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Tilting at Windmills

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December 8, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WHAT THE TAPES WOULD HAVE SHOWN....Yesterday we learned that in 2005, despite earlier warnings from Congress, the White House, and the Justice Department, the CIA destroyed two videotaped interrogations of al-Qaeda operatives who had been captured shortly after 9/11. Why? CIA director Michael Hayden says the tapes were destroyed because of fears that they might leak and give away the identity of CIA interrogators, but that's an excuse so thin that I hesitate to even call it laughable. In fact, the decision was made just as questions were starting to be raised about the torture of CIA prisoners, and the tapes were almost certainly destroyed for fear that they'd be subpoenaed and it would become clear just how harsh our "harsh interrogation" measures really were.

So what would investigators have seen if they'd had access to the tapes? One of the captured prisoners was an al-Qaeda operative named Abu Zubaydah, and it turns out we have a pretty good idea of what his tape would have shown. First, Spencer Ackerman gives us this from James Risen's State of War:

Risen charges that Tenet caved to Bush entirely on the torture of al-Qaeda detainees. After the 2002 capture of Abu Zubaydah, a bin Laden deputy, failed to yield much information due to his drowsiness from medical treatment, Bush allegedly told Tenet, "Who authorized putting him on pain medication?" Not only did Tenet get the message — brutality while questioning an enemy prisoner was no problem — but Tenet also never sought explicit White House approval for permissible interrogation techniques, contributing to what Risen speculates is an effort by senior officials "to insulate Bush and give him deniability" on torture.

And here is Barton Gellman's gloss of Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine:

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be....Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics.

[Other unrelated bungling described, all of which is worth clicking the link to read.]

Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. "I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?"

Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each...target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

So here's what the tapes would have shown: not just that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative, but that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative who was (a) unimportant and low-ranking, (b) mentally unstable, (c) had no useful information, and (d) eventually spewed out an endless series of worthless, fantastical "confessions" under duress. This was all prompted by the president of the United States, implemented by the director of the CIA, and the end result was thousands of wasted man hours by intelligence and and law enforcement personnel.

Nice trifecta there. And just think: there's an entire political party in this country that still thinks this is OK.

Kevin Drum 12:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (176)

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An entire political part, and a majority of another, based on their voting records.

Posted by: jim p on December 8, 2007 at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK

It might be convenient to think that the other party is innocent in this, but that would be wrong.

Given all that we have seen during the last seven years, I doubt that the history of this time would be very much different had the Democrats been in power.


Posted by: gregor on December 8, 2007 at 1:15 AM | PERMALINK

Only "OK"?

Posted by: mrsaturdaypants on December 8, 2007 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

gregor, i don't forgive the dems who have sided with the authoritarians on torture, but surely you don't think that president al gore or president john kerry would be actively egging on torturing just because they had mistakenly inflated a boogeyman, do you?

he's such a tiny man in the oval office....

Posted by: howard on December 8, 2007 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

Gregor:
Well, that's something we will never know isn't it. Is there any kind of definate anything you can base that statement on, or what?
-------
It's amazing how far we have fallen. Truth, justice, the American way have become a facade for greed, torture and raw ambition. Gentlemen, we have met the enemy. And he is us.

I can only wonder if there really is anyway out of this quagmire. Not just the problems of our day, but the underlying rot that is causing them. When did our great nation become the same caricature of corruption, lies, suppression, and fear-mongering that we painted the late USSR back in the 80s?

Posted by: Aaron on December 8, 2007 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

gregor,

You sound like a second grader.

How about this idea. Let's prosecute all of the lawbreakers.

And the reason I am posting is to thank Kevin Drum for the cutting edge material as of late.

Posted by: jharp on December 8, 2007 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

You have no idea how fucking angry this all makes me. Four fucking decades of my life, dedicated to serving this country, and for what? So this maniacal, barbarian nitwit could don the mantle of insane imperialist? Fetch me a time machine. Now.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 8, 2007 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

Why did they bother destroying the tapes? The President could have pardoned them at any time.

Speaking of which, we need a new constitutional amendment to require Congress to ratify pardons issued by the President for any current or former executive branch employees or officers. Congress can investigate, subpoena records, and serve as a balance for self-pardons by the unitary executives.

Posted by: MobiusKlein on December 8, 2007 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

didn't they get Abu Zabaydah to spew bogus testimony through torture re: dirty bomb against Jose Padilla?

Isn't that why Padilla was never charged for the dirty bomb?

Posted by: changes_constantly on December 8, 2007 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, Kevin, we don't just have one political party that "think it's OK" -- we have one political party that thinks it's ADVISABLE. And, judging from the polls, half the American people are not offended enough by this to vote against them.

I imagine we're seeing yet another panicky stampede by the American people, who (like people everywhere else) like to think of themselves as lions but are actually snivelling rabbits ready to sell themselves in a second to Big Brother, without realizing until it's too late that BB has an agenda of his own. And the country will start bewailing the fact only two or three decades from now, when it's safely too late to actually prosecute anyone for it. I mean, we went through this with My Lai, and numerous times before.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on December 8, 2007 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

It might be convenient to think that the other party is innocent in this, but that would be wrong.

Hows about we look at this from the advantage of the time that's passed with grown-up eyes.

The most heinous criminal act, the most successful terrorist attack of all time happened, and then entire country went collectively insane.

What, pray tell, should Democratic officeholders have done? Give just enough to keep their seats? Or stand on principle? Utilitarianism or Deontology? Mill, or Kant?

I'm not giving any passes, I'm just trying on their shoes.

Would you like to let your imagination off the leash and think about where we might (probably would) have gone in 2002 / 2004 if the Dems in congress hadn't all triangulated at least a little bit and hung on to their seats so we could take a majority in 2006?

Sometimes, what gets referred to as triangulation, might be better described as "giving the fucker enough rope to hang himself." Just look around - the Republican party is falling apart. Political corpses are everywhere, and they're 10:1 republicans that are done. So maybe we should at least think about stepping back, closing our eyes and taking a deep breath then looking at the big picture.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 8, 2007 at 2:27 AM | PERMALINK

"Just look around - the Republican party is falling apart."
That would be nice, but heard of that fellow Huckabee, the Anti-Bush? The latest great sucking sound comes from the disenchanted voters fleeing to his campaign. He would clobber Hillary. But Obama? Now that would be an interesting race.

Posted by: GrinningGrouse on December 8, 2007 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

I want whatever GrinningGrouse is smoking.

Posted by: Mark S. on December 8, 2007 at 3:01 AM | PERMALINK

BGRS - I didn't go insane. What would have happened if instead of our dear leader rallying the people into a patriotic frenzy of fear and loathing, he had simply responded with calm strength and dignity, with sincere regret for the loss of human life, with a promise to find the people responsible and bring them to justice. That's how a US president should have responded. The American people did not go insane because of 9/11 itself but because of the enflamed rhetoric of George W. Bush. And that's exactly what he wanted to happen.

Posted by: nepeta on December 8, 2007 at 3:20 AM | PERMALINK

No, I didn't lose it either - that's why it was so damned easy to diagnose. He fanned the flames, but they were there to be fanned, and the terrorist attack is what lit them. The approximately 22% of us who did not flip out were not enough to sustain the careers of politicians who might have stood up.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 8, 2007 at 3:39 AM | PERMALINK

Mobius

I think they destroyed the tapes because they were frightened. They see a tipping point being reached and they do not want to go over it. They were afraid that the tapes may have been too much. Once over that point you take the law into your own hands and get rid of them, possibly literally. When the whole nation turns on them all bets are off. You are nearing that point, I watch from outside the country and the signs are there.

ttul
bal

Posted by: balzar on December 8, 2007 at 4:03 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know that I ever say anything except for the pleasure of hearing or reading my own words. But again and again this despicable administration shows its repugnant stripes.

I tell people about these news stories and they're wordless and they bow their heads and they're about ready to cry.

THIS is what Dana Perino, a worthless money-grubbing Republican phony, defends. The lowest crack-whore turned prostitute giving toothless blow jobs is superior to Dana Perino.

Posted by: Anon on December 8, 2007 at 4:09 AM | PERMALINK

make that two parties.

Posted by: Alan in SF on December 8, 2007 at 4:33 AM | PERMALINK

Alan in SF and gregor sort of remind of those two kibbitzing old men in the balconey box seats of The Muppet Show -- only without any of the humor.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 8, 2007 at 4:49 AM | PERMALINK

I'm going to bed so I'm not going to look up the details.

Remember how one of the US excuses for keeping Guantanamo open is because some countries wont take back their nationals?

Tonight the BBC World Service had an article about 5 UK residents (not citizens) currently in Guantanamo being released and flown back to the UK soon.

The UK has been trying for some time (years?) now and the US (read Bush) finally came around to the idea so long as there are assurances they never return to the "battlefield" (?!).

Well 3 have chosen to go back to the UK and 1 is going back to Saudi Arabia.

The fifth, who has a brother in the US, is not being released, which came as somewhat of a surprise as he was always in the UK package.

The reason he gets no ticket out?

Early after "capture" he was rendered to Morocco for (I think) 18 months where "unspeakable" things were done to him. So, another smoking gun the Bushites don't want to see the light of day.

I'm beginning to think nothing should be done until these guys are out of power, then have the investigations and war crimes and crimes against humanity trials. No chance of pardons then. And throw away the key on them.

I know. Never going to happen. But I dream.

Posted by: notthere on December 8, 2007 at 5:08 AM | PERMALINK

The least we can insist upon is for Senators Clinton, Dodd, Obama, and McCain to propose that the United States of America ratify that obscure little treaty known as Geneva something. Then we can be sure this kind of stuff won't happen again.

Posted by: jon on December 8, 2007 at 5:21 AM | PERMALINK

Most of the country, judging by the polls, has moved past the bedwetting moment, slavering for bloody retribution. It remains to be seen whether they're actually ready to abjure torture, since it always works on TV. I'm not hopeful, since nearly every American still favors the death penalty and harsh conditions in prison.

Health care and the mortgage meltdown give me hope that we're at a teachable moment, that we Democrats can remind our fellow citizens that we're in this together.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that we have any chance at convincing our fellow citizens that killing and torturing people is ... not the sort of country we come from.

Posted by: bad Jim on December 8, 2007 at 5:23 AM | PERMALINK

There's a special award awaiting George Tenet -- in the Hague!

Posted by: Kenji on December 8, 2007 at 5:23 AM | PERMALINK

Kenji,
I hope you're right. And I hope he's not alone.

A lot of our "leader's" need to stand before The Hague. But it'll never happen. Just like with Nixon, the powers that be will insist that we let bygone's be bygone's.
We need to insist that Bush and his evil band of brothers and sisters be held accountable for their sins.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on December 8, 2007 at 5:45 AM | PERMALINK

Alternative explanation: Suskind is a bullshit artist.

There, that was easy.

Posted by: a on December 8, 2007 at 6:03 AM | PERMALINK

Torture is not about information. As the conversations you quote with the President show, it is about using your power to subordinate others. That's the reason for its visceral appeal to so many people both inside and outside the Republican Party. It is part of an elaborate revenge fantasy, and to more and more the Republicans get the uneasy feeling that they are the ones in the wrong, the better and better it feels to rerun the torture tape while imagining it is them stepping on the throat of the guy with the Arabic name.

Posted by: MarkC on December 8, 2007 at 6:38 AM | PERMALINK

Devastating, Kevin. This mythical "war on terror" has been mishandled and mismanaged since the Twin Towers fell.

If our proof of complicity by al-Qaeda members in the 9-11 plotting was so strong, why did we have to resort to torture in the first place? Let the American system of justice run it's course! Everything Bush and Cheney have done in reaction to 9-11 is wrong-headed, illegal or counterproductive or all three.

It's too bad the Constitution doesn't specify gross incompetence and mismanagement as reasons for impeachment, because no one who has served or will serve in this office is or could be more incompetent than George W. Bush.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on December 8, 2007 at 6:48 AM | PERMALINK

It's unconscionable.

Posted by: Mina on December 8, 2007 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK

Mina,
Almost everything we've done since 9/11 is unconscionable.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on December 8, 2007 at 7:13 AM | PERMALINK

"And just think: there's an entire political party in this country that still thinks this is OK."

One that thinks our freedoms derive from Christianity, no less.

Posted by: bob h on December 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM | PERMALINK

the wackos have found a way to clear their consciences: nominate a preacher, trust in the Lord to wash away all sins. If you Americans are dumb enough to elect a Darwin denying god kissing fair tax promoting bumpkin as president then that's it, you're finished as a great country - the fat lady [and you seem to have a lot of those] will definitely have sung.

Posted by: Sal on December 8, 2007 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

I just hope the next president has the balls or ovaries to indict Bush, Cheney, and others of war crimes.

And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Posted by: anandine on December 8, 2007 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

The least we can insist upon is for Senators Clinton, Dodd, Obama, and McCain to propose that the United States of America ratify that obscure little treaty known as Geneva something.

We did -- years ago. And treaties, with the Constitution, are the supreme law of the land.

But the king's pleasure is the supremest law of all.

An alternative theory I've run into is that Zubadyah ratted out Saudi royals and Pakistani military figures, whom we couldn't afford to have linked to 9/11 and other Al Qaeda mischief.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 8, 2007 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

I've made some mostly futile attempts at getting people to see the depravity of this. In essence: who would Jesus torture? After some sputter and steam, the answer is usually boiled down to boilerplate - the ticking time bomb scenario, and that Jesus would surely approve.

I'm playing with them, of course, since Chistianity has been, for the most part, notably silent on this issue. Not only here, but also in Germany during its troubles when the mainline churches made their peace with Hitler.

When our fundamental moral compass is a religion that doesn't even take its own moral teachings seriously, why should anyone? Instead you have Mitt Romney implicitly promising more Culture War against those who don't believe.

Believe in what? A sanctified moral abyss?

Posted by: Walt on December 8, 2007 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

"um.... Baltimore?"

Kevin, at least, is finally getting it.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 8, 2007 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Reading stuff like this makes me ask, "How can any sane, reasonable person not think this is a horrible way for this country to conduct itself?" Fortunately, my crazy right-wing sister-in-law and her crazy right-wing husband are coming for an extended visit in a week. I should be posting on Free Republic by New Year's.

Posted by: JZ on December 8, 2007 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

And the same msm that cheerled this administration's crimes and only questioned the people who opposed the administration are now busy hiring the criminals from this administration who are defying subpoenas, destroying evidence and lying. If the msm had any ethics the ex-officials of this admin would be pariahs, not employees.

Posted by: Chrissy on December 8, 2007 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

The torture debate is interesting, but in the end trumped by the reality that most persons with actual responsibility for the protection of citizens would, if the situation called for it, authorize the aggressive interrogations techniques necessary to protect innocent people, even if liberals would call it torture.

If Kevin and other liberals think that a democrat is going to benefit from being viewed as less likely to "torture" terrorists seeking to blow up an American city, I think they are mistaken.

It seems boneheaded for the CIA to videotape the interrogation in the first place, but once they did so, if the law required them to maintain the tape, then they should have maintained it.

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

You've got it all wrong. The CIA absolutely HAD to destroy the tapes. To protect the identity of covert operatives.

I mean, it's not like you can "digitize" images in a video to conceal identities -- that's just some fantasy Hollywood nonsense from the TV show, "Cops."

In real life, we just don't have such fantastic, 25th-Century technology....

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on December 8, 2007 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK
And just think: there's an entire political party in this country that still thinks this is OK.

That, of course, would be the Democrats, who've just sat by and done nothing while it happened. The Republicans, on the other hand, don't think that torturing mentally ill low ranking terrorists and mobilizing counterterrorism forces on the basis of the results is OK; they take positive glee in doing so and think that anyone who opposes doing so is a traitor.

The Republican party doesn't turn a blind eye to torture and live with the results; the Republican party cheers on torture and boos anything they see as the other team. Politics, war, torture: they're all just sporting events to Republicans, and the only thing that matters is beating the other guy. Not morality, not policy, not national security--just beating the other guy.

Posted by: R Johnston on December 8, 2007 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

The likely outcome of these crimes against humanity: The Democratic Congress will not have the nerve or the numbers to follow through. Tenet will emerge from under his rock as a "Fox News Analyst".

Posted by: Chrissy on December 8, 2007 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

Well via FARK, via NRO(!!) David Frum claims (WARNING: LINK GOES TO DAVID FRUM!) that Gerald Posner theorizes the tapes hold Zubaydah's insisting we call three Saudi Princes and one Pakistani Air Force Officer that "ran" him. These four all had mysterious deaths within a few days or weeks of each other.

Gerald Posner:
Re the breaking news that the CIA destroyed the videotapes of interrogations with 2 terror suspects, you might have seen that the tapes of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah were destroyed.

You might also recall that in my 2003 NYT bestseller (reached #2), Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11, my last chapter was titled, "The Interrogation." Based on two active US intelligence sources, I was the first to disclose Zubaydah's interrogation. To date, I am the only reporter to have printed the info about what happened to him.

Zubaydah, wounded when he was captured in Pakistan, was fooled in a fake flag operation to believe that the Saudis held him. Instead of being afraid of the �Saudis,� he demanded to talk to three Saudi princes (one, the nephew of the King, who happened to be in the U.S. on 9/11). He gave his interrogators the private cell phone numbers of all 3. He did the same regarding the chief of Pakistan's air force.

After the U.S. told the Saudis and Pakistanis of Zubaydah's finger pointing, all four men had tragic 'accidents.' The King's nephew died of complications from liposuction at the age of 43. A day later, the 41 year old Prince named by Zubaydah died in a one-car accident on his way to the funeral of the King�s nephew. The third named prince, age 25, died a week later of "thirst," according to the Saudi Royal Court. And shortly after that, the chief of Pakistan�s air force died when his plane exploded with his wife and 15 of his top aides on board

When my book was published, CIA officials trashed it 'off the record,' but made no public comment. I have always held the same position. There is (or was) firm evidence of what transpired, of whether my reporting was accurate or not. Make the interrogation tapes public and then we'll know whether one of the top al Qaeda operatives accused leading Saudi royals and a top Pakistani military man - now all dead - of being his sponsors. And accused two of them � the King�s nephew and the Pakistani air force chief � of having advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Now, suddenly coincidence of coincidence, the CIA says the Zubaydah interrogation tapes are destroyed. How convenient.

Posted by: jerry on December 8, 2007 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

worse, kevin... They think it's bravery.

Posted by: s9 on December 8, 2007 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. "I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?"

read that fucking quote. that sadistic, lying, filty sociopath KNOWS torture doesn't work -- he's approved these methods because he's a sadistic motherfucking pig. and he's president of this country.

Posted by: linda on December 8, 2007 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm, I get it: We have the torture of a madman by madmen so the madman in power doesn't lose face to the madmen who voted him in.

Posted by: Bob M on December 8, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

And the madman's "information" means that perfectly decent uniformed people have to run around like... anybody, anybody?

Posted by: Bob M on December 8, 2007 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

@GrinningGrouse on December 8, 2007 at 2:54 AM:

"Just look around - the Republican party is falling apart."
That would be nice, but heard of that fellow Huckabee, the Anti-Bush? The latest great sucking sound comes from the disenchanted voters fleeing to his campaign.

I believe those flocking to Huckabee are disenchanted Republicans, mostly Religious Right types, anointing their new earthly savior.

I envision the political status quo as about 35/35/30 D/neither/R, with all us neithers siding with the Ds and with the long-term trends VERY bad for the GOP. In 20 years it may well be more like 40/45/15! Huckabee is claiming more of the 30 percent than he was six months ago. But I don't think he's beginning to turn around the GOP's repudiation by either of the other two groups. Do you really foresee non-Republicans voting for Huckabee? Many of us loathe Hillary but loathe Republicans* even more.

*The except for me would be Ron Paul, but he's not going to win, precisely because the GOP is so hostile to Constitutional boundaries on the governments authority.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on December 8, 2007 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

I'm no expert on torture, or even very knowledgeable about it, but as a matter of common sense, I have trouble understanding the "torture does not work" argument. It seems counter intuitive and in defiance of common sense.

First, hasn't torture been used to some extent throughout recorded history? If it did not work at least sometimes, wouldn't the "market" have recognized that long ago and stopped using it?

Second, just as matter of common sense, isn't torture at least sometimes going to work? I can understand that it does not always work, e.g., sometimes the "victim" would lie to torturers or make things up to avoid further pain. But if you assume people would sometimes lie or make things up to avoid further pain, don't you need to concede that sometimes people also would tell the truth to avoid futher pain.

Anyone care to respond to these questions and/or explain the premise of the "torture doesn't work" argument?

At best, shouldn't the argument be that "torture doesn't always work," and if that is true, then don't you need to put that argument to one side and look at the other moral issues related to torture?

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Be careful what you say Brian, in that direction lies Alan Dershowitz whom we on the left now officially hate. He takes up your argument and says that we could see from the Nazi's torture of our soldiers and agents that torture under horrible conditions does in fact occasionally work.

For taking that approach (as well as his passionate defense of Israel) all good lefty bloggers and commenters now officially use Dershowitz for our daily two minutes of hate.

Posted by: jerry on December 8, 2007 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

I'm no expert on torture, or even very knowledgeable about it,

no shit

but as a matter of common sense, I have trouble understanding the "torture does not work" argument.

you have trouble understanding a lot of things--The obligation is on those of you who say that torture actually works to provide a credible example of when torture actually worked to prevent a terrorist attack.
Oh, and you might want to take a look at the various regimes throughout history that used torture--a cavalcade of evil.

Posted by: haha on December 8, 2007 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

The problem isn't that torture NEVER reveals useful information. It's that it never RELIABLY yields useful information.

That's why Posner's charge that this bastard gave up the names of Saudi princes and a Pakistani general is especially icky -- and maybe it's true.

I've argued that the most important point for opponents of torture to make FIRST, is that it isn't good law enforcement, not that it is immoral. If you say it's immoral first, and only later add that it doesn't work, as an afterthought: you've effectively told people that protecting them is LESS important than self-righteousness.

It's far more effective to show that it does NOT work. Then proponents are left to argue "but it's cruel and illegal, too!". A much better approach for the good guys.

So I'm glad that Kevin's post repeats the old information that whenever this guy's head was pulled out of the water, he told us how AQ planned to attack pretty much anything.

They probably did. So what? Canada has a military plan to invade the US. (And we have one to invade Canada.)

But I'm troubled by Posner's claims. What we WANTED from this guy, is stuff like... the cell phone #s of Saudi princes and a Pakistani general which would prove that he DID know them, a serious piece of evidence that they were involved in 9-11, etc.

The "um... Baltimore?" line (I can't believe I have to explain the joke) is from a Comedy Central skit, where they kept dunking a guy in water and demanding he tell them: "What's the capitol of Maryland????" He kept saying "I don't know..." and nearly drowning, until he finally said "Baltimore?"

The conclusion: "Torture works."

Except it doesn't. (Psst... the real answer is Annapolis.) The skit shows that somebody being tortured can't reliably give up information they don't know. (I can't BELIEVE this is something we gotta explain.) But how can somebody being tortured come up with a cell phone #, unless they know it?

So Posner's claim is that in this case, something DID work -- whether it was telling this bastard he was a prisoner of the Saudis (in which case waterboarding was part of the disguise), or the torture itself, isn't clear.

Me, I've said it before (yet another tA prediction proving out) that what they've been hiding is less torture than OTHER deceptive techniques -- like telling prisoners they've being held by the Saudis, which probably violates SOME law or treaty.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 8, 2007 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Brian said:

"I'm no expert on torture, or even very knowledgeable about it, but as a matter of common sense, I have trouble understanding the "torture does not work" argument. It seems counter intuitive and in defiance of common sense.

First, hasn't torture been used to some extent throughout recorded history? If it did not work at least sometimes, wouldn't the "market" have recognized that long ago and stopped using it?"

It depends on what you mean by 'working'. Torture 'works' to this extent - it causes the victim to say exactly what the torturers wants him to say, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER OR NOT IT IS TRUE. That's all that was necessary 'throughout recorded history'. It's a tool of state control of the subjects, and a way to justify suppressing the population and killing selected people.

Or do you believe that all those people who confessed to the Inquisition really WERE witches who flew magically through the air and had sex with the devil?

Of course, the Inquisition and the powers that be then had the lawful authority to seize the property of those they tortured and then burned at the stake based on their tortured confession. Powerful incentive, there.

Posted by: JoyceH on December 8, 2007 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

After Bush is out of office,I wonder if he will be able to travel outside of the US or at least to many contries because of being deemed a WAR Criminal.

Posted by: dan on December 8, 2007 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

The only person whose statements I trust even less than those of GWB is Gerald Posner.

Posted by: hangnail on December 8, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Notthere you are absolutely right but you really shouldn't bring the idea up until these criminal fucks are out of office.

Posted by: Gandalf on December 8, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, Scott Horton has a new post up titled "The Scapegoat" - he links to your post.

http://harpers.org/archive/2007/12/hbc-90001877

It's a must read! He does a nice job of laying out the maladministration's attempt to scapegoat an underling for BushCo's illegal decision to destroy evidence (obstruction of justice - an impeachable offense)

Let's hope they don't get away with it this time.

Posted by: leftydem on December 8, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

And just think: there's an entire political party in this country that still thinks this is OK.

You begin to wonder if there is some sort of pathology involved.

Posted by: anandine on December 8, 2007 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

The moral fiber of our nation is made of shit.

Moral people do not aid and abet governments which use torture.

Posted by: Nick on December 8, 2007 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

It's probably also worth noting that torture is quick, AND that it is used by some of our friends (and enemies) in the Long War. (I don't like calling it 'the war on terror', cuz that's an emotion and the struggle against ever being scared never ends.)

Blue Girl is right: put yourself in their shoes. You just found out we wounded an AQ guy on the battlefield. We saved him from bleeding to death, sedated him; now he's coming out of it. We THINK he might know all kinds of stuff that we want to know -- like the phone #s of Saudi princes who knew about 9-11 before it happened.

What do we do?

It's evil, but it's NOT nuts to think: well, we make him think he's being held by the Saudis. He will expect to be tortured, BUT he will be more likely to give up information that he thinks we may already know -- and fast.

This isn't the Inquisition or a witch hunt. It's not a mass hallucination, and it's not motivated by money. These guys really did plot for more than a decade to blow up the World Trade Center -- and they succeeded, partly because we didn't do what we needed to do before they did it. (Well, AFTER they had tried and failed the first time.)

Seems odd, coming from the guy who quotes Comedy Central in the torture threads: but as progressives we need to take this stuff seriously, as more than another opportunity to say how righteous we are and how icky the Bush guys have been.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 8, 2007 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Kevin nails it. What they're trying to keep secret is not the `stress interrogation', but that the `intelligence' we got from such methods was worthless, and worthless in a really ludicrous, pathetic, absurd way. They're not trying to cover up their brutality and `toughness'. They're trying to cover up their foolishness and gullibility.

It all comes down to how the WWII intelligence officers treated the Nazis versus how we treated our considerably less threatening enemy.

Posted by: roublen on December 8, 2007 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

Brian:

"First, hasn't torture been used to some extent throughout recorded history? If it did not work at least sometimes, wouldn't the "market" have recognized that long ago and stopped using it?"

The "market"? Like the current mortgage market? Or the NASDAQ some few years ago? The American stock market in 1928 and 1929?

Each of those markets worked for some people. Kind of like the Inquisition worked for Torquemada.

Posted by: redterror on December 8, 2007 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Blue Girl is right: put yourself in their shoes. You just found out we wounded an AQ guy on the battlefield. We saved him from bleeding to death, sedated him; now he's coming out of it. We THINK he might know all kinds of stuff that we want to know -- like the phone #s of Saudi princes who knew about 9-11 before it happened.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 8, 2007 at 12:04 PM
------------------

If we can justify torturing a suspect for a fishing expedition into what he might know about who might have played some role in a crime, then we can justify torture practically anytime.

If we are going to hold to the radical ideal that all men are created equal, with certain inalienable rights, then we extend the protections of due process even to foreigners who MIGHT know something about the perpetrators of a terrorist crime.

And yes, some of us will die; terrorism in part is the taking of war to the civilian population.

Posted by: Nick on December 8, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

... (I can't believe I have to explain the joke)...

You didn't. Nobody asked you to. Nobody else engaged you, so you simply engaged yourself. There's a word for that, you know.

Posted by: junebug on December 8, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

In essence: who would Jesus torture?

Well, you misunderestimate Christianity--see, e.g., Revelation 9:

3And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.

4And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.

5And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.

6And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.

Posted by: rea on December 8, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

It's no secret that George W. Bush is a sadist. I would be surprised if he did not get a personal copy of the torture DVD for his private enjoyment.

Posted by: Repack Rider on December 8, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

In essence: who would Jesus torture?

Another question is who would torture Jesus? Let's be frank - Jesus was tortured to death.

According to the Bible, it was the soldiers of a republic-turned-dictatorship, Rome, the preeminent military and economic power of its day, that did the torture.

And interestingly, the kill mechanism of crucifixion is suffocation... same as waterboarding.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Posted by: Wapiti on December 8, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

I don't believe a word of the White House denials. Their behavior shows that they most likely knew that the CIA crimes were taking place and that they completely approved of those crimes and of the criminal destruction of evidence.

When will Rep. Pelosi start the hearings leading to impeachment for Bush and Cheney? If not, isn't she also violating her oath of office?

Posted by: freelunch on December 8, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

"...the kill mechanism of crucifixion is suffocation."

And what is the central symbol of Christianity again?

Posted by: Kenji on December 8, 2007 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

ONE thing's reasonably clear: the criminality exposed on those allegedly destroyed tapes must assuredly be FAR more damaging than the charge of obstruction of justice now faced by the perpetrators for deliberately destroying evidence sought by the courts.

Hayden's "explanation", quite obviously, is an utterly transparent crock of shit! And his assertion regarding the timing of the supposed destruction is entirely open to question. But by now we should all be suffering massive "inhalation"-related ailments attributable to the Bush Reich's noxious, perennial smokescreens:

CIA destroyed torture tapes
By Joe Kay [WSWS]

The revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency destroyed at least two video tapes depicting the torture of prisoners held by the United States underscores the brazen criminality of the Bush administration. Aside from the torture itself, the elimination of evidence of brutal interrogation exposes top CIA and government officials to obstruction of justice charges. ...
.

Posted by: Poilu on December 8, 2007 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

an entire political party in this country that still thinks this is OK.

If only one political party in this country still thinks this type of treatment of prisoners is OK, why did the assumed opposition political party to it allow an attorney general to be approved who did not disavow its use?

Unfortunately, even Sen. Clinton said national security is more important than civil rights recently. She may not have been directly responding to the issue of torture, but I think her attitude includes very harsh treatment of 'terrorist' subjects. More than just Republicans share it.

Almost certainly, secular humanists would not be the ones torturing Jesus.

Posted by: Brojo on December 8, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

First, hasn't torture been used to some extent throughout recorded history? If it did not work at least sometimes, wouldn't the "market" have recognized that long ago and stopped using it?

The reason torture has persisted across history is that it does work. But work for what, you fail to ask.

It works very well for getting innocent women to confess to being witches, and getting "heretics" to recant. That's why there's so much of it throughout history. It works very well as a tool for maintaining fear of authority in a population. It continues to work very well to maintain the social order under fascist banana dictatorships, middle eastern thugocracies and totalitarian police states, all of which are always looking for new and exciting ways to drive home the message "If we can do it to them, we can do it to you." That's what torture is for and yes it works very well for its intended purpose.

The fact that we are now openly doing it ourselves speaks volumes about the direction people like you want us headed in as a nation.

Posted by: DrBB on December 8, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

But Kevin, maybe this isn't true at all. Did they have a more sinister reason for discrediting Zubaydah? Please read and comment on Gerald Posner's report on huffpost. If true, it would really turn this debate on it's head, and the 911 commission would be shocked. It's here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gerald-posner/the-cias-destroyed-inter_b_75850.html


Posted by: mc2 on December 8, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Crashing airliners into occupied buildings is not exactly a sign of mentally well-balanced human beings. Nor is entering a school to massacre scores of children or going into a theater to gas the occupants or blowing up 200 innocent commuters.

Nor is invading an irrelevant country utterly without provocation for trumped up reasons and not even bothering to do the minimal planning necessary to carry it off without leaving a chaotic terrorism-breeding failed state in its wake.

Posted by: DrBB on December 8, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

This is interesting stuff in reply to my comment questioning the basis for the "torture does not work" argument.

Nick is anti-torture (apparently in all circumstances) and makes the honest observation that "And yes, some of us will die; terrorism in part is the taking of war to the civilian population." So he is willing to accept the success of terrorist acts in killing innocents as the price we have to pay for not "torturing." I think this accurately and honestly states the argument against torture.

Redterror could not resist biting with a silly barb on my use of the word "market."

JoyceH states:
It depends on what you mean by 'working'. Torture 'works' to this extent - it causes the victim to say exactly what the torturers wants him to say, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER OR NOT IT IS TRUE." This at least implicitly acknowledges that sometimes torture will produce true and valuable information.

The americanist "The problem isn't that torture NEVER reveals useful information. It's that it never RELIABLY yields useful information." This is a another concession that it sometimes reveals useful information, which of course would be a reason to use it in some situations. But as to americanist's statement of the problem, why must a technique be one that reliably produces useful information in order to be used in extreme circumstances when there is no other practical way to try to get the information? We don't hold other tools to this standard.

HaHa argues "The obligation is on those of you who say that torture actually works to provide a credible example of when torture actually worked to prevent a terrorist attack." Why is that specific obligation on people who say torture works? Why isn't it on the anti "torture" folks to prove that it would not work in such a situation? And, if the pro "torture" folks meet that obligation of showing an example of where it works, does that mean it is okay?

All interesting stuff that goes beyond Kevin's pretty simplistic comment focusing on one questionable interrogation and using it as an excuse to bash President Bush. Thanks for the input.

I understand why folks hate the idea of "torture," but the question is whether the moral problems associated with torture warrant that it should never be used under any circumstances.

I doubt it, because unlike Nick, I think if there is a reasonable prospect that torture of a terrorist will save innocent lives, it should be used as a last resort. Actually, I hope we develop some modern form of "virtual" torture that does not signficantly harm the person, but secures necessary and accurate information.

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Bob M on December 8, 2007 at 10:57
"I believe those flocking to Huckabee are disenchanted Republicans, mostly Religious Right types, anointing their new earthly savior."

Bob, the point I want to make about Huckabee is that he is going to be a much stronger opponent than we realize. Personality wise he is the Anti-Bush, and that appeal is transcendent politically. I believe he will draw heavily from the non-religious center.

Posted by: GrinningGrouse on December 8, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

DrBB:

Some of your points are correct about what torture has been used for during history. But none of them is the reason we must consider using it today. It seems that you avoid the issue of whether it would work in the type of situation at issue --attempting to secure information from a terrorist that might save thousands of lives when there is no other available means to secure the information. I take it you would still say no, and pass on the chance that "torture" of a terrorist might save thousands of lives.

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Why isn't it on the anti "torture" folks to prove that it would not work in such a situation?

because we don't have to prove a negative, although there are countless examples where torture victims simply tell the torturers whatever they want to hear--Guy Fawkes is one.

Posted by: haha on December 8, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

I doubt it, because unlike Nick, I think if there is a reasonable prospect that torture of a terrorist will save innocent lives, it should be used as a last resort. Actually, I hope we develop some modern form of "virtual" torture that does not signficantly harm the person, but secures necessary and accurate information.

Sounds like the plots of 75% of Mission Impossible episodes....

Posted by: jerry on December 8, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

There are, judging from meaningful action, TWO political parties that still think this is OK.

Posted by: Ken Ray on December 8, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

"Be careful what you say Brian, in that direction lies Alan Dershowitz..." Who is also known as America's answer to Valery Fabrikant.

Posted by: Bob M on December 8, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

This was all prompted by the president of the United States, implemented by the director of the CIA, and the end result was thousands of wasted man hours by intelligence and and law enforcement personnel.

So you're telling us that George Bush makes an appearance on the tapes. Or is this just conjecture on your part ?

For all we know there may have been an appearance by bear-man-pig (1/2 bear, 1/2 man, 1/2 pig) on the tape as well. Maybe even better, the real killers of JFK. The aliens from Roswell I bet too. How about Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart and Judge Crater ?

Posted by: Neo on December 8, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

But none of them is the reason we must consider using it today.

You sure about that? Heard of Abu Graib?

Posted by: DrBB on December 8, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

brian, I applaud your openness to feedback, but you're still partly missing the point. "I think if there is a reasonable prospect that torture of a terrorist will save innocent lives, it should be used as a last resort." This is an intelligent and softened version of the puerile "there's a bomb set to go off in New York and if we torture him we can get the details and prevent it!" scenario. This story never explains why we know that THIS person has the info we need to stop the bomb, yet curiously we don't know what the info is. The situation is of course possible, but once you add that necessary detail it becomes a whole lot less likely--and it was extremely rare to start with.

Redterror was not making a silly barb at your use of the word "market," because your use was entirely silly--and I'm an economist, I study markets for a living. Americans have been infected with this strange notion that markets have a wisdom that's applicable in all situations. Markets are indeed powerful things, and there are well-circumscribed tasks they perform very well, but there's absolutely no basis in the theory of markets for saying that the persistence of torture through the ages is a sign of market success, much less that it therefore has value.

Your response to Nick is more on-target, but I think overlooks something crucial, which actually IS grounded in economics, or at least in economic thinking. You're willing to accept torture (as a last resort of course) in order to save lives; Nick is not. But the tradeoffs are not that simple. The first point is that perfect security is impossible, so even if we torture the hell out of everyone who so much as looks at George W funny, there will still be ways to kill Americans. And, as mentioned several times in the thread, when you torture people who don't have the information you want, you'll get answers, just not the ones you need. And the kicker is that you usually* can't know when you're getting good stuff and when you're not, so in fact it's almost all worthless. So while in theory judicious use of torture may save lives, we can never know the extent to which it does, and the fact that some terrorist attacks are still successful can't be proof that we're not torturing enough. The second point is that while we're not sure what we're getting when we torture, it's quite clear what it is we're losing. When we allow ourselves to use a barbaric practice that produces unreliable information, we eat away at the civil liberties that are the very foundation of constitutional government. Quite a price to pay for ... what?

You write that Nick "is willing to accept the success of terrorist acts in killing innocents as the price we have to pay for not 'torturing.' I think this accurately and honestly states the argument against torture." This framing puts opposition to torture in the most damning light, but it can just as well be turned around. Apparently, you are willing to sacrifice the foundations of constitutional liberty as the price we have to pay for occasionally (and we'll rarely know when) saving a few lives. Put that way, it looks like a bad bargain.

Terrorism historically kills something on the order of several thousand people a year (Iraq being the huge exception, but let's not go there--God, how I wish we hadn't), and most of those aren't Americans. In any given year, random murder is far more lethal, yet we don't advocate torture in order to stop it. And yes, nuclear, chemical, or biological terrorism would be much worse, which is why we shouldn't out CIA agents who are working on figuring out what's up with that stuff.

*If a torture victim coughs up a name or a number, and that in turn checks out through some means other than torture, you might reasonably conclude that this particular information was true and valuable, but you didn't know that when you got it, and in many cases there won't be a way of checking it out.

Posted by: Karl on December 8, 2007 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

It seems that you avoid the issue of whether it would work in the type of situation at issue --attempting to secure information from a terrorist that might save thousands of lives when there is no other available means to secure the information. I take it you would still say no, and pass on the chance that "torture" of a terrorist might save thousands of lives.

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 1:57 PM |
---------------

If by torturing a culpable person you can save thousands (even two lives), then I am for it.

The problem is that this hypothetical has practically no use in real life. A reasonable showing that a person is culpable, while giving him/her the due process that respect for human dignity requires (which our Declaration of Independence mandates), is quite unlikely to come in time to save lives.

However, if you find someone and show beyond a reasonable doubt that he/she is involved in a plot to murder multiple people, you determine that the plot is still ongoing, yet you still don't know enough of the particulars of the plot (very unlikely), then feel free to torture the SOB. He's involved in murder anyway (according to the level of proof required by due process).

Posted by: Nick on December 8, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Aw, Junebug -- so nice to know you have nothing nice to say, or in fact, anything much to say at all. (I had used the "...Baltimore?" example in another thread on torture, and had no less than three posters miss the joke. Was it you who told me I was wrong, that it's actually Annapolis, or was it Know-Nothing Jeff? Idiots all look alike to me, regardless of gender. I'd have thought you'd recognize the public service of assuming that at least somebody reading this thread wouldn't get the joke. You may not think there are folks here to agree with you who are that dumb, but, then: well, YOU'RE here, which proves my point.)

Brian: you're missing the tradeoff. The PURPOSE of interrogating a suspect is to protect the public. Torture cannot be any more than an unreliable and counterproductive tool, like using an ax for surgery. You're arguing as if chopping off a hand will fix a broken finger.

Assume, for a second, that Posner's story is true, that we told this bastard he was a prisoner of the Saudis, and kept drowning him without killing him until he told us seventeen things that were NOT true, along with a couple useful pieces of information, like the Saudi princes and the Pakistani general.

And, oh yeah: we showed we can be as cruel and lawless as our enemies.

What on EARTH would make anybody think this was a net plus?

His strategic information was useless -- nobody was gonna take down the Brooklyn bridge with a wrench. His tactical information might have had some value -- but me, I'd wanna know why the Saudi princes and the Pakistani general were killed, rather than arrested and interrogated.

And the ultimate message of his captivity and torture is what the US government will commit crimes and try to hide them: not the way to show the world's 1.5 billion Muslims that WE are on the right side of these matters.

Personally, it wouldn't bother me much if we routinely lied to AQ captives and told 'em they were being held by Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the Grand High Poobah of the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos, if that was useful in getting good information out of 'em.

But if torture isn't wrong, NOTHING is wrong.

And we need to be right.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 8, 2007 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

brian,

In your opinion, what specific actions in our interactions with people of other countries would the United States have to take for you to believe this nation had compromised its moral authority? I am not limiting this question to the issue of torture. What scenario(s) would have to happen, what lines would have to be crossed, for you to say that the official actions being taken are in direct violation of our traditions, values and constitution?

Posted by: shortstop on December 8, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Come-on seriously now, why arent these torture advocates impeached and jailed?? Hell, we jail rape artists, how come Bush & Co is still free to inflict further damage?

Posted by: dennis d' menace on December 8, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Israel is discussing a unilateral bombing of Iran (wink wink, nod nod from Cheney and the neocons).

As one can be certain that Cheney and some of the other cabal will be in on some of the planning of this extrajudicial (big word for illegal) action, the pro-torture argument would seem to apply to the use of torture on Cheney and other neocons who MIGHT know something about what amounts to an act of terror.

Posted by: Nick on December 8, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

U.S Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Lt. Gen. John Kimmons:

And when a reporter asked whether some of the now forbidden forms of torture might have been useful in gaining information, General Kimmons directly contradicted what his Commander-in-Chief was saying at the White House:

No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that. And, moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility, and additionally it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can’t afford to go there. Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been—in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them, have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices, in clever ways that you would hope Americans would use them, to push the envelope within the bookends of legal, moral, and ethical, now as further refined by this field manual. So we don’t need abusive practices in there.
Posted by: DrBB on December 8, 2007 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

I appreciate all the intelligent and respectful responses, but I think some of the points relate to subjects other than the narrow one of whether whether terror should be used as a last resort when there is a reasonable prospect that it will save innocent lives."

Karl, you may be correct that the circumstances of such a situation will be rare, but that does not answer the question. You also may be correct that my use of "market" was sloppy, but I did put quotes around it and I think it got across the point.

You also seem to say that since the results of torture will not always be reliable, we should not use it, because it eats away "the civil liberties [of terrorists?] that are the very foundation of constitutional government." In the same vein, you state, "Apparently, you are willing to sacrifice the foundations of constitutional liberty as the price we have to pay for occasionally (and we'll rarely know when) saving a few lives." The problem I have with your "framing" is that it assumes the rare torture I suggest would "sacrifice the foundations of liberty." I don't see how that would be true. I also think it could well be saving more than a "few lives."

DrBB, Abu Graib was wrong. The persons who did it and America have paid heavily for it. But it is not the type of torture situation we are talking about here.

theAmericanist, you say "Torture cannot be any more than an unreliable and counterproductive tool, like using an ax for surgery." I don't see how you can say that without any reservation. The point I'm suggesting it that in some cases it could produce reliable and productive information that saves lives.

Shortstop asks a very broad question:

"In your opinion, what specific actions in our interactions with people of other countries would the United States have to take for you to believe this nation had compromised its moral authority? I am not limiting this question to the issue of torture. What scenario(s) would have to happen, what lines would have to be crossed, for you to say that the official actions being taken are in direct violation of our traditions, values and constitution?"

I think questions of "moral authority" are inherently highly subjective. Who decides what nation has moral authority and how do you do it? But in answer to your question, as an example, if we had seized Iraqi oil fields for our own use and profit, I think that would have violated our values. I don't know how draw precise lines on moral authority. It relates to motives and objectives. In general, bad motives are inconsistent with moral authority, but sometimes, good motives could overstep moral authority as well.

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

... I think if there is a reasonable prospect that torture of a terrorist will save innocent lives, it should be used as a last resort.

But if it's used "as a last resort" -- in the ticking timebomb scenario you guys love to describe -- and if, as even you concede ("I can understand that it does not always work, e.g., sometimes the "victim" would lie to torturers or make things up to avoid further pain. But if you assume people would sometimes lie or make things up to avoid further pain, don't you need to concede that sometimes people also would tell the truth to avoid futher pain."), presumes that you'll know when someone who's being tortured is telling the truth & when he's not. Since you can't know, you wind up squandering manpower & resources pursuing "leads" that you, yourself, acknowledge go nowhere. There goes your argument for effectiveness.

Of course, none of this begins to address the ineffectiveness of such practices because of the ways in which they diminish our moral authority & our influence, and because of the ways in which they engender greater hatred in parts of the world where we already have difficulty explaining why our positions should hold sway. What's so great about American-style democracy if we torture people just the same as third world despots?

Posted by: junebug on December 8, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

junebug,

You essentially say that because torture may not produce valuable information, we should not use it even in extreme situations. I don't think that is persuasive. Sure, if you have other better approaches, use them. But if not, you are back to torture.

The "moral autority" and "influence" in other parts of the world is hard to assess. I personally think we tend to apply our own values and perspective to it, and that objective people in "other parts of the world" have less of a problem with us torturing terrorists than you think. But how does one even attempt to figure that out?

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Well, the notion that there were only 2 tapes is not believeable. COPIES ARE ALWAYS MADE. Where are they? Also, there are videotapes of MANY interrogation sessions. WHERE ARE THOSE TAPES? Keep in mind that Gitmo interogation techniques migrated to Abu Gharib when Sanchez was in charge - the CIA grand inquistors in Iraq viewed tapes from Gitmo. WHERE ARE THE TAPES?

FINALLY, BUSH'S CLAIM THAT HE HAS NO RECOLLECTION IS THE LAST REFUGE OF SCOUNDRELS. HE KNEW BUT WONT ADMIT THE WHITE HOUSE APPROVED THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TAPES.

Posted by: JerseyMissouri on December 8, 2007 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

brian, the "point" you got across with "market," quotes or no quotes, was that a practice that has persisted for ages must have some usefulness. As has been pointed out elsewhere on the thread, it has had usefulness to people who are interested in getting a confession, true or not, and it's very good at that. That doesn't mean it can ONLY do that, but the fact that it often DOES do that means that its persistence tells us absolutely nothing about whether it's survived for any reason we would consider good.

You "think" that torture could well save more than a few lives, but my point is that we'll rarely have a way of knowing that that's true, whereas we'll know damn well that we're torturing. (Actually, we already know damn well that we are torturing.) My restatement of others' point about the unreliability of torture is integral to this part of the argument. Take the rare case where you have reason a priori to think that this guy has the goods, but of course no way to verify until it's too late anyway (he gives up some info about how to stop the bomb, but it turns out it was bogus because he was actually the wrong guy, so the city blows up anyway; or you had the right guy and you stop the bombing. The loss from allowing yourself to torture is irrevocable. The gain is wildly uncertain. I just don't see how your calculus is compatible with democratic principles.

You think we haven't seized Iraqi oil fields for our own use and profit? That's not what the contract says, but if you look at the actual effects of the arrangements we're setting up, we're making sure that US interests are well respected in the economic future of Iraq, and we're doing it with 150,000 combat troops plus an even greater number of mercenaries in country. That doesn't cross your lines?

Posted by: Karl on December 8, 2007 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

You essentially say that because torture may not produce valuable information, we should not use it even in extreme situations. I don't think that is persuasive. Sure, if you have other better approaches, use them. But if not, you are back to torture.

No, I'm saying that it produces it as much bogus information as it does useful information, if not more, rendering it ineffective. And the reason you don't find any of what anybody else has to say persuasive it because, in the TV show you have running in your head, you only see the episode where the CIA is using some relatively antiseptic method to magically extract essential information from the terrorist who -- surprise! -- has that information stored in his brain. Your internal TV never runs the episodes which show the CIA guy torturing some poor flunky plucked off of a dirt road in Afghanistan within inches of his life because he doesn't *know* anything to tell his interrogators in the first place. And you never see the episode where young men in that poor flunky's village, upon learning what happened to their peer, commit themselves to violent jihad against America. And you never see the episode where American intelligence loses valuable human resources because their sources on the ground in other countries no longer find themselves sympathetic to a country that tortures.

If you can point to a single instance of a legitimate terrorist plot interrupted by the effective use of torture -- go right ahead. Afghanistan, Iraq, & a handful of other war-torn & mostly Muslim backwaters are chock-full of young men with resentment towards & malevolent designs on America thanks in no small part to the torture policies you advocate.

So let's stop with this pose intellectual honesty. You're not dismissing any of these arguments because they lack soundness. The best you can come up with is "I don't think that is persuasive." Very simply, the torture of others -- despite the dubiousness of claims that it's effective -- makes you feel safe.

Posted by: junebug on December 8, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

a practice that has persisted for ages must have some usefulness

Why? Humans all too frequently have a sadistic streak. Torture indulges that tendency toward brutality and power over the "other." If you want to throw your lot in with Torquemada, feel free - but for fucks sake keep it to yourself and have the decency to not offend your obvious betters here.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 8, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think we're safer cuz Bush authorized torture. I don't know how anybody COULD think that -- except that progressives have a nearly limitless capacity to screw up an argument.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 8, 2007 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

What is ethical construct of people who were outraged that Clintion (1) lied (2) about getting a blowjob, but who (3) support the use of torture?

What system of ethics (or morality) forbids (1) and (2), but permits (3)?

Posted by: Nick on December 8, 2007 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Utilitarianism?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 8, 2007 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

"But how does one even attempt to figure that out?"

God, I can't believe we've drifted so far: WE LIVE OUT OUR IDEALS, Brian. That's how we figure it out -- and what's more, it's how THEY figure it out, too.

We're the GOOD guys. We don't excuse torture because Saddam did it, or cuz the Saudis still do it.

We don't do it BECAUSE WE'RE BETTER THAN THAT.

We're smart enough to know that it doesn't work. We've got too much confidence in the essential goodness of the American people to try to con them into thinking that it works enough sometimes, that it's a gray area, that it might be necessary sometimes.

Bullshit.

Damn, I've been saying this for nearly five years: we need a THEOLOGICAL strategy to deal with Muslim crazies, the way we had an ideological one to deal with the threat of Communism. People behind the Iron Curtain knew what we stood for -- freedom. They told grim jokes about it -- that they had freedom, too: in America, you could stand in front of the White House, call Eisenhower a criminal, and no one would arrest you; in Moscow, you could stand in front of the Kremlin, call Eisenhower a criminal -- and nobody would arrest you, either.

We have to STAND for something -- so they know it. You won't stand for something, which is why you will evidently fall for anything.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 8, 2007 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

"The President doesn't remember any video tapes..."

Perhaps someone should ask W if he remembers those DVDs... the ones he stuffed under his mattress. The DVDs he and Addison and Cheney watch late at night, in a dark Oval Office. While their wives are asleep. Reminds me of Bob Crane in Autofocus.

(Note to self: order more brain bleach tomorrow.)

When you see how big S&M is in the gay community, you have to wonder why these manly republicans are so ....interested... in torture.

I miss Nixon.

Posted by: dopey-o on December 8, 2007 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

whether terror should be used as a last resort when there is a reasonable prospect that it will save innocent lives.

I don't know whether you intentionally used "terror" rather than "torture," but it certainly is accurate.

If we torture, we become exactly what we're supposedly fighting.

Your fears cause you to abandon all decency, all hoor, all ethics.

Posted by: rea on December 8, 2007 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

Karl,

You're saying that if we torture and it fails, then is it a bad idea. But you can't demonstrate it is a bad idea by assuming its failure. I also don't see how we seized Iraqi oil fields for our own benefit; hopefully, you are correct that we are getting favorable treatment from Iraqis after the sacrifices we have made for them, but I don't see that as seizing their oil. And I still don't see how very limited torture "sacrifices the foundations of liberty."

junebug, you state, "I'm saying that it produces it as much bogus information as it does useful information, if not more, rendering it ineffective." What if the "useful" information proves invaluable in saving lives?

theAmericanist, you seem to think that "TO LIVE BY OUR IDEALS" trumps the potential for securing life saving information from a terrorist through "torture." Nothing wrong with that opinion, but I think there is room for reasonable disagreement.

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of Freudian typos: "all hoor" when you surely meant "all honor."

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 8, 2007 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmmm...the patient exhibits the ability to form words and sentences, suggesting the possibility of bonding with others of his kind through communication if he also has the ability to process others' words, and further suggesting the potential for moral decisionmaking...let's just watch for a moment and see...no, nope, false alarm. Darn. I was so excited for a second there, Nurse, but looks like we have just another example of homo elephas, demonstrating the potential for self-knowledge but choosing instead the purely animal route of action wholly outside of value judgment. Shame.

Posted by: shortstop on December 8, 2007 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

If you think there is "room for reasonable agreement" shouldn't you provide, um, some reasons?

DrBB helpful quotes the Army's top intelligence guy: "the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us" torture doesn't work.

How does he know that? Cuz we've USED it. If it worked, we'd have tons of evidence that it works. We don't. The evidence we have, is that it does not. Going too fast for you?

He goes on: "additionally [torture] would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can’t afford to go there."

And yet, YOU want to go there. Why? You have no evidence torture works, nothing to suggest that it is worth the effort. You don't think Americans die in Iraq? Think the Army's making this up? You don't know these guys, I think: if stomping on a guy's balls in front of his wife would save an American's life, they'd turn 'em into jelly.

It doesn't work. The military is a very practical profession.

The Army's top intelligence officer says flatly that our battlefield successes "have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices..."

Like I said: we're BETTER and SMARTER than using torture, cuz it is INEFFECTIVE and (incidentally) WRONG.

If you're gonna dodge that reasonable people can disagree, ya gotta come up with reasons.

The top intelligence officer of the US Army refers to 'empirical evidence' over the most recent five years, noting that 1) torture doesn't yield useful information, 2) it costs FAR more than it could possibly gain, based on #1, and 3) we get better results being humane and smart.

Well? Ya wanna be "reasonable", cite some empirical evidence to refute 1, 3, and most especially, 2.

Cuz that's where you claim folks can reasonably disagree -- but you evidently confuse what you're doing with thinking. PROVE OTHERWISE.

Use facts (if ya got any, which I doubt), cuz it's been thoroughly established even in its purest form, your argument is full of shit.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 8, 2007 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist, you seem to think that "TO LIVE BY OUR IDEALS" trumps the potential for securing life saving information from a terrorist through "torture."

Stopped clock and all...yes, yes, it does. You see, life conducted according to certain absolute ideas of morality, certain unbreakable ideals and values--lines we do not cross--is what separates us from animals. You have no such line. But most humans do, you see. I believe there are worse things than dying. Why don't you?

Posted by: shortstop on December 8, 2007 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

What if the "useful" information proves invaluable in saving lives?

And what if a frog had wings? Go ahead. Point to your examples where such "useful information" saved lives. Better still, explain the litmus test that distinguishes legitimate information from bogus information. Hurry, though, because time's-a-wastin', and lives are depending on you to get it exactly right. Remember, you're putting our nation's credibility on the line by sanctioning torture as an American policy, so you better know what you're doing. The cost, if you don't, is new crops of terrorists that replace the ones you've taken off the field by factors of 10. Tell us again how effective your policy is now.

Posted by: junebug on December 8, 2007 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Brian,

Question 1: How do you know you have the right person? If not sure, how can you justify torturing a possibly innocent person?

Before answering, please remember that in Dallas County, TX alone, 13 men have been convicted and sent to prisons for crimes they did not commit. (and very likely, soon a 14th) The advent of DNA testing proved their innocence. These were men who went through weeks and weeks of investigation, interrogation, interviews, trials and years of appeals before the FACTUAL TRUTH was known. We are talking about obtaining facts, are we not?

How much time will you have to verify that the one person you have captured is, indeed, THE person who has the knowledge you need?

Question 2: What separates "us" from "them"? Is there anything that justifies stooping to the level of terrorists ourselves? Isn't that what torture is: inflicting pain and terror on someone?

Question 3: How will you know that the information received is, in fact, reliable? Will the 3rd code for the bomb be the deactivation code? Or will it be the "explode at once" code? Will the 10th? The 20th? Or will the bomb go off anyway, because you are torturing the wrong person?

No, torture is never acceptable. We know that innocent people have been put on death row. And that was after years of investigation, hearings, trials, and appeals. Innocent people.

And in a few minutes, you are going to identify -- absolutely accurately -- the one terrorist who has the one bit of information you need? That is an incredible assumption.

We must remain better than terrorists. Freedom is not something that is danger-free. We could eliminate all deaths from car wrecks, but people wouldn't be free. We could eliminate all gunshot deaths by confiscating all guns from everyone everywhere - a sort of internal Fallujah 'clearing' of our homes and workplaces. But we wouldn't be free.

Terrorists only win by inflicting terror. To beat them, we only have to refuse to be afraid. Instead, we have an entire governmental structure from the President to the Vice President to the Department of "Homeland" "Security" telling us to be afraid and to run out to buy duct tape. And people did!

Terrorists cannot win unless we voluntarily give up our freedoms and become "like them." Will people die? Possibly. But just as likely, real investigations, real detective work, real intelligence operations will prevent terrorist attacks.

Posted by: Yman on December 8, 2007 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

I doubt it, because unlike Nick, I think if there is a reasonable prospect that torture of a terrorist will save innocent lives, it should be used as a last resort.

Here's the question you should be asking yourself, Brian:

Torture is illegal, and you are a CIA agent who knows that you will go to jail if you torture a prisoner. You are absolutely certain that the prisoner standing in front of you has information, and that he will tell you that information if you torture him.

Are you willing to go to jail to get that information? What penalty are you willing to pay to get that information that you are convinced will save lives?

If you're not willing to pay a penalty, you've got no moral ground to stand on. You're just another sadistic sick fuck who gets off on the idea of torturing people with impunity.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on December 8, 2007 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and a slight aside: the same people who think we should be allowed to torture "if necessary" are the same ones who thought that if we gave stun guns to cops, they'd only use them "if necessary."

"If necessary" becomes a very slippery slope, my friend.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on December 8, 2007 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

It is true the General speaks strongly againt "abusive" interrogation, and assuming he speaking candidly, his opinion is worth more than mine. Some of his other assertions are hard to literally believe "all" battlefied successes "have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices." He also talks of pushing "envelope within the bookends of legal, moral, and ethical." What does that mean.

In any event, the consensus here seems to be that torture may sometimes produce valuable information. Some folks are simply against it on principle under all circumstances regardless of the possibility that it might save lives, others like me think there are occasions when it would be justified to try to save lives.

Mnemosyne, fortunately for all of us, I will not be the CIA agent who decides whether extraordinarily circumstances justify torture to save lives, but I would like to think that I would be willing to go to jail for acting in what I thought was in my country's interests.

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

Bush didn't torture to obtain information about an impending attack.

Bush authorized torture to find out about 9/11 AFTER the attack.

The right wing hypothetical is merely a distraction from the illegality of Bush's torture.

Posted by: Nick on December 8, 2007 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

Quack, quack, quack: if you're gonna duck, Brian, have the decency to recognize what you're doing.

I don't see the consensus here that "torture may sometimes produce valuable information." You'd do better before making that sorta leap, to QUOTE what you think the consensus is, using a couple actual examples.

And before you mutter about how you don't believe generals with field responsibilities, stand beside 'em to measure your size. The guy knows what he's talking about.

Have the wit to notice that you don't, Brian.

Here is an example of when somebody DOES know what they're talking about: observe how to smack somebody for being dumb.

Shortstop, with her matchless capacity to be stooopid, says: "I believe there are worse things than dying."

Bully for you -- but who gives a shit what you think about that? Go tell the NYFD that you don't think we should torture AQ guys who may know something we want to find out, cuz YOU think there are worse things than dying. See how impressed they are with your dainty morality.

What you're saying to folks who recognize that we have real enemies, is that YOU don't care if we are all murdered in our sleep so long as YOU got to fall sleep secure in the knowledge that your own prejudices haven't been disturbed. And hey, if some of us don't wake up cuz we got blown up first, who cares?

You're DREAMING.

Wanna know why the good guys lost to Bush on torture? Shortstop, exhibit A: not only making the wrong argument, BUT SHE DOESN'T EVEN KNOW SHE'S MADE IT.

Try to read this slowly, Shortstop: saying "worse things than dying" concedes that failing to torture may mean we DIE if we don't drown prisoners.

And you WONDER why I keep noting yer an idiot, Shortstop? You just gave Brian his point.

But he's still wrong.

The problem isn't that torture can never yield good information, but that it does not RELIABLY give you anything to go on, so the cost of even extremely good information is waaay too high. Literally too much noise in the data.

Brian seems to be clinging to a fig newton of his imagination that "sometimes" in some highly elaborate abstract circumstance, torture just might, possibly, in a timely way, be useful.

But this isn't an elaborately abstract idea.

How come you haven't caught on? It's not like the reality of this godawful mess is a secret.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 8, 2007 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist,

You say the "cost of even extremely good information is waaay too high." This again reflects the consensus that torture sometimes would produce valuable information. Some folks, like you, just don't think the "costs" are worth it.

[Your "point," if that is what it can be called, has been made. Further repetition will be deleted.]

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

Assuming, arguendo, that torture can sometimes produce good information, that still leaves you without any practical application.

Under exactly what circumstances are you going to allow torture? When you KNOW there is a plot and you KNOW the person you will torture is part of the plot and you KNOW torture will produce actionable intelligence?

Fine. Let's set up a tribunal which can hear emergency applications under those circumstances.

Your hypothetical is a frivolous evasion of the actual issues at hand--we live in a nation where one of the parties sanctions torture--and not simply in exigent circumstances as contained in your hypothetical.

Posted by: Nick on December 8, 2007 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

And when we do allow torture, we should have the following two conditions:

1. The torture will be recorded and broadcast so that citizens can review the torture which is being perpetrated for their benefit and its results (since we are sanctioning torture we should be fully informed about it); and

2. Leading representatives of whichever party are seeking to use torture should be active participants in the waterboarding or beating, so that this isn't merely some abstraction ordered by beaurocrats and carried out by sadists. In fact, in the rare instances which call for torture, the president should be involved in the waterboarding or flogging. After all, he's doing it for our benefit.

Posted by: NicK on December 8, 2007 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

[Your "point," if that is what it can be called, has been made. Further repetition will be deleted.]

It's one thing for the Washington Monthly to claim they need some for of moderation, it's another for those moderators to moderate perfectly reasonable, that is, non slanderous, non offensive, non incitement to violence posts, AND to then go on to badmouth people who are honestly and sincerely trying to make an argument.

I may not agree with Brian, but I will defend to the death his right to make his point. I am glad to see moderator man that you would not put up with that sort of shit.

Up yours anonymous Washington Monthly moderator man and your creepy and offensive use of your "privilege."

Posted by: jerry on December 8, 2007 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

Brian:

The torture question has been gone over multiple times at this site and others, and yet you continue you ask your questions...I sense that you are being disingenuous.

1) Torture is very effective at getting confessions. In the absence of corroboration, the confessions are useless from a legal standpoint, and most likely from an intelligence standpoint. This did not bother past practitioners, since all they wanted was a confession. The legal system has developed considerably over the centuries, as you might or might not have noticed, and now we require more than an unsubstatiated confession for prosecution, and hopefully for intelligence action.

2) Torture is a useful tool for revenge and repression. Spend a little time over at Little Green Footballs or the Ace of Spades, to get an idea of how posters there would use torture. Do you really think that the United States should be associated with that use of torture? That is Saddam, Soviet, and Nazi territory (or pick any regime from time immemorial that ruled through fear and repression), in other words most of them. (This is where you get your false impression of why torture may be effective.)

3) The use of torture almost never takes place in discrete circumstances; it almost immediately becomes institutionalized, and widespread. When you're "softening up" one person to get results, and it appears to work, then why not "soften up" everyone? Voila...Abu Ghraib. In the 1980s, Israel attempted to legally codify and regulate the use of torture against "terrorists." They had to abandon it soon thereafter, when its use became indiscriminate. I challenge you, Brian, to find cases when the use of torture did not become institutionalized and widespread.

4) In today's world, the use of torture elicits a visceral reaction against its practitioners. Ask John McCain. Can the United States really afford to alienate its allies, and those we are seeking to persuade that the U.S. is the fount of all that is good? Should the United States be lumped with Saddam's Iraq, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Spain of the Inquisition, etc? Is that the company you feel the United States should keep? If so, you and your friends on the right are supporting a level of situational ethics that would make a radical left-wing sociologist blush.

5) In the case of the Bush Administration, there is clearly an attempt to evade accountability by its legal advocates and practitioners. They know it is wrong--not to mention illegal; so they are attempting to stonewall, conceal, and destroy evidence of its occurence. It makes me proud to be an American. If those who believe torture is effective and justifiable are so sure of it, let them stand up and make themselves accountable. Pigs will fly first.

Posted by: Tom S on December 8, 2007 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

I had no idea what that "moderator" message was about or where it came from. Thanks for the respect, Jerry, and the explanation of what it was.

In any event, I have made a lot of comments here, and I probably should quit. I thought the responses made a number of good points and the whole exchange was pretty respectful.

Tom, sorry if you think I have been disingenuous. That is not the case. I always wondered about the "torture doesn't work" argument and this is the first time I sought out an explanation.

As to your specific thoughts, I think your references to confessions, revenge, repression, and institutionalization are outside the narrow framework of what I suggest - torture only in limited circumstances where might save innocent lives. I know it would not be the easiest approach to administer.

I do agree that I am suggesting a situational ethics approach, which normally is not a good thing, but it hardly would be anything like the Nazis, Saddam, the Soviet Union etc. I also don't know about your "visceral reaction" point; how do we even know the reaction of nations and peoples, some of whom are comfortable with their own practices of "torture."

The bottom line is whether the new threat of terrorists committing mass murder supports a change in the rules regarding torture. At least to the majority of posters here, it has not [yet].

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 11:42 PM | PERMALINK

In any event, the consensus here seems to be that torture may sometimes produce valuable information.

Well, Johnny-One-Note, numerous commenters have addressed your argument from various angles, yet you refuse to return the courtesy. You still haven't explained how the occasional "valuable information" outweighs the damage that torture inflicts on us by radicalizing segments of populations that otherwise wouldn't be predisposed to join terrorist organizations & use violence against Americans & American interests. Or is that too much for your pea-brain to reckon with?

... I will defend to the death his right to make his point.

And he's made something resembling a point -- over & over & over again, and without addressing the counter arguments he's been presented with anything approaching thoughtfulness. The "I'm not listening" routine is offensive. But thanks for your defense of a concern troll, Rosa Parks. Maybe you could burn your bra for an encore.

Posted by: junebug on December 8, 2007 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

Brian,
I can't help but notice how you've backpedaled from a 'what's so bad about torture' position to the narrower 'can torture be justified as a last resort to save innocent lives'. Now, just take it a step further: torture is aways wrong, even in the unique circumstances you are now more inclined to accept. It's like the old thought experiment about Hitler: murder is wrong, but people can disagree as to whether killing Hitler in 1932 could be justified.

For your argument to make any sense as a defense of torture, the hypothetical must include the premise that torture will in fact yield info. which will as a matter of fact save innocent lives. In the real world (as opposed to the show 24), this is impossible.

Conversely, if torturing is justified when it saves innocent lives, then, since anyone could in principle be a potential murderer, wouldn't torturing everyone also be justified?

Posted by: scudbucket on December 8, 2007 at 11:58 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't bothered to read through this thread, so I don't know if Brian has "backpedaled", or if rather, there has been a conversation and argument and Brian has just become "persuaded" by the various arguments.

Presumably we don't like flip-floppers, or backpedallers, but we all wish to be people that can be persuaded by a good and valid argument.

Kumbaya, my lord.

Posted by: jerry on December 9, 2007 at 12:10 AM | PERMALINK

Junebug,
I don't know how you (or I) can speak with confidence about the extent of "damage that torture inflicts on us by radicalizing segments of populations that otherwise wouldn't be predisposed to join terrorist organizations & use violence against Americans & American interests." It is speculative. You apparently think it would cause huge damages. I doubt it. But neither of us know.

scudbucket,
I don't know how someone could know with certainty before hand that "torture" would produce information that would save lives. I also don't think I or anyone else has said anything that would reasonably lead to a conclusion that torturin everyone could be justified.

Posted by: brian on December 9, 2007 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

Jerry,
In this case, I think the backpedaling resulted from the overwhelming force of erudite, concise, well reasoned argument (from many different people).

Posted by: scudbucket on December 9, 2007 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

It is speculative. You apparently think it would cause huge damages. I doubt it. But neither of us know.

Brilliant rejoinder, dipshit. The benefits of your torture scenario, from beginning to end, are speculative, but umpteen commenters have explained umpteen different ways why they are dubious at best. The best counter arguments you've been able to present are, "I don't think so," "That doesn't fit my narrow criteria," and now, "I doubt it. But neither of us know."

This honest differences/rational inquiry is as persuasive as a 300 pound linebacker pre-op tranny. Your argument -- if you can even call it that -- is about as subtle, too. Your hackery grew tiresome hours ago.

Posted by: junebug on December 9, 2007 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

If someone could explain to me why discussing the pros and cons of torture is any different than discussing the pros and cons of rape, sweet Christ I'd like to hear it. After all, just as "torture sometimes would produce valuable information," there have certainly been wonderful people born down through the ages as a result of rape. Ends, means, and all that.

I mean, folks, come on. Are we, hard-eyed realists that we are, really so ignorant of the goal of terrorism as a tactic? Does anyone really think that the people who engage in terrorism do it just to achieve an immediate outcome? Are there actually people to whom it is not obvious -- after a century of Chekist, IRA, ETA, Brigata Rossa etc. etc. etc. terrorism -- that the goal is to provoke the enemy to commit atrocities in response?

I realise I sound like the world's most supercilious dick here, so... please tell me this is perfectly obvious to you and you have a much more nuanced, subtle reason for all this torture talk.

Please.

Anyone?

Posted by: paolo on December 9, 2007 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

I also don't think I or anyone else has said anything that would reasonably lead to a conclusion that torturin everyone could be justified.

Ah, but it follows from your hypothetical justifying torture. If it is true, then a sufficient condition for torture is that it will yield as yet unknown information which will in turn be used to save innocent lives. The utility of torturing would then extend to everyone, since it is not known (by the torturers) whether any particular person has information which may save innocent lives.

Posted by: scudbucket on December 9, 2007 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

I may not agree with Brian, but I will defend to the death his right to make his point. I am glad to see moderator man that you would not put up with that sort of shit...Jerry @ 9:52

I haven't bothered to read through this thread, so I don't know if Brian has "backpedaled"...Jerry @ 12:10

Is any comment really necessary here?

Brian is a thread derailing concern troll, and he might as well stick his fingers in his ears and sing "La La La La La" at the top of his lungs. He hasn't been swayed, he's just shifting the goalposts a little bit and throwing the same smarmy, disingenuous bullshit out there over and over again.

Posted by: Volatile Compound on December 9, 2007 at 12:47 AM | PERMALINK

You're halfway there, Miss Mod. If mind-blowing repetition is your measurement, um, you missed a spot.

Try to read this slowly, Shortstop: saying "worse things than dying" concedes that failing to torture may mean we DIE if we don't drown prisoners.

No shit, Sherlock. Hope you didn't spend too long getting from A to B there. Despite your having repeated yourself half-literately, endlessly and please-put-a-bullet-through-all-our-brains boringly (BAU), you still don't understand what you've been writing. Conceding like a grownup that there might conceivably, somewhere, sometime be a moment when torturing someone might save a life and thus not doing so might, extremely unlikely though it may be, result in someone dying isn't "giving Brian a point." It's saying--in direct contradiction to your Rainman-like diatribes (for God's sake, someone pass "Paul Donnelly" the syrup)--that that's not the only criterion for not fucking torturing people. There is, in fact another one that's more absolute than "It probably has never worked and the costs are too high when it doesn't."

That's correct as far as it goes, but it's about as useful as admonishing people not to rob banks by intoning, "Crime doesn't pay," and leaving it at that. The thing is, of course, that crime does sometimes pay--granted, at a far higher rate than torturing people pays, but this is a difference of degree instead of kind. The real--the only absolute--argument for not knocking over the local Chase affiliate is that it's wrong to steal other people's stuff. Unlike "You might get caught and become someone's bitch, but then again you might not!," the latter argument actually involves a static moral principle. Your anti-torture statement, on the other hand, is based on the very same premises I'm decrying, the ones that got us into Iraq and all the other outrages of the Bush administration to begin with: If you do it and win, it's okay to do it. You've simply flipped it on its head: When you do it, you won't win and you're going to make a really big mess, so don't do it.

You think, with that never-say-die unearned arrogance of yours (hint: "Fake it till you make it" is not working for you), that you might have the power to get through to brian on this issue. I've listened a little longer and a lot better than you have, and I don't have any such self-delusions. brian is lost to civilization and he isn't coming back. He has a good bit of company just now, which is, as we often say here, profoundly depressing. But most Americans have not yet become immune to the concern that a nation that has no out-of-bounds conduct whatsoever is not what they grew up with, took the citizenship test for, want for the future. "Torture doesn't work" is true and saying so has value--sometimes a great deal of value--in reaching honest and honestly listening people who wrongly believe that it might. Several other people here tonight and in other threads on this topic made that case eloquently and persuasively (and didn't need me to validate their statements or throw a hissy when I didn't echo them). But as an argument it doesn't and cannot stand alone.

You are, once again, letting your pathological need to pretend to an undemonstrated iconoclasm blind you to the fact that "It doesn't work" is only part of the reason why Americans cannot fucking do this. People not as far gone as brian still respond to moral concerns, despite your odd and often-stated belief that the only way to win an election is to remove all principled stands from anything you say in public. All right; if your only concern is the voting booth, so far the polls are holding up on this issue, and as near-universal disgust and revulsion with this administration continues to grow, they're likely to get even better. But, as you demonstrate when you keep throwing in the "Oh, and it's also wrong" follow-up, that's not really your only concern. So why berate someone else for bringing up the logical moral conclusion, other than your pathetic need to try to control every conversation in which you participate?

We know you get these mad crushes on your own ideas and hold onto them like a pit bull, fueled by a bizarre (and really emotionally sick, as is the consensus here and elsewhere) need to be the Only One in the Room Who Ever Has a Valid Point. But if you can take your tongue out of your own asshole for 10 seconds, you might see that your point is worthless without mine, because without an ideal, a bright line, a yellow moral do-not-cross tape, yours is simply subscribing to brian and his ilk's anything-goes-as-long-as-we're-the-last-man-standing philosophy.

I don't think you will see that; like brian, you're too deeply tuned into your own words and incapable of really letting anyone else's words get through the "Reject any concept that does not restate my point" filter. But I think everyone else here gets is.

And I think most Americans still do, too.

Posted by: shortstop on December 9, 2007 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

In this case, I think the backpedaling resulted from the overwhelming force of erudite, concise, well reasoned argument (from many different people)

Is that backpedaling or persuasion? Of what use is trying to have a conversation, dialog, or argument (connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition) if we're not going to allow our "opponents" to be persuaded but instead going to castigate them as backpedaling?

@Volatile Compound: in a post where Kevin is discussing tapes of our torturing prisoners, how is it thread derailing for Brian to ask if torture is at times effective? Ghastly, immoral, but effective?

And ya know, all of this bullshit about so and so derailing a thread? Ah, poor widdle thread. What's the actual loss to anyone if a thread is "derailed?" Can that loss be measured? Apparently, lots of people felt Brian's messages had enough relevant to respond to. I do know how to measure that! Clickthroughs and other traffic measurements. I don't know how to measure the so called loss to the world of a thread somehow being derailed. I suspect the loss to the world, to the Washington Monthly, and even to you is immeasurably small. Poor widdle thread.

Posted by: jerry on December 9, 2007 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK

Good stuff folks, all of you.

Playing off of one another's comments adversarially produces insightful nuggets that might have been left unsaid (and therefore lost) had not one commenter raised another's bile a bit.

It's why I do my lurking here.

Posted by: Dave Howard on December 9, 2007 at 2:03 AM | PERMALINK

Jerry,
Backpedaling: he never gave up his belief that torture is a good policy, he just tried to narrow the subject to something that wasn't so contentious, that may have led to some concessions by anti-torture folks.

Posted by: scudbucket on December 9, 2007 at 2:12 AM | PERMALINK

In any event, the consensus here seems to be that torture may sometimes produce valuable information.

We live in the age of knowledge and many of the pages of history are spread out before us. This thread is read by a multitude of educated, intelligent people and Republicans.

Can someone point to a single instance where torture worked?

Posted by: McDruid on December 9, 2007 at 3:51 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum, did you bother to type in Abu Zubaydah in WIKIPEDIA before you wrote this post saying he was "unimportant"? If not, shame on you.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Zubaydah

Here's a sample of why he was not useless to interrogators: "Ron Suskind wrote that a tipster led the CIA directly to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and subsequently collected a $25 million reward. Intelligence sources told the Washington Post that Suskind's description of Mohammed's capture was correct, but that Abu Zubaydah also provided information that was helpful to the arrest.[9]"

Also, "And John McLaughlin, former acting CIA director, has also stated, "I totally disagree with the view that the capture of Abu Zubaydah was unimportant."

Zubaydah was a mixed bag, ok? Some of what he said turned out to be complete nonsense (probably because of his mental condition and the harsh interrogration methods), but read on and you'll see that he did play a part in leading to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's arrest and revealed other valuable intelligence on al Qaeda we still don't know about.

I'm not apologizing for anything else the CIA did, but at least give them credit for getting some valuable info out of this guy. Did they go over the line to get it? Probably, and whoever was behind the torture of Zubaydah should be prosecuted for war crimes, but at lesst in the jail cell those responsible could say they didn't kill anybody, they tortured al Qaeda types that DID kill 3000 people.

Posted by: charlie on December 9, 2007 at 4:05 AM | PERMALINK

In the hypothetical, what if the only person with knowledge of where the bomb is planted is the 14 year old daughter of the jihadist, who assisted her father in planting a nuclear weapon in Manhattan, and then saw him gunned down when agents tried to arrest them?

Do we get to torture her? Is our torture limited to waterboarding and perhaps a little beating? Or since half a million lives are at stake, can we do what our former friend the Shah of Iran did, and use gang rape as a tool to force confession?

After all, half a million lives are at stake.

And what if she was born in the U.S. and is an American citizen, but still a committed jihadist, a Moslem McVeigh?

And if the father is still alive but our best torture unavailing against him and the clock ticking down, can we again emulate our buddy the Shah and rape the jihadist's daughter in front of the him in order to break his will and get him to confess where he planted the bomb?

Posted by: Nick on December 9, 2007 at 5:33 AM | PERMALINK

BTW, the problem inherent in the right wing hypothetical is hardly new.

Dostoevsky used essentially the same hypothetical when asking in The Brothers Karamazov whether it would be morally acceptable to confine one child in a small box to an existence of torture, if that were the price to pay for happiness for the rest of humankind.

Posted by: Nick on December 9, 2007 at 5:49 AM | PERMALINK

"your point is worthless without mine..."

See, this is what I love about progressive stooopidity: it cannot acknowledge its imbecility without insisting that everybody else is just as dumb.

What 'persuaded' Brian, even through his Aspberger's, to move from 'what's wrong with torture' to 'it works SOMETIMES', was pounding on the point that it fails in virtually all cases.

To refine that a bit, since you guys are allergic to clarity: when somebody who knows something we want to know is tortured, they will generally give up that information faster than other methods. But they will also tell us all kinds of stuff that is false or useless, but which they think will please the torturer (as in fact, most of the time it will).

When someone who does NOT know anything we want to know is tortured, they cannot tell us anything wey need to know. But they WILL tell stuff that they think the torturer wants to hear, which will all be false or useless.

Where Brian has NOT been persuaded (most likely cuz he's unpersuadable, but that's not an excuse for failing to see the technique) is that in those extremely narrow hypothetical cases that he's conjured up, WE GIVE A RAT'S ASS ABOUT HIS SAFETY. He doesn't believe that. Why should he? Shortstop would rather see him dead than do wrong.

It's generally a good idea, when attempting to persuade folks (Brian isn't important, but millions of Americans are) to recognize what concerns 'em.

The reflex to insist that 'there are worse things than dying' is pure moral vanity: what COUNTS is the ability to persuade folks to do the right thing.

It's nice, I suppose, that Shortstop stumbled through her insults (again with posting my name, oy) to acknowledging my point, but what'd be more useful if you figured out, not that we agree, but that I'm right and you're wrong.

The place to START persuading people that we should not torture is NOT that it is wrong, that there are worse things than dying, but that it does not work: when you mention that only AFTER preening your self-righteousness, you communicate unmistakeably that protecting the public is at best a secondary consideration.

Most folks here seem happy with that message. I'm not, cuz it's not effective.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 9, 2007 at 8:01 AM | PERMALINK

It has now come out that there were "hundreds of hours" of videotaped CIA interrogations. So, there must have been more than just "two tapes" that were desroyed.

Posted by: Nex Horus on December 9, 2007 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Donnelly (for once, try not to be more of a towering ass than you can help; your name is in your email sig and you've encouraged readers here to Google it on multiple occasions), one quick post here, and then I've got to move on with the other non-emotionally disturbed folks to another round of pie (pecan, of course--pure nuts):

The conversation here and out in that world that's been so inexplicably mean to you involves more people and more legitimate perspectives than yours. I know that's not fair; I know it burns like acid that no one anywhere ever recognizes your rightful position as The Decider, but as you wander through the perplexing cloud of universal insubordination, try to get your one-track (all you, all the time) mind to focus on this for a minute:

I don't have any problem with you or anyone else confining your arguments to "Torture doesn't work" if you want to concentrate on the people that argument will best reach. (brian assuredly isn't one of them, which is yet more proof of your tin ear, but as I said last night, there are plenty of others who do respond to this message.) The problem occurs when you hilariously keep bellowing that it's the only acceptable argument against torture, or that it's even possible to divorce this issue from its ethical aspects. This thread, like all other conversations that normal groups of people have, contains several lines of discussion, with different people saying different things designed to appeal to different aspects of the issue and different people. (Yes, it's crazy enough to be true--separate humans actually sometimes respond to varying arguments.)

Sometimes other conversational participants are going to go against your best advice--I'm sorry; that was so hard to type without laughing--and say things that didn't fit the ordered plan of your selected line of argument. When they do (and try to understand that they do because this conversation is bigger than brian and bigger even than you), pretending that their points are stoopid while refusing to admit that your own point is predicated on the fucked-up premises of the guy you're ostensibly arguing against makes you look like a controlling fool who can't read very well.

You've now been reduced to the position of studiously ignoring the moral component of an argument about torture--just think about that for a second--because you can't let go of your farfetched idea that hushing it up to take the utilitarian route is the only possible way to reach anyone. Well, assuming that every single person who's listening is borderline retarded and has to be identically and hamhandedly condescended to in argument hasn't worked out for you the last 1,000 times you tried it, but go ahead and plough into that 1,001st. You know what they say about that.

As for the delicious irony of you again whining about being insulted and again claiming with a straight face that you alone truly "recognize what concerns people" (I suppose that may have been true on one occasion, probably the same day that torture worked somewhere, but all evidence of your conversational contributions proves the opposite), I'll leave that for the dwindling number of non-pie eaters to enjoy.

Best of the season to you, dood.

Posted by: shortstop on December 9, 2007 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Shortstop, your explanation, such as it is, would work better if it reflected reality.

For one thing "when you hilariously keep bellowing that it's the only acceptable argument against torture.." is a hallucination.

Never said it. I've noted, over and over and over, that if you START with "there are worse things than dying" and ONLY AFTER THAT, get around to "it doesn't work", what you communicate is that your self-righteousness is more important to you than public safety.

Likewise, when you claim that I've said "that it's even possible to divorce this issue from its ethical aspects.." you're simply making it up. I've never said anything remotely like that. (See the above graf.)

And if you doubt that my reading of progressive hypocrisy and self-righteousness has some traction, read the post after yours.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 9, 2007 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

LOL -- the "post after yours" having now been deleted by our ever unpredictable moderator.

The fact is, it's not folks like me who serve as the enablers for the bad guys. (Which is what the post after Shortstop's claimed, in colorful language.)

I mean -- who thinks progressives suffer from a public perception that we're TOO pragmatic, that we think too hard about the consequences of our principles, that we're afflicted with the compulsion to ask ourselves 'yeah, but will it WORK?'

Who reads shortstop's posts and concludes, yeah, isn't SHE too focused on how people who don't agree with her think?

It's a curious blindspot. Despite Shortstop's sorta over the top notion that this is about me, it's not. She HAS to do that, cuz otherwise she'd recognize that the argument I'm actually making is that we lose nothing from the moral edge of opposing torture by starting with a PRACTICAL argument -- nothing, that is, except the discipline of for once not reaching for self-righteousness first.

The folks who have consistently enabled the bad guys here -- the Bush folks being the bad guys -- are the self-righteous Ralph Nader wing of the progressive movement, the folks who would rather be right than elect a President. They haven't gone away -- you see the reflex all over these threads, viz., Shortstop's 'worse things than...'

It's like every time she hits the ball, she runs toward third base -- and COMPLAINS when somebody tells her first is the other way.

I've said it, what, 100x? If you START with the truth that torture is not effective, you leave the bad guys with the argument that 'well, at least it is still cruel, illegal and counterproductive!!!'

I'd much rather that we PUT them into that unhappy place, than leave them where Brian is, convinced that for some self-righteous reason we are more concerned 'that there are worse things than dying' than about protecting America.

Put it this way -- since Shortstop is simply flat-out wrong about the argument, what do we LOSE by making it in the most persuasive way?

(Psst -- first base is on your RIGHT, as you face the pitcher, and you take left turns at each base until you get home, Shortstop. Didn't ANYBODY ever coach you?)

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 9, 2007 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

OK, I'm getting confused with all the new information on the NIE and the torture tapes. Mr. Drum, could you put this in perspective. The information about the Dem leadership knowing about the torture tapes was obviously leaked in retaliation by the Bushes for the NIE about Iran being released. There is obviously a lot of mutual blackmailing going on in DC. Who was the brave soul we should thank for getting the NIE about Iran out?

And what's this about Zubaydah offering nothing but useless info? What about those Pakistanis and Saudis who died/were killed shortly after Zubaydah sang (as I read in the HuffPo)? I don't mean to defend torture at all, but I doubt those Saudi princes were killed based on useless information. And I know it's getting into "tinfoil hat" territory for you, but why didn't you at least address the implications of that side of the story - i.e. illegal torture is not news, covering up for the Saudis and Pakis is news?

Posted by: jussumbody on December 9, 2007 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Jussum is onto the real story here.

As somebody wondered upthread "me, I'd wanna know why the Saudi princes and the Pakistani general were killed, rather than arrested and interrogated."

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 9, 2007 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

This again reflects the consensus that torture sometimes would produce valuable information.

no, it doesn't at all.

Posted by: haha on December 9, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

John Aravois notes:

"It's also clear that had Pelosi raised any private objections during the meeting - remember, it took place in the first year after September 11 - Bush and the Republicans would have leaked that fact to the public (like they just did) and destroyed her career and marked her publicly as a traitor."

http://www.americablog.com/2007/12/did-bush-approve-cia-leak-to-embarrass.html

Lambert writes: "Since the voters put them back in power, the Democrats have taken impeachment off the table, punted on the war, never figured out a way to hold Republicans accountable for filibusters and obstructionism, so legislation is in the toilet, and never managed to use oversight power to do anything more than chip away around the edges of the Bush regime—though they have written a great number of Sternly Worded Letters."

http://www.correntewire.com/we_are_democrats_they_are_enablers

This taints every American.

Posted by: Nick on December 9, 2007 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

I found this whole debate pretty interesting (except I don't really understand the argument between Shortstop and theAmericanist).

Not that it makes any difference whether I did so, but I don't understand why folks think I "backpeddled" on my position. After asking for an explanation of the "torture doesn't work" argument, I originally stated my position as follows:

"I understand why folks hate the idea of "torture," but the question is whether the moral problems associated with torture warrant that it should never be used under any circumstances.

I doubt it, because unlike Nick, I think if there is a reasonable prospect that torture of a terrorist will save innocent lives, it should be used as a last resort."

Nick responded by saying the following which almost agreed with me, albeit requiring a higher level of justification:

"However, if you find someone and show beyond a reasonable doubt that he/she is involved in a plot to murder multiple people, you determine that the plot is still ongoing, yet you still don't know enough of the particulars of the plot (very unlikely), then feel free to torture the SOB. He's involved in murder anyway (according to the level of proof required by due process)."

In any event, my view remains the same as originally stated. I did consider all the arguments, but was not persuaded that there should be an absolute ban on "torture" in the face of the serious threat that we face. My guess is that most of the American people feel the same way. [Note that Bill Clinton and John McCain both have said about the same thing.]

So, thanks for the interesting discussion.

Posted by: brian on December 9, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting. Brian has posed the "hopeful hypothetical" but totally ignored my questions on the specifics and the facts I have offered as well.

Several have salient points on the ethics of the matter: How abhorent do the acts have to be before the acts will be categorically banned? Rape? A young child? A family?

In ethics classes, one common dilemma proposed is that of sacrifice for the common good. How far does that go? should it go?

One person may decide, in a moment of heroism, to surrender his life so that thousands of others may live. And we recognize that as the very definition of heroism: the disregard for your own personal safety so that others may live.

The next step: Would it be ethical, moral, justifiable to kill one person so that thousands of other may live?

If, for example, Brian were to put a revolver to the head of someone - anyone - and willingly pull the trigger in order to "save" the lives of thousands of people, would that be a good thing? From what perspective? What would the executed person think? Is Brian guilty of a crime? Is he a murderer? Is he a hero? Do we look up to him or down on him?

My own answer is that murder is always abhorent. There is no justification for it.

Brian may answer then that I would be responsible for the deaths of thousands. No, that is factually untrue. The terrorists would be responsible, not me. We would have to work through other means to stop them, rather than resorting to cold blooded murder.

And that's where it lies with torture. The practitioner is not a hero. He/she is morally bereft. The fact is that there can be no certainty as to whether the subject of torture actually holds the information sought.

That certainty does not exist, period, end of game. You can postulate it all you want, but that does not make it so. When people on trial for horrific rapes and murders are falsely convicted -- confess even, due to 'harsh interrogation techniques' -- and then are proven factually INNOCENT beyond any doubt whatsoever, there is simply no way that you can theorize that you will know for certain that a given suspect will certainly hold the information you seek.

Will you agree that it is never acceptable to torture an innocent person?
Next, explain how we will be certain that the 'guilty person' holds the knowledge sought through torture. You've been asked before and dodged the issue.

As others have pointed out, once torture is authorized it spreads, becomes 'normal', becomes institutionalized.

Torture demeans us as a civilization. How can we hold the moral upper hand and demand that our own troops are treated humanely, according to the Geneva Conventions, when we violate those very laws ourselves?

Torture cannot be used to obtain information despite what "24" portrays.
In some deep dark fantasy world, is it possible? Why not, it is a fantasy!
In reality, could it work / does it work? No.

Again, as others have pointed out, the true purpose of torture has always been to obtain a confession, regardless of the guilt of the torturee. It works great for that. In a few hours, you can get anyone to confess to anything. It won't be true, but you can do it.

Most importantly, I want to point out that the REAL issue here is the complete and total disregard for US law, for International laws and for our ratified treaty agreements, and for our Constitution. This administration has been operating in a Rambo fantasy land of illegality. It is time they are held accountable for their actions. And it appears that they are trying to cover their tracks as best possible. It reeks to high heaven.

Posted by: Yman on December 9, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

McCain agrees with Brian? I think not:

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/111305Y.shtml

Torture's Terrible Toll

By Senator John McCain Newsweek 25 November 2005 issue

Abusive interrogation tactics produce bad intel, and undermine the values we hold dear. Why we must, as a nation, do better.

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/10/26/mccain_fights_exception_to_torture_ban/

McCain fights exception to torture ban

Ex-POW assails bid to exempt the CIA


By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff
October 26, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Senator John McCain yesterday warned that a push by the White House to exempt overseas CIA agents from a proposed ban on mistreating prisoners in US custody would exacerbate the problem of detainee abuse by giving interrogators legal authority to torture suspected terrorists.

"I don't see how you could possibly agree to legitimizing an agent of the government engaging in torture," said the Arizona Republican, who survived torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
...
McCain responded: ''I don't know how you protect your life by torturing somebody. I've never understood that scenario."

McCain's proposal would do two things. First, it would restrict military interrogators to using only techniques authorized in the Army Field Guide, imposing firmer limits on military prisons.

Second, it would prohibit torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in US custody anywhere in the world. That rule would extend to CIA agents and officials from allied governments.

Posted by: Yman on December 9, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

yman:

Sorry I did not answer your questions. My effort is as follows:

Question 1: How do you know you have the right person? If not sure, how can you justify torturing a possibly innocent person?

BRIAN: NO WAY TO MAKE ANY LAST RESORT TORTURE SYSTEM PERFECT. YOU DO THE BEST YOU CAN UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES. IF YOU MAKE MISTAKE, IT IS HORRIBLE, BUT YOU ONLY DIRECTLY ADVERSELY AFFECT ONE PERSON, IN AN EFFORT TO HELP MANY OTHERS.


Question 2: What separates "us" from "them"? Is there anything that justifies stooping to the level of terrorists ourselves? Isn't that what torture is: inflicting pain and terror on someone?

BRIAN: WHAT SEPARATES US IS WHY WE ARE DOING IT. WE ARE TRYING TO SAVE INNOCENTS. THEY ARE TRYING TO KILL INNOCENTS.

Question 3: How will you know that the information received is, in fact, reliable? Will the 3rd code for the bomb be the deactivation code? Or will it be the "explode at once" code? Will the 10th? The 20th? Or will the bomb go off anyway, because you are torturing the wrong person?

BRIAN: YOU DON'T KNOW THE INFORMATION IS RELIABLE. YOU HAVE TO ASSESS IT THE SAME AS ANY OTHER INFORMATION YOU SECURE. NO SYSTEM WILL BE PERFECT.

ALSO, SOMEONE POSED THE INTERESTING QUESTION ABOVE OF WHAT TO DO WITH A 14 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER OF A SLAIN TERRORIST WHO HAS INFORMATION THAT YOU COULD USE TO SAVE THE LIVES OF MILLIONS [I THINK IT WAS MILLIONS, BUT EVEN THOUSANDS WOULD BE THE SAME ISSUE TO ME]. TO ME, THE ANSWER IS CLEAR. YOU DO WHAT IS NECESSARY TO TRY TO SECURE THE INFORMATION FROM THE YOUNG WOMAN. HOPEFULLY, IT WOULD NOT REQUIRE TORTURE, BUT IF THE CHOICE IS BETWEEN TORTURING THE DAUGHTER OF A TERRORIST OR WATCHING MILLIONS OF PEOPLE DIE, THE CHOICE IS PRETTY EASY.

Posted by: brian on December 9, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

We know about Bush/Gonzales/Rumsfeld/Abu Graib waterboarding and torture already. At this point I don't see that it serves any good purpose to display old videotapes to the world of our shame.

The Moslems do a lot of beheadings, but once we've seen a couple of Nick Berg type of beheading videos on the internet, we get the idea. No need for a few oldies but goodies that might not have made it to the cinema to be resurrected.

Posted by: Luther on December 9, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is that your hypothetical doesn't occur in real life, hence it's a frivolous argument.

It's particularly frivolous in this case, in that the hypothetical isn't relevant to the torture of Abu Zubaydah.

Finally, you state "[Y]OU ONLY DIRECTLY ADVERSELY AFFECT ONE PERSON, IN AN EFFORT TO HELP MANY OTHERS."

That's nonsense. You establish no standards for showing how torture will be limited to the one person who has the knowledge. Your system will result in the torture of many innocent people.

Moreover, once we legitimize torture, everyone in the system is adversely affected--all citizens bear the taint of knowing that they effectively support a government which uses torture.

Our soldiers cannot complain when torture is used against them.

Our moral position shifts, long held notions of human decency are shifted, and generations of jurisprudence on limits of the state are erased.

Many people who were executed for murder were later discovered to have been innocent. The same problems will plague any attempt to pick out who should be tortured from the many possible victims. As a result, your hypothetical has no application in real life, and torture is very destructive to any society which adopts it as a tactic.

Posted by: Nick on December 9, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

At this point I don't see that it serves any good purpose to display old videotapes to the world of our shame.

Posted by: Luther on December 9, 2007 at 2:03 PM
------------------

We haven't been shamed. If we had, Bush would have been impeached and would be standing trial for crimes against humanity.

The reason the Abu Zubayad tapes were destroyed is because they would have shamed the American public into acting; the purpose for showing the tapes would have been to shame the American people into acting.

Shame isn't always bad--it acts to inform you of your limits.

Posted by: Nick on December 9, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

... my view remains the same as originally stated.

Of course it does. Your original post, and each subsequent post, has been a inane piece of theater, designed to sound like someone participating in a legitimate back & forth, while really being nothing more than a third-rate piece of hackery in which you put forth the argument -- with a straight face, I'm assuming -- that it's a good idea to torture other human beings, irrespective of their guilt, or the value of the "information" they might provide, and irrespective of the fact that it breeds a visceral hatred of America & Americans and sows the seeds of jihadism among the people where your torture policies are implemented. You dismiss this latter point as speculative, seemingly oblivious to the completely speculative nature of the original ticking time bomb scenario you present in the first place. It hasn't happened, it's not likely to happen, and yet you use the remote possibility as your rationale to torture people who are more likely to cough up bogus information than they are any actionable intelligence. That's not policy. That's psychopathology.

Folks have been more than patient with you, and for reasons that I can't begin to understand, but the simple fact is that you're incapable of carrying through the task you started for yourself. You asked for the reasons against torture, and you got more than you bargained for. You haven't been able to meet even one of them on its merits. Your entire policy can be summed up as, "Torture, because it might work. If it doesn't, let God sort it out." Your constant rebuttal to the myriad arguments you've been presented, "I still don't think so." Like that other prize winner, ex-liberal, you're a low wattage & predictable shill for the craven administration you so desperately cling to.

Posted by: junebug on December 9, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

junebug,
You're a little tough on someone for just having a different opinion than you.

I actually asked for the support for the argument that torture doesn't work. I heard it, and they all basically say either: (1) in the narrow sense of the immediate objective, it only works sometimes; and (2)in the broader sense, even though it works sometimes, we still should not do it. I understand both positions. I am not persuaded that they are sufficient for an absolute, no exception, ban on "torture."

I respect your opinion. I just disagree with it. You obviously disagree with my opinion. Whether you respect it is up to you.

Posted by: brian on December 9, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

1) Fret not that you don't understand the dispute between me and Shortstop (or junebug, for that matter) cuz they don't understand it, either.

2) Part of the difficulty you're having is with your notion of "does it work?" You're constantly confusing perfection (it ALWAYS works, it NEVER works) with reality.

This is what's called the "fallacy of the false dichotomy", as if it has to be one or the other.

Sensible people understand, as I wrote upthread, that if you torture a guy who happens to know something worth knowing, he WILL tell you that more promptly under torture than other methods -- and he will also tell you pretty much anything else thinks you want to hear.

To say that this is proof "torture works" is simply stooooopid, cuz it means the opposite. It only "works" in the sense that if you've broken your finger, chopping off your hand with an ax resolves the problem.

Torture a guy into telling you something you need to know, you're STILL at the same place you started: you've got a lot of information out of the guy, but you don't what it is reliable and what isn't. Given unlimited time, you might be able to glean what's useful from what he told you (like the claims regarding Saudi princes and a Pakistani general, as opposed to the plots against the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty), but if you've got the time to sort it all out, that negates your primary 'we've GOT to do it NOW' argument for torture in the first place.

So it's NOT that folks concede that 'torture works sometimes', it's that your Notion of what 'torture works' means is stoooopid.

Get it now?

And when you post: "IF THE CHOICE IS BETWEEN TORTURING THE DAUGHTER OF A TERRORIST OR WATCHING MILLIONS OF PEOPLE DIE, THE CHOICE IS PRETTY EASY", you basically give yourself away.

Remember, this is a PRACTICAL question, not a theoretical one. You want some sort of moral absolution for condoning evil -- and you imagine you can get it from a practical consideration: torture a kid, save millions, thousands, hundreds, dozens, okay, maybe TWO lives?

'Tain't the way it works -- and you should KNOW that, cuz folks have pointed it out to you. Ask military interrogators; it's not like they lack experience.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 9, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Once you legitimize torture for us, you legitimize it for other nations--not just against terrorist attacks, but against any percieved threat against their 'innocent' population, in war time or not.

In our present occupation of Iraq, deemed by many to have followed an illegal invasion, then certainly the use of torture against occupying forces is justified. The insurgents have (according to your argument) a legitimate interest in learning information on the occupying force and its tactics, thereby saving innocent lives of its citizens.

And mercenaries who sell themselves for hire in an illegal war? They can't be upset when they are killed, their bodies burned and then hung from a bridge. After all, if it's okay to torture the occasional innocent person, then there really is no limit to what you can do to mercenaries who fight on the side of an aggressor.

I also question the notion of innocence which we see tossed around so easily. We have all benefited from a foreign policy which has too often supported murderous despots.

Posted by: Nick on December 9, 2007 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

You're a little tough on someone for just having a different opinion than you.

No, though I might be a little tough on disingenuous concern trolls who falsely claim to be agnostic on the issue.

I actually asked for the support for the argument that torture doesn't work. I heard it, and they all basically say either: (1) in the narrow sense of the immediate objective, it only works sometimes; and (2)in the broader sense, even though it works sometimes, we still should not do it.

Again, no. This is a ridiculous simplification of it least 5-10 separate arguments that were presented you, each of which (and I include my own in this) foolishly addressed you as if you were a fully functioning adult, capable of reason. Clearly, you've got a ways to go before you graduate from this bedwetting phase. You still haven't addressed the argument that torture, specifically, your ticking timebomb scenario -- were it anything beyond a figment of your imagination, and were it to produce your desired result even one time -- causes more harm than it does good, as it simply breeds more terrorist threats than it eliminates. Your ends-justifies-the-means rationale falls flat when the lives saved by your episode of "24" are dwarfed by deaths resulting from attacks against American soldiers, citizens, & interests abroad -- attacks initiated by terrorists motivated specifically by American torture policies. Speculative? We already know that both numbers of insurgents & their attacks grew in the wake of Abu Ghraib, so your torture fantasies = their recruiting bonanza. In any event, the entire discussion hinges on your wildly speculative ticking time bomb scenario. None of this matters, though. You think it boils down to opinions, rather than rational arguments. Much easier for you, as you demonstrated yourself to be incapable of presenting anything resembling a rational argument.

Posted by: junebug on December 9, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

You're a little tough on someone for just having a different opinion than you.

Some times a position is so utterly devoid of merit that it demands rebuke from decent people.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 9, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Brian, here's the deal: a rational discussion of torture requires an evaluation of evidence, critical analysis of arguments, clarity on the terms involved, and perhaps most importantly, responding rationally to clearly stated objections. Simply saying "I disagree with you" does not constitute a rational response since it doesn't address either the factual status of the evidence presented, or the soundness of the objection.

Folks around here have tried to get you to see an inherent contradiction in believing that torture ought to be sanctioned in certain circumstances: that it is inconsistent with the rule of law based on human rights, that it in principle undermines the ostensible goal sanctioning it, that it foments a hatred in our enemies which leads to further depredations and more torture and so on....

Since your response to myriad objections to your position is simply to say "i disagree with you", you are intentionally engaging in an irrational form of argument. If you really want to be educated about this, however, educate yourself: identify some foundational political and personal beliefs which you believe ought never to be violated. Then test your torture case against them. One way or the other, you will learn something about yourself.

Posted by: scudbucket on December 9, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

THE ARTICLE SAID: ""With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each...target.""

****Really now? THOUSANDS of uniformed men raced in panic to EACH target (shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings)? And this never once made the local evening news anywhere or the national news ever? I don't buy that BS for one second, sorry pal.

Posted by: JC on December 9, 2007 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the real point: a government that is willing to torture anyone, even an alleged terrorist, is willing to torture anyone, even an American citizen.

Were "harsh interrogation techniques" used on Jose Padilla, who is an American citizen?

Were there any American citizens who have been accused of terrorism? Might some of them have been innocent?

What makes you think you're safe? That you couldn't possibly be mistaken for a terrorist? The government never makes those kind of mistakes?

No government should be trusted with the power to torture. There is no guarantee that only "bad" people will be tortured. If it's legally permissible for one, it's legally permissible for all.

Posted by: Jerry on December 10, 2007 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

Jerry,

Nice emotional argument, but is it really true that if you allow torture under very limited circumstances for terrorists, then it is "legally permissible for all." And wouldn't that same rationale apply to everything the state does? If they can arrest and put one person in jail, then they could do it to any of us? How would society ever function if that was the rationale for prohibiting state action?

As to several other guys, you castigate me for just having an opinion, then express your opinion. Interesting logic.

Posted by: brian on December 10, 2007 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

"If they can arrest and put one person in jail, then they could do it to any of us?"

Your learning curve is pretty flat.

The whole point of equal justice under law is that YES, they can put any of us in jail -- if we are convicted of a crime. This was a HUGE step forward in civics, yanno -- for thousands of years some folks could NOT be jailed no matter what crimes they committed.

We're not 'granted' rights by the government: we're born with them. Governments are established to protect those rights. Governments derive their powers from our consent -- and only their just powers, at that.

You're basically arguing that our government has (or of right, OUGHT to have) the power to do something unjust: when did "We, the People" grant government that power?

The point of torture is that people will say anything, to make it stop. You seem gleeful that this might include something both true and useful, yet you skip over the part where 'people will say anything to make it stop'. That means that torture does not, and cannot work, as a law enforcement or investigation tool.

Period. Full stop. Do not pass this point if you don't understand it. If you want to dispute it, DISPUTE IT -- and use facts, of which any you ain't got.

It is not an exclusively moral position to note that some things, governments should not do, nor be allowed to do; it's a practical one. History is full of examples of governments who were allowed (or chose to do themselves) the kinds of things you advocate: and they quickly became, if they did not start out as, the sort of government IN WHICH SOME PEOPLE COULD NOT BE ARRESTED NO MATTER WHAT CRIMES THEY COMMITTED.

Among them, torture.

Get it now, or is your learning curve still flat?

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 10, 2007 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Crisp and clear post, Kevin. Your penultimate paragraph sums up nicely.

Posted by: Trypticon on December 10, 2007 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Brian,

Yes, they can put anyone in jail. That's why there are common law and constitutional safeguards for persons who are arrested -- most notably, the requirement that a person cannot be legally held without presenting to a court evidence that the person held has committed a crime.

You talk of allowing torture "under very limited circumstances for terrorists." Who defines those limits? Who defines who is a terrorist? Are you thinking in terms of a counterintelligence agent having to obtain a court order to permit torture? What evidence would the agent have to present to the court? If he can get that evidence without torture, why does he need to torture?

Or, if the agent intends to torture to obtain evidence, how do we ensure that he's only torturing people who actually have pertinent information? If we're using torture to find out what the victim knows, then we don't already know what he knows, or indeed if he knows anything.

Most leads in an investigation are dead ends. Innocent people get caught up in the criminal justice system all the time. It's not inconceivable that there are people at Guantanamo Bay who have no connection at all to terrorism.

So if we start torturing in order to discover whether someone is a criminal or terrorist, there's every chance that we'll torture people who are neither.

What "very limited circumstances" are going to guarantee that no innocent people are tortured? What legal principle is going to ensure that no innocent civilian, American or foreign, will not be tortured?

So, yes, I argue that it is really true that allowing "torture under very limited circumstances for terrorists" puts everyone at risk of being tortured. I don't know why you call that an "emotional" argument. I'm simply pointing out the consequences of your premises.

Posted by: Jerry on December 10, 2007 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

So here's what the tapes would have shown: not just that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative, but that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative who was (a) unimportant and low-ranking, (b) mentally unstable, (c) had no useful information, and (d) eventually spewed out an endless series of worthless, fantastical "confessions" under duress.

But, in the end, did he love Big Brother?

Posted by: e. nonee moose on December 10, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Nice trifecta there. And just think: there's an entire political party in this country that still thinks this is OK.

You don't mean......noooooh, couldn't be........reallllllly.....come on you're bustin my balls right?

You mean the Pathetics......
Don't you?

Posted by: UnMask911 on December 10, 2007 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

A few times in this thread, people have stated he gave up the phone numbers as a result of torture. Please go back and re-read the article. He did not give up the cell numbers as a result of torture!!!! He was fooled into thinking he was in the hands of the Saudis. Once he believed this to be the case, he asked the Saudi authorities to contact his people. He supplied phone numbers for these people!!

Posted by: jay on December 10, 2007 at 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to bust your bubble babble folks!The reason that CIA trashed all evidence could be, a good likely possiblity now that Ron Paul could lead the Repig's party in 2008. He has the balls to expose 911 attacks as--WE DID IT ON OURSELVES and contracted the job to Israel

Posted by: jojo on December 11, 2007 at 4:16 AM | PERMALINK

Why should torture upset anyone in this country? We send young people; our neighbors, our children to prison for long spans of their life for possessing unsanctioned plant material (drugs). We imprison more of our own citizens than anyone in history, how is this not considered torture?

Posted by: tom on December 11, 2007 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Even without the moral and ethical problems of torture, there is a fact that many on the far right don't seem to grasp: information gained under duress is notoriously unreliable. But don't bother telling that to people who think "24" is a documentary..

Posted by: George Arndt on December 11, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Drum, since the tapes were destroyed, there's no real basis to believe that Zubaydah is an "al-Qaeda operative," or that he exists at all.

Posted by: Dwight on December 12, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Brian said torture was "a practice that has persisted for ages must have some usefulness"

Female genital mutilation has persisted for ages. Care to discuss its usefulness?

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