Monday, November 05, 2007

Giuliani: "I will torture."

By Michael J.W. Stickings

That, more or less, is what Rudy Giuliani said he would do as president in an interview with Bloomberg over the weekend. Think Progress has the clip.

He used "intensive questioning" on "mafia guys" in New York, he said, reiterating what he has acknowledged elsewhere, notably that "aggressive techniques" are acceptable.

Let me make two points:

1) Giuliani is not explicit, but it is clear that his definition of "aggressive techniques" includes what is widely considered to be torture. Asked about waterboarding in the past, he has said that whether or not it constitutes torture depends on context, that is, on who does it and how it's done. The enablers of torture in and around the White House, including and especially Cheney, as well as their supporters in the conservative and Republican ranks, may argue that waterboarding, for example, is not torture, and they may sincerely believe it and/or may be required to argue that it is not torture so as to protect the White House (if it is admitted that waterboarding is torture, such admission would prove that the White House has been lying about not torturing detainees and that, more seriously, the U.S. tortures), but those who know better, and one presumes that one who has actually conducted waterboarding knows better than the enablers of torture in and around the White House, and certainly better than a would-be enabler like Michael Mukasey, know that it is, and that many other such "techniques" are, too.

If elected, in other words, Giuliani will authorize the use of torture. Period.

2) As John B. Judis argues in the current issue of The New Republic, "Giuliani is actually running to be mayor of the United States". That is, he "is selling himself to voters on the basis of his service as New York's mayor. He is arguing that he has the kind of administrative experience that would prepare him to be president." He was a prosecutor, he was a two-term mayor of one of the largest and most important cities in the world, and, of course, he was there on 9/11 -- that, above all else, lies at the core of his candidacy, his alleged leadership on and after 9/11, that along with his various efforts, some successful, some not, most of them emphasizing authority over liberty, to clean up the city by cracking down on crime.

Make sure to read the entire piece -- it's well worth it -- but here is Judis's assessment of whether or not "what he accomplished in New York is 'transferable' to the nation as a whole":

Put simply, that idea is impossible, disastrous, or entirely misleading. Giuliani cannot export welfare reform from New York to the federal government, since national welfare reform already happened. A broken windows strategy probably wouldn't help the FBI unearth white-collar crime or catch terrorists. Giuliani claims he will "control spending" as he did in New York; but, in fact, the budget went up 37.6 percent during his two terms, leaving his successor with a large deficit even before September 11. As for cutting taxes, which Giuliani has also promised to do, most of his New York tax cuts were relatively minor -- the most important were initiated by the state. And, in any case, the next president will have difficulty selling still another tax cut in the face of huge deficits.

The centerpiece of Giuliani's claim, however, is the suggestion that his approach to fighting crime provides a model for conducting foreign policy. In a recent essay for Foreign Affairs, he wrote: "I know from personal experience that when security is reliably established in a troubled part of a city, normal life rapidly reestablishes itself: shops open, people move back in, children start playing ball on the sidewalks again, and soon a decent and law-abiding community returns to life. The same is true in world affairs. Disorder in the world's bad neighborhoods tends to spread. Tolerating bad behavior breeds more bad behavior."

This is a foolish analogy. In policing the world, the United States cannot claim to be enforcing its own laws; we lack legitimacy to do so, as we found after invading Iraq. When the NYPD went into poor neighborhoods, it was not an occupying force; when the U.S. military took over Baghdad, it was, and it suffered the consequences. Some of the "neighborhoods" Giuliani wants to clean up, such as Iran, possess their own armies and can call on other "neighborhoods," such as Russia and China, to deter an attempt to punish them for bad behavior. In short, the world is not New York writ large, and the trade-offs between authority and liberty look very different from the White House than from Gracie Mansion. But these distinctions seem lost on the man who aspires to be the next mayor of the United States.

What is also foolish is his suggestion that the use of "intensive questioning" of "mafia guys" in New York is akin to the use of torture on detainees in the war on terror. One doubts that those "mafia guys" were ever subjected to anything resembling, say, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, or were ever stripped of their habeas corpus rights and held indefinitely. There is no Gitmo for made men.

Tackling the New York mafia does not prepare one, let alone qualify one, to lead the war on terror at home and abroad. This, to me, explains in part why Giuliani seems to get everything about the war on terror wrong, why he doesn't seem to understand, or care to understand, that subjecting "mafia guys" to "some degree of pressure" may not constitute torture (and may or may not be justified -- that's another issue) but that subjecting detainees in the war on terror to "enhanced" interrogation techniques -- techniques he evidently knows nothing about, techniques that likely far surpass those used in New York -- does. It seems that he simply cannot distinguish between what was done in New York on his watch and what has been done (and is being done) in the war on terror, and, moreover, cannot grasp that the use of torture has done as much as anything else to destroy America's image and reputation around the world. The mafia may not have the grip on New York it once had, but America is hated more than ever.

For Giuliani, New York is the world and the world is New York. He claims to have a lot of experience -- transferable experience, from one executive office to another -- but, when it comes to what will be required of the next president, or of any president, he has precious little. And, as president, should that nightmare come to be, he will authorize the use of torture not just because he is an authoritarian who believes in it but because his understanding of the world and of his place in it begins and ends with New York and the ideological prism of religious and political authoritarianism through which his narrow experience and limited knowledge are filtered.

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