The Obama Watch

Obama’s Tortured Logic

It would be difficult to keep a straight face regarding what the President believes constitutes torture if this were not such a serious matter. 

By 5.11.09

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President Barack Obama has declared the interrogation techniques U.S. officials used during what was referred to as an "increased pressure phase" to be torture. Obama announced his administration would not prosecute CIA officers who used the tactics, but he has left open the possibility of punishing those behind the memos including senior Bush Administration officials.

Echoing a theme of the ACLU, Obama referred to the techniques described in a Justice Department memorandum as "a dark and painful chapter in our history." However, Obama refused to concede that the interrogation of three major al Qaeda figures by using such techniques kept the U.S. safe by thwarting at least one major terrorist attack following September 11.

The interrogation procedures are identified in an August 1, 2002 memo from the Office of Legal Counsel. The memo detailed ten different techniques permitted to be used under strict control and under the direct supervision of medical professionals in order to protect the physical and mental health of the al Qaeda leaders.

These are not the breaking of arms and legs, gang raping of women while male family members are forced to watch, or hanging from ceiling shackles while a tormentor applies electricity procedures popularized by the type of nations Obama is now courting. Instead, these are kindler, gentler interrogation techniques. It was as if the elder George H. W. Bush crafted them as part of his thousand points of light campaign.

To be sure, no one would likely want to be interrogated in any fashion -- especially if one planned the use of jetliners to be used as weapons of mass destruction by flying them into skyscrapers filled with thousands of people.

It goes without saying that Obama's action in revealing highly classified tactics seriously damaged U.S. intelligence agencies' relationships with allied nations whose operatives will be reluctant to cooperate in the future with U.S. counterparts. The release of the OLC memo will do more harm than good for the U.S. -- and the Obama Administration.

Any reasonable person who reads the OLC memo would be appalled by Obama's characterization of the techniques versus the reality. It would be difficult to keep a straight face regarding what Obama believes constitutes torture if this were not such a serious matter. That these enhanced procedures are not permitted to be used to interrogate mass murdering terrorists when trying to pry out intelligence regarding planned attacks against America suggests "coddling" is the president's preferred interrogation technique.

One is reminded that Obama's coterie of ideologues includes former domestic terrorists who were "punished" with full tenure as college professors.

The following are examples of what Obama has labeled torture.

One technique is the "facial hold." According to the memo, "The facial hold is used to hold the head immobile. One open palm is placed on either side of the individual's face. The fingertips are kept well away from the individual's eyes."

Quick! Someone alert child protective services as hundreds of thousands of parents have committed this identical technique with intransigent toddlers.

Then there is "walling" where "the interrogator pulls the individual forward and then quickly and firmly pushes the individual into [a flexible, false] wall.… [T]he head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash. To further reduce the probability of injury, the individual is allowed to rebound from the flexible wall.… [T]he idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is."

Crack-the-whip is now and forever banned in schoolyards across America.

"Cramped confinement" consists of an individual being placed in a confined space. The individual is able to stand or sit down in the larger confined space and may only sit in the smaller space. The individual may be confined in the larger space for up to 18 hours and only two hours in the smaller space.

This differs markedly with the cramped confinement technique used in military interrogation training. In the military version, the subject cannot stand, fully sit or completely lay down forcing the individual to assume a contorted position. The individual remains locked in the box overnight while interrogators make loud noise to deny sleep. In contrast, a terrorist gets to call time-out after only two hours.

Then there is the dreaded insect technique. Interrogators would tell the individual they "intend to place a stinging insect into the [confinement] box with him. [Interrogators] would, however, place a harmless insect in the box … such as a caterpillar."

Aside from Obama, there probably is not a single middle school-aged boy in America that has not performed the insect technique on a younger sibling or an unsuspecting schoolgirl.

Another so-called torture technique is "wall standing" in which "the individual stands about four to five feet from a wall, and his feet spread approximately shoulder width. His arms are stretched out in front of him, with his fingers resting on the wall. His fingers support all of his body weight."

Public school gym classes across the country face imminent closure!

Then there is waterboarding, the interrogation technique that has received widespread condemnation from the usual crowd on the political left such as the New York Times which labeled it "gruesome," "shocking," and "near-drowning." In fact, it is none of the three. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who was briefed on the technique only days after it was approved was for waterboarding before she was against it.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, please call your office.

In waterboarding, the "individual is bound securely to an inclined bench.… A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner… [as] the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth."

While performing this technique "air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds. . . [creating] the perception of drowning." Most importantly "the individual does not breathe any water into his lungs (emphasis added)."

 waterboarding was performed on three senior Al Qaeda figures: Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

Zubaydah gave valuable information that led to the capture of Binalshibh whose information led authorities to Mohammed, the confessed mastermind behind the September 11 attacks and the man who personally cut-off the head of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

It is stunning that liberals protest the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, but leave the room when the subject turns to KSM's beheading of Danny Pearl.

The entire chain of events began when Zubaydah broke down after a mere 35 seconds of waterboarding. Mohammed revealed intelligence that allowed U.S. officials to disrupt a post-9/11 follow-up terrorist attack planned for the west coast.

Yet, waterboarding "darken[ed] the country's reputation [and] blur[red] the moral distinction between terrorists and the Americans who hunted them," screamed the New York Times in an over-the-top article that ignored the intelligence value of the information gleaned from using the technique.

 waterboarding is on par with the 9/11 attacks? Nope. Don't see it. No matter how hard the New York Times tries, there is no moral equivalency between the two.

In fact, water boarding is so "horrific" that the four military services have used it for years in their search, evade, resistance and escape training for aircrew and special forces personnel. The Air Force administered water boarding to more than 25,000 personnel in the ten-year period prior to the 9/11 attacks. Overall, tens of thousands of servicemen and women have been waterboarded since the early 1990s.

The ACLU, New York Times and Obama call waterboarding torture yet, those who have actually undergone the technique believe otherwise. Captain Ken Kropkowski who retires later this month after 30 years of commissioned service is a Navy pilot who was waterboarded during SERE training.

Kropkowski attended survival, evade, resistance and

escape training in Warner Springs, California. He was thrown against a wall, spent a night in a confinement box with a hood on his head while his interrogators banged on it to deprive him of sleep, was forced to undergo wall standing until his arms gave out, and he endured waterboarding.

Waterboarding is not torture claimed Kropkowski. "There's no pain actually. I don't see how you can equate that with torture. There's no trauma. There's no lasting effect." He added, "If that's what they [the interrogators] need to use to keep themselves safe and to keep our children safe, I think it's trivial."

Here is the reality. Most of these so-called torture techniques are not much different than hazing commonly found on college campuses. A 2008 study based on 11,482 student responses from 53 colleges found more than half who participated in sports, clubs and other organizations experienced hazing. Even twenty per cent of honor society members reported being hazed.

It is difficult to get worked up over interrogation tactics that a freshman, pencil-necked geek willingly endures.

Examples of collegiate hazing include humiliation; being yelled, screamed or cursed at; performing personal servitude; tattooing and body piercing; sleep deprivation; tied-up, taped or confined to small spaces; and enduring harsh weather without proper clothing, just to name a few.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder should immediately press charges against fraternity and sorority leaders; college presidents; sports coaches; academic advisors; and other university officials who gave explicit or tacit approval to hazing.

According to the survey, more students perceived positive benefits rather than negative outcomes from hazing. The same could be said of the American people regarding the benefits derived from enhanced interrogation techniques.

Obama's designation of these techniques as "torture" is merely a gift to his supporters on the far left who are still consumed with personal hatred for George W. Bush and his administration. Obama's actions are in keeping with his long-time track record of pursuing those he deems to be political enemies.

This underscores that the most horrific attack on American soil in more than half a century means little to those who blame the U.S. for all the world's ills. This crowd applauded wildly when Obama launched his 2009 American Apology Tour featuring opening acts as Nicaragua's socialist leader Daniel Ortega, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, and Cuba's Castro brothers, all of whom have long rap sheets when it comes to human rights abuses.

A large measure of credit for maintaining American security following 9/11 likely goes to the use of the enhanced interrogation techniques. By his foolhardy actions, Obama has made America more vulnerable.

Mark Hyman is a commentator appearing nationally on the television stations of Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.

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About the Author
Mark Hyman hosts "Behind the Headlines," a commentary program for Sinclair Broadcast Group. You can follow him on Twitter at @markhyman.