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December 01, 2004

Comments

whee.

I thought we already knew about abuse at Camp Cropper and one or two other locations, and the use of hostages.

Meanwhile, on the extraordinary rendition front:

--The">http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1357699,00.html">The Sunday Times of London tracks the planes used to transport prisoners. More than 300 flights in total from one plane--though this does not correspond to 300 prisoners, obviously, as it presumably includes stops to pick people up, refueling stops, and return flights, and some prisoners are taken to Guantanamo rather than to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, etc. On the other hand, there are other planes we don't know about.

It has flown to 49 destinations outside America, including the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba and other US military bases, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, Libya and Uzbekistan.

--This is a Boston Globe report on the Massachusetts company that operates the jet. Most interesting detail:

"Records indicate that both Dyess, 48, and Bornt, 54, [two of the company's officers] received their Social Security numbers in the mid-1990s.

People who receive Social Security numbers late in adulthood are either recent immigrants or people given a new identity, said Beatrice Gaines, a spokeswoman for the Social Security Administration."

--I may have discovered what happened to one of the prisoners whose fate was heretofore unknown--I think he may have turned up at Guantanamo. I'm trying to confirm this with the Center for Constitutional Rights but they're not returning my emails. So I'm not real sure what to do about this.

--The intelligence reform bill has not made it out of committee and is looking kind of dead. I don't know whether the draft Hastert rejected still contains any provisions related to rendition.

Also, there have been several recent stories from Guantanamo that corroborate some of the detainees' allegations about mistreatment there.

I tell myself people didn't knowingly vote for this, but after a certain point you're choosing not to know.

But we (certainly, all regular readers at Obsidian Wings and, before ObWing, Tacitus) knew that the US army in Iraq was in the habit of taking hostages and torturing prisoners.

One reason why I became a regular reader at Tacitus was a lengthy post and a longer thread last year in which Tacitus strongly condemned this practice.

One of the most chilling moments for me, pre-Nov2nd, was when a regular reader/committed Republican, explained that as far as he was concerned, despite Katherine's meticulous documentation, such things were just "bureaucratic blunders" and the Bush administration ought not to be held responsible for them: an intelligent, compassionate, likeable person, who nevertheless had an unalterable faith that the President he supported could not have endorsed torture, in the face of the evidence that the Bush administration clearly had.

You can't argue against faith.

I appreciate posts like this: they keep me informed. (I do the research myself sometimes, but it gets horribly depressing.) But against faith, they achieve nothing.

But against faith, they achieve nothing.

I have faith too, Jes. Of a sort.

The mill of God grinds slow, but it grinds exceeding fine.

Check out this wiki on Task Force 121--mainly quoting from newspapers and magazine articles. I'll do a Nexis search tomorrow and see if I turn up anything else.

The hell of it is, we need special forces to look for these guys. We need secrecy. We need to work with nasty foreign governments to some extent. I hope no one on the left thinks anymore that we can dismantle the CIA, and I don't particularly want to tie their hands. But absolute power and absolute secrecy corrupt absolutely--especially when overseen by an administration that it is so utterly untrustworthy.

The Democrats should prepare a list of specific, important documents they're stonewalling Congress on about ghost detainees and rendition and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and which the Republicans are refusing to cross party lines to vote to subpoena. And we should filibuster Gonzales & say we'd be delighted to allow a vote as soon as the documents are released or subpoenas are issued.

We don't have many opportunities to drive press coverage. This is one of them. And if you've read the NY Times or Washington Post editorial page at all, I think press coverage would be unusually favorable. Not only would they say nice things about us--good, but ultimately trivial; they might wake up and start investigating this on their own.

We're obstructionists? They've been obstructing an investigation for months and months while we've waited politely. Enough is enough. They control every branch of government. They won't allow debate in the House or vote on bills that too many Democrats support. The White House made undecided voters sign loyalty oaths to go to campaign rallies; they're not exactly willing to answer our questions. This is our only option left.

They want to force an actual filibuster? Fine. It's not like we'll have to reach far for material--there are thousands of pages of damning government documents and human rights reports and prisoners' testimony for us to read aloud, which have been released since the initial Abu Ghraib scandal broke, gotten one story on page A16 in one daily, and been promptly forgotten.

I doubt this has occurred to the Congressional Democrats, and I doubt they'd have the guts if it did. But if anyone knows Harry Reid or Patrick Leahy's staff, please suggest it.

This IRRC report about torture in Guantanamo Bay I read before too I think. But NYT brings it as new?

The Red Cross said publicly 13 months ago that the system of keeping detainees indefinitely without allowing them to know their fates was unacceptable and would lead to mental health problems.

The report of the June visit said investigators had found a system devised to break the will of the prisoners at Guantánamo, who now number about 550, and make them wholly dependent on their interrogators through "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions." Investigators said that the methods used were increasingly "more refined and repressive" than learned about on previous visits.

"The construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture," the report said. It said that in addition to the exposure to loud and persistent noise and music and to prolonged cold, detainees were subjected to "some beatings." The report did not say how many of the detainees were subjected to such treatment.

Asked about the accusations in the report, a Pentagon spokesman provided a statement saying, "The United States operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation at Guantánamo that is providing valuable information in the war on terrorism."


This is what Americans voted for!

ditto what Don said.

51% of voting Americans gave tacit or explicit approval to this and everything else Bush has done.

Among the people I know who voted for Bush, there seem to be two different ways of responding to the torture allegations:

a. This is just the ugly side of war, it happens some in every war, especially a guerrilla war like we're fighting now, and wouldn't be substantially different under a Democrat.

b. This is awful in principle, but I'm so scared of the terrorists, I'm willing to have it done. (This thread of response also usually includes the fact that the terrorists are genuine bad guys, inclined to execute aid workers and indiscriminantly blow up crowds of people to get their way.)

Item (b) is the one that really creeps me out, because fundamentally good people are willing to support this stuff, largely (in my opinion) because they're pretty sure it won't be done to them or their loved ones, and because they think it will make them personally safer. I suppose this provides some genuine insight into all sorts of history, but it's a damned uncomfortable way to get that insight.

--John

"We should not forget it".

But, it was designed to be hidden. And it was forgotten on November 2 and will ever be so. There will not be justice. And more is coming, overseas and domestically.

Here is something else I will not forget, as Hilzoy and Katherine and others shouldn't either: the utter contempt and hatred possessing the inhabitants of my White House and the majority of my Congress for those of us who seek to expose the truth and bring those responsible to justice.

You guys are hopeful people. I'm not. The situation is utterly hopeless and desperate.

Item (b) is the one that really creeps me out, because fundamentally good people are willing to support this stuff, largely (in my opinion) because they're pretty sure it won't be done to them or their loved ones, and because they think it will make them personally safer.

That's a very nice and diplomatic way of putting things, JK.

Unfortunately, 'nice' and 'diplomatic' masks the truth and is only useful in instances when you must tell your wife's best friend her dress doesn't make her look fat or pretending Uncle Fred's combover means he's not really bald.

No, fundamentally good people aren't fundamentally good if they can rationalize torture. What it means is that some people are quite capable of--perhaps willing to--overlooking evil.

"It is a practice in some U.S. units to detain family members of anti-coalition suspects in an effort to induce the suspects to turn themselves in, in exchange for the release of their family members," the report stated."

This has always been one of my fears about inching the line toward torture. From a purely philosophical view (and I'm probably not making friends saying so) I can understand torturing terrorists whom you know to be guilty in order to obtain information (though there is some indication that torture works no better than other techniques anyway). But from a practical view, you A) can't always be sure you have the right person and B) people always go a little bit past the norms--so if the norm allows for torture, the abnormal will be even worse. In a previous post I wrote:

Third, it is a well understood conservative principle that people tend to push past the bounds of the legally permissible. Even though we have banned the use of torture in our country, the line between torture and non-torture is still skirted from time to time. Overzealous law enforcement people sometimes go a bit further than we allow. If we move the line to allow for exporting torture, where will those who go a bit further go? They will go to using a person's children against them. They will send a man and his wife to these other countries so the wife can be tortured in front of him. I can't predict exactly how it will work. But I know for a fact, and you do too if you think about it, that law enforcement pushes the line and pushes it hard. If we move the line so far as to allow suspects to be sent to other countries to be tortured, the actuality will go even further....

The idea that people push further than normally allowed has been a guiding principle in my understanding of law. The good news is that this is precisely the type of subject where merely exposing the practice in the US will go a long way toward fighting it.

Look! There's a silver lining to torture:

The good news is that this is precisely the type of subject where merely exposing the practice in the US will go a long way toward fighting it.

Possible other silver linings include providing meaningful and rewarding work for sadists and furthering our understanding of the body's limits to pain and injury.

The good news for people who want to stop it is....

Was I really that unclear?

Was I really that unclear?

Yes.

Look, if this Government truly wishes to stop torture, the path is clear: adopt a zero-tolerance policy. That means you don't nominate folks to the highest law enforcement position in the land who write papers condoning and justifying the use of torture. It also means holding people accountable when the systemic use of torture occurs under their aegis; not just the PFCs and SGTs--but the flag officers and their civilian superiors.

It means actual oversight and public visibility.

Sebastian.
Total agreement here on the boundry pushing concerns.

And yet I understand you voted for Bush?

How do you feel about the new Attorney General?

Buyers remorse yet?

Would you defend (at redstate and other repub supporting sites) the tactics Katherine suggests for the Democrats in her 8.32 post?

Do you mean tactics like: "The Democrats should prepare a list of specific, important documents they're stonewalling Congress on about ghost detainees and rendition and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and which the Republicans are refusing to cross party lines to vote to subpoena. And we should filibuster Gonzales & say we'd be delighted to allow a vote as soon as the documents are released or subpoenas are issued."?

Why wouldn't I support that? That would be filibustering with a specific, resolvable, public point about a specific nominee. Why would I oppose that? I oppose general whiney filibustering because someone is 'too conservative' which doesn't lead to further discovery of new information and which isn't interested in debate. The point of a filibuster (so much as there is one) is to continue debate and get new information before the public. That would be appropriate in the way Katherine outlines above.

Torture is immoral, dangerous, and ineffective at obtaining information. It's pretty good at terrorizing people though.

[bitter]
In any case, if the govt insists it needs torture, there should be an open process. There should be a torture warrant, the torture should be public or viedotaped and available to the public, and it should all happen within the US.

This extraordinary rendition crap is so dishonest and hypocritical.

Public stonings in the Middle East are more honest.
[/bitter]

Dave Neiwert in his excellent book, In God's Country, writes about a professor of his:

When he was a young man, he told us, he served in the U.S. Army as part of the occupation forces in Germany after World War II. He was put to work gathering information for the military tribunal preparing to prosecute Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. His job was to spend time in the villages adjacent to one concentration camp and talk to the residents about what they knew.

The villagers, he said, knew about the camp, and watched daily as thousands of prisoners would arrive by rail car, herded like cattle into the camps. And they knew that none ever left, even though the camp never could have held the vast numbers of prisoners who were brought in. They also knew that the smokestack of the camp’s crematorium belched a near-steady stream of smoke and ash. Yet the villagers chose to remain ignorant about what went on inside the camp. No one inquired, because no one wanted to know.

“But every day,” he said, “these people, in their neat Germanic way, would get out their feather dusters and go outside. And, never thinking about what it meant, they would sweep off the layer of ash that would settle on their windowsills overnight. Then they would return to their neat, clean lives and pretend not to notice what was happening next door.

“When the camps were liberated and their contents were revealed, they all expressed surprise and horror at what had gone on inside,” he said. “But they all had ash in their feather dusters.”

This is what the red staters voted for.

Cool. We voted for WWII-era Germany? I've always wanted one of those.

The good news is that this is precisely the type of subject where merely exposing the practice in the US will go a long way toward fighting it.

I think your meaning is perfectly clear, Sebastian, but my fear is that your hopes are misplaced. What evidence do you have to support them? What, for example, has the conservative media had to say about this subject?

In any case, if the govt insists it needs torture, there should be an open process. There should be a torture warrant, the torture should be public or viedotaped and available to the public, and it should all happen within the US.

And, like all excrescences of the human soul, it'd be broadcast on FOX during prime-time. With boobies.

Jadegold said....
...
>No, fundamentally good people aren't fundamentally good
>if they can rationalize torture. What it means is that
>some people are quite capable of--perhaps willing
>to--overlooking evil.

Well, I'm talking about people I know, who in their day-to-day lives are compassionate and kind; people I would never hesitate to leave my 3 year old son with, or to trust with important decisions. They meet all my definitions of fundamentally good people, except that they're willing to support really horrible things being done in their name, out of sight, on the promise that it will keep them and their kids safe from the terrorists.

I guess this does happen a lot in wars. How many Americans in WW2 protested the internment of the Japanese, or the firebombings of German cities late in the war?

It would be a simpler world if people who supported evil actions or causes or ideas were simply always bad guys--sporting black hats and sinister appearances, tying women up and leaving them on railroad tracks, etc. But that's not the world we live in.

--John

Myself, I'm still waiting for Sebastian's apologies to Amnesty International for the bitch slapping he gave them when they had the audacity to suggest that there was torture going on in Gitmo.

Bernard: I think your meaning is perfectly clear, Sebastian, but my fear is that your hopes are misplaced.

I think Sebastian's meaning is perfectly clear, but if he voted for Bush, we may assume he's also insincere: he voted in an administration that he knew endorsed torture.

"I think your meaning is perfectly clear, Sebastian, but my fear is that your hopes are misplaced. What evidence do you have to support them? What, for example, has the conservative media had to say about this subject?"

Hopes? Conservative media? Why would you rely on either? I strongly suspect if you could merely get the mainstream media to report on it, you wouldn't have to worry one way or another what the conservative media has to say on the subject.

Jesurgislac, you can speculate on the balance of my choice-making procedure all you want. But you are wrong about me being insincere about wanting to ban torture. I was never thrilled with Bush. If the Democratic Party had been serious about the war on terror I could have voted otherwise.

Sebastian: The idea that people push further than normally allowed has been a guiding principle in my understanding of law.

Pardon my bluntness but perhaps this would be a good time to start applying that principle in practice. Failing to enforce a law "moves the line" just as effectively as repealing it.

Talk is cheap. If you want to demonstrate the courage of your convictions then write a letter to the White House (CC your congresscritter and a local newspaper) reminding them that the executive branch is constitutionally enjoined to "take care that laws be faithfully executed" and endorsing investigations, and if necessary prosecution, of service personnel who have allegedly engaged in hostage taking.

Rule of law? Rule of men? The metaphorical ashes are comin' down Sebastian, and all that is required for evil to prevail is... er, what was required exactly? Oh well. Do whatever you gotta do, or don't. Whatever...

Sebastian's meaning was clear to me. I also think that there's no need to assume he's insincere: he could, for instance, think that something else was more important, as I believe he does, or that Kerry would have been worse in general, even if better on torture, ditto. I disagree with him on both points, of course, but we haven't gotten to insincerity yet. -- I also disagree with him on the effects of disclosure: beforehand, I would have imagined that he was right, but now that six months and an election have gone by without anyone in high positions paying a price, I am a lot less hopeful.

They meet all my definitions of fundamentally good people, except that they're willing to support really horrible things being done in their name, out of sight, on the promise that it will keep them and their kids safe from the terrorists.

Unfortunately, we do have the lessons of history to draw upon: slavery and Jim Crow, the internment of American citizens, the firebombing of German and Japanese cities, My Lai, etc. We can't expect everyone to have become enlightened but we shouldn't excuse a failure to have reflected on these past lessons.

Moreover, we've always prided ourselves that this country isn't like those repressive dictatorships or banana republics that routinely utilize torture.

People willing to overlook the evil that is torture aren't fundamentally good.


Jadegold, you are being utterly unfair to Sebastian. Saying that "the good news is we can stop torture" is not saying that "there's a silver lining to torture"--quite the opposite.

From a purely practical standpoint, the time for "a vote for Bush is a vote for torture" is past. The election is over. They have power. We do not. We have to convince some of them if we are going to succeed. We do not do this by calling them torture-lovers.

The fact is, it's a partisan issue in that there's a real difference between the parties, but it's not a purely partisan issue. The practice of extraordinary rendition began under Clinton. Powerful Democrats have been largely silent about this. Most people do not know the extent of what has happened. And while I firmly believe things would have been very, very different under President Kerry, he did not promise that let alone prove it.

We have to work on the assumption that people either did not know about this or voted for Bush despite this, not because of it. Otherwise it's hopeless. Fortunately, I think it's also true.

And remember, we do not need to convince every Bush voter. Convincing half of them changes the dynamic in Congress. Convincing 5% of them to vote on this issue changes the election result. Convincing just a few Republican senators to do something about this changes things.

"If the Democratic Party had been serious about the war on terror I could have voted otherwise."

This is just BS, and (yet again) a violation of the posting rules (or if not, it's as close to the line as you can possibly get).

Every Democrat I know is extremely serious about the threat of terrorism. We just disagree with the tactics employed by the Bush Administration.

It's one thing for you to prefer the Bush Administration's tactics over Kerry's proposed tactics. However, when people highlight concerns with the Bush Administration's tactics it's ridiculous and offensive to justify support for the Bush Administration by saying that the "Democratic party" isn't "serious" about the war on terror.

Sebastian: But you are wrong about me being insincere about wanting to ban torture.

You voted in an administration that you knew endorsed torture. How can you possibly expect anyone to believe you are now sincere in claiming you want to ban torture?

Katherine: We do not. We have to convince some of them if we are going to succeed. We do not do this by calling them torture-lovers.

*shrug* You know what, Katherine: I don't believe you can succeed. Sebastian knew that Bush endorsed torture - indeed, the fact that Bush was willing to have non-Americans imprisoned and tortured is part and parcel of the Republican party line on how they're "serious" about the war on terror and the Democrats aren't. If you can't convince an intelligent, well-informed person, who has enough sense of moral values to know that he should be against torture, that it matters not to cast your vote for torture, who can you convince?

Sebastian, I am working on a short paper for my international law class, which argues:

--it is a tactical error for Democrats and lefties to always have these conservations in terms of international law. It is not very hard to come up with an argument that in fact the administration is not violating international law. Some of these are good arguments, some aren't, but they don't need to be all that good to be successful. All they have to do is sound plausible enough for newspapers to write another "Administration says X, opposition says Y," article that implies the truth is somewhere in the middle, for the average voter to conclude that it's too hard a question to answer, to give the Secretary of Defense enough plausible deniability to be able to testify that we're in full compliance with international law.

--If we do persuade most people that these policies violate international law...it's not like there's a court to enforce international law, and it's not clear that most people care. There is a lot of justified skepticism about the extent to which international law even exists. And there is also a lot of justified skepticism about what international law has done for us lately. It's not doing a damn thing to protect our soldiers from the insurgents, to protect Margaret Hassan from the thugs who murdered her, to protect us from the next 9/11. When it comes to the law of force, there's an analog to the gun control debate in the U.S.: "if we outlaw war only outlaws will use war." ("If we outlaw torture only outlaws will use torture" is much less persuasive, of course, but people remember the debates about the Iraq war and fall back into their respective roles. And the right's role is, international law = U.N. = France = global test.)

--We're much better off finding out and documenting exactly what happened, and making people aware of it, and asking whether this is really making us safer, if these guys are even all guilty, and if we want to be the sort of country that tortures people or sends them to be tortured.

Would you agree with this?

Sebastian,

You seem to hope, or believe if you prefer, that

"exposing the practice in the US will go a long way toward fighting it."

That is the hope I was referring to.

If the mainstream media hasn't covered the story, and I'm not sure I agree that they haven't, then don't we have to conclude that in the judgment of an awful lot of editors and reporters the story is not of any great interest to the general public?

And if they have covered it, where is the reaction you would expect?

As for the conservative media, they reach an audience that I would think was influential in the government these days. And to snark a bit, they do go on about morality and such, so why shouldn't they be expected to be as upset over this as over, say, the Lewinsky scandal?

Bernard to Sebastian: You seem to hope, or believe if you prefer, that "exposing the practice in the US will go a long way toward fighting it."

But demonstrably, it doesn't work. It's been tried. And people still don't care.


Sebastian: But you are wrong about me being insincere about wanting to ban torture.

Jes: You voted in an administration that you knew endorsed torture. How can you possibly expect anyone to believe you are now sincere in claiming you want to ban torture?

He didn't sign a loyalty oath when voting for Bush.

As a general matter, I think it's a posting rules violation to question his sincerity in this way. You can challenge his consistency all you like.

Jes--

"Now each day brings reasons for despair, a new one for every shattered body on every bloodstained gurney...And yet to stop at despair, in matters political as well as spiritual, is the unforgivable sin. There is no future in it."

("In a Dark Time", David Remnick, the New Yorker, 3.18.02. It's an article about Israel, but applicable pretty much everywhere. As far as human rights violations go, the United States has done worse than this and come through it. Much worse, actually.

What threatens to drive me to despair is NOT the stuff about torture but the fear that the terrorists are trying to get a nuclear weapon, which they will use, probably in Manhattan or Washington, and they will kill people I can't imagine losing, and the President is doing very little to stop this and too much to make it more likely, and we will go off the deep end afterwards, and there's not a damn thing I can do about any of it. If I believed Bush had condoned torture but Kerry's policies would make it more likely that my family be murdered, it would have been a hard choice on election day.

As it happens, of course, I think Bush has condoned torture and is making it more likely that my family will be murdered, so my choice was easy. But...

My grandmother was devoutly Catholic and very much opposed to abortion, but she was not a single issue voter; she almost always voted Democratic. Saying every Bush voter is "objectively-pro torture" is too much like those bishops who would have told her she was pro-abortion and committing a mortal sin by voting for Kerry.

It's not quite that simple, of course. As you say, the Democrats' opposition to Abu Ghraib, Kerry's opposition to equal horrors in Vietnam, the left's opposition to the Contras and to the Pinochet coup, is precisely what leads many Republicans to say we are not serious about terrorism. And even when they're not saying that--Abu Ghraib and extraordinary rendition are directly contrary to the storyline that Bush is selling about how he will win the war on terror and why the Iraq war was needed because freedom is on the march. Whereas appointing pro-Roe v. Wade judges does not directly harm the economic and foreign policies that my grandmother preferred, and even with the judges themselves, except for abortion she had about 1000x more in common with William Brennan than Antonin Scalia. But even so.)

And, like all excrescences of the human soul, it'd be broadcast on FOX during prime-time. With boobies.

And probably 800 numbers to do an instant vote on the torturer or the week.

Rilkefan: As a general matter, I think it's a posting rules violation to question his sincerity in this way. You can challenge his consistency all you like.

You're right, you know, and I hate it when that happens. Very well, Sebastian sincerely loathes torture but is sincerely happy with the Bush administration's policies on terrorism which include, and he knows it, torturing "suspects". I feel, right down in my soul, that he ought to be insincere for one of those, since the two are completely irreconcilable, but yes, I concede that it's perfectly possible for the human mind to sincerely entertain two mutually contradictory beliefs without ever being aware of it.

"We're much better off finding out and documenting exactly what happened, and making people aware of it, and asking whether this is really making us safer, if these guys are even all guilty, and if we want to be the sort of country that tortures people or sends them to be tortured."

This is absolutely the way to go about it. It also gets around the huge variation in potential violations of international law. I can and regularly do argue that talking about the US bombing a Baath-controlled TV tower and Iraqi soldiers using civilian human shields as both 'war crimes' in the same conversation is horrifically debasing to the term and not at all helpful to discussion (because any context where you want to talk about grabbing human shields cannot be the same useful context as talking about bombing a state controlled propaganda outlet. Either can be useful in its own context, but rarely can the term 'war crime' be usefully employed to label both in the same discussion).

You get back to the real meaning of things when you say "The US is torturing people, and many of them might not be even be terrorists" rather than "The US is guilty of War Crimes". Back in the old days, when groups such as AI wanted to highlight US abuses that many people might not think were important, it made sense from a propaganda point-of-view to use 'violations of international law' or 'war crimes' to describe the problems instead of "not a sufficiently religion-sensitive diet". But the obfuscation habit does no favors when you talk about torture because too many people caught on to the broad variation of 'violations of international law' in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Much better to say, torture is wrong and WE ARE DOING IT.

This is absolutely the way to go about it.

But it's been done, and it was ignored. Completely, absolutely, ignored. The person who blew the whistle on the torturers got treated like this:

Since the disclosure, Joseph Darby and his wife, Bernadette, have been the victims of harassment in their community. They have been shunned by friends and neighbors, their property has been vandalized, and they now reside in protective military custody at an undisclosed location. Bernadette said, "We did not receive the response I thought we would. People were, they were mean, saying he was a walking dead man, he was walking around with a bull's-eye on his head. It was scary." cite

You wanted the Bush administration in power because you admired their policies on terrorism, which you knew included torture. What do you intend, now, to do to show the Bush administration that your vote for him was not a vote intended to endorse torture - if, as you now assert, it wasn't? And what makes you think the Bush administration will care?

Whew, Sebastian's a strong guy, having to, in a sense, represent an endorsement for Bush, so therefore an endorsement of torture. He's not the administration, and I don't agree with him, but come on now...

Two things - going back to John Kelsey's item a - "This is just the ugly side of war, it happens some in every war, especially a guerrilla war like we're fighting now, and wouldn't be substantially different under a Democrat."

Is this, or is this not, true? Historically speaking, I mean?

I would say that the historical examples are, yes, it is true, sad to say. War is hell - that's why you should only enter war when there is a pressing need to do so - and why we should have never gone into Iraq.

I don't think "allegiance" to Geneva Conventions has ever really been followed well. It certainly wasn't in Vietnam. I don't know about Korea, but I've heard enough stories about Japan, where the geneva conventions certainly weren't followed in WWII, in a lot of cases.

So, is the idea that a war can be fought within the Geneva Conventions, in fact, not theory - wrong?

Jadegold, you are being utterly unfair to Sebastian. Saying that "the good news is we can stop torture" is not saying that "there's a silver lining to torture"--quite the opposite.

Baloney. If anything, I'm being too fair to Sebastian. After all, he's trying to have it several ways at once; he doesn't want to endorse torture but he's fairly keen on flirting with it ("From a purely philosophical view (and I'm probably not making friends saying so) I can understand torturing terrorists whom you know to be guilty in order to obtain information (though there is some indication that torture works no better than other techniques anyway). ") OTOH, he says we can now stop torture by 'exposing it'--yet, there's no call for any accountability from folks like Bush, Rumsfeld, Gonzales and the other enablers.

I think you are going too far, jes.

It is not necessary to be "perfectly happy" with everything a candidate does or says to vote for that candidate. I am sometimes unhappy with Democratic positions, but find myself able to vote Democratic anyway.

In any case, as Sebastian has made clear, he voted for Bush because of concerns about terrorism and national security. One way to look at this decision is that he felt fewer innocent people would suffer or die with Bush in the White House than with Kerry. Like you, I think this is wrong, but there is nothing inconsistent or insincere or unworthy about it.

Katherine: It's not quite that simple, of course.

The question is whether it's simple enough that you're confident of your own ability to tell when the time has come to put down your foot and say to some other human being "this far, no further." (see my comments elsewhere on leadership and conscience)

Alternatively, is it so complex that you'll never really be able to tell for sure whether it's time to speak out?

To state the obvious: to vote for a candidate it is not necessary to approve of everything that candidate does. I voted for Bill Clinton in 1996 despite being incredibly disappointed in his non-reaction to the genocide in Rwanda, and I can't imagine on what grounds one could argue that this vote shows that my (at the time rather vehement) view that we should have gone in to stop the massacre was insincere. Likewise, I assume, Sebastian.

have I been hesitant about speaking out on this?

Bernard: In any case, as Sebastian has made clear, he voted for Bush because of concerns about terrorism and national security.

Yes. But part of Bush's policies on terrorism and national security, and Sebastian knew this, was the policy to lock up "suspects" and torture them. Part of the policy of the invasion of Iraq was to take family members hostage and hold them hostage until the person actually wanted (who still often only a suspect) gave themselves up. None of this is news to Sebastian: if he voted for Bush explicitly because he liked Bush's policies on terrorism and national security then it's fair to ask him "But you knew that those policies included torture of terrorist suspects and indefinite imprisonment of innocents: why are you now claiming that you're against it, when you've consistently said that you favor it?"

JC: Whew, Sebastian's a strong guy, having to, in a sense, represent an endorsement for Bush, so therefore an endorsement of torture. He's not the administration, and I don't agree with him, but come on now...

Eh, JC, you're right in that it's not fair to pick on Sebastian just because he's the only Bush supporter who's brave enough to show up on this thread. He's not the only person who knew Bush endorsed torture and who didn't care enough about it before the election to let it change his vote: he's just the only one trying to argue his case in this thread, and since his opinions are mutually contradictory, he's not making a great fist of it.

it's not fair to pick on Sebastian just because he's the only Bush supporter who's brave enough to show up on this thread.

It's unfortunate that bravery is required of conservatives in order to post here these days. Whatever you feel about Sebastian's voting history (and I wish you would listen to the many voices on this thread pointing out that voting for a candidate is not equivalent to endorsing all his/her actions), I think it's long past time that you let it go, for the sake of polite discussion if nothing else.

To state the obvious: to vote for a candidate it is not necessary to approve of everything that candidate does. I voted for Bill Clinton in 1996 despite being incredibly disappointed in his non-reaction to the genocide in Rwanda, and I can't imagine on what grounds one could argue that this vote shows that my (at the time rather vehement) view that we should have gone in to stop the massacre was insincere.

Utterly astounding. I thought the 'what-about-Clinton?' excuse was the licensed property of the GOP and could not be reproduced, rebroadcasted, or otherwise transmitted without the expressed written approval of the RNC.

Clinton's sin WRT Rwanda was one of omission; that is, he did not take action. But his view was at least echoed by his opponent, Bob Dole, who stated, “I don’t think we have any national interest there.”

Clinton would later say Rwanda was his administration's biggest mistake and failure. However, he did take a valuable lesson away from his failure in Rwanda--a lesson which he would later apply during the crisis in Kosovo.

But one doesn't (or shouldn't) need an Abu Ghraib or Bagram to understand torture is wrong. And if we see evidence it is happening in our names, we must take steps to stop it.

That hasn't happened. To the contrary, those responsible have been rewarded.

I think one of the reasons this question hasn't gotten the attention it needs is that key information hasn't been coming out. Key information like evidence that these practices were policy. The anecdotes need internal governmental documents for the real story. Between the Gonzales torture memo and the stories of tortured Iraqis, there's a lot of blanks that need to get filled before an editor or a politician will be willing to piss off the administration.

Without more leaks, the filibuster idea sounds like perhaps our only hope. For some reason, everything out of Amnesty and the Red Cross disappears into disbelief.

Jadegold: I was stating what I take to be an obvious point: namely, that one can vote for a candidate whose positions on one issue one finds not just misguided but morally bad without insincerity, so long as one takes that candidate to be better, all things considered, than the alternative. Since I think this is, well, true, I see no reason to cede it to those I disagree with. It wasn't meant as an excuse: I think I was right to vote for Clinton, and also sincere in my view of his conduct in Rwanda.

I think we have reached the point where further questions about Sebastian's sincerity would be unproductive, and (depending on the form they take) potentially in violation of the posting rules.

Katherine: have I been hesitant about speaking out on this?

Yeah, you've been a regular bloody wallflower... ;)

Sebastian: Whatever you feel about Sebastian's voting history (and I wish you would listen to the many voices on this thread pointing out that voting for a candidate is not equivalent to endorsing all his/her actions), I think it's long past time that you let it go, for the sake of polite discussion if nothing else.

Seconded.

Thirded.

Aw fer pete's sake and cryin' out loud and blue blistering barnacles...

I can't speak for anybody else, but the question of Sebastian's sincerity -- or anybody's really -- strikes me as a red herring, and I'm very disappointed that Sebastian is letting you guys get lost in political correctness. You probably think you're doing him some kind of favor, but I doubt it. I think I'll do him my own kind of favor. I think I'll encourage him to ask his conscience whether his endorsement of W and the "war on terror" platform means he bears some small measure of personal responsibility for preventing US torture, regardless of whether he endorsed the "torture" plank of that platform in particular.

Here, Sebastian, lemme be blunt some more:

Sebastian: Much better to say, torture is wrong and WE ARE DOING IT.

Roger. Torture is wrong, and a very very small, excruciatingly tiny, trivially miniscule, vanishingly infinitesimal part of the reason "we" are doing it right now today is that some of "us," including Sebastian Holsclaw, voted for W.

Now either oppose torture actively and vocally or shut up about it altogether.

a very very small, excruciatingly tiny, trivially miniscule, vanishingly infinitesimal part of the reason "we" are doing it right now today is that some of "us," including Sebastian Holsclaw, voted for W.

Actually, since Sebastian is a blue-stater, his vote for W in and of itself has exactly nothing to do with the US's participation in torture.

Now either oppose torture actively and vocally or shut up about it altogether.

Sebastian has in fact opposed torture actively and vocally (electronically speaking), having posted an essay bemoaning the administration's endorsement of torture (specifically in connection with the 9/11 commission bill) both here and at RedState (where it's more likely to reach an audience that could do something about it). Now you're telling him to "shut up about it" since he voted for Bush. Please explain to me how that helps the cause.

I'd also ask everyone who continues to blame Bush voters for every sin of the administration just what they expect to gain from these attacks, beyond the selfish pleasure of nursing their own bitterness. Calling Sebastian or Slart or Moe a de facto supporter of torture (or fiscal mismanagement, or fascism, or whatever) for the 10th or 20th or 100th time isn't going to magically turn them into Democrats. And it sure as hell doesn't make for interesting conversation.


Besides not picking on Sebastian for reasons stated above, remember that Sebastian's sincere opposition to torture, however expressed or not expressed, matters not one whit to the inhabitants of the White House, regardless of who voted for them.

These people are impervious to criticism. Nothing has happened. No one is responsible. No one of any importance will be punished.

Sebastian's missives to the White House will be ignored just as Katherine's and Hilzoy's fine writings on the subject are little more than spitting into a howling, black wind.

A higher Daddy has been appealed to and has answered absolutely. Everyone else can shove it.

Please explain to me how that helps the cause.

I wasn't trying to "help the cause," I was trying to shame Sebastian. Which is to say that for better or worse I was following my own conscience. I choose where to draw lines for reasons of my own, and it happens that I don't consider a policy that permits the torture of children and civilians to be a "negotiable" moral issue of the type that allows for fine-grained distinctions between endorsing it per se and merely tolerating it in order to endorse a politician who has that policy.

I'm capable of distinguishing between endorsing hate speech and endorsing bigots. I can distinguish between endorsing abortion and endorsing an abortionist. I can distinguish between endorsing war and supporting warriors. But some places that distinction breaks down. Rape. Torture. Genocide.

And bitterness? Dude, I'm not even capable of true bitterness, but I've seen it, and in my experience you can't hardly find true bitterness in this country.

So let's say that on 2 Nov a principled person believed a) Bush is more likely (despicably) to torture 100 people than Kerry but b) a Kerry admin adds an extra (unacceptable) 1% chance that NYC will be nuked in the next 10 years and an extra 10% chance that we will have a fiscal meltdown a la Argentina and cut our AIDS budget to $0. Who should that person vote for?

The other day I posed the following scenario to myself: an alien says to me, "If you let me abduct, euthanize, and dissect you, I'll arrange for Kerry to win". I found it hard to imagine myself taking the deal. So I find it hard to take a super high moral road attitude on these things (moral superhighway attitude?).

p.s. it's not just this site, but there seems to be some malaise going on here - so could the powers-that-be mail out a shot of Maker's Mark or whatever to all commenters, or something?

You're right about the malaise but I don't know how to fix it. Since election day...the personal bitterness towards Bush voters has faded a bit, but I am walking around a lot of the time feeling Doomed By Forces Beyond My Control.

Staying away from the news helps some, but is not sufficient. I'm taking classes in International Law and U.S. Foreign Relations Law, so I can't insulate myself entirely if I'm going to pass my finals. I'm writing a paper on rendition & I can't stop researching it. I am going to probably be living in a separate city from my husband next year. Both of us will probably live in likely terrorist targets, and I can't stand the idea that something would happen when we weren't even in the same state let alone together. I'm a giant worrywart, but people who aren't are worried too these days. My in-laws are talking semi-seriously about the possibility that they will have to move away from New York City one day. Not to mention the close relative with a serious illness and no health insurance, and God knows what the deficit will do to my loan interest rates....All of these things are much worse after the election. It's impossible not to take politics personally when it affects you personally. And I am better insulated than a lot of people.

I'm not sure why right-of-center folks aren't more cheerful, but I guess being around people who believe (whether they're too polite to say it or not) that you just personally helped consign them & the country & some anonymous prisoners to an awful fate for no explicable reason--that can't be so much fun either. And the news from Iraq, Iran, etc. is not heartening.

I've been following the Ukraine story, mainly because there seems to be some real chance of things changing for the better somewhere in the world. (Same reason I became obsessed with the topic of gay marriage--and then I became convinced it was a more important issue in its own right than I had realized, and then things started going rather badly. But I still think we can win in Massachusetts, at least.)

radish: I'm capable of distinguishing between endorsing hate speech and endorsing bigots. I can distinguish between endorsing abortion and endorsing an abortionist. I can distinguish between endorsing war and supporting warriors. But some places that distinction breaks down. Rape. Torture. Genocide.

Seconded.

These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.
"The ones who walk away from Omelas" (Variations on a theme by William James), by Ursula K. LeGuin.
I was trying to shame Sebastian.

Ah. All these pixels, just to induce an emotion in someone who's effectively a complete stranger. Whatever. It just might be that your efforts would be better spent directly applied to larger objectives, unless it's the case that you hold the shaming of Sebastian to be a higher goal than, say, accomplishing the cessation of torture. In that event, Jesurgislac's now going to be on your case.

So I find it hard to take a super high moral road attitude on these things.

Prepare to be pilloried, rilkefan.

but I am walking around a lot of the time feeling Doomed By Forces Beyond My Control.

Which is the perpetual state of things. Still, unpleasant to be reminded of it.

When I first read the post, I thought that there is not one issue here, but a few related problems that have been lumped all together:

1) Torture - which is morally wrong and also counterproductive

2) Interrogation under duress - which is practiced not only by the military but also by police departments in the US. This is mainly psychologicalintimidation. Dire threats are made or implied. Typically there is also a "good cop" that makes an appearance later.

3) Detention, which is often part of duress, but certainly can be a legitimate effort to keep bad guys from escaping. This holds true whether the detainee is the suspect, or the detainee might tip off the bad guys, or the detainee is a material witness.

4) Unauthorized prisoner abuse that is not a part of interogation procedures.

5) Denial of asylum, leading to deportation or extradition.

6) Extraordinarry rendition or delivering a detainee into the custody of a country other than the US or the country where the suspect was apprehended, without formal deportation or extradition procedures.

7) Interrogation by US agents of a prisoner that is in custody of a third party.

8) Abuse or torture of a prisoner that is in custody of a third party.

The persons affected may be

1) A suspect that is an innocent bystander.

2) A suspect or material witness that may be sympathetic to the enemy.

3) A prisoner of war.

4) An illegal combatamt.

5) A terrorist that has not yet committed a terrorist act.

6) An active terrorist leader or conspirator.

7) A spiritual or political leader of terrorists that is not an active participant in combat or aparticular terrorist conspiracy.

*****

But in the comments I see that the discussion is about whether Sebastion or Moe is the worst murdering torturing fascist because they voted for Bush, etc. There is not any room for a real discussion here.

radish: I'm capable of distinguishing between endorsing hate speech and endorsing bigots.

I think you all are bigots (against Bush voters) and participating in hate speech.

I used to think ObWi was interesting and had meaningful discussions and have commented here before a few times, and tried to convince Blue to continue to add to the discussion. I was wrong. I'm done with Ob Wi as well. This internet thing is an echo chamber. Bye.


If you want to shame someone, which is (to my mind) the sort of goal that one should think hard before adopting, there are ways and ways of doing it. I have been shamed by people, but for the most part they have not been trying to shame me. They have, instead, just been living their lives in a way that makes me ashamed of the way I've been living mine. One can try to live one's life in such an exemplary manner, and if you want to actually produce shame in others this is probably the best way to go about it, but that's not the same as actually trying to shame people, and may in fact involve the sacrifice of the desire to shame them.

You can also try to make vivid to people the effects of their choices. This works best in cases in which those effects are not already clear, as (I think) they are in the present case. You can also ask Sebastian what, exactly, it was that he found more important than torture; if my sense of human nature is at all accurate, this is (again) most likely to produce shame if shaming someone is not your goal, and yo ask instead in a spirit of genuinely wanting to know the answer. You can make arguments for the claim that nothing is more important than torture, which are probably more aptly described as trying to change his mind than trying to shame him.

Trying to shame someone on purpose, in my experience, only works when that person already acknowledges guilt, and you for some reason have to drive home what that person did. E.g.: I once had to deal with a student who had stolen a friend's paper and turned it in under his own name. At least, that's what they said had happened, and (for various reasons) I believed them, but all I really knew was that two identical papers had been turned in, which was of course consistent with scenarios in which the friend was not just an innocent victim. The student who had stolen the paper begged me not to penalize his friend, and I said, in a deliberate attempt to shame him: you should realize that you have put him in a position where he might very well be failed for the course, and where the only reason I have to believe that he does not deserve this is the word of an acknowledged liar and cheat, namely you.

But cases like this are disanalogous to the case at hand in almost every imaginable respect. It was clear why I, the professor, had to speak to him like this; it is not clear why it is incumbent on any commenter on this blog to try to shame another. This student already knew he had done something wrong, but I did not think it was clear that he understood all the details of its wrongness; in the case at hand I don't know that Sebastian does think that he's done anything wrong, but this particular consideration -- that in voting for Bush he was voting for someone whose administration has been (at best) cavalier about torturing people is something he cannot possibly not be aware of. Etc., etc.

And it's particularly unlikely that one will succeed at shaming someone by relying on what is clearly a false premiss, namely that if they voted for Bush they cannot sincerely oppose torture. You might ask why someone thinks that torture is the sort of issue that might be outweighed by something else, or what other issue, in particular, the person takes to outweigh it. You can then argue that they are wrong. But to argue that that person is insincere. you would have to have some reason for thinking that they did not think there was any issue that could outweigh torture, and it would be good to acknowledge this assumption up front.

On this blog, though, I think that trying to shame someone by any means other than asking questions and making arguments is -- I don't quite want to say out of line, but at least something one should think long and hard about.

Hilzoy, I went away and read "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" - or rather, I sat down with one of my favorite LeGuin anthologies, The Wind's Twelve Quarters, but that's one of the stories collected in it, and is somewhere on the short list of my-favorite-stories-ever.

It occurred to me after re-reading it, and digesting it, and thinking about what other people had said, is that one reason why I and others have been attacking Sebastian for his claim to oppose torture while supporting Bush's policies against terrorism, is that the fact is we are all mired in the muck of what our governments do in our name. I as much as anyone. I am not one of those who, in LeGuin's story, walk away from Omelas - who are willing to give up the easy life that comes from living in a rich Western country like the US, or the UK, or any of the other countries - though I honor and admire those who are doing so. In that group I count Rachel Corrie, who died trying to protect Palestinian civilians from Israeli armed forces: and many others who have walked away from Omelas, who have chosen a life where they will not be protected by those who endorse torture. Most of us don't do that: as LeGuin points out in her story, most of us simply accept, with regret, with pain, with bitterness, that somewhere in the city there is the child living in misery, and this misery is the price of our happiness.

One thing that LeGuin doesn't explore in her story is what happens when the child she describes dies. Another one must be chosen - it's clear that no child living under those conditions can live long. It may be that every time the child dies there are those who think that the child should not be replaced - that it would be wrong to choose another. Or it may be that they find some collective way of choosing which all must take part in, or become one of those who walk away. I doubt, though, that someone who took part in the choosing - who not only did not walk away, but who actively supported and helped having the child put in that awful closet that LeGuin describes - would then be treated kindly by the rest of Omelas if he claimed he was against having the child in the closet. It's a choice: you benefit by it, or you don't. Sebastian has, in the past, criticized those who speak against torture. He is, perhaps, a little more mired in it than those of us who did not support the Bush administration, who actively criticized their policies on torture: but none of us are clean. Those who are a little less guilty will tear at those who are a little more guilty.

I am bitter about it: personally so, because for me one of those injured by the Bush administration's decisions in Iraq is a personal friend. She is currently serving in Iraq, and her hatred for Bush and his policies is far more personal than mine: she had to arrest people who ended up in Abu Ghraib. She does not know if any of them were among the tortured: but she doesn't know that they weren't. She knows it's possible that she handed over people to be tortured. That's something that Bush did to her, and to many other serving soldiers who feel real horror at torture: something for which no one in his administration has ever expressed the slightest contrition. Admit a mistake? Promise to do better? Try to fix what they've done wrong? That's just not what the Bush administration does, not even for something as horrific as torture.

And no, I cannot understand how anyone who feels sincerely horrified by torture can possibly then sincerely support the Bush administration's policies against terrorism: because, from January 2003 onwards, we have known that those policies include torture. The pictures from Abu Ghraib in April this year made public and visible how horrifying torture is: but the Red Cross and Amnesty International have been warning us about this for nearly two years, and for two years no Bush supporter has been listening, and many of them have publicly criticized both organisations for speaking out.

I think you all are bigots (against Bush voters) and participating in hate speech.

I'm against Bush being president, so I'm against voting for Bush. I'm against Bush being I think he is, among other things, harming the vast majority of Americans and the country itself with his policies.

What I would like to happen is for people who voted for Bush to see "the error of their vote". I hate the vote, not the voter; to paraphrase the old "hate the sin, not the sinner" line.

I raised this question earlier - but I would really like Hilzoy or Katherine to prove my supposition wrong.

Namely, that modern wars/police actions can, or have, been fought without torture/abuse. (and understand I want you to convince me. I am one of those who thinks that Rumsfeld's head should have rolled, as soon as Abu Ghraib came to light if not sooner.)

Because the thing is, if war always has torture/abuse as part of war, then you really can't hold Bush to "blame", much less hold Sebastian to blame for voting for the guy.

Please prove me wrong? But the argument and historical analysis must be valid and true.

DaveC,

Well, like you, I don't post here often, but I would think this particular thread is actually an example that this area isn't an echo chamber. There have been many different views expressed, at least.

For myself, I think your analysis of pulling apart issues that had been lumped together, contributes to the discussion - and in this case, in a more thoughtful manner than the "dissing" of Sebastian.

"Because the thing is, if war always has torture/abuse as part of war, then you really can't hold Bush to "blame", much less hold Sebastian to blame for voting for the guy."

Except for, I don't know, starting a war of choice that made us less safe and probably made the people of Iraq less safe, and giving legal protection for torture. (I'm talking about the administration here, not Sebastian or Slarti, obviously).

I assume you are referring to the actions of the United States--that Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany or North Korea or Ho Chi Minh did it too seems like about the worst justification possible. I am not aware of torture of captives by U.S. troops in the first Gulf War, the Korean War, World War 2, or World War 1. I would not swear it didn't happen, I would not be at all surprised if it did, and we did other things that are arguably as bad or worse in intent and certainly did more harm to more people, but I am not aware of our use of torture. Then again, I only learned about the Phoenix program a few years ago.

Abuse by prison guards in federal and especially state prisons is common enough. Does that mean it's okay to make it official policy to legalize it, or to take to steps to make it more likely if not inevitable and look the other way when it happens?

I consider FDR a great President, but he ordered the Japanese internment. This means it's not fair for me to complain if Bush orders the internment of Arab-Americans? Jesus. What kind of logic is that?

On the other hand, according to some people's logic evveryone who voted for FDR is clearly insincere when they say the internment was a horrible mistake. That's also pretty lousy logic. I blame FDR for the internment camps and I blame Bush for the torture of prisoners that his administration has condoned--it's just that FDR helped save the country and the world, so I cut him some more slack.

This idea that we are either as pure as the driven snow or as bad as anyone else--it sounds like moral clarity, but it's often the opposite. It leads too many people on the right to conclude that United States is all that is pure and good, and if we tortured people they must have deserved it; and too many on the left to conclude that we're imperialists and war criminals.

Neither is correct. We have done some truly awful things, but there is absolutely no question in my mind that the world is better off for our existence--and I'm not sure there is a single moment in our history that you can't say that. Then again, if the wrong guy had been President during the Berlin Crises or the Cuban Missile Crisis that would have suddenly and dramatically ceased being true. It may cease being true in the next few years; I don't know.

You can admit there are shades of grey while maintaining that some shades of grey are much darker and lighter than others, and that the difference matters.

there is absolutely no question in my mind that the world is better off for our existence--and I'm not sure there is a single moment in our history that you can't say that.

eh?
Sorry Katherine, I admire your posts, including this one, but this statement strikes me as quite hubristic.

By "the world"--let me just be clear that I don't mean every person in the world, not by a long shot. Many, many, many, many people are worse off. But I think more are better off. Then again, some of this is sheer luck.
I'm pretty sure on the net gain over our entire history thing; much, much less sure that whatever year you pick, that's true.

And yeah, it may be naive or hubristic. As I don't think that "past performance is any guarantee of future results", or that our grandparents good deeds' justify our bad deeds, I don't think this belief harms anyone even if I'm wrong.

Anyway, I really don't want to get into whether the U.S. government is a net gain to humanity or not. The point is, countries, like people, aren't absolutely good or absolutely evil--they are better and worse. And sometimes much better and much much worse.

It's very hard to discuss these things without sounding stupid. Read a book of essays by Albert Camus-that's what I'm trying to get across, and he says it about 100,000 times better than I do.

Votermom: Sorry Katherine, I admire your posts, including this one, but this statement strikes me as quite hubristic.

It's pretty standard thinking (so far as one can tell) for a normal citizen of empire. You would have heard the same kind of thing from Brits when the British Empire was a world power: and indeed, you may read pretty much the same thing from Roman citizens writing back when the Roman Empire was a world power. It is necessary for people of goodwill to believe that their empire is a force for good. It is hubristic, yes: but so are empires.

For what's wrong with this reasoning, see This Week's Target: Our One Way To Play: it may not be Albert Camus, but I think it's at least as applicable.

(written with a fever running, so apologies in advance for incoherence.)

accusing anyone, right or left, of being "objectively pro-[fill in the blank]" simply due to that individual's support of a candidate is WRONG, COUNTERPRODUCTIVE, and CHILDISH.

WRONG: it's a mind foul. Only Sebastian is privy to Sebastian's thoughts. He may be utterly appalled at the admin's use of torture, but honestly believe that a Kerry admin would result in nuclear war. If he holds those two beliefs concurrently, he is (a) NOT pro-torture and (b) NOT being a hypocrite. He is making the best of a difficult situation honestly.

COUNTERPRODUCTIVE: The hosts of this blog deserve great credit for creating an environment where we often get a useful exchange of views, ideas, impressions etc. I find the threads at Tacitus, Atrios and Washington Monthly utterly useless. I've given up completely on Dkos and Redstate. Persistently accusing people of holding beliefs which they do not, in fact, hold, is a great way to degrade the quality of comments here. I regret the departure of any commenter who is willing to be thoughtful, listen to opposing views, and engage on the merits. All of us who comment here on a regular basis (myself included!) have an obligation to maintain the environment.

CHILDISH: to my (feverish) mind, too much of recent threads have read like the (barely) grownup equivalent of schoolyard taunts. We can all find that elsewhere (like redstate and atrios). I don't recall a single schoolyard exchange that ever proved anything or changed someone's mind, except for showing who was the biggest bully. I'd very much like to keep this space as more of a debating society.

cheers,

Francis

"there is absolutely no question in my mind that the world is better off for our existence--and I'm not sure there is a single moment in our history that you can't say that."

By "us" do you mean the US? If so, I think there is little question that most people in the world are worse off for our existence. Consider it case by case...North America: the only word for what the US did here is "genocide". Multiple peoples and cultures were destroyed so that "we" could gain access to their lands and wealth. Nor are the other current countries better off for their several wars with the US, particularly not Mexico, which lost a signficant chunk of its territory to the US. Central and South America: the US has supported virtually every dictator and suppressed or subverted virtually every independence or democratic movement in Central and South America in the past century or two. The occasional overthrow of a dictator, especially one originally put into power by the US, does not make up for this history. Africa? Except for Liberia, the US didn't colonize Africa much, but it did kidnap Africans, resulting in the destabilization and destruction of a number of cultures. The Middle East? Need I even go into it? Asia? I don't think many people there thank us for the Vietnam War, bombing of Cambodia, support of the Khmer Rouge by the Reagan administration, or nuclear attacks on two Japanese cities. Europe? Well, we saved Britain a couple of times. We helped France in the world wars, but France helped us during the Revolution so no great reason to expect them to grovel in gratitude. Germany? Henry Ford funded the Nazi party and kept them from disappearing in the 1920s. And if the US hadn't intervened in WWI, the peace might have been more of a negotiated settlement and WWII might never have happened: if Germany hadn't been in such bad shape the Nazis would have been laughed out of existence. So, who's better off?

Because the thing is, if war always has torture/abuse as part of war, then you really can't hold Bush to "blame", much less hold Sebastian to blame for voting for the guy.

If I may chime in without being asked...

Dave, I think this falls into the category of "making the perfect the enemy of the good." Have Americans at war engaged in torture previously? I would be quite surprised if we hadn't. So what? That does not mean we should condone it.

Nor does it mean we should authorize it at the highest levels of government. I personally am not aware that previous wartime Administrations have viewed torture as a legitimate weapon. And that is part of what is so terrible about the current incidents. They represent a conscious policy adopted by our political leadership.

My own opinion is that this policy alone was sufficient to disqualify Bush from reelection. But I also know that I would have voted for Kerry regardless, so it's easy for me to say that. On that basis it strikes me as unfair to blame the torture on Bush voters. I do think it's fair to criticize them if they defend the policy, or the Administration's evasions of responsibility.

Yesterday I asked about the conservative media. Out of curiosity I went to the Weekly Standard's web site and did a search on "Abu Ghraib." What I came up with was disheartening. The few articles generally adopted the "rogue soldiers" line, and exonerated Rumsfeld. That response is revolting.

JC,

That´s a tough question.
I know you asked Hilzoy and Katherine but let me add my two cents here. :)

And by the way, you didn´t clarify your question if "modern wars/police actions can, or have, been fought without torture/abuse."

How do you define a "modern war/police action"?
Do you count WW 1, WW 2 or the police actions in Bosnia or Kosovo?

There is a difference between systematic, official, state-sanctioned "torture/abuse" by the armed forces and "abuse" that might have happened during an interrogation by a unit intelligence officer for example.

In one case it´s an act by individual soldiers or a unit, in the other case it´s sanctioned by the government.
And that is a huge difference IMHO.

You see, looking back at the last 50 years, I can just remember right now one instance where a Western DEMOCRATIC government sanctioned outright abuse/torture.
And that was France in Algeria.
France lost....

(You understand, I´m just speaking about "us" here, Western countries. Although abuse/torture obviously didn´t help the SU in Afghanistan for example.)

War is always "dirty" (and because of that probably not shown on CNN) and there is/was probably always a certain amount of abuse/torture and atrocities going on.
(Kind of like, if that "guy" will talk, I could probably save some soldiers of my unit.)

The difference here is that the leading country of the Western World, the USA, has declared now that a certain amount of abuse/torture is officially sanctioned.
Likewise "ghost detainees".

And that´s simply not a smart move!
Even if I could ignore all the ethical reasons against torture. (And the practical ones. As Sebastian said torture is not reliable.)

And where is the new "border"?
Once you Americans legalized a "bit" of abuse/torture, reports started coming out mentioning people dying from too "vigorous" interrogations.
Suffocations, beatings....
It´s a slippery road and I´m afraid the USA is already walking on that road...

Not to mention that some of the female "hostages" taken in 2003 (because the real suspect was unavailable) maybe ended up in Abu Ghraib.
Remember the news reports about sexual abuse in Abu Ghraib?

If you can explain to me how that is supposed to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi population?
Just forget that "war always has torture/abuse as part of war".
Remember, you´re liberating them so you´re not supposed to abuse/torture them, right?

How would YOU feel as an Iraqi man if a member of your family spent some weeks or months in an American detention center? Being innocent?
Especially if it might be your sister or mother?
Not at all unlikely given the serious lack of translators (Arabic-English) available.

To add to what Katherine said: I think it's important to distinguish several questions. First, is it possible, in practice, for someone in Bush's or Rumsfeld's position to adopt policies that ensure that no torture will ever occur? Here I assume that the answer is: no, not based on any lengthy historical analysis, but because I do not believe that policies generally ensure their own implementation. They are implemented (in this case) by commanders at various levels (which is to say: by fallible human beings), and those whose behavior they are meant to govern are also human. Even if war did not present all sorts of greater than normal temptations to throw well-crafted policies to the wind, I would doubt that any policy could ensure this result. So I would not hold Bush or Rumsfeld responsible for the fact that someone, somewhere hit an Iraqi prisoner during the course of the war, all by itself.

But of course that's not the situation here. We have an administration that has crafted legal justifications of torture, including the claim that our President, in virtue of his war powers, is bound by neither law nor treaty (in which case one might ask why we bother signing treaties at all, or who would believe that we'd abide by them if we did); on whose watch repeated episodes of torture have occurred in various different locations; and in which those responsible (above a certain level of authority) have never been held to account. (Gonzales: appointed to be Attorney General. Bybee: now a federal judge. Rumsfeld: still in office. And so forth.) One way to interpret these facts is to say: this administration allowed torture as a matter of policy. This has not been true in any war during the last hundred years, as far as I know. Another is to say: the administration didn't actually have a policy of allowing torture; it did, however, have a policy of aggressive (yet legal) interrogation, and an atmosphere in which toughness and pushing the envelope were rewarded and concerns for law scoffed at, and as a result, torture happened. Again, this would also be new.

It's one thing to recognize that in war, bad things happen and people break the rules. If you recognize that and you don't want the rules to be broken, you should work hard on training people not to break the rules, and react immediately and seriously to those cases in which they are broken. This the US has generally done throughout the 20th century. This administration has not.

What I blame them for is, again, not the fact that someone broke the rules; it's that they themselves seem to have been at best indifferent to the fact that those rules were broken, both before and after the fact. And given the rules in question, that's serious and unprecedented.

Don't forget that the military's lawyers were kept out of the process of interpreting the laws of war, and that they protested the administration's interpretations and interrogation policies when they discovered them. They know that this is not a necessity of war; indeed, "career military officers at the Pentagon were "greatly upset" by what they regarded as the deliberate destruction of traditions and methods that have long protected soldiers as well as civilians." (From last link.) What I blame Bush and his administration for is that deliberate destruction and its consequences.

Has anyone read the article "A Fighting Faith," by Peter Beinart, in today's New Republic? I would love to see this discussed on this blog. Is this another, "The Liberals have to out-right the right," or do you feel there is more to the message that we should consider? Hmmm. I hope that I am not breaking any posting rules by putting this here.....If so, my deepest apologies! Not anticipating that I would post, I have not read them, and will go do so now.

"North America: the only word for what the US did here is "genocide". Multiple peoples and cultures were destroyed so that "we" could gain access to their lands and wealth."

I'm only talking about independence onward. I realize that a whole lot of this happened after independence in North America but most of the deaths in the New World as a whole happened beforehand.

No one powerful has clean hands. No one. I will take the U.S.'s record over the record of any other country with comparable power. If we were less powerful we would have cleaner hands--England does now, Canada probably does over the course of its history, Denmark seems nice--but it takes a superpower to sucessfully oppose a superpower, and for all our flaws, the second and third most powerful countries in the twentieth century were just incomparably worse than us. The British Empire was not so hot either. Spain killed many more Native Americans than the United States ever did. Belgium was horrendously brutal in the Congo. Ancient Rome invented a word that meant "kill every tenth person"; that tells you something, I think.

I don't think these questions are answerable; there are so many things to tally on each side of the ledger that you lose count. You get into matters of belief. I believe we've done a lot of harm but more good, and I don't think acknowledging the harm undoes the good.

Please, hilzoy. What Gonzales wrote was a description of what was legally allowable. You might disagree with his assessment. But what you just referenced is NOT administration policy, it's an assessment by WH counsel of what the law actually reads. I know you've been careful about how you described this particular document, but every time this comes up, somehow it appears that this memo is a justification for some activity or other.

Gonzales has said just this in public on at least one occasion. Bottom line: feel free to critique Gonzales' findings. If you feel that he's arrived at invalid conclusions, that's a fair criticism of his being nominated for the AG slot. But maybe, just maybe, you're disagreeing with the law. If the body of law on this subject needs amending, I suggest some energy be devoted to this end, rather than to effectively demonizing Gonzales.

Slarti--

trust me when I say that Gonzales' memo was not a neutral legal analysis, anymore than his death penalty memos in Texas were neutral.

This is the weakness in the international law argument for the left: experts arguing in bad faith can usually convince people who want to believe them.

I think there is little question that most people in the world are worse off for our existence.

That's quite an indictment, Dianne, including even laying the blame for Nazism at the US doorstep.

Tell me, though, against what alternative are you comparing the US? The land is here. There were always going to be people on it. Who do you think these people would have been, and why do you think they wouldn't have had slaves, fought pointless wars, etc. If perfection is the alternative then no, we don't measure up. But perhaps that's not the right standard. I strongly agree with Katherine's statement, and her 5:28PM comment as well.

(It is not, however, nearly as bad as the OLC memos--but Gonzales commissioned those, and given his willfully misleading statements about extraordinary rendition, I do not trust for a moment his claims that the White House rejected their conclusions.)

I think it's clear that this administration's thinking, and, yes, policy, regarding the use of torture is demonstrably more permissive than that of previous administrations, and I don't think that the memorandum Gonzales wrote can be honestly segregated from that evolution of policy simply because it was not, itself, an executive order.

Just because we didn't find a copy of the Gonzales memo rolled up in Lynndie England's fatigues, that does not mean that a legal memorandum concluding that torture is justified in the context of the war on terror was simply a thought experiment, completely unrelated to the fact that torture was, in fact, utilized by the United States in the conduct of the war on terror.

Slart: Katherine knows better than I: she, after all, has actually taken courses in law school, while I am an amateur. However, while I defer to actual lawyers on most points of law, on this one I feel confident agreeing with her on my own. This memo argues that the President has an unlimited power, as Commander in Chief, to do literally whatever he wants so long as it can be said to be part of waging war. It doesn't have to be on the battlefield: it extends, for instance, to Guantanamo, thousands of miles away. It doesn't matter if it violates US law or treaties, since (p. 20) "Congress lacks authority under Article I to set the terms and conditions under which the President may exercise his authority as commander in chief to control the conduct of operations during a war." I have no idea how to square this with the fact that the Constitution also says that Congress has the power to enact laws, and the President is bound to faithfully execute those laws, or with the fact that it also says that treaties are the supreme law of the land. In briefs in the Padilla and Hamzi cases, the government has used the same basic argument to say that the President has the authority to imprison, without trial or access to counsel or charges or anything, anyone he deems to be an enemy combatant, including US citizens. It is even more fantastic there, since it is in conflict with large chunks of the entire Bill of Rights.

So, to be clear: I think that, considered as a piece of dispassionate legal analysis, this memo is incompetent. I assume that it was not created as a piece of dispassionate legal analysis, but as an attempt to find legal arguments for (take your pick) (a) what the administration wanted to do anyways, or (b) maximum flexibility to design interrogation procedures (in other words, the narrowest possible construction of legal obligations, in this case, our obligation not to torture people. Which is to say: it's an attempt to find legal rationales for torture. If I'm wrong about this -- if this is in fact Gonzales' considered and dispassionate view of the law -- then I think he should not become AG because he is incompetent. It is in part because I don't think he is incompetent that I adopted the other point of view.

But what you just referenced is NOT administration policy, it's an assessment by WH counsel of what the law actually reads.

Let's see; this appointed administration's WH counsel apparently had nothing better to do, so he commissioned several memos by the Justice Dept--who also apparently had nothing better to do--that attempted to justify the use of torture, prisoner abuse, and to unilaterally wipe out US obligations under international law.

And this was all done without the knowledge of Dear Leader?

Though there has been a bit of score settling in this thread, which I have a bit of a problem with, but they also think that it is a manifestation of karma/dharma, as we get into questions of guilt for larger historical manifestations, I would recommend steve gilliard's blog entries about colonialism. Unfortunately, the latest is about Vietnam, which will probably give some on the right a reason to automatically reject the pov they hold, but I would urge you to take a look at the earlier ones in the series. We spoke about Dutch colonialism in an earlier thread and also the Mau Mau rebellion was mentioned as an example of a successful suppression. Reading the entries might be a bit eye opening.

Hey - busy here - thanks for all the thoughtful responses.

I realize that the question was a bit overbroad - but I truly wondered whether torture might have been engaged in by US forces in the Korean War, for example. I suppose the first distinction needed is the distinction between torture and atrocity - especially regarding official policy.

You hear stories of the fanatacism of the japanese during WWII, as the US forces advanced towards Japan, US forces would run into booby-trapped men, women and children, who would pretend to surrender, and then blow themselves up. Soon, "unofficial policy" was to gun down any civilian close to a killing area - surrender flag up or not. .

That doesn't count as torture, and I don't know if that counts as an atrocity - similar to what happened recently with the Iraqi prisoner recently.

Katherine, I appreciated your answer on the practical realities of power in a powerful nation. And I agree.

Whether one assumes that there was some small amount of torture by US troops for WWII, Korean War or not, your comment is apt. There ARE differences that make a difference. And it was never "official policy" in those previous wars.

One thing to keep in mind of course, is the always-on media - the awful stuff that happens in war/conflict is spread very very quickly throughout the world now - which wasn't the case in wars past. (The first media war being Vietnam.) That has to be kept in mind as atrocity/torture claims are weighed against the past.

Of course, none of this situation had to occur. And as we have seen, no one has been fired in the administration because of the "permissive" abuse, which has happened/is happening throughout Iraq.


"this appointed administration's"

Why would anyone seriously have a discussion with this person?

Isn't the rehashing of blatant lies somehow against the posting rules?

Did we not just go through an election?

wwc: the appointed counsel

Dutchmarbel (who is still stunned about the piece on Kevin Drum's blog, stating that any foreigner can be detained in Cuba for aiding terrorists, even unintentional and unknowing)

Oops, forgot the link.

The working link.

"No one powerful has clean hands."

Agreed. I won't argue the relative merits of whether the US was worse for the world than the Soviet Union or not: both are/were atrocious. So were the Spanish, British, Belgians, Dutch, etc in their colonial periods. In fact, I don't know of any colonial country that was good to its colonies. My conclusion from this observation is that it is not good to be a colonial power, muchless an unopposed superpower. Saying "but we have to to stop this or that evil" sounds to me too much like an excuse. Do you really want nothing better for your country than that it be remembered as a slightly less evil superpower than the Soviet Union?

"I won't argue the relative merits of whether the US was worse for the world than the Soviet Union or not: both are/were atrocious."

You're begging the question. No offense, but I think it's ludicrous to even make the comparison.

Good deeds done by the US empire: toppling/democratizing/enriching the (former) Axis powers; support of South Korean and Taiwanese democracy; a sane China policy; some good India diplomacy; the UN/WHO/... system; a great deal of low-profile but important conflict resolution because the UN is still weak; the relatively sane low-tariff global market; science; spreading the good parts of the Enlightenment and the American revolution...

Dianne: I don't have a problem with saying "we have to stop this or that evil" per se. I think, for instance, that we should have intervened in Rwanda to stop the genocide. You can (like me) disagree with Bush on how we decide which evils to stop, but why oppose the idea of intervening to stop evil per se?

I do not want us to be remembered as a slightly less worse superpower than the USSR. But -- and I say this is a vociferous opponent of Bush -- I think we have quite a ways to go before we reach that territory.

"I don't have a problem with saying "we have to stop this or that evil" per se."

I don't have any problem with trying to stop genocide, atrocity, or torture either, if any way of usefully intervening can be found. I do have a problem with committing genocide, atrocity, and torture using the justification that our opponents would have committed the same or worse evils. Take Iraq for example. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly evil. (He was welcomed by the US and other western governments as a "moderate" at one point and supported by same during the Iran/Iraq war, but never mind that right now. For the sake of the argument assume that the US always opposed his government.) In any case, he appears to have killed a good 300,000 or so civilians in his 25 year tenure as "president" of Iraq. Bush, on the other hand, has killed at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians in a little over a year. Has the US helped Iraq?

I had a longer version of this post that got eaten when my browser crashed so, alas, this short reconstruction will have to do:

First, Rilkefan is exactly right that even the implicit comparison of the Soviet Union and the US as moral equivalents is bunk. Even if you give the Bolsheviks a pass on their tactics during the civil war, there's still the Kazakhstan famine, the Stalinist purges, the disastrous Five Year Plans, the annexation of the Baltic states and the attempted annexation of Finland, Stalin's horrific indifference to casualties in WWII (best exemplified in his diktat that the primary motivating force of the Red Army should be fear of the NKVD, and in the crossing of the Oder)... and that's just 1920-1950.

While I agree that no imperial power -- or superpower if talk of empire is disagreeable -- can ever be clean, we're much better/nicer/more humane than almost any other great power in history. About the only great powers I'd say would be in the running would be the Persians (specifically the Achaemenid dynasty) and some of the Chinese dynasties (Han and Ming, mostly). You could also throw in the Dutch and the British into contention, although I think it'll strongly depending on how you choose to measure such things. And I say this as someone whose criticisms of the US, particularly its foreign policy, are legion.

[In particular, I'd like to point out that AFAIK we never committed genocide, or attempted to commit genocide, against the indigenous peoples of this content. We were brutal, murderous and savage, yes, but there was no systematic policy of annihilation like there was in Turkey, Germany, Indonesia or any of the other exemplar genocides.]

One thing that's vitally important for those of us on the left (or in general those who criticize the US) is to recognize, and appreciate, is just how much better we are than most other nations in our position. The flip side, of course, as hilzoy pointed out, is that our epitaph should be something more stirring than "slightly less worse superpower than the USSR".

"First, Rilkefan is exactly right that even the implicit comparison of the Soviet Union and the US as moral equivalents is bunk".

Pretty much. We're not close to equivalent even if you delete Stalin. (Who, I would not think it necessary to remind people, is one of the two worst mass murderers in the history of the planet.)

Hilzoy, to be fair to Gonzales--I think you are confusing his memo with Bybee's. He wrote a different one, which is not good, but it's also not half as bad. The legal conclusions are mainly defensible, he just completely stacks the deck while claiming to give an objective analaysis. The Bybee memo is in a completely different category.

Yikes, I'm sick for just one day and:

"I won't argue the relative merits of whether the US was worse for the world than the Soviet Union or not: both are/were atrocious."

Probably just as well I missed it before everyone else hit it, I would have blown a fuse.

Probably just as well I missed it before everyone else hit it, I would have blown a fuse.

That's why we're here, Sebastian. Now get better, ya big dope! ;)

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