July 07, 2007


Michael Ledeen in the Corner on the National Review site posts a terrifying story about Iraq and Al Quaeda's operations there- Ledeen has been wrong before he announced the death of the still alive Ayatollah Khameini last year- but in this case he has provided the names of two US officers who have provided him with information- basically the information is that within Iraq, Al Quaeda are committing cannibalism and terrifying the local people through serving them their own children as meals. This may as I said be a myth or may be exaggeration- who knows. I have heard no other reports saying this from any correspondents in Iraq and Ledeen is not in Iraq- but he does name the US officers.

But the key part of Ledeen's post isn't those horrifying facts (though we will return to them)- its a last sentence about the use of torture- I quote

It just seems to me that anyone involved in such activity isn't really entitled to high-priced legal defense in American courts. Guantanamo is way too good for such animals.
Ledeen basically is saying that the nature of the crime justifies the idea that torture should be used. No doubt he has other justifications for torture- but he has made this one- so let us for a moment examine it. There are as far as I can see two problems with it. Torturing a person is designed to obtain information from them- the most natural time to be obtaining information is when you don't know what you want to know- and what you don't know may well be the crime itself- therefore you wouldn't necessarily know that the person you were torturing was involved in such activity until after you had obtained the information (and given it to a court and gone through a process) that you are torturing them to get. Furthermore even if they had committed the crime- there is a further principle involved that Mr Ledeen doesn't mention and that is the rule of law. The idea that for the same crime two individuals receive the same penalty- now in Iraq the US occupation obviously has to deal differently with people- but Mr Ledeen isn't invoking that- he is saying that the crime justifies torture- in which case if it justifies it in Baghdad why doesn't that principle justify torture in Beverley Hills for a cannibal!

But lets go a little further and re-examine the information that Ledeen is getting from his army commanders because it illustrates another danger of using torture. His officers are telling Ledeen no doubt in good faith that at Iraqi parties sons are served to their parents by Al Quaeda- but where did they get that information from- they weren't there. Lets say they got it by interrogating Iraqi prisoners- we know that in the prisons in Iraq US officers have been instructed to ignore the Geneva conventions, we also know that in Iraq at this very moment US soldiers are facing hideous psychological strain- strain which pushes them to thinking of every Iraqi as an enemy. Lets imagine the scenario- I want to find out what happened at a meeting- I therefore use robust methods of torture and I say to you that I will stop waterboarding you or stop degrading you if only you will tell me that at this meeting someone was served their own son as a meal. After four or five days of torture you might say yes- and then I might repeat it to Michael Ledeen.

I'm not saying that's what did happen but as soon as you allow torture its a safe presumption that most of your information obtained in that way may very well be absolutely useless. That involves a further danger- it means that many of the people involved in making the policy and implementing it on the streets of Baghdad don't know the true situation.


edmund said...

Is Michael Ledeen worth a post -} to be fair yon is quite reliable so this unlikely sounding story could peas be taken semi-seriously. His circular point on the nature of the crime is well criticised as is the cannibal point.

I would say that this post (probably like Leiden’s comments) conflates three things one is whet her or not

a) Does one treats people as being protected by the Geneva Convention -that is entitled to its privileges and rights

b) By the criminal process and /or the carnal process. The other is no holds barred

c) Torture now this debate often comes down into chomp over what "tore " describes- but I think it can be safe to say that there can be less privileges than prisoners or war under Geneva (up to tooth brush's) or Anglo-Saxon criminal procedure does not cont as torture whatever the definition there is surely a defence between the two?

And a) and B) strike me as very clear while the extend of c) is very contagious and difficult to evaluate. however it seems clear to me that people who do not observe the Geneva Convention should not receive its' projections. The Geneva Convention insists on soldiers wearing uniform, not targeting civilian’s act- this is clear not the case with Al Quad act. It's very important they not receive them as well- otherwise no go vet or movement that isn’t insanely scrupulous will bother to observe the Geneva Convention because it's troops will gain all the advantage of ignoring them in a war with the US or UK with all the advances of keeping them. (not shot when serenaded act) . The bigger the reward for observing it the more the west's enemies are incentivised to observe it.

Similarly the fact is Al quada is not a nomal criminal group-it is indeed fighting a war albeit without the rules of war- and you can’t win an international war as a police action.

Of course this does not mean one has no ethical limits whatsoever – one would have some obviously even were it just to prevent mistaken idenity. However I thik the distinction between this and the Geneva Convention rights or peacetime criminal procedure is key .

This is particular obvious in the US- the US in the late 20th century has developed a jurisprudence very very supportive of defendants legal ights (a major cause of its somewhat high crime rate) -much more than the UK or indeed just about any other this is one reason fo this whole situation-in France it's possible to use the criminal l system and the security services because they're both allowed to ignoe the law and more important the crimiinal law' procedures defences are weaker and can be waived in a way not really practical in the US. So in many ways it's the huge (so "habeas corpus" protecions in the US are not hte sual right for a judge to confrim or deny legal detention but include a whole array of substantive rights)

I also think the fetichisation of Guateloma is very weird - i find hte secret CIA camps in europe much more likely to be abusive! And it's worth noting they've already relased peole from Guatolmoa who've gone back to fighting against the US- so it's not as simple as locking up anyone who might convievably be guilty-they clealry use a lower standard.

ON the second specific Torture point why is this inaccuracy a particular problem with torture? - that is surelyyit's a problem with prisoners who might give inaccurate info-and jihardis can be relied on to want to do so-they don't want to cooperate being ideologialy motivated. why should torie prime facie make them less accurate? This is often assumed-I've just never ead an argument as to why in Iraq that would be so. Indeed given how hostile they are i could think it might make infoiaon more accurate- being more motivated by pain or inconvenience or threat and less by the desire t make the Americans do the stupid thing.

I particularly like the point that even relatively reasonable “coercive” methods might be inapproate and corurpting on scared soliders (this is a very good point made by McCain and Grahamn for example) . Of course this kind of reason is why reaso states have intelligence services. I alos think the ignorance point is a very good one- though I can't believe it applies in all cases as an argument it's one that goes for restraint not a blanket ban.

Lord Nazh© said...

You'd think with that many words, you could at least put some facts in it.

We all know you are against the war in Iraq (Iraqi 'occupation') and you seem to be against torture, yet you don't say what torture is.

Is torture what Al-Qaeda DOES do (not the cannibal stories) as in maiming people, starving them, amputations, and finally beheadings. Or is torture loud music, panties and the what not?

What source do you have that soldiers have been told to ignore the Geneva conventions? And what conventions do you imagine they are ignoring?

Colin Campbell said...

Based upon my years in America, it was very important that the opposition be picked carefully and then demonised through all means possible. I just do not believe that the US Military have the exclusive preserve of the moral high ground in Iraq. This is an immoral unconvential civl war and it is inevitable that ugly and distasteful things are going to happen achieve each sides goals.

Matthew Sinclair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lord Straf-Dresden said...

Al Quaeda are committing cannibalism and terrifying the local people through serving them their own children as meals.

The further and further I get into this thing, the more it becomes clear that the unspeakable, unbelievable truth is that it is the power behind the US and other leaderships which is driving this sort of thing.

Al Quaeda are no more Muslim than you and I but other Muslims see their sticking it to the west as somehow heroic. All the Muslims I know here disown them.

Just as many of the beheadings were alleged to have been set-ups of the security forces under the tutelage and implicit [if not explicit] duress of "them", so with this.

This behaviour is not Muslim. Muslims behead, cut off hands and so on but it's all according to the bloodthirsty hadiths. Eating children is an invention of the cabals who are right in there in Iraq.

It has all the hallmarks of their work. I have not hitherto mentioned who they are ultimately working for but you can see it as clear as day in these actions. these actions are inhuman. that's the hint.

Gracchi said...

Matt yes I may have attacked a straw man- your response is very valid.

Lord N I actually confined my comments to Ledeen's account partly because I find the ticking bomb scenario terrifying to contemplate- I think because of the fantasy aspect I am still against it but I'm not sure.

Ok what sources do I have for the allegation that soldiers have been told to ignore the Geneva conventions- the testimony of a US soldier no less speaking on the World Service minutes before I wrote this was enough for me- unfortunately searching the World Service website I couldn't find a link to the program website so I apologise for that.

I would consider something like Waterboarding to be torture. Yes AL Q probably do use torture- the problem though is that many of the people we might be torturing are not necessarily in Al Q- furthermore torture like Abu Ghraib is actually a great recruiting sergeant for Al Q. It helps them more than it helps us.

Lord Straf-Dresden said...

...Ok what sources do I have for the allegation...

I for one would never dispute your sources. But I know you.

Matthew Sinclair said...

[UPDATE: This was posted earlier - Gracchi's response to "Matt" was to this. I've had to repost it to change the name of another commenter]

I agree with Edmund that Michael Yon is usually solid. He's more of a reporter unlike Ledeen who is a polemicist.

However, Ledeen isn't arguing for torture. He's arguing for a denial of due process:

"It just seems to me that anyone involved in such activity isn't really entitled to high-priced legal defense in American courts. Guantanamo is way too good for such animals."

That doesn't imply torture at all. Unless I've missed the point somewhere it looks like you're attacking a strawman.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Also, Geneva is irrelevant in this discussion. Those captured and sent to Guantanamo aren't entitled to Geneva protection as they don't fulfill its conditions.

As such, telling soldiers to ignore Geneva is just a statement of fact.

Lord Nazh© said...

I love the 'probably' attached to Al-Qaeda and the certainty attached to the US military.

Water-boarding I wouldn't consider torture, but to each his own I guess (to me torture is what it says, racks, pins, pulling fingernails, etc.)

Also, you havn't squared the GC with the fact that AQ isn't covered by it (nor is Iraq a signatory for that matter).

Gracchi said...

Well to be honest the probably is because I don't know- though I'm almost certain they do torture. The US incidents of torture have actually been as in Abu Ghraib photographed or filmed and proved in Court Martials- not merely that but as I said I'm deriving my information from a soldier involved in interrogation who was interviewed on the BBC World Service. I am sure that Al Quaeda do torture- but them doing that doesn't make it right for us to do it!

The other question is of course that many of these people aren't Al Quaeda but are ordinary Iraqis- until someone is tried and found guilty as far as I understood they aren't actually as far as the authorities can tell guilty of membership fo the organisation.

Furthermore there is a difference between Al Quaeda and the insurgency- many of the insurgents for instance are and always have been Shia- who are not members of Al Quaeda- and furthermore there are as George Bush was fond of saying early on Baathist and Sunni elements to the insurgency which go beyond support for Osama Bin Laden.

Well whether Iraq is or isn't a signatory isn't really an issue- according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 'The Geneva Conventions has reached such a high level of ratification that it has obtained universality, binding even non-signatories to rule' Furthermore according to the United States- Iraq is a signatory- see here.

As to civilians engaged in insurgency- according to the ICRC website the conventions apply if the battle between the insurgents and the government has been on the agenda of either the UN General Assembly or the Security Council- as in my understanding there have been numerous discussions of this on the floor of the UN- the conventions would bind US soldiers in proceeding with regard to Iraqi civilians.

Lord Nazh© said...

The IRC has NO authority to rule over nations, none, zilch...

'Insurgents' also happen to combatants, who do NOT have to be tried and can be held UNTIL the conflict is over without charges. This has happened in all wars.

Gracchi said...

The IRC is a fairly good authority on what the Geneva conventions are. As to holding insurgents- that isn't waht we are discussing- its torturing them that we are discussing.