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September 29, 2006

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Most readers here probably already know that disemvoweling is a tradition at Making Light. I've always meant to ask over there if anyone has pinpointed its origin, probably has in the moderation of some usenet list in the mists of the late 1980s...

Please allow me to assume Gary's mantle and point out that I suggested disemvowelling almost two years ago.

Whitfox --

A few comments on your post upthread.

First:

"I have heard at least anecdotal evidence" is extremely thin soup.

I'm going to make what is hopefully an accurate assumption and say that we agree that the preference should be to not torture. If you're not with me so far, we have nothing to talk about.

Given that assumption, to make the case that torture is justified by the "ticking time bomb" argument, you would have to demonstrate that (a) such evidence was in fact ever gained, and (b) it could not be gained quickly enough to be useful without the use of torture.

Maybe that has happened, and the intelligence agencies involved simply cannot reveal this for national security reasons. I find this unlikely, given the parade of intelligence "breakthroughs" we have been treated to over the years, but you never know.

In contrast, I'll point out that there is much, much more than "anecdotal" evidence that bad information gained through torture has contributed to our involvement in Iraq (Al-Libi), as well as to the squandering of precious resources spent chasing down bogus "leads".

Second:

The question of whether terrorists or others "deserve" cruel or abusive treatment is not to the point. They might, or they might not.

What is to the point is that, as a matter of policy and tradition -- which is to say, as a matter of law -- we do not abuse people or treat them cruelly. A policy often honored in the breach, no doubt, but a policy nonetheless.

We do not brutally murder brutal murderers. We do not burn arsonists' houses down. We do not rape the children of child rapists. Nor do we want to start doing those things. If you do, please go live somewhere else.

As far as the "40 lash" issue, stripping someone and making them stand for days in a cold room while splashing cold water on them to induce hypothermia does, in my mind, cross the line into cruel treatment. YMMV.

Third:

The question of "has anyone innocent been tortured" has, I think, been addressed.

Regarding the question of whether to stop imprisoning felons or not because we occasionally "make mistakes", your example argues against you.

We deliberately provide people accused of crimes every opportunity to defend themselves. We do that so that mistakes are *not* made. Sometimes they are anyway, but the institutions are set up to help avoid that.

In the situation under consideration, we are talking about *removing* safeguards of that kind. This will increase the likelihood that mistakes will be made, without giving any kind of increase in security in return.

Giving someone the opportunity to challenge the grounds of their imprisonment, or the evidence presented to accuse them, does nothing to weaken our security. Removing those safeguards does nothing to increase our security. It just makes it more likely that "mistakes" will be made.

Nothing in this legislation will improve our security posture. It's purpose is to weaken or remove points of accountability from the executive, and to define "torture" so narrowly that anything short of deliberate bone breaking and mutilation are OK.

The question on the table is not Hiroshima or abortion, and I have no interest in debating those with you. The question on the table is whether this country will sanction the abuse of people it holds in ways that violate any common understanding of Geneva, of or our own laws, or of basic common decency.

So, pick your side.

Thank you

Nell, Teresa Nielsen Hayden claims that disemvowelling began with this comment in November 2002: Eric Raymond of the Jargon File says it originated on USENET as a less common synonym for "splat out" (the practice of replacing vowels with asterisks to make it clear that a word is not being used with intent to provoke): thus, f*ck, N*z*, etc. I suspect that Eric Raymond is right and the word originated on USENET, but TNH certainly gets the credit for making "to disemvowel" far more widely recognized than "to splat out".

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