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April 23, 2009

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Joseph Margulies's book is relevant here as well - here - if I recall correctly, his argument was that the reason why the folks who repurposed SERE thought it would work to produce information, as opposed to the false confessions for which it was originally designed, was that it would literally destroy the personalities of those who were subject to it such that they could not longer consciously refrain from allowing information to be read from their minds, like a CD or a flash drive. Little bits of information from numerous readings of numerous individuals could be aggregated - perhaps through the wonder of computers! - into a "mosaic" that would create useful information.

Add a simplistic psychology and destructive techniques of control, including learned helplessness (plus pressure from above to get information, even information with a certain valence, so to speak, concerning a connection between Iraq and AQ, for example) and of course it's going to produce long-term damage. If this argument is right, the damage was a foreseeable consequence and inevitable byproduct of the information gathering theory.

Maybe this is a bad sign, but here I'm mostly curious as to what Mitchell's reasoning was supposed to be -- how >is< learned helplessness supposed to lead to answering questions truthfully?

As it stands, Martin Seligman's critique makes perfect sense.

Learned helplessness... The Indians have been doing this for centuries with elephants. They're chained with a massive iron chain for the first year or so, and then this is replaced with a simple rope. The elephant has by then learned not to try and break it, making the strong chain redundant.

A slightly OT question for hilzoy: in an earlier post you argued that, both in principle and for practical reasons, CIA officials who followed the guidance of the OLC memos should not be prosecuted for their behavior, regardless of whether those memos were legally sound.

Would you favor, either in theory or in practice, the prosecution of CIA agents who exceeded the limits specified in those memos?

(Just to be clear where I stand on this issue: Putting aside the important practical question of whether such prosecutions ought to be pursued in particular cases, a decision that should rest on prosecutorial discretion, I continue to think that, in principle, prosecutors should be able to pursue indictments against CIA officials who tortured, regardless of what the OLC said. Even to limit those prosecutions to those who exceeded the strictures of the OLC memos is to give these illegal documents the force of law.)

Look, just because we enhanced interrogated a guy until he thought he was a pigeon doesn't mean we did anything wrong.

Ben: yes.

Following up on your earlier post agreeing that CIA torturers should not be prosecuted because they were "just following orders": I believe that under the Nuremburg Principles, the elite interrogator/torturers and all of those involved in signing off on the torture policies fall under Principle IV of the Nuremburg Principles:

"The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."(my emphasis)

Executive Branch officials

All of the executive branch officials involved had a possible "moral choice" available to them: they could have refused to agree to these policies, and they could have resigned their positions rather than continue to serve in silence while policies that they knew were illegal or immoral were being adopted. They were not in any physical danger or legal jeopardy if they had chosen to resign.

There is an additional moral question here: whether quiet resignation in and of itself is sufficient. Such resignation solves one's personal moral difficulties, but does nothing to alert the rest of the world that immoral activities are underway. Going public could expose one to prosecution for violating laws about releasing classified information, a la Daniel Ellsberg. American officials have historically rarely risen to Ellsberg's level of moral bravery.)

Torturers

As for the torturers themselves, I would argue that they too had a moral choice. They could have refused to participate in torture by resigning if necessary, again with no physical danger to themselves, and again with the succeeding moral question of whether they had a duty to inform the public that the government was engaging in torture. These torturers were not enlisted men; some of them were highly trained psychologists. They were not risking a firing squad by refusing to follow orders in the field. The Allies, after all, did not, because they could not, prosecute every German who participated in war crimes. But in the Bush torture case, the total number of people involved is quite finite; at the very least everyone who participated in torture should be forced to resign from the military or the civil government. Shouldn't we have a "zero tolerance" policy for torture?

In the version of Norse mythology that I learned, wasn't Fenrir bound by a chain made of thoughts...

But, really, the idea that someone would want to put into practice a method that turns people into will-less shells almost made me vomit. There are some theories that should not be tested.

You know, this is all a lot of hand wringing. neither hilzoy or this writer are really qualified as what interogation methods are effective or not.I respect hilzoy, I'm not sure what's gained by hilzoy trying to ridicule these methods, when frankly she isn't an expert in this area. I do understand that she is outraged that we are using these methods at all, but I got that by three posts ago.
There are really two questions here:
1. were these methods effective?
2. were these methods necessary to gain the actionable intelligence obtained?

Well Obama's spokesman said :
1. they were effective, but at the cost of America's worldwide reputation ( If it saves American lives, I don't really care so much about America's reputation but YMMV).
2. They MAY have not been necessary. I emphasize MAY because Blair doesn't say for sure that the intelligence could have been gained by other means.
It seems to me that we should try to get the intelligence by any other methods but coercion. However, if we can't get this intel by any other method, then let's get on with it, and stop the hand wringing.
Right now , there are no bombs going off, so we can certainly avoid using these methods. But let a couple of bombs go off in Union Station and another in Friendship Heights, and I expect that the interrogators are going to do what they have to do, and there isn't going to be much debate about it.

if these methods are so effective, why don't local law enforcement agencies routinely use them ?

"But the dogs who had been shocked in the hammocks, in which they could neither escape nor control the shocks, didn't do that. They ran around for about thirty seconds, and then just lay down on the floor and whimpered. . . another researcher held wild rats in his hand until they stopped struggling, and then put them in a water tank that they could not escape from. Normal wild rats will swim for 60 hours before drowning. The rats who had been held until they stopped struggling, however, swam for thirty minutes and then drowned." [my emphasis]

Quite OT, but . . . I'm not much of a hardcore animal rights person (and certainly don't want to derail this into a discussion of same; just assume I agree with whatever you'd say), but reading this puts me in mind of the reference in the last post to the idea that there might be a just God, and consequences thereof.

(There's the vaguest hint of on-topicness in terms of the question of whether (or what kind of) brutality is fungible, at least on a social level. One of the founding claims of the animal welfare movement, after all, was that cruelty to animals led to cruelty to humans through a process of moral debasement. Certainly Seligman and the rat-drowner haven't tortured people (and the well-documented connection between childhood animal torture and adult psychopathy, or the more diffuse link between animal abuse and domestic violence/child abuse, are presumably much more an issue of correlation), but in terms of the use of information and practices . . . I don't know. Intra-species transfer, on the other hand, is a lot more worrying - the development of techniques upon the conquered, the heretics, or out in the colonies which are then brought home - the Herero/Namaqua Genocide in 1900s German South-West Africa, for example, which included the use of concentration camps, etc.)

When torture is outlawed, only outlaws will torture. When it isn't . . .

More thna that - we have to make what the administration did not just illegal, but unthinkable.

This information also seems pertinent to the earlier discussions about spousal abuse.

"There are really two questions here:
1. were these methods effective?
2. were these methods necessary to gain the actionable intelligence obtained?"

Sorry, third question:
3. are these methods wrong?

We could eliminate Bin Laden tomorrow by nuking a couple hundred square miles of the northwest territories.

It'd probably be effective, and nothing else we've done in the last eight years has worked. Why don't we try that?

"if these methods are so effective, why don't local law enforcement agencies routinely use them ?"

What, tazers aren't good enough for ya?

stonetools, your premise is that torture is okay if it is effective. Of course, that presupposes that we know going in that the individual has the specific information we need and that there is no other way to get it.

So, tell me, are you enough of a mind-reader to figure that out?

To me, the question of whether or not it is effective is irrelevant. Torture may well stop speeders and drunk drivers which cost us lives every day. So let's do it. Okay with you?

Once any concession is made that torture may have some utility and therefore can be used at times, then torture becomes acceptable period. There are then no barriers to not using it.

You know, this is all a lot of hand wringing. neither hilzoy or this writer are really qualified as what interogation methods are effective or not.

Is this person qualified?

He's quite similar to a score of other military and intelligence people who've been cited if you've been paying attention.

1. they were effective, but at the cost of America's worldwide reputation ( If it saves American lives, I don't really care so much about America's reputation but YMMV).

You may want to give some thought to the degree to which America's worldwide reputation encourages people to attack us in the first place.

Mitchell not the only contractor according to this NYT op-ed:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/opinion/23soufan.html?ref=opinion

My C.I.A. colleagues who balked at the techniques, on the other hand, were instructed to continue. (It’s worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not C.I.A. officers, who requested the use of these techniques.)

Why would they use contractors? who were these contractors? and does Obama's amnesty cover them?

The Bush administration outsourced torture, seriously?

if these methods are so effective, why don't local law enforcement agencies routinely use them ?

They do but, as a local who has followed this story, many of those subjected to this, had their convictions overturned due to false confessions.

So torture works, if you want false confessions, or if you want to destroy its subjects, neither of which is legal or desirable.

In an interview with Vanity Fair last year, the F.B.I. director since 2001, Robert S. Mueller III, was asked whether any attacks had been disrupted because of intelligence obtained through the coercive methods. “I don’t believe that has been the case,” Mr. Mueller said. (A spokesman for Mr. Mueller, John Miller, said on Tuesday, “The quote is accurate.”)

But WTF does Mueller know, he's just head of the FBI.

You know, this is all a lot of hand wringing. neither hilzoy or this writer are really qualified as what interogation methods are effective or not.I respect hilzoy, I'm not sure what's gained by hilzoy trying to ridicule these methods, when frankly she isn't an expert in this area.

Nor is Hilzoy an expert in economics, ecology, constitutional law, or any of a wide variety of subjects. Nor, for that matter, are the vast majority of bloggers, journalists, or pundits of any stripe on the subjects they write about.

We generally regard this as unremarkable, as no one can be an expert in everything--provided the person writes with an awareness of their limitations, exhibits a strong and critical thought process behind the writing, avoids errors that undermine their conclusions, and draw from the knowledge of those who /are/ experts.

Yet somehow this "you're not an expert so you can't have a meaningful opinion" tripe only gets rolled out when someone disagrees with what the person has to say. I can't imagine why that is.

There are really two questions here:
1. were these methods effective?
2. were these methods necessary to gain the actionable intelligence obtained?

False. These are not the only questions to ask. The overwhelming evidence thus far points to the answer to both being no, but frankly I don't care what the answers are to these two questions.

It disgusts me that we actually have to say this anymore, but torture is wrong. It is an atrocity, and it remains an atrocity no matter how you justify it or cloak it in revolting euphemisms like "enhanced interrogation". It is an atrocity regardless of whether or not any law outlaws the specific act, and the question of whether or not it is effective has no bearing on its wrongness.

Torture apologists need to get this through their head: we executed Nazis and Japanese for using on Americans the same techniques you are defending. For at least sixty years, the civilized world--and at one time that included us--has recognized that there are some things you don't ever do, because they are ipso facto monstrous, because doing them is not only a grievous violation of basic human rights, but also because in so doing you carve out and destroy a part of your own soul, whether as an individual or as a nation.

If it saves American lives, I don't really care so much about America's reputation but YMMV.

This sentiment really sounded a lot better in the original German. You might want to rethink it. Aside from the moral repugnance of it, America's reputation has a nontrivial effect on our national security and ability to get anything done on the world stage.

Christ, when did moral relativism become a conservative value? This whole debate is sickening.

@russell,

Funny you should bring up nuclear weapons . if I remember correctly, the USA's use of nuclear weapons against civilian targets brought a swift and victorious end to the last "good war"- you know the ones that wecongratulate ourselves on winning without torture?
It strikes me that liberal hero Harry Truman arguably committed a war crime much worse than Bush/cheney could even dream of doing-but we don't see much mention of THAT here. What matters is-he didn't torture...

@miller

I say that coercion should be a last resort-just like the use of nuclear weapons should be a last resort. Coercion certainly should not be used for law enforcement, just as saturation bombing of civilian populations or use of predator strikes shouldn't be so used. War is different-and there should be no question that we are at war(Certainly al-Queda feels it's at war).

@gwangung

And equally qualified persons disagree with him on the questioning of ONE person. One point does not data make.

@phil.

I think al Queda crashed four planes into the world trade Center and killed 3000 people without giving a damn what world opinion was . What do you think?

Damnit, why has TypePad been eating all the HTML in random posts? It's doubly infuriating because there's no way to go back and edit.

stonetools, you move those goalposts any faster and you're going to have to spray WD-40 on them.

Your original post posited that only two questions are relevant: does torture work, and does it get reliable information. Given those as the ONLY criteria you think are important, why shouldn't it be used by law enforcement? Why should it be a "last resort"? And why limit your barebones utilitarian analysis to torture - if the discussion is "does it work, and get results?", then why NOT apply that to bombing civilians?

Stonetools, I don't give a damn what the world thinks of Al Qaeda. I do care how we see ourselves. And yes, I do care about how the world sees us. I assume you would have no problem with the Iranians torturing an American citizen they currently have in custody having been found guilty of spying.

After all, she may know something that would prevent an attcak on Iran.

Funny you should bring up nuclear weapons . if I remember correctly, the USA's use of nuclear weapons against civilian targets brought a swift and victorious end to the last "good war"- you know the ones that wecongratulate ourselves on winning without torture?

And those who are even remotely educated on the topic will no doubt be aware that there is still substantial debate to this day about the morality and necessity of that use of nuclear weapons.

I think al Queda crashed four planes into the world trade Center and killed 3000 people without giving a damn what world opinion was . What do you think?

I think that makes them monsters and criminals, and I think that if your moral choices are guided by what monsters and criminals do, I can only be thankful that you hold no position of authority in the Obama administration.

"It strikes me that liberal hero Harry Truman arguably committed a war crime much worse than Bush/cheney could even dream of doing-but we don't see much mention of THAT here."

I'm not sure "swift" applies to ending a war effort lasting the better part of four years, but yes, there is an argument to be made that using nuclear weapons against civilian populations is a war crime.

There are probably a few reasons nobody has really brought that up:

1. Truman's been dead for almost 40 years
2. WWII ended 64 years ago
3. It's not what we're talking about

If you'd like to see a thread on "Truman -- War Criminal?" by all means ask any of the front-pagers to kick one off.

In the meantime, we're talking not about nuclear weapons, but about torture, and not about Harry Truman, but about George W Bush.

The discussion of effectiveness is always annoyingly imprecise, because proponents of torture don't think at the margins. The appropriate question is whether the additional safety produced by torture (if any) outweighs the additional harm - to the tortured, including those tortured falsely, to the torturer, to those who are caught in the cycle of retribution, to those who feel compelled to defend the torturer out of party loyalty or whatever, and harm to the reputation of those who condoned torture - that is caused by it.

This is a debate that does not require any special expertise. Even if you were to ignore the credibility problems of an administration that consistently oversold the intelligence gained from torturing Zubaydah, nobody has really developed a serious empirical claim that torture produced anything but small and uncertain bits of information that was or may have been available elsewhere or through different means. In addition, it produced so much garbage that the marginal benefit needs to be discounted by the wasted resources (or opportunity costs) that followed.

Given the apparently slight marginal benefit of torture, it seems impossible to justify, in light of the enormous costs to the people we inflicted it on (including people who had no valuable information or who were victims of mistaken identity), to the people who did it, and to the reputation of the country that condoned it and then produced brutally-minded individuals who defend it post hoc.

The idea that any marginal benefit of torture does not justify the marginal increase in safety is an old idea, and it is usefully mirrored in the claim that it is just wrong to torture. It is frustrating, but not surprising, that the US seems to have reinvented this particular moral wheel.

stonetools: War is different-and there should be no question that we are at war(Certainly al-Queda feels it's at war).

Right, we're at war with al Qaeda. An organization that has no tanks, no fighter jets, no strategic bombers, no aircraft carriers, no cavalry, no armored personnel carriers, no helicopters, no ballistic missles, no submarines, no nuclear weapons, etc. etc. etc. etc. And yet, somehow, people think they represent a strategic threat to the United States, a nation that has all of those things, the most powerful military in the world and the world's largest economy.

Now who is it that hates america and is acting the coward in all this, I wonder.

And equally qualified persons disagree with him on the questioning of ONE person

No, they don't.

Pay attention. This is more than an exercise in quote mining and blog quoting. YOu've got way more than one person in the intelligence community to contend with; you've got the scientific literature to argue against.

You have to up your game and do better than your typical creationist.

" the folks who repurposed SERE thought it would work to produce information, as opposed to the false confessions for which it was originally designed, was that it would literally destroy the personalities of those who were subject to it such that they could not longer consciously refrain from allowing information to be read from their minds, like a CD or a flash drive."

Wow... This is... wow...

Okay... Does anybody -- stonetools, maybe? -- have anything else on how these techniques could even conceivably work?

Because this is just... yeah...

there should be no question that we are at war(Certainly al-Queda feels it's at war).

Well by all means, let's give the utmost deference and respect to al Qaeda's feelings.

Back in the mid-1980s, a controversy erupted over whether biomedical data accumulated by Nazis in the course of their "medical experiments" should be considered part of legitimate science. I was beyond gobsmacked that the possibility was even raised, and IIRC the outcry was enough to stop the retcon legitimizing in its tracks.

But stonetools' comments, and those of other torture enthusiasts, reminds me powerfully, and not in a good way, of that effort to consider information Nazis gained by torturing people as reasonable and useful scientific information. One of the justifications offered was that using such data would "give some value to the victims' sacrifice," whatever the hell that was supposed to mean.

If we can think torture is OK because it "works" - for whatever definition of 'works' the enthusiasts are using - then, indeed, not only are the Nazis,' and other vivisectionists "experiments" entirely respectable for scientific review, but there is no reason we shouldn't revive the methods themselves.

After all, just as we had a clear necessity to know whether almost-drowning someone nearly 200 times in one month would result in getting him to 'confirm' a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, someone somewhere might really need to know just what happens when a woman in labor has her vagina sewn shut.

Christ, when did moral relativism become a conservative value? This whole debate is sickening.

I wouldn't raise the issue of moral relativism on this blog, Catsy.

I wouldn't raise the issue of moral relativism on this blog, Catsy.

I can't tell if this is an attempt at humor that sailed past me, or a tu quoque argument. If it's the former, I apologize. If it's the latter, please don't waste my time.

Mitchell's interest in the torture policy and adoption of the 'reverse-engineered SERE' was commercial, in addition to whatever other motives he may have had. His evaluations were far from disinterested.

Wrt Seligman: his hands are not clean. Go to Valtinsblog.blogspot.com and search for his name.

Even the phrase "learned helplessness" seems like just another euphemism.

I'd go for "inculcated helplessness," or "induced helplessness" or even "abusively induced helplessness."

*****

Meanwhile, incomprehensibility here increases with the loss of italics.....maybe we should make up some codes of our own until either it gets fixed or ObWi gets ported to somewhere else.

Clinton got a bj, and Truman dropped the Bomb,
Bush okayed a little torture - no need to be alarmed.
Now it wasn't so hot when done by Pol Pot
And POWs under Mao had it rough.
We're in a difficult position
re: the Spanish Inquisition
But who could ever expect
not knowing la tomenta de toca
from la vida loca
might maybe have some ill effects?
(Honest, we'd never have guessed)
We weren't a fan of that man from Japan
and really disliked the Third Reich
McCain's stay in Hanoi was lacking in joy
(The room service with simply atrocious)

But after that fall we had to stay on the ball
And give old Geneva a heave
Goodbye boring Convention,
hello indefinite detention!
(check out any time you like,
but you can never leave)
They're just "enemy combatants"
(We're waiting for the patent)
And who-knows-what-else's up our sleeves . . .
And you know the team's
gotta let off some steam
It's just a fraternity prank.
Abu Ghraib had the babes
And Camp X-Ray the bay
Really, they should give us their thanks!
So go yell at Yoo, but just one bomb (or two) -
and you'll be crying 'boo hoo',
and begging
us to do what we do.
Whatever it takes,
thems are the breaks
For that's what makes
America great!
Don't dare try to shirk,
the only question's 'Does it work?'
(Standards? I don't understand -
Don't you read the news?
I'll tell you again:
we're not as bad as them
What other standard could you use?)
Clinton got a bj, and Truman dropped the Bomb
Everybody does it - I don't see what's the harm.


that should be tormenta de toca.

Well, it shouldn't, but you know what I mean.

OK, I'm back

@russell
You were the one that first brought up nuclear weapons. I merely cited the only example of its use. Sorry that it didn't help your case

@Ugh

Well, they did kill 3000 Americans and destroy a chunk of downtown Manhattan, but if you don't think they are a threat, well, okeydoke... just stay out of the military please.

@ CaseyL

I'm not an enthusiast for torture, but if the lives of innocent people are at stake, and there is no other option, then i'll take that last resort. I will go so far as to say that this is even a morally defensible position- just as Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb was morally defensible, even though it resulted in the incineration of 200,000 civilians.
These are tough choices, but sometimes the choice has to be made.

These are tough choices, but sometimes the choice has to be made.

Well, yes, but you're making the wrong one.

" . . . I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
"

I'm not an enthusiast for torture, but if the lives of innocent people are at stake, and there is no other option, then i'll take that last resort.

The lives of innocent people are at stake. Were, and are, and will be again.

Your "last resort" is the choice to destroy those innocent lives. There is always the option not to do that.

"Since invisibility would be a godsend to US forces, and since it’s known that if you put a living black cat in boiling water until the flesh is boiled off its bones, one of those bones will, if held in a person’s mouth, render that person invisible, it’s only sensible to keep boiling black cats alive until there are enough of those bones to make it possible for any US battalion to become invisible." - Yes, torture is BOTH unacceptably cruel and completely pointless, why do you ask?

You were the one that first brought up nuclear weapons

Right you are. My bad.

Let's try again:

"There are really two questions here:
1. were these methods effective?
2. were these methods necessary to gain the actionable intelligence obtained?"

I won't make up hypotheticals, because then we'll spend all of our time debating the merits of the hypothetical case. Which is kind of not the point.

I'll just ask if there's a limit, of any kind, to "these methods" in your two-step calculus?

stonetools: Well, they did kill 3000 Americans and destroy a chunk of downtown Manhattan, but if you don't think they are a threat, well, okeydoke... just stay out of the military please.

I didn't say "threat" I said "strategic threat". Currently, you represent a "threat".

These are tough choices, but sometimes the choice has to be made.

They weren't tough and they weren't choices.

The decision to torture wasn't tough, it's what moral cowards do.

The decision to torture wasn't a choice made between alternative methods of interrogation. It was a decision made with the specific aim of securing intelligence that would confirm preconceived notions like the supposed link between Saddam and AQ.

@Jesurgislac

Innocent people die in Predator strikes, which happen every week. You are British, I believe. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians died- not were psychologically or physically hurt, outright died - in RAF bombing raids. Yet you owe your freedom to that.
The British used similar and worse tactics against the IRA, didn't they? Innocent people died on both sides of that too.

I regret the loss of innocent life in war. But innocents die in war-that's just the way it is. Its why we should never fight them unless we absolutely have to.

@russell
Of course there are limits. You don't use coercion unless you have to, as a last resort. But if you have to , do it. Mark Bowden did a detailed investigation and wrote a couple of pretty good articles in the Atlantic on this very topic. He doesn't spout dogma about the issue but actually talked to both the interrogators and the interrogated. His nuanced position is not a popular one here, but its actually based on fact. You might want to check it out.

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200310/bowden

"These are tough choices, but sometimes the choice has to be made."

YM "these are choices made by people who want to feel tough."

HTH. HAND.

"There are really two questions here:
1. were these methods effective?
2. were these methods necessary to gain the actionable intelligence obtained?"

There's really one one question here: are these methods moral, or are they the methods we regarded as immoral, hateful, and beyond the pale, when used by the Gestapo, the KGB, the Japanese military, the Chinese and North Korean military, and the Spanish inquisition?

You may support the U.S. being a nation of Nazis, of Stalinists and Maoists.

Some of us decline to choose to be such people.

So, wait, only people who believe that al Qaeda are a strategic threat to the United States are allowed to join the military now? That . . . will come as a surprise to some active duty service members I know. Of which, dollars to donuts, stonetools is not one.

There are really two questions here: 1. were these methods effective? 2. were these methods necessary to gain the actionable intelligence obtained?

Others have brought up the IMO quite pertinent additional question of whether they were moral, but I'll take a simpler tact:

Were these methods legal?

If they were not legal, the people who ordered them and carried them out need to be prosecuted. Tough choices have tough consequences, don't they? They can be martyrs for the Good, correct? They'll join the ranks of the innocent who tragically suffer during "war"... right?

If these techniques are so damned critical to our continued existence as a constitutional representative-democratic republic, then they need to be made legal. Until that day comes, however, if they're illegal, and someone performs them, or conspires to perform them, they need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If they want to beg leniency arising from extenuating circumstances, let them do it in court before a jury of their peers. Anything less is flaunting the rule of law that the US ostensibly stands for.

@ Gary,

Is there a Godwin's Law on comparing people to Nazis? There surely should be one.
In any case, if we go back to good ol' WW2, the USA deliberately targeted the Japanese civilian population during the last year of that war, burning hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians to death and obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear weapons. Truman did this in order to eand that war as quickly as possible in order to save the lives of Americans who would have died invading Japan. Those actions killed far more people than have died during the Bush/Cheney regime, but nobody (except maybe Gary) would call Truman a Nazi or Stalinist.
Now if Gary was in a situation where innocent lives were at stake and coercion was the only option to get the intel required to save such lives... well, apparently he would have no problem sacrificing those lives for principle. I would make a different calculation, but that's just me only on this website, I guess. ah well....

@stonetools:

Is there a Godwin's Law on comparing people to Nazis? There surely should be one.

Of course there is, ya silly! That would be the one and only Godwin's Law. However, while you seem to want to use it to brush aside such comparisons, the Law says nothing about the justifiability or correctness of making reference or comparison to Nazis... it rather merely notes that such references are in fact inevitable.

stonetools: I regret the loss of innocent life in war. But innocents die in war-that's just the way it is.

How quickly you went from claiming to torture only because you want to save the lives of innocent people, to asserting "that's just the way it is in war" about the innocent people killed by torture. The only thing the same in both comments is your certainty that torture is OK by you - whether you justify it with the trope "saving innocent lives" or with "innocent people get killed in any war".

Now if Gary was in a situation where innocent lives were at stake and coercion was the only option to get the intel required to save such lives... well, apparently he would have no problem sacrificing those lives for principle. I would make a different calculation, but that's just me only on this website, I guess. ah well....

That's because you alone on this website are blessed with the extrasensory perceptions that allow you to know that your would-be coercee possesses that critical intel, and that "coercion" is in fact the only way to get them to spill the beans.

The rest of us are attacking your rightious position just because we're jealous of your special gift. Rand would have seen this...

@Jesurgislac

Torture is not "OK by me" just like incinerating Hamburg was not OK by Winston Churchill during WW2. It was just something that he felt had to be done. In war, unfortunately, there are no clean hands even in a good war.
Using coercion to save innocent lives is maybe something you have to do, and saying that in a perfect world you should never have to do it doesn't make it so.

@Nombrilisme Vide

Well, you never have perfect knowledge, which is precisely why you don't take the coercion option off the table.I would add that believe me, I would be delighted if we could just befriend everyone into giving up vital intelligence, but Bowden's well researched article forecloses that pipe dream

Now if Gary was in a situation where innocent lives were at stake and coercion was the only option to get the intel required to save such lives...

Rhetorical sleight of hand noted.

--TP

Is there a Godwin's Law on comparing people to Nazis? There surely should be one.

Yes, there is. You might want to learn what it actually means before throwing it around.

Look, all of your hypotheticals and question-begging and other attempts to endorse and justify torture are starting to turn my stomach, so I'm going to lay this out as simply as I can.

Torture is wrong. It is always wrong. Even if accomplishes good, it is wrong.

After the Spanish-American war, we convicted a US Army soldier for waterboarding and sentenced him to hard labor. After World War II, we tried and convicted Japanese and Nazis who used waterboarding and other means of torture. We declared it a crime again during the Vietnam war, and court-martialled soldiers who did it against the NVA, including one very well-publicized incident.

We have at least a hundred years of history in which we, the United States--to say nothing of the rest of the world--have regarded waterboarding as a form of torture, and all forms of torture as war crimes to be vigorously prosecuted.

The reasons one tortures do not mitigate these prosecutions. National security is never regarded as a legitimate justification. The act is an ipso facto violation of human rights, irrespective of its context. Black and white. Period.

You are expressly advocating that the United States torture. You are expressly advocating that our government commit the same crimes for which we have aggressively prosecuted both our enemies and our own soldiers for more than a century. You are arguing that when it comes to national security, the ends justify the means.

We're not calling you a Nazi. Your own arguments are. If you don't like it, try not advocating that we commit Nazi war crimes.

Goddamnit this HTML-eating of TypePad's is really starting to frost my shorthairs.

stonetools: Using coercion to save innocent lives is maybe something you have to do

Ah, so now instead of justifying torture by arguing that innocent people always get killed in war, you're justifying torture by arguing that you've got to save innocent people by torturing innocent people to death. It appears that you are alternating "kill innocent people" with "save innocent people" as a means of justifying torture to yourself. It also doesn't appear that you actually care all that much about saving lives... just about justifying torture.

Where's that killfile program again? Stonetools pie. Mmm, crunchy.

@stonetools:
Well, you never have perfect knowledge, which is precisely why you don't take the coercion option off the table.

...so since, as you admit, we can't assume that our torturers will have perfect knowledge of, e.g., whether their victim will in fact know the information they're trying to extract, we can't take the "coercion" option off the table. Lovely. And totally illogical. Once you concede that our torturers are operating on imperfect intelligence, you're conceding that you have no problem torturing innocents. You're also conceding that you think (torture + false positives) is better than (no torture + false negatives) despite the fact that both scenarios can result in your ticking time bomb exploding unimpeded. That's utterly darling. Look, let's put it more bluntly: if we have your ticking time bomb (even if it's ticking in terms of weeks and months rather than minutes and hours), giving free reign to our interrogators to torture as they please opens the doors wide to their making errors where at best they waste time torturing innocents and at worst waste lots of time and resources chasing false leads dreamed up by said innocents to make the pain stop.

Also, show your work. That imperfect knowledge means we can't preclude torture looks to me to be at best a non sequiter.

Finally... I'm hurt. No response to the idea that if torture is so damned important, torturers should do it anyway since it's "the right thing to do", and argue as much in court? No love for rule of law? :(

@catsby

Torture is wrong. It is always wrong. Even if accomplishes good, it is wrong.

You are absolutely right about that. So is dropping atomic bombs on civilian targets. yet Truman's decision to do so was at least morally defensible, no?

@Jesurgislac

Well, J, if you are just going to misrepresent my arguments, please killfile me. I'm tired of having to correct your misreprsentations of my arguments into srawmen. Where the hell did I say that you should save innocent people by torturing innocent people. Yep, killfile me and put us out of our misery.

@Nombrilisme Vide
I'm definitely not in favor of torturing innocents, so that's why i stress that IT SHOULD BE AS A LAST RESORT. YOU DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO AVOID IT, BUT IF YOU HAVE TO DO IT, DO IT.

generally, although not in every concievable case interrogators can judge who knows what, so you only use coercion IN THE RARE CASE.

I might add that in war, no one has perfect knowledge (hence the term "fog of war"? you may have heard it), so people make honest mistakes and order air and artillery strikes that kill civilians, for example. The Predator strikes that the Obama administration is so fond of has killed quite a few civilians-- probably far more people than have died or been tortured at the hands of Bush's interrogators. Yet... thats all right by everyone on this site.

Just to be clear, nobody here has ANY freaking idea -- other than somehow reading subconscious thoughts, or some weird crap -- how learned helplessness leads to truth telling?

Because even if effectiveness is not a sufficient justification for torture, it sure as hell is a necessary one...

Anybody?

You might want to check it out.

Yes, that was an interesting article. Here are some things that I noticed.

The most effective interrogators discussed in the article -- Koubi and Giorgio -- are both men who *do not* rely on torture to get their results.

The discussion of Keith Hall, a CIA operative who worked in Lebanon, mentions the kidnapping, torture, and eventual killing of CIA station chief William Buckley by Hezbollah.

Was it wrong for Hezbollah to kidnap, torture, and murder Buckley? If not, why not? Maybe they were just doing what they had to do.

Another thing I notice is that, when the Israeli Supreme Court allowed coercion for "ticking bomb" scenarios in 1987, torture became widespread. Two thirds of Palestinians taken into custody were subject to "coercive measures". In 1999, they had to outlaw them entirely.

When you give a guy a hammer, the whole world starts to look like a nail.

You're talking here as if we're discussing some hypothetical, abstract principle of "when the shit hits the fan, you do what you have to do".

In fact, the concrete situation we're actually discussing is a small number of people in the executive authorizing interrogation techniques that are clearly against the US Code, and clearly against international law, based on piss-poor legal opinions issued in secret by their lackeys in the OLC. The techniques were adopted from programs used to train military personnel to resist torture. They were carried out in secret, and lied about until the lies could not be sustained.

And so far no-one has been able to demonstrate that any of the information gained was of anything approaching existential importance to us, or that it could not have been obtained through other means. In fact, the information obtained through torture appears to have been, consistently, of demonstrably less quality than that obtained through other means.

Adhering to your values and principles in the face of some threat and potential cost is a tough decision. Kicking the living shite out of someone you hold in a freaking dungeon somewhere on the dark side of the moon, in order to get them to cough up some pretext for you to do what you want to do, is not a tough decision.

It's piss-ant, candy-assed, bullying cowardice.

There are two sides on this issue, and there's no middle. I know which side I'm on. You pick yours. I doubt we have anything else to say to each other on the topic.

>>" thats all right by everyone on this site."

Personally, I find it very questionable. Don't assume.

>>"Where the hell did I say that you should save innocent people by torturing innocent people. "

That's the logical and predictable consequence of what you're advocating, as you yourself point out - fog of war, and all that. Although it's not at all certain that anybody would actually be saved, so we're actually talking about torturing innocent people in an attempt to save innocent people. And as russell notes, torture is contagious, so eventually we're talking about torturing innocent people because, well . . .

If you're uncomfortable with any of this, you may wish to reconsider what you're advocating.

@russell

WEll, Rusell, if you believe that Bowden agreed with you, so be it. Its a novel interpretation, but hey, reading comprehension education ain't what it used to be.

And so far no-one has been able to demonstrate that any of the information gained was of anything approaching existential importance to us, or that it could not have been obtained through other means. In fact, the information obtained through torture appears to have been, consistently, of demonstrably less quality than that obtained through other means.

Blair, Obama's spokesman, disagrees with you.

Adhering to your values and principles in the face of some threat and potential cost is a tough decision. Kicking the living shite out of someone you hold in a freaking dungeon somewhere on the dark side of the moon, in order to get them to cough up some pretext for you to do what you want to do, is not a tough decision.

It's piss-ant, candy-assed, bullying cowardice.

Well, since thats NOT my position, I'm OK with that.

There are two sides on this issue, and there's no middle. I know which side I'm on. You pick yours. I doubt we have anything else to say to each other on the topic.


OK. Black and white, moral absolutes, eh? Interesting liberal viewpoint.

I never said anything about Bowden agreeing with me. I made some observations about the article. None of which you have addressed.

I think you need to do some more homework on Blair's statements.

It may not be your position personally, it's just the position you're supporting.

I'm not a liberal, I'm a lefty. Black and white are freaking fine with me.

I'm on my side and you're on yours. I'd fight you over it if it came to that. Let's hope it doesn't.

I think your point of view sucks. It's not an idle opinion, it's one I've come to after thinking about it a bit. We can probably go back and forth another 10 or 20 times, and I will still think your point of view sucks.

If you have the time to waste, have at it. I'm sick of talking about this shit, it nauseates me.

I'm going to go watch some TV. Have fun.

Thanks -

"Torture is not "OK by me" just like incinerating Hamburg was not OK by Winston Churchill during WW2. It was just something that he felt had to be done."

My (very limited, possibly incorrect) understanding is that this sort of strategic/area bombing - indeed, this specific example - is now seen as having been pretty ineffective.

" will go so far as to say that this is even a morally defensible position- just as Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb was morally defensible, even though it resulted in the incineration of 200,000 civilians."

There's something interesting here, which is that this was - so far - the first and last time this decision was made. It's interesting to consider the response if a contemporary leader did this in a similar situation. When it comes to torture, though, you just want to keep on going . . .

Re: aerial bombardment vs. torture - given the way human moral intuitions seem to work - ie, the trolley problem: sacrifice one life to save five by pulling a lever? vs sacrifice one life to save five by shoving the guy next to you onto the tracks - it may well be that this is a misleading comparison, that torture, as direct harm to a person right in front of you, and unable to defend themself, is in a certain way actually much worse than dealing death at a distance. Now, just going by the numbers this is pretty absurd, but of course humans don't just go by the numbers.

"Is there a Godwin's Law on comparing people to Nazis?"

You don't seem to have a clue what Godwin's Law is.

What we actually did in WWII to torturers.

Wacky liberal John McCain:

[...] (AP) Republican presidential candidate John McCain reminded people Thursday that some Japanese were tried and hanged for torturing American prisoners during World War II with techniques that included waterboarding.

"There should be little doubt from American history that we consider that as torture otherwise we wouldn't have tried and convicted Japanese for doing that same thing to Americans," McCain said during a news conference.

[...]

"I would also hope that he would not want to be associated with a technique which was invented in the Spanish Inquisition, was used by Pol Pot in one of the great eras of genocide in history and is being used on Burmese monks as we speak," the Arizona senator said. "America is a better nation than that."

But John McCain wouldn't care to protect America.

Neither would General Petraeus.

Next link in next comment, to avoid link limit.

If you don't want to defend Gestapo techniques, then don't defend them. It's very easy to not do this.

If, on the other hand, you believe in Gestapo methods and defenses of them, don't be surprised when people object.

Moreover, endless generals and experts in COIN have pointed out how badly torture hurts the U.S. and its soldiers by vastly increasing the number of people who become jihadists and enemies of the U.S. in reaction. I'll take their word over that of Some Guy On The Internet who wants to feel All Tough.

Russell wins the thread.

"Blair, Obama's spokesman, disagrees with you, [Russell]."

Actually, if I'm not mistaken, he specifically said that the info "could not have been obtained through other means", and that even then, it was the exception.

Dennis Blair:

[...] In any case, the damage to the country's image caused by the use of waterboarding and similar techniques exceeded any potential benefit, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said.

"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances," he said in a statement yesterday, "but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means."

Blair, Obama's appointee to oversee the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, summarized in the statement an assessment he gave his staff in a memo last week, according to U.S. officials familiar with the document. Blair is a participant in a White House-ordered review of CIA interrogation methods used on high-value terrorism suspects between 2002 and 2006.

"The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world," Blair said in the statement. "The damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

Blair said he supported Obama's decision to ban "enhanced interrogation techniques," and he rejected assertions by former vice president Richard B. Cheney and others that the methods were crucial to protecting the country. He added that he had backed Obama's decision last week to order the release of Justice Department memos that authorized the use of harsh interrogation practices.

Catsy,

Here's one for you re moral relativism. Will any here get as excited and passionate about abortion as about torture?

@point

"Just to be clear, nobody here has ANY freaking idea -- other than somehow reading subconscious thoughts, or some weird crap -- how learned helplessness leads to truth telling?"

Aside from Margulies, I haven't seen an answer to this question. It's the underpants gnome theory of interrogation.

"Here's one for you re moral relativism. Will any here get as excited and passionate about abortion as about torture?"

This is a non-sequitur. "I don't want to talk about the subject of the thread, so I'll attempt to derail it to a completely different topic" isn't a tactic that flies.

You want to talk about abortion? Do it in a thread about abortion.

Which we've done a zillion times. Try reading Hilzoy's past posts; you're free to respond to them. Maybe someone will be interested in beating that horse for the billionth time.

Oh, I'm sorry, Gary, I thought the discussion was about morality. My bad!

At risk of repeating my betters:
Ok. I've read the Bowden (gosh, that was unpleasant) - but it really doesn't seem to support you (If you found examples I've skipped or misrepresented, I'd welcome them). And he DOES agree with russell. See my final point.

From Bowden: "And if official and unofficial government reports are to be believed, the methods work. In report after report hard-core terrorist leaders are said to be either cooperating or, at the very least, providing some information"

I draw your attention to words two and eleven. The recent memo releases would suggest those reports actually were not to be believed. In the article Bowden suggests strong reasons for officials to lie in them.

This "In June, news reports suggested that Sheikh Mohammed was discussing operational planning with his captors and had told interrogators that al-Qaeda did not work with Saddam Hussein." was clearly unreliable disinformation and disregarded at once.

"Indeed, if press accounts can be believed, these captured Islamist fanatics are all but dismantling their own secret organization." - It's been six years, they don't seem all that dismantled.
---
The "best evidence" is Hall abusing Nimr in Lebanon. The only balance Bowden provides is "(Not everyone in the CIA agrees with Hall's interpretation.)", which I think is telling. No one disagreeing with Hall is allowed to make even a single point.

Two "ticking clock" scenarios are described, torture was useless in both. Koubi finally gave up on the coercion and won through a "your buddy confessed" deception. Wolfgang Daschner in Frankfurt was in a bad place, and IMO made a brave call, but the threat of torture did *not* help save the victim, who was already dead. Was that why the subject cracked? We don't know.

While we're discussing Koubi, the maestro - his *best* technique is just listening to suspects while they mingle with their fellow prisoners. He himself has no idea why this works.

And finally, (although he wrongly attributes it to Bush), Bowden embraces the preferred solution of NV, Nell, many others here and, yes, russell - Treat coercion like any other crime. Trials anywhere the prosecutor wants 'em.

If that's your position too, then please - Stop fighting it and come to the light side. We'd love your support.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Gary, I thought the discussion was about morality. My bad!"

This is really stupid sarcasm. The discussion is about the morality of torture, not the morality of any or every conceivable or important topic you might prefer to discuss.

Donald, I think GOB is making a point that "we" are morally relativist where it suits us.

It's true, tho, GOB. I would prefer argument over sarcasm.

Here's one for you re moral relativism. Will any here get as excited and passionate about abortion as about torture?

Who cares? We're not talking about abortion, we're talking about torture.

This is at least the second time you've done this. Knock of the tu quoque arguments; they're a transparent deflection and one of the more annoying logical fallacies. Even if I'm the most hypocritical liberal in the history of humanity it has not one iota of bearing on the question of whether or not torture is wrong.

Well;, last post on the issue. Bowden is pretty clear that coercion is effective and that it is necessary in some circumstances. That goes well beyond the purist position of Farber ,Russell et al. On Kouri:

Interrogation is also highly theatrical. The Kubark Manual is very particular about setting the stage.
The room in which the interrogation is to be conducted should be free of distractions. The colors of
the walls, ceiling, rugs, and furniture should not be startling. Pictures should be missing or dull.
Whether the furniture should include a desk depends not upon the interrogator's convenience but
rather upon the subject's anticipated reaction to the connotations of superiority and officialdom. A
plain table may be preferable. An overstuffed chair for the use of the interrogatee is sometimes
preferable to a straight-backed, wooden chair because if he is made to stand for a lengthy period or
is otherwise deprived of physical comfort, the contrast is intensified and increased disorientation
results.
The manual goes on to recommend lighting that shines brightly in the face of the subject and leaves the interrogator in
shadow. There should be no phone or any other means of contact with those outside the room, to enhance concentration and
the subject's feeling of confinement. In Koubi's experience it was sometimes helpful to have associates loudly stage a torture
or beating session in the next room. In old CIA interrogation training, according to Bill Wagner, a retired agent, it was
recommended that mock executions take place outside the interrogation room.

WEll if you are OK with that , fine. That's not quite the Amnesty International "friendly interrogation" standard, though. And in the scenario you described, physical force was used.

This is Bowden's conclusion:


"The Bush Administration has adopted exactly the right posture on the matter. Candor and consistency are not
always public virtues. Torture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a
wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced. Those who protest coercive
methods will exaggerate their horrors, which is good: it generates a useful climate of fear. It is wise of the
President to reiterate U.S. support for international agreements banning torture, and it is wise for American interrogators to
employ whatever coercive methods work. It is also smart not to discuss the matter with anyone.
If interrogators step over the line from coercion to outright torture, they should be held personally responsible. But no
interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed awake, cold, alone, and uncomfortable.
Nor should he be."

I'm OK with that position-although I doubt the purists on this thread like Russell and Gary agree with it.

The model of debility, dependency, and dread has been the core of the CIA's torture paradigm for many decades..

Martin Seligman is aware that his work has been misused for interrogation but has done nothing to object or resist.

http://valtinsblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/physicians-psychologists-problem-of.html

f interrogators step over the line from coercion to outright torture, they should be held personally responsible. But no interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed awake, cold, alone, and uncomfortable. Nor should he be."

This seems to me a weaseling around the point because it's a deliberately imprecise statement.

Keeping a prisoner awake for 72 to 96 hours at a time with few breaks in between is NOT OK with me and SHOULD be prosecuted.

More testimony from yet another actual interrogator of Abu Zubaydah.

The FBI agent who a special agent for the FBI's Osama bin Laden unit from 1996 to 2002 and interrogated many al Qaeda members.

@stonetools

"I'm definitely not in favor of torturing innocents, so that's why i stress that IT SHOULD BE AS A LAST RESORT. YOU DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO AVOID IT, BUT IF YOU HAVE TO DO IT, DO IT."

So then you agree that torture (or as you prefer to soft-pedal it, "coercion") should be kept illegal and vigorously prosecuted? As Russell and others pointed out, anything less will ensure that it will be a first or second resort... certainly not a last one. Do you think we should keep torture illegal and not turn a blind eye to its practice? Do you think its practitioners should be faced with the very real possibility of spending a decent chunk of their life eating prison food? If you do not, how do you reconcile this with your claim to want to limit this to a last resort?

You've strenuously avoided addressing the matter of rule of law, and whether torture should be prosecuted (though your citation seems to suggest you think we should have unenforced laws against it). Please cease to do so; explain what you feel should be the legal status of torture, and reconcile it with your prior statements, particularly those involving your desire to see only absolutely necessary torture occur. Frankly, I doubt you can.

"The Predator strikes that the Obama administration is so fond of has killed quite a few civilians-- probably far more people than have died or been tortured at the hands of Bush's interrogators. Yet... thats all right by everyone on this site."

Ah, the majestic beauty of the partisan tu quoque. As others pointed out, saying "but Democrats did worse stuff, lol" is hardly a convincing argument, particularly when you insist on claiming that all your interlocutors share an identical, simplistic, rabidly partisan viewpoint. For the record, I'm not okay with what you cite here. But then, I'm a leftist, so I have little reason to support a tepid, unprincipled, center-right liberal like Obama.

To date, your argument seems to be comprised of exaggeratedly mournful headshaking at our naivete coupled with macho posturing and "tough" moral relativism, garnished with an unwholesome dash of tu quoque misdirection for bad measure. This is beyond unconvincing; it in fact helps to portray your stance as indefensible, as you're not making much of a show of actually defending it. Pleas make the effort. If absolutely nothing else, outline your opinion on whether torture should be illegal, and whether we should prosecute it, as well as how this supports your desired intelligence outcome.

If interrogators step over the line from coercion to outright torture, they should be held personally responsible.

That's Bowden's position. It's actually stronger than mine, I'm fine with Obama's statement that interrogators operating within the scope of the OLC memos should not be prosecuted.

"Awake, cold, alone, uncomfortable".

Actually, beaten, deprived of pain medication, asphyxiated 180 times in a month, and kept awake for up to 11 days, which is more or less a guarantee of induced insanity.

And those were the disciplined, well-run operations.

If you want to discuss all of this, fine, but let's talk about what really happened and why, not what happened on the last episode of "24".

This wasn't an exceptional case of one person going to extraordinary and perhaps illegal lengths to prevent the "ticking bomb" from going off. This was a systematic effort to covertly break the law.

I'm not sure what's gained by hilzoy trying to ridicule these methods, when frankly she isn't an expert in this area.

Not an expert? Sure, she's not an expert on torture, I expect, but one need not be an expert in the application of mental and physical excrutiation to be able to assess the rightness or morality of doing so.

If I had to guess, I'd guess that hilzoy now knows a great deal more about torture than she ever wanted to.

The Predator strikes that the Obama administration is so fond of has killed quite a few civilians-- probably far more people than have died or been tortured at the hands of Bush's interrogators. Yet... thats all right by everyone on this site.

One thing at a time is normally how we deal with things. Since the Predator strikes are a completely different kind of action than the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, it's really a subject change to even mention them.

But look! BUNNIES!

Just my 2 (Euro) cents on the US use of nukes in 1945:
I think that dropping the bombs the way it was done was not morally defensible. Imo an acceptable way would have been to do a demonstration of the bomb before enough Japanese (and international) witnesses and then setting an ultimatum of say 4 weeks before a bomb would be used on a large military target. If that would not have worked either, then and only then could one discuss the use on a major city.
Iirc some of the planners feared that the Japanese could surrender before there was a chance to test the bombs on humans on a large scale, i.e. wiping out a city. There are also some that think that the use of the bombs in 1945 saved the world from a large scale nuclear war at a later stage (something I believe could actually be the case). The former position makes the proponents imo as bad as nazi scientists using humans as guinea pigs* and the latter does not (again imo) exculpate the decisionmakers then because that was a thought that to my knowledge has never occurred to them at the time.

*and the US did similar things to US citizens btw (infecting blacks with syphilis and giving them fake treatment in order to study the disease in its later stages, putting plutonium in the milk of kids, testing drugs on non-volunteering prison inmates** etc.)

**the discussion about the legality of this comes up every few years it seems

FWIW. as I read stonetools, he is condemning all the torture outlined in the memoes and practiced under the direction of the Bush administration.

None of it was a LAST RESORT and none of it provided any information that we know of that significantly saved any lives. Additionally, quite a few (understatement) very innocent people were tortured and died due to the torture.

So reading stonetools correctly, torture is only okay as a LAST RESORT in what can only be assumed to be a "ticking bomb" scenario. Of course torture wouldn't work in that case, so stonetools, to use his/her criteria is against all torture at any time.

One thing at a time is normally how we deal with things.

What I really meant by this is: it's not that we can't multitask, but con-fusing distinct issues when discussing one of them doesn't lead to increased clarity.

"Iirc some of the planners feared"

There were also only the two fission weapons constructed at that point; there was a fear that if they used one as a demonstration, they wouldn't have more than the one other to use for some months.

And there were serious, major, concerns that one or the other might be a dud. A demonstration of a dud would have been not good.

There was significant danger, as well, of the bombs being lost during ship transit -- the ship that did carry them, the Indianapolis, was famously sunk on the trip back; as well, there was a possibility of the plane being shot down, even against the odds.

Due to the plan to use visual targeting, there was a strong possibility of the drops being postponed for weeks, even more than a month or so, each time. Or the plane could have flown to the target, been unable to drop due to weather, and had to return, and possibly be lost, or crash on landing.

Bottom line is that there were a tremendous number of uncertainties that no longer look uncertain when looking back.

Mostly there was a fear that a demonstration simply wouldn't be convincing, given the small number of Japanese that could possibly witness it (and it being more than unclear that any Japanese at all could be persuaded to attend). This wasn't by any means an unjustified fear, given how much resistance there was to surrender even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If the Emperor hadn't decided to surrender, there's no doubt that Japan would have futilely tried to go on, even to the point where most of the population had been exterminated.

The primary point was, without doubt, to save the lives of some million or so expected American casualties in an invasion of Japan. Japan still had five million fighting troops when they surrendered.

The factor of getting Japan to surrender before the Soviets entered the war against Japan, which the U.S. had implored them to do until not long before the successful Trinity test, and of having some effect on the Soviet Union's designs in Europe, were, however, a small factor as well.

The opinion of Oppenheimer, Fermi, Compton, and Lawrence.

Some others disagreed, of course, including Leo Szilard, and dozens of other atomic scientists, as well as the Under Secretary of the Navy, and a smattering of others.

However, I do agree with your position. But I agree with this note: we can see this as a not-difficult choice with the benefit of hindsight. That's a pretty unfair advantage over those actually considering the choices at the time. I think a demonstration, etc., would definitely have been the right way to go, and if I were making the decision retroactively, that would be my decision, but I don't particularly fault those who, at the time, decided otherwise. I think those who wanted a demonstration were right, but I don't think the concerns on the other side were entirely misplaced.

As a side-note, Truman seemed to think, at least at the time of the bombing, that Hiroshima was more or less entirely just a military target; it's how he referred to it in his private diary, as well as his public utterances.

[...] This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.

He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful...

And there was a warning, though it didn't specify nuclear weaponry. The Potsdam Declaration.
[...] # The prodigious land, sea and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and of China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the west, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan. This military power is sustained and inspired by the determination of all the Allied Nations to prosecute the war against Japan until she ceases to resist.
# The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan. The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry and the method of life of the whole German people. The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.

[...]

We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.

"Prompt and utter destruction" is bad, regardless of the methodology.

I'd note as part of this point that the moral difference at the time between destroying the center of a city with a blast and firestorm from a small fission weapon, and destroying much of a city with a firestorm from a massive incendiary raid, which was done some hundred times to Japan, and to a lesser extent, your own country, at the time, wasn't particularly clear to most of the non-scientists at the time. The U.S. was more capable of continuing to destroy Japan with conventional air raids than by atomic bombs. The difference in morality is still an at least questionable, if we set aside the aspect of lowering the threshold for future use of more powerful atomic weapons.

Here are many of the original decision documents/arguments, if anyone is interested.

"putting plutonium in the milk of kids"

Intentionally? Say what? There was some unintentional contamination at Hanford in 1944, but your list is otherwise of intentional acts.

I also strongly question the equivalence of the Tuskegee Study, bad as it was ("28 men had died of syphilis, 100 others were dead of related complications, at least 40 wives had been infected and 19 children had contracted the disease at birth"), letting 399 men go untreated for syphilis, being "as bad as nazi scientists using humans as guinea pigs."

Threadjack: speaking of learned helplessness, the kitten my girlfriend and I adopted from a rescue shelter now has systemic pneumonia (?!) requiring a broad-spectrum antibiotic after the first round of meds failed (?!!) and has lost 10% of her body mass in the past three days (!!!!). If any of you have any kitten-specific prayers, I'd ask that you pitch them in, because I'm running out of mine.

1 Ceiling Cat iz mai sheprd. He givz me evrithin I need.
2 He letz me sleeps in teh sunni spot
an haz liek nice waterz r ovar thar.
3 He makez mai soul happi
an maeks sure I go teh riet wai for him.
4 I iz in teh valli of dogz, fearin no pooch,
bcz Ceiling Cat iz besied me rubbin' mah ears, an it maek me so kumfy.
5 He letz me sit at teh taebl evn when peepl who duzint liek me iz watchn.
He givz me a flea baff an so much gooshy fud it runz out of mai bowl LOL.
6 Niec things an luck wil chase me evrydai
an I wil liv in teh Ceiling Cats houz forevr.

Wishing your kitten well, Anarch.

I also strongly question the equivalence of the Tuskegee Study…

As a side-note, and just for clarification…

The men were not intentionally infected. They were already infected and they were denied treatment. That’s bad enough. It doesn’t change Hartmut’s point, but the reality was bad enough without going there.

To clarify my position:
Yes, I thought of the Tuskegee affair but obviously misremembered the details.
I do not think that what was done was as bad as what the nazis did to KZ inmates in the name of science but I think that the people doing it are on the same moral level. To put it in extreme terms: One can be as evil as Hitler without killing millions.
As for the plutonium, there were some disclosures (I think in the late eighties) that the US governement did indeed lace the milk of schoolchildren with the stuff (that must have been in the 50ies or sixties) and also gave them medical examination for free to study the effects. That was sold of course not as "we will poison you" but "the charitable government feeds children and takes care of their health"*.
As for Japan 1945, I do not think that it would have cost too many lives to postpone the invasion for a few weeks and I believe that the "Russian question" was the primary reason for the haste. This is of course just my interpretation and I fully agree that the US was able to kill as efficient with "just" incendiaries (Tokyo still keeps the record of largest number of people killed in a single attack iirc). It may be incoherent but I have more respect for 'Bomber' Harris than for Curtis LeMay because the former seems to really have struggled with the morality of bombing civilians while the latter looks like totally amoral to me.

*Similar things (not necessarily with radioactive substances) were done in several other 'civilized' countries, so this is not intended as just more US bashing.

Susie Bright, who lost a boyfriend to SERE training:

Politicians on Capitol Hill today, including the liberals, talk about whether they're "not sure" they want to prosecute torture violations because they don't want the trials to become a "partisan battle." Their rationalizations make me want to puke.

Do they understand that— puke? Because maybe they'd like to spend a week in a tiger cage being force-fed s--t and see if they still think it's a "partisan issue." These politicians are living in Absurdistan.

(Typepad seems to be eating HTML again, in its six apart style, so I'll post the link in clear:
http://susiebright.blogs.com/susie_brights_journal_/2009/04/sere-training-turned-my-boyfriend-from-dr-jekyll-to-mr-hyde.html)

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