Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Torture: What Hillary was Asked

Re the blogosphere's perfectly appropriate interrogation of Hillary Clinton's seeming refusal in a Washington Post interview published today (10/10/07) to state categorically that upon taking office she would end end "special interrogation methods," i.e. torture, authorized by Bush: discussion of the full transcript of the conversation released by the Clinton campaign has neglected the fact that the Post article not only omitted a key part of Clinton's response, but also distorted the context.

The Post reported the conversation as follows:

Clinton was similarly vague about how she would handle special interrogation methods used by the CIA. She said that while she does not condone torture, so much has been kept secret that she would not know unless elected what other extreme measures interrogators are using, and therefore could not say whether she would change or continue existing policies.

"It is not clear yet exactly what this administration is or isn't doing. We're getting all kinds of mixed messages," Clinton said. "I don't think we'll know the truth until we have a new president. I think [until] you can get in there and actually bore into what's been going on, you're not going to know."
The Clinton campaign released this transcript:

Q: Can I ask you a follow up? You mentioned Blackwater, you’ve said that at the beginning of your administration you’d ask the Pentagon to report. When it comes to special interrogation methods, obviously you’ve said you’re against torture, but the types of methods that are now used that aren’t technically torture but are still permitted, would you do something in your first couple days to address that, suspend some of the special interrogation methods immediately or ask for some kind of review?

HRC: Well I think I’ve been very clear about that too, we should not conduct or condone torture and it is not clear yet exactly what this administration is or isn’t doing, we’re getting all kinds of mixed messages. I don’t think we’ll know the truth until we have a new President. I think once you can get in there and actually bore into what’s been going on, you’re not going to know. I was very touched by the story you guys had on the front page the other day about the WWII interrogators. I mean it's not the same situation but it was a very clear rejection of what we think we know about what is going on right now but I want to know everything, and so I think we have to draw a bright line and say ‘No torture – abide by the Geneva conventions, abide by the laws we have passed,' and then try to make sure we implement that.

Clinton was asked whether she would suspend special interrogation methods "that are now used" in her first couple of days. She said in effect, I don't know because I don't know what they're doing (or will have been doing when I take office). She then said we have to draw a bright line against torture. That is, we have to define what we won't do but we can't know right now whether there (will be) any then-current behavior to suspend immediately. The WaPo made it sound like she was saying, I don't know whether we'll repudiate what has been done (since late 2001) or what has been authorized. The Post elided a difference between "existing policies" (what's authorized, still on the books, so to speak) and practices taking place at the moment the next President takes office.

Mark Kleiman complains, "The CIA just announced that it would no longer do waterboarding. That clearly implies that the CIA was doing waterboarding." Ergo, Hillary is avoiding repudiation of waterboarding. But that complaint reproduces the Post's transformation of Hillary's reaction to a question about practices she would have to suspend to a statement about policies she would change. On the other hand, Kleiman is perfectly right to say that Clinton could end the ambiguity by stating unequivocally, no waterboarding, no long time standing, no cold room, no sensory deprivation, no rendition.

Andrew Sullivan, in his discussion of what the Post left out, doesn't even include the question that set the context for Clinton's remarks. Primal loathing distorts everything Andrew says about Clinton in any case. Still, he's acute to point out that Clinton's injunction to "abide by the laws we have passed" [may] include, of course, the Military Commissions Act."

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