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April 17, 2008

Comments

Out of genuine ignorance and interest: are there countries in which successful anti-torture campaigns have been waged? In which public opinion has changed from accepting torture or regarding it as inevitable to opposing it and making it politically unacceptable? Is there anything that US campaigners could learn from others' experience?

I think opposition in the UK to torture is still almost universal (mostly on the back of endless World War 2 films where Nazis torture heroic Brits). That hasn't stopped some torture (in colonial Kenya and Northern Ireland, for example), but it has put at least some brake on it.

Well dammit if that ain't just about perfectly put.

"The Bush administration threatens us with the catastrophe of losing our sense that there are things the government cannot do ..."

That's a catastrophe that's way more likely to come to pass than the catastrophe of the "24," "nuclear bomb in Manhattan" scenario, that torture apologists constantly use to justify their odious position.

magistra: offhand, I would have thought that most of Europe had to have changed its mind sometime between, say, the 18th century and now, partly as a result of campaigns involving e.g. Beccaria. There are presumably also countries in which it was less a campaign than bitter experience (Argentina?)

Thank you for writing this post while still in Pakistan, Hilzoy.

One of my causes for disgust with my government over the past seven years was the passing of legislation that means - in effect - that when the US is seeking extradition, it does not have to present evidence justifying trial to a British judge: it only have to present evidence of identity.

This legislation followed a couple of high-profile incidents where the CIA wanted an individual they said was a terrorist, claimed they had evidence but could not show it, and the judge then denied extradition. It seemed fairly clear that it had been devised at the request of the US authorities who were tired of having their victims denied them by something as trivial as a British judge's integrity. According to the strict letter of the law, the judges who refused the CIA in the past would now not be able to do so, if the CIA could show evidence that they knew who they were asking for.

But at a higher level, the UK will not deport or extradite anyone to a country where they will be tortured. I have taken part in several letter-writing campaigns in the past to save someone from deportation, where a key element was the principle that the UK does not send people away to be tortured. If an MP can do nothing else, they can be talked into getting up in the House of Commons and making a stink about this - and sometimes the stink itself is useful.

(Of course the UK has breached that principle. But it's not something that the government cares to see the light of day: if it can be dragged into daylight, often that stops it like a vampire.)

So the international plus about the public admission that Bush and his crew are all sponsors of torture, is that this is something to cite to MPs as proof that no prisoner should be sent into the custody of the United States, no matter what the letter of the law on deportation or extradition, because the UK does not send people to be tortured.

Past evidence of torture depended on the word of individuals who had been in the US prison camps, and while I personally think any of them more honest than Bush, there is no doubt that when the head of state admits his country tortures people and he has no problem with that, this carries more weight.

It's not fatigue.

There's a famous prayer that asks God for the courage to change the things one can, the serenity to accept the things one cannot and the wisdom to know the difference.

For so long, in the face of so many outrages, we have seemed so impotent to effect real change. Our rage and horror at the desecration of our country has proved futile, we surrender to despair and apathy.

This whole episode is just sickening.


Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."

In some ways this is perhaps the worst moment of all, because of what might have been. This was a tragic moment where somebody showed visceral discomfort with what was happening, but it wasn't enough, and the feeling went away.

Ashcroft senses that something is wrong here, but then his reaction is to try to limit the exposure of top officials to muddying their reputations by mucking around in the sordid details. And this idea of his was exactly wrong - they should know, in fact they should be forced to know, exactly what was being done at their command.

When reading this I kept thinking of Jonathan Glover's book "Humanity: a moral history of the 20th Century" and the way he describes distance and task compartmentalization as ways to suppress and overcome people's "moral resources", their sense that something is wrong at a visceral level.

But even mucking around in the sordid details wasn't enough, in this case. Ashcroft was wrong, but he lost anyway, and it still didn't help.

hilzoy,

Thanks for writing this. Here's another part that stands out for me as a good description of what is so wrong here and now:


One of the great dangers of the Bush administration is that it will permanently alter our sense of what is possible or acceptable. You can see an analog of this when people say things like: Bush won't be able to do X, or: he will have to do Y, where these statements do not refer to physical necessity or impossibility. (E.g., if memory serves, when the surge began, some Republicans said: if it doesn't work, Bush will have to withdraw.) The sense in which people who say such things think that Bush "has to" or "can't" do something or other is just that there are certain things we do not believe that any President would do, and others we think he must do. There are lines we assume he would never cross.

But this administration does not recognize the existence of any such lines.
...

It would be a catastrophe if we lost our sense that there are certain things that our government just cannot do, where "cannot" means something more than physical impossibility.

My interpretation:

What has happened is that Bush has destroyed, and is now rewriting, our informal constitution. I think this is something that we as Americans have been peculiarly vulnerable to for some time because worshipping the formal, written Constitution-with-a-capital-C (and the men who wrote it) is our secular civic religion. The informal constitution and the very important role it plays, has been our great national blind spot.

Bush has learned from Cheney, who learned from watching Nixon and Watergate, that the informal constitution exists, and nobody was guarding it.

The ironic part is that this is being done under the guise of a "conservative" party, when Bush's actions are profoundly radical and anti-conservative. Our informal constitution, even more than the written document, as a repository of tradition is a deeply conservative aspect of our culture.

I'm going to repost something else I wrote on a thread some time back, because it's late and I can't think of anything better right now [please follow the "systematic attack" link below to read what John Rogers said, he puts it far better than I can]:

In the past I'd naively thought that our political system in the US was dramatically different from the British system (whose constitution is almost entirely customary rather than textual) because we rely on a written document (and courts which claim to interpret it) for our constitutional system. We are more like the British than I'd realized, however - we also have an customary informal constitution, not a written document but the entire body of customs and traditions which have accumulated over time regulating our political life and institutions (e.g., the rules regarding cloture in the Senate, or the idea of that the Justice Dept. is not to be used as an organ of political purges), and which are enforced by a shared sentiment that "them's the rules" and that to do otherwise would be unthinkable.

The formal written document which we call "The Constitution" acts like a skeleton upon which a whole body of soft tissues (our informal constitution) hang, but it is the muscles, ligaments and tendons of the latter that help to animate our body politic and make it functional.

One of the characteristic methods of the current Bush admin. has been to grab power not by challenging our formal Constitution directly (which would be easier to oppose by litigation), but by performing a systematic attack on the more vulnerable soft tissues of our informal constitution.

Much of their success has come from their ability to literally think "the unthinkable", leaving opponents and critics struggling to even find an adequate vocabulary to describe what they are doing, much less to anticipate their moves. This is because the administration is attacking unconscious assumptions built into our political system which have remained largely invisible up to now.

That is why critics of this administration are so frequently left with a feeling that something is deeply wrong with their actions but have a hard time organizing effective opposition to it, and are usually left spluttering inarticulately "but, but, you can't do that!". To which the administration replies - "just watch us!" (subtext: we're an empire now, we create our own reality).


The real outrage is the lack of outrage from so many others.

Calling all lawyers....

It might be significant legally, but not morally.

Is it?

Thanks for this hilzoy, stay safe.

So all I'll say is: it is an outrage, and we should never lose sight of that fact, or become inured to it.
As I've said numerous times till I feel like a broken record, we need a "Post-9/11 Commission" to ruthlessly expose all of this illegality in a bi-partisan, non-Congressional (partisan) setting similar to what South Africa and Argentina established after their governments and societies went off the rails. How else can we make clear that this is a "never again" moment for our country? Of course the law-breakers will never be prosecuted for war crimes here, but one hopes they'll never be able to travel overseas after Jan 2009 without getting the Augusto Pinochet treatment.

The real outrage is the lack of outrage from so many others.

I have to admit that it didn’t really strike me as anything new. I guess it was kind of a built in assumption. Having assumed it all along the confirmation didn’t shock or surprise me. Or maybe I’m just running out of outrage…

Outstanding post with a certain irony about where it originated... I agree with Redhand, it needs to be done for the future of the country.

The passes issued to Nixon and Reagan have been interpreted by the current criminals as a permanent opening to do their worst. And with the lack of any checks or balances and a compromised "opposition", a full airing of these issues would at least put some responsibility where it belongs.

Will it happen? Hard to say, but I think there are creative ways of framing the process that would allow them to happen. Once that is done, the floodgates can open.

You said it just fine, hilzoy.

russell: "stay safe"

at almost exactly the time you were writing that, I was falling down a flight of (steep, stone) stairs. I'm OK, as far as I or the doctor who was there at the time can tell, but it was a nasty fall.

Ditto what tom p said.

Not so long ago when Abu Gharib first brought to light the initial evidence of a torture regime being promoted by the White House, the defense was a "few bad apples." As with the Plame affair, the White House deliberately lied about the situation to cover up the actual policy. And many administration sympathizers bought into that line concerning Abu Gharib. Those who suspected that the "bad apples" defense was bogus were just BDS sufferers. Plus, the administration sympathizers made it clear that they themselves opposed torture as a matter of policy.

Now that the truth has begun to emerge, the same crowd is just silent.

Maybe outrage is like Wall Street -- buy on the rumor, sell on the news.

"...at almost exactly the time you were writing that, I was falling down a flight of (steep, stone) stairs. I'm OK, as far as I or the doctor who was there at the time can tell, but it was a nasty fall."

Oww! Let's have no more of that!

Since previous instructions to you were insufficient, Hilzoy, let me try this one: stay safer! Much safer! No falls or accidents or injuries or bruises or harm should come to you in any way! Stay that safe!

All-righty, then.

"Plus, the administration sympathizers made it clear that they themselves opposed torture as a matter of policy."

I was under the impression that a lot of administration sympathizers have made it clear that they themselves are just fine with torture as a matter of policy, myself. Am I wrong?

Gary: send your best wishes to the very nice doctor, brother of one of my students, who was being incredibly ice and showing me around, and had the wonderful idea that it would be interesting to see the house his family had lived in for over a century, in the old walled city of Lahore. It was fascinating, and I would never have seen anything like it without his help, but after I pitched myself down the stairs in a moment of idiocy, he feels awful. Which just goes to show that truly, no good deed goes unpunished.

As occasionally happens to me when something sends me into shock (meaning physical shock), after five or ten minutes I burst into tears, despite the fact that everything was in fact OK, and it didn't hurt much, and there was absolutely no reason to be doing any such thing. He was being incredibly nice and hospitable and so on, and I just kept thinking: bursting into tears if something were actually wrong would be one thing, but can't I just not cry, right now, when it makes someone who has been pure unadulterated hospitableness feel bad? Body, dammit, respect mah authoritah!!! I kept thinking. Utterly useless, of course.

Sigh.

at almost exactly the time you were writing that, I was falling down a flight of (steep, stone) stairs.

OW!

What Gary said.

Glad you're OK!

What gets me is the hypocricy of it all. All this talk about not wanting to tie the hands of the interrogators, and now we find out that there was this cabal that was telling the interrogators exactly what to do. And of course, the cabal wasn't trained in the use of the techniques (well cheney maybe, but recreational torture doesn't count) and wasn't present to experience the situation in the interrogation room. So wtf were they doing?

Hilzoy: He was being incredibly nice and hospitable and so on, and I just kept thinking: bursting into tears if something were actually wrong would be one thing, but can't I just not cry, right now, when it makes someone who has been pure unadulterated hospitableness feel bad?

Hilzoy, stay VERY SAFE. Please. No more falling down stone stairs or other unpleasant excitement.

But: if you have had a nasty fall and are feeling shocky and tearful, this is because something is actually wrong - shock is a real physical condition. Which the lovely doctor undoubtedly understood. It is not ungrateful to be in shock when you have had a nasty fall!

*makes comforting cup of tea* (because I am British, and this is what one does)

'scuse my spelling -- hypocrisy.

incredibly nice, not incredibly ice.

Sigh, yet again.

In regard to the shift in expectations brought about by the Bush administration, and its relation to the upcoming election. Has anyone polled on the question "Which candidate is most likely to voluntarily give up executive powers and practices newly adopted by the Bush administration?"

*drinks virtual tea. Thanks Jes. ;) *

Indeed, it is difficult to muster the words for a denunciation of sufficient force. I suggest going back to a true expert on denunciation of moral corruption at the top, the Prophet Jeremiah:

"Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me."
Jeremiah 2:8

"Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them," says the LORD"
Jeremiah 6:14

Appropriate for this bunch, no?

Hilzoy: incredibly nice, not incredibly ice.

Not Doctor Bobby Drake, then?

sophie brown: and now we find out that there was this cabal that was telling the interrogators exactly what to do. And of course, the cabal wasn't trained in the use of the techniques (well cheney maybe, but recreational torture doesn't count) and wasn't present to experience the situation in the interrogation room. So wtf were they doing?

I don't know what they thought they were doing - aside from proving how macho they were - but I can make a good guess what the CIA were doing by having them authorize torture personally. CYA. With the senior members of the administration in the loop, while the people who actually physically tortured people may still be prosecuted, the higher-ups at the CIA probably can't be without prosecuting Cheney, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft, et al - and oddly enough, everyone seems really confident that this criminal crew will never be prosecuted by an American court for their crimes.

Further, by directly implicating the whole senior crew at the White House in these crimes, the senior staff at the CIA ensured that the protective cloak that falls over senior Bush administration insiders when they break the law, would of necessity fall over the CIA seniors, too.

I'm more and more convinced that McCain will take office next year, regardless of who Americans vote for. There are so many powerful people now who simply cannot afford for there ever to be a Democratic President in the White House, or a Democratic majority in Congress.

Is any American paper actually using the word torture, not in scare quotes, to talk about what the Bush administration authorised.

*makes comforting gin and tonic*

...what? I live in Wisconsin, I'm legally obligated to comfort you with alcohol, and possibly cheese and bratwurst.

The only real surprise on my side was that Powell was involved. I would have expected:
1. He would not be part of any of this due to possession of residual decency
2. Chain-Eye&Dumsfeld would not have let him in

There are so many powerful people now who simply cannot afford for there ever to be a Democratic President in the White House, or a Democratic majority in Congress.

Ah, poor innocent Jes. Not to be snide, but check out, e.g., the fate of the Iran-Contra criminals.

The sad, simple truth is: no-one's getting prosecuted after this administration leaves office. Period. We will be told that we must "put it behind us", that we must "come together for the good of the country", that because Bush is no longer in office "the system worked".

And we will.

Because, to be blunt, we don't have the balls to do otherwise.

And twenty years later, once the monsters birthed by this administration have grown up, gone to law school, and put on suits, the cycle will begin again.

*declines comforting gin and tonic, with regrets: is in Pakistan, where alcohol is not allowed. Felt compelled to explain to person at hotel who was offering help that when I said I had cleaned my scraped hand with alcohol, I meant little alcohol swab thingos, not e.g. an illicit jug of moonshine.

But thanks Anarch. Consumes cheese with gusto.*

Blessed Hilzoy— Yes; stay safe. Speaking selfishly, we depend on you.
Speaking empathetically, you’ll be feeling bruised and be limping for a bit; and we do hope, only for a bit. Our thoughts will be with you, and dearly hoping the pain will be only a passing cloud obscuring the Sun of vitality and will soon be only a memory.

When I first read of the meetings, I had an image of the frat-boy bull session, or maybe the eight-year-old tree-house What I would do if I were In Charge.
In other words, a childish pretense of responsibility wholly apart from any faculty of reasoning ethical, moral, or legal judgment.
It clarifies why Rice, in her publicity shots, so often is seen scowling. Those people were angry, in a primal preemptive way not unrelated to clinical sociopathy. Natural or nurtured, criminally sick. No ‘natural feeling’, no conscience.
That it should come to this.

Our leaders.

People who we naively imagined to possess consciences and humane concerns, people who we supposed would feel compelled to do the right thing.

Our leaders.

And yet no outcry, no surge of shame or revulsion. Erick Erickson from Redstate in conversation with Jane Hamsher on bloggingheads says he thinks torture is OK and his wife’s Bible study group will be coming by soon and he’ll chew the political fat with them.
Granted human beings cannot reasonably be expected to reason well, but the level of disconnect and alienation from ethical judgment is dumbfounding and appalling.

PS: if you ever want a hotel staff to fall all over themselves trying to be nice to you, just get them to think you fell down *their* stairs. (Honestly, I did say where it happened, and it wasn't at the hotel at all, but apparently they misunderstood. I didn't realize this until after the flowers arrived, but (regrettably) before the offered massage person was set to arrive. I was wondering why they were so very, very solicitous.)

Hartmut: The rumours of Powell's "decency" have always been greatly exaggerated.

Thank you for this, Hil. As always, there is much wisdom in your analysis.

Stay safe.

*pours you a shot of Crown Royal*

(What? It's not 'top-shelf' here in Soviet Canuckistan).

The story, and your post, brings this to mind:
"That flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't."

"After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken." - BS, Apr 16

A few things: Everything, every law, or constrait is backed up in the end, by force. We have been fortunate in that for quite some time now in this country and most of the developed world, the populations have agreed to abide by this. But in the end it is still the case, and our politicians have lost sight of that. The idea of having to resort to force to impose the law on other members of the government is unthinkable to them because it hasn't happened in the last 5 generations.

If anything this makes me more wary of cutting war funding: I now have no doubts that Bush would leave the troops out there without bullets or water and tell them "Die for your government and vote Republican."

"And twenty years later, once the monsters birthed by this administration have grown up, gone to law school, and put on suits, the cycle will begin again."

Are you aware that this is almost precisely the rhetoric used in church when I was young to describe how lawyers and law schools operated to create and defend Roe v. Wade?

That doesn't discredit it (in my mind). I think you are both right. But it seems ironic to me somehow.

(Note, there is already an abortion thread going on right now, so for substantive talk on the abortion issue which doesn't detract focus from the torture issue, hop in there.)

I agree that Ashcroft's response is wrong from an AG. I think part of it was a misguided sense of 'emergency' powers that he wisely didn't want to see formalized (I would argue that they weren't necessary as implemented at all--and certianly not past a few weeks), but I don't think that should be an excuse to try to close your eyes to the situation.

With this and the crazy stuff that went on with the White House trying to get around him on FISA issues, you almost wonder if he was nudged out for not being enthusiastic enough. (The timing of his resignation surprised me a bit even with his health issues). Though the flip side of that is that if he were pushed out I'd want him to mention that at some point by now.

*puts gin and tonic in safe deposit box awaiting your return*

...

*drinks gin and tonic. blames bear stearns for the sudden collapse of the gin market*

Ashcroft probably was forced out because he wasn't enthusiastic enoughly pro-torture and pro-Whatever the President Wants. John Friggin Ashcroft was the closest thing to a good guy in this administration. That's ASTONISHING.

But now, we have public acknowledgment, by the President, no less, that he and the rest of his senior staff are war criminals. Even the "respectable" ones. But of course they won't be prosecuted. That'd be "Shrill" and "bitter" and "divisive". Besides, they were Protecting America! And it wasn't really torture and only happened to Bad Guys (tm) anyway! And we should just put it all behind us, and move on into the future!

And twenty years from now, the interns at the White House today will grow up, and pull the same things again, then get caught and kicked out, and be back 20 years later again. Just like Dick Cheney and the rest came through Nixon and Iran-Contra. And anybody who points that out then will be "unserious" or "shrill", and unpatriotic and "objectively pro-" whoever the new Big Scary Baddie is.

I was under the impression that a lot of administration sympathizers have made it clear that they themselves are just fine with torture as a matter of policy, myself. Am I wrong?

How many at the time were saying that in response to Abu Gharib? I would agree that it is much more common to hear that sentiment now, but how about then?

It would be a catastrophe if we lost our sense that there are certain things that our government just cannot do, where "cannot" means something more than physical impossibility. Imagine the possibilities: we normally think that the President "cannot" just shoot his political opponents. But surely in one sense he can, at least if he's a decent shot. Maybe he couldn't do it without being thrown in jail. But that's not right: surely in one sense he "can" bribe the judges, suborn perjury, impose martial law, or do something else to get himself off the hook. Do we really want to go down this road?

I just want to comment on how anti-conservative (in the sense of philosophy rather than political movement labels) these actions by Bush are. A huge part of the conservative insight is about how traditions grow up over time and that you have to respect or at least take seriously how they operate before you change them. The conservative critique of certain types of liberalism is that it tries act as if those traditions aren't important if they aren't somehow formalized (or pretend that they don't exist if they weren't formalized--i.e. the idea that 'marriage' doesn't mean 'man and woman' just because not all of the marriage statutes explicitly say so. And to be clear I'm not against CHANGING the idea of marriage to include same sex marriages, I'm opposed to the move of pretending that it was included in the term all along just because we didn't bother formally defining it that way). It is also why I'm hesitant about formalizing assisted suicide--people always push the boundaries, so it is wise to put the boundary a little inside the very possible edge of moral acceptability and then deal with the grey cases individually.

What Bush is doing is even worse from a conservative philosophical point of view. He isn't trying to redefine the traditions into something that works for his aims, he is pretending that they never existed at all.

Sebastian, I think you've long since lost the war of words trying to define "conservative" like that. Conservatives now in the US are the party that supports endless war, torture, domestic spying, and other outright criminality. It's not just something that started with George W. Bush, either. It was there through Nixon, and Reagan, and now that strain is the dominant strain.

I distinguished philosophy and movement.

But fine, what should I call that philosophy? It isn't progressive or liberal.

Dear Hilzoy. I trust you are well.

I want to offer a few comments. I linked your column to an ex Army major who has seen actual combat and work in intelligence. He responded by saying only THREE of our enemies have been waterboarded. Moreover, he added that since high value US military personnel are ROUTINELY waterboarded as part of their training, how BRUTAL can it be?

Moreover, you did not address the problem of HOW we should interrogate terrorists captured by the US.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

He responded by saying only THREE of our enemies have been waterboarded.

More accurately, the US authorities have admitted to torturing only three individuals using this method.

. Moreover, he added that since high value US military personnel are ROUTINELY waterboarded as part of their training, how BRUTAL can it be?

Plainly, not a man who's ever spoken to one of those "high value officers" or read the first-hand accounts available of what water torture is like.

Moreover, you did not address the problem of HOW we should interrogate terrorists captured by the US.

Effectively.

Sean M. Brooks: that we have only waterboarded three people does not mean that we have only tortured three people. That we have tortured less than X (but more than zero) people is not comforting to me, as someone who loves her country and its ideals. I would want them to be interrogated by whatever non-coercive methods work best.

hilzoy: "One of the great dangers of the Bush administration is that it will permanently alter our sense of what is possible or acceptable."

It is a sad but inevitable fact of life that when you struggle against a hostile enemy, you absorb by osmosis their worst characteristics. Like a child in an abusive environment who suffers violence and then later mimics it, wrongs generate more wrongs. This isn't meant to excuse or defend immoral behavior, but to situate the motivations associated with the deviant moral actions of the Bush Administration following 9/11 for what they are: not byproducts of political ideology - but of human nature.

If Democrats were in power when the twin towers became massive torture chambers for 3000 immolated and crushed to death victims it would have initiated the same cascading domino effect of violence to accepted norms of morality. With Gore and Lieberman in office after the 9/11 attacks I doubt the outcome of high level government discussions on interrogation techniques would have been much different. Vice President Lieberman would have been a principal on the Security Council Committee, and other Democratic appointed officials, operating in the same uneasy environment of fear and anxiety Republicans faced after 9/11, most likely would have signed off on the same CIA interrogation techniques for captured suspected Al Queda operatives as the Republican appointees did.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare: "The web of life is a mingled yarn, good and ill woven together." And in a time of dangerous threat to the nation, there's no indication Democrats would have woven a more circumspect policy for interrogations than the Republicans ending up doing.

I'm not sure that you can say having a respect for the traditions and history isn't liberal. Part of the fundamental theory of liberalism, at least for me, is that you look at the structures and traditions that exist as well. The difference between liberal and conservative philosophy is in liberal philosophy, after looking at the traditions that exist, liberals want to question these, and question why they were created, and if they're still working how they need to for society. The philosophy you describe seems to take more of the approach of "Well, we've always done it that way, and it ain't broke, so don't fix it." That does fit the common definition of "conservative", but in US politics, the "conservatives" have never followed that kind of philosophy. At least not in any part of modern history.

Sebastian, the point remains; ‘conservative’ is now a tainted term, and either the taint is purged by justice being done and being seen to be done, or you should go in search of another term to hark back to Burke.
Conservative as a term of endearment looking to the past has had a certain general appeal.

Looking back to General Washington threatening torturers with execution, and Spanish-American War torturers being tried by court-martial as models is something to which we all may look back fondly.
In this we willingly stand with you.

But if you want to hold to the view that corruption of public morality has degraded our society in structural ways requiring amendment so that ethical judgment regains its proper place in public life, then it seems unwise to bind yourself in the same harness as Gonzales, Feith, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush (as a drastically incomplete list of malefactors).
So either you work devotedly to clear the name of conservatism, or you would be wise to find another name for your philosophy.

Hilzoy, you are not opening your mind widely enough. Surely the president can just shoot another politician and avoid jail during his presidency - no judicial bribery will be necessary. He will not be prosecuted (under presidential immunity? under his direct orders to the AG?). Impeachment is the only remedy for even that, at least in the remaining term, and I am not certain that it would occur. Our founding fathers did not foresee the two party system, and party loyalty.

And if you see him coming with a gun in his hand and draw yours to defend yourself, what will the SS do?

Sean, your question presumes facts provably wrong, starting with "terrorists captured by the US". Many of the people in our custody were not captured by us, but by bounty hunters or by police or troops of other nations. Furthermore, even of those who were taken prisoner by US forces, a whole lot of them have never been given even the most rudimentary of hearings to establish whether there's the slightest reason to believe they're terrorists. In the torture archive here, for instance, you'll find the news of the death in US custody, after five years, of an Afghan commander who was a hero of the resistance to the Soviets and a fierce opponent of the Taliban, turned in by targets of his efforts to weed out corruption.

There's a reason the Geneva Conventions start by calling for a prompt hearing to establish the circumstances of every prisoner. That's it. The US has chosen to ignore it and go right to the torture, however, which is a horrific sin.

Sean, I refer you to an analysis of the rhetoric of torture. A quote:”The inventors of this idiom meant to suppress one kind of imagination, the kind that yields an image of things actually done or suffered; and they wanted to put in its place an imagination that trusts to the influence of larger powers behind the scenes. Totalitarianism depends on the creation of people who take satisfaction in such trust”. (Emphasis added.)

To which I add Ps.146:3 “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men.”

I never, ever want to go along with their redefinition of what is possible, which is why I refuse to stop being outraged when something like this happens. (It's also why saying: hey, why are you still surprised? is beside the point. I'm not.)

Thanks from the heart for this, hilzoy. That redefinition of what's possible is exactly what seems to be happening, which is why the subdued reaction has been so unsettling.

Bush's "nothing new or startling" response is calculated to reinforce that business of pushing out the boundaries. And calculated to make anything but a subdued response seem crazy, uncool, or partisan.

Scott Horton hints at more information to come. Maybe that will awaken a bit more response.

The sad, simple truth is: no-one's getting prosecuted after this administration leaves office. Period. We will be told that we must "put it behind us", that we must "come together for the good of the country", that because Bush is no longer in office "the system worked".

I would give nearly everything I own if we could somehow arrange to have this whole bunch -- Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, Gonzales, Yoo, et al. -- remanded to the Hague for war crimes trials on the afternoon of Jan. 20, 2009.

Hope everyone here will read the David Bromwich article on euphemisms and violence that felix culpa links above, and purge the relevant euphemisms in our speaking and writing.

Not "waterboarding": the drowning torture.

Not "enhanced interrogation techniques": torture.

Speaking of writing, you may want to join a national campaign of letters to local papers to help offset the relative silence of the big media.

Hilzoy's post is a huge help in talking with friends who don't grasp what's new and startling about the ABC stories, and about Bush's matter-of-fact acknowledgement.

It is a sad but inevitable fact of life that when you struggle against a hostile enemy, you absorb by osmosis their worst characteristics.

So during World War Two was FDR authorising the torture of Nazis and then boasting about it? (Of course that would have been a liberal torturing people and thus bad, bad, bad). Or somehow did the Allies mostly manage to hold onto their respect for human rights, faced with an enemy far more capable and ruthless than the Islamists? And how many gulags were set up in the west during the Cold War? You don't absorb evil by osmosis: you decide when you're going down that slippery slope. And Bush and too many other Americans have decided where they're going.

And how many gulags were set up in the west during the Cold War?

Well, there was that whole Japanese Internment thing, JFTR.

The Japanese internment, though, was as much the new face of an old policy as anything else. Screwing Asian immigrants was the state sport of California for a long time before the war - it's a case of the war providing an excuse, rather than than generating a new impulse. I'm not sure the distinction matters in law or reality outside my head, of course.

Make that Japanese-American internment. I know I meant the round-up of second- and third-generation citizens as well as immigrants, but there's always someone to take the most deliberately obtuse reading around, so I'll clarify.

And how many gulags were set up in the west during the Cold War?

Well, there was that whole Japanese Internment thing, JFTR.

Setting aside Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian prisoners during the Vietnam war, during which we farmed out to the South Vietnamese tens of thousands of prisoners, the CIA held a number of prisoners secretly, without any legal basis, as suspected KGB moles or agents.

I'm not using the word "gulag," myself, but Yuri Nosenko might have.

[...] Interrogators from the Soviet Russia division suspected that that Nosenko was a KGB plant and thus Nosenko was seized by CIA officers in Washington and from 1964 to 1967 was held in solitary confinement in a CIA safe house in Clinton, Maryland. Nosenko was also subjected to sensory deprivation and was administered drugs because his CIA handlers believed he was still working in secret for the KGB. Agents also strapped wires to his head, telling him falsely that the device was an electroencephalograph which would allow them to read his mind, while the device was really one that read brainwave patterns. This was a form of psychological intimidation in order to help persuade him to "tell the truth". He was interrogated for 1,277 days.

When the interrogations led to no substantial results the interrogators were changed and after bringing on a new team Nosenko was cleared of all suspicions and released with pay. The question of whether Nosenko was a KGB plant or not is controversial, and those who handled him initially still believe that his unsolicited walk-in was designed by the KGB to protect a Soviet mole threatened by Golitsyn's knowledge, and his defection by a Soviet desire to discredit the idea of a connection between the Soviet Union and the actions of Lee Harvey Oswald. [3] [6]

Nosenko has later claimed to have been tortured and even at one point, he said, he was given LSD, and it almost killed him. The guards revived him by dragging him into the shower and alternating the water between hot and cold. These claims have been denied by Richard Helms who was DCI during the most intense part of Nosenko's interrogation.

There were a few others.

And how many gulags were set up in the west during the Cold War?

And there was the bombing of Dresden, and Hiroshma and Nagsaki -- In war, the bestial undercurrents of human nature percolate to the surface...

I think the US Govt has long had the power to imprison people and torture if they wish without legal sanction, for a long time, and I am sure they
have used this power (e.g the examples from Mr. Farber). I think what is new is the attempt to legitimize this power, or at the very least, render it as an routine and ordinary act of maintaining law and order. It is fairly clear that the actions of this administration could not have occurred if there was no history or, for want of a better word, "expertise" among members of the state apparatus in such activities. Given that there was so little protest or opposition from within the state apparatus, either from members of the legislature or the civil services, it is fairly clear that these actions are something that many had considered as a serious option for the govt to execute. I think this is also the most ominous and dangerous thing about the precedents set by Mr Bush and his fellows in crime.

It is notable (to me at least) that even the prominent critics of this administration's actions from within the govt (c.f. Ashcroft and Jack Goldsmith) saw fit to keep silent about their criticisms when such criticism could have actually mattered in a crucial way to the govt. I also suspect that the power that has currently been concentrated in the hands of the executive at the expense of congress is not going to be given away so easily by future occupants of the Oval office, even if they are liberal democrats. I doubt people give up power so easily,
unless they are made to. Usually, the attempt to accrue further power unless this is not possible.

This is like living in a Hitchcock film. Suddenly, the ordinary and familiar turns out to be a horror.

Am I simply a naive, latte-sipping dupe?(why does one always sip latte? Does nobody gulp it down in a hurry on the way to work? But I digress.) Was my assumption that there are things civilized people don't do, at least not in cold blood and with forethought, just something I should have outgrown along with Santa Claus?

These names and titles astonish me.
Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

These are not a bunch of third-rate clowns and cowboys like Ollie North's crew. None of them are outstanding at their jobs (in fact most of them performed dismally at these particular posts). Still, they are people of considerable career accomplishment. Most of them were in government for decades. They knew how things are done. They are stolid sorts, not wild-eyed radicals. So it seems unlikely that they thought they were making any radical changes to the way we conduct our military and justice.

That being so, were they in fact just codifying norms long since in place? Is the reason there have been so few whistleblowers, so few voices raised in protest within the government, that we have always been barbarians?

I'm afraid it is.

That doesn't mean I accept it. I'll still fight it. But I wonder if we are missing the point. Perhaps, Hilzoy, our country has always been this way, and we are just now noticing. Perhaps the only difference between this jolly crew and all the other leaders of America, is that this lot were caught in public doing what was always done in private.

What Bush is doing is even worse from a conservative philosophical point of view.

I'm sure it's painful to see what's done in the name of conservatism.

I'm sorry to tell you that, from what I can see, this is what the American political conservatism has been about for at least a generation.

He responded by saying only THREE of our enemies have been waterboarded. Moreover, he added that since high value US military personnel are ROUTINELY waterboarded as part of their training, how BRUTAL can it be?

Three were waterboarded. Others were simply beaten to death, or maimed, or hung by their wrists bound behind their back. That's not the end of the list.

High value military personnel are waterboarded as part of SERE training, to deliberately expose them to torture and other forms of brutal treatment that they might face if captured.

This isn't meant to excuse or defend immoral behavior, but to situate the motivations associated with the deviant moral actions of the Bush Administration following 9/11 for what they are: not byproducts of political ideology - but of human nature.

'Human nature' is a funny thing. It's a term that covers a multitude of sins.

Some folks, somehow, find themselves able to restrain themselves when presented with an opportunity to abuse their office.

Humans, 'natural' or otherwise, are not all the same.

There were a few others.

It would be interesting to do something like a cost/benefit analysis on the intelligence apparatus developed in this country since WWII. I'd like to know what they've cost us, in all the various kinds of coin that we've paid, for every useful piece of information they've provided.

I'm sick of the bastards, personally.

Thanks -

Dear Hilzoy. Many thanks for the note you sent me.

I'm very sorry to know you had a nasty fall down a flight of stairs. That happened to me coming down the attic stairs of my house last year. NO fun, and my stairs were msde of wood and almost certainly far shorter than the stairs you fell down. Please be careful.

Now to your note. I fully agree torture is never right. And some methods--like pulling out finger and toenails--are clearly beyond the pale. But, are other methods, such as sleep depriving a captured terrorist while relays of interrogation officers question him, out of bounds?

And, one impression I got from your column was that Pres. Bush's subordinates were TRYING to define what is legally and morally acceptable in interrogating captured terrorists. I don't want to seem to read too much into your words, but isn't it possible you were too harsh? I believe Pres. Bush and his advisers are trying to do their best to defend and protect the US in this age of jihadist terror.

Part of the problem is we are not facing clearly defined enemies of the sort Germany and Japan were during WW II. Or even the unlamented USSR before its collapse. Rather, the enemies we face are organized into murky, amorphous groups and cells spread out over most of the world
(Iran, tho, being an exception in being an open enemy taking the form of s state). That inevitably means we have to combat terrorist groups using spies, intelligence operations, interrogations, etc.

I've asked the friend I told you of for his own views. He disagrees with you while also forcefully rejecting torture. As a combat veteran of the Vietnam War and experience in intelligence work, he knows far more about such matters than I do. And, frankly, I think far more than you do.

And take care of yourself! Learning about your fall was worrying.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Dear Bruce. Many thanks for your note.

However, I disagree with you. Al Qaeda terrorists are NOT legitimate soldiers. They are, at most, ILLEGAL fighers who do not come under the Geneva Conventions. They are persons who further their ends using TERRORIST METHODS. Random bombing, shooting down planes, placing bombs with babies in perambulators, etc.

I have far harsher words for such creatures, but I'm trying to restrain my anger.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Sean M. Brooks: thanks; I am bruised but unbowed.

About "other methods": see me here, and AJ Rossmiler here.

Sean: But, are other methods, such as sleep depriving a captured terrorist while relays of interrogation officers question him, out of bounds?

The KGB and the Gestapo certainly didn't think so. You can find approving testimony from them on the salutary effects of depriving someone of sleep and how they will, after only a very few days, confess to anything if only their torturers will let them sleep.

Suggest you try it yourself: have a relay of friends keep you awake for days, questioning you and forcing you to reply. Make sure they understand before you begin that they may not keep you awake for more than four days, though: sleep deprivation psychosis can set in after six days, and after 48 hours without sleep you won't yourself have much concept of time.

Al Qaeda terrorists are NOT legitimate soldiers. They are, at most, ILLEGAL fighers who do not come under the Geneva Conventions. They are persons who further their ends using TERRORIST METHODS. Random bombing, shooting down planes, placing bombs with babies in perambulators, etc.

How is this relevant to Bruce's point, which is that the Geneva Conventions require you to establish the status of every prisoner first?

Bruce's point is that when you are holding people in custody, you need to establish who they are and what their status is. You said you disagree with that point, and then you went off into a blurb about how bad and evil and bad al-Qaeda terrorists are.

How do you justify torturing people for being terrorists if you disagree that it ought first to be established that they are terrorists?

Not to forget that the anti-torture laws explicitly state that there is NOOOOOOOOO exception, excuse etc., not for terrorists, used-car salesmen or people born past 9pm.
But of course those laws apply only to people named "Noone" (so, Polyphemus could have legally tortured Ulysses).
---
Idealized conservatism would be 1.Thess 5.21: "Test everything and retain that what is good!"

Sean M. Brooks: I was right where you are for a long time, and I still am in many ways. So I completely understand where you are coming from. If we’re talking about KSM or OBL then I’m not going to lose any sleep over anything that happens to them. If there was some way to know for sure you had a genuine bad guy who actually had some kind of information that was critical then I’d say go for it…

The problem is that there is no way to know.

So then I decided that power tools and dental instruments were out. But I still didn’t see much wrong with other coercive measures like sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, stress positions, etc. I mean parents with a newborn experience sleep deprivation right? I made it through basic training so I have some idea about stress positions. (The M16A2 only weighs 8.5 lbs but try holding it out at arms length for 2 hours.) I never went through SERE training, but I know people who have and they seem to be (mostly) OK.

The big difference is that whatever little traumas I went through were partly voluntary. I knew that the duration was limited, that they weren’t likely to actually cause me long term harm, that no matter what I was going to get three square meals and at least some sleep, and that ultimately I could throw in the towel and walk away with no more consequence than an administrative discharge. That makes all the difference in the world…

If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend reading the series of posts that hilzoy linked. They were a big factor in changing how I think about all this.

A. Enablers and apologists need to stop with the talk about training. As is immediately evident from any description of the effect WB (or anything else) is supposed to have on the victim, the primary injury is to the mental state of the victim. And what's the mental state of a US officer experiencing torture in training? They're going to do this thing to me so I can see how it feels, but these are my friends and colleagues, and they will not allow any harm to come to me. If enablers or apologists were actually interested in the logic of the situation -- rather than simply grasping at something to say to avoid the enormity of what their tribe has wrought -- they'd realize that this is a completely sufficient response.

B. Only 3 were waterboarded? Prove it: release the records which show how people in custody were treated.

C. They tortured people, schmoes even, to find out if there were ticking time bombs. If you do that, and the answer is that the victim doesn't know anything, in what way have you made America safer? By making another enemy? By demonstrating that the positive image of the US is a myth? By making it less likely that people with information will come forward?

D. Touched on above, but it's interesting to note that a great many military people, especially military lawyers, were against this, and had to be overridden by the civilians. Just like the President's continual assurances that he was giving commanders in Iraq whatever they wanted, assurances that military judgment drove events is simply false. The President picks people who will tell him what he wants to hear. He lets them know that no other message is acceptable. They tell him what he wants to hear, he follows that advice, disclaiming, publicly, all responsibility for his actions: just deferring to the advice of the professionals. Historians of the future will puzzle over why anyone ever thought this little man possessed some kind of 'leadership.'

OCS, I didn't preview, and did not intend my A to be a response to your post. The point stands, however. There may be no physical difference between consensual sex and rape -- depending on whether the rapist is particularly violent about it -- but no one should ever confuse the two.

Not that we're in disagreement, or anything.

are other methods, such as sleep depriving a captured terrorist while relays of interrogation officers question him, out of bounds?

Other folks have covered it but I'll chime in as well.

Waking someone up from a sound sleep to interrogate them while they're somewhat disoriented -- not torture.

Keeping someone awake for days and inducing psychic stress to the point of psychosis -- probably torture.

Turning the heat down to 50 degrees in an interrogation room to make someone uncomfortably chilly -- not torture.

Keeping someone naked and drenched with water in a 50 degree room for days so that they experience clinical hypothermia -- torture.

Making someone stand for a couple of hours during an interrogation -- not torture.

Chaining someone to the floor in a low squat so that they can't sit, stand, or lay down, for days -- torture.

You get the idea.

At the time these things were being done on our behalf, they were against the law. Hopefully they still are, but who knows?

Thanks -

Sean, you're missing the point. You apparently didn't do as I suggested last time, so I'll supply links.

This man wasn't a terrorist and shouldn't have been in custody at all.

These missing children aren't terrorists and shouldn't be in custody at all.

(continued in next post to avoid the spam trap)

Sean Brooks: You're missing the point. It sounds like you didn't do as I suggested and visit the archives, so here are highlights, over several posts:

This man wasn't a terrorist and shouldn't have been in custody at all.

These missing children aren't terrorists and shouldn't be in custody at all.

There are no plans to charge hundreds of these men with anything; they are not terrorists and shouldn't be in custody at all.

These men have actually been cleared of charges and shouldn't be in custody at all.

This man wasn't a terrorist and should never have been in custody.

What you're endorsing is the abuse and torture of all of them, however, because you can't be bothered to support the procedures of the Geneva Convention: as quickly as possible, hold a hearing to clear the innocent and clarify the circumstances of the rest. This must be done before any talk of the treatment of the guilty can make the slightest moral sense.

I have the impression that a lot of torture supporters envision the Geneva Conventions as drawn up by a bunch of ivory tower professors. But if you look at the history, it's quite different. The architects of the conventions were generals, heads of state, high court judges, and others who had solid practical experience in handling power and dealing with the consequences of their decisions. In fact, they were people with substantially more experience of actual war than almost anyone in the Bush administration has, given the latter group's fondness for letting others do the fighting and weaseling out on any available excuse and their general lack of success in running independent businesses to boot.

…in the end, the greatest victims of torture-as-usual are the rest of
us, the informed public. A precious part of our collective identity has
been irretrievably lost. We are in the middle of a process of moral
corruption: those in power are literally trying to break a part of our
ethical backbone, to dampen and undo what is arguably our civilization’s
greatest achievement, the growth of our spontaneous moral sensitivity.

Nedglected the attribution; the quote was from:
Slavoj Zizek

Dear Hilzoy. I'm glad to know you were not seriously injured.

And thanks for the links you sent me. I will look them up. Darn, it's a beautiful day and I want to go for a walk too. Just just be the stereotyped nerd blogging away!

I hope you saw how I recommended Harry Austryn Wolfson's book, THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE KALAAM, to you.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Dear Jesurgislac. Thank you for your note.

Please reread what I said. I REJECT the use of torture. Even on monsters like Osama bin Laden. Second point, I brought up "sleep deprivation" only as an EXAMPLE of a method to be ANALYZED on whether it could rightfully be used. All methods need to be studied on their merits, both ethically and legally.

It's a beautiful day, and I want to go for a walk too. Just be a blogging nerd!

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks.

Dear Russell. Thank you for your note.

Yes,I'm glad to say understood what I had in mind. A serious and sober review of the most commonly used methods of interrogation.

And, I agree that keeping an Al Qaeda terrorist awake for DAYS or deliberately inducing clinical hypothermia in him are methods which go too far. And should not be used.

My ex Army friend told me interrogation is more an art, rather than a science. And taht it generally takes a long time to wear down a terrorist before he cracks. And that makes me think IMPATIENCE is what makes some interrogators go too far. That is, impatience over the time needed to crack a terrorist.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Bruce. I'll keep this short and to the point.

I REJECT the use of torture of any kind. And I have repeatedly said so. It is DISHONEST of you to say I advocate torture.

Sean M. Brooks

Dear OCS. Thank you for your note.

And I agree with you. Except I would not torture even swine like Osama bin Laden. Just send him to the gallows.

And I do plan to read the links Hilzoy sent me. I'm trying to more or less catch up with the notes sent to me.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Dear Jesurgislac. Thanks for your note.

I'm sorry I was unclear. Yes, I agree possible terrorists who have been captured need to be shown they ARE terrorists.

However, I thought it was clear what the DISCTINCTIONS between real soldiers and terrorists are. Soldiers wear uniforms, with insignia indicating rank and which country they serve. Terrorists do not. Soldiers are in a chain of command clearly showing who they take orders from. Iow, a government. Terrorists, by definition, do not. For the most part, we do not KNOW who is a terrorist. Nor, in many cases, who their leaders are. And, in many cases, terrorist groups comprise members from many nations. Much as I dislike Saudi Arabia, I don't say that she is responsible for Osama bin Laden. In fact, I think SA has banished and outlawed him.

Also, by definition, terrorists often attack non military targets. I could go on, but I think you get my point.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Soldiers are in a chain of command clearly showing who they take orders from. Iow, a government. Terrorists, by definition, do not. For the most part, we do not KNOW who is a terrorist. Nor, in many cases, who their leaders are.

And yet our own military and government keep claiming to have clear ideas about al Qaeda hierachy, and keep claiming to have captured, incapacitated or killed various high-ranking leaders, or the "#2 man" or "#3 man" in terrorist groups. So which is it?

Sean: However, I thought it was clear what the DISCTINCTIONS between real soldiers and terrorists are. Soldiers wear uniforms, with insignia indicating rank and which country they serve. Terrorists do not.

I don't wear a uniform, or have insignia indicating rank, or anything showing which country I serve. Does that mean I'm a terrorist?

Dear Hilzoy. I hope you are well.

I thought it right to offer you a few more brief comments before this particular column and its comments disappears into limbo.

I have read the links you gave me. I agree the experiments recorded in the KUBARK Manual was barbaric. No argument there. And I've also sent the link to that article to my ex Army friend.

Would it be too intrusive of me to ask if I could send you Mr. Humphrey's comments? I realize I would need to ask for an email address of yours. I won't be offended if you decline.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

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