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November 15, 2007

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So if the argument is merely that waterboarding is too significant a decision to entrust to government, because government screws everything up, then I don’t think the argument ultimately prevails.

I don't believe I've seen a single argument against torture to that effect -- though ironically, that is the perennial conservative mantra against government, so it's mildly amusing that he's now seeing its flaws.

good post.

And of course, to some wingnuts, the point that governments torture the wrong people just mean that we should have privatised torture, with the market deciding the most effective forms of cruelty...welcome the McRack.

Good post again, Sebastian. I do agree with magistra that the emphasis on how *government* will inevitably make mistakes in torture almost implies that non-governmental torturers might be OK.

I'm very glad to see you going to the mat on this issue.

There are three major problems with Patterico's whole hypothesis and post.

First of all is his name calling, that anybody who disagreed with him is self-righteous. Talk about being judgemental.

Secondly, as mentioned several times, the whole hypothetical is ridiculous. The biggest assumption in starting the torture is that it would take only 2.5 minutes for KSM to fess up.

Thirdly, by accepting that specific scenario as justified you are , no matter how you parse it, a supporter of torture. I remember the old Johnny Carson interview with a rather voluptuous female guest (whose name escapes me). First he asked her if she would sleep with him for a million dollars. She responded in the positive. hen he asked if she would sleep with him for $100. She responded with "What do you think I am, a prostitute?" His response was "We've already determined that, now we are just negotiating the price."

For those who are Christians, such as myself, and find themselves leaning toward a positive view of torture at times, I recommend they read the quote from Christ that begins, "For what profits a man to gain the world..."

I think we can cut this whole debate really short: the first thing you hear in Philosophy 101 when you come across the terms Utilitarianism and Consequentialism is something along these lines:

One common illustration is called Transplant. Imagine that each of five patients in a hospital will die without an organ transplant. The patient in Room 1 needs a heart, the patient in Room 2 needs a liver, the patient in Room 3 needs a kidney, and so on. The person in Room 6 is in the hospital for routine tests. Luckily (for them, not for him!), his tissue is compatible with the other five patients, and a specialist is available to transplant his organs into the other five. This operation would save their lives, while killing the "donor". There is no other way to save any of the other five patients

The more imaginative might want to embellish the whole situation to their liking, e.g. the person in room 6 is Adolf Hitler or Osama Bin Laden himself and certain to die of a brain tumor within the next three months - it doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter, because once you buy into the thinking that a utilitarian calculus trumps our humanistic values, you have no way of rationally arguing that there should be any limits to what we can do to the people at the receiving end of it. If the lives of the potential victims in the torture case trump physical inviolability of the suspect, then there is simply no good reason why we should stop at inflicting 2.5 minutes of pain. If we buy into this calculus we could and we should inflict 24 hours of pain, pull his fingernails or saw off a few of his limbs. If that doesn't work we could and should bring in his wife and children and do the same to them, since the death of hundreds or thousands will always trump the physical inviolability of a few. It's the nature of the consequentialist calculus and if you are going down that road, there is simply no way around it and no rational way to establish a limit at a certain point.

Firstly, I thought that the discussion on torture hypotheticals had been killed for good by Belle Waring's Crooked Timber post on 'torturing small children to save world from space aliens'. (sorry, can't find link)

Secondly, one thing that many conservatives often seem to come back to (as did a number of the orginal 'torture memos') is the idea that the only real standard of harm is physical harm - psychiatric harm is considered to be almost irrelevant (a 'few nightmares'). My wife worked extensively with psychiatrically scarred refugees(usually by rape or torture) and their happiness levels certainly seemed far below those of refugees at the same camp who had simply incurred a single action injury (e.g. landmine or stray bullet). I wonder if the same thing makes them say that US Iraq war casualties are relatively low - it's true that only a small proportion of US soldiers have been physically scrred, but the current format of the war (IEDs, hostile population, home raids etc) seem almost tailor-made to cause stress disorders, and I have seen reports that 25% of US troops rotating out of theater have such disorders.

The proper response to the hypothetical is to ask why it is being put forward. Saying "yes" or "no" is meaningless in the context of a debate about the real use of torture by the real American government in the real world. The hypothetical only serves to distract people from the real argument.

Good post. I'd agree that, granted the (unrealistic) hypothetical, this is indeed a hard moral problem--though I'm sure one that has been worked over before. However, that it may be unclear as
a moral issue is completely irrelevant to the question of legality,
something Patterico seems to delibrately slide past.

novakant is exactly right. I can never understand why some of the people who think it might be okay to go around water-boarding suspected terrorists think that "actual" torture is somehow beyond the pale. I mean, why the fnck can't we get medeival on KSM's @ss with a pair of pliers and a blow torch if it means saving thousands of people?

one thing to keep in mind: this issue is now a partisan issue. loyal partisan Republicans are going to defend torture because the Republican politicians defend it (for reasons of their own), and because the left opposes it.

so, make all the moral and logical arguments you like, but there is no small number of people out there who aren't interested in listening to what you, a sniveling lefty, has to say because you're wrong by default.

climate change, anyone?

You know, the idea that the government can by stating "this person is a dangerous, evil terrorist" remove all of the said person's human rights is probably one of the most abhorrent things I know. After all, the whole Western legal tradition is about protecting the rights of the accused, no matter how evil and abhorrent the crime.

If we don't trust the police so much that they would have the ability to give a fine for speeding without the fined person having recourse to courts, how can we give the government the ability to imprison people for years at a time without any judicial oversight?

novakant, while I don't disagree with your conclusions, it's not *just* a problem of consequentialism, or a necessary consequence of it, in that lots of consequentialist philosophers have spilled a lot of ink trying to work around that problem. (Which is just to say that there aren't knockdown arguments in Phil 101.)

God, I hate these Jack Bauer masturbation scenarios. In the likely possible world where we know that by torturing an evil someone for two and a half minutes we will definitely save thousands of lives, we have enough information to act without torture.

In a situation where our epistemic position is weaker, where we don't know that the someone we have in custody is evil, we don't know how much torture it will take, and we don't really know what the benefit will be, could stop a 9/11, could stop a piece of rogue toast, we don't seem to have any reason to torture.

Unless Patterico wants to argue that the mere suspicion of the impending deaths of thousands is enough to justify torture. But now we're in moral territory he doesn't want to go in; we're supposed to be using torture only in ticking-time-bomb scenarios, not as a general intelligence gathering method.* His position seems to collapse pretty quickly into 'torture whenever there's a possibility of a threat.'

*on the assumption that torture could work to yield information, which is probably where the whole thing should be rejected.

And to john miller's list (@ 08:22) of problems with Patterico's torture-scenario, let me add another:

Having read Patterico's posts and comments, and the ObWings threads, I've come away with the unmistakable impression that Patterico is posing his "hypothetical" not so much as a moral-issues problem; but as a sort of "gotcha" question: phrased in the "have you stopped beating your wife?" mode. With either a "yes" or "no" answer (to the "should we torture?" question) lending itself to a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don't critique. A "yes" means - apparently - that you are either a hypocrite on the issue (or that torture really IS OK); a "no" means you don't care about "saving lives".

The issue is (as many commenters both here and there have pointed out) hugely more complicated than simpleminded "ticking nuclear bomb" scenarios - reducing it to gotcha-jabs on a blog does nobody any favors.


KCinDC - Yup, that's the one, thanks. Great to read it again.

One other interesting question, which Jim Henley raised (though in a slightly different way) is why don't we read about posts from prosecutors/cops in which they agonise about hypotheticals in which they could get a captured terrorist to reveal all in return for getting his 72 young ladies right now , for life, plus a beautiful mansion and a fat income. Yet you would think that some form of contractually binding carrot like this might well work with certain personality types at least as well as a stick. Why the obsession with the stick?

I don’t mean to insult the people here who have answered no. I just happen to think that a “no” answer to my carefully phrased hypo reveals such an incredibly ideological mindset that I can’t relate to it. It’s 2 1/2 minutes of a mild form of torture with no lasting physical effects, performed on an undoubtedly evil terrorist and mass murderer, to obtain information certain to obtain thousands of lives.

I think that what he's not understanding is that a 'no' response is very likely to be a rejection of the hypothetical. The hypo assumes that 2 1/2 minutes of pouring water on someone's face can, without actually interfering with their breathing or putting them at any risk of actual physical harm, make them panicky enough to tell you things that they would otherwise only tell you under 'torture'. And you know, maybe that's true -- I haven't tried it myself -- but I don't believe it. The description of waterboarding that got linked around a week or so ago, in which it was stated that waterboarding involved actually filling the subject's lungs with water, made a lot more sense in terms of the psychological reaction people have to it.

So, that said, the hypo sounds like "Would you be willing to endorse torture if the torture we're talking about is the short-term infliction of very mild discomfort, and it's certain to produce the results we want?" If you really accepted those premises, it might be hard to say no. But the premises are so ridiculous that it's impossible to accept them all at once. Someone who says no to that hypo is likely to be reacting to what they know waterboarding to be, rather than what Patterico says it is.

Yeah, it's not government specific. Again: human beings cannot be trusted with unlimited power over other human beings in their captivity.

More stipulation:

Stipulate that in 2002, Dick Cheney's cardiologist was deeply opposed to the coming invasion of Iraq. Say that based on his conversations with his patient, he was convinced that (1) Cheney was trying to drag the country into war based on lies about Saddam Hussein's weapons program; (2) invading Iraq would lead to the violent deaths of thousands of American soldiers & hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians; (3) these deaths would make the United States less safe from terrorist attack, not more so; (4) if Cheney were out of the picture, Colin Powell would be able to talk the President out of this disastrous course, & the intelligence agencies would be able to present accurate information, & the invasion would not occur; (5) he can prevent all this by deliberately sabotaging a heart procedure on Cheney & making it look like an accident.

Say the cardiologist is 100% right about all of this. Was he justified? Does this scenario call into doubt whether there's a moral basis for a blanket ban on: (1) murder in general; (2) political assassination in particular; (3) doctors deliberately harming their patients? Is criticism of advocates of murder, assassination & violations of the Hippocratic oath self righteous hypocrisy against people who just refuse to toe an ideological line?

Stipulate that in 2002, Dick Cheney's cardiologist was deeply opposed to the coming invasion of Iraq.

yow. i believe that one wins Hypothetical Of The Day.

Dude, I remember back in college, staying up late, half of us drunk, talking about stuff like whether we'd eat a baby if it was the only way to save the world for imploding. Good times, good times.

Wait... we're actually eating babies now? Oh...

LB @ 9:59: The key is in really accepting those premises, and then thinking whether they shed any light on the current situation. "No" can address either of those.

And I have to say, deciding whether torture is ethical based on those grounds like trying to plan my budget by wishing into existence an extra $500K a month, and using that to justify why I can afford a jet plane on my current salary. At some point reality just has to be a constraint.

(oh: throw in the stipulation that Dick Cheney's cardiologist believes correctly that murdering Cheney is the ONLY possible way to prevent the war.)

I think it is Sebastian's second to last paragraph where he makes the point that the taboo agaisnt our government's inolvement in torture is a good taboo to have and not one that needs to be weakened.

Pattterico says that his motive is to call out thhe sanctimoniousness of a certain type of commenter.

I question that. My guess is that his motive is to move the Overton winndow, in a seemingly reasonable way. First make hypothetical torture under hypothetical circumstances seem reasonable and vilify those who disagree, then....

Of course that's mind reading, but really why else have this discussion? If he just wanted to make faces and call names, hhe could do it with a lot less typing.

I believe that hhe is tryinng to de-legitimize the anti-torture taboo. There's only one reason to do thhat: to make torture acceptable under some circumstances.

(Frist just nice, clean no blood torture of the "othher", then a little more blood and target people closer to home...)

The original hypothetical is seriously flawed, resulting in any hard-nosed position on it, yes or no, being nothing more than chest-pounding:

performed on an undoubtedly evil terrorist and mass murderer, to obtain information certain to obtain thousands of lives.

This last bit is impossible to know before the decision to inflict torture is carried out. Much of the info KMS provided under interrogation has proven to be false. Just because the administration claims other information was truly valuable (and really, what do you expect them to argue, and really, really, who still trusts what they say?) doesn't guarantee that any future torture would secure accurate intelligence.

Long story short, it's always a crap shoot at best. Generally, the tortured person will waste valuable time and resources telling his torturers whatever he thinks will make them stop.

I don't think you can honestly answer the original question without also answering whether it's morally justified to torture someone when you know full well they might send you on a wild goose chase. In which case, the point of such torture is merely torture.

Leaving out the possibility (probability) that you'll get nothing for your trouble is to skew the hypothetical to a scenario only a fortune teller could truthfully answer. Pretending you could ever know in advance you'll get good intel is to admit you're morally bankrupt.

KCinDC and Anon, thanks for that link -- I had forgot all about that post, which is in a league with the original "...and a pony" post. (And reading the comments thread made me wonder what ever happened to Ted Barlow?)

I haven't been getting into this debate, because I really have little to say:

Torture is really, really bad.

There's not a lot of reason to think it's very useful, either.

And government couldn't be trusted with this power even if it could be used for good.

Belief to the contrary, I suspect, is largely a consequence of people, understandably, enjoying the thought of really bad people suffering.

In a very conservative vein, I also would like to point out the rather strong formal governmental taboo against torture that has grown up in Western civilization.

I think this is an interesting point here. I agree with wonkie that if we were going for taboos, this is a keeper, but I'm not really sure if there has been a strong governmental taboo on torture, except that it wasn't called torture, it was called punishment or persecution. Foucault opens his book _Discipline and Punish_ description of the torture/punishment of Robert-François Damiens (and I have to find a copy to see if it is described as torture or as punishment) and there are countless examples of Western governments torturing in order to assure people toe the line, Machiavelli and the strappado, Dostoevsky and the mock firing squad, persecution of heretics and witches, Western civilization is shot thru with examples of torturing people for various reasons.

So, I hopefully don't weaken Sebastian's position vis a vis Patterico if I note that the prohibition against 'torture' is not a "conservative" retention of mores, but actually an example of a liberal progression.

Brett: Belief to the contrary, I suspect, is largely a consequence of people, understandably, enjoying the thought of really bad people suffering.

I think you're absolutely right.

When Patterico says that the torture of innocent suspects isn't grounds for forbidding torture .... Well, there you are.
Also, it's hard to see any moral grounds by which we could object if Iran captured and tortured a couple of special ops guys they found on the border: They have grounds to believe Bush is going to attack, which would undoubtedly cost thousands of lives, and these guys are apparently the first wave, so why not?
And as has been pointed out (and as I've argued elsewhere) the ticking bomb scenario has nothing to do with the actual practice of torture in the GWOT. Besides, as Digby (I think) once pointed out, if someone did use torture in the ticking-bomb scenario and did save thousands of lives, no jury would ever convict them.

Not much to add regarding the substance of the post - the other comments are quite good. I just want to say, Seb, that so long as you are posting things of this quality, you should feel no need to qualify what you're writing because of your conservatism. There's no need to excuse yourself. (Not that I necessarily think you are, but I couldn't think of a better way to put it.)

Actually, this is kind of fun...

Stipulate that there is a ring forged in the fires of Mount Doom that makes it bearer more powerful than anyone else in Middle Earth. An dark lord named Sauron is trying to take over Middle Earth. Your fair city, Gondor, is his first target. Sauron is preparing to unleash his armies against you. Your people and your city are doomed to horrible, gruesome painful deaths, and the only hope of stopping it is bringing the One Ring to Gondor. However, for reasons passing understanding, a council of elves & wizards has decided instead of using the ring to send two hobbits on an utterly hopeless quest to destroy it. (Easy for them to say--they're immortal & they can always sail off to wherever). Stealing the ring from the hobbits, and bringing it to your father to protect Gondor, is the only way to save your people, your city, & the world from certain destruction. What do you do?

At the end of Sebastian's first post Harmut makes a very good point about accountabiity: people who decide that a taboo must be violated also need to act so as to perserve the taboo by accepting the consequences of the decision to violate them. (assuming they basically agree with thhe taboo)

Patterico, if the answer is "yes", a perrson can break an essential taboo under hypothettical circumstances, then what consequences do you think the taboo breaker should get?

Of course, if there is no or minimal consequence for the taboo breaker, thhen thhe taboo itself will be significantly weakened.

So...if the people who say "yes" get the hypothetical chance to act on their "yes", should they be put in prison, executed, charged with assault, lose their jobs, become commentators on Faux News, or what?

"So, I hopefully don't weaken Sebastian's position vis a vis Patterico if I note that the prohibition against 'torture' is not a "conservative" retention of mores, but actually an example of a liberal progression."

Well, it's actually both.


It is very telling that the only way most folks can clear their conscience about their support for the formal use of torture is to construct carefully limited and controlled hypothetical situations. All of which is fine for theoretical angels on pinhead counting, but hardly practical for persuading God you're fit to enter the gates of Heaven.

The people who say that the purpose of these fairy-tale scenarios is to open the Overton window and desensitize us to torture is exactly right.

Also, what the fuck is up with the insistence of these morally-bankrupt conservatives that torture "leaves no lasting physical harm"? Rape often leaves no lasting physical harm but, like torture, it can shatter a person's mind. Would Patterico agree to raping "KSM" (dear lord, what a silly nickname)?

Actually, the rape comparison is a good one because rape is merely sexualized torture, and torture merely desexualized rape. Both are violations of a person's body and mind and of their very sense of self.

I really hopethe Patterico will respond to the queston of consequences.

I'm not sure we hhave a tobaoo against it but we do have rules: thhe Constitution and the professioonal stanndards of interrogators for government agencies.

So Paterrico is ratinalizing that thhese rules can be violateded sometimes. If hhe supports thhe rules themselves, then he must also support consequences for those thhat break them, even if thhe end is supposed to justify thhe means. Othherwise the act of allowing thhe rules to be broken has the effect of destroying the rules themselves.

"It’s 2 1/2 minutes of a mild form of torture with no lasting physical effects"

That would also be true if Patterico's preferred form of torture was the buggering of the suspect's young son.

No lasting physical effects to the lad.

Sebastian --

I'll be interested to read your thoughts in the context of actual cases.

IMVHO, discussing torture in the context of "hypotheticals" is kind of pointless. It might be interesting dorm room conversation, but it's hard to see the value beyond that.

We don't live in a hypothetical world. If we decide to employ torture as an interrogation technique, lots and lots of other things come along for the ride. It incurs a price.

There are lots of folks who post here who can give a realistic measure of the price we've already paid in greater detail and accuracy than I can, so I'll leave the field to them.

The long story short from my POV is, simply, no, it's not worth it.

Pattterico says that his motive is to call out thhe sanctimoniousness of a certain type of commenter.

Sorry I missed that when I read his stuff, I would have saved my breath. I have better things to do than entertain Mr. Patterico.

Thanks -

Sebastian wrote: "This may be too complex of an area to go into here, but in short I have a pretty strong libertarian streak and I've seen the perversions of justice that have come about from the drug war (see civil forfeiture, out of control SWAT raids, and search rules that eat away at the 4th amendment)"

Recall Patterico's spats with Radley Balko. Patterico doesn't have a problem with these things, and doesn't believe there is such a think as an out of control SWAT raid.

Even if I were to actually come face-to-face with some situation so extreme as to render torture morally justifiable, that doesn't mean that torture should be legal. If torture is legalized it becomes ok in those instances which don't constitute extreme situations, i.e., the overwhelming number of cases which soldiers and others will face. Furthermore, the mere fact that I may one day find myself in some situation so extreme and so dangerous that I actually am willing to resort to torture doesn't mean that I shouldn't have to face a judge and jury afterwards and defend my conduct. They may accept my defense or they may not. But there's no reason to give me (or anyone else) immunity from prosecution before I've even acted.

" If torture is legalized it becomes ok in those instances which don't constitute extreme situations, i.e., the overwhelming number of cases which soldiers and others will face. "

For instance, can SWAT cops on a raid torture the child of a resident in order to get information about the people inside and the weapons they have?

They're already so chickenshit risk-averse and willing to make everyone else die to save their own hides. Why not crush a few kid nuts to make sure?

Like a lot of discussions of sexual fantasies, all this stuff about torture just isn't that interesting if it isn't your kink. Now I've sometimes had the kind of revenge fantasy a lot of GB men do, about prominent homophobes being anally raped by an ugly HIV-positive man. It looks to me like the logic being used to justify torture could equally be used to excuse my rape fantasy as something more than a frustrated anger that ought to be dealt with rather than encouraged. After all, the experience of suffering sometimes leads people to changes of heart. That's what the reform part of penology is all about. So if an act of disease-carrying rape could make Pat Robertson or Dick Cheney a better person, wouldn't it be wrong to rule it out as though there's just nothing to say for it? Just as it might be wrong to rule out genocide if we know that the victims will all go to heaven, or were very sad and wouldn't have enjoyed life anyway.

Those seem just as relevant as the garbage being peddled by Patterico and his ilk.

Footnote for the morality-impaired: yes, in real life rape is always wrong, and so is genocide, and so is torture, [i]even if[/i] you can construct a fantasy that removes some of the limits reality always imposes on those acts. This has been your One Minute Clarity lesson for today.

I agree 100% with Brett Bellmore @10:40. When Brett & I agree that something is wrong, it's *really, really* wrong.

From Patterico's quote from one of his commenters in Sebastian's solid post:

"If you say yes, you disgust me."

and .........

.... every word of Wonkie's two comments.

It's curious to me (more than that but Sebastian asked that we not be nasty) that Patterico seems concerned that someone might be disgusted with him ("him" being the hypothetical waterboarding expert) for torturing individuals.

It seems to me (again with the mild rhetoric) that Americans who torture in the service of their ideal of "saving" their country should in fact be willing to be executed for their actions (or placed in prison, charged with assault, fired from their jobs, but forget the idea of the Faux News job; that seems an extreme consequence to me which might have unintended consequences -- like turning me into a torturer of Roger Ailes if I get my hands on him).

If in fact the torturer's actions are in the service of an ultimate good, then what's a little disincentive like the death penalty or, God forbid, being shunned by the disgusted?

After all, our soldiers understand (not fully beforehand, but let's go with it) the disincentives of engaging in combat but they do it anyway. Surely a would-be torturer can see his or her way through a little disincentive or two.

Of course, those who support torture but don't actually engage in it have nothing on the line, so the incentive/disincentive system loses its cache, if you'll excuse the anti-torture French (who are pro-torture if it's in their interests; execute them too).

Different point, which I alluded to in the previous thread and Anarch jumped on above:

The idea that torture should not be engaged in "because government screws everything up", is irrelevant at best (false would be more like it).

I can very well decide that government shouldn't torture because torture is G-d---ed wrong (actually, government might be really, really good at torture), and simultaneously recognize that the U.S. Government, for example, is competent in the area of building dams, administering the Social Security System, coercing Brett to pay taxes, etc.

The publicly held, private sector firm Google works great, and given its valuation in the equity market can do no wrong, but I still wouldn't allow them to torture.

Well, unless they came up with an alternative to Windows, but I'm easily corrupted.

one thing to keep in mind: this issue is now a partisan issue. loyal partisan Republicans are going to defend torture because the Republican politicians defend it (for reasons of their own), and because the left opposes it.

I've considered that as well. Ever notice that the percentage of people who don't consider waterboarding torture is almost exactly the same as those who still have a favorable opinion of Dubya?

Excellent post, Sebastian, and one in keeping with the principles of traditional conservatism.

Beware, though -- you're in danger of being labeled a liberal leftist (a la John Cole and Andrew Sullivan) by elements of the right for speaking out on those principles.

God, I hate these Jack Bauer masturbation scenarios.

Me, I play "Hair of the Dog" by Nazareth, and think about Dick Cheney. Probably too much info, but I wanted to share.

The main problem I have with Patterico's hypo is that he makes absolutely no attempt to ground his hypothetical in anything that might possibly have happened. I know this because Sebastian's post makes no mention of any such attempt on his part, and several commenters here confidently assert that there is absolutely no connection between his hypo and any scenario ever described by any media outlet.

(Should I prove wrong about that, I will note that Patterico is a sap for unquestioningly believing any such report without even raising the possibility that it might not be true.)

Ross DOESN'T describe your scenario. He says KSM gave true information about a plot on the Library tower. The stuff about KSM's waterboarding being necessary to foil the plot, is your own assumption/embellishment.

I remember the old Johnny Carson interview with a rather voluptuous female guest (whose name escapes me). First he asked her if she would sleep with him for a million dollars. She responded in the positive. hen he asked if she would sleep with him for $100. She responded with "What do you think I am, a prostitute?" His response was "We've already determined that, now we are just negotiating the price."
No offense, John, but I'm extremely, extremely, extremely, skeptical that you remember such an interview.

That is, I believe you may think you remember it. But unless Johnny Carson did an interview, with someone you conveniently can't remember, that duplicates what's got to be one of most retold jokes ever -- generally the anecdote stars Winston Churchill -- it seems extremely unlikely indeed that this actually happened to Johnny Carson.

"(And reading the comments thread made me wonder what ever happened to Ted Barlow?)"

He got a job that interfered with blogging, and he got burned out on blogging, and he quit.

I urged him to regard it as just a hiatus: there's rarely any need or reason to say you're never coming back to it. But he was adamant enough to have his name taken off Crooked Timber.

I hope he comes back eventually; he was quite thoughtful, IMO.

wonkie: "If hhe supports thhe rules themselves, then he must also support consequences for those thhat break them, even if thhe end is supposed to justify thhe means. Othherwise the act of allowing thhe rules to be broken has the effect of destroying the rules themselves."

Did you used to post here under another name?

I'm just curious if that's the case, or if there are two people out there with that stylistic tic.

I'm content to let people watch the vdeo, linked on my site, and decide for themselves whether I assumed/embellished in saying that my hypo is grounded in Ross's report (which I always am careful to say may or may not be accurate). He could have been clearer, but viewing the whole thing in context, he clearly (in my mind) indicated that the 2 1/2 minute session was what broke KSM and got him to reveal details of the Library Tower plot.

I thought you said his claim was provably false. Is this the proof? A strained argument that he wasn't explicit enough in tying the waterboarding to the confession?

I expected more.

"Ross DOESN'T describe your scenario. He says KSM gave true information about a plot on the Library tower. The stuff about KSM's waterboarding being necessary to foil the plot, is your own assumption/embellishment."

Whose scenario? What is this in reply to?

Katherine, any chance you might adopt the standard courtesy of quoting a few words of what you're responding to, so those of us not in your head have a clue what you're responding to?

Thanks for any consideration in this.

Me, I play "Hair of the Dog" by Nazareth, and think about Dick Cheney. Probably too much info, but I wanted to share.

Actually, it explains a lot.

No--Zaini Zakaria, one of the guys who supposed to be one of the pilots backed out in 2001 after seeing video footage of 9/11, & surrendered to Malaysian authorities in December 2002. The leader of the Malaysian cell, Masran Arshad, was arrested by Malaysian authorities in spring of 2002. KSM was not arrested or waterboarded until 2003; by then the plot was off. He did give details about what they intended to do: some stuff about alleged plans to use shoe bombs to break into the cockpit. To the extent that those details were accurate (like many of KSM's confessions they sound a little fishy to me, but who knows), they were just after-the-fact details, not the key intelligence used to stop the plot. Intelligence officials have expressed doubt as to how close it ever really came to being realized, & by the time KSM was captured, it wasn't a current, credible threat. President Bush himself has said that the plot "was derailed in early 2002 when a Southeast Asian nation arrested a key al Qaeda operative". There are several articles about this in major news sources (the Zaini Zakaria part at least--I don't think Arshad's name was reported as widely, he was just referred to as "the cell leader"; I happened to know who he was because I doing volunteer work tracking these stories for a human rights organization at the time). I know all this is quick & lacking in links & probably incomprensible to many not in my head--I will do it for real later. Sorry.

"I thought you said his claim was provably false. Is this the proof?"

No. It was that the plot had been abandoned by some members and others had already been caught by the time KSM 'broke'.

I took the phrase about government's lack of competence to refer specifically to its lack of competence at separating innocent people from evil terrorists without a trial (or with a trial in many cases). Of course, I don't think anybody is going to be any better at that, that's why we have so many safeguards built in to the system.

Did you used to post here under another name?

You must have missed the transition period.

Gary, don't argue with your being skeptical, but I saw what I saw. No doubt, in his desire to put down his guest he channeled Churchill.

Actually, somewhat irrelevant, as the point being made remains the same no matter who said it originally.

Patterico is pro-torture despite his protestations, the only question is how bad the torture has to be before he becomes against it.

The publicly held, private sector firm Google works great, and given its valuation in the equity market can do no wrong, but I still wouldn't allow them to torture.

Well, unless they came up with an alternative to Windows, but I'm easily corrupted.

uho Almost the Google PC

DaveC: Me, I play "Hair of the Dog" by Nazareth

Got to go with "Holiday" dude.

hi Gary, Yes I used to be lily. lily and wonkie are my cats, by thhe way.

Just a reminder that the mere existence of this debate is proof of the depravity of the wingnut Bush conservatives.

Why not debate euthanasia of those with HIV? Or forced sterilization of people with an IQ under 80, or people known to have genetic defects likely to be passed on to their children? Or the death penalty for illegal immigrants?

It is nice to see the anti-torture arguments repeated with such clarity, but for God's sake, why are we having this discussion?

If you allow torture at all, the obvious next question is: when do you NOT allow it? I'm still waiting for Patterico's answer to that ridiculously obvious question -- which, of course, is also the subject of Katherine's next post above.

I haven't been getting into this debate, because I really have little to say

Actually, Brett, I think you've nailed it.

Thanks -

"hi Gary, Yes I used to be lily."

So I thought. Hope you don't mind my asking. I was just unable to control my curiosity as to whether I was correctly identifying you by your typographical idiosyncrasies.

;-)

"lily and wonkie are my cats, by thhe way."

Long may they purr.

Typographical idiosycrasies---what a nice, tactful way to desribe incompetent typing! :)

yep, that's me!

Part of a larger answer to Patterico:

According to the DOJ, in the early 1990s, largely as a result of gang wars over the drug trade, the US homicide rate spiked up until the United States suffered, 10000 excess homicides every year, the equivalent of a 9/11 every four months. Somehow, nobody felt the need for torture hypotheticals then.

Interestingly, also according to DOJ statistics, that spike in the murder rate took place almost exclusively among Black Americans. Who do you propose to save by torturing whom?

"Somehow, nobody felt the need for torture hypotheticals then."

Careful with that assumption, the drug war actually does inspire all sorts of stupidity on the 'they must have done something wrong' basis.

I don't have too may illusions about the drug war. Still, even with all the no-knock warrants, forfeitures, and meddling in other countries, I think the war on terror has crossed two important lines the "drug wars" never did: actual condoning of torture, and actual abandonment of the rule of law.

for God's sake, why are we having this discussion?

We're having this discussion because evil people have taken over our government and other evil people are making excuses for their evil.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Whatnot


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