My Photo

« prison | Main | Your sickbed reading list open thread »

March 20, 2014

Comments

when you get right down to it, morals are provisional and are much easier to obey when you're not terrified.

'we' were terrified.

that doesn't justify anything, and shouldn't be an excuse to avoid punishing those who did it. if 'we' really think torture is bad, that is. and i'm not convinced 'we' do.

Well, this is even less sourced (and probably no more mucous-free) than the OP, but... I recall a bit of a meme that we had brought the 2001 attacks on ourselves by being soft, limp-wristed touchy-feely liberals, and if we wanted to triumph over the unspeakably and boundlessly evil enemy, we had to be harder and more ruthless than them. The closet sadists who always were of the opinion that torture works - because how could it not? - eagerly obliged by trotting out their pet theories and ticking timebomb scenarios. Beyond that, I'll admit that growing up I always heard more that torture was something we didn't do because it was crude than because it didn't work; pop culture had plenty of lessons telling us that unless you were a brave, hard heroic type (like Our Guys) or brainwashed fanatics (like the Reds), torture was really damned effective, just cruel and "uncivilized" - the kind of thing that cold, practical CIA agents would quite effectively do to weak, cowardly subhuman wretches in Central America, but that we wouldn't dirty our hands with back home.

How are you defining 'torture'? I've always understood it to refer primarily to cases of inflicting pain, in which the victim has a major motivation - panic, even - to do something, anything, to make the pain go away. That seems to me a pretty easy case. Obviously, if you are desperate to get the pain to stop, you will say whatever you believe will stop it.

But I wonder if the same understanding automatically applies to cases of inducing fear, such as water boarding (and here I admit to being totally ignorant of the details of how it is done). If you cannot stop it from happening, but can only hope to prevent them from doing it to you again immediately, does that make a difference? What if they will do it to you again once a day until you satisfy them that they have gotten as much as they can? What if they have some means of verifying your claims? Is it necessarily the case that this technique cannot get reliable information? I don't think it's quite as clear-cut.

And what if it is not pain or visceral fear but something else, such as inflicting the breaking of a taboo (such as alleged cases of a Muslim forced to touch a dog or watch a Koran mishandled, or anybody forced to listen to music they really hate). Is it really appropriate to class those in the same category has having parts of one's body crushed or wood forced until a fingernail?

I think it's possible to stretch a definition past the breaking point.

I don't think that information was ever a reason for the torture; more of a post hoc justification.

I thought it was more a simple case of we (or at least some of us) wanted revenge. Details, like having the actual people who had worked to harm us? Minor by comparison. So we tortured who we could get.

I think the most telling aspect of the US 'enhanced interrogation' regime is how public it was -- at least after any initial secrecy was blown. The US tried to craft a *policy* around torture effectively making it a bureaucratic function of the national security interest.

One (specious) approach to justifying torture was the so called 'ticking time bomb' scenario; a terrorist knows the location of a bomb and, because time is of the essence, the terrorist is tortured into revealing the bomb's location and the day is saved. The *publicness* of the torture regime pretty much undermines that scenario. Who is scarier: the professional torturer acting within policy and guidelines? or the rogue interrogator acting without the knowledge or authority of his government?

Given that it is generally agreed that torture does not (usually) produce reliable information, and because of the bureaucratic *openness* of the policy, I can only conclude that the purpose of the program was to dehumanize the enemy. They are not like us, any grievances they put forth are invalid, there is only one way to deal with this sort of enemy: rain fire and death and pain upon them until the enemy is eradicated.

Steve,

Aren't you ascribing a lot of competence to the government , here? Surely a simpler explanation is that those in charge actually believed that torture could work - at least when *they* did it?

What gave the people who planned and authorized torture the idea that this was a reliable way to gather information?

This assumes that the motivation was to get reliable, accurate information.

here I admit to being totally ignorant of the details of how it is done

You're placed on an inclined board with your head on the low end. A cloth is placed over your nose and mouth, and the cloth is soaked with running water.

It creates the sensation that you are drowning, mainly because you basically are drowning. Or, at least, you cannot breathe.

Most folks that have experienced it describe it as profoundly terrifying.

So, no pain, just profound physical terror, based on the body's natural reaction to drowning or asphyxiation.

Fuzzy Face does bring up a good point. When the enhanced interrogation regime came to light, an awful lot of criticism was met with "it depends on what 'is' is" quibbling and poo-pooing of legal and ethical concerns with such lovely notions as "torture-lite" and "frat pranks". There was a strong push to declare that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, walling, and such weren't really torture. The real torture we might trot out when the 'ole time bomb's a-tickin', but just scaring the inhuman monsters a little or interrupting their beauty sleep? That's A-okay for routine officework, since it's not even torture. Yes, we'd (rightly) declared all these practices to be inhuman and cruel tortures when criticizing other regimes engaging in them, but we threw that down the memory hole when we wanted Results No Matter What and tried to redefine torture quite narrowly as bamboo under the fingernails and the like.

The kind of "warfare" that intensified after 9/11 was a matter of secret infiltrators, saboteurs. Torture and other secretive techniques presumably are of more use in that context - or at least those in power and the intelligence agencies were able to use that justification for increasing their own importance. In real war, saboteurs are much less important and there is less value in getting false confessions from suspects.

What is the value, ever, of "getting false confessions from suspects"? The only thing I can think of is a monetary value to a prosecutor who is compensated based on the number of convictions achieved per month.

OK, and maybe a value to the person actually guilty of something, if someone else is tortured into a false confession. But do we really care about benefitting him?

Might be something to the "24" theory; I don't find torture respectable, and I've never watched "24". (I don't watch TV.)

I'm not terribly surprised at our government using torture; We do a terrible job in this contry of keeping the mentally disturbed out of positions of authority and power. The decision to use torture is being made by people who want an excuse to use it.

Fuzzy Face, in regards to your question:
"Is it necessarily the case that this technique cannot get reliable information?"

I think the fact that they did this for years and years, but according to the Senate Intelligence Report, did not get any useful information in all that time, is pretty conclusive evidence that torture is pointless as an information gathering tool, no matter how you go about it.

I've always believed that the decision to torture was an emotional decision. There may have been more effective ways of gathering information (as it turns out, even doing nothing at all is a more effective way of gathering information), but it would not have been as satisfying to people who felt attacked and wounded. Most other methods also involve more time, sometimes a lot more time, and torture at least seems like it should work fast.

They probably did honestly believe torture would work, despite all the evidence we have against it. Humans are generally not rational, and usually believe what we want to be true, rather than what is true.

What is the value, ever, of "getting false confessions from suspects"?

The value is in building an argument for something that you either don't know is true, or know is not true.

So, for example, Al-Libi, whose coerced testimony was used to build a case for a link between Al-Qaeda and Iraq. Which, in fact, did not exist.

Several other of the folks who we grabbed and tortured were compelled to sign confessions, arguably or even demonstrably false, that they were members or affiliates of Al-Qaeda.

The value of a false confession in the latter case would be that it's a hell of a lot easier to justify grabbing people off the street and torturing them if they're Al-Qaeda members than if they're not.

"Is it necessarily the case that this technique cannot get reliable information?"

I think it can be safely said that it can't get reliable information. It can certainly get accurate information, but it's notoriously unreliable in doing so.

I always thought the comparisons of "enhanced interrogation" to fraternity hazing had unintentional truth, seeing as frat initiations can turn lethal with alarming frequency. Bush himself got in trouble in college for branding pledges, and as his schoolmate Gary Trudeau said, "It does put one in mind of what his views on torture might be today".

It came from the top. When we captured Abu Zubaydah and still thought he was highly placed, President Bush was briefed on him. He was told progress was slow, because Zubaydah was resistant to questioning and because the painkillers given to him because of his injuries meant his mind was not sharp.

Bush responded, "Who authorized putting him on pain medication?"

This was part of the "get tough" ethos of the Bush White House, and appealed to those among them who had never gone to war and had never interrogated a witness.

Personally, I think Bush and Dick Cheney panicked. They didn't know what to do, so they tried to act tough, and didn't know how. They seemed to think winning was something that came from an attitude, rather than from careful preparation and hard work. Colin Powell, who knew a bit about preparing for war, was cut out of preparations for invading Iraq because he insisted on preparing for the occupation.

They preferred to have their attitudes encouraged, so instead of listening to people who knew about interrogation, such as the FBI, they brought in "experts" who told them what they wanted to hear. They relied on two psychologists, James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who had no experience in interrogation. They did have experience in the SERE program, which was intended to help our soldiers prepare for being tortured.

They declared they could reverse-engineer the program to get anyone to talk. They ignored the difficulty that SERE had shown people would say anything under torture, regardless of the actual facts.

I think it is no accident that Bush adopted torture. The purpose of torture is to get someone to say what you want them to, not to get the truth. In selecting their sources of intelligence, Bush and Cheney had done the same, always choosing confirmation of their preconceptions over discovering new facts.

The Bush administration didn't use the euphemism 'enhanced interrogation techniques' because torture had become respectable. Precisely because torture was not--and is not--respectable, and because the administration was water boarding suspects (which is torture), they had to come up with a new name for it.

As for motivation, I seriously doubt it was some inchoate bent toward sadism suddenly released by 9-11. People were afraid of follow-on attacks, and the people responsible for preventing follow-on attacks were under the gun, literally and figuratively.

People do things when they are scared to death that they wouldn't do otherwise.

It is easy to say that, under no circumstances whatsoever, torture of one kind or another should never be used. Particularly if the person saying so will never, ever be accountable for some horrifying tragedy that, in hindsight, could arguably have been prevented if a suspect had been more aggressively questioned.

In other words, I can be an absolutist on anything that I will never be called upon to actually do or be responsible for.

It is wrong to steal, but if one steals to feed his/her family, there is at least an extenuating circumstance. Killing is wrong, but not in war or self defense.

Torture is different because it is a calculated act of inflicting physical or mental pain, or threatening physical or mental pain, in the absence of an immediate threat of harm to oneself or another. There may be, in an extreme and so far unheard of situation, a threat looming in days or even hours, but that is not analogous to self defense or defense of another.

So, is torture different in degree or in kind from killing, and either way, does it matter if there is an objective, imminent threat and an individual who likely has knowledge of that threat is in custody and will not divulge voluntarily?

Absolutists on the no-torture side say 'no', others disagree and offer at least one theoretical circumstance where the 'wrong of it' morphs into 'it's wrong, but that fact is overridden by compelling necessity' and others are quite promiscuous in how they define imminent threat such that it virtually has no meaning.

I am in the 'it's wrong, but I am not quite an absolutist' camp.

Wrong, however, does not equate to ineffective. For an absolute fact, I would sing like a bird if waterboarded. Hell, I wouldn't wait for the actual experience. If I thought someone was really going to board me, I'd start talking. But even if I tried hard, I'd break pretty quickly. Even more so, I would break if a loved one were threatened.

Others won't break, or will hold on well enough and dissemble enough that whatever valid information they spill is so mixed up in misinformation that maybe something is learned, maybe not. The kicker though, if you accept the premise that torture works better on some people than on others, is you don't know until you try. I'm not talking morality here, just utility: will it work? Maybe, maybe not.

But, people, being different, will react differently to torture. So, I don't know about 'doesn't work.' And even if we all *agreed* it doesn't work, that would be like agreeing that prayer doesn't work. It's hard to say prayer doesn't work in some form or fashion, although perhaps not in a direct "I ask, God gives" fashion.

Back during the Vietnam War, I wanted LBJ to go on national television and say he had issued orders that captured soldiers (or sailors or airman) threatened with torture should say any propaganda their captors wanted them to say, however heinous (I specify propaganda as opposed to divulging information), in order to avoid torture. And that's an order son!
The propaganda value of beating false (or even true) confessions out of our captured soldiers would then be zero, saving them useless pain. I'm not sure why no one has ever tried this.

Darius Rejali's book "Torture and Democracy" is maybe the definitive work on the subject. You can also google his name and find a lot of articles on or by him, including this one--

link

On the level of popular culture, it seems to me that even before 9/11 there were shows where the "good guy" had some really nasty person in his custody and would hold the bad guy out the window or threaten him in some other felonious way and the bad guy would break and would tell everything he knew--the audience was supposed to cheer for the guy in the field who was willing to do what was necessary. I have no examples handy--it just seems like something I've seen quite a bit, both before and after 9/11.

I do not pretend to have an answer to the main question, which is a good one, but I share some of the reservations of Fuzzy Face as to one of the premises. (And this is not just because one of my nephews used to call me "Uncle Fuzzy.") That is, that torture "doesn't work" when it comes to extracting information.

To me, this assertion flies in the face of reality. Surely it does work sometimes, perhaps particularly in battlefield conditions, when dealing with combatants (or nearby civilians) who are not particularly trained in resistance. The US used torture in the Philippine-American War and the Vietnam War - to mention but two conflicts that fall into my arena - and I have little doubt that sometimes those who deployed it gained useful information from it, with regard to, e.g., location of arms caches, troop movements, etc. To argue otherwise is implausible.

Nomb. Vil. makes the very good point that "It can't get reliable information. It can certainly get accurate information, but it's notoriously unreliable in doing so." One aspect of the problem - besides other points mentioned above (blackening the "other"; revenge; actually enjoying inflicting pain; instilling fear; etc.) - is that we are notoriously bad at internalizing probabilities, especially when we don't like them. By "we" I originally meant "we Americans," but I suspect it's really "we humans."

That is to say, even if we know that torture doesn't generally produce reliable information, we think it will for us, whether because of our superior skill set or just because we deserve it.

Compare, on this point, gambling - casinos or your neighborhood bookie, the principles are the same. Everyone knows the odds favor the house, yet billions of dollars are made (= lost) each year because so many gamblers believe that they, and they alone, have the skill or the luck to beat the odds. And most of them are not "trained" by experts in the "art" of gambling, as our interrogators generally are. People don't want to admit that they can't beat the odds, beat the house, win where others are losing. And there are just enough winners to sustain this illusion.

As an individual predilection, this error is understandable, if regrettable. As a matter of systemic policy - which it clearly is now, in high circles of our government - it is stupid, if only because those who we are most assiduous in torturing tend to be precisely those people who are most likely to be resistant to it. More than stupid: it is downright disastrous, not to say evil.

And so the original question remains, and it is a tough one. Why are we now (systematically) doing something that we used to acknowledge to be evil (and not in the Brett Bellmore sense of anything that keeps me from doing anything I want is "evil")?

But trying to answer this question is not (IMHO) helped by simply asserting that torture "doesn't work."


I suspect that torture was more about anger than fear. Yes, Americans were afraid of another attack, and our leaders were more afraid than most since they knew they'd take the blame. But we and they were also angry about the death and destruction from the 9/11 attacks and wanted revenge. I don't think it's a coincidence that the biggest supporters of torture were also big believers in capital punishment. They're both about applying the most extreme punishments we can think of as a way of expressing how much we detest the crimes they're meant to punish.

I would suggest that people interested in reading about torture's efficacy get a copy of the Rejali book and read it. It's nuanced. The short answer is, yes, you can get information, but you don't know whether it's good or bad and no, it really isn't a very effective method, even if you set aside moral issues. Other methods work far better. He doesn't base his arguments on what we think should or shouldn't work, but on looking at what was actually done in Algeria and other places and what the results were.

Here is a short review of the book--

link to review international affairs

You'll have to scroll down a bit.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the biggest supporters of torture were also big believers in capital punishment. They're both about applying the most extreme punishments we can think of as a way of expressing how much we detest the crimes they're meant to punish.

Is this an objectively documented fact? I missed that study.

So, is torture different in degree or in kind from killing, and either way, does it matter if there is an objective, imminent threat and an individual who likely has knowledge of that threat is in custody and will not divulge voluntarily?

While it is worth considering (not necessarily accepting, but at least considering) this point, it wholly elides one of the most glaringly flaws with pie-in-the-sky "ticking timebomb" theorycrafting: the more immanent and pressing and time-sensitive the intel you're trying to extract is, the more motivation the torturee has to hold out or dissemble because the information they're being tortured for has a finite (and short) shelf life.

In other words, I can be an absolutist on anything that I will never be called upon to actually do or be responsible for.

That's a reasonable point.

Richard Dreyfuss, the actor, tells the story of his father's experience during WWII. His father, apparently, tortured captured German soldiers to gain information. As the story goes, he used a knife.

Nasty business.

One comment Dreyfuss always makes when discussing this is that, were someone to ask a roomful of people that included his father if they had ever tortured someone, his father would raise his hand, explain what happened and why, and then accept whatever consequences came from that.

We've seen none of that, ever. We've seen nothing but lies and CYA bullsh*t, to this very day.

It's not a trivial thing, the folks involved are potentially liable to very serious consequences. We've had to intervene in some cases to prevent Americans spending time in foreign jails.

But we have never, ever, ever come clean about any of it. It just festers away.

IMVHO the reason that no-one ever wants to mention about why there is so much resistance to letting any of this enter the public sphere is that some folks would then be liable for serious criminal consequences, including at an international level.

As an aside, I'm less confidence that a tendency toward sadism was not a factor. People respond to danger in all kinds of ways, most folks don't do so by reducing other folks' bodies to pulp.

And here's a link to the Amazon page, which has a look inside feature.

link

My point not being that I read this book and am now an expert. I did read the book, but have forgotten most of it. But it's 800 pages long, is by someone who has spent decades studying precisely this issue, it's superbly done, discredits some myths on both left and right, and it seems to me that anyone who really wants to know something about the subject should read the book or at least as many online summaries as possible and not flood the internet with more baseless speculations.

Well, come to think of it, this is the internet. Nevermind.

I think the answer to 'why torture' depends strongly on the person involved here. My personal estimate is:
Bush : did believe that it works and wanted to be precieved as strong
Rummy: did never believe that and his use of it was 100% cynical (getting the 'right' answers not the truth, dehumanizing the enemy = gookification, deliberate creation of a zone of lawlessness under control of the executive)
Cheney: mixed, might have believed in some info gathering value. But his main reason imo was support of his 'king in wartime', imperial presidency claims. If the president can break two taboos* and get away with it, then his actions can never be challenged again based on these precedents).
Lower down the ladder other motivations applied. I think turf wars were a part of it. The CIA could get a monopoly on intelligence by peddling its 'superior' methods, which made it necessary to a) discredit the real experts and b) please the customer (i.e.not getting the truth but the 'right' info).
At the very base good old sadism got a field day.
When it all got public, the reactions were not necessarily tied to the motivation (except for Cheney who to a degree needed the publicity to foster his pet theory) but had a lot to do with ass-covering and ex post facto arguments. The media in part had to justify their cheerleading or deliberate blindness, in part 'sticking it to the libs' became a major point.
I fear in the medium run Cheney has won his game. Even if (and to me it's still an if) torture has stopped for the moment, it can and will get revived once another imperial cabal takes over the government. And the taboo against extralegal killing did never get reinstated in the first place.

*a) killing US citizens without trial abroad and at home b) ordering torture, in particular against court injunctions

McKinney, I agree like you I'd be hopeless under torture, but we're still a problem for the torturer after good intel just as is the stoic dissembler.

I mean, just say they take one of us from our cell, show us the Room, and we sing like the aforesaid yellow bird "No officer, I'm just a cab driver, I've got no personal or professional association. I don't think I've ever met the people you mention".. and *they don't believe us*.

Would you stop singing, and stand fast to the truth? For how long? I think I'd try, but I'd very quickly make up new songs and new verses and shade old ones imagine connections and basically anything I could think of until they stopped. From your comment it sounds like you too. Given that how can you get reliable intel from even the most cooperative victim? The method is poisonous.

The fact that torture doesn't work is not a mere assertion. Even the best interrogator the Nazis had knew it.

http://kevinrobinson.wordpress.com/2006/10/05/on-torture-nazi-germanys-greatest-interrogator/

Our best interrogator in WW II, Maj. Sherwood Moran, used similar methods.

http://mythingthepoint.blogspot.com/2006_07_09_archive.html

And there's plenty of evidence that torture doesn't work. A tortured confession that Saddam was providing chemical weapons training to al Qaeda figured in the Bush administration's justification for the war on Iraq, and the man who gave that confession later admitted that he was just saying what his torturers wanted to hear so they would stop hurting him.

Bush apparently thought this proved torture works, because people who weren't being tortured weren't telling him what he wanted to hear.

More on the research here:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/25/new-research-suggests-enhanced-interrogation-not-effective.html

This information is readily available, but some people prefer to think torture works. I don't know why.

johnw: I've read your three links, and while they all assert - and I agree with this assertion - that the best interrogation techniques do NOT involve torture, I remain of the opinion (expressed above) that this is insufficient to say "torture doesn't work." It probably does, in certain situations, just often enough to reinforce the belief that it does, especially among those predisposed to believe that.

(Cf. gambling, above. It's simply not true that no one comes away from Las Vegas, or their bookie, a winner. So losers continue to bet . . .)

As a matter of policy, which it now is, it is fair to say that "torture doesn't work," not to mention that it's inherently wrong and debased and we shouldn't do it. "False positives" undoubtedly drown out any "correct" information thus gleaned, and can, as we have seen, be used for dire political ends as well. It can also be argued that reliance on torture tends to distract us from far better techniques of gathering intelligence.

So I'm not disagreeing with you as to what we should(n't) do, only with the logical framing of it.

define 'work'. When it's confirmation that one seeks, there are few more effective tools. The US used captured 'red' manuals from China etc. that were iirc outspoken about their purpose of getting false confessions to be used for propaganda.
---
As for the question 'is inducing fear already torture?', I think it is no coincidence that most if not all classical torture protocols start with 'showing the instruments'.
---
Another point not yet mentioned afaict: iirc the Bush administration (or their henchbeings resp.) rejected some intelligence because it was NOT the result of torture. Only after torture gave the same info it got accepted. At the time this reminded me of the old Roman law that only allowed the use of statements of slaves in court when they were the result of torture because it was a dogma that untortured slaves would always lie.

The last time I remember this topic coming up at length (which almost certainly wasn't the last time it did, just the last time I remember), russell put out the point that the Israeli SC green-lighted "ticking time bomb" torture in the late '80s, saw a decade of torture running rampant, and finally determined it needed flatly banned because its practitioners were unwilling to concede that most "exceptional" circumstances, weren't. Given e.g. how narrowly the LE community in the US has made use of provisions of the Patriot Act, I feel pretty safe in asserting that the US isn't immune to this breed of expansiveness, and that we'd see the same rapid descent down the slippery slope were we to try institutionalize "leaving those tools on the table" for "exceptional circumstances".

Torture: The tragic outcome of any election where a Republican takes the oath of office. A necessary evil in our two party system by definition, or a logical outcome of the Bellmore necessary evil theorem?

I leave it to the reader to decide.

On another note, I promise not to comment on this thread about the Obama administration's "reluctance" to prosecute the torturers in our midst. Let sleeping Sapients lie ;)

McKinneyTexas would confess to being a liberal Democrat, under torture. Were he still drawing breath, I bet Usama bin Laden would, too.

To be fair, so would I. So the torturer would be batting .333 before he got to Brett Bellmore.

I don't know how tough Brett is, but I suspect a threat to take away his guns for life would make him sing like a canary. What tune he'd sing would of course depend on the question.

So the torturer's batting average might end up being .250 or .500 after Brett. Does either of those count as "torture works"?

--TP

'"False positives" undoubtedly drown out any "correct" information thus gleaned'

This is just a way of saying it doesn't work. Thanks for clearing that up.

bobbyp, sapient never sleeps. sapient doesn't comment on threads like this where it seems that it's a discussion about "I'm against torture!" and "I'm against torture more!"

In fact, there were plenty of people stating that torture was just fine after 9/11. Another case of 1) vocal public support for a horrendous policy; 2) horrendous policy goes forth unimpeded; 3) all of the sudden, everybody demands that the people who carried out the popular will be prosecuted. Same story as the bankers: (1) go, go, go deregulation! 2) I need to redo my kitchen - isn't it great that we can get some cash out of our house, whereas yesterday we had no equity at all? 3) Oh no! Why aren't all the bankers in jail?

Let's recall that Bush, although he may not have been "elected" was reelected when most sentient people were aware of what was happening.

I think the electorate is responsible for torture, and they're responsible (to a lesser degree) for the financial crisis. They fell for the rhetoric. By the way, I diligently wrote my Congresspeople passionate outraged letters against torture. I also refinanced my suddenly very valuable house.

I think the electorate is responsible for torture

I think it's quite obvious that a lot of people are perfectly fine with torture, especially torturing Other People, in particular Muslims and/or Arabs.

The more pain, the better.

You can speak for yourself on the issue of financial deregulation.

I think my comment get eaten. Oh well.

I just think that lots of people are susceptible to the baser emotions, especially when scared, angered, or when their pride is involved.

Why? Revenge. Sadism. Pr0n for Darth Cheney.

We'll probably never find out what video horrors went up in smoke, when Cheney had that so-convenient fire in his man-size safe.

The real bad guys, to me, are those who play on the baser emotions. In the case of torture, that would be the Bush Administration. And quite a few of the leaders of the Republican party.

The real bad guys, to me, are those who play on the baser emotions. In the case of torture, that would be the Bush Administration. And quite a few of the leaders of the Republican party.

Agreed.

McKinney: It is wrong to steal, but if one steals to feed his/her family, there is at least an extenuating circumstance..

Tell that to the judge you moral relativist said bobbyp sporting his best "Will you look at that!!" grin.

McKinney: I am in the 'it's wrong, but I am not quite an absolutist' camp. Good you you, Tex.

But my sheer uninformed speculation: There's a stink in the room. This is not to say that torture could not have happened under a Dem administration (the likelihood strikes me as less).

But let us consider: The Bush administration was caught totally flat footed by 9/11.

Throw in the following ingredients: Fear of another attack; considerations related to domestic political blowback (how the f@ck could you have let that happen on your watch?); a strong sense of american exceptionalism (the rules don't apply to us); revenge; GOP manly manism; the built-in hubris of being the Hegemon. Add large dollop of hang 'em high sense of what constitutes justice. Last but by no means least: Ugly racism.

The perfect storm.

So yeah, one could try to understand. But they could have at least had the balls to admit, "We are doing some henious stuff for what we think are justifiable reasons. We are willing to take the moral blame that goes with that."

Lincoln said similar stuff like that during the tragedy of the civil war. He did not lack for moral clarity and courage.

That today's GOP could not get there condemns them in my opinion.

They revealed themselves to be moral midgets and cowards.

I understand that torture does work if it's done right. Some pointers: everyone breaks sooner or later - *EVERYONE*. One key element to a successful torture session(meaning gaining actionable intel.)is to make it clear that false info. will lead to even more extreme pain, mutilation and such. False info is usually the result of torturing a person that actually doesn't know that which you are trying to extract from him. Get the right guy, torture him correctly and he will give up valuable intel. Waterboarding is child's play and barely, if at all, torture.

The torture doesn't work mantra got started by anti-torture folks who were looking for a non-emotional peg on which to hang their hat.

The CIA has long used torture, long before the so called War on Terrorism. It only became leaked, in the guise of a good thing to boot, to the public post 9/11 because Bush (and now Obama) wanted to look tough on terrorism (also see Russell's prison post where politicians feel the need to get tough on crime).

All of that being said, I am 100% against torture on moral grounds.

I understand that torture does work if it's done right. Some pointers: everyone breaks sooner or later - *EVERYONE*.

Do you have any sort of a citation for this? It fairly flatly contradicts what I've read on the subject.

One key element to a successful torture session(meaning gaining actionable intel.)is to make it clear that false info. will lead to even more extreme pain, mutilation and such. False info is usually the result of torturing a person that actually doesn't know that which you are trying to extract from him.

Yes, false positives are a huge problem. But so are false negatives. I'm again curious for your basis for asserting all this; it sounds an awful damned lot more like received pop culture "wisdom" than any sort of informed commentary on the subject.

Waterboarding is child's play and barely, if at all, torture.

I believe the term you're searching for is "fraternity prank".

Although I'm fascinated: waterboarding is an effective that forces people to give up information they fervently seek to conceal... yet it's magically doing this by not physically hurting them or inducing any sort of psychological trauma. How's that marvel of modern science work exactly?

Why is waterboarding merely "child's play"? Because if we admit that it is torture (or face the fact that we have prosecuted other people for war crimes for engaging in it), then we have to admit that what we are doing is exactly torture. No more euphemisms about "enhanced interrigation techniques." Just -- torture.

we have prosecuted other people for war crimes for engaging in it

We've prosecuted our own people for using the "water cure". Even then there were plenty of defenders of torture who claimed "military necessity"

I think the electorate is responsible for torture...

Not to go all godwin and/or collective guilt here...but then equally, is the electorate to be praised for the alleged end to this state sanctioned behavior?

"Waterboarding is child's play and barely, if at all, torture."

If there's anything more tedious than torture apologetics, it's LAZY torture apologetics. Come at us, bro! Explain why water boarding is barely-if-at-all torture.

I've got a bit of a different take on this, in that our descent into torture is basically othering rather than some logical weighing of the value of the information obtained. As Dower points out in War without Mercy, stereotypes proceed the atrocities, and all of what happened was preceded by a flood of assertions and beliefs about Muslim believers and the incompatibility of their beliefs with notions of Western civilization. Folks may have dressed it up with gaining information, but at its heart, it was based on a notion that Muslims were less than us and therefore did not deserve the treatment we would normally assign to civilized people.

We just had a long thread about prisons, and imvho the punitive sanctions in US prisons, primarily solitary confinement are as much torture as anything else. That kind of thinking, that some behavior that is defined by experts as torture, is a useful tool to enforce compliance, makes it a very short leap to utilizing torture on outsiders who, we are assured, will happily accept suicide to kill us because we just know that this is what they believe.

Many moons ago, there was an idle front page musing that we should bury terrorists in a container filled with pig fat so as to prevent them from committing suicide. That was slapped down pretty quickly, but if you have these assumptions that your 'enemy' is operating on a level where they must be motivated by things you feel are ridiculous, you feel like you have to take any possible step to stop them.

It's worth recalling that a lot of those selfsame punitive penal sanctions were being applied to detainees alongside the "enhanced interrogation" techniques, so they were getting the best of both civilian and martial worlds. Many moons ago, we discussed various aspects of this at length (e.g., forced feeding).

(Reading these old posts reminded me of three things I'd forgotten, but shouldn't have: I miss Katherine. I miss Nell. I miss Hilzoy.)

Under some kind of compulsion I'd confess to being a wee bit shocked, or mildly put off, by a long thread about torture, with many postings that talk about whether something is really torture, in which no question is ever raised about whether there is some kind of widely accepted definition of what constitutes torture, perhaps a definition that has been formally accepted, or as you might say ratified, by some significant and relevant nation.

Odd, because surely every single person here, including newbies and drive-bys, knows the answer.

Hint to visiting Martians: The answer is Yes. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Signed by the President of the United States, ratified by 2/3 of the Senate, in a constitutional process that gives it the force of law; also in force in about 155 other countries.

Can somebody tell me why this is *completely* irrelevant? Not to the scofflaws who brought torture back to respectability, of course; but to people who are talking about whether waterboarding is or is not really to be counted as torture?

For the benefit of any non-Americans, excusably ignorant of things important to us, there is an exposition of the matter of "force of law" at http://porlockjr.blogspot.com/2005/03/just-say-no-to-torture_06.html

So, if anyone cares whether a thing is torture, the actual text of the Geneva convention on torture is available on the Internet, believe it or not. You can look it up.

IMHO but obviously you'll prefer to read the original rather than taking my word for it: of course waterboarding is torture. So is pretty much anything you can do to force a confession. You'd almost think they had written the thing with that in mind.

Oh, and anyone in a position of authority in the United States or anywhere else who is aware of the use of torture and fails to take action against it is violating U.S. (or other nation's) law. (Here's one item you can safely bet on being omitted when the Republicans write up the bill of impeachment for Obama.)

BTW, discussions of the conditions under which torture might be necessary in spite of its badness suffer the same problem, though I won't be so wordy about it. In fact, the question is answered in the same post already cited.

Hint to Martians who can't follow the link:
No extraordinary circumstances whatsoever.

Direct quote from United States law. You could look it up, but fortunately no one in America cares about law or constitutions or anything. Citation, just for laughs: Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 2, paragraph 2.

Porlock, you forget the one fundamental dogma: Treaties do not bind Rome, only other parties.
Plus, as was a standard talking point, The Constitution is not a suicide pact.
In other words, it is completely irrelevant what treaties*, laws or The Constitution say. Rome will do what she damn well pleases and objecting to that is a heinous act calling for Rome's painful displeasure.

*tools of the weak to bind the strong in the parlance of a famous Bushie

Porlock Junior,

unfortunately, the US has a habit of making most of its treaties in bad faith. The concept of "non-self-executing" treaty is an essential parrt of US jurisprudence. It means that most international treaties, even when duly ratified, cannot be directly used as bases for arguments in US courts.

Contrast this with Europe. Here, many national constitutions give international human rights treaties a super-constitutional status, explicitly requiring the constitution and any subsequent amendments to conform with them.

") vocal public support for a horrendous policy; 2) horrendous policy goes forth unimpeded; 3) all of the sudden, everybody demands that the people who carried out the popular will be prosecuted."

Utter bull. Vocal support yes, but not universal. I keep recommending Rejali because a few people in this thread keep making stupid arguments that are factually wrong, relying on their gut, and generally wasting time, as though absolutely nothing had been learned in the ten years since Abu Ghraib. Anyway--

link to polling studies Point 3 is nonsense. "Everybody" who supported torture didn't deman that the people who carried out the not universally "popular will" be prosecuted. Rather, some who opposed it all along continued to want investigations and prosecutions, while Obama and others said we needed to look forward and not back, a position somewhat different from the one taken with respect to Manning and Snowden. That's predictable--no doubt people in the White House don't really want to set a precedent where Presidents could be held accountable for human rights violations.

"I understand that torture does work if it's done right. Some pointers: everyone breaks sooner or later - *EVERYONE*"

Oh great. Another expert speaks out.

" Waterboarding is child's play and barely, if at all, torture. The torture doesn't work mantra got started by anti-torture folks who were looking for a non-emotional peg on which to hang their hat."

More expertise on display.

"All of that being said, I am 100% against torture on moral grounds."

Sure you are. But who could be opposed to child's play?

By the way, sapient, a portion from the Rejali polling article that you might find congenial--

"A major- ity supporting torture did not emerge until June 2009, six months after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, and simultaneous with the reappearance of former Vice Pres- ident Dick Cheney on the public stage to defend the use of coercive interrogation techniques. The appearance of a public majority who favors torture is a very recent phenomenon. We believe that torture may have become a partisan symbol, dis- tinguishing Republicans from Democrats, that demonstrates hawkishness on national security in the same way that being supportive of the death penalty indicates that a person is tough on crime"

A link regarding whether everyone breaks under torture. (Not to keep you in suspense--no, not everyone does.)

washington post article

"put out the point that the Israeli SC green-lighted "ticking time bomb" torture in the late '80s, saw a decade of torture running rampant, and finally determined it needed flatly banned because its practitioners were unwilling to concede that most "exceptional" circumstances, weren't. "

That gives Israel too much credit. Their Supreme Court put out a ruling in 1999 that significantly decreased the use of torture, but didn't end it.

Israeli human rights group study on torture by Israel

I just realized that someone reading my post criticizing sapient might think that all the quotes I criticized were from sapient. No, just the first.

johnw: "Personally, I think Bush and Dick Cheney panicked. "

Bush probably panicked, because in the end he was and is a failure propped up by his family's connections. Cheney probably didn't panick for more than a couple of hours; he's a sociopath who realized the opportunities available.

McKinneyTexas: "Others won't break, or will hold on well enough and dissemble enough that whatever valid information they spill is so mixed up in misinformation that maybe something is learned, maybe not. The kicker though, if you accept the premise that torture works better on some people than on others, is you don't know until you try. I'm not talking morality here, just utility: will it work? Maybe, maybe not. "

So some people will tell the truth; some will lie for quite a while, before telling the truth, and then whatever lies they tell when the truth doesn't work.

And you say 'will it work?'. I think that you've answered your question.

"This is not to say that torture could not have happened under a Dem administration (the likelihood strikes me as less)."

Given that drone attacks on weddings and daycare facilities based on the location of a cell phone associated with a terrorist, without bothering to confirm who/what is around it, have taken place under a Dem administration, I'm not sure why. My understanding of the matter is that the current administration is likely outsourcing for deniability, rather than actually rejecting torture.

johnw: "And there's plenty of evidence that torture doesn't work. A tortured confession that Saddam was providing chemical weapons training to al Qaeda figured in the Bush administration's justification for the war on Iraq, and the man who gave that confession later admitted that he was just saying what his torturers wanted to hear so they would stop hurting him."

From the viewpoint of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, that was torture working just fine. And a lot of Americans would agree, because like liked the lies.

Donald Johnson @7:46. I don't doubt you (and Rejali) on the polling, and surely Presidents like Presidential Immunity* but I think that reinforces sapient's point - if we don't impeach the guy, and we don't vote him out, and we don't meaningfully pressure his successor to do anything about it then it's hard to take seriously when we say "not in our name".

Thing about this comment is I'm being really unclear who I mean by "we", and I think that's where an effective rebuttal might lie but I haven't found it.

* Though if that's the reason Obama's people didn't prosecute Bush's, well, they're putting to themselves that the Clinton impeachment never happened.

Some further thoughts:

1. NV makes a good point about the ticking time bomb scenario--I agree, a participant in that venture will likely be trained to resist and motivated to resist until the bomb blows and beyond. But, to complete that thought--and we are assuming a situation with which we've never been faced (although Dreyfus' father's situation is somewhat analogous)--the fact that the participant is recalcitrant doesn't argue for milder means and probably would spur the interrogator to even more extreme measures.

2. Waterboarding as child's play--I think the only people qualified to give this opinion are those who've experienced it. That said, on the continuum of torture, it falls far short of hot irons, the rack, iron cages, etc. Back in the day, it took a lot of that to shake loose a confession from true believers.

3. The taste for torture was bipartisan post 9/11. Pelosi has amnesia, but that is to be expected. I'm not in favor of prosecutions for several reasons. First, getting a conviction would be very, very tough. Second, the politics and widespread discussion would probably produce a strong pro-torture consensus in the country. The ObWi community is a very small and much ignored slice of the country. Third, it would have the smell of a political trial. I don't like those. Fourth, the last thing we want as a country is a change of administration being followed by prosecuting the last administration. I'm not saying that won't be necessary sometimes, but this class of prosecution has the smell of politics. Just look at the partisan nature of many of the comments here. there is no widespread consensus that Bush et al were corrupt. A prosecution of the Wall Street bailout would get more traction with the public, but that was unpleasantly necessary and also a bipartisan endeavor. John and Jane Q Public never got that and didn't like it.

4. Just because I'd fold like a cheap suit--although confessing to being a liberal Democrat might be a reach--and just because many others might also fold, and to that extent, torture would work, a smart participant could spew hours and hours of seemingly relevant data and withhold key information. Torture is a continuum, running from mild to unspeakable. So is the concept of effectiveness.

5. LJ and others make the "othering" point. That resonates. It would be easier for me, in close combat, to stick a knife in an SS soldier to find out where and how large the unit I'm about to face was than for me to stick a knife in BP to force him to give me his honest handicap. And even then, he'd lie. Sandbagging bastard.

6. If we ever have a "who writes the longest, most awkward sentence contest", I want to be in it.

Maybe I should have said, "The real bad guys IN THIS INSTANCE were Bush administration officials and many of the leaders of the Republican party."

The Republican party has established over the last fifty years or so--since Lee Atwood certainly--a pattern of deliberately appealing to the worst in people as an election tactic. Often this is quite cynical as in the fear-mongering and lying about Obammcare, or the claims that Democrats created the budget deficit. Or the claim that Republican politicians care about reducing the deficit. And "niggers"--oops, "inner city" men--don't want to work etc. Most Republican political rhetoric is cynically designed to inflame people who live in fear--mostly the fear that someone other than themselves might benefit from government resources, but other fears work as well .

So exploiting the fear of terrorists fits right in with established patterns of behavior.

But that doesn't mean that a Democratic administration couldn't be frightened or angered into unethical behavior. After all, the internment of the Japanese happened under Roosevelt.

I think that the failings of the Bush administration are symptomatic of a party that sold itself to the plutocrats and a mob of people who are consumed by the fear that tax dollars might be spent on someone other than themselves. I don't think that either torture or the unnecessary invasion of Iraq would have happened if Bush had not been elected.

But that's comparing the Republican party of a decade ago to the Democratic party of a decade ago. I'm not comparing liberals in general to conservatives in general or the parties of the last century to each other.

For those who don't remember 24:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/24_(TV_series)
Towards the middle of 24's run, the series attracted significant criticism for its depictions of torture, as well as its negative portrayal of Muslims. The frequent use of ticking time bomb scenarios in storylines, as well as the main character, Jack Bauer portraying torture as normal, effective, acceptable and glamorous, was criticized by human rights activists, military officials, and experts in questioning and interrogation, with concerns raised that junior U.S. soldiers were imitating techniques shown on the series. In response to these concerns, members of the U.S. military met with the creators of the show. Partly as a result of these discussions, and the military's appeal to the creators of the show to tone down the scenes of torture since it was having an impact on U.S. troops, there was a reduction in torture in subsequent seasons of the series.
The issue of torture on the series was discussed by President Bill Clinton who stated that he does not feel there is a place in U.S. policy for torture, but "If you're the Jack Bauer person, you'll do whatever you do and you should be prepared to take the consequences." Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, during a discussion about terrorism, torture and the law, took offense at a Canadian judge's remark that Canada, "thankfully", did not consider what Jack Bauer would do when setting policy. He reportedly responded with a defense of Bauer, arguing that law enforcement officials deserve latitude in times of great crisis, and that no jury would convict Bauer in those types of situations...

I gave up watching it somewhere along the way, as I can remember thinking it had veered from entertaining fantasy to propaganda (the depiction of torture working fairly reliably, and remarkably rapidly, on a regular basis).

I find Howard Gordon's comment quoted on the wikipedia page quite stunning:
"I think the one thing that we all felt very confident about—although we had a vigorous behind-the-scenes debate—was at what point are we loyal and beholden to good storytelling, and at what level do you hold yourself accountable for things like stoking Islamophobia or promoting torture as a policy? There were just certain things that we needed to portray in order to make it feel thrilling—and real, even..."

Followup questions to torture-apologists:

Both torture and genocide are considered a "crime against humanity".

Does genocide "work" ? Is it more acceptable if it "works"?

This interview with Mad Men's Matthew Weiner is also on point...
http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/03/-em-mad-men-em-s-creator-don-draper-represents-american-society/284519/
I am always writing about the period we’re in, and sometimes I’m telling people things they don’t want to hear. Some people have an insatiable need for violent retribution and dismembered body parts and talk about powerlessness. The economy, the Internet—all these things are isolating us and making us feel defeated. Our national culture feels defeated, our exceptionalism. To see Don lose his confidence was hard for them: They want to be in a world where even if crime doesn’t pay, you go down shooting. Instant justice, and cops shoot people before they get due process—like Breaking Bad. That’s the beauty of, and the satisfaction of, that show. It was a great piece of timing. Walter White won the way they wanted him to. He made himself not a bad guy by killing all the really bad guys and providing for his family.

That, I’m not in that part of the business.

McKinnyTexas:
"3. The taste for torture was bipartisan post 9/11. Pelosi has amnesia, but that is to be expected. I'm not in favor of prosecutions for several reasons. ... Fourth, the last thing we want as a country is a change of administration being followed by prosecuting the last administration. I'm not saying that won't be necessary sometimes, but this class of prosecution has the smell of politics."

If ever there was an administration that needed to be prosecuted, it was that of GW Bush. They made the Nixon admin look like a bunch of amateurs.

Both torture and genocide are considered a "crime against humanity".

Does genocide "work" ? Is it more acceptable if it "works"?

Conflating genocide inflicted wholesale on a population with selective torture of likely participants in planning and executing mass casualty attacks on civilians is probably not persuasive in most quarters. Simply because both are "crimes against humanity" does not equate to commonality. Kidnapping and sexually brutalizing a young woman is a felony, or a series of felonies if you like, but it is not the same as failing to declare income; however both are felonies.

If ever there was an administration that needed to be prosecuted, it was that of GW Bush. They made the Nixon admin look like a bunch of amateurs.

You are making my point.

If we ever have a "who writes the longest, most awkward sentence contest", I want to be in it.

If we ever hold such a contest, we would have to do some kind of handicapping. After all, wouldn't anyone who has spent a career as a lawyer have a huge advantage, due to lots of practice? Certainly anyone who makes their living writing manuals for computer software would.

Hey now, when I say I am 100% against torture I mean I am 100% against torture, OK?

Re; waterboarding - some context: it's been around a long time, decades at least. Many members of US special forces (e.g. Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets.....) and I suspect certain classes of CIA operators, have been waterboarded as a part of their training.

Now, waterboarding is largely psychological and I can appreciate that having it done to you in training, where you know they are not actually going to kill you, is psychologically different from being captured and having the enemy do it to you; an enemy that might actually kill you.

OTOH, the whole point of water boarding is to induce an autonomic nervous system response that overrides rational thought. So, in training, or otherwise, the sensation should be similar. Part of the purpose of training is to learn to deal with the irrational physical response. It isn't actually going to kill you and it isn't going to maim you; one reason I said it is torture lite. Another reason I feel it is child's play in the world of torture is that it is hardly comparable to some techniques that are (or were) common in Israel and amongst her enemies; things like a car battery hooked up to the scrotum (often eventually fatal) and yet other more gruesome approaches that involve mutilation. Just a little context there.

So, when certain segments of the government scoff at waterboarding being all that bad it is because they themselves have been through it (albeit in training) or at least know/work with those who have. It is part of the culture of the rough men who stand on walls keeping us safe. I think that needs to be understood. That doesn't mean I approve of grabbing people and waterboarding them for information. Again, I object on moral grounds and I object on strategic grounds because inevitably many of those subjected to the harsh treatment were the wrong guy and their reaction afterwards will be anti US. IOW, another terrorist or terrorist supporter is created.

Even if waterboarding isn't as bad as, say, having your fingers cut off one at a time until you talk, "child's play" is an extremely poor choice of words to use in describing it. IMO, it will only detract from whatever point you're trying to make.

(Is it safe?)

Now, waterboarding is largely psychological...

OTOH, the whole point of water boarding is to induce an autonomic nervous system response that overrides rational thought.

It seems to me that these two statements contradict each other. Inducing an automatic, autonomic nervous system response is physiological, not psychological.

If I choke you until you pass out, then wake you up, lather rinse repeat, is that psychological or physical?

The fact that it freaks you the hell out is rooted in your body's physical response. The fact that you know you're not likely to actually die is sort of beside the point.

You might prefer to actually die, in some contexts.

Psychological is when your captor tells you he's got your kids and he's going to kill them.

Also, I'm not sure what the point is of measuring various forms of torture for their relative heinousness.

Which is worse, cut somebody's fingers off, or pull their teeth out with a pair of pliers?

Does it matter?

I'm not in favor of prosecutions for several reasons

We will never see a prosecution of anyone involved with any of this here in the US.

We have, however, gone above and beyond that, and have obstructed folks in other countries and jurisdictions from prosecuting Americans involved in the torture regime.

So, bonus.

What I would like is answers to the following:

When did the torture begin.
On whose authority did it begin.
What information were we trying to obtain.

In other words, WTF did we think we were about, and who said we could do it.

We aren't done with this issue. The bar was raised, significantly, regarding what is and is not acceptable. And, Obama or no Obama, it has not yet been fully lowered.

So, no more waterboarding. Well, what do we allow?

No more black sites. Does that mean no more black sites, or no black sites operated by *us*?

Will we ever close Guantanamo, or is that camp, along with the bizarre no-mans-land category of "enemy combatant", with us from now until the end of time?

If we don't understand how we got here, we will never be able to discuss, and make reasonable decisions about, whether this is where we actually want to be.

What we've had, for over ten years, is secrets, lies, and bureaucratic CYA bullshit.

What I think in general is that the entire episode was a clusterf*ck from beginning to end, and nobody wants to end up holding the bag.

We'll get, someday, a 6,000 page dump, redacted by the CIA, which nobody will be able to look at, and with just enough tidbits released to the public for the pundits to say "regrettable, but you have to understand the times!".

And that will be that.

Next time some kind of crap hits the fan, the Yoo/Bybee memoranda will be dusted off, and we'll be back at it.

Yeah, Obama has renounced those opinions and memoranda, but Obama will not be President forever. When Bush wanted to grab people, he reached way back to WWII to come up with his "enemy combatant" bullshit. The Yoo and Bybee stuff is still around, someday somebody will conveniently discover that, after all, those guys had a point.

John Yoo sat on TV and told us all that it was OK to crush the testicles of a child, if the President needed it done.

He's a professor of law at Berkeley, and and AIE scholar.

That's everything you need to know about the tolerance of the American people for torture.

If you freak us out enough, we will in fact crap in our pants and behave like frightened children.

If that means some kids nuts get crushed, so be it.

Russell, "It seems to me that these two statements contradict each other."

Not really. The autonomic response is translated into a psychological effect; being largely instinctual panic.

Where I was going with my waterboarding comments is in concert with your larger questions in your last. I guess I wasn't clear enough.

Wars these days are fought over ideology. The US has this idea that it is exceptional. The neocons - who, btw still inform Obama - have the belief that the US, being exceptional, can rewrite history, creatively destroy societies and then build them up in our imaage all all of the claptrap. We are the good guys. We have the right, nay the responsibility, to impose our vision everywhere.

But good guys don't torture, right? Well waterboarding is tough, but, hey, not really torture. Afterall, it's something that out own best troops have experienced. There's no blood, no permanent damage that can be seen. So we can waterboard, thus being tough on terrorism, and yet still maintain our good guy status.That's where it started. Then there's the good old slippery slope that comes into play once waterboarding has been institutionalized.

It isn't just Bush. Obama, afterall, is the one that really accelerated the drone op.s to include zapping US citizens sans trial and based on secret panels dtermining death is necessary. Like I said, the actions of the US in the so called war on terrorism mirror the actions of pols in the so called war on crime.

Once there is a "war", then people starting start gettining into a mode of thought that involves existential threats (e.g. drugs are killing off the youth of our society). Once death and societal annhilation are on the line, then extreme defenses against it become reasonable. That's just human psychology.

So I would say that torture and a myriad of other unamerican practices and policies came to the forefront as a result of the public panic that 9/11 caused. Bush just happened to be the guy who was in office at the time. Obama has oicked up the ball and run with it.

Summary: causes = 9/11 induced panic + American exceptionalism.

Afterall, it's something that out own best troops have experienced.

Yes, as part of their training to be resistant in the face of capture, including in the face of physical and psychological abuse.

In other words, torture.

Who made torture respectable?

Cheney. A barbarian.

Worst American in public life, maybe ever. The antithesis of American values. I spit in his general direction.

Bush just happened to be the guy who was in office at the time

Also, I'm skeptical that Bush being POTUS at the time is coincidental to our embrace of torture. Another President may well have taken a different approach.

That's not a partisan comment, it's my judgement about Bush as a person. And not just Bush, but the folks around him.

They were (and remain) who they were, regardless of whether there's an (R) or a (D) after their names.

@Donald Johnson
That gives Israel too much credit. Their Supreme Court put out a ruling in 1999 that significantly decreased the use of torture, but didn't end it.

Yeah, I questioned that (a lot) even as I parroted it, but was too undisciplined to go verify it despite it seeming more than a little incredible. Thanks for calling me on it.

@McK
But, to complete that thought--and we are assuming a situation with which we've never been faced (although Dreyfus' father's situation is somewhat analogous)--the fact that the participant is recalcitrant doesn't argue for milder means and probably would spur the interrogator to even more extreme measures.

The problem with such "exceptional circumstances" arguments is they're generally theory divorced from reality. Their starting point is either a pile of unrealistic assumptions about torture's efficacy (which you're not doing) or careful narrowing of the circumstances to make it still seem potentially fruitful despite them (e.g., specifying we know with high probability that the suspect has the needed information, which you did lean towards). Even if those circumstances exist, leaving the "tools" on the table for those exacting circumstances ensures that torture will be used in circumstances falling short of that bar, for reasons you alluded to upthread: we as a culture - across classes and political parties, but especially in our bureaucracies - are very often quite spineless about the thought of being the one holding the bag after a catastrophe. Leaving it an acceptable option for extreme circumstances is normalizing it, even if we expand our every last breath trying to stipulate that this is exactly what we're not doing.

6. If we ever have a "who writes the longest, most awkward sentence contest", I want to be in it.

I don't think I need to brandish my credentials, but I'm pretty sure I'll make it to the finals. I mean, not to boast too much, but I've got some background in technical writing, some in the legal domain (with cross-pollination involving military regs at that), some lingering overwrought styling from undergrad literary criticism, a wandering mind and short attention span to introduce straight-up structural confusion, and if all else fails, my Usenet "debate" training to fall back on... yeah, I'm a pretty serious contender. *buffs knuckles*

"if we don't impeach the guy, and we don't vote him out, and we don't meaningfully pressure his successor to do anything about it then it's hard to take seriously when we say "not in our name"."

From past experience I suspect sapient's point is to take any blame away from the Obama Administration on any and all topics and put it on anyone or everyone else.

Regarding the public, yes, to some extent it is the public's fault that we haven't prosecuted high-ranking officials for war crimes, but the public is not on the top of my list of people to blame. It's more the fault of the people who actually have the power to investigate such crimes and choose not to, focusing instead on really serious criminals like Manning and Snowden. I don't think there is any such person as "the public" anyway. There are just hundreds of millions of individuals who don't spend a lot of time on political blogs because real life gets in the way, who are told every two to four years that it's absolutely vital that they get out and vote, as though voting actually determines what happens, and while I agree it is important, voting is a really coarse-grained way of influencing policy. If you don't think the Democrats are good enough, and they're not, are you supposed to vote third party? That worked out great in 2000. I can't make Obama investigate the torture policies of Bush or his own drone assassination program. There are people who write about these things and engage in activism, but there are a large number of important issues ranging from global warming, unemployment, massive prison populations, and people write and protest about all of them. But not in large enough numbers. Do I blame the great mass of American voters for inaction? It'd be nice if there were tens of millions of people writing letters to their politicians and protesting and demanding action or else on all these issues, but I don't expect it. The bulk of the blame should be placed on politicians and the press.

"Conflating genocide inflicted wholesale on a population with selective torture of likely participants in planning and executing mass casualty attacks on civilians is probably not persuasive in most quarters."

That word "likely" is doing a lot of work there. Torturing someone who might be innocent seems just a bit closer to the heinousness of genocide--no longer does the torturer get to hide behind the ticking time bomb defense, where the presumption is that one knows beyond doubt that the torture victim is some dastardly villain who is trying to kill innocents.

Anyway, if we did try high-ranking Americans, I wouldn't start with Bush. Probably with Kissinger. A conviction should be easy. Then Cheney. And it wouldn't just be torture--fudging up pretexts for an unjust war that probably caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands (the most recent study, not the Johns Hopkins paper, found 500,000 deaths through 2011) seems not too far short of genocide to me.

Won't happen, of course. One thing the American political class all has in common is a vested interest in not letting this happen.

If trials for war crimes/torture are going to happen, they will almost certainly have to happen at the beginning of a new administration. (At least, the serious investigation in order to build a court case will.)

At the start of his first term, Obama was still under the illusion that it would be possible to achieve reasonable cooperation with the Republicans on at least some issues. And prosecution of this kind would have put paid to that possibility. Which, I suspect, is the main reason that they didn't happen.

As it turns out, of course, cooperation was off the table pretty much no matter what he did. But by the time that became clear, it was too late in the game. So it will be left to some future administration to do what the law clearly requires.

NV--I agree, exceptions tend to swallow rules, particularly under duress or out of a sense of CYA. This is a universal phenomena, which--not to hijack the thread--is why I favor relatively limited gov't. Every threat is imminent, nothing is remote.

Anyway, if we did try high-ranking Americans, I wouldn't start with Bush. Probably with Kissinger. A conviction should be easy. Then Cheney. And it wouldn't just be torture--fudging up pretexts for an unjust war that probably caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands (the most recent study, not the Johns Hopkins paper, found 500,000 deaths through 2011) seems not too far short of genocide to me.

Kissinger--statute of limitations and a hard sell to those who don't have your worldview. The rest--you wouldn't like the result, for the same reason: your worldview is not a majority position. Widely held norms are not seen to have been violated.

Widely held norms are not seen to have been violated.

Pie in the sky (But why not? It's finally spring.) - Maybe if the implications of those widely held norms were put on full public display, they wouldn't be so widely held thereafter - not that I'm holding my breath.

wj,

There were no prosecutions because it would have been impossible to insulate the Congressional Democrats from their complicity in everything that happened.

It was easy for them to say they didn't know anything publicly, Bush and team weren't going to argue at that point. But Pelosi and Feinstein et al knew pretty much what was going on all the time, probably even Hilary. Prosecution can be one of those things that gets away from you.

"But that doesn't mean that a Democratic administration couldn't be frightened or angered into unethical behavior. After all, the internment of the Japanese happened under Roosevelt."

Riiight. Republicans rush to do evil, Democrats are frightened or angered into it. Keep telling yourself that.

Everybody thinks the other guy's sh*t stinks worse. In the end, it's just an excuse for not washing your hands after taking a dump.

What we really need is a jubalee. Set a date, and nobody who was in office before it is permitted to hold office after it. It's the only hope, because neither side will hold the other accountable, for fear of being held accountable themselves.

Marty,

You can prosecute people for actions taken or ordered. (Or, if I understand correctly, actions enabled by specific actions, e.g John Yoo's legal documents.) Which means we are talking about members of the Executive branch.

Criminal prosecuting people for failure to object to actions someone else was taking? Not really possible -- although one of the lawyers may correct me on that. And unless Congress voted to authorize or order torture, it would be hard to make a case against any of the members. You can blame them, of course. But legal prosecution is another story.

Riiight. Republicans rush to do evil, Democrats are frightened or angered into it. Keep telling yourself that.

Evil of a particular kind, as opposed to building roads and such - which is bland, everyday government evil.

Maybe if the implications of those widely held norms were put on full public display, they wouldn't be so widely held thereafter

Khalid El-Masri.

The Macedonians grabbed him, held him, and interrogated him for a couple of weeks. Didn't like the look of his passport. They then handed him over to the CIA.

The CIA flew him to Afghanistan, where they beat the crap out of him for a few months. At some point they figured out he had nothing to do with anything, he just had the same name as somebody else they were interested in.

They dumped him off on some remote road in Albania, in the middle of the night, with nothing, no money, nothing.

He held a German passport, we talked the Germans into basically doing nothing about it.

He sued the US in a variety of venues, up to the SCOTUS. Case dismissed, state secrets. Pound sand, El-Masri.

Mistaken identity. Wrong place, wrong time.

He finally won some money from the European Court of Human Rights.

All of this is public knowledge, and has been for years. I don't see anybody chaining themselves to the White House gates to get any kind of justice for El-Masri, or anyone else.

The court findings stand, BTW, to the best of my knowledge. If the executive says the magic words "state secrets", you might as well save your breath.

Executive in this particular case was Obama, not Bush.

If you don't exorcise your demons, they will haunt you forever.

McKinneyTexas: "Conflating genocide inflicted wholesale on a population with selective torture of likely participants in planning and executing mass casualty attacks on civilians is probably not persuasive in most quarters. "

Except for the whole point that torture will not be selective, nor of likely participants.

McKinneyTexas: "Conflating genocide inflicted wholesale on a population with selective torture of likely participants in planning and executing mass casualty attacks on civilians is probably not persuasive in most quarters. "

If "but it works!" is a persuasive argument for torture, how is it not a persuasive argument for genocide?

What I think gets lost in a lot of the discussion about torture is this:

What makes torture bad is not just what happens to the person who is tortured. In the context of any war, we do things to people that are, I certainly imagine and hope, far worse than what are done in the context of a CIA interrogation.

What makes torture bad is, at least equally, the corruption that it wreaks on the torturer. Both the individuals who do the nasty work, and also the society that sponsors it.

So, now we find ourselves lying to ourselves, concealing information from Congress and the courts, engaging in increasingly baroque classification regimes and assertions of "state secrets", having to either plead with or strong-arm other governments to avoid them prosecuting our people and bringing our "secrets" to light, having to pervert the justice system to prevent people from standing up in court and saying what's been done to them.

Finding the weaseliest, most spineless and @ss-kissing people available to run the DOJ and provide legal counsel, so as to not be called out on what are plainly illegal and wrong programs.

Aside from the sheer moral crappiness of standing up a systematic program of beating the snot out of people to make them talk, complete with legal foundations and videotapes and medical consultants and employee manuals, the inculcation of a culture of regular lying and denial is corrupting, and undermines self-government.

The number of hoops that we are required to jump through to avoid explicitly disclosing what *everybody already knows* is, literally, insane.

It is, again IMVHO, profoundly damaging. To us, not to the folks who were tortured, although they no doubt have their own damage to count up, but to us.

I'm still astonished that since 9/11 torture has aroused such a high level of debate and outrage - while most people are "kinda ok with killing people because war (on terror / is hell)".

Obama has learned fast and prefers to kill people - less messy (not counting the odd wedding, even though nobody seems to give a shit about such cases either).

and yeah, Guantanamo Bay is still open and who knows what other hell-holes, outsourced or not ...

nb: I am 100% opposed to torture

Haven't had much to say on this, but I think russell has, as he frequently does, said something well worth repeating:

Aside from the sheer moral crappiness of standing up a systematic program of beating the snot out of people to make them talk, complete with legal foundations and videotapes and medical consultants and employee manuals, the inculcation of a culture of regular lying and denial is corrupting, and undermines self-government.

If it can't be done publicly, it *can not be done* in a self-governed society. At least, not while remaining self-governed.

Except for the whole point that torture will not be selective, nor of likely participants.

If that is the case, then there is no colorable argument for it, ever.

If "but it works!" is a persuasive argument for torture, how is it not a persuasive argument for genocide?

I'm confident I never made that argument, just the opposite. I was simply disagreeing with Doc S that it doesn't work. Now, if you leave morality out of it, and examine your statement on genocide, genocide *works* if perpetrator is successful just like rape *works* if the rapist is successful. The fact that something *works* doesn't argue for its implementation.

If it can't be done publicly, it *can not be done* in a self-governed society. At least, not while remaining self-governed.

Lots of stuff is done in private--nothing wrong with that. Also, some things have to be done in secret: military planning, weapons development, intelligence gathering at one end and conferring with a lawyer, investigating criminal leads, dealing with informants, etc at the other end. The thing is, we admit we do these things in a general way, we just keep the details quiet.

Torture, OTOH, as Russell notes, is given a new name, lied about, etc. We can't or won't say, "you know, it's a shitty thing, but sometimes, on very rare occasions, we're going to shake the shit out of someone we are highly confident has actionable intelligence on impending terrorist activity. We are going to have an internal review process to ensure that we don't screw up. The procedures we use will be identified and limited to those on the approved list. They will be unpleasant, perhaps even intensely so to some people, eg, waterboarding, but that is what we are going to do."

Even if we said this, as NV notes, and as I am sure others will point out, the exception will swallow the rule and the definitions of *actionable intelligence* and *terrorist* will be stretched beyond recognition.

"It is, again IMVHO, profoundly damaging. To us, not to the folks who were tortured, although they no doubt have their own damage to count up, but to us."

That's right.

"the exception will swallow the rule and the definitions of *actionable intelligence* and *terrorist* will be stretched beyond recognition."

Exactly.

These two quotes are the bottom line regarding torture.

McK:

No objections to any of that, my phrasing was a little poor.

My point was just that if the entire concept is secret, from justification to execution to result, there is no way that can exist in an actually self-governed society.

The comparison has been made to military action, and it is apt. Our military does terrible things in our name, and the nature of the operations often rely on operational secrecy.

But we know (or should know) when the military is deployed or shortly thereafter. We might not know the specifics of every operation at the time, but records are kept and military interventions, past and present, are broadly debated in the public square.

wj,

Even in trying to say "it was just the Executive" you had to start building a case that those Confessional leaders "weren't really guilty, despite knowing about it".

Even if successful in the legal sense, it would have destroyed the whole "Bush was evil and we are good" line that Obama was elected on, and several political careers.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Whatnot


  • visitors since 3/2/2004

August 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31            
Blog powered by Typepad

QuantCast