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May 11, 2009

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the reason that we, as a nation, should abstain from torture is because torture is a morally reprehensible practice. Full stop.

Well hold on there, hoss. Obviously, if there were a ticking time bomb scenario -- highly unlikely but possible in principle -- then only a truly extreme moral absolutist would dare to suggest that millions of innocent lives should be sacrificed to preserve the rights of their would be murderer. Especially when that would be murderer had the power to end his torture whenever he wanted simply by divulging the information that will save millions of lives.

Surely you are not such an extreme moral absolutist that you would deny that?

I understand that there are lots of pragmatic objections that make the ticking time bomb scenario unlikely, but they do not make it impossible.

Amen. And the Christian Right has no business using this appeal to consequences anyway. Have they read the book of Romans lately? Paul explicitly and decisively rejects the precept that we should do anything evil to bring about a good result.

Well hold on, hoss. Surely you're not saying that if the choices were EITHER 1) torture a terrorist OR 2) allow millions to die in a nuclear holocaust that you would pick #2? Because only a truly extreme moral absolutist could pretend to justify that kind of crime against humanity.

Once you get to talking about the lives of millions of people, a lot of the normal rules and intuitions go out the window.

Eric,

The best reason I can see for continuing to make utilitarian arguments against torture in addition to the moral arguments, is to close the door on torture-lite, aka "harsh interrogation". Arguments on moral grounds are vulnerable to being circumvented via Overton window shifting tactics, continuously and via small incremental movements shifting the line between what is and is not acceptable on moral grounds. That is a large part of the attraction of the techniques which don't leave obvious and lasting physical scars, like sleep deprivation.

So we have to fight back against torture and recreate a consensus against its use on both moral and utilitarian grounds.

"To use a slightly more extreme example to highlight the point, if Cheney had suggested that raping (or simulating the rape of) a detainee's spouse would be an effective means of getting the information desired, should our popular discourse engage the merits of that argument?"

unfortunately, that is a slightly *less* extreme example than what we already know the torturers advocated.

the sexual molestation and mutilation of a child. that's what these people said was okay. in front of congress.

"If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?", to which Yoo replied "No treaty." Cassel followed up with "Also no law by Congress -- that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo...", to which Yoo replied "I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.""


you might think that extreme examples could show these people how far they have fallen from legality and morality. but unfortunately, their souls have been turned to moral black holes. you will never reach a cheney, or a yoo.

it's still worth reminding the country what monsters they were. and how much we need to do to restore america to its former values.

Just for the record, we've discussed John You's views on child testicle-crushing here a number of times.

And even John Yoo's views, yoo-hoo.

I think the "pragmatic" argument for torture is relatively stupid to engage at the level of "torture doesn't work anyway".

Yes, it doesn't work. But it wouldn't work, even if it got us information. Ignoring the issue of false confessions, people blabbing whatever comes to their mind to make the torture stop, the higher quality of information regular interrogation can provide, and all the rest, torture still doesn't work.

It doesn't work because it's @$!#ing torture. And to do it, we have to torture people, which means we're giving up something much more important than any information we might hypothetically get. We're giving up on one of the foundational principles of the United States, and start being less us and more your boogeyman of choice. It's funny that "conservatives" are the first to throw away hundreds of years of tradition and ideals, but there you are.

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer presented me with John Yoo's views on how Obama should select Supreme Court nominees.

Next week: Charles Manson weighs in on three-strike laws--helter or skelter?

As Rob Farley observed....

At LGM it says: "Posted by Charli Carpenter."

Thanks Kevin.

Personally, I used the effectiveness argument simply because I figured that anybody willing to support torture was beyond morality anyway. It's not as though it is hard to see the moral problem with torture.

The couple of times I discussed effectiveness, however, the person in question evaded the issue or asserted that it MUST work or 'they' wouldn't keep doing it. So I have pretty much given up trying to discuss torture with anybody I can't afford to alienate.

Doesn't the treaty we signed specifically say there are no circumstances under which torture will be justified? By law whether or not torture works is utterly irrelevant. The argument that it saved lives is only powerful if we allow the effectiveness debate to drown out the legal debate.

The "substitute torture with rape and see how it sounds" won't work, because the question isn't about effectiveness of this or that tactic.

The pro-torture types would have no problem being pro-rape. Their alleged interest in effectiveness is nothing more than a fig leaf. They're sadists and psychopaths; period, full stop.

I understand and sympathize with Crafty Trilobite's attempt to use the effectiveness argument rather than a moral argument to sway torture enthusiasts. But it won't work, because they don't care about effectiveness any more than they care about morality. What they care about is the thrill that torture gives them.

There's an article in the May # of Harper's that purports to be an interview with a paid, professional killer for a mexican drug-cartel. He describes the conditions under which torture "works." It's the same kind of effectiveness that secret police appreciate when trying to get information about a cell of insurgents from a captured member of that group...in the instant case, getting information out of members of other cartels regarding the names of their associates, their lines of control, etc.

It works, that is, when you are absolutely certain the information is there to be got

The descriptions of the kinds of torture employed are enough to make you quite ill...

It works, that is, when you are absolutely certain the information is there to be got...The descriptions of the kinds of torture employed are enough to make you quite ill...

Yeah, I think if you're willing to get as brutal as possible, and the first part of that equation is satisfied (that is, you know the information that you are seeking is out there), then torture can "work." But that's a degree of brutality even the Bush team wouldn't implement. Officially.

pffft. I, in my wisdom as a random guy on the internet, dispute the claims of this paid professional.

Even if I know the information exists and this person has it (vanishingly unlikely) - There will be a point in any questioning where I still have the wherewithal to prevaricate, to try and fool you with the names of innocents, or falsely name someone in your own organisation as a turncoat. If you go far enough, we are told there will be another point where I'll babble anything that comes to mind to get you to stop.

How are you "absolutely certain", by the way? Because the last two guys you were "absolutely certain" about babbled my name. There could be a variety of reasons or coincidences that would make that happen, but because you 'know' torture works, you don't need to check those out.. I'm already doomed to suffer and die.

I haven't read the article. Does he disclose how to spot these thresholds as you cross them? I don't see that extra levels of brutality help with detecting these lines at all.

oops. pronoun trouble in paragraph two. Seems I'm past the 'incoherent babbling' line already.

And debating effectiveness instead of standing on morality or law. Hrm.

Gus's point cannot be repeated often enough.

Torture is illegal and there is no justification that will make it legal. So effectiveness discussions are completely pointless.

Look at who wants to make effectiveness the framework of the discussion: the criminals who set in motion this appalling policy that degrades and corrodes everyone it touches.

The degraded state of our crumbling imperial polity, including the ignorance of the public and the cowardice of its political "leaders", supports TLTIA's case for making both moral and utilitarian arguments. But the first argument that needs to be made is the legal one, because it reminds everyone that this is a settled issue, and further arguments are being made only to help those with inadequate grasp of the history to understand why it is.

So-called liberals in Congress have encouraged utilitarian arguments because they're defensive about being seen as soft on security and terrorism issues -- and think that putting moral and even legal arguments out there makes them seem weak. Their lack of conviction makes for a disgusting display.

I will never forget or forgive Obama's floor speech in defense of habeas corpus in September 2006: After months of being preachy to Democrats about our not being friendly enough to religious voters and reluctant to have politicians whose policy positions are informed by their faith, he made an entirely utilitarians argument about how it strengthened us in the "war on terror". Way to get down to bedrock, guy.

Peter-

Not everyone from "the Christian Right" supports torture. Many theocons (like yours truly) believe that torture is never justified because it is intrinsically evil.

Which is worse, torture or death? Consider the weakest form of torture that you still consider to be torture. You must choose between being shot to death and, for example, being kept awake for several days or shoved into a wall.

What do you choose?

Death is worse than torture. The dead can never receive compensation of any kind. They will never know justice. Yet many people accept killing if it prevent others from being killed. Most people even accept killing as revenge against those they consider to be part of another tribe.

If you are not a complete pacifist and opposed to all war in all cases, you will not be able to argue consistently against a blanket ban against the use of all effective means of torture.

"Torture is illegal and there is no justification that will make it legal."

Which is why I can't justify taking the actual torturers off the hook because of some legal memo crafted by someone with an agenda, one that viewed existing laws and treaties as an obstacle and not something to be abided.

Dick Cheney gets a lot of air time for someone who is neither principled nor ethical -- just someone who in his own warped world is always right. (In the "Face the Nation" interview, Cheney regarded Colin Powell, who he played like a fool, as nothing more than a fly that needed swatting. Evil like this is imperialistic and ignorant.)

It works, that is, when you are absolutely certain the information is there to be got

what i got from that article was that torture can confirm what you already know, but more importantly it gives you something (a corpse, maybe) to take back to the locals, which clearly conveys the message "don't cross us".

Yet many people accept killing if it prevent others from being killed.

We don't order our society based on "what many people accept"; we do so based on laws. And under our laws, shooting random people in the head is not considered acceptable even if you're convinced that doing so will save lives. We could make it legal for police to shoot suspects on sight and doing so would almost certainly save some police officers' lives, but we don't. This is not morally complicated.

Most people even accept killing as revenge against those they consider to be part of another tribe.

Again, the constraints on our government are not what "most people accept". Killing people for revenge is illegal. We, as a society, do not consider it acceptable. That's why we take people who do it and put them in prison for long periods of time.

If you are not a complete pacifist and opposed to all war in all cases, you will not be able to argue consistently against a blanket ban against the use of all effective means of torture.

Really? I'd think the fact that no government organization has anywhere near the knowledge needed to effectively employ torture in even the best cases would pretty much disprove that statement.

"If you are not a complete pacifist and opposed to all war in all cases, you will not be able to argue consistently against a blanket ban against the use of all effective means of RAPE."

Exactly. Now_What believes that we should simply RAPE whenever we believe it will be of benefit to us...

p.s. Eric's framing of this issue is the most apropos and incisive I think I have seen to date.

now_what: If an otherwise guilty person was acquitted because he/she was not read their Miranda Rights, was that justice? Or should we, in this type of instance, not let Miranda stand in the way of a guilty verdict?

"We don't order our society based on "what many people accept"; we do so based on laws"

I do not care about the law. It is fiction.

"And under our laws, shooting random people in the head is not considered acceptable even if you're convinced that doing so will save lives"

We are not talking about random people, we are talking about people who are suspected enemies and who would if encountered on a battlefield, be shot in the head. And who today are, if encountered on the battlefield, shot in the head.

"We could make it legal for police to shoot suspects on sight and doing so would almost certainly save some police officers' lives, but we don't"

It is generally accepted by the public that police officers may kill to save their own lives or the lives of other people.

"Killing people for revenge is illegal. We, as a society, do not consider it acceptable. That's why we take people who do it and put them in prison for long periods of time."

How many soldiers who participated in the invasions of Viet Nam, Panama, Iraq, etc. have been imprisoned for killing enemy soldiers, and for how long?

"no government organization has anywhere near the knowledge needed to effectively employ torture in even the best cases"

The original argument is that even if the government has that knowledge, it shouldn't use it. We can discuss - and have, and will again - whether torture is effective. That is a different argument than the argument over whether effective torture methods should be used if they exist.

'We don't order our society based on "what many people accept"; we do so based on laws. And under our laws, shooting random people in the head is not considered acceptable even if you're convinced that doing so will save lives.'

Except you virtually do. I recall reading that US ordered something like 83 bombings of targets where Saddam Hussein was reported to be, including a restaurant where 50 people died. You call it "collateral damage", but it is virtually random killing from the perspective of the victims.

On the issue of torture, I think it important to present argumentation on both levels. "they" is not a unified whole. Some people may respond to the moral argument. Some may respond to evidence that it is not effective at discovering actionable intelligence.

Some may be sadistic. Many are just suffering from the fear engendered by Bush/Cheney, and accept anything that protects the homeland.

Some may actually be embarrassed if demonstrated that torture wasn't "effective" in protecting the homeland.

"Now_What believes that we should simply RAPE whenever we believe it will be of benefit to us..."

Most societies consider taking life to be worse than rape. Yet we consider soldiers to be heroes, because by killing they accomplish the goals of the rich and powerful. Thus, their killing is morally acceptable to the public.

Why would RAPE be different, were it to be an effective tool?

I do not wish to be raped or shot in the head, but if forced to choose, I know what my choice would be. The choice that allowed for the chance of revenge.

now_what - I thought russell answered you pretty comprehensively on a previous thread. Could you speak to the difference between captured/surrendered and not, please?

You raise an interesting point (if it's ok to kill me, how balk at anything less? and isn't all other treatment lesser?) but seems to me all the examples you cite do admit a difference between what you may do to me "in combat" vs what you can do after I've lost.

"If an otherwise guilty person was acquitted because he/she was not read their Miranda Rights, was that justice? Or should we, in this type of instance, not let Miranda stand in the way of a guilty verdict?"

I would say, make the punishment for failing to read a guilty person his rights be the same as the punishment the criminal would have received if not acquitted. The problem will soon cease to exist.

"If an otherwise guilty person was acquitted because he/she was not read their Miranda Rights, was that justice?"

Hi Bedtime, I don't think it is justice, particularly if applied mechanically. It is a rather crude way of punishing society -by letting the guilty party loose in society- rather than actually punishing the police officer who neglected to follow the rules. And brings the administration of justice into disrepute. Better to convict the guilty and devise an appropriate punishment for the delinquent police officer.

now_what: I do not care about the law. It is fiction.

Dick Cheney's philosophy, for sure.

In his case, I sincerely hope he lives to be vividly, concretly shown that the law is not fiction.

In now_what's case, the tough talk is just bluster; it's unlikely s/he's put the philosophy into practice.

I do not care about the law. It is fiction.

Indeed. Why don't you go and prove that by robbing a bank and let me know how fictional the law proves.

We are not talking about random people, we are talking about people who are suspected enemies and who would if encountered on a battlefield, be shot in the head.

Given the nature of our government institutions (indeed, of all human institutions), we are talking about torturing random people who have no connection to a battlefield. This is not theoretical; Dilawar is quite dead because of torture even though he never set foot on a battlefield and was chosen at random.

It is generally accepted by the public that police officers may kill to save their own lives or the lives of other people.

Yes, in the context of a clear and immediate threat. Prisoners strapped to a table do not present any threat. Again, let me repeat: we do not let police officers shoot suspects that are already subdued and in their custody, even though doing so would certainly save at least some police officers' lives.

How many soldiers who participated in the invasions of Viet Nam, Panama, Iraq, etc. have been imprisoned for killing enemy soldiers, and for how long?

Actually, quite a number of them have been imprisoned for unlawful killing. Most people do not accept that all killings are morally equivalent which is why some classes of killings are considered lawful and some not lawful.

The original argument is that even if the government has that knowledge, it shouldn't use it.

Yes. But one reason the government should not act in these cases is that there is a huge difference between having that knowledge and believing that you have it. People in the government will always believe that they have that knowledge and will, in almost all cases, be wrong. Pretending like we don't know anything about human cognitive biases or how institutions ratchet up abuses when given unchecked powers or anything at all about the history of our own government institutions is ridiculous.


I would say, make the punishment for failing to read a guilty person his rights be the same as the punishment the criminal would have received if not acquitted. The problem will soon cease to exist.

That's a lot like saying that your solution is for a giant purple dragon to come out of the sky and administer justice for us. It is an absurd fantasy that will never happen. People empathize with police officers and will not tolerate a legal regime under which people who make momentary mistakes in the course of otherwise executing a public trust can get the death penalty. The Supreme Court in this country can only barely tolerate the exclusionary rule. Even if voters and legislators and judges ever accepted this sort of regime, police officers wouldn't; they'd lie with full institutional support to avoid punishment in these cases.

speaking of torture:

    Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, whose false tortured confession was used as basis for Bush's war, has reportedly committed suicide.

    British journalist and historian Andy Worthington, an expert and author on Guantanamo, reports that the man who had supplied a key false tie between Iraq and al-Qaeda --- after being tortured in Egypt, where he had been rendered by the U.S. --- has died in a Libyan prison. "Dead of suicide in his cell," according to a Libyan newspaper.

...

    As al-Libi recounted, he was stuffed into a box less than 20 inches high. When the box was opened 17 hours later, al-Libi said he was given one final opportunity to 'tell the truth.' He was knocked to the floor and 'punched for 15 minutes.' It was only then that, al-Libi said, he made up the story about Iraqi weapons training."

(via Balloon Juice)

"We are not talking about random people, we are talking about people who are suspected enemies . . ."

now_what: You said it yourself -- "suspected" enemies.

Suspected.

There's a reason we value evidence, trials and the rule of law in this country. A suspected enemy is just that, until (or unless) proven otherwise.

---

Johnny C: Regarding the importance -- the sanctity -- of the Miranda Warning and due process itself, if we selectively impose them, the innocent will be no less protected than the guilty.

See the film classic 12 Angry Men, a great movie and civics lesson all in one. (Also evidence why Henry Fonda is a national treasure and Lee J. Cobb is hard to beat as a baddie.)

Come to think of it, I could envision Dick Cheney playing the Lee J. Cobb part. Dick would probably screw Marlon Brando over in On the Waterfront, too.

Indeed. Why don't you go and prove that by robbing a bank and let me know how fictional the law proves.

The result will depend on how much power and privilege I have. If I am the officer at a large bank, I will not only get away with it, there is a large segment of the population that will applaud me and defend my thievery as just and necessary to the functioning of a healthy economy. Really, they will. The law, Jesus Christ, and the Easter Bunny.

Yes, in the context of a clear and immediate threat.

If it will save lives.

People empathize with police officers and will not tolerate a legal regime under which people who make momentary mistakes in the course of otherwise executing a public trust can get the death penalty

I believe there is a technical term for that empathy, it is Stockholm syndrome. It is not an explanation, it is the root of the problem. It isn't a crime when the good guys do it.

When the Miranda warning isn't given, it isn't a mistake. It is a moral crime against the weak and powerless. Punish it severely and it won't happen as often.

But as you said, when we empathize with people, we allow them their moral trespasses. Some people believe in law and order, some people believe in screwing over poor and defenseless people, and some people believe in fighting for poor and defenseless people. Take sides.


Even if voters and legislators and judges ever accepted this sort of regime, police officers wouldn't; they'd lie with full institutional support to avoid punishment in these cases

They already lie. Increase the punishment for lying, you'll get less lies.

You said it yourself -- "suspected" enemies.

Suspected.

There's a reason we value evidence, trials and the rule of law in this country

Do our soldiers give trials to the suspected enemies before they shoot them in the head? No, they don't, they just shoot them in the head. Why then, the need for trials before torture?

Death is worse than torture, why treat torture like it is worse than death?

@Gus
The treaty does indeed say that. The exact phrasing is "no extraordinary circumstances whatsoever".

A little ambiguous, don't you think? Sort of wishy-washy and full of loopholes.

Now_What: "The choice that allowed for the chance of revenge."

No, no, no, my friend, you don't get to switch to the position of the VICTIM that easily.

You are not the one getting raped, you are the one RAPING. Why don't you answer the question from that perspective?

And really, revenge? Besides the empirical fact that one doesn't get the chance to exact 'revenge' against the U.S. military (oh! what a fantasy, that one...), this is really just an attempt to shift the question from one of SOCIAL ethics to one of PERSONAL reaction.

Not so fast...

If it will save lives.

No, this is not true. If you hold hostages at gunpoint and promise to kill all of them unless the police kill your ex-wife, the police won't do it. Really, they won't. And if they did do it, they'd go to prison. As pathetic and crappy as our society is, we do impose some limits on violence.

When the Miranda warning isn't given, it isn't a mistake.

No doubt sometimes this failure is quite intentional. And sometimes it is a mistake because human beings always make mistakes. If you think there exist humans that can do their jobs without ever making such mistakes, you're simply in denial about the reality of the human condition.


Do our soldiers give trials to the suspected enemies before they shoot them in the head? No, they don't, they just shoot them in the head. Why then, the need for trials before torture?

Wrong. They do indeed give trials to enemies that are in their custody.

Are you some sort of mirror-world evil-bearded-spock version of Jes? Your...methodology seems so similar albeit directed at ends I suspect Jes would find distasteful.

Our laws and police are there to protect us all from thugs such as "now_what".

You are not the one getting raped, you are the one RAPING.

Oh I am a RAPIST now. Have a wonderful evening, snug in your bed, sleeping well because you never have to confront uncomfortable truths, never even have to think at all.

Have a wonderful evening.

"To use a slightly more extreme example to highlight the point, if Cheney had suggested that raping (or simulating the rape of) a detainee's spouse would be an effective means of getting the information desired, should our popular discourse engage the merits of that argument?"

I wish that was dealt with somewhere, and that the Cheney's of the world would abide.

"(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality;"

A couple weeks ago, I put together this poster to remind me what that law said. If only it had consequences.

IANL OAGD obv

As pathetic and crappy as our society is, we do impose some limits on violence

You don't read the news often, apparently.

And sometimes it is a mistake because human beings always make mistakes

They make mistakes less often when they are held accountable for their mistakes. So let's hold them accountable. OK?

Wrong. They do indeed give trials to enemies that are in their custody.

Soldiers only kill people who are in custody? Really?

"If we only refused to torture when/if there was no conflict with our self-interest, the rule would be unnecessary." I don't think that's true when people like Bush are running things. As far as I know, the Bush Administration didn't evaluate the effectiveness of various interrogation techniques and concluded that torture would be the most effective. It appears that they wanted to use torture, and came up with a justification for doing so.

I wonder, if someone got inspirations from these movies.
It would be an improvement though, if wannabe-torturers would have to endure all the tortures to the full degree before they could apply them to a victim (provided masochists are sorted out beforehand).

Since typepead has swallowed my link, here it is again:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanzo_the_Razor

My aim is not to justify torture, but rather to question the legitimacy of killing people, unless it is truly a last resort and a utilitarian calculation can be made, showing that doing so prevents an even larger number of deaths. Nevertheless now_what makes some good points and puts his finger in the wound. The refusal to engage these points comprehensively might have to do with his particular aims, but that doesn't mean that the points themselves are invalid.

But let me make some points of my own:

1.) Killing people is worse than torturing them.

This seems to be hard to accept for some, but it is quite clearly the case, if one takes the perspective of the victims. Torture victims, though mentally and physically scarred in almost all cases, have the ability to go on with their lives, while death is final.

2.) The gruesome details of torture evoke an emotional reaction that is disproportionate to our reaction to the killing of people.

One of the turning points in the public opinion regarding the Iraq war was the publication of photos from Abu Ghraib. I remember The Economist, which until then had been a steadfast supporter of the Iraq war, putting one of those pictures on the cover and asked for Rumsfeld's resignation. The fact that Rumsfeld initiated and oversaw the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis was apparently not enough reason to ask for his resignation, it was the graphic details of the torture of a comparatively small group of prisoners that tipped the balance. This moral disconnect is representative of how the general public judged these matters.

3.) The law is important, but there are other, even more important principles that should guide our actions

Even if one could make an airtight legal case for the war in Iraq (I dare you), this would not be enough to justify the killing of hundreds of thousands Iraqis. In addition one would have to show that there were no other options whatsoever and that not going to war would result in an even greater number of casualties.

4.) The state of war in itself doesn't justify the killing of people

Even if we disregard the legal case for war, there is a disconcerting tendency to justify the killing of people and the soldiers doing the killing, simply by pointing to the realities of "the battlefield". Once a war is on, every action that does not blatantly violate military rules of conduct is automatically justified by pointing to the necessities of warfare. If Charles Graner is caught on film torturing prisoners, he is treated as the most despicable human being. If a pilot releases a couple of bombs that kill a hundred people, he's only doing his duty.

4.) The distinction between civilians and enemy soldiers is important, but that doesn't mean that the latter are automatically fair game deserving to die

The tendency to only focus on civilian victims is disconcerting. It dehumanizes Iraqi soldiers, who, be they conscripts, nationalists or true believers, would not have been killed, had the US not launched its attack and who are missed just as much by their families and friends as civilian casualties. Ignoring their fate by pointing to a state of war, in which soldiers are routinely killed or wounded, means ignoring a whole lot of unnecessary human suffering.

5.) The scenario of soldiers confronting each other on equal terms on the battlefield is unrealistic

When contrasting torture with the actions of soldiers in a war situation, the actions of the latter are often justified by pointing to the purported fact that they encounter enemies on the battlefield and are thus thrown into a situation that almost amounts to self-defense, us or them. While such situations do occur, they are not representative of the way in which the US carried out its military actions in Iraq. Rather the discrepancy in casualty numbers tells a very different story: most of the Iraqi soldiers were killed from a distance using highly advanced technology with small or no risk to those who carried out the killing. Ignoring this means holding on to an antiquated myth of soldiers coming face to face on the battlefield that has little to do with modern, technologically advanced warfare.

In saying all this, I am not trying to "put torture into perspective" and thereby excuse it - I think it's despicable and has to stop. Rather, I'm suggesting we should be much more enraged by the killing of people in warfare, than we currently seem to be and let go of antiquated or irrational notions that justify or excuse such killing.

One of the problems that I have with the "no torture" crowd is that it is essentially being done in a cost free environment. Right now, it is very easy for us to to say self-righteously, " torture is always wrong" because, frankly al Queda is on the run and bombs aren't going off.
But what if the attacks resume? Let's say bombs go off in Union Station at rush hour? Or bombs go off in the National and Space Museum, killing hundreds of school children?
Its a lot easier to talk about not touching a suspect, when you aren't picking up pieces of school children.
After 911, the USA went into street fighting mode. It hit al Queda with everything. Some of the blows were legal, some ( like the whole war in Afghanistan) at best semi-legal, and some ( torture/coercion, rendition) were illegal.
The result is that al-Queda is down but not quite out. It is at the very least now incapable of striking at the USA-for now.We want to keep it that way, obviously. We have said that we won't be hitting al Queda below the belt any more and we will play by Marque of Queensberry rules. Will it work? Well, let's hope so. We are going to find out -and soon.
If it doesn't work and al Queda regains its attack capability, then something may develop similar to my nightmare scenario above. The Obama Administration will necessarily revisit this topic, and they may come to a different conclusion. I think its just that possibility that is preventing them from talk of prosecution

nowwhat, I'm not sure I follow.

Wars have rules, laws and conventions that govern behavior - at least, in terms of signatories to the Geneva Conventions which were drafted and executed by nations that aspire to higher ideals and principles such that, even something as barbaric as war, was given rules to establish parameters of acceptable behavior.

Soldiers on the battlefield assume a risk (of being killed) and have, in turn, the right to target combatants for death. That is true.

But, and this is important, that right to kill on the battlefield does not confer the right to the soldier to commit all manner of atrocity short of killing any and all individuals (enemies or not) whether or not they are on the battlefiled.

Note the distinction?

To reiterate, once an enemy soldier is disarmed and taken prisoner, the right to kill that soldier disappears. Likewise, the right to torture, beat, rape, maim or otherwise savage that soldier also disappears, and any such actions become criminal.

In the past, the US has prosecuted US citizens and foreign citizens that violate the rules and laws of war. We do so because we claim to adhere to higher standards for ourselves, and others, based on treaties and agreements signed.

an undeserved and generous reading of cheney's remarks places him in the no torture crowd as well. his tortured definition varies from mine. however, i am curious, what would you allow? and are you willing to sacrifice every other issue so important to you and be punished by the electorate for what is seen by voters as line drawing and definitions for the benefit of the the super others.

would you sleep deprive a man in order to stop another bush election?

My aim is not to justify torture, but rather to question the legitimacy of killing people, unless it is truly a last resort and a utilitarian calculation can be made, showing that doing so prevents an even larger number of deaths.

I don't think any military force could function under the regime you describe. If you want to advocate for pacifism or for never deploying military forces abroad, that's fine, but you should do so explicitly rather than advocating for a policy that simply makes it impossible to conduct military operations.

To put it more concretely: consider a group of marines pinned down by sniper fire from a tall building. The marines cannot evacuate their wounded without being shot at and they cannot hit the sniper. They can destroy the building he shoots from but since there are likely other people in that building, they will likely kill innocent people. My reading of your rubric suggests that the marines do not have any legal option that ensures their survival in this fairly common occurrence. Is that correct?

Nevertheless now_what makes some good points and puts his finger in the wound. The refusal to engage these points comprehensively might have to do with his particular aims, but that doesn't mean that the points themselves are invalid.

What refusal? Just because we're not willing to pretend that all acts of killing are morally and legally equivalent does not mean we're refusing to engage in reasonable discussion.

This seems to be hard to accept for some, but it is quite clearly the case, if one takes the perspective of the victims.

Really? Who are these "some"? I haven't seen anyone claim the contrary.

One of the turning points in the public opinion regarding the Iraq war was the publication of photos from Abu Ghraib. I remember The Economist, which until then had been a steadfast supporter of the Iraq war, putting one of those pictures on the cover and asked for Rumsfeld's resignation. The fact that Rumsfeld initiated and oversaw the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis was apparently not enough reason to ask for his resignation, it was the graphic details of the torture of a comparatively small group of prisoners that tipped the balance. This moral disconnect is representative of how the general public judged these matters.

I think your assertion here is unsupported by the evidence. When Abu Gharib broke, we did not have multiple scientific surveys assessing the death toll in Iraq, so war supporters could argue that we didn't know how many people died there. But the Abu Gharib story demonstrated that the military command structure was either evil or incompetent which justifies sacking Rumsfeld in either case.

4.) The distinction between civilians and enemy soldiers is important, but that doesn't mean that the latter are automatically fair game deserving to die

I'd go one step further: if the Iraq war is illegal (and I think it is), then killing Iraqi combatants is illegal as well.

Rather the discrepancy in casualty numbers tells a very different story: most of the Iraqi soldiers were killed from a distance using highly advanced technology with small or no risk to those who carried out the killing.

Um, where are you getting numbers on Iraqi combatant casualties from? And why do you think most of the Iraqi combatant deaths were killed at a distance using highly advanced technology? I mean, you might be right, but I haven't seen any serious analysis that would answer this question.

test

"Rather, I'm suggesting we should be much more enraged by the killing of people in warfare, than we currently seem to be"

We? How do you go about measuring how enraged I am or am not by this? How do you know you are in a position to judge me this way?

Same as regards my neighbor, and the next neighbor, and the next?

"Have a wonderful evening, snug in your bed, sleeping well because you never have to confront uncomfortable truths, never even have to think at all."

Yes, because we have you to confront all of those uncomfortable truths for us.

Thanks dude, we appreciate it.

"But what if the attacks resume? Let's say bombs go off in Union Station at rush hour? Or bombs go off in the National and Space Museum, killing hundreds of school children?"

What if a nuke goes off in downtown Cleveland?

There are some crazy, fanatical, bloody-minded berserkers out there.

Let's do our best to keep them from killing us.

Torturing people we hold as prisoners is not "doing our best".

We have said that we won't be hitting al Queda below the belt any more and we will play by Marque of Queensberry rules. Will it work? Well, let's hope so. We are going to find out -and soon.

There are several issues with this:

1. During WWII, when thousands of Americans were dying each week or month, we didn't result to torture.

Neither did the Brits who were facing annihilation. Not cost free at all.

The lead interrogators in the Pacific found that torture led to bade results and that other methods were more effective.

2. If it's OK for the US to abandon its treaty obligations and commit war crimes when it is attacked, what good are the treaties we sign? And shouldn't we apologize to all the Japanese and NAZI war criminals that we prosecuted, imprisoned and executed?

I mean, they made decisions in a non-cost free environment too, right?

Further:

What is it about torture do you think provided the US with safety post 9/11?

What do you think will make the US more vulnerable if it stops torturing detainees?

What, exactly, can you point to in terms of scholarship to back up the claim that torture works as a means to garner information?

During WWII, when thousands of Americans were dying each week or month, we didn't result to torture.

Neither did the Brits who were facing annihilation. Not cost free at all.

Right on eric.

Look, let's turn stonetools argument around.

What does it mean to say that you respect human rights, and the rule of law, and reject torture, if you abandon those claims as soon as it is likely to cost you something?

We have faced far, far worse threats than anything we face from Al Qaeda without resorting to torture.

We have said that we won't be hitting al Queda below the belt any more and we will play by Marque of Queensberry rules.

Right, not torturing = Marque of Queensberry rules. And now we're clearly at a disadvantage vis a vis al Qaeda, what with all their fighter jets, aircraft carriers, nuclear powered ballistic missle submarines, stealth bombers, etc. etc. etc. Torture was the only thing keeping them from conquering the United States. Now that it's gone, I'm surprised Obama hasn't surrendered.

Will it work? Well, let's hope so. We are going to find out -and soon.

Soon? Is there something you're not telling us?

The radical feminist analysis of rape acknowledged a sense in which rape "works", and it's very much the same way in which torture "works": to instill fear and compliance among the population at which it's directed, as well as to create and reinforce artificial divisions between those who "have it coming" and "good" Muslims/women.

Torture is to legitimate interrogation as rape is to consensual sex.

I don't agree that we shouldn't discuss the effectiveness of torture. Our objective ought to be to eliminate torture, and if someone can't be swayed by the moral argument why not try the practical one?

If someone told you he was considering robbing a bank to get some money you might well argue that robbery is wrong. But if you really want to dissuade them you would do well to point out that bank robbery is an idiotic way to get money - that capture and prison are very likely.

It doesn't seem to me that the argument is that hard to make, either. Torture generates a lot of false information with maybe a true bit in there, but the signal-to-noise ratio appears to be pretty low compared to other techniques. Also, the use of torture has real practical costs. A battlefield enemy who fears torture if captured will fight harder, surrender more reluctantly, than one who expects humane treatment as a prisoner. Surely a reputation for torture has a cost in the lives of our soldiers.

I think that part of the problem with the effectiveness argument is that we have let torture fans set the bar too low. If torture ever produces useful information, that is taken as showing that it works. But it doesn't show that at all. Torture only "works" if equally valuable information was not available as readily by other methods, and if the information obtained is so valuable as to be worth the long-term costs.

That seems like a pretty unlikely parlay to me.

Re World war 2:

We did not have to resort to these methods because :
1. It was a different type of war, not a guerilla type war .
2. We had broken the enemy codes and so were reading their orders as they broadcast them to their troops, so we had no reason to interrogate human suspects. in the present situation, al Queda isn't using electronic communications to communicate orders and/or apparently we can't break their codes.
3.In WW2, we dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations-an act MUCH worse than anything Bush-Cheney even thought of. I am always amazed at how Russell, Farber, and others pass over in silence what we did do to win WW2, yet excoriate Bush-Cheney for water boarding a few guys.I'm quite sure that if we had to waterboard some folks in WW2 to win that war, we would have done it. Hell, we did much worse.

Martin, read Mark Bowden's long and detailewd article on interrogation in the Atlantic on issue of the efficacy and problems of using coercion as an interrogation technique. It covers recent history and includes interviews with both interrogators and the suspects. He concludes that coercion is effective and necessary in the case of hardened terrorists who won't crack when faced by the dreaded "good cop, bad cop" . I've posted the link several times , so I'm not posting it again. Search "bowden" , "interrogation", "Atlantic".

@russell

Torturing people we hold as prisoners is not "doing our best".


well, that sounds good, but unless you are going to post some alternative, I'm afraid that you have just waved your hands. "Surely, there is SOMETHING else we can do" is not a plan.

@ Ugh

Well, they can't conquer the USA, but they can kill 3000 innocent civilians at one blow. If you are OK with that continuing to happen , fine. We don't have anything to discuss then.

"I don't agree that we shouldn't discuss the effectiveness of torture."

Dick Cheney would disagree.

A battlefield enemy who fears torture if captured will fight harder, surrender more reluctantly, than one who expects humane treatment as a prisoner. Surely a reputation for torture has a cost in the lives of our soldiers.

This point isn't made nearly often enough and it seems to never to occur to people who seem to think the only reason for treating captives humanely is so that our soldiers are also so treated and, since al Qaeda doesn't so treat our soldiers, there are no other benefits to treating captives humanely.

Well, they can't conquer the USA, but they can kill 3000 innocent civilians at one blow. If you are OK with that continuing to happen , fine. We don't have anything to discuss then.

Apparently not you moronic brownshirt fnck.

"2. We had broken the enemy codes and so were reading their orders as they broadcast them to their troops, so we had no reason to interrogate human suspects."

This is complete nonsense, and if you're this ignorant, you're not worth debating with.

"I'm quite sure that if we had to waterboard some folks in WW2 to win that war, we would have done it."

Ditto: we tried and convicted people for waterboarding in WWII.

"I've posted the link several times , so I'm not posting it again."

Good, because Bowden is no expert, and hardly the last word, and has been contradicted by endless actual interrogators, whose links we've posted a million times, so I'm not posting them again.

It was a different type of war, not a guerilla type war

So. Why is that different? Would seem the stakes are higher when facing a more powerful foe.

We had broken the enemy codes and so were reading their orders as they broadcast them to their troops, so we had no reason to interrogate human suspects. in the present situation, al Queda isn't using electronic communications to communicate orders and/or apparently we can't break their codes.

First, it took time to break codes. So there were periods when we didn't have the codes. Second, even when broken, codes changed. Third, we did interrogate, and got very useful information from interrogating.

Google: Sherwood Moran, the Atlantic, authored by Stephen Budiansky.

In it, Moran (Marine officer who wrote what is considered the seminal textbook on interrogations) extracted valuable information from hardened Japanese soldiers.

These soldiers - willing to die for their cause in suicide attacks, fight to the last man, etc - were "broken" using non-torture means. They were at least as hard as hardened terrorists. Which casts doubt on Bowden's conclusions.

In WW2, we dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations-an act MUCH worse than anything Bush-Cheney even thought of.

Many people on this site, including myself, have condemned that act. I continue to condemn it, and would not use it to justify torture. Past atrocities, even if greater in magnitude, should not be used to justify present atrocities.

well, that sounds good, but unless you are going to post some alternative, I'm afraid that you have just waved your hands. "Surely, there is SOMETHING else we can do" is not a plan.

See Major Sherwood Brown. See, also, the FBI's manuals on interrogation.

Well, they can't conquer the USA, but they can kill 3000 innocent civilians at one blow. If you are OK with that continuing to happen , fine. We don't have anything to discuss then.

It's not a question of either we torture, or 9/11s will continue to happen. Torture is not the determinant in that equation. If anything, torture has made us more vulnerable by inspiring more enemies, and more sympathy for our enemies, while providing us with dubious intel (see, ie, the intel created by torturing al-Libi and Zubaydah).

"well, that sounds good, but unless you are going to post some alternative, I'm afraid that you have just waved your hands."

Interrogate them without torturing them. We have folks that are really good at it.

"I am always amazed at how Russell, Farber, and others pass over in silence what we did do to win WW2, yet excoriate Bush-Cheney for water boarding a few guys."

Let the silence end.

We shot, burned, blew up, ran over with tanks, bayonetted, strangled to death, and otherwise brought hell down on the folks we were fighting against.

We deliberately nuked civilian populations.

Total war. Hideous, calamitous, unholy total war.

What we did not do is torture people we held as prisoners.

The bar for treating people who pose no threat and who are under your total and absolute control is different than that for other folks who are free to fight back, run away, or otherwise defend themselves.

Is that a distinction that is utterly free of hypocrisy? Maybe, maybe not.

But it's one we've always honored.

"read Mark Bowden's long and detailewd article on interrogation in the Atlantic on issue of the efficacy and problems of using coercion as an interrogation technique."

I read it last time you posted it and it didn't make your point.

@farber

This is complete nonsense, and if you're this ignorant, you're not worth debating with.

On the contrary, its annoyingly accurate. Read the wikepedia article on Ultra, where we tracked U boats and even individual merchant ships through intercepting their coded radio traffic. We had such good intelligence through code breaking that we even pretended that we got intelligence through OTHER sources to conceal the Ultra secret.
This from the article on MAGIC-the article on the breaking of the Japanese codes.

Throughout the war the Allies routinely read both German and Japanese codes. The Japanese Ambassador to Germany, General Hiroshi Ōshima, often sent priceless German military information to Tokyo. This information was routinely intercepted and read by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Eisenhower.[2] According to Lowman, "The Japanese considered the PURPLE system absolutely unbreakable....Most went to their graves refusing to believe the code had been broken by analytic means....They believed someone had betrayed their system." [3]


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_(cryptography)

I am glad that Mr. Moran got some useful info from Japanese POWS. But lets face it, the TRULY important info came from code breaking-an option that we apparently don't have in this war.

@ Russell, Martin

I'm glad that you are finally fessing up ( Gary apparently still believes its the good war, and that we won through pure goodness). My point is that when we fight wars, we fight to win, and if it means incinerating hundreds of thousands of people ( the USAAF in WW2), burning down half of South Carolina ( Sherman's march), starving the population of Vicksburg into submission (Grant), that's what we do.If we win, then we try them for things they did (waterboarding prisoners) and not for the things WE did ( mass bombing of cities).
Now if we can keep al-Queda on the run by talking hardened terrorists into giving us vital intelligence, all well and good. We WILL find out if we can keep al Queda down by using noncoercive techniques, because we aren't using them any more.
If we can't, well, well we will find out in bloody and unpleasant ways.At that time, the Obama Administration WILL change course, although I suspect that no one here will.

Somehow I missed this particular episode of now_what's daily quiz.

What do you choose?

It depends. If you're offering death by a clean, quick bullet to the head or heart, I'd take that before any number of forms of torture.

We're all gonna go sometime.

If you're offering death by, frex, being fed to feral dogs, different story. But, of course, that's death PLUS torture.

Just my opinion, everybody's gonna have their own answer.

Death is worse than torture.

Sez you.

I'm glad that you are finally fessing up

Yeah, man, you wore me right down.

And see, no torture was needed. You just had to ask the right question.

I don't think any military force could function under the regime you describe. If you want to advocate for pacifism or for never deploying military forces abroad, that's fine, but you should do so explicitly rather than advocating for a policy that simply makes it impossible to conduct military operations.

I'm not a pacifist or isolationist, nor do I need to be in order to support my argument, which is simply that war should be a last resort and we better make sure that we are able to defend our going to war on strong ethical grounds.

we're not willing to pretend that all acts of killing are morally and legally equivalent

Well fine, but I urge you to stop worrying about how killing might be justified morally or legally for just a minute and consider the fact that all of that doesn't matter anymore to those who have been killed or their families.

if the Iraq war is illegal (and I think it is), then killing Iraqi combatants is illegal as well.

Then we should be talking about prosecuting politicians, generals and soldiers - fine with me, but not very popular it seems.

How do you go about measuring how enraged I am or am not by this?

Alright Gary, I am sure you and your neighbours are sufficiently enraged and shall exclude you from my irresponsible generalization. Yet, I bet if we quantified all the articles, blog posts and comments on torture and compared them with those devoted to the dead Iraqis, we would notice a certain imbalance there. Note that I'm glad so much thought is being devoted to the scandal that is torture, but am unhappy that not more attention has been paid to the killing, the dead and their families and friends.

folks who are free to fight back, run away, or otherwise defend themselves.

Sorry, but that's just cynical. How were the victims of Hiroshima or Dresden supposed to fight back or defend themselves, where were they supposed to run away to?

Well, they can't conquer the USA, but they can kill 3000 innocent civilians at one blow. If you are OK with that continuing to happen , fine. We don't have anything to discuss then.

"Continuing to happen?"

"Sorry, but that's just cynical. How were the victims of Hiroshima or Dresden supposed to fight back or defend themselves, where were they supposed to run away to?"

The bombings of both Dresden and Hiroshima were arguably war crimes. Neither was pursued because (a) the perpetrators won, and (b) the victims were citizens of unusually cruel regimes, so folks were that much more inclined to see the events as deserved, and (c) war crimes just aren't prosecuted very often.

Yes, life is a bitch. I'm sure that sounds like I'm being cavalier, but I'm not. Life is unjust, war is hell, power is like crack to some folks and they'll boil you in oil if they have to to get and keep it.

Thousands and thousands of blameless people were brutally killed in horrible ways in WWII, WWI, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and every other war you can name.

War sucks. Let's never, ever have another one.

All of that said, I'm not of the opinion that the killing of civilians during wartime, whether intentional or not, justifies torture of prisoners. I doubt you are either.

I also doubt stonetools or now_what are either, they just like to harp on it to prove how morally hypocritical we opponents of torture are.

I'm not of the opinion that the killing of civilians during wartime, whether intentional or not, justifies torture of prisoners. I doubt you are either.

Well no, as I have pointed out repeatedly now. But that doesn't mean I'll stop criticizing attitudes a la "war is hell, though shit" or its mirror image "we have these wonderful rules for war, so everything is ok". I'm approaching the matter both from a human rights and a consequentialist perspective. It should be clear that the fundamental human right, on which all others hinge, is the right to life and thus that taking it away is the gravest human rights violation, no matter what the reason.

"But that doesn't mean I'll stop criticizing attitudes a la "war is hell, though shit" or its mirror image "we have these wonderful rules for war, so everything is ok"."

I doubt you'll find anyone here who holds either of those attitudes.

now_what would like to argue that, since killing people is worse than torturing them, if you don't condemn killing in the context of war then you have no place condemning torture.

stonetools would like to argue that, since killing people is worse than torturing them, if killing is necessary in wartime then torture shouldn't be a problem.

As a point of fact, nations go to war with each other, and when they do, they frequently kill each other's citizens in a fairly indiscriminate manner.

That sucks. There's no "tough shit" associated with that, it just sucks. I wish it were not so. More than that, in my own feeble way I've tried to advocate that it not be so.

In any case, the reality of war cannot be offered as a justification for torturing people that you hold as a prisoner. Nor can it be claimed that recognizing the reality of war vacates any moral basis for objecting to torture.

That is all I'm trying to say.

Thanks -

"Read the wikepedia article on Ultra, where we tracked U boats and even individual merchant ships through intercepting their coded radio traffic."

Kid, I read more books on Ultra and Magic probably before you were born than I bet you've ever read in your life. I bet you a shiny nickel. I'm basing this on your citing Wikipedia, rather than any of the zillions of books on the subject. I could, of course, be wrong, in which case I owe you a nickel.

Which has nothing to do with the completely idiotic and utterly ignorant assertion that "2. We had broken the enemy codes and so were reading their orders as they broadcast them to their troops, so we had no reason to interrogate human suspects."

"If we win, then we try them for things they did (waterboarding prisoners) and not for the things WE did (mass bombing of cities)."

Mass bombing of cities was done by everyone with an air force in WWII.

Wars have rules, laws and conventions that govern behavior

As I stated before, the law does not interest me. If you would like to discuss whether the legality of something affects its morality, I'm sure you can find someone willing to participate. Maybe John Yoo is available.

Soldiers on the battlefield assume a risk (of being killed) and have, in turn, the right to target combatants for death

In war people can be killed in their sleep by missiles or remotely controlled aircraft targeted by soldiers hundreds of miles away, by soldiers who bear virtually no risk of personal harm from their actions. You aren't making much of a case here.

It depends. If you're offering death by a clean, quick bullet to the head or heart, I'd take that before any number of forms of torture.

And the form of torture I asked about was, "the weakest form of torture that you still consider to be torture".

the reality of war cannot be offered as a justification for torturing people that you hold as a prisoner

If it can be offered as a justification for killing then it can, to a greater degree, be offered as a justification for torture, for death is worse than torture for the forms of torture that were used recently.

If you don't give up the first justification, it makes no sense to deny the second.

One million dead and a few dozen tortured. For the second we have outrage, for the first we have, "That sucks".

Bummer.

"And the form of torture I asked about was, "the weakest form of torture that you still consider to be torture"."

Guess what? I don't feel like playing your stupid f***king game.

"If it can be offered as a justification for killing then it can, to a greater degree, be offered as a justification for torture"

Well no, it can't. Go ahead and try it, maybe you'll hang.

And yeah, I know you don't give a sh*t about the law.

Guess what? I don't give a sh*t about gravity, but if I jump off the roof I'm still gonna break my leg.

But I forgot. You're special. My bad.

"And the form of torture I asked about was, "the weakest form of torture that you still consider to be torture"."

Perhaps this discussion might qualify.

As a point of fact, nations go to war with each other, and when they do, they frequently kill each other's citizens in a fairly indiscriminate manner. (...) In any case, the reality of war cannot be offered as a justification for torturing people that you hold as a prisoner. Nor can it be claimed that recognizing the reality of war vacates any moral basis for objecting to torture.

Again, I'm not making the point now_what or stonetools are making, I've made my point previously and independently, but that doesn't mean that there isn't some truth to what they're saying.

Goering made a very good point about war:

Naturally the common people don't want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Acknowledging this doesn't mean that I subscribe to Goering's extrapolations or worldview - sometimes people who are morally wrong say things that are true.

What I'm criticizing is that we accept war as quite a normal state of affairs and that we have become desensitized to the killing that comes with it. This is understandable because of the ubiquity of war, but that doesn't make it right. On the other hand, we aren't at all jaded when it comes to torture, which in itself is a good development, but becomes somewhat hypocritical if we don't exhibit at least an equally strong reaction towards killing. And we don't: we view people like Charles Graner or Geoffrey D. Miller as human monsters, while most of us would have a neutral or even positive view of an air force pilot or his commanding general who killed hundreds of people with their bombs.

"What I'm criticizing is that we accept war as quite a normal state of affairs and that we have become desensitized to the killing that comes with it."

Well said.

"And we don't: we view people like Charles Graner or Geoffrey D. Miller as human monsters, while most of us would have a neutral or even positive view of an air force pilot or his commanding general who killed hundreds of people with their bombs."

Who they killed, why, and under what circumstances, would seem to be most relevant, rather than the simple fact that they are air force pilots or generals who did this. Are you actually equating all air force pilots who have engaged in bombings as being of equal moral standings, simply because of having engaged in bombings?

Because this strikes me as rather similar to equating every police officer who has ever killed in the line of duty. Rather than taking the time to weigh the circumstances, and judge accordingly.

You also seem to be saying that all air force officers are inherently moral monsters. If they are, so are all the citizens who are not, in fact, pacifists.

Apart from the rubbish that being able to read some* Axis codes some of the time (with significant gaps in both space and time) made interrogating prisoners unnecessary, the claim that Al Qaeda does not use electronic means of communication is also total crap. Enough communciations were collected that Bush could cherry-pick them for his election campaign**. A special forces officer even made public the story that they were eavesdropping on Bin Laden himself and could have taken him out on the spot, if they had not been forbidden to do so (feeding speculations that this would have been inconvenient because it would have undermined the propaganda campaign for the desired Iraq war at the time). Iirc an underling using Osama's cellphone was blown up at another time.
Apart from all that, info has to be correctly analyzed to be of value. The Allies believed they had captured the German invasion plan for France and acted upon it. But meanwhile the plan had been changed and they ran into a trap. Neither HumInt nor SigInt aloane are a panacea.

*army codes most of the time, some naval (and Reichsbahn) codes never, some others with gaps and long delays thus giving only strategic not tactical info.
Btw, the German codebreakers knew very well that Enigma was not secure but were not listened to. There is also the case of one sector of government finding out that its machines could be broken leading it to sell them to a rival service.
**e.g. releasing AQ documents that seemed to support a Kerry victory while suppressing others that held the info that the former were intended as reverse psychology ('if we want Bush to win we have to pretend we prefer Kerry').

Kid, I read more books on Ultra and Magic probably before you were born than I bet you've ever read in your life.

I would tend to give the nod of authority to Gary in such conversations, until his interlocutor shows that he's read more. Wikipedia is cool and all, but it's not always complete and correct.

I'd also question, highly, that our having figured out some enemy communications crypto means, automatically, that this meant that we could immediately decrypt all communications. First, we can only decrypt what we intercept, and second, any decent crypto technique is going to present a computational (and, possibly, other) challenge. You might know what kind of crypto technique is being used, but that doesn't always equate to you being able to decrypt a given message completely, on the spot. Unless someone's doing something almost trivially easy to decrypt.

It's useful to look at the Magic article in that context, and note the separation between intercept and translation dates. Some of those separations are over four weeks.

We should also not forget that bomber crews in WW2 (unlike today) did an extremly risky job (their losses being among the highest of all services). And unlike most infantry soldiers (Germans in Russia excluded) they risked to be torn to pieces alive when falling into enemy hands.

what hartmut, gary and slarti said.

What I'm criticizing is that we accept war as quite a normal state of affairs and that we have become desensitized to the killing that comes with it.

My concern is that saying that torture is in the same category as killing in war reinforces the ongoing desensitization of the public to torture rather than sensitizing them to war.

All right, I'll take one more crack at this thread.

@farber

Mass bombing of cities was done by everyone with an air force in WWII.

Doesn't make it right, does it?

As for Ultra, I think all commenters can agree that we are not routinely reading al -Queda's electronic communications. In short , we don't have an Ultra option-which makes humint that much more important.

@martin

Many people on this site, including myself, have condemned that act. I continue to condemn it, and would not use it to justify torture. Past atrocities, even if greater in magnitude, should not be used to justify present atrocities.

Well I'm glad that you agree that these were war crimes, Eric, but that's not quite the point.The point is that even though those acts were arguably war crimes, THEY MAY HAVE BEEN THE RIGHT THING TO DO. IOW, even though we were the good guys fighting a good war, we had to commit war crimes to bring an awful war to a swifter end. I know that this lesser evil, greater good analysis is a hard thing for absolutists to get their head around, but hey, its based on reality. This, by the way , is not just historical speculation, its based on present day concerns. I might point out that the US use of air strikes whenever possible has killed more innocent people, has caused more strife with allies, and has probably recruited more people to the anti-American cause than the "torture" policy. Oddly, most commenters don't seem too worried about that.

@russell

war sucks

It sure does, and sometimes you have to do sucky things to win them too. As you put it, you may have to bring down hell on your enemies to win it.If we have to , lets note it and get on with it.
Now, it may be that we can still beat al Queda by sticking to Marque of Queensberry rules. Lets hope so. We'll give it a chance.
But if not, and bombs start going off in American cities, then the gloves are going to come off again.

Who they killed, why, and under what circumstances, would seem to be most relevant, rather than the simple fact that they are air force pilots or generals who did this.

That might be the case if you're mainly interested in evaluating their moral character. I'm mainly interested in the fact that hundreds of thousands got killed needlessly, that somebody gave orders that led to these deaths and that somebody did the actual killing. You can come up with all sorts of justifications or excuses at every step of the process, but that doesn't change these facts one bit or make the dead any less dead.

I know that this lesser evil, greater good analysis is a hard thing for absolutists to get their head around,

You mean like not destroying our civil liberties and national character at the risk of letting another catastrophic terrorist attack occur?

I might point out that the US use of air strikes whenever possible has killed more innocent people, has caused more strife with allies, and has probably recruited more people to the anti-American cause than the "torture" policy.

You might, if you had any evidence whatsoever to support such a statement, which you apparently don't.

Oddly, most commenters don't seem too worried about that.

Have you ever found this tactic to be successful in convincing anyone of anything?

Stonetools, what is your evidence that Al Qaida attacks in the US have been prevented because of (rather than in spite of) our use of torture? And if you believe that air strikes killing innocents are recruiting people to the anti-American cause, why would you favor them?

Alright, I'll take one more crack at asking you the questions that you still haven't answered.

we had to commit war crimes to bring an awful war to a swifter end

What is it about torture do you think provided the US with safety post 9/11?

What information did we get via torture?

Why couldn't we get it via other means?

As of yet, you haven't provided the intel that was actually gained.

What we know: We got false info from Libi and Zubaydah that helped lead to the war in Iraq (Libi) and led the FBI on costly, distratcting and wasteful wild goose chases.

Why is that worth torturing for?

I might point out that the US use of air strikes whenever possible has killed more innocent people, has caused more strife with allies, and has probably recruited more people to the anti-American cause than the "torture" policy. Oddly, most commenters don't seem too worried about that.

Wrong. Quite worried about that. Have brought it up on numerous occasions.

(though I question your metric for determining number of enemies created)

Since this thread appears to be still going, I'll throw in another tidbit regarding WW2 and the efficacy of torture. Judging from the memoirs of soldiers involved in combat on the Eastern Front 1941-1945 there is little evidence that torture was used on Axis POWs and deserters by either Red Army officers in the field, the GRU, or NKVD osobists for the purposes of obtaining tactical and operational intelligence.

This was the case despite the fact that the Germans posed an existential threat to both the Soviet state and ordinary Russians, and the Soviets did not have the sigint advantages enjoyed by the western powers. And this mind you, from a group of folks who used torture routinely and as a matter of standard operating procedure to coerce false confessions of political offences against the Stalinist order, and who in the case of the NKVD had more practical experience with the organized and systematic mass torturing of large numbers of victims than any other regime in human history.

If torturing captives had any battlefield utility for obtaining accurate and reliable information, the Soviets would have done it on a mass scale without any hesitation. They didn't. Conclusion: it doesn't work.

Who they killed, why, and under what circumstances, would seem to be most relevant, rather than the simple fact that they are air force pilots or generals who did this. Are you actually equating all air force pilots who have engaged in bombings as being of equal moral standings, simply because of having engaged in bombings?

If we wished to convict an air force pilot of war crimes, then we would most certainly need to know who they killed, why, under what circumstances, etc. But we often make judgments based on generalizations that do not meet that standard. I can decide that anyone who works for the mob is engaging in unethical behavior without knowing precisely what they do for the mob. My assessment is probabilistic: I can say with high confidence that many, but not all people who work for the mob engage in morally heinous acts. Can I not say the same of bomber pilots during WWII? Did not many of them bomb civilians?

Because this strikes me as rather similar to equating every police officer who has ever killed in the line of duty. Rather than taking the time to weigh the circumstances, and judge accordingly.

Again, there are different types of reasoning used in different circumstances. When deciding whether a police officer should go to prison, the details matter. When making a general judgment, probabilities can suffice. I have friends that are people of color who report to me that certain areas have police that stop anyone for the crime of driving black. These friends are making a probabilistic assessment: they do not mean to say that every officer in those places engages in such behavior, but that many do. Would you tell them that 'oh, you cannot make this probabilistic assessment: you must evaluate each police officer individually without any consideration of history...to do otherwise would be grossly unfair'?

You also seem to be saying that all air force officers are inherently moral monsters. If they are, so are all the citizens who are not, in fact, pacifists.

I don't see why this would follow. I think a smart person who had studied the history of our nation's military would know that we have often sent bomber pilots to kill civilians for little reason and that these pilots have almost never been punished. Said smart person should assume that after joining the air force and becoming a bomber pilot, there would be a high probability that he too would be tasked with immoral bombings of civilians. Right? But if said person refused to join the air force because of that assessment, he's made a moral choice to avoid doing evil. Even though he's not a pacifist. Right?

TLTinAbq: [Soviets] used torture routinely and as a matter of standard operating procedure to coerce false confessions of political offences against the Stalinist order, and ... in the case of the NKVD had more practical experience with the organized and systematic mass torturing of large numbers of victims than any other regime in human history.

If torturing captives had any battlefield utility for obtaining accurate and reliable information, the Soviets would have done it on a mass scale without any hesitation. They didn't. Conclusion: it doesn't work.

I'm not a big enthusiast of effectiveness arguments, but I have to say that's a great one. Thanks.

"As for Ultra, I think all commenters can agree that we are not routinely reading al -Queda's electronic communications."

Wrong.

"Oddly, most commenters don't seem too worried about that."

Wrong.

"If we have to , lets note it and get on with it."

Or not.

Hey - the show trials will apparently go on:

President Barack Obama is due to announce this week that he is reviving controversial military trials for suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, US officials said.

Maybe a little less show-trially than under the Bush administration:

But Obama, who sharply criticized the use of military commissions to try extremists under his predecessor George W. Bush, may ask lawmakers to expand legal protections for detainees, said the officials, who requested anonymity.

The president could push the US Congress, which created the military commissions in 2006, to curb the use of hearsay evidence, ban coerced testimony and allow suspects to choose their defense counsel, one source said.

but show trials nonetheless:

"It would really be ironic if we end up justifying using this altered system on the ground that we have individuals that we cannot prosecute in federal court because we tortured them ... and therefore we have to apply a less due process in order to try them," said Sharon Bradford Franklin, a rule-of-law expert at the Constitution Poject.

Alright, I'll take one more crack at asking you the questions that you still haven't answered.


What is it about torture do you think provided the US with safety post 9/11?

What information did we get via torture?

Well according to Admiral Blair, Obama's spokesman, we got valuable info. We all have to take his word for it.

Why couldn't we get it via other means?

Again we don't know, and can't know at this point. It is notable that neither Blair or anyone else has come up with any ideas as to how else the info could be obtained, despite having good reason to work hard at coming up with alternatives. I tend to think this is wishful thinking on the Administration's point. I think it would have been better for them to say, "Look, we are going to give up any chance of getting this intel, because we are standing on principle. We will lose out now, but he hope that we will win the end"

As of yet, you haven't provided the intel that was actually gained.

What we know: We got false info from Libi and Zubaydah that helped lead to the war in Iraq (Libi) and led the FBI on costly, distratcting and wasteful wild goose chases.

Why is that worth torturing for?

See Blair above. I 'm pretty doggone sure that he is not laying out the info gained in detail because of national security reasons. If your security clearance is high enough, maybe you could ask him :-).

It must be good stuff too, because its apparently still valuable , years later.
As for the false info, that sucks. But we got lots of false info from friendly sources, too. The example you cited proves that coercion isn't fool proof. But then no form of intelligence gathering is. We don't throw out the method of using friendly or paid informants to gain info because their info is sometimes wrong-we just change informants.

I'm glad that you agree with me that our air strike policy is a problem. I would put to you that an Afghan villager whose wedding has been bloodily ended by a US air strike is a lot more likely to turn anti American that a villager who hears that some Arab has been tortured in some place called Guantanamo Bay.

I might add that I am amenable to arguments that torture/coercion is always or mostly ineffective. That argument has not been really made, however. Rather the argument has been made that torture/coercion is icky. Well, that's true. But war is about doing icky things.
I would also agree that non-coercive interrogation works 80 per cent of the time. Can we live with a 20 per cent failure rate- especially if the 20 per cent failure rate might include the top value guys with most valuable info?
well, we will find out.

Well according to Admiral Blair, Obama's spokesman, we got valuable info. We all have to take his word for it.

No we most certainly DO NOT need to take his word for it. I mean, you're not suggesting that a political appointee involved up to his neck in a potential war crime would have zero motive to embellish, slant, dissemble or even, gasp, lie?

No, you can take Blair's word for it if you must. I'll remain skeptical.

Besides, saying that we got valuable info does not mean that we only got it because we tortured. If you asked Blair if we got valuable info from non-torture, what would his answer be? Yes. But that would not prove my point any more than the answer you cite proves yours.

It must be good stuff too, because its apparently still valuable , years later.

No. Do you know anything about the government's tendency to overclassify and treat as state secrets non-controversial material? If not, here's one example: The Bush administration retroactively classified a report that was already released to the media. Figure that one out. So valuable they declassified it, then when they realized it was politically inconvenient, they reclassified it.

Governments abuse those privileges.

I might add that I am amenable to arguments that torture/coercion is always or mostly ineffective. That argument has not been really made, however. Rather the argument has been made that torture/coercion is icky. Well, that's true. But war is about doing icky things.

Did you read the Moran article that I linked to? That was not about "icky" but "effective." Here's another link where the case is indeed made by many insiders and practitioners - including Petraeus.

http://thinkprogress.org/why-enhanced-interrogation-failed/#Ia

The case that hasn't been made, in fact, is that torture DOES work! Or that it's more effective than non-torture! You haven't made that.

I would also agree that non-coercive interrogation works 80 per cent of the time. Can we live with a 20 per cent failure rate- especially if the 20 per cent failure rate might include the top value guys with most valuable info?
well, we will find out.

But where is it proven that torture works 100% of the time? Why would torture give us access to the other 20%?

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