Friday, February 08, 2013






Brennan's Tortured Testimony


Are you smarter than a fifth grader?  If you're reading this, you've probably already have proven among the most intelligent and insightful American citizens.  No doubt you are smarter than a fifth grader.  Regrettably, John Brennan is not.

Oh, of course, he is smarter than grade school children, only he wishes to pretend otherwise.  And so it was when the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted its hearing into the nomination by President Obama of John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  As posted by The Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel, a portion of the exchange between Brennan and Michigan Senator Carl Levin went as follows:

LEVIN: Well, you've read opinions as to whether or not waterboarding is torture. And I'm just asking, do you accept those opinions of the attorney general? That's my question.

BRENNAN: Senator, I've read a lot of legal opinions. I read an Office of Legal Counsel opinion from the previous administration that said waterboarding could be used. So from the standpoint of that, I can't point to a single legal document on the issue. But as far as I'm concerned, waterboarding is something that never should have been employed, and as far as I'm concerned, never will be if I have anything to do with it.

LEVIN: Is waterboarding banned by the Geneva Conventions?

BRENNAN: I believe the attorney general also has said it's contrary and in contravention of the Geneva Convention. Again, I'm not a lawyer or a legal scholar to make the determination as to what's in violation of an international convention.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. telephone survey taken in November 2007 did not include the question as to whether waterboarding is banned by the Geneva Conventions.   But it did ask whether waterboarding is torture and 69% of respondents believed it is.  With 29% replying in the negative, fully 98% of respondents had an opinion to a question which Brennan, who claimed "I can't point to a single legal document on the issue,"  could not answer.  Further, a clear majority of individuals surveyed expressed opposition to the use of waterboarding against terrorists. (Brennan did maintain that the tactic will never be "employed, and as far as I'm concerned, never will be if I have anything to do with it,"  a restriction easily surmounted with plausible deniability.)

The website howstuffworks.com recognizes

Water boarding as it is currently described involves strapping a person to an inclined board, with his feet raised and his head lowered. The interrogators bind the person's arms and legs so he can't move at all, and they cover his face. In some descriptions, the person is gagged, and some sort of cloth covers his nose and mouth; in others, his face is wrapped in cellophane. The interrogator then repeatedly pours water onto the person's face. Depending on the exact setup, the water may or may not actually get into the person's mouth and nose; but the physical experience of being underneath a wave of water seems to be secondary to the psychological experience. The person's mind believes he is drowning, and his gag reflex kicks in as if he were choking on all that water falling on his face.

The U.S. Code defines torture, which it specifies as a "war crime," as

The act of a person who commits, or conspires or attempts to commit, an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation, coercion, or any reason based on discrimination of any kind.

The late Christopher Hitchens, after voluntarily submitting to waterboarding, concluded "Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."   According to the U.S. Code, the latter is

The act of a person who commits, or conspires or attempts to commit, an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation, coercion, or any reason based on discrimination of any kind.

Ratified in 1949, the Fourth Geneva Convention defined torture and explicitly outlawed it.  The United Nations Convention Against Torture was adopted in December of 1984, went into effect in  June of 1987, and was ratified by the USA in October of 1994.   It defines torture in a manner very similar to that of the U.S. Code and explicitly prohibits it.  It is very simple and doesn't require "a lawyer or a legal scholar to make the determination."  Even a fifth grader can understand that.




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