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August 27, 2009


Consider that George Washington, then facing a truly existential crisis, refused to allow prisoners to be tortured - even as the fledgling republic teetered on a precipice in the midst of an improbable military campaign against the British.

But, Eric, everything changed on 9/11. Even, apparently, what works in terms of gaining valuable information from detainees. It's not like there was a well established set of methods for interrogating people that we could have relied upon. No, it had to be invented from scratch by people with little to no prior experience because everything changed. Never was the republic more at risk than after 9/11, and what was there to do other than to torture people (who may or may not have had anything to do with 9/11 - and, well, aside from starting wars with counties that had nothing to do with the attacks or violating the civil liberties of Americans - those too, of course)?

And yet, Party members seem entirely unaware of just how contrary their support of torture is to the vision of the revered, if only in the abstract, founding fathers (let alone the more recent object of adulation, Ronald Reagan).

I understand why you bring this up, Eric, but...no. Sorry, just...no.

Ronald Reagan's opposition to torture was strictly rhetorical. He had no qualms about supporting regimes that tortured their own citizens. None whatsoever. This is not open to debate.

Yes, as Greenwald notes, he was "officially" anti-torture. Wonderful. So was the Soviet Union.

Well, he also signed the treaty in question binding the US, at least, to abstain from torture. And there is a difference. There are times when we must support or at least work with regimes that practice torture.

Perhaps in Central America, Reagan went further. To the extent that someone is willing to admit the sins of Reagan as such, I say point taken, but it was still significant that he implemented US law on a different standard, and matched that higher standard with inspiring rhetoric.

But to those deluded on Reagan-aid that refuse to countenance his morally reprehensible policies in Central America, it's useful to point out what flavor they're supposed to be drinking.

But, Eric, everything changed on 9/11.

It's true, you know. Ever since 9/11 the sun has been rising in the west. But does the liberal media cover THAT story?

There are really two issues here, each importnat.

First, the use of torture by the U.S. and its proxies. This is, unfortunately, a fairly old story. Unlike Eric, I don't think that we should or must support regimes that do this. The U.S. used torture in the Philippine-American War. We outsourced torture through rendition and other policies long before the George W. Bush administration. Just as it's important not to scapegoat the underlings in the Bush Administration for the crimes of their superiors, it's important not to pretend that Bush and Cheney invented torture American-style. Practically speaking, returning to the status quo ante is simply not enough.

Second, the Bush-Cheney administration did, for the first time, embrace torture rhetorically, even if they avoided calling it such. If veiled torture has long been a U.S. policy, the Bush administration decided to unveil it. This is appalling in its own right. Torture is torture and is always wrong under any circumstances, but a society that openly embraces torture has crossed an important moral threshold. And this was new in the Bush years.


Not just embrace torture rhetorically, but set up a state sanctioned system. If we used torture in the Phillipine-American war, that's one thing. But after we signed the Geneva Conventions, we have not engaged in this conduct officially and with government acknowledgment/sign off.

That's significant.

In the 1960's 70's didn't US govt run a school to teach secret police from South American countries how to torture?

Just wanted to say you hit the nail on the head.

And that I'm really too shaken to write anything else...

In the 1960's 70's didn't US govt run a school to teach secret police from South American countries how to torture?

One expects you're thinking of the School of the Americas.

"One expects you're thinking of the School of the Americas." Posted by: Nombrilisme Vide

Thanks, Yes, that's the one. I hadn't realized that it had lasted from 1946-2001. There was an earlier documentary that highlighted some of its "successes" which I think i saw in the 1970's.

I hadn't realized that it had lasted from 1946-2001.

It's still there; all they did in 2001 was change the name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. I don't know what the curriculum looks like these days.

It appears the government is already funding "death panels"

While I respect Andrew Sullivan for his integrity and relative consistency even though I disagree with him on a number of things, he often displays a naivete about high-level policy-making that reveals the starry-eyed immigrant in him, fresh off the plane in the 80s, under the benevolent hand of Ronnie himself. This would be fairly risible if his genuine moral outrage didn't rescue him from such ridiculousness every time out.

Since I haven't lived in the U.S. for 12 years, I am not qualified to call into question that 9/11 changed everything, even though I have to admit that it still makes me reach for the Tums; I'm still not buying the notion that there was an "existential threat to the republic," but living at a physical distance from it while acutely feeling what went on (I wasn't able to bring myself to go to work on the day of the attack, and indeed, the Americans in my workplace were excused if they didn't feel they could go to work), I have to admit that I too, probably would've felt that dusk was falling had I been there.

But there was a precedent for that: Pearl Harbor, where all Japanese-Americans were immediately tagged as agents of sedition and horded into internment camps, and when I think of that, and the wretched Korematsu decision that upheld it, I think, hey, wait a minute...how is it that we allow ourselves to go apeshit and fall to pieces at moments like that? Did the Brits start imploding after the bombs on Edgeware Road went off? I don't think so.

Torture has been around in the back pockets of those in high places for a long time and Sullivan's outrage still smacks of gullibility even where I completely agree with him; 9/11 was simply the pretext to make torture de facto policy in the name of "doing something," even though it was just as much a sign that they didn't know what in the hell to do. My point: the moral outrage is justified, but it's reflective of a dingbat attitude that we allow ourselves to fall into every time this happens.

In May, my wife and I went to the Seattle Art Museum to see the visiting exhibition titled "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery." In a room full of works by the American soldier, diplomat and artist John Trumbull (1756-1843), I found my way to his painting, "The Caputure of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776." Among his numerous accomplishments, Trumbull was an eyewitness to the Battle of Bunker Hill and served as personal aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The painting in question also appears on the cover of David McCullough's book, "1776".

When I started reading the notes alongside the painting, the following quote brought me up short and but brought tears to my eyes:

"I composed the picture for the express purpose of giving a lesson to all living and future soldiers in the service of their country, to show mercy and kindness to a fallen enemy -- their enemy no longer when wounded and in their power." (John Trumbull, "Autobiography").

Contrast this with what we now know, and consider what the founding fathers we profess to honor would say about what our government has done in our names.

"Notice the shift from the standards of the past. In the past, the US was known for being a country whose soldiers would never mistreat prisoners;"

What utter bollocks. Do a little research on the "water cure" used on captives during the colonization of the Philippines, the torturing done in Vietnam etc. The US government has a long history of brutality.

The entire episode has me contemplating the merits of anarchism and whether or not the world on balance would be better off if the era of American hegemony came to a swift and definitive end.

Bill Jones, you are obviously right but don't forget that the victims were predominantly not 'white' and therefore did not really count* (in the eyes of other white people).

*"the(se) savages don't understand any other language but force" (still used by the right wing today)

Kahlid Sheik Mohammed masterminded 9/11 and the murder of 3,000 people. He was so proud of his achievement that he celebrated by personally beheading Daniel Pearl and video taping the event for international distribution. So you're upset that the CIA strapped this man to a board, turned him upside down, and poured water in his nose until he provided actionable intelligence? Prior to that, when the agents treated him nicely, he was providing stale and false informationt.

What would you have done to protect the people of the United States from savages like him?

Not become savages ourselves?

Try to live up to our hagiography?

Nombrilisme Vide | August 29, 2009 at 05:52 PM

Non-responsive answer. I repeat the question: What would you have done to protect the people of the United States from savages like him?

Two points. First, obviously, post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Second, I'm frankly far more worried about savages like his "interrogators" than KSM. KSM stood and stands exactly no chance of fundamentally threatening the fabric of this country. The same cannot be said for those individuals who tortured him and and those who gleefully cheer his torture as though it was laudable, or even necessary.

Also, since you're taking a quite self-righteous tone, I might suggest that you should at least have the courage to present the "hard, cold, necessary" acts you so blithely defend as being what they were (torture) rather than disingenuously referring to waterboarding as "pouring water in his nose".

Oops, I seem to have failed to answer your so-serious question.

Given that KSM was a prisoner in government custody when he was tortured, I'd have done nothing to protect the people of the US from him. Because, ya know, he posed no threat.

I certainly wouldn't have tortured him to extract confessions interleaved with questionable (if "actionable") intelligence. What end would that have served, exactly? Besides making sadists feel important and strong?

Not to forget that the Pearl beheading was likely not KSM who simply wanted to take credit for that (I wonder whether he also claimed to have written all Shakespeare plays except Hamlet*)

*ten points for naming the origin of that ;-)

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