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Tilting at Windmills

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November 8, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE CULTURE OF LIFE....Rosa Brooks writes that the Republican Party has a new litmus test:

Not too long ago, judicial nominees and political candidates could expect to be grilled on abortion. As the Republican leadership became dominated by right-wing evangelicals, staunch opposition to abortion became a precondition for those seeking support from GOP insiders. Soon, abortion was a litmus test for both parties.

....Today, though, the GOP's interest in abortion appears greatly diminished. When President Bush nominated Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general, no one seemed clear about Mukasey's views on abortion — and no one in the GOP seemed to care very much either.

These days, you can forget that old-style GOP rhetoric about "values," "human dignity" and the "culture of life." Because the GOP has a new litmus test for its nominees: Will you or will you not protect U.S. officials who order the torture of prisoners?

The trajectory of this debate has been depressing beyond words. As recently as a year or two ago, conservatives seemed at least occasionally defensive about the whole thing, mostly limiting their defense of torture to ticking time bomb scenarios and the like. It wasn't pretty, but it was at least a tacit admission that torture was shameful enough to be considered only in extremis.

But no more. The party that used to take Darkness at Noon as practically an ur-text about the evils of communism is now home to a snarling pack of presidential candidates who fall all over themselves to defend torture and abusive interrogation as a routine practice. How did we get here?

Kevin Drum 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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How did we get here?

The good guys all but conceded the idea that torture yields useful information. It doesn't -- that is, there is so much noise (literally) that it wastes resources rather than focuses 'em.

Fight 'em on THAT, and the rest falls into place.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 8, 2007 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK


I see where Georgia's Governor Perdue is sending out invitations for a prayer service for rain at the Capitol.

Maybe this will be the new litmus test: My prayers resulted in more rain than your prayers.

Folks, we are truly in la-la land now.

h

Posted by: nancock on November 8, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps it's not the love of torture so much as an embrace of the imperial presidency. (Y'know, like how the debate over slavery was really about states' rights). Under this new litmus test, you have to believe that Congress has no power to tell agents of the executive branch what they must or can't do (while at the same time believing that Congress can tell doctors which abortion procedures they can't use).

Posted by: Grumpy on November 8, 2007 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Any so-called 'Culture of Life' ideals espoused by the GOP/Fox Fundies pretty much expire at birth.

From that point on you're just part of the 'free market' humanity. Death by execution, starvation, war, disease, pollution... hey, no worries **.

[** Unless you are brain-dead and on life support or are an attractive white female who's gone missing].

Posted by: Buford on November 8, 2007 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Because Republicans are a bunch of authoritarian panty-waists, with the emphasis on pantywaist. When they felt safe, they were content to indulge their authoritarian tendencies at home where they might be constrained by law. But, now that they they're so vewwy afwaid of the big bad Iswamofascists, they feel free to indulge those tendencies over seas where they are constrained neither by law nor by any sense of decency or morality.

Posted by: Everett on November 8, 2007 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

How did we get here?

When it became acceptable to use the establishment of a perpetual state of Fear as a motivator in political discourse.

Posted by: Charles on November 8, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

We got here because this is a natural extension of the personality cult that is Bushism. Republicans have defended and championed every bone-headed idea, policy, and practice that Bush has come out with. Every single one, no matter how patently absurd.

Having painted themselves into this corner on the issue of torture, they're now stuck between championing American values ("We're the good guys--we STOP people from torturing!") and looking like complete tools for having defended Bush's detention, rendition, and torture policies.

Any wonder why fully 75% of the citizenry feels strongly that the country is moving in the wrong direction?

Posted by: Derelict on November 8, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

How did we get here?

I guess as the "last remaining superpower", there's no one left that we need to hold ourselves up as being "less evil than". The fact that we are now being held up as the example that Pakistan is "less evil than", ought to give us pause. Needless to say, I have my doubts that anyone important has noticed.

Posted by: Paul Dirks on November 8, 2007 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

We got here because most Republicans of any note are scum. The rot started with Reagan and it's gone downhill from there. And the media has let them get away with it.

Posted by: wab on November 8, 2007 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

The good guys all but conceded the idea that torture yields useful information. It doesn't -- that is, there is so much noise (literally) that it wastes resources rather than focuses 'em.
In the Shannon/theoretic sense, screams have high information content. It would be interesting to compare the information content of a scream v.s. normal speech.

Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 8, 2007 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

I think we've seen some of the worst impulses of American exceptionalism and authoritarianism fall into one place. That's half of it. The other more important half is that with Communism, *anyone*, including even the most dedicated revolutionaries and those in the highest reaches of power, could end up being forced to "confess" in a show trial just because Dear Leader had an upset stomach one morning. Koestler was himself a former Communist, who unlike most of his contemporaries realized by the time the great purges were complete how morally corrupt the system was. In our current situation, the important phrase to remember is "if you're not with the terrorists, you have nothing to fear." Not much comfort to poor schmucks like Khalid el-Masri, but if you're a white Christian the odds of the CIA flying you to a black site are pretty much zero.

A related note: Jeane Kirkpatrick was famous for an article claiming (probably correctly) that "traditional authoritarian governments are less repressive than revolutionary autocracies" and hence would make the transition to liberal democracy with less effort. This has, of course, been used to justify many unpleasant foreign relationships, often in a very bipartisan fashion. In essence, as far as the people advocating torture are concerned, there's simply no danger of us ending up in the situation Koestler described. I agree, but I still want to see most of the administration headed to The Hague.

In current news, I did not think my respect for Dianne Feinstein could sink any lower. I was wrong.

Posted by: Nat on November 8, 2007 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

How did we get here?

The minute conservative thinkers and activists decided that they needed to match the certainty of their most extreme enemies with their own brand of conservative radical certainty.
Once you make that leap to absolute truth, you can rationalize anything you do. Hence torture.
It all started in the 1920s when American libertarians and conservative thinkers began to write about what one should think and do in light of the Russian revolution. It was a downward slope from there.

Posted by: Northern Observer on November 8, 2007 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Paul doesn't support torture. Get your facts stratight Kevin. I thought you might appreciate a sane voice in the GOP

Posted by: Sean Scallon on November 8, 2007 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK


We got here because bullies run our country, and bullies are cowards at heart.

Posted by: Bat of Moon on November 8, 2007 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Which reminds. I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that said: "Republican, but not a dick." And I thought to myself, "In which case, you must not be a Republican."

Posted by: Everett on November 8, 2007 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

Kevin asks "how we got here" Where's "here", Kevin? Does it threaten you? Does it threaten your liberal sensitivities to be "here"? We like "here."

Maybe we're "here" because the American people are starting to take back their government from the multiculturalist, elitist American hater Democrats that ran this country for so long in the post-war period. We're fed up and we're not taking this anymore. You want power to the people? I got your power to the people rigth here. And its your worst nightmirror.

Posted by: egbert on November 8, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Lots of commenters have basically made this point, but my stock response is: that's just the kind of people they are.

IRL, of course, there's a lot of contempt in delivering that line, but it works in print without too much elaboration. That Kind of People.

Posted by: latts on November 8, 2007 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

John McCain, by standing up for principle here, is giving the Democrats a golden opportunity.

We should call Republicans (at least when they pull out the "Democrats are wimps in the war on terror" card) the "Party of Torture" and say that "John McCain understands that torture doesn't work and is counterproductive, but the Republican party has worked itself into a historical dead end."

Posted by: mk on November 8, 2007 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

How did we get here?

Where complete idiots and fuckwits like egbert think they're in charge? Ask the Supreme Court. They're the ones who put Bush in power.

Posted by: DJ on November 8, 2007 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

... a snarling pack of presidential candidates who fall all over themselves to defend torture and abusive interrogation as a routine practice. How did we get here?

—Kevin Drum

Republicans want to stay in power. They want the election, if possible, to come down to one issue that they can win on. That issue is: Who will better defend the country against terrorists? The simplest and clearest answer is the candidate (and party) who will go to whatever extremes are necessary.

"Are you for or against torture?" is a stand-in for "Will you do whatever it takes to defend the country?" And, in a country in which the majority of citizens would bomb Iran simply to teach them a lesson, being against torture signals unequivocally that you will not do whatever it takes to keep America safe.

That's why the torture issue continues to survive and thrive -- because it may ultimately give the Republicans the White House.

Don't think so? Just ask any mother (or father, for that matter) if she would torture a terrorist to gain information to save her child.

Posted by: Econobuzz on November 8, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

What's a nightmirror?

Posted by: Matt on November 8, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

I see where Georgia's Governor Perdue is sending out invitations for a prayer service for rain at the Capitol. Folks, we are truly in la-la land now.Posted by: nancock

I'd be shocked if it were the governor of Vermont or Washington. But we are talking about the South. We should have let it secede. We'd have to make special arrangements, however, to keep Miami, New Orleans and Austin.

Posted by: JeffII on November 8, 2007 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

The world according to egbert:

It's great that hundreds of people were detained, held without charges or access to a lawyer, repeatedly tortured, and then released after it was discovered they were totally innocent! I like that about my country!

And that darn multi-culturalism! How dare we pay attention to anyone other than white Christians!! Don't we all realize that white Christians are the only ones who matter?! Screw the coloreds and the wetbacks and chinks and hadjis!

And those darned smart people, what, with their "facts" and "science" and "reality." Don't they know that ignorance is strength?!

And ... okay, I can't do that any more without a full frontal lobotomy.

We got "here" because of people like egbert who put party before country ... who ignore anything that conflicts with their preconceived worldview ... and who will ignore every single thing this country has stood for in the past 200+ years for some illusion of safety.

What's so sad is that these people are too fucking stupid to realize our nation is becoming the very thing we're trying to destroy.

**shakes head**

Posted by: Mark D on November 8, 2007 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

What's a nightmirror?

Posted by: Matt

A small looking glass that shows a freakish complexion.

Posted by: Econobuzz on November 8, 2007 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

We got here because our own national ego precludes us from asking anyone for directions back to the on-ramp.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 8, 2007 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

I think the GOP also is worried about the abortion issue right now. 10 years ago, it was a great issue - there was little chance of immediate repeal, you could pass bills that Clinton would veto or had little chance of standing up to Supreme Court challenge.

Now, one SC vote - one - stands between the status quo and the prohibition of abortion in many states. That scares the GOP - as long as abortion remains legal, it's there issue, it motivates their troops more than the Democrats.

If RvW is actually overturned, however, it suddenly becomes an incredibly powerful Democratic message, a motivator for particularly younger women. The trends are already shrinking the GOPs future base, abortion repeal could kill it.

On Civil Rights, Democratic and other leaders followed their conscience despite the fact that they were aware of how much it could cost them on a national level. On Abortion, which Republicans claim to be an issue of conscience, Republicans will be much more hesitant, because for many of them it was just a handy wedge issue.

Posted by: Fides on November 8, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

You got here by constantly ridiculing the only Republican candidate who universally condemns torture, you idiot. When you relentlessly mock those who stand against torture, you support those who torture.

I've read you for a long time because I've long admired your clear and well thought out illustrations of the issues, but your sheer idiocy on the Ron Paul issue is bewildering.

Posted by: butcher on November 8, 2007 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

I just want one Republican Presidential candidate to answer this question:

How many innocent people is it acceptable to torture?

The disgusting premise that only people guilty people end up in detention (similar to "only people with something to hide worry about surveillance) doesn't undergo nearly the harsh scrutiny it deserves.

[Just to make clear, I don't think torture is acceptable in any circumstance. The fact that innocent people scooped up by foreign intelligence undergo it is just the awful icing on the cake.]

Posted by: uri on November 8, 2007 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

I would argue that a certain type of over-the-top action movie masculinity has been sold to America for years. This exaggerated masculinity has a lot of appeal to insecure male conservatives.

Stylisticly, one of the ways in which this masculinity has been defined has been through torture.

It used to be that the bad guys did the torturing. The manly virtue of the hero was proven by the inability of the bad guys to break him (think Die Hard or Braveheart).

More recently, torture has been the metaphor for all the rules alienating the protagonist from society and preventing him from achieving his aims.

For the screenwriter, it's a cliche: "he's the kind of cop who doesn't play by the book -- but he gets results".

Torture works -- for selling losers consumed by their own frustrated ambitions a character with whom they can identify.

Posted by: Adam on November 8, 2007 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Fuck you George Bush! Fuck you Dick Cheney!

Memo to Media: I Witnessed 'Waterboarding' -- And, Yes, It is Torture
Four decades ago, as a reporter in Vietnam, I saw what it was like. When you hog-tie a human being, tilt him head down, stuff a rag in his mouth and over his nostrils and pour water onto the rag slowly and steadily to the point where his lungs start to fill with water, that is torture.

By Joseph L. Galloway

(November 08, 2007) -- Did Bill Clinton have sex with that woman? Is Elvis Presley really dead? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear do his ablutions in the woods? Is waterboarding torture? The answer to all of these questions, put simply, is yes.

All of Judge Michael Mukasey's artful dodging and word play to avoid acknowledging the obvious to the august members of Senate Judiciary Committee does nothing to change the fact.

When you hog-tie a human being, tilt him head down, stuff a rag in his mouth and over his nostrils and pour water onto the rag slowly and steadily to the point where his lungs start to fill with water and he's suffocating and drowning, that is torture.

Four decades ago in the field in Vietnam, I saw a suspected Viet Cong waterboarded by South Vietnamese Army troops. The American Army advisers who were attached to the Vietnamese unit turned their backs and walked away before the torture began. It was then a Vietnamese affair and something they couldn't be associated with.

The victim was taken to the edge of death. His body was wracked with spasms as he fought for air. The soldier holding the five-gallon kerosene tin filled with muddy water from a nearby stream kept pouring it slowly onto the rag, and the victim desperately sucking for even a little air kept inhaling that water instead.

It seemed to go on forever. Did the suspect talk? I'm sure he did. I'm sure he told his torturers whatever he thought they wanted to hear, whether it was true or not. But I didn't see the end of it because one of the American advisers came to me and told me I had to leave; that I couldn't watch this interrogation, if that's what it was, any longer.

That adviser knew that water torture was torture; he knew that it was outlawed by the Geneva Convention; he knew that he couldn't be a party to it; and he knew that he didn't want me to witness such brutality.

Every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee knows that waterboarding is torture, even the majority who voted to send Judge Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general, America's chief law enforcement official, to the floor for a vote.

Waterboarding was torture when it was used during the Spanish Inquisition; it was torture when it was used on Filipino rebels during the 1890s; it was torture when the Japanese Army used it on prisoners in World War II; it was torture when it was used by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; and it's torture when CIA officers or others use it on terrorists.

When George W. Bush was the governor of Texas, the state investigated, indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison for 10 years a county sheriff who, with his deputies, had waterboarded a criminal suspect. That sheriff got no pardon from Gov. Bush.

Waterboarding is torture in the eyes of all civilized peoples, no matter how desperately President George W. Bush tries to rewrite the English language, with which he has only a passing familiarity, anyway. No matter how desperately his entire administration tries to redefine the word "torture" to cover the fact that not only have they acquiesced in its use, but they also have ordered its use.

The president, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their cronies and legal mouthpieces such as David Addington, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales are doing all they can to avoid one day facing the bar of justice, at home or in The Hague, and being called to account for crimes against humanity.

They want a blank check pardon, and they'll continue searching for attorneys general and judges and justices and senators and members of Congress who'll hand them their stay-out-of-jail-free cards.

As they squirm and wriggle and lie and quibble and cut deals with senators, they claim that "harsh interrogation methods" are necessary to prevent another 9/11. But as terrified as they are by terrorists, they also fear that one day they may be treated no better than some fallen South American dictator or Cambodian despot or hapless Texas sheriff; that they might not be able to leave a guarded, gated compounds in Dallas or Crawford, a ranch in New Mexico or the shores of Chesapeake Bay for fear of arrest and extradition.

No more shopping trips to Paris. No vacations on the Costa Brava. No interludes on some billionaire buddy's yacht in the Caribbean. No jetting around the world making speeches to fat cats at $1 million a pop like other former presidents. Even Canada would be off-limits.

Now the Democrats, or some of them, are conspiring with them to seat an attorney general who will help facilitate the ever more frantic search for ex post facto immunity for their crimes. Shame on them! There's such a thing as too loyal an opposition; too cowardly an opposition; too craven an opposition.

Waterboarding is torture. Decent people have acknowledged that for centuries. We sent Japanese war criminals to the gallows for using it. We sent a Texas sheriff to prison for using it. One day, an ex-president and those who helped him and those he ordered to torture fellow human beings may have to plea bargain for their lives and their freedom.


Joseph L. Galloway (gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com) was one of the leading war correspondents of our time and winner of the Bronze Star for valor in Vietnam. He is co-author of "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young" and currently writes a syndicated column on military affairs for McClatchy/Tribune.

Posted by: JeffII on November 8, 2007 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Walter Shapiro has pointed out a rather large fact that every other reporter neglected to mention: the guy who introduced Pat Robertson yesterday at his news conference endorsing Giuliani was none other than Ted Olson ( http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/058243.php ).

The implications of this mesh well with the political fact noted by Ms. Brooks -- namely, that active support for torture seems to be replacing opposition to abortion and homosexuality as the key issue among Christian Rightists, which is why they now find Giuliani more acceptable. The fundamental trait of religious fundies (that crucial constituency for the current GOP) is their taste for authoritarianism -- and, thanks to the terrorism threat, that may now be swinging toward a taste for military authoritarianism. I think it's becoming increasingly apparent that It Could Happen Here.

Posted by: BruceMoomaw on November 8, 2007 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Dynamics may be changing, but Mukasey seems to be a poor example. He's appointed AG in the last year of a lame duck term. I can't think of any reason that anti-abortion groups would see him as having much, if any, impact on the overall situation, and I doubt they could do much better with anyone else.

On the other hand, torture is a more immediate issue. It's more about defending pushback on the current president and setting the dynamics of the next race.

There are a lot of people to whom torture plays well, but it's more similar to "tough on crime" as an issue than it is to abortion. Torture plays well into their national security frame (republicans strong and manly, democrats are weak ninnies), but I don't really think there's a constituency clamoring for torture the way there is with anti-abortion.

Posted by: Royko on November 8, 2007 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Oh that butcher, he nails that one. "Republicans support torture because Democrats ridicule Ron Paul."

Indeed. And I support raping puppies because Republicans made fun of Bill Clinton....

Posted by: Everett on November 8, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

nancock: "I see where Georgia's Governor Perdue is sending out invitations for a prayer service for rain at the Capitol. Maybe this will be the new litmus test: My prayers resulted in more rain than your prayers. Folks, we are truly in la-la land now."

This is, of course, the same Gov. Sonny Perdue who pledged during his successful 2002 election campaign to restore the Confederate battle emblem to its former position of prominence within the Georgia state flag.

Further, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (November 9, 2002), upon his election, "[as] Perdue mocked Martin Luther King's famous oratory -- 'Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I'm free at last!' -- to underscore the end of Democratic Party dominance in Georgia, one of Perdue's supporters, standing in the background, waved a flag emblazoned with the Confederate battle emblem. The clash of symbols was startling. The moment also served as a reminder of Perdue's unfortunate decision to include in his campaign arsenal a bit of race-baiting demagoguery."

That's also part of the narrative explanation as to how we got here.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 8, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

The party that used to take Darkness at Noon as practically an ur-text about the evils of communism

I do not think this is true. Koestler was a communist and the book was not about the evils of communism but the evils of totalitarianism. Stalinist version. Someone in the union thread said they were as far Left as one could go without having a shrine to Stalin. Stalin was not a leftist, liberal, communist or socialist. Stalin was a dictator who utilized communism (a class based ideology) to impose totalitarianism on the Soviet Union. Mr. Koestler's book was about how Stalinism was able to make former communist revolutionaries falsely confess that they betrayed the revolution as a last attempt to save some tiny bit of what they thought the revolution and communism might accomplish in the Soviet Union. Belief in an ideological dogma led to their own willful destruction.

That some think the book was about the evils of communism, is a result of endless propaganda by wealthy capitalists. What is very interesting however, is that the types of torture used by the Soviets to elicit false confessions was adopted by the W. Bush Republicans, who I think would like to impose a capitalist ideological based totalitarianism in the US. Perhaps I should say have imposed.

Posted by: Brojo on November 8, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

. . . but your sheer idiocy on the Ron Paul issue is bewildering. Posted by: butcher

Dude, there is no "Ron Paul issue." Like Nader before him and Perot before Nader, his only hope of being even a footnote in U.S. presidential history is as a spoiler.

Posted by: JeffII on November 8, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

butcher: "You got here by constantly ridiculing the only Republican candidate who universally condemns torture, you idiot. ... [Y]our sheer idiocy on the Ron Paul issue is bewildering."

But, I would respectfully suggest, not nearly as bewildering as your apparent notion that berating others as "idiots" will effectively garner their electoral support for your candidate.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 8, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

"How did we get here?"
Fear, cowardice, total contempt for the Constitution and a distinct lack of faith in America's strengths.

Posted by: NHGNOLA on November 8, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

We got here because our elected Democratic representatives are too weak and afraid to speak up effectively against the thuggish Bushistas.

Posted by: gregor on November 8, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

... How did we get here?

Isn't that relatively OBVIOUS by now?:

American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.
~ Henry A. Wallace, US Vice-President

"Communism", on other hand, is a very POOR analogy for our present situation. To the contrary, the US is most accurately mimicking the gradual demise of the Weimar Republic.

Moreover, strident "anti-communism" has always been most fervently embraced by Fascists! So, the "shoe" whose size you seemingly question actually fits quite well. (Time to expand your knowledge of actual HISTORY a little, Kevin.)
.

Posted by: Poilu on November 8, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Torture is not about methods or defense of the nation. It is grave mistake to think that torture was rejected by those who sought liberal democratic government because of the ugliness and cruelty of the methods. We are talking about the prerogative of power. Torture is not defined by the Geneva Conventions, or at The Hague or by the American Congress or by the philosophies of John Locke or the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is defined by the President out of necessity. This is so because emergencies and danger, which the President has sole the authority to adjudicate, suspends the normal function of treaties, laws and traditions. When they say they do not torture it is not because waterboarding does not rise to the level of torture. It is because when the President decrees it is not torture, it is not torture. This is the logic of the Cheney Regency and it runs counter to the foundation of constitutional government.

This is not about methods. It is about power.

About two years ago, I was asked to give an address concerning the organized bar’s engagement on the torture issue before a gathering of bar association presidents from throughout the Western hemisphere. When it was over, a former president of the Argentine bar came up to me. “You must fight this with every ounce of energy you possess,” he said. “Because in the end, you will find that this torture is not about intelligence gathering, or ticking bombs or any other such nonsense. It is a talisman. A talisman of power. A government that can torture and do it with impunity can do anything. No law stands in its way. The very idea of the rule of law crumbles into dust. It means brutal tyranny.” At the time, I thought this was a bit crazy, but I knew what the Argentines had gone through and I respected the comment. As time progresses, I see exactly what he meant. Indeed, the experience of the bar in Argentina and Chile from the seventies and early eighties is perfectly on point for America today. First they introduced torture. And getting away with it, they have begun systematically to defy the notion that they are subject to the rule of law. We see this every day in dark figures like Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, and Dick Cheney. Torture, as my Argentine friend said, is but a talisman.

Scott Horton
Harper’s
May 23, 2007

Posted by: bellumregio on November 8, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

How did we get here?
Northern Observer nicely translates GwB's early days speech before the handlers told him that his choice of language was bad.

The minute conservative thinkers and activists decided that they needed to match the certainty of their most extreme enemies with their own brand of conservative radical certainty.

GwB called it a Crusade and his media minions took up the call in the wake of 9/11 and have driven that bus ever since. GwB und his minions don't call it a Crusade anymore but the code is in the torture issue. You either support the Crusade (torture) or you're a Democrat (wuss).

Posted by: TJM on November 8, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

We like "here."

Who's "we", Egbert? You and the rest of your schizoid "personalities"??
.

Posted by: Poilu on November 8, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Wartime propaganda (including the cold war) consists of emotional statements meant to whip-up racist sentiment, not statements of the propagandizing sides true beliefs.

Posted by: Asteele on November 8, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

That some think the book was about the evils of communism, is a result of endless propaganda by wealthy capitalists. What is very interesting however, is that the types of torture used by the Soviets to elicit false confessions was adopted by the W. Bush Republicans, who I think would like to impose a capitalist ideological based totalitarianism in the US. Perhaps I should say have imposed.
Posted by: Brojo on November 8, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

That's what I'm talking about, the conservatives looked into the abyss of totalitarianism and saw ... themselves.
Oh and they LOVE themselves.

Posted by: Northern Observer on November 8, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK
You got here by constantly ridiculing the only Republican candidate who universally condemns torture, you idiot.
You know, the sheer stupidity of Ron Paul supporters never ceases to amaze me.

Yes, the guy's against torture and Iraq. Good for him.

Now if he could just stop appealing to so many racists, get rid of his patently idiotic economic philosophy, and realize that the reason government sometimes doesn't work is because it's full of people who refuse to believe that government can work, then maybe he'd be taken seriously.

Until then, he will be ridiculed. And rightfully so.

Posted by: Mark D on November 8, 2007 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.


--George Orwell, 1984

Posted by: Gregory on November 8, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Everett, Donald,

In this case I'm not trying to influence others to vote for my preferred candidate. I'm merely responding, with a certain degree of anger, directly to Kevin who contributes to the problem (by ridiculing the one republican who universally condemns torture) and then wails about a problem, asking "how did we get here"?

And Mark, the answer is no. You, and those like you, will never take him seriously. You'll just keep moving the goalposts. First, people like you said they wouldn't take him seriously until he placed in the straw polls. So he's taken first place in twenty straw polls across the country. People like you said you wouldn't take him seriously until his fundraising put him in the top tier. So he's set new fundraising records, beating Romney and Guliani. And you'll always keep moving the goalposts, because you just don't like the guy. I get it. I'm not trying to persuade you, Mark. I'm too smart for that.

Posted by: butcher on November 8, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

"We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.


--George Orwell, 1984"

Posted by: Gregory


Which ties into both the power of the financial elites, and the religious right. They both hate and fear a liberal, democratic society. They desire power, one for wealth and the other for power (the leaders of the religious right ain't Christians; they're closer to Satan). They've got a very useful alliance going, and have for ~30 years.

Posted by: Barry on November 8, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

This is just a rest area. Soon they will be pledging to launch a full scale nuclear strike against any country that has any sort of connection to terrorists. Trying to gather intelligence and understand the enemy is too difficult, it's much more satisfying to blow them up.

Posted by: JohnF on November 8, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

How did we get here?

"In their moral justification, the argument of the lesser evil has played a prominent role. If you are confronted with two evils, thus the argument runs, it is your duty to opt for the lesser one, wheareas it is irresponsible to refuse to choose altogether. Those who denounce the moral fallacy of this argument are usually accused of a germ-proof moralism whcih is alien to political circumstances. . .
Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil. . . . Moreover, if we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of 'the lesser evil' -- far from being raised only from the outside by those who do not belong to the ruling elite -- is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such. . .."
Hannah Arendt, "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship," as reprinted in Responsibility and Judgment 2003.

Posted by: Genevieve on November 8, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

It's obvious: values voters have no values.

.... people like you said they wouldn't take him seriously until he placed in the straw polls... People like you said you wouldn't take him seriously until his fundraising put him in the top tier....I'm too smart for that. butcher at 2:27 PM

Please provide citations for assertions. Note, the basic unseriousness of the policy positions of your candidate.

Posted by: Mike on November 8, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Defending torture isn't a new litmus test for the right; it's a proxy for the long beloved litmus test of racism.

Posted by: Disputo on November 8, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Looks like we got ourselves a full-blown RonBorg infestation.

Posted by: Disputo on November 8, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

How did we get here?

Corrupt justices on the US Supreme Court led us to this emulation of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.

And now they are approving it.

Posted by: anonymous on November 8, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Genevieve, thanks for providing a quote from one of my favorite thinkers.

Arendt explains why I felt so bad after compromising my principles and voting for Kerry (he was for the surge before W. Bush was) in 2004, and why I have so much disagreement for voting for a third party candidate in 2000. Fuck the lesser evil. Destroy the greater evil. Vote your conscience.

Posted by: Brojo on November 8, 2007 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

This is a more practical and less idealistic question than folks seem to think: "How did we get here?"

The dorm room version of the torture debate is kinda accurate -- 'well, if there was a ticking atom bomb somewhere, and you knew that (one guy, one of a hundred guys) knew where it was, why wouldn't you hook him up to the jumper cables?"

That's why the effective answer is NOT the rest of the dorm room debate.

It's the Comedy Channel. They waterboarded a guy, and kept asking him: "What's the capitol of Maryland?" (splash)

"I don't know."

"What's the capitol of Maryland?" (splash)

"I don't know!!!"

"What's the capitol of Maryland?" (big splashes)

"For the love of God, I don't know."

"What's the capitol of Maryland?" (kicking feet, splashes)

"Um... Baltimore?"

"Proof that torture works."

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 8, 2007 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, either I've been banned from responding or my browser had an error. Apologies if this is a doublepost, but I don't see my response, so again with my references:

RP's 20 straw poll wins:
http://www.ronpaul2008.com/straw-poll-results/

and another one yesterday in NY:
http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/07/ron-paul-wins-straw-poll-in-new-york/

RP's record-breaking $4.2M fundraising day:
http://www.ronpaul2008.com/press-releases/32/ron-paul’s-42-million-momentum-continues

Posted by: butcher on November 8, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo,
I find myself reading Arendt more and more lately. She's proving remarkably on point.

Posted by: Genevieve on November 8, 2007 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK
First, people like you said they wouldn't take him seriously until he placed in the straw polls.

I never said any such thing, nor anything even remotely like it.

This may come as a shock to you, but him being correct on two issues -- but wildly, ridiculously, comically absurd on pretty much everything else -- is why so many people don't take him seriously.

You see, people "like me" don't give a rat's ass about where he places in straw polls, how much money he raises, or any of the realistically worthless things you listed.

We care about what he'd actually do as the leader of our country. And having read his agenda and heard him speak, we don't want the guy running an Applebee's, let alone the most powerful country on the planet.

Posted by: Mark D on November 8, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'm willing to let RonPaul run an Applebee's... but then I hate Applebee's.

Posted by: Disputo on November 8, 2007 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Disputo--
Yeah, I don't eat there, either. But they're based here in KC, and I hate for jobs to be lost.

:-)

I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would vote for any candidate on the basis of just one or two issues. It's just so ... ideologically shallow.

Posted by: Mark D on November 8, 2007 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

I think the answer has less to do with a predisposition towards evil or authoritarianism & more to do with a tendency to justify previous decisions that's hard-wired into our brains. Studies have shown that people change their opinions & preferences to favor previous decisions they've made. If we're asked to rate A, B & C then choose between A & B, then put the losing option of that choice up against C, there's a measurable shift elevating C over whichever of A & B we didn't choose previously.

The Conservative movement invested themselves in George Bush. They'll do anything to not have to take back that choice, including supporting a practice they used to find abhorrent.

Posted by: scalefree on November 8, 2007 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Paul doesn't support torture.

That, and a few other of Ron Paul's stances, are truly admirable. However. There's a lady that lives down the street from me who doesn't support torture, and is against the war in Iraq. She also sees angels in her backyard.

I'm against torture, and against the war. Am I required now to see angels?

Posted by: thersites on November 8, 2007 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

I think the angels are optional. You are, however, required to see the Light.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 8, 2007 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Am I required now to see angels?

That depends upon a very specific type of brain injury....

Posted by: Disputo on November 8, 2007 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

The Americanist posts:

"What's the capitol of Maryland?" (big splashes)

"For the love of God, I don't know."

"What's the capitol of Maryland?" (kicking feet, splashes)

"Um... Baltimore?"

"Proof that torture works."

********

Actually, it's Annapolis. Or maybe you knew that.

Posted by: Genevieve on November 8, 2007 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody introduce Genevieve to the mighty Elmo. Dice: at last a job you're qualified for.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 8, 2007 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK
The dorm room version of the torture debate is kinda accurate -- 'well, if there was a ticking atom bomb somewhere, and you knew that (one guy, one of a hundred guys) knew where it was, why wouldn't you hook him up to the jumper cables?"

Well, actually, its not accurate at all. Because it presumes things that are impossible: you can't know that there is, in fact a ticking time bomb somewhere, and no that, in fact, one person (or even one of a hundred), knows information about it, and still need to torture the guy to get information about it. While it may be logically possible for that scenario to exist (whether it is or not would probably devolve into a long, drawn out argument about epistemology), its practically impossible.

You may, OTOH, fallibly believe that such a bomb exists, and that such a person has information about it, but that's not the same as knowing, and still not have enough information about the rest of the details to take action, but certain knowledge is an essential element of the dorm room proposition.

Of course, you are correct that beyond the accuracy of the dorm-room argument, the demonstrated ineffectiveness of torture (which certainly goes far beyond the Comedy Channel), especially combined with the demonstrated superiority of interrogation methods that do not involve torture, is a powerful argument that even were the dorm-room argument, on its own terms, plausible and relevant, torture would still never be justified since it is, under no set of circumstances, the technique that can be rationally foreseen as most effective at extracting information, no matter how necessary that information is, and no matter how certain you are that someone has it.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 8, 2007 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody introduce Genevieve to the mighty Elmo. Dice: at last a job you're qualified for. Posted by: theAmericanist

Actually, she handed you your ass pretty well all by herself. I don't think she needs any help at all.

Posted by: JeffII on November 8, 2007 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

1) Torture is not done to gain information. Everyone knows it is useless for that purpose. It is only done because the victim is thought to deserve it. It is NEVER anything other than an expression of sadism.

2) Egbert speaks for 50%, plus or minus noise, of the country. The worst mistake we could make (and often do) would be to imagine that he speaks for fewer. The worst mistake HE could make (and doubtless does) is to imagine that he speaks for more.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on November 8, 2007 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK

You got here by not getting off your asses to vote.

You got here by not taking to the streets with pitchforks and torches.

And most of all, you got here because a large cross-section of your population is so shit-scared that they might actually have to stand up and do something to take back their country.

I was born in the USA, but I don't think I'm ever going back again.


Posted by: charles parr on November 8, 2007 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, the point about torture is when the suspect answers Baltimore and the torturers then submit torture works, that demonstrates that torture works to elicit whatever answer the torturers want, even if it has nothing to do with the truth. Besides the pain of the individual, this is why torture is so horrible to society.

Witches, spies, wreckers, jihadists, racial traitors, class traitors, business travelers from Canada, and German tourists in Macedonia will all confess to any lie the fiendish mind of an authoritarian can conjure. The rest of us conjure fear and make it a part of our being, which is the goal.

Posted by: Brojo on November 8, 2007 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

It's worth pointing out (again) that Britain outlawed judicial torture centuries ago, and managed to survive life-and-death struggles with Habsburg Spain, Napoleonic France, and Nazi Germany, among others. In fact, superior intelligence was one reason Britain prevailed in these struggles, and that superiority was obtained despite the fact that they didn't use torture (perhaps because they didn't).

Honestly, didn't conservative Cold Warriors love Aleksandre Solzhenitsyn because The Gulag Archipelago detailed the widespread use of tactics "we" would never, ever use? And yet, here we are, in this imaginary war against a tactic, a doomed ideology and a pathetic cultish organization -- people and ideas whom we should treat with contempt and whom we should constrain by policing until such time as they collapse under the weight of their own ineptitude -- and we're doing nothing but granting them a status we never granted to the Nazis and sinking to levels we once claimed to abhor on strict moral grounds. Arrrgh!


Mark D:
I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy...
And ... okay, I can't do that any more without a full frontal lobotomy.
What's so sad is that these people are too fucking stupid to realize our nation is becoming the very thing we're trying to destroy.
**shakes head**
Posted by: Mark D on November 8, 2007 at 12:27 PM

Posted by: keith on November 9, 2007 at 5:28 AM | PERMALINK

(laughing, clapping hands together in glee) Golly, I can't believe I actually have to EXPLAIN the joke to make the point. (For that matter, I can't believe that only Brojo got it: surely..... naah, let's not go there.)

I'm arguing that the fulcrum of the debate over torture (I also find it incredible we're even HAVING a debate about it), isn't that it is cruel or immoral, it's that it isn't effective.

People who have actually BEEN tortured, and those who HAVE tortured people, point out that given the proper tools, preparation and a competent team, in five minutes they can get anybody to confess to anything: the confession is useless, any way you look at it.

Proponents of torture ("enhanced interrogation", me eye) like to use the dorm room example of a ticking bomb or a nuke somewhere, generally in the more sophisticated example of the Israelis grabbing some known member of a terrorist cell which has another member on some bus with a bomb: Which one? Where? (This is yet another example of Dice missing the point: the ARGUMENT is accurate, cuz it tracks. You'd have been better off introducing G to the mighty Elmo, and leaving them alone in your, um, trophy room.)

The Comedy Central folks did a pretty good job blowing that argument outa the water: the guy being tortured obviously doesn't KNOW what the capitol of Maryland is. (Read that again, Genevieve and KNJeff. Slowly, this time.)

So no matter how much he is tortured, he can't tell you what he doesn't know. When he finally makes up an answer -- "ummm, Baltimore???" the question shifts from what he doesn't know, to what the TORTURERS don't know, which is after all where the torture started.

Cuz as a practical matter, if the question is where's the ticking bomb and the guy doesn't know, the information you get is worse than useless. Looking for a bomb at Fells Point that is actually hidden at the Naval Academy is the way to LOSE, regardless of the cruel immorality of the technique.

This is an important tactical point, remember: if you start by arguing how torture is morally wrong, etc., and then add, oh, yeah, it also doesn't work, the clear message is that PROTECTING us from the bad guys is at best an afterthought for you. For folks who understandably think protecting us comes first, you're telling 'em very plainly that you don't care as much as they do.

So THAT's the turning point for the debate about torture. Win on protecting us, and proponents are left with the argument "Well, SO it's useless, it's also cruel and illegal!!!"

LOL -- Genevieve, I think you simply missed the point of the joke.

But KNJeff is obviously too stoooopid to breathe without professional help.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 9, 2007 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

Like I said, sorry.

I doubt theAmericanist understood its own point. theAmericanist had a chance at November 8, 2007 at 6:42 PM to explain his 'joke,' but could only insult, then uses my explanation to insult even more.

Posted by: Brojo on November 9, 2007 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Riiight. I posted a joke illuminating my point cuz I didn't understand it.

Brojo exemplifies a great line by E.B. White: "The critic rises at curtain call/and finds, when starting to review it/that he never saw the play at all/for watching his reaction to it."

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 9, 2007 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Note the basic unseriousness of the policy positions of your candidate..

In some ways I find this perpetually vehement detraction mildly amusing, for one simple reason: If the Ron Paul bashers here consider his positions so patently "unserious", why is that they take so remarkably seriously the mere mention of the candidate, invariably becoming apoplectically enraged at any injection of enthusiasm for him or serious discussion regarding said positions?

The most rabid Paul opponents at WM/PA in fact consistently demand to be "spoon fed" dissertations on Paul's proposed policies. Yet, when they actually RECEIVE any such compliance from Paul supporters, they typically descend to the level of catcalls and schoolyard taunts.

How does one manage to rectify such extremes?? The sheer volume of frenzied attention devoted by Kevin Drum and Paul's other "critics" to his candidacy totally BELIES any assertion of a candidate "not to be taken seriously". If he truly were such, you obviously wouldn't pay him the slightest mind! Nicht wahr?

To the contrary, I'd say Ron Paul is clearly being taken VERY seriously here by his numerous detractors, conceivably as an emerging "threat" to the corporate-dominated Establishment status quo. There's something decidedly "off" about people who take such wildly visceral umbrage concerning a candidate they profess to deem "insignificant".
.

Posted by: Poilu on November 9, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, didn't someone here mention the "evangelicals"? This from a retired (DFC) career Air Force officer: an outstanding overview and critical assessment of the anti-Constitutional zealotry that now pervades our military:

The Cancer From Within
By David Antoon [Truthdig]

... The Christian supremacist fascism first reported at the Air Force Academy is endemic throughout the military. From the top down, there has been a complete repudiation of constitutional values and time-honored codes of ethics and honor codes in favor of religious ideology. And we now have a revolving door between Blackwater USA, which is Bush's Praetorian Guard, and the U.S. military at every level. The citizen-soldier military dictated by our founding fathers has been replaced with professional and mercenary right-wing Christian crusaders in control of the world's most powerful military. The risks to our democratic form of government cannot be overstated.

This evangelical Christian supremacist fascism within our military and government is a cancer. Officers, especially commanders, who violate the original code of ethics, must be rooted out of the military. The undermining of the Constitution, especially by senior military officers, must end. ...
.

Posted by: Poilu on November 9, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Not to, like, stay on point or anything, but Paul's got a card to play on torture: when Rudy looks tough, Paul can simply ask -- why didn't you advocate that your cops torture suspects in NYC? isn't crack a threat to America, too?

McCain COULD do that, but he wouldn't; having been tortured into a false confession, his approach has a different dynamic.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 9, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

But KNJeff is obviously too stoooopid to breathe without professional help.

Well, Amerikanist, I see you've indeed reverted to form once again. How sad, considering you'd almost achieved a semblance of commendable humanity on the "Gamma Quadrant" thread.
.

Posted by: Poilu on November 9, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Golly, you guys are just too.... precious. Hothouse flowers in a cold and windy world.

What d'ya suppose happens when candidates debate an issue like this in a public forum?

Didn't you notice how there was a whispering campaign about what had happened to McCain in Hanoi, during the 2000 South Carolina primary? Didn't you notice how Rush, et al, reacted to Durbin's more or less obvious "gee, this is what Pol Pot did..." complaint?

LOL -- and you can't hang with the observation that a Know Nothing like Jeff is gobsmacking stoooopid not to understand that when a guy gives the wrong answer ("umm... Baltimore?") under torture: It. Proves. The. Fucking. Point.

When you can't fend off a hammer, you ain't even gonna notice the stilletto until it's waaaayy too late. (snort!) Sorta like G and KNJeff.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 9, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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