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Flip Flopping And Waterboarding

You may not remember this:

Q Sir, do you agree with the Vice President that a dunk in the water is a “no brainer” when it comes to interrogatin g a terror suspect?

PRESIDENT BUSH: This country doesn’t torture, we’re not going to torture.

You may not know this:

Our closest allies, the British, reaffirmed Tuesday that they consider waterboardin g a form of torture prohibited by internationa l law. That’s an opinion shared by the U.N. human rights commissioner .

You also may be distracted by the tight Democratic race to the Whitehouse and not have heard about this:

on Wednesday the Senate joined the House in passing legislation that prohibits the CIA from using waterboardin g or any similar “harsh” interrogatio n techniques.

But contrary to the President’s earlier assertion, he’s a flip flopper:

But President Bush says he’ll veto the bill.

It is apparent that the President’s agenda for waging war on terrorists does nothing to reduce but strongly increases the reasons why otherwise reasonable people in the Middle East who should like America no longer do. Hypocrisy is no way to run our government. When you decry atrocities like torture and waterboardin g publicly, but refuse to stop using it yourself, you place the entire nation at risk of being considered untrustworth y.

But the President is an expert at spreading malaise for his own political gain. For example, there is no doubt that the terrorists will and can proclaim one more victory because they have the strongest trumpet for their cause in the man called President of the USA, George W. Bush:

At this moment, somewhere in the world, terrorists are planning new attacks on our country. Their goal is to bring destruction to our shores that will make September the 11th pale by comparison.

Any time he makes this kind of remark, he spreads fear not hope and all but assures the terrorists that they have won because they couldn’t ask for a better spokesperson to instill terror into the hearts and minds of good Americans everywhere.

Excuse me for a second Mr. President, but you are speaking in generalities . Of course there are people still out there planning to attack us. You don’t need to remind us. We were paying you to find them, route them out and kill them. Instead, you got us into an intractable war in Iraq that has cost us an incalculable amount with very little return.

Given the wherewithal of the American Military Might and the Intelligence Community, I would expect the President at this point in time be not speaking in generalities but specifics. Would it be refreshing if, after this many years pursuing terrorists, he would say something like, “We know where the terrorists are, and we now how to get them. We will get them, and fear not, they will be brought to justice.” Of course, for W, that would require bold leadership instead of slinging more fear for the terrorists in order to play political games with Congress and the American People.

Does any one else find this man ridiculous? Fortunately  (or is it unfortunate)  , though, like the boy who cried wolf, no one responds to this rant any more.

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28 Responses to “Flip Flopping And Waterboarding”

  1. You know what the real torture is? Listening to congress go on and on about this.

  2. I am thinking about water boarding myself if I have to read another one of these posts…

  3. Lisa,
    Congress is what keeps the President from railroading you out of your house and home.

    Steve, I see you are not abject to marginalizin g the Constitution  , are you?

    Have a gander at this:

    I, for one, do not intend to back down - not to the terrorists and not to anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear.

    We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution . If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won.


    Silvestre Reyes

  4. “We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution . If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won.”

    Dude… isn’t that from Patriot Games or something? It’s one of those movies… Reyes stole it.

  5. Rings a little less fictional here, wouldn’t you agree Steve?

  6. Y’know though Windspike, the Constitution is made to protect America and it’s citizens. Our Constitution isn’t the law of the world. So I really have no problem with torture. I have protected rights from it but some slap dick with some bombs in the middle east that wants to kill me and my family deserves to be captured and tortured to find the rest of his friends that want me and my family dead in the name of Allah. So….

  7. If it’s not wrong, why does Bush keep insisting that we don’t torture people, at the same time that he’s having people kidnapped from various places around the world, taken to secret prisons, and tortured?

    Beyond the fact that no end justifies evil means, it’s been shown over and over and over that torture does not work as a way to extract useful information. It works to terrorize people, but that’s all - a person being tortured will eventually say whatever he or she thinks you want to hear, whether it’s true or not, to get the suffering to stop.

    And there’s the issue that well over half the people this administrati on has imprisoned and tortured, they’ve eventually decided were innocent - sometimes they let them go, sometimes they decide that even if they weren’t our enemies before, now they hate us too much for it to be safe to let them go. so we’ll just keep them locked up indefinitely without charges or trial. That’s the situation with quite a few in Guantanamo.

    Finally, as to your rights, the Prez has also said that he has the right to unilaterally  , without having to show evidence to any court, declare anyone including a U.S. citizen an enemy combatant, at which point their Constitution al rights go up in a puff of smoke and they too can be disappeared.

    If you really have no problem with people being tortured in your name, you either have no understandin g of the nature of torture or your conscience is crippled. Sorry to put it that bluntly, but there is no ethical ground for torture, period. It is an exercise in sadism and a symptom of sociopathy.

  8. So you would feel better if Bush said “Yes we Torture”
    Wow that oughta do it for me along with Iran,Saudi Arabia and a few other Mid East leaders admit to the world they beat and imprison women when they get raped or show their ankles and when China admits to the world they kill baby girls and Castro admits to the world he imprisons all who oppose him.
    There everyone feeling all nice and cozy now?
    I really don’t get it why this such a big issue . You actually think this is a new issue? Remember what the big bad attorney general did in Waco? Gassed it and lit it on fire? Remember a woman and baby getting shot at Ruby Ridge? Oh those were the days.But no on gave a crap about that did they? Remember? Is everyone brain dead or just pretending to be?
    No corporation was evil before Bush. There were no poor people before Bush. It’s a communist socialist trick by going after the weak and the poor just to get them on your side to give you more power and in the meantime destroying the country with no objections.
    That’s how Cuba and Venezuela did it.
    We will lose this country when the dems take away it’s tax paying citizens rights and resources and give it all away and watch us be taken over slowly but surely by a 3rd world nation all without using a gun but using our laws. And here I thought the big argument was how we are leaving this country to our children and grandchildre n.
    They will look back and cry foul not to Bush but to the people who are really the ones takiing away our civil liberties not our enemy’s civil liberties.

  9. No, I would feel better if Bush said “We don’t torture” and it was true.

    For practical reasons, torture is stupid. First, it doesn’t work. A person being tortured will, as I said, eventually say whatever he or she thinks the torturer wants to hear to get the pain to stop. It may or may not be true. Unless you have another source to check, it probably won’t be, and if you do have another source, you don’t need the torture. Second, the damage done to our country’s name, reputation, and image do more harm than any good that could come even from accurate information gained from torture. The abuses this administrati on has committed in the name of its so-called war on terror have lost us a huge amount of the moral support and goodwill that poured out to us from the rest of the world after 9/11, including from moderate Moslem people and governments around the world. Our government has thoroughly shot itself in the foot with its stupid methods.

    Even more important, torture is evil, and the fact that other governments do evil doesn’t make it right for us to do it. If we do think that it’s wrong for other societies to abuse people as Lisa mentions - and it is - all the more reason for us to do better; we don’t have the excuses someone might make for them, that they don’t know any better, or that “but it’s their culture!”

    I didn’t see anyone here saying it was a new issue; it’s not. I didn’t see anyone saying no one was outraged by Waco or Ruby Ridge; those were wrong too. And I don’t see anyone here saying “no corporations were evil before Bush,” etc.

    Please don’t put ridiculous words that I never said in my mouth, then imply that because those words I never said are ridiculous that what I did say was invalid. That’s called a straw man argument, and it’s a cheap and dishonest arguing technique unworthy of serious debate. If you’re going to argue, do it honestly. Otherwise all you’re doing is engaging in sophistry.

    It’s also irrelevant to go off on tangents about Cuba, Venezuela or wherever and yammering about some paranoid vision of democrats somehow destroying democracy. The role of the government is to protect our freedoms by (a) keeping others from violating them, whether they be corporations  , private individuals, or other governments, and (b) not abusing them itself. When the government fails in either of those ways, the government becomes the greatest threat to our heritage and to what we want to pass on to future generations.

    The reason this is such a big issue is that our government is doing things that are profoundly evil in our name, and if we give our passive or active consent, we are as responsible as the people actually doing it. Torture is the hallmark of totalitarian s and terrorists, not decent societies. Who do we think of when we think of torturers? Governments like the Nazis, the Communists, the Taliban, the sleazy Third World dictatorship s people come here to escape. Or of terrorists like the IRA and Al Qaeda. Is that what we want the rest of the world to see when they look at us, what we want to see when we look in the mirror?

    I am not against fighting legitimate wars when necessary. World War II comes to mind. There’s a difference between advocating fighting to defend our country when necessary and advocating torture. I, for one, have always been willing to defend my society, and I spent twenty years in the Marine Corps putting my money (or more accurately my hide) where my mouth was. But if I had ever been ordered to torture someone, I would have refused, as I would have been ethically and legally obligated to do. It was established at the Nuremberg trials that “I was following orders” is not an alibi, and it was driven home over and over in my training that we were expected to consider whether any order we got was lawful and that we were absolutely not to carry out an order we believed to be unlawful.

    People who advocate torture should be familiar with it and willing to do it themselves. That wouldn’t make it less evil, but it would make it less foolish and hypocritical . As it is, no one I’ve heard talk about it has any firsthand familiarity with the topic.

    I don’t like this subject, and I haven’t gotten into this in this forum before, but one reason I am adamantly against torture is that I do have some familiarity with it, both secondhand and firsthand. The secondhand experience is as a psychotherap ist who has worked with survivors of torture, among abused children and among prison inmates. The damage done can be devastating and profound.

    As for firsthand experience: from the ages of seven to ten my two brothers and I were in the custody of our father, who is a true psychopath and sadist. Our parents had divorced and he got custody because our mother had acknowledged that she was an alcoholic and gone into treatment, and he was a physician who was seen as a pillar of our small and conservative community. For the three years it took her to turn her life around and then accumulate enough evidence to get custody taken away, we were at his mercy, and he was a fairly proficient torturer. He used a lot of the same techniques of abuse and brainwashing that are used in secret prisons - beatings, malnutrition  , verbal abuse, isolation, drugs. He could do terrifying things with a dull hypodermic needle, and he ate other people’s pain and fear like candy, with a little smile and a gleam in his eye.

    At one point I overheard him and his second wife - who was also very twisted - brainstormin g about how they could stress my mother enough to get her to kill herself. They were sure that if they could hurt us badly enough, that would do it. I was terrified, although when she came to visit and I told her about it she told me not to worry about her.

    Another time he abruptly took me into my room and beat me thoroughly without saying anything first. When I asked what I had done, he told me I knew what I had done, and beat me more. After he finished, he informed me that I would be restricted to my room and the bathroom and not allowed to talk to anyone until I produced a satisfactory written confession and apology. I held out for several days, because I couldn’t think of anything I’d done, but finally got so lonely and desperate I started writing - I just made stuff up and then confessed and apologized. Anything to get out of there. Of course, when he read it, he got a big smile and then started beating me again. But it got me out of the room. That’s how valid the information torture produces is.

    If someone tells me that he or she thinks it’s okay to torture people, I know that person is either very sick or doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. Which is it?

  10. “First, it doesn’t work. A person being tortured will, as I said, eventually say whatever he or she thinks the torturer wants to hear to get the pain to stop.”

    The only thing that will conclusively make the torture stop is the truth.

  11. There is a difference, of course, between a sadist with no other intent than to inflict pain or an inquisitor in search of witches, of which we can all agree there are no actual examples on the one hand and, on the other hand, an interrogator searching for kidnap victims, terrorists, or the ticking bomb of which there are plenty of actual examples. Obviously, if there is no actual truth to be given, torture cannot “work”. Just as obviously, if there is an actual truth to be given, torture can work, if by “work” one means obtaining the truth.

  12. Bullshit. Unless the torturer already knows the answers to the questions, in which case the whole thing is a pointless exercise in sadism, the answer may be an unverifiable lie, or conversely, and as often happens, the torturer doesn’t believe the truth when he/she hears it and keeps going anyway.

    Torture was the standard method of the Spanish Inquisition; the typical question was, “We know you are a witch - who are your fellow witches?” And no matter what the victim said, the torture didn’t stop until he/she picked some other poor doomed souls and named them; then they were tortured, etc. The truth was that they were innocent of witchcraft, unless you believe in witches, but the truth did not “conclusivel y make the torture stop.” Lies did, but caused more misery for others.

    The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia did exactly the same thing, if you substitute the word “traitor” for “witch”, and it worked exactly the same way there too. No one was ever innocent. The truth never stopped the torture. And we can see how successful, and universally admired and respected, the Inquisitione rs and the Khmer Rouge are today.

    Don’t state unsupported opinions that, as I said earlier, are not based on any actual experience with the subject, as fact. It just makes you sound stupid.

  13. The reason for “need to know” is precisely because torture does work. Terrorist cells are kept small for a reason: less chance of discovery of a member of the cell who could, under torture, give up the other members of the cell. There is a reason members of cells don’t know members of other cells. There’s a reason that members of a cell don’t know every aspect of the plot, except those that they are explicitly involved in.

    Because torture does work and otherwise, a single captured cell member could not only bring down his own cell but many other cells as well.

    This is true not only of terrorism, of course, but of all espionage or wartime intelligence .

    In other words, whether torture can or cannot work depends upon the knowledge of the torturee and the purpose of the inquisitor and the knowledge sought by him.

    None of which addresses the morality of torture — or of forgoing torture and perhaps risking the loss of many innocent lives thereby.

  14. Bullshit. Example. A kidnapper has kidnapped a young girl. You’ve captured the person who kidnapped her. You apply torture. Where’s the girl? Only the discovery of the girl will end the torture. Thus, as long as there is an actual identifiable truth to be discovered, torture can work because the only way to end the torture is to tell the truth.

  15. ‘Torture was the standard method of the Spanish Inquisition; the typical question was, “We know you are a witch - who are your fellow witches?”’

    Already addressed in my comment at 1:38 pm.

  16. And I’ll give my opinion whatever you think of it. Don’t tell me what to say or write. Refute what I write but don’t you dare tell me what not to write…or change your moniker to something other then Liberal Jarhead. There’s not a damn thing liberal about censorship of opinion, however disconnected you might think it is from reality.

    if you insist on telling people what to say or write, try something like “Fascist Jarhead”.

    Craig R. Harmon

  17. Craig,
    I think when you advocate torture you’re a wee bit closer to fascism than someone who was tortured and abused who tells you to shut up because you don’t know what you’re talking about. Liberal Jarhead could have phrased it better, but I think you overreacted to what he said. He overreacted to what you said as well, however.

    Torture can work. The problem is how you tell the difference between when it’s worked and when it hasn’t? The Dirty Harry scenario you portray as an example, presumably typical, isn’t. In that case, it can work. In most cases, you’re not going after an extant threat but for fellow conspirators or future plots and there, LJ is completely correct. You are far more likely to get false confessions to stop the torture. And once people ‘know’ you’re a terrorist from the previous torture, they will torture you until you give them the information that they ‘know’ you know.

    As for the morality of torture versus the protection of innocents, well, given innocent people will be tortured, you didn’t do a very good job protecting them, did you? And as, I think, the only person here who’s actually walked through the aftermath of a terrorist attack, I know the consequences of the intelligence services not stopping terrorists better than anyone on this blog. Torture is too high a price to stop even that because it will be misused, used wrongly and screwed up.

    You’re entitled to think me a naive, liberal fool, if you wish, but you’re still supporting something that is completely wrong. And there’s not a damn thing about what America claims to stand for about torture, either.

  18. Your 1:38 hadn’t shown up yet when I started composing my reply. Nevertheless  , the Inquisitors were for the most part quite sincere and believed in what they were doing. And the fact remains, that when the victim is innocent, the truth does not stop the torture. They won’t stop until they get something, even if there’s nothing really there.

    As for the difference between “good” torturers and sadists - the research shows that even someone who isn’t a sadist when he or she starts out will often, over time, first become hardened to the suffering of their victims, and then develop an active sadistic taste for it. A couple of books that address this at length, based on extensive psychologica l research and reams of data from both experiments and history:

    The Lucifer Effect, by Phillip Zimbardo

    Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, by Roy Baumeister

    Your hypothetical is like the cliched old “ticking bomb” excuse. First, how often is a situation like that actually what exists? You’re describing a situation where time is so short there is no chance for anything but torture to work, if it works. But in situations like that, when law enforcement agencies have engaged in what amounts to torture, the result has been just as likely to be for the accused to stonewall and maintain his/her innocence, refusing to self-incrimi nate in the hope that if the victim is not found some other way, they’ll get away with it, or at least that the victim will die before being found, leaving the authorities with the burden of proof of tying the accused to the crime rather than confessing.

    And when the accused have been innocent, there has been nothing they could say to get the abuse to stop. That’s why we have Constitution al rights. And the Constitution ’s protections are not limited to American citizens; they apply to anyone over whom the American government has power. For example, a non-citizen has the same Miranda and Fifth Amendment rights as you or I.

    For the cases of torture in secret prisons we’re talking about here, that’s a false analogy anyway, because that element of a ticking deadline isn’t there.

    Regarding the question of innocence, our own government has admitted that of the prisoners we had at Abu Ghraib, for instance, most were taken in on little or no evidence and were innocent. How? Like this:
    In Afghanistan, we offered a bounty for anyone who was connected with Al Qaeda or the Taliban, and we didn’t ask those who brought them in for any evidence beyond their accusation, so many people there took advantage of the situation to settle scores with people they happened to dislike or just kidnapped strangers for the money.
    In Iraq, a lot of them were also snatched based on unsupported accusations, or picked up in cordon-and-s weep operations where every man within a given age range who happened to be on a certain block or in a certain restaurant when the troops showed up was grabbed.

    Trained military and law enforcement interrogator s are quite proficient at getting prisoners to open up without torturing them, using some pretty sophisticate d psychologica l techniques that have been developed by a lot of smart people over the years, that have the added benefits of not being sadistic, not traumatizing the people interrogated  , and most importantly of getting real truth, often faster than abuse gets any answer at all. Nothing wrong with that, because it works, it’s not abusive, and if a person is innocent, they’ll figure that out too and quit wasting their time so they can go find the people they really want.

    None of these issues are new, and the Founders of this country were not naive or dumb. They created our Constitution the way they did for good reasons, and every limitation they put in it, and that others put in it later via more amendments after the Bill of Rights, were put there to protect against real evils and abuses that they had seen happen. Give them credit for knowing what they were doing.

    And, once again, any decent society and any decent legal system holds that evil means would be wrong even if they were effective to achieve an otherwise justifiable end. That’s why, for example, illegally obtained evidence is not usable in court even when it would absolutely prove the accused’s guilt (the “fruit of the poison tree” doctrine.)

    I would really like to hear your thoughts about those two books if you would read them. They deal with this subject thoroughly, concretely, and with the use of historical facts and confirmed data rather than imaginary “what-if” scenarios.

  19. Actually, a correction, in the Dirty Harry/Tickin g Bomb situation, it might be necessary to use torture. However, we are not in a ticking bomb situation, nor have we been for the last 7 years, so I still can’t see the justificatio n.

  20. You’re right, I did overreact. I apologize for telling anyone what to say.

    I do stand by everything I’ve said about both the effectivenes s and the morality of torture. At most it’s a crapshoot as for finding any useful info, and no matter what it’s wrong. What happened to the principle underlying our whole legal system that says if we’re going to make mistakes - and we will - it’s better to fail to convict the guilty than to falsely convict the innocent? That’s why the burden of proof is on the prosecution rather than the defense, in both the civil and military legal systems. It’s just too easy for people to be destroyed by government functionarie s who are absolutely confident that they are right. J. Edgar Hoover was like that; so was Himmler. They were both fascists. We shouldn’t be. If we become fascists, the terrorists really have succeeded in destroying our freedoms, or in manipulating our government into doing it for them.

  21. One clarificatio n. I apologize again for using the word “don’t”, but what I said not to do - and should not have said - was not to state an opinion as a fact, rather than not to state it at all. My fault for the way I said it. I was very upset. As I said, this subject is very disturbing for me, and every time I hear about an instance of torture I find myself picturing it through the eyes of the person being tortured.

    An additional thought - the true purpose that torture does serve, the only thing at which it is consistently effective, is terrorizing people.

    Beyond sadism, which is a purpose only for individuals, that’s the real reason governments, criminals, terrorists and psychopaths do it. The unspoken aim is to scare the people who might otherwise take up arms against us, either on a battlefield or by engaging in the kind of evil and despicable terrorism we saw on 9/11, into passivity.

    But terrorizing people as a means of controlling, deterring, or defeating them - whether we’re talking about kidnapping and torture or “strategic” bombing - backfires on its practitioner s. Even in the short term, it only works if you are so harsh and ruthless you are willing to completely set morality aside, and even then the effect is temporarily and leads to a backlash of resistance and hatred. If the Nazis and the Stalinists couldn’t stop opposition by at least some of the people of the countries they occupied with the torture and other abuses they used, it can’t be done. Ultimately, the only way to truly and permanently control a people with violence is to kill them all - like the Romans sometimes did, as when they sacked Carthage and killed or sold into slavery every human being there - the Romans about whom it was said “They make a desert and call it peace.” And that’s not what we’re supposed to be about.

    Bush and his administrati on have worked very hard to use fear to get Americans to go along with things that would never have been accepted otherwise, and it’s wrong. Every time any government, including ours, has engaged in human rights abuses, when people have looked back they’ve clearly seen that it was wrong and unjustified - the mass deportations that went with the Red Scare after World War I, the internment of Japanese-Ame ricans in World War II, the McCarthy/HUA C hearings and blacklisting s, Hoover’s FBI harassing minority and anti-war groups in the 60s, Nixon’s siccing the IRS on his political enemies - along with all the other abuses that just about every government has committed now and then - all wrong. We have to have government for a lot of reasons, but every government will by its nature abuse its power at times to whatever extent it can, and it’s always wrong. That’s why our society of laws treats government like a very untrustworth y and treacherous entity - because it is, due to the fact that power corrupts.

  22. The logic in Lisa and Steve’s comments are twisted wouldn’t y’all agree. Let’s see where to start:

    Steve said:

    I have protected rights from it but some slap dick with some bombs in the middle east that wants to kill me and my family deserves to be captured and tortured to find the rest of his friends that want me and my family dead in the name of Allah.

    By this logic, it would be okay to torture Timothy McVeigh and his pal Terry Nichols, no? Laws good enough for one peoples are good enough for another, no? Trouble is, we don’t know who the government is torturing, except that they are, and I think it’s reprehensibl e. Ask John McCain what he thinks, as a person who has been tortured as to if it is effective.

    Lisa said

    We will lose this country when the dems take away it’s tax paying citizens rights and resources and give it all away and watch us be taken over slowly but surely by a 3rd world nation all without using a gun but using our laws.

    Huh? That’s a rather fanciful prediction. Your basic argument is that “because others have and are still torturing, then it’s okay for us to do it.” Do you think God and Jesus Christ would agree? Morally, shouldn’t we as leaders of the free world be taking the moral high ground? I don’t see how torture has anything to do with protecting us from enemy invaders. I simply don’t see how having democrats in charge would cause a coup spurred by some third world nation. Where is the fear from which your comments stem originating?   I’m not afraid, and when Bush mongers the fear, I think he does just as much if not more damage than supposed terrorists or would be terrorists would do, particularly given his willingness to transgress on our Constitution al rights just in the name of some artificial security.

    Incidentally  , our democracy is based on non-violent turn over of governments. Hold on to your hat Lisa, this election is going to be ugly for you as you will witness a non-violent coup of the GOP as our forefothers had the foresight to design into Constitution . And, you will have no one but Bush to blame for the loss of the Whitehouse.

    LJ, Craig, and Paul,

    The dialog is interesting and provocative.   I don’t think Craig’s argument is that torture is good, but that as to if it gets at the truth is variable. LJ is right on many points, but no one is in the extreme. Even so, I harken back to my earlier statement. For those curious as to the effectivenes s of torture, one need only ask John McCain. He’s got experience, and it doesn’t sound like one I would subject people to.

    Bottom line, it’s the hypocrisy that frustrates me most. When Bush says “We don’t torture,” but then claims that water boarding is necessary, he is lying. He might as well own up to it. They hypocrisy that is his continuous lying is what undermines the trustworthin ess of our whole national soul. I believe he has done more to undermine the position of the President than any one person ever has. It’s going to take a Herculean effort to rectify that no matter who wins in November (but I”m betting on Obama).

  23. P.S. I”m going to be out of network range for a day or so (thankfully)  , so I won’t be able to render more comments to this post for a few days.

    Blog on Friends, Blog on all.

  24. To one and all. I have not, here, advocated the use of torture in any circumstance . I have taken the position contrary to this: torture does not work. My opposing view is, no more and no less than: under certain circumstance s, torture can work. Period. End of essay. Whether it should or should not ever be used in any particular circumstance is an entirely different discussion and one that should not be entered into under the, in my opinion, mistaken impression that torture never fruitfully produces truth. There may be many fine arguments for the total prohibition of torture but that is not one of them.

    In any case, I have other things that I wish to do for now so I’ll sign off of the discussion for now, anyway.

    Craig R. Harmon

  25. Some other relevant background, from one of the most extensively researched books on the Iraq war, Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks (whose other works on military subjects have been strongly positive toward the American military, so this is not an author with a pattern of being hostile to what our troops do in general):
    From Chapter 9, How to Create an Insurgency, Part II -

    page 195: “In the late summer of 2003, senior U.S. commanders tried to counter the insurgency with indiscrimina te cordon-and-s weep operations that involved detaining thousands of Iraqis. This involved “grabbing whole villages, because combat soldiers were unable to figure out who was of value and who was not,” according to a subsequent investigatio n of the 4th Infantry Division’s operations by the Army inspector general’s office. On top of that, Army commanders failed to ensure they had a system to process thousands of people. At first, prisoners were held on U.S. bases, but by late summer they were shipped to Abu Ghraib prison to be held by a small unit of demoralized MPs there.”

    Page 197: “… On August 4, 2003, U.S. authorities reopened the prison west of Baghdad called Abu Ghraib, which was notorious since it had been used to punish the enemies of Saddam Hussein. And at around two o’clock on the morning on August 14, Capt. William Ponce, an officer in the Human Intelligence Effects Coordination Cell at Sanchez’s [the general in charge of military forces in Iraq] headquarters  , sent out a memo to subordinate commands. “The gloves are coming off regarding these detainees,” he told them. His e-mail, and the responses it provoked from members of the Army intelligence community across Iraq, are sadly illuminating about the mind-set of the U.S. military during this period. They suggest that the U.S. military was moving in the direction of institutiona lized abuse.
    Captain Ponce stated that Col. Steve Boltz, the second highest ranking military intelligence officer in Iraq, “has made it clear that we want these individuals broken…”
    (My note: ‘these individuals’ are the Iraqis indiscrimina tely rounded up by the village-load - most of them the very same Iraqis Bush said we invaded to rescue from the terrible abuses of Saddam Hussein, which we were now faithfully replicating.  )

    Page 198: “… The 4th Infantry Division’s intelligence operation responded three days later with suggestions that captives be hit with closed fists and also subjected to “low voltage electrocutio n.”
    But not everyone was so sanguine as those two units’ operations. “We need to take a deep breath and remember who we are,” cautioned a major with the 501st Military Intelligence Battalion, which supported the operations of the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq. (The officer’s name was deleted in official documents released by the Army, as were those of the other writers in this e-mail exchange.) “It comes down to standards of right and wrong - something we cannot just put aside when when find it inconvenient  , any more than we can declare that we will “take no prisoners” and therefore shoot those who surrender to us simply because we find prisoners inconvenient .” This officer also took issue with the reference to rising U.S. casualties. “We have taken casualties in every war we have ever fought - that is part of the very nature of war… That in no way justifies letting go of our standards… Casualties are part of war - if you cannot take casualties then you cannot engage in war. Period.” The “BOTTOM LINE”, he wrote emphatically in conclusion, was, “We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there.” HGis signature block ended with a reference to “Psalm 24: 3-8,” which begins with the admonition, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.” But this lucid and passionate argument was a voice in the wilderness. The major was arguing against embarking on a course that the Army had already chosen to take.”

    (My note: and when they got caught in the glare of the world press, the leadership who started it scapegoated the troops who carried out this policy as “a few bad apples.”)

    Finally, from page 200: “… And the tactics used in the push for intelligence aided the insurgency it was aiming to crush by alienating large segments of the Iraqi population.”

    Like I said. Stupid, ineffective, and evil. Kind of like the Commander in Chief who was ultimately driving the bus.


  26. LJ,

    When I run across someone advocating what happened at Abu Ghraib, I’ll tell him he’s on the wrong side of the issue. Since neither I nor anyone else I have ever spoken to advocates what happened at Abu Ghraib, I find that entire discussion to be irrelevant. Most of what happened there does not even come within a hundred thousand parsecs of being torture anyway, in my opinion. It was humiliation. Pointless, idiotic humiliation. It was not interrogatio n. Those abused were not the sort of prisoners likely to have verifiable intelligence of the sort that one would use torture to gain access to.

    If that’s what you think that I, or anyone else has been talking about in this debate, you’re right and so is the author. Absolutely! On the other hand, Abu Ghraib is a straw-man in this discussion, in my honest opinion.

  27. One final thought, then I’m done with this one. Another applicable quote, this time from Friedrich Nietzche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra:

    “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

    I saw a bumper sticker that said “We’re making enemies faster than we can kill them.” It’s all too likely that we’re making monsters at a rate that will come back to punish us sevenfold too, both among our own people and theirs.

  28. He’s right. If you cannot take casualties, then you ought not be putting soldiers in harms way. I agree fully. Casualties to soldiers who have volunteered into the military service of their country, who have been armed and trained and been sent into hostile territory are one thing. Casualties to civilians, including infants and children in child-care facilities, as on 9/11, are, to me, an entirely different matter and, if the author’s statements about casualties were intended to include American civilians on American soil, and I don’t believe for a moment that his statement was intended to include them, then I disagree with him. I have advocated torture, not in this discussion but elsewhere and previously enough that people should already know the sorts of situations that I would say that torture would be justified and merely to spare our soldiers casualties is not among them.

    And yes, certainly what the author describes does amount to torture of a sort and in a situation that I would not advocate. But I don’t read the author arguing, let alone proving, that torture never produces reliable and actionable intelligence and that’s all I’ve been arguing here.

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