THE BLOG
01/15/2006 08:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

President Bush is Endangering Our Lives 6: Torture and Strengthening Our Enemies

"The abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort. Abuse of prisoners often produces bad intelligence (and) endangers our own troops who might someday be held captive. Prisoner abuses expose us to ... charges that democracies are no more inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes. The mistreatment of prisoners harms us more than our enemies."
-- Senator John McCain, Newsweek, November 21, 2005

"The Bush Administration is explicitly reserving the right to abuse prisoners, while denying them any opportunity to seek redress in court. Having publicly accepted the ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Mr. Bush is planning to ignore it whenever he chooses. As a practical matter, there may be no change in the operations of the CIA's secret prisons, where detainees have been subjected to such practices as ... "waterboarding," or simulated drowning."
-- Washington Post Editorial, January 11, 2006

"Gestapo interrogation methods included: repeated near drownings of a prisoner in a bathtub."
-- The History Place website

The Russian invasion of Afghanistan - and our response to it - trained a generation of Muslim terrorists who subsequently fanned out into dozens of other nations to attack not only them but us. If noone could have predicted the consequences of the Russian invasion back in 1979, however, we have no such excuse today concerning our invasion of Iraq. As in Vietnam, the issue is not how many opponents we kill, but how many remain.

And Mr. Bush's bungling has not only geometrically multiplied the numbers of potential terrorists we face but, far more importantly, vastly increased their motivation to torture and kill Americans.

Motivation is perhaps the key variable in warfare. It was higher motivation that enabled the poorer U.S. revolutionary army to defeat the British. It was the Vietnamese willingness to die that so confounded Dean Rusk, who assumed they would cave in after we had used our superior resources to murder the equivalent of ten million Americans. And it is the Bush Administration's increasing the motivation of Muslims to kill us, by occupying a Muslim country and torturing its citizens, that poses the single greatest threat to our lives today - throughout the world and for generations to come.

Reading through Vice-President Cheney's speeches on his website, the majority of which are a shocking display of ignorance delivered to military audiences, one is struck by his constant repetition of such foolishnesses as the following: "Some have suggested that by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein, we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway."

Since we were hit on 9/11, Mr. Cheney argues, nothing he has done since could possibly have made things worse. This is, of course, ridiculous and dangerous nonsense. Yes we were "hit" on 9/11, but it was by a relatively limited number of Al Qaedans directed by Bin Laden. Bush's blunder into Iraq has geometrically multiplied both our opponents' numbers in dozens of nations, and their motivation to kill us. The latter is far more important than the former. Numbers increase the quantitative threat, motivation the qualitative one. The most single dangerous threat we face today is from suicide-bombers who cannot be deterred - and are indeed inspired by - threats of violence.


Richard Pape notes in Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism that there was not a single suicide-bombing in Iraq prior to our occupation. There have been dozens since, from the "hornet's next" that Messrs. Bush and Cheney have managed to stir up there.

Experts differ on what creates suicide-bombers. Pape attributes it to nationalism, the fury the arises at seeing one's nation occupied by foreign invaders. Others looked to such economic motives as extreme poverty and hopelessness. Some, looking at Bin Laden's Al Qaeda, attribute it to religious motives, e.g. the desire to be immortal and live beyond the grave in Paradise. Terry Eagleton, in Holy Terror, attributes it to a desire for the exquisite and sublime emotional experience that comes from hands-on murder/suicide in a transcendent cause.

But whatever the cause, there is one trait common to all suicide-bombings: rage, a rage so deep and so painful it cannot be lived with, a rage so deep that risking or courting death is preferable.

And if there is any one thing that engenders even greater rage than foreign occupation, it is torture. To understand this, just think of the anger felt by many Americans - or at least those capable of human feeling and a genuine belief in American values - at seeing the pictures from, and reading the stories about, U.S. soldiers unleashing dogs on, sexually humiliating, and inflicting unbearable pain upon, defenseless Muslim prisoners, most of whom were innocent. (The New Republic, December 7, 2005: "Pentagon reports have acknowledged that up to 90 percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, many of whom were abused and tortured, were not guilty of anything.")

And if we felt such anger at not only the U.S. torturers but their superiors - beginning with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld - who encouraged them, multiply that by 1000 to try to imagine what young men throughout the Muslim world feel. The assumption of torturers from the French in Algeria to Mr. Cheney today is that torture helps save the lives of one's citizens. In fact it costs far more lives than it saves because it yields little useful information, enrages our enemies, helps them recruit, and inspires their new recruits to ever-greater acts of violence.

And of one thing we can be sure today. If even The Washington Post believes Mr. Bush intends to keep inflicting Gestapo-like torture, so too does the Muslim World.

And let us be clear what this means. Senator McCain's words apply: Messrs. Bush and Cheney are harming not helping our war effort. As with their misguided invasion of Iraq, neglect of Homeland Security, and failing to effectively fight terrorism, they are endangering not saving American lives.

And let us not shrink from the real implications of this fact. The moral and legal arguments for impeaching Messrs. Bush and Cheney are minor compared to the fact that they have so miserably failed in their first and most sacred constitutional duty: to serve and protect this nation.

Only if Messrs. Bush and Mr. Cheney are prevented from doing any more harm will we begin to have any serious chance of saving the hundreds of thousands of Americans whom most experts believe are likely to die from further domestic attacks in coming years.