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August 29, 2009

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Is beating a detainee to death with a metal flashlight torture? Or merely a "harsh interrogation technique"?

That depends. Did he give up valuable intelligence after he was dead?

Did she not notice her own word "bolster" there?

I believe that torture and deprivation of due process are wrong. Period. Now, maybe it would make my stance more principled, and more interesting, if torture were effective and I were nonetheless to demand its renunciation on purely ethical grounds. Fortunately for me, I guess, I'm spared that moral choice by the ineffectiveness of torture.

Now, I've just said that I believe that torture is just flat wrong. Unsurprisingly, some people will disagree with me. In this circumstance, it in no way weakens the integrity of my stance on torture to try to convince such a person, a person who believes that torture is justified by the good they believe it achieves, that objective evidence shows torture to be counter-productive.

And look at her stance: she is basically arguing that torture is OK, and also that she doesn't care that it's ineffective. As has been said before, the point of torture is not information - the point of torture is torture.

I can't click the link, my digestive system is too delicate.

Surely she's being ironic?[from the Dept. of Faint Hope] Was there no mention of Minotaurs?

i will gladly and enthusiastically post a correction if she's being ironic.

It isn't as if the Post story had not been addressed by liberals. But for someone like Althouse, if "even the liberal" Washington Post says that torture worked, that's good enough for her.

It was torture when the Japaness did it during WWII. It was torture when the Viet Cong did during that war. But now Americans are doing it, it's OK. It's a sick society and the kind of gullible rationalizing in which Althouse indulges is not making it any healthier.

"Harsh" or "enhanced" in this context is one of the most Orwellian terms, regularized by use, I have seen of late in various respects.

It is as if the techniques not denounced are all oh so "gentle" or something. Interrogation by the government in these situations is inherently "harsh" in most cases. So, false contrast here. "Enhanced" sounds almost positive.

AA like Orin Kerr and others oh so calmly in studied cluelessness point to the dangers of not living in a reality based world.

There is a working majority of cruel cowards in this country. We are a very sick country, one that just happens to have enough material wealth to paper over much of our illness-unlike, say Pakistan.
The wealth is going away, and the sickness is becoming more and more evident.

Of course you don't seem to understand, if these "harsh techniques" were done to a particular type of American, then it would be torture, but if it’s done to non-Americans (or even, lesser Americans) it’s a defense of the race, ur... I meant nation.

If I may add to my original remark: that's the liberal media shuffle. If a publication runs an article inconvenient for conservatives, that's proof that that publication has a liberal slant.

But if they run an article that is good for conservatives, there's no revaluation of the claim of bias. Rather, the paper's already-certified bias only means that the story was so undeniably true that even that liberal paper was incapable of denying it.

Jesus. I knew there was a reason I didn't read Althouse.

Even if we acknowledge that torture sometimes 'works' on an incidental or tactical level, the practical argument doesn't hold up. Firstly, it is demonstrably true that torture frequently fails at the tactical level, yielding enough false information that the aggregate result is, at best, a wash. Even if the amount of accurate information is greater than the amount of false information, the amount of false information is always large enough that any sensible person cannot have faith in the accuracy of the intelligence before them. And this is before you even get into the issues of reliability that plague all intelligence, this is just dealing with that first basic question of whether or not the person being tortured is just making stuff up or not.

More broadly, lots of sensible people argue that covert intelligence is a bit of a waste of time anyway, ie that you could shut down the CIA and not really miss it. They argue that if you look at the big picture of wars and international relations, intelligence doesn't really have an appreciable impact.

More other point is that strategically torture is nearly always a losing proposition, since the PR fallout invariably alienates the broader population from which you are drawing your torture victims and additionally, if you are a democratic nation, undermines support for your policies at home.

It doesn't seem to have occurred to the geniuses responsible for America's 'enhanced interrogation' programs that the people they are borrowing from (colonial intelligence gathering practices, police states, Israel etc) don't care at all about the strategic success of torture, since they don't care about public opinion. [I don't include Israel in that list to get some kind of dig in, but only because it's a matter of record that lots of these ideas, like sexual degradation and so on, have come from Israeli interrogation theory, and because I don't think it's especially controversial to suggest that Israel stopped giving a damn about Palestinian or Arab public opinion a long time ago.]

What Althouse and other torture-supporters seem to argue is that one example, any example, no matter how tenuous, of a case where torture produced useful information is sufficient to claim that "torture works."

The problem, as byrningman makes clear, is that a policy has to be evaluated as a whole. You can't ignore costs, failures, foregone alternative methods, and so on.

It is interesting that some of the pro-torture crowd like to cite the alleged success of torture by the Gestapo, or the French in Algeria. (This is not random Nazi-invocation by me. They do.) Yet even if torture was useful in those instances, it ought to be clear that we have, I hope, vastly different foreign policy objectives, which are not well-served when compatriots of the torture victims hate us.

Althouse is an idiot: one of the many idiots whose high profile in the blogging world is completely baffling to me.

Charming crew Althouse has for commentators. The sadisim is palpable and disgusting.

I actually don't know who this Althouse person is, but both she and especially her commentators, I agree, are an ugly shameless mob.

It is interesting that some of the pro-torture crowd like to cite the alleged success of torture by the Gestapo, or the French in Algeria. (This is not random Nazi-invocation by me. They do.)

Bernard, is this true, do people actually cite the Gestapo? I find that amusing given the regularity with which the 'Nazi' accusation is trotted out in American politics if you don't like the way somebody prays, has sex, thinks about health care, treats animals, crosses the street etc.

I've always found the Algerian thing particularly amusing, because the Algerian War of Independence is literally the poster child for why torture doesn't work. Some people somehow watch the Battle of Algiers (too much to hope for them to read a book, I guess) and come away with the idea that the French paratroopers' torture and repression *worked*. This is like watching a standard horror movie, and coming away with the idea that the best way to survive an onslaught of serial killers/aliens/zombies is to have underage sex before investigating strange noises in a dark basement all by yourself.

I suspect they got about as far as the scenes of French paratroopers electrocuting Algerians before they decided that "man, subtitles sucks, I hate arty flicks" and went over to Rambo 3 instead.

byrningman,

Check out a Volokh thread on torture sometime. There are commenters who will talk about how well torture worked for the Gestapo. These are people who think of themselves as hard-nosed, realistic types.

I'm not much familiar with the details of the French experience in Algeria. Apparently, however, some of those involved have claimed, unsurprisingly, that torture was effective there, etc.

There are commenters who will talk about how well torture worked for the Gestapo.
Y'know, in similar contexts over the years I've asked, rather sarcastically, how long it will be before people will seriously suggest that we pacify Iraq or Afghanistan by flattening their cities, planting landmines everyplace, and killing indiscriminately - because, after all, it's more-or-less worked for Russia in Chechnya, bringing a decade-long bitter insurgency largely to heel. I used this example at least in part because it never occurred to me that anyone would actually take seriously a suggestion that we emulate the freaking Nazis.

How many boxes of wine had AA consumed before writing that post? That anyone takes her, McMegan, or Instaputz seriously is a testament to the inherent gullibility of a large percentage of our population.

There is a working majority of cruel cowards in this country.

I think that there is, sadly, a lot of truth to this. It explains more things than you can shake a stick at.

Both Althouse and Politico fail to cite this:

"During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I'm sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time," he said.

Or this:

"Certain of the techniques seemed to have little effect, whereas waterboarding and sleep deprivation were the two most powerful techniques and elicited a lot of information," he said in an interview. "But we didn't have the time or resources to do a careful, systematic analysis of the use of particular techniques with particular individuals and independently confirm the quality of the information that came out."

What did we get out of waterboarding KSM? Iyman Faris, terrorist mastermind of Columbus, OH?

And, per byrningman, what has it cost us?

Althouse is an idiot

And also, amazingly, a law professor. I don't care about her blog, but she transmits her stupidity to students on a regular basis.

Agree with byrningman. The "poster child" for torture ought to be the great European witch-craze (1500 to 1700, roughly). Lots of torturing found lots of witches who confessed to all sorts of impossible things. The great exception was England (not Scotland), which did not allow torture as part of criminal trials, and (surprise) found very few witches.

You would think a law professor with an interest in the topic would know this. But as pointed out, she is an idiot.

I'm curious about the usage of these terms, here and in blogdom more widely. Are we working with the assumption that anything labelled "torture" is illegal and anything labelled "harsh interrogation technique" is fair game? Because I don't usually think of excessive beating as "torture" per se, even though I definitely don't think our agents (or anyone else) should be doing it. "Torture" to me conjures up more exotic, sadistic acts.

I wonder if it would be better to argue against any "harsh interrogation techniques" past a certain level of violence (whatever that level is) rather than attempting to broaden the semantic domain of the term "torture" -- otherwise one is left open to AA's sort of argument, that there's a qualitative difference between the rack and the iron maiden on the one hand, and beatings on the other.

The "poster child" for torture ought to be the great European witch-craze (1500 to 1700, roughly). Lots of torturing found lots of witches who confessed to all sorts of impossible things.

That is a GREAT point, priceless actually, I wish someone would use it on TV or something to shut one of these pro-'enhancement' types up.

I updated to address your questions, which I think miss my point.

I updated to address your questions, which I think miss my point.

I don't think so. Your point is that Cheney is vindicated. That has been solidly refuted.

In fact, it is you who totally miss the point. A claim that in one instance a tortured prisoner said something truthful does not mean torture is effective. Not even close.

Further, of course, the claim itself is dubious. As Lindsay says above, it's pure post hoc.

So it's questionable whether torture was effective, and even if it was, it's doubtful that a torture policy is sensible.

So how is Cheney vindicated?

Are we working with the assumption that anything labelled "torture" is illegal and anything labelled "harsh interrogation technique" is fair game?

No. That's the word game that the torture cheerleaders would like to see us play, because it lets them blur the lines between torture and their preferred euphemism, and gets people to wrongly concede that some of this stuff is "okay".

I am working from the well-grounded position that anything that is torture as legally defined as such is illegal, that many things which are not quite torture are still against the law, and that even then a considerable amount of what's left may not be illegal but is still abuse that a civilized nation and people have no business condoning, let alone cheering for.

Check out a Volokh thread on torture sometime. There are commenters who will talk about how well torture worked for the Gestapo. These are people who think of themselves as hard-nosed, realistic types.

Which is silly, because, when it came to torture and interrogation, the Gestapo was almost comically incompetent. For crying out loud, these people held a massive show trial and failed to get convictions. Worse, one of the defendants was the Comintern's head of central European operations, and the Gestapo never figured that out.

1) Is beating a detainee to death with a metal flashlight torture? Or merely a "harsh interrogation technique"?

(2) Is beating detainees with butts of rifles torture? Or merely a "harsh interrogation technique"?

(3) Is choking a detainee with your bare hands until he almost passes out torture? Or merely a "harsh interrogation technique"?

(4) Is threatening to rape wives and murder children torture? Or merely a "harsh interrogation technique"?

I believe that all of those fall outside of the authorized EITs. Do you disagree?

Slarti, given that CIA "interrogators" had explicit permission from Langley to tie a rope around detainees' necks and repeatedly smash their heads into walls again and again and again, I'd say that (2) and (3) might fall under authorized EITs.

No, 2) and 3) explicitly do not, as reported in the IG document.

My point is, the questions might have been better selected to include authorized techniques, not that any of the authorized EITs are things that we really want to be performing on anyone.

3) is found on pages 69-70 of the IG report, which is contained in the section "Specific Unauthorized or Undocumented Techniques".

2) is found on page 79, which is also contained in a list of unauthorized or undocumented techniques.

Granted, there might be some wiggle room, there. It doesn't say that these techniques were prohibited.

I agree with the basic thrust of Slart's statement. It would have been better to utilize "authorized" techniques, even if the others were used.

Is Althouse going to agree that waterboarding is torture? Is she going to agree the long term sleep deprivation is torture? Is she going to agree that long term stress psotioning is torture? If she states that any of then aren't torture, she has no business being in the legal profession unless it is cleaning the washrooms in the classroom building.

Regarding the claims of the Gestapo techniques working, I wonder how many of those people were calling Durbin a traitor when he talked about how the conditions in Gitmo could have been confused with Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. My guess is that most of them were doing just that thing. And since many of the techniques used were taken directly from the Nazi guidelines for interrogation, either it is now okay to be Nazi-like or they are totally unaware of the irony.

What I find interesting is the subtheme that's emerged with torture advocates endorsing the Gestapo, or any one of another of famous exemplars of serial authority and terror. What such advocates forget - or are ignorant of - is that in many cases, torturers did what they did knowing in advance that those they were doing all this to knew nothing, or knew what the torturers already knew anyway. As has been said already here and elsewhere, when in the hands of the likes of the Gestapo, or the KGB, the point of torture is to degrade and humiliate physicaly and emotionally, because those who do so see themselves as having the privilege to do so.

But the flip side to that is that torture is also as much an act of desperation as anything else, something that has been tacitally admitted to in all these ticking-bomb scenarios the torture groupies like to throw up. After 9/11, we didn't know our ass from a hole in the ground when it came to how to respond. We were traumatized, and went on the same kind of rampage some do when their loved ones have been maimed or killed - so off our nut that the response ended up far out of proportion even to the horror of what happened.

I also suspect that what allows us to think we can get away with this is that at bottom, we're 'constitutional' and well, when we've gone too far, we can slobber and cry about how we sold our principles out and dry our tears on the Constitution. But the means by which we go about doing what we do when we rationalize torture makes us look like the Mafia don who orders a bloody hit one day, maybe even goes to mop up a bit on his own at the scene, then go to church on Sunday confident that at bottom, he's still jake with the Man Upstairs.

The point is that our standing in the world seems to permit ourselves to indulge in these things and lie about them to ourselves, confident that our laws will come riding to the rescue, and then redeem ourselves with some sort of Congressional catechism afterwards.

That's the word game that the torture cheerleaders would like to see us play, because it lets them blur the lines between torture and their preferred euphemism, and gets people to wrongly concede that some of this stuff is "okay".

Well, both sides play word games IMO -- many opponents of these techniques try to categorize all of them under the term "torture" because it's so loaded with negative overtones. It's an effective rhetorical strategy up until the point that the term gets stretched too far.

Uh, sorry. That's "...goes to church on Sunday."

kenB, care to give some examples?

I just posted the following in Ann's Comments section. The first, ital'ed paragraph, is a paste from Ann's post; my comment is below that.

I don't approach these issues by asking what does the word "torture" mean, with the assumption that if it is within that definition, then we should never do it. I would look directly at the question what should we do and not do. I'm not going to weight the issue one way or the other by deciding first whether to say "torture." Let's look straight at the issue and not get abstract and linguistic.

I understand what you're saying, Ann. So let's not decide what's torture and what's not. Let's just look at what was done (in general; not just to KSM). With that in mind, can you answer the four questions again? I'll repeat them here:

Is beating a detainee to death with a flashlight justifiable?

(2) Is beating detainees with butts of rifles justifiable?

(3) Is choking a detainee with your bare hands until he almost passes out justifiable?

(4) Is threatening to rape wives and murder children justifiable?

For each of these questions, you can answer (a) never justifiable; or (b) justifiable if it works to get us what we want.

I can respect that as a lawyer you need precision of language. Hopefully, these questions are now precise enough and clear enough that you give us specific answers.

Thank you, Ann.

kenB, care to give some examples?

Of what -- people arguing against these techniques by calling them torture? Well, the post I'm currently commenting on, for starters. Also the vast majority of anti-"torture" blogposts out there. For instance, why all the millions of words insisting that waterboarding is "torture" instead of arguing against it from more basic principles?

It's like the abortion debate -- so many furious arguments about whether and when the fetus is a "person", instead of discussing what specific characteristics make a life worth protecting.

why all the millions of words insisting that waterboarding is "torture"

words fail.

Ann Althouse can believe, if she likes, that her sorry ass was made safer by giving free rein to sadistic CIA employees and contractors. I think she is mistaken, but in this land of the free and home of the brave, people like Althouse have a constitutional right to be both wrong and cowardly.

Her "update" says that publius's 4 questions "... are about the definition of 'torture,' but my point is that the Washington Post has said that the techniques — whatever you want to call them — were effective ...".

"Effective" is the word Ann clings to. I generously assume that the efficacy in question is NOT the efficacy of "these techniques" as RETRIBUTION or degradation or entertainment for the interrogators. I grant Althouse the benefit of the doubt: she's merely a coward, not a sadist. (For the record, I think one person can be both; e.g. Dick Cheney.) I grant that Ann believes torture was "effective" because it elicited information that made "us" safer. Never mind that she's wrong about that. The important point is that she's making a coward's argument.

The garden-variety coward measures "effective" by a simple (and I claim, simple-minded) standard: does it make me safer? By that standard, many things are "effective": surrendering to the enemy; abandoning your post; betraying your friends. It takes courage to NOT DO certain things even if you (foolishly) believe that doing them would be "effective" at making you safer.

Ann Althouse cheerfully claims that torture opponents have lost the "effectiveness" argument. She would probably deny, however, that even she is cowardly enough to accept ANY method of security MERELY because it's "effective". If importing Sharia and making Ann wear a burka could somehow be proved effective at making "us" safe from al-Qaida, I think she would agree that "effective" is open to interpretation.

HOW you defend defines WHAT you're defending. Defending yourself by abusing prisoners marks out the moral perimeter you seek to defend. Americans braver than Althouse seek to defend a wider moral perimeter than she does -- EVEN IF we risk physical casualties. Which we actually don't.

Incidentally, Cheney thinks "enhanced interrogation" saved us from further attacks. I think it's just as likely that fervent prayers to Jesus did. Why do I get the feeling that many American Christians would call me crazy, and Cheney sane?

--TP

cleek,

there are times you run up against somebody who can rationalize anything. kenB is obviously one of those. At that time you are correct, words fail, because nothing can penetrate such obtuse thinking.

Going back to the comment of Ann's that Kathy posted.

I have read it and reread it and the only conclusion I can come to is that Ann views the law as a plaything, something that can be ignored at one's personal whim.

If one finds a result meaningful enough, or important enough, then one can violate the law.

By her reasoning, it is legitimate for me to go into a bank and forcibly take all of its cash reserves because it provides a means to a positive end, my being able to buy things which puts money into the economy.


The concept of armed robbery is irrelevant and should not even be considered or defined. All that matters is if my actions were something I should or should not do. And I get to make that decision.


Reading through the comments at Althouse was just depressing. I don't even have the energy to elaborate on it. Fnck...that's all I got. It's useless.

@althouse -- i see your point about labels, though i thought your post was doing a bit more than that.

but anyway, it seems like we're avoiding the million dollar question -- are these actions justified? forget the labels. Just an easy peasy yes or no. i say no.

because, frankly, it sounded like you were praising them as justified from both the language and tone of your post.

but obviously thanks for the response. and i'd ask people to refrain from personal attacks that go beyond substance of writings

in other words, what kathy said

"Torture" to me conjures up more exotic, sadistic acts.

What, strapping someone to a table, covering their mouth and nose, and then pouring water over their face to induce asphyxiation isn't exotic enough?

Maybe we should bring back drawing and quartering. Or impalement, that has a long and colorful history stretching back to the Assyrians. Some of our friends like to boil their enemies alive.

Do any of those do it for you?

Seriously, f**k this noise.

Is waterboarding torture? Yes, it is.

Is keeping people awake for over week torture? Yes, it is.

Is shackling people to the floor and ceiling so they have to stand for days on end torture? Yes, it is.

Is dousing people with water and holding them in rooms sufficiently cold to induce hypothermia torture? Yes, it is.

Is "excessive beating" torture? Yes, it is.

Do these things violate US law and treaties that the US has signed? Yes, they do.

The fact that John freaking Yoo says otherwise is irrelevant. John Yoo is a pissant.

In this particular debate, I am fortunate in that I don't give a flying f**k if torture is effective or not. If not torturing people that we hold hors de combat means the loss of some American lives, so be it.

It's the price we pay for not being god damned brutal, inhuman barbarians.

But if we want to discuss the effectiveness issue, we have to address byrningman's points about the *full cost* of employing torture.

Neither the Post, Politico, or Althouse have done that.

Seriously, I have to ask myself what kind of craven, miserable human beings we're dealing with here.

Torture is OK because it made KSM give "Al Qaeda chalk talks"?

JMG is right, this nation is full of childish, cruel cowards.

Reading through the comments at Althouse was just depressing. I don't even have the energy to elaborate on it. Fnck...that's all I got. It's useless.

Yeah, but just know that you are not alone. Just as reading comments like yours, here, helps me to remember that *I* am not alone in feeling that way.

And also, amazingly, a law professor.

And not just any old kind of law. Constitutional law. Yes, she teaches Constitutional law.

Russell's outrage may seem over-the-top to some, but the feeling is justified; and if Ann Althouse deigns to read this far, I would have to agree with Publius against her that definitions and terms do count here.

If you're reading this, Ann - it seems mealy on your part to skirt the definition of torture while then going on to praise the efficacy of its substance, as though by avoiding it, you somehow have your cake and eat it too. This is a rhetorical trick a first-year philosophy major would get nailed on.

If you're going to advocate what amounts to torture, you're not going to avoid running into this same roadblock over and over again - advocating the efficacy of its ends not only winds up justifying its means, but the name as well. If in fact you believe that torture, or 'enhanced interrogation methods', or whatever you're conspicuously not calling it, is fully justified, then you should have no problem calling it for what it is. We're at war, dammit, in the crucible...the firing lines are anywhere Americans are, and... well, if this sounds ridiculous, I hope you get the picture.

Lawyers, and I presume, law professors, forever go around insisting on definitions and yet here, you carefully sidestep it. Why? I guess if it's good enough for John Yoo, then it must be good enough for you. But I suspect it's for another reason - it's to shill for something in a way so that you can then go back and disclaim it if any of the poop splatters in your direction.

I stand corrected on one point - Ann, you did state "harsh interrogation techniques" clearly. My apologies.

But my point still stands.

kenB: In the UN Convention Against Torture, you will find (Article 1):

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

When (November 24 2003, Qaim) members of a Special Forces team and other government agency employees beat Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush with their fists, rubber hoses, and clubs which, from the marks they left, were a "long straight-edge instrument" and an "object like the end of an M-16 rifle", inflicting "contusions and abrasions with pattern impressions" over much of his body, and fracturing six of his ribs, this might not have been "exotic or sadistic " by your standards, but it was torture by the standards of the UN Convention: it was severe physical pain and suffering, intentionally inflicted on Mowhoush for the purpose of obtaining from him information or a confession, inflicted by a "public official" and by other people "acting in an official capacity" - apparently much of the beating was done by Iraqi paramilitaries, supervised by a CIA agent whose identity was redacted from the documents that a court was allowed to see.

Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, I may remind you, had surrendered in form to the American authorities to save his sons, who were then being held in Abu Ghraib. He had admitted to being commander of the local al Quds Golden Division, and thereafter he behaved as a soldier should wish his CO would behave if taken by the enemy: he was "stubbornly" refusing to give the Americans any information about his men or their strategies.

When, earlier, according to the testimony of Mowhoush's youngest son, his son was threatened with death and a gun fired off to make Mowhoush think his son had been shot - this may not have been "exotic or sadistic" by your standards, but it was torture: it was severe mental pain and suffering, intentionally inflicted on Mowhoush for the purpose of obtaining from him information or a confession, inflicted by a "public official" and by other people "acting in an official capacity". Indeed, that act was torture of Mowhoush's son, too: since the UN defines it as torture when inflicted on a third party with the intention of making the subject talk.

When (November 26 2003, Qaim) Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush was stuffed headfirst into a green army-issue sleeping bag, wrapped in electrical cord to tie him, and beaten, this may not have been "exotic, sadistic" by your standards, but the UN would define it as torture, and indeed murder: since Mowhoush died in the sleeping-bag.

Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer, who appears to have been the senior military officer present in the interrogation room when Mowhoush actually drew his last breath, remains the most senior American officer to be punished for torturing a prisoner of war to death. Not exotically or sadistically, just with ordinary, commonplace American torture techniques.

I mention Mowhoush because we know more about him and the circumstances of his murder than most US victims of torture. (cite, cite) But others were tortured and others died.

"(...)For instance, why all the millions of words insisting that waterboarding is "torture" instead of arguing against it from more basic principles?"

Well, it might be because there's nothing more "basic" than what the definition of torture entails. By basic, I mean a fundamental, definatory fact or experience; and I don't know about you, but I can't think of anything more fundamental or definatory than volumes of water up the nose while strapped to a board head over heels, or being locked up in Arctic-level temperatures for hours or hell, days on end, and we don't have to pimp it up with erotic overtones to make it even more terrifying, though it might inspire some masturbation in somebody somewhere and make for another great hour on 24 some season.

If you're still in doubt, check out Jesurgislac's installment above, which is a handy Cliff's notes version of the whole UN deal on torture if you don't have the time to search out the whole text, or aren't so inclined to.

The discourse at this point is such that, if you suggest that routinely hurting and mutilating your enemies is torture, you'll be told, No, because it wasn't done with the pretense that you were extracting information from them. Wow.

Correction to above: I misremembered. It's never been said that Mowhoush's sons were being held in Abu Ghraib: they were arrested in raids 11 days earlier in Qaim, and were presumably being held locally, in whatever US prison camp.

(Josh's link: "But torture, [Quentin Tarantino] said, is something different: an attempt to elicit information by inflicting extreme pain." Well, he's a Hollywood movie director, one wouldn't expect him to know as much as... say, a scholar of Constitutional law.)

I really don't think Althouse is worth the time of day, not because of huge personality flaws that prevent her from participating in normal society, but because of the way she views blog conversations. Her general MO is to think about how to make a maximally offensive statement, (why are your liberals so down on torture?) which is then infintesimally walked back so she can claim that she is being the calm and rational one. It's something that college freshmen do and is really only good for late night dorm rooms. It is the kind of discussion which exists in the perfect vacuum where there are no impinging life experiences, so the category of temporary incoveniences can be easily conflated with notions of torture, because she's not interested in the questions she raises, she's only interested in attention to what she says. She really isn't worth the time of day.

liberal japonicus: I'd agree with you, but as according to her own profile she's a "law professor", I think it worthwhile pointing out that according to the level of knowledge and thought about the law she expresses in her blogging, Ann Althouse is not only unfit to be a law professor, she's probably not sufficiently informed or intelligent enough to be a law student.

Reading through Althouse's comment section is truly depressing. Energy-sapping. (seconding a comment above). And the sophistry and backpedalling ('noo, you're not addressing MY point, don't get all abstract and linguistic with your definitions') is just galling...I don't know what more to say.

Jes,
That's a fair point, and a bit of a conundrum, because if I'm right and she just wants attention, posts like this are basically giving her what she wants. And it doesn't matter what the topic is. Here is a dissection of her opinion on a much less weighty topic, the 'Obama stare' pic.
from the post
Had she one whit of intellectual honesty, she would have viewed that video and changed her post to indicate that Obama was not in a “stance,” because just as one cannot be simultaneously in front of and behind something, one cannot be walking and stopped at the same time. If I am walking, I am not standing; if I am standing, I am not walking. Her analysis of his “stance” is a not an interpretative error: it is a material one. Her insistence that her analysis is sound despite this error and evidence to the contrary constitutes a stubbornness in the face of fact that is unbecoming of an academic.

...

This is not a matter of interpretation, but a description of the medium; to claim otherwise is to deny the very reality to which the photograph pertains . . .

. . .which is precisely what Althouse is doing. Her analysis of a manipulated photograph trumps reality, and she can’t be bothered to articulate why exactly that is. But that won’t stop her (or the hoard of equally incompetent illiterates who base their opinion on her photographic “expertise”) from claiming that her “interpretation” is still valid. They’ll be doing that until the moon stops dead in the sky and falls to the stage they’ve mistaken for the world. I only hope the rest of us abandoned that theater long ago (but remain primed for the inevitable disappointment).

In fact, the author has a prediction at the beginning of the post that makes me think he has a crystal ball

Before I get started, I want to acknowledge that I know Ann Althouse is an attention fiend, and as such revels in any that comes her way. Furthermore, I know that giving her the attention she craves will only embolden her to spout even more outrageous nonsense in the future.

It's not a question of her knowledge of the subject, it's the fact that she is unable to brook any challenge to her worldview. Any attempt to explain it to her (such as your admirable comments above) are a waste of time, sad to say.

(Josh's link: "But torture, [Quentin Tarantino] said, is something different: an attempt to elicit information by inflicting extreme pain." Well, he's a Hollywood movie director, one wouldn't expect him to know as much as... say, a scholar of Constitutional law.)

Not to mention that he contradicts one of his characters in Reservoir Dogs. To wit:

MR. BLONDE (OS)
Now I'm not gonna bullshit you. I don't really care about what you know or don't know. I'm gonna torture you for awhile regardless. Not to get information, but because torturing a cop amuses me. There's nothing you can say,there's nothing you can do. Except pray for death.

I suppose any similarities to real persons or events are purely coincidental.

Fnck...that's all I got.

Probably because of your libtardiness. Which you'd have pointed out to you within seconds of hitting "post", there.

FWIW, that's one of the reasons why we try to keep things cleaned up here, so that we don't wind up having the most abusive interlocutor "win" the debate through sheer volume and 11th-level invective.

I can't say I really appreciate the market solution over there.

we don't wind up having the most abusive interlocutor "win" the debate through sheer volume and 11th-level invective

NB: I don't think we're all that successful with this approach, but we're much more successful than we'd be if we just elected to go with the big unrestricted shouting match.

Probably because of your libtardiness. Which you'd have pointed out to you within seconds of hitting "post", there.

I toyed with the idea of posting a comment there last night - for about a yoctosecond. What would be the point? I'd get to find out how soft and squishy I am for not peeing my pants at the imminent threats being prevented by torture. "Whatever it takes to save my American ass" seemed to be the overarching principle among the tough-guy torture advocates, mixed with unrelated complaints about health care and Chappaquiddick. I should stop, since I'm starting to sound like them.

Von's earlier take on Althouse is worth noting here, as well as Hilzoy's

Russell's outrage may seem over-the-top to some

Then those folks need to gird up their loins and deal.

The thing that makes me angrier than the actual formalized, institutional practice of torture by the US is the army of people want to wiggle around it by calling it something else, or by pretending it's not really all that bad after all.

And the folks who make me even angrier than them are the folks who don't want to actually come out and support torture, under whatever euphemism it's known by today, but just want to "ask hypothetical questions", or to express their astounded amusement at the anger of the lefties.

There are no hypothetical questions here. We tortured people, often to death, in brutal, heinous ways that violated US and international law.

Period.

If you support the brutal abuse of people that we hold captive in order to extract information from them -- torture -- then step up and own it. I'll disagree with you, and will do whatever is in my power to keep your point of view from winning the day, but at least your point of view will have some sap to it.

If you've made up your mind to sin, sin boldly.

Althouse's piece is her, citing Politico, citing the Post, citing "sources", to the effect that torture worked because it got KSM to give chalk talks to the intelligence community, and maybe led to the arrest of Iyman Faris. He was one of the guys who was going to take down the Brooklyn Bridge by cutting cables with a blowtorch.

Seriously, nobody was going to notice some guy cutting cables on the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch?

Neither Politico nor Althouse cites or discusses the parts of the article that conspicuously undercut the claim that "torture works".

Althouse has presented this gem, basically, to give a big "nyah nyah" to folks who oppose torture.

It's weak, warm beer, served up out of a childish motivation.

Our pal kenB can't even find the stones to call torture by it's name.

These are the "serious people" who are willing to take a "cold look at harsh reality" and "do what needs to be done".

Seriously, it is to laugh.

In a sane world, points of view and arguments like this would only be expressed by late-night AM radio talk show callers, loud guys down at the end of the bar who've had a few too many, and strange ill-clothed people muttering to themselves on subway cars.

In the world we actually live in, we get them from professors of Constitutional law.

It's enough to make you puke.

It's something that college freshmen do and is really only good for late night dorm rooms. It is the kind of discussion which exists in the perfect vacuum where there are no impinging life experiences

Quite so.

I left this comment on Althouse's post:

"I'm not going to weight the issue one way or the other by deciding first whether to say "torture." Let's look straight at the issue and not get abstract and linguistic.

Oh indeed, let's not. And let's remember that it was the Cheneyites who introduced us to the term "enhanced interrogation techniques" for practices which, for decades, have been called, quite simply "torture" and condemned as not only immoral but also illegal. Their reasons for doing so are naturally as clear as day.

So let's do "look strait at the issue" Ms. Althouse. In the eyes of the law, the issues of whether you call them "enhanced interrogation techniques" or "torture", or whether or not they "work" are completely irrelevant. According to federal and international law, the people who ordered and implemented these practices committed war crimes. War crimes. No pedantic parsing there. Should they be prosecuted?"

I understand that this is an emotional issue, so subtleties tend to be overlooked. If you're interested, you might look over my posts and see that I never proposed that any of these actions be legal or acceptable. All I was really trying to say was that given the average person's sense of what torture is, it might be more effective to say something along the lines of "I don't care what you call it, we shouldn't be doing it", rather than arguing over the label itself.

I'd like to express complete agreement with Russell and put a question to those who support what is clearly torture. If your "anything that works is justified" viewpoint wins the day, will there be anything left of the U.S. that is worth defending?

All I was really trying to say was that given the average person's sense of what torture is, it might be more effective to say something along the lines of "I don't care what you call it, we shouldn't be doing it", rather than arguing over the label itself

I can definitely see the sense in that. Really, that's what we're saying, that what AA & her ilk label [intense interrogations] is what I label [torture], and everyone agrees that the torture label goes on things that are unacceptable.

Do you think this line of argument actually works, though? That is, can someone like AA be persuaded that anything that *doesn't* have the label [torture] is unacceptable? She doesn't appear to have any moral sense, after all.

All I was really trying to say was that given the average person's sense of what torture is, it might be more effective to say something along the lines of "I don't care what you call it, we shouldn't be doing it", rather than arguing over the label itself.

The "label" of torture may constitute a mere semantic trifle to the kenb's of the world, but such definitions have broad legal and diplomatic ramifications. I mean, why else would the Bushies have been so bloody determined to brazenly overturn decades of accepted international norms by euphemizing us into this brave new world where there is now an irony-free a 'debate' regarding the use of torture enhanced interrogation (don't ever say I was always uncharitable to the steely-eyed sadist set)?

She doesn't appear to have any moral sense, after all.

Fixed that for you.

As far as Israel is concerned, this interview with former top Shin Bet interrogator Michael Koubi touches on this issue:

How physical are you allowed to get during interrogations, with permission?

Very low levels. It could be two slaps in one interrogation, or to shake him, but not very strongly, or to put a cover on his head to scare him. We have never insulted a person's religion or humiliated them. There is no torture in the security services.

What do you make of the torture and abuse that took place in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq?

I don't want to judge the Americans. In Gaza we have one security person for every 1000 people. In Iraq they have one for every 100,000. They have no information or intelligence on their detainees. Information is the beginning of interrogation, and if there is none, if there is no language between you and the detainee, sometimes you will use more power. That I presume is what happened in Abu Ghraib.

Have those techniques ever been used in Israel?

Sometimes it has happened, but very seldom, and in these cases the interrogators were thrown out of the organisation. I have no need for those methods. I use only psychology, head to head.

...

Did you ever feel sympathy for the people you interrogated because of what you put them through?

Sometimes you can be sitting before someone who is 24 years old and he looks like a nice man. Then he admits to you what he's done and you can change 180 degrees in what you feel about him. It has happened a lot. Sometimes when I'm interrogating someone I feel that I could kill him because of what he's done. But if you want to achieve a result you have to keep your cool.

The point is we are acting against terrorists. If I thought someone was innocent or knew nothing I would release them immediately.

Interrogation can leave people traumatised for years. Can you always justify it?

You can be sure that we never use physical or psychological methods that damage prisoners.

I may have a simplistic view of this issue but I don't see any case to be made that torture is a better option than non-torture techniques. From what I gather, Koubi's interrogation techniques were by no means pleasant but they did fall within the bounds of international law and are morally-defensible as well as difficult to resist.

It also seems clear to me that backwards engineering SERE training to create a torture program is exactly the opposite of what one should do when ramping up for a series of interrogations. Koubi is supremely confident in his own theoretical ability to resist his techniques precisely because of his skill at applying those techniques. How could the physical and mental ability to resist torture likewise translate into an ability to perform torture?

Saw torture being done, supervised by a US "advisor", a Major, IIRC.
Viet Nam. It was only after the barbed wire wrapped prisoner was tossed in the mud outside the tent I saw it was a girl.
My deepest shame is I didnt toss a grenade in there.
I didnt do anything.
Lock them ALL up.
Thanks to Publius and the many many clear, informative commentors.
Im gonna fwd this addy to many people.
Sometimes its hard to remember other people- a LOT of other people!- get it.

given the average person's sense of what torture is, it might be more effective to say something along the lines of "I don't care what you call it, we shouldn't be doing it

My bad. Sorry for calling you out, I misunderstood your point.

can someone like AA be persuaded that anything that *doesn't* have the label [torture] is unacceptable

I don't know about AA, but I think in general that's a fight that's easier to win -- going back to Publius's questions, I'd guess that the set of Americans who think that strangling a prisoner almost to death is *wrong* is larger than the set who think it's *torture*.

But then I don't exactly have my finger on the pulse of the nation, so I guess you shouldn't take my word for it.

This is the Overton Window in action.

Has Althouse, or any of the other torture apologists, ever addressed the death of Dilawar?

He was an Afghani taxi driver who was picked up, treated rather badly, investigated, determined to have no terrorist ties, and then kicked to death. His flesh was pulpified. "I've seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus," said the army coroner.

The NYTimes ran a well-documented account of Dilawar's death and its context (lax oversight, intense push for "information")—on May 20, 2005.

And yet here we are, quibbling over how "torture" differs from "enhanced interrogation techniques," and how effective either might have been, or might be in the future.

Dilawar had nothing to tell us, and so he told us nothing, and then we pulpified his legs. Very effective on the pulpifying front; significantly less so as far as extracting useful information.

What have we learned from Dilawar's death? Apparently nothing.

I'd guess that the set of Americans who think that strangling a prisoner almost to death is *wrong* is larger than the set who think it's *torture*.

To be honest, ken, IMO the shortest path to cutting through the bullsh*t is just to give things their proper names.

We're not talking about an individual guard abusing prisoners out of some personal animus.

We're talking about a formalized program of deliberate abuse, carefully calibrated and vetted by the legal department in excruciating detail, and where "abuse" means inflicting extreme fear and pain in the interest of extracting information.

That is the definition of torture. Read the US Code, the UN Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Conventions, or the dictionary. Actually the dictionary doesn't require that the abuse be for the purpose of eliciting information, but I'll spot you that.

It's torture. Torture with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, which stands for Pain.

Torture.

If there is some other definition of torture that someone would like to submit for consideration, I guess they're welcome to do so, but they'll have to fight several centuries of precedent in usage.

I get your point that we'll make more political headway by just calling it all "wrong" rather than calling it "torture", but to be honest I'd prefer to make the defenders of our "enhanced interrogation" regime drop the semantic horseplay.

It's torture. If you support it, you support torture.

Afghani

Afghans are people; afghanis are money.

downtownlad said..."Ann - Why don't you go and get yourself waterboarded then - you seem to equate it with a waterpark ride."

I've noticed various people have done that, like Hitches. I think their willingness to go through it says a lot about how bad it is. They come out of it saying, yes, that was torture, but look at all the terrible things they don't submit to. It's apparently horrible while it's happening, but then it is over, and the person who submits to that knows that is true.

I have no idea how a lawyer can find herself making an argument of this kind. After all (to make a parallel argument) sex is ok when engaged in between consenting adults; why is it not ok to rape prisoners? It's the same thing!

...not all that close a parallel, to be sure. What you choose to engage in is, however painful (or otherwise!) that activity is, your choice. That some folks have done so by choice, from time to time, isn't license to perpetrate that same activiy on the unwilling.

It's torture. Torture with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, which stands for Pain.

Exactly. And which also rhymes with C, which stands for Crime. Hello??

Althouse is an embarrassment to her species.

Probably the strongest rebuttal is the fact that just about all EIT/torture stopped after 2003. If EIT/torture was so effective, why did it cease?

The answer is apparent: it wasn't effective (plus the fact there was threatened mini-revolt within the intelligence/military community).


This seems like a good forum to ask a question that has kept me thinking for some time. Maybe I'm just stupid but I can't come up with a line that separates torture from rape. At best they may be different facets of the same coin. But maybe I'm wrong.

Rape">http://db.jhuccp.org/ics-wpd/exec/icswppro.dll&QF0=DocNo&QI0=121058&TN=Popline&AC=QBE_QUERY&MR=30%25DL=1&&RL=1&&RF=LongRecordDisplay&DF=LongRecordDisplay">Rape and forced pregnancy in war and conflict situations. Stark violations of women's reproductive and sexual self determination.

Legally speaking, the UN Convention defines rape and/or forced pregnancy as torture only "when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity". That is, it is probably more common for forced pregnancy to be inflicted as punishment by a person acting in an official capacity to deny access to abortion than rape, since at least some of the time soldiers rape not in an official/authorised capacity but simply because they know they can.

Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders came to support safe legal access to abortion even to the moderate degree they do, primarily because both AI and MSF had met, in their work in the Congo, with the consequences imposed on women in a war zone by gang rape and denial of safe abortion. The Catholic Church, and other pro-lifers, prefer in this instance to stand with the torturers, which is one reason why the 1996 paper formally calling on the international community to define rape and forced pregnancy as torture, has never been widely accepted.

What people seem to forget is why torture was used, historically. Outside of individual sadists who wanted to do it, there were two main reasons. To send a message to the enemy (we're crazy, don't f*k with us), or to extract information.

NOTE, however, that this is not extracting actionable intelligence.

If not to get intelligence which reveals the enemy's plans, what information were they extracting? The information they wanted or needed to further their goals. It was used to force "confessions": to admit to using witchcraft, to being an enemy spy, or to break down the subject until they were willing to sign any document (for more complex "confessions".) This sort of information was usually given to the subject, so all they had to do was say "yes", or simply agree.

Once that information was received, the torturers could give that information to their political masters, who would use it to justify (among other things) going to war. Which is, of course, exactly why Governor Bush and Cheney's people wanted it justified, and made "legal". There was no real connection between alQaida and Iraq, but needed an excuse. Iraq was a war they "knew" they could win.

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