
Official secrecy is too often used to cover up official misconduct or embarrassing activities that governments’ would rather not become known. But the contention that I am engaging in a justification of the Obama administration’s attempt to cover up evidence of torture is way off base: there is nothing to cover up in this case anymore – the cat is already out of the bag, Mohamed was tortured.
It doesn’t seem logical for any government to go to such lengths to hide from public disclosure something that is already widely known. I know that logic doesn’t often come into play with the Bush administration, but I still think there has to be another reason.
In my Guardian column I offered one specific justification – that disclosure would reveal too much about Pakistani cooperation with the US. That may be accurate, or it may be more generally that intelligence services share information between and amongst each other with the reasonable expectation that this information will remain secret except in certain controlled circumstances. Disclosure of this information could imperil that understanding and lead to a breakdown in cooperation between intelligence services.
I believe that intelligence cooperation is essential if we are to combat and defeat al Qaeda and international terrorism. I believed that last month, last year, and the last time we had a Democratic president. That doesn’t make me Dick Cheney.
But I do understand that Cheney and the Bush administration have dramatically altered the playing field and the United States has justifiably lost the benefit of the doubt in matters related to detention and interrogation. The burden that this places on the Obama administration is clear: the United States can’t simply return to the old status quo and the onus is squarely on the shoulders of the new administration to demonstrate that it really is different.
This is not an easy task as it tries to unwind in a responsible way the disastrous policies of the Bush administration. Its early actions on closing Guantanamo and renouncing torture are an excellent start, but they are just a start. We should be skeptical and I applaud those who keep pushing the Obama administration to do the right thing and make a clean break from the past. I just think this particular case is not evidence that Obama will be anything like Bush.
Chris Floyd replies:
I appreciate this thoughtful response. I did note that Ken had been outspoken about American outrages at Guantanamo Bay — and I could have emphasized this more strongly. But I also felt that his article came across as a defense of the Obama action in the UK case. He indicates in his response that it was not a defense or an exoneration but an attempt to puzzle out why this extraordinary action was taken. If I misread his intentions and missed the point — or made any unnecessary personal insinuations about his motives — I’m very glad to let him speak for himself here and set things straight.
But I do disagree strongly that the disclosure of the information would have serious ramifications, especially as the judges themselves — again, Establishment stalwarts of long standing — say clearly that it deals with no sensitive intelligence information. And I do think the scenario about Pakistan cutting off intelligence ties is implausible. In any case, I am highly skeptical of the real worth of such “intelligence” cooperation in particular, and of “intelligence” in general. After all, most of the many innocent men — and children — who have been imprisoned in Gitmo over the years were put there on the basis of some kind of spurious “intelligence” of one sort or another. As Arthur Silber has often noted, it is policy — and politics — that drive and shape “intelligence,” not the other way around. When a certain policy is desired, the intelligence can be made to fit the agenda — as we saw with the invasion of Iraq.
In the end, I think the only thing that might possibly imperil the connection between the US and Pakistani intelligence services is if Washington stopped funneling billions of dollars to the Pakistani military-security apparat. That might get their dander up. But I don’t think any revelation of ISI-U.S. cooperation — or of even ISI kowtowing to U.S. pressure — would cause the kind of breach that Ken describes, and fears. Again, that’s just my opinion; he obviously has another take.
It’s also my belief that the best way — the only way — to protect American troops in the region is to get them out of Afghanistan altogether. I think that the invasion was unnecessary, the continued occupation is counterproductive and corrosive — and Obama’s plan to escalate the conflict is an act of sheer lunacy that will imperil the “national security” far more than any revelations about Binyam Mohamed’s torture.
I wasn’t trying to accuse Ken of being Dick Cheney. Far from it. I know he has spoken out strongly and often against the crimes of the Bush-Cheney regime. I certainly didn’t intend to rank him alongside such vicious criminals, and I hope my piece did not do that. But I do think that if one buys into the premises of the “War on Terror,” then one is, willy nilly — and often entirely against one’s intention and inclinations — supporting the militarist mindset that Bush and Cheney epitomized so brazenly, and which the Obama Administration is continuing in its own form and fashion. The entire War on Terror only exacerbates and empowers the international terrorism that Ken wants to defeat. It not only radicalizes whole populations and generations, it also teaches by example: it shows every group in the world that violence on a massive, pitiless scale is the way to advance your agenda and defend your interests.
I believe the best way to defeat international terrorism is to begin by stopping the massive, continuous state terrorism that the United States is carrying out and/or abetting around the world. This would include not only the cessation of various military occupations, covert destabilizations and “regime change” operations (such as the disastrous adventure in Somalia), but also the dismantling of the vast empire of U.S. military bases that encircle the globe.
Instead of the premises of the “War on Terror,” I would start with the principles enunciated by John Quincy Adams back in 1821:
[America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart…Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force….
It is because the fundamental maxim of the “National Security State” is indeed force that we find ourselves inextricably involved in the complex tangle of legality, disclosure, intelligence and “national security” that lies at the heart of the UK case. I agree with Ken that this one particular case is not in itself evidence that Obama will be anything like Bush. But, as I noted, it is all of a piece with an array of other evidence — not least the court cases defending John Yoo and the unconstitutional imprisonment of Jose Padilla, and the “continuity” displayed in keeping Bush’s own hand-picked man as head of the Pentagon, etc. — that shows quite clearly that the new Administration has adopted the imperial premises of its predecessors. And as long as we continue to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, we will not only incessantly create new enemies, we will keep on breeding something morally bankrupt, functionally disastrous — and monstrous — in our own system.