Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 15, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WHY WE TORTURE....Responding to yesterday's post about the conservative moral justification for the use of waterboarding, stress positions, etc. against detainees in American custody, one of my conservative correspondents wrote to me this morning to explain why he supports the torture of suspected terrorists. Beneath the intellectual superstructure that we often hear from torture apologists, I suspect that what he wrote pretty closely mirrors the actual underlying beliefs that we're up against when we liberals argue against the morality of torture. So without comment, here's what he sent me:

I want our side to win. Or maybe more accurately, I don't want our side to lose....As with any other form of violence, motivation is everything. A cop shooting a murderer is not the same as a murderer shooting an innocent victim, although both use guns, and at the end, someone is bleeding and dying.

You'd be amazed at how many people find these things nearly equivalent. A leftist I know sees no difference between a Palestinian child dying from a stray Israeli bullet during a firefight, and an Israeli child dying when a Palestinian terrorist puts the barrel of a gun to the kid's forehead and blows his brains across the back wall of the child's bedroom. In his two-dimensional perception, the only important factor is that both resulted in a dead child. Avoiding true moral analysis and motivations allows him to skirt the concept of "evil," a term which makes many liberals intensely uncomfortable.

John Kiriakou said that waterboarding a terrorist stopped dozens of attacks. Dozens. Not attacks on military targets, but attacks on innocent non-combatants.

That was the motivation.

The terrorists who torture and kill our prisoners (never something as benign as waterboarding) don't do it because they need information to save innocent people. They do it because they like it, because they want to hurt or kill someone.

At some point you have to decide if a known terrorist having a very bad day (after which he goes back to a hot meal and a cot) is more of a moral problem than allowing a terrorist to blow up a building full of people.

Yes, it's good if we do it, when it's for the right reasons. So far, it's been for the right reasons. And no, it isn't good when it's done to us, for the reasons it has been done to us. Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives.

Got it?

Kevin Drum 5:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (222)

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Comments

Sorry, but that's a sick mind. Too many wingers use that tortured (no pun intended) logic, and it's a real problem in today's politics.

Of course, it always has been. McCarthy used the same logic, and I'm old enough to clearly remember "Kill a commie for Christ" as a slogan.

Posted by: SteveAudio on December 15, 2007 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Got it.

And when that's all turned to hell, your friend will have no understanding of how such good motivations could have led to such horrible outcomes.

Reminds me of the Viet Nam era line, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

Posted by: mrsaturdaypants on December 15, 2007 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

You know some sick sacks of shit, Mr. Drum. Funny how he can impugn absolutely everyone else's (anyone who disagrees with him) motives, but he thinks his own good motives are somehow self evident.

Posted by: jussumbody on December 15, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

McCarthy used the same logic, and I'm old enough to clearly remember "Kill a commie for Christ" as a slogan.

One of the more disturbing trends lately in the right-wing blogosphere is to revise history and make McCarthy into a hero. They claim that the fact that there were communist spies out there makes his means justifiable.

Posted by: Walker on December 15, 2007 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

Behind the argument for torture is pretty straight up utilitarianism.
If somehow magically, you could know for ABSOLUTELY certain that torture of one person would save millions of lives, then you would do it. I know I would do it. I assume anyone that doesn't follow an infantile version of Kant would do it.
The problem is that we will never know for certain that torture saves lives, and we can never trust the information we get from torture, and torture has so many morally corrupting side effects that go along with it, that in the end, the utilitarian calculus for routinized torture just isn't worth it.

Posted by: jamie on December 15, 2007 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

"Terrorists" and the "enemy" are always evil in our eyes...but in their eyes, we are evil. They torture us to save what they, too, perceive to be innocent lives. Here the argument is that somehow or other we are GOOD and they are EVIL.

That is the difference between conservatives and liberals. Liberals ask does God really think we are the GOOD ones. Conservatives order God to make sure we are the GOOD ones regardless of what we do. Hence, conservatives believe they are Gods. I use this argument on purpose, because conservatives always babble about being religious.

For religious, or otherwise moral, people, the definition of evil is the belief that you are God and can judge others according to your desires.

Posted by: Carol on December 15, 2007 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

...the conservative moral justification for the use of waterboarding, stress positions, etc. against detainees in American custody

And here I was thinking 'vicarious enjoyment of transgressive behavior'. Because in the real world, that's what a lot of torture supporters I hear in the classroom, in the hallways, in the cafeteria, sound like.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 15, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Do they also not understand why we recognize diplomatic immunity and merely send someone with diplomatic immunity home when they break our laws instead of prosecuting?

Posted by: Captain Dan on December 15, 2007 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Your correspondent would be interested to know that in the same interview, Kiriakou says he now believes that the US shouldn't use torture, because "we are not like that."

I do not know what it will take for some people to realize the full extent of their own moral depravity.

Posted by: Tom S on December 15, 2007 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

What a petty little fucking brownshirt.

Posted by: norbizness on December 15, 2007 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Second on jamie's point

I've yet to hear a conservative engage with the fallibility of institutions.

To accept the use of torture is to accept the torture of the innocent. The wrongfully accused are legitimate subjects for torture because the captors meant well?

Posted by: uri on December 15, 2007 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

I understand his argument, and it scares me. Simply: we are good, therefore we can kill and torture. They are evil, therefore their torturing and killing are evil. Two problems: 1)"they" make exactly the same argument. 2) If we kill and torture, are we not therefore evil?

Posted by: PB on December 15, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

As Molly Ivins once observed about a speech by Pat Buchanan, the guy's rhetoric would've sounded better in the original German.

Posted by: bz on December 15, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

I want our side to win. Or maybe more accurately, I don't want our side to lose....

Your conservative commentator lost his argument right there. If he really believes that than all that comes after it is just BS rationalization for a total lack of morality.

If we are to win this so-called war we must come out of the situation with our moral compass intact. If we torture we lose...it is that simple. Once we start down that road we lose the only thing that clearly distinguishes us from the other side.

As far as waterboarding being benign, that is a load of crap. It is the most effective form of torture known. It inflicts the maximum pain possible while still leaving the victim capable of talking. And that is the whole point of torture. It is not done purely for sadistic reasons...it is done to force individuals to "talk"...to give information, or to confess. That is part of the accepted international definition and part of the US definition.

And as far as the moral equivalence arguments go, while flawed, most certainly, they are far more accurate than the rationalization offered by this commenter. It is unfortunately true that people only commit the most dastardly atrocities for the best motives. A young Palestinian suicide bomber blows up a busload of innocent Israeli civilians not because he enjoys killing himself and others, but because he has taken it upon himself to try to rid his homeland of the invaders who came and took his family's land and made them refugees. And his rationale isn't different enough from the rationale espoused by your commentator to make any difference to the innocent vicitims. And make no mistake about it, innocent people have been tortured, and killed, in our names by our government.

Posted by: majun on December 15, 2007 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

So the argument is: "We are the good guys, and anything we do is good by definition." Funny, that's the same logic used by the bad guys.

Posted by: charles on December 15, 2007 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know any liberals who would argue that an innocent child being hit by a stray bullet and an innocent child being intentionally shot in the head as equivalent. One is a tragic accident, the other a cruel act of violence.
Routinized torture makes interrogators into lazy thugs and doesn't produce effective results. It is not an effective strategy unless you view it use as a deterrent (also debatable). Maybe as punishment it is effective.
If you make torture a morally neutral act, it is still a bad idea. The cost is too high and the return is too low.

Posted by: Joe on December 15, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

When an argument like that gains credence, we've already lost.

Posted by: SW on December 15, 2007 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

You should ask your friend what role his religion plays in his beliefs on murder and torture.

To a Christian, and 83% of Republicans profess to be Christian, a cop shooting a criminal and a criminal shooting a victim are equivalent; they're both equally wrong actions.

Furthermore, the "Culture of life" Party chooses who gets to live and who doesn't. If they determine you're against them, then they have rationalized that they can kill you.

I suppose the only justice in this is that they will be judged in the afterlife by how they have treated their brothers and "the least of them."

Posted by: Dawbett on December 15, 2007 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

Torture by the U.S. has NOT stopped dozens of attacks on the U.S. or its allies. After that, the entire argument falls apart. They put together press conferences when they arrest some paintballers and manufacture some story that they want to attack the Sears Tower. Torture is not only immoral, it's ineffective.

Posted by: DH in DC on December 15, 2007 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

One question I have is whether the author recognizes any limits whatsoever to his "ends justify the means" defense of torture. Would it be OK to torture to death the 3-year old child of a terrorist in front of the terrorist if it would help us "win or at least avoid losing"? Would it be moral to launch a nuclear strike right this minute against the parts of the world that contain our enemies? I hope he would say no, but then he would have to explain the limitation.

If he would say yes, then I certainly hope he is not such a hypocrite as to call himself a Christian. In any event, I would also want to ask, among other things, why we didn't explicitly endorse these techniques during the Cold War, when it was also pretty important that we win against an adversary that had nuclear weapons targeted against our cities. Was it a mistake back then that we did not make a habit of torturing Russian agents?

Posted by: RiMac on December 15, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

And when conservatives use moral relativism to justify a position, it's moral clarity, but when their opponents use it, it's -- moral relativism.

Posted by: Immanuel Kant on December 15, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Carol is wrong: ""Terrorists" and the "enemy" are always evil in our eyes...but in their eyes, we are evil. They torture us to save what they, too, perceive to be innocent lives. Here the argument is that somehow or other we are GOOD and they are EVIL"

I don't care if they think we're evil. They're wrong. Why is it so hard to recognize this?

I don't take a back seat to anybody in trying to figure out what moves the other guys, how they think, learning how to make their arguments. But, puh-leeze, let's not put the faintest credence in how bin Laden, et al, rationalize their crimes.

They are WRONG.

Kevin's guy's example about somebody who sees no difference between a kid killed by a stray bullet and a kid killed in front of his parents on purpose, is spot-on: just LOOK at the stoooopidity displayed in every thread here.

So when Kevin figures he's clinching his argument, with the taunting how ya gonna feel "when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers to save innocent lives", he is blowing off folks whom we shouldn't dis so easily.

It's not that the American military doesn't sometimes kill innocent people -- mostly by accident these days, but once upon a time, we did firebomb cities in Germany and Japan and we created free fire zones in Vietnam.

BUT -- torturing American soldiers will NEVER, EVER "save innocent lives".

WTF is WRONG with you people?

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 15, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

Your friend also seems to overlook how boundaries and justifications shift incrementally, until what at one time might have seemed beyond the pale becomes routine and acceptable, IOW the "slippery slope."

Also, like other comments upthread, I'm struck by how similar this is to the arguments the Nazis used to justify the most heinous abuse of Resistance fighters. One presumes that your friend therefore would approve of their actions.

And lastly, I'm struck by how "relativist" this argument is. I thought all these self-styled conservatives -- especially the Christianist ones -- were against this sort of situational reasoning. Funny how that works...

A very enlightening post.

Posted by: bleh on December 15, 2007 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

I'm absolutely, positively certain Kevin's correspondent is a terrorist. No, I'm being completely serious. You don't believe me? You don't have to believe me. Ask Kevin's friend yourself. After we've tortured him sufficiently, he will also admit to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby. I absolutely guarantee it.

Posted by: Augustus on December 15, 2007 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

The Bush administration's own military tribunals expect to charge less than 10% of the "terrorists" ever held at Gitmo with any offense whatsoever. Many of the innocent 90% say they were tortured. That's where the rightwing argument begs the question.

Regards,C

Posted by: Cernig on December 15, 2007 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

If motivation is everything, why are the very same people so adamantly against bias crime laws, and extra punishment for those who kill and hurt solely because of the victim's race, color, accent, gender or perceived orientation? Why is it "murder is murder" sometimes, but not other times?

I guess expecting any coherence or consistency from rightwingers is foolish, tho.

Posted by: amberglow on December 15, 2007 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

The terrorists who torture and kill our prisoners

I haven't heard of any sudden rash of terrorists torturing and/or killing prisoners (I guess you could look back a couple of years to a couple of beheadings if you were scrambling for justification) - but does it not enter into your conservative friend's head that maybe this torture could occur because we've sent a signal that it's okay by doing it ourselves?

Conservatives never, ever seem to be able to think things through, because their ideology gets in the way. They have no idea how self-contradictory they are.

Posted by: Stranger on December 15, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

I for one, will argue that as far as the dead are concerned intent doesn't mean shit. We are far too used to dismissing "collateral damage" as some sort of accident or act of god. In reality, these deaths are the results or conscious decisions made by politicians. And the dead are just as dead. The evil is less personal, once removed, less assignable to the man who pulled the trigger, but no less real. It's ALL fucking evil. The tragedy of these times is that there is a willful effort to normalize conflict and death. That is unacceptable, perverse and dehumanizing.

Posted by: SW on December 15, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK
... "evil," a term which makes many liberals intensely uncomfortable....

It is not the term that makes this liberal intensely uncomfortable, it's the possibility of becoming evil ourselves. Any "true moral analysis", as the commentator accuses us of avoiding, must recognize and include this possibility continuously. Strident certainty in our own righteousness should serve as a warning sign, not an imprimatur of serious moral thinking.

Posted by: anxiocrat on December 15, 2007 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

Your correspondent is scum. Completely apart from his warped, morally bankrupt mind, his loathesome character is revealed by his typically sneering right-wing-pig diction: "Get back to me." ... "Got it?" I'm sure he was waving his fist in your metaphorical face as he wrote it and wearing his metaphorical black shirt.

I'm sure the armed services and CIA and companies of hired mercenaries are littered with people who would consider it a giggle to torture other people. That's, unfortunately, human nature, as well as being a proven fact demonstrated by the small percentage of the outrages that we know about from the Iraq War.

And as a good conservative, your correspondent bandies about claims as loudly-proclaimed facts. Every time a man is tortured a thousand terrorist outrages are stopped and an angel gets its wings.

Wuss that I am, I do consider it pretty equivalent if a child is killed by either an intentional or unintentional bullet to the head. I'm sure your correspondent will translate his beliefs on prosecuting the Iraq War to the War On Crime in America. Let's go easy on various homicides. They didn't INTEND that bullet to go through that child's brain. No biggie, you librul whiners.

Posted by: Anon on December 15, 2007 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me that torture is somewhat (and I emphasize somewhat) analogous to the death penalty. Although there may be those few instances where someone's actions are so heinous that actions against his being are legally justified, how many times have we learned that many an innocent person has been put to death. Same with torture. Many of the persons turned over to us were done so for sectarian reasons and not because they were involved in some insidious plot against us. How do we justify their maltreatment? We took Saddam Hussein into custody, and using an interrogator to befriend him, were able to extract significant and relevant information, without torture. People will confess to just about anything if tortured, and in a "long term struggle," we do engender support by how we treat those who otherwise are against us. There is no way to prove this, but I've often wondered if the Bush administration's aggressive stance in all things anti-terror is a result of their having dropped the ball on things before 9/11. "Fool me once..."

Posted by: orion on December 15, 2007 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Your conservative commenter has found a nice way to avoid the whole question of whether torture "works" in the sense of the evidence that it produces. He has to do this, or else the rest falls apart. That's why he outsources the responsibility for this question to Kiriakou. But why should we believe him, either? He asserts that torture has produced results that have saved coutless lives. But that's completely unverifiable. He gives no evidence, hiding behind "national security" as the reason that he can't divulge that information.

The fact is that Kiriakou is not just a former interrogator. He is a political actor making a political point. He doubtless gained TV facetime based on his willingness to make an argument that the administration itself has made. But without actual evidence to back it up, verified six ways to Sunday by independent voices, it's all meaningless. He becomes just another voice telling us to trust the government. As a conservative, he should be ashamed to be falling for this. Since when do conservatives EVER trust the government, even on national security issues?

Posted by: Chris on December 15, 2007 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter conservative argument (exemplified upthread): I'M RIGHT, AND SAYING IT WITH CAPITAL LETTERS MAKES ME LOUDER AND THEREFORE CORRECT. HOW CAN YOU [obscene adjective] [derogatory nickname]S POSSIBLY NOT UNDERSTAND THIS?!?!?!?

Posted by: bleh on December 15, 2007 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

I've yet to hear a conservative engage with the fallibility of institutions.

Which is ironic, since they are otherwise so mistrustful of the ability of government to analyze and solve problems.

Conservatives don't trust government to figure out how to efficiently provide quality health care to a whole nation of people--a problem (like national defense) of such massive scope and complexity that a non-governmental system has virtually no chance of succeeding. Yet they are perfectly willing to trust government to decide who, as an "enemy combatant," should be indefinitely detained and tortured on suspicion of terrorism. They are willing to vest government with the authority to invade the privacy of individual citizens and peaceable assemblages of citizens with no oversight whatsoever.

It is precisely this contradiction that leads anyone with a modicum of critical intelligence to suspect that they have ulterior motives--that their motivations are either mercenary or pathological. In the case of torture, I suspect it's mostly about 1) tribal solidarity with Bush, et al., 2) racial and religious prejudice, 3) sadism, 4) authoritarianism, and especially 5) fear.

Have I left anything out?

Posted by: FearItself on December 15, 2007 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

What every one of these arguments is based on is the erroneous idea that there is some finite number of terrorists: if we kill or stop x number of terrorists we win.
All the data point to heavy-handed actions like torturing people or invading sovereign countries as reinforcing the arguments that the Islamic terrorists have been using for recruitment (namely that the US is the "Great Satan" with no morality that wants to destroy the Muslim world).
If you torture one guy and actually do stop a plot (ignoring the data that suggests you are more likely to be sent on a wild goose chase), but by doing so you piss off 5 people enough that they scheme up their own ways to kill Americans, it doesn't sound like you are winning much of anything.
I want to stop things like torture so we can "win".

Posted by: flounder on December 15, 2007 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

"Yes, it's good if we do it, when it's for the right reasons. So far, it's been for the right reasons. And no, it isn't good when it's done to us, for the reasons it has been done to us. Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives".

So, during WWII it would have been completely justifiable for a Nazi interrogation team to torture a downed American pilot in the hopes that they could glean some information that would help them to save innocent German lives during subsequent bombing raids. Simple straight forward and quite clearly justifiable. You get to tell your Gramps.

Posted by: SW on December 15, 2007 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives.

for fuck's sake, you fucking fool: that's exactly what our "enemies" are thinking. they aren't killing people for fun, they're killing people because they think we're destroying their countries, corrupting their governments, slaughtering their innocents.

AQ/I sprung up after we killed a few thousand Iraqis. AQ/I is a response to our having killed a bunch of Iraqis.

AQ/9-11 was a response to what they saw our meddling in the affairs of their countries.

they're not some crazy super-evil mindless insect villains from space - they're people who think horrific violence will solve their problems.

Posted by: cleek on December 15, 2007 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

Al Qaeda killed 3000 Americans on 9/11. They were
evil. The U.S. has killed potentially over
1,000,000 innocent Iraqis who had nothing to
do with that, but we are good, so it's ok.

This guy is a perfect example of how "defining
yourself to be good" can lead to you straight
into moral depravity.

This guy is totally excusing any horrible action
we engage in, from torture to murder to what
could be called genocide, all because "we are
good."

How pathetic, and deadly.

Posted by: HowDidWeMakeItThisFar on December 15, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

I'm confused. I thought conservatives were the ones who always accused liberals of "moral relativism." Now I'm told that as long as we're doing bad things with good intentions, it's all fine.

Posted by: TR on December 15, 2007 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

'Do unto others as you wouldst have them do unto you.'
--Jesus Christ

Posted by: Quotation Man on December 15, 2007 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

"A leftist I know sees no difference between a Palestinian child dying from a stray Israeli bullet during a firefight, and an Israeli child dying when a Palestinian terrorist puts the barrel of a gun to the kid's forehead and blows his brains across the back wall of the child's bedroom."

This analogy is fraught with political bias to begin with. Can anyone site a case where a Palestinian puts a gun to the head of an Israeli child and fires in the child's bedroom??? I've never heard of such an incident. And his assertion that the Israeli bullet is 'stray' is usually NOT the case. Palestinian children often have been killed intentionally by Israeli soldiers for throwing rocks, etc. So if you want a correct analogy, try the Palestinian 'suicide bomber' who kills innocent civilians vs. the Israeli AF bombing of apartment buildings, etc. in Gaza.

Posted by: nepeta on December 15, 2007 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Right, TR. That occured to me too.

Posted by: nepeta on December 15, 2007 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist: "So when Kevin figures he's clinching his argument, with the taunting how ya gonna feel "when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers to save innocent lives", he is blowing off folks whom we shouldn't dis so easily"

I think that's a misread of Kevin's post. His correspondent says, "Yes, it's good if we do it, when it's for the right reasons....Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives."

That said, I take your point that not all cultures/points of view are equal. Some are just wrong-headed.

Still, I for my part, majun hits it when he/she posted up-thread, "If we are to win this so-called war we must come out of the situation with our moral compass intact. If we torture we lose...it is that simple. Once we start down that road we lose the only thing that clearly distinguishes us from the other side."

Posted by: AK Liberal on December 15, 2007 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

A leftist I know sees no difference between a Palestinian child dying from a stray Israeli bullet during a firefight, and an Israeli child dying when a Palestinian terrorist puts the barrel of a gun to the kid's forehead and blows his brains across the back wall of the child's bedroom.

That's a stupid analogy and just chock full of hyperbole. How often do Palestinian terrorists kill children execution style? Freaking never, that's how often. How often do Israeli soldiers engage in firefights in which they're maybe less than indiscriminate in their choice of targets?

John Kiriakou said that waterboarding a terrorist stopped dozens of attacks. Dozens. Not attacks on military targets, but attacks on innocent non-combatants.

That's what he said, sure. And a Bush administration loyalist would never lie about such matters, now would they? Their credibility is nil at this point, get back to me when they have some evidence to support these assertions.

And we haven't even begun to address the problem that torture is completely immoral.

Posted by: dob on December 15, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

Like your correspondent, I too believe that the most important thing is winning, and winning at any cost.

Yes, even at the cost of our pride, our machismo, and our honor. For doing the right thing, and bringing about justice, may involve giving up pride, machismo, and honor.

When your correspondent speaks of 'winning', what he means is keeping alive the deadly cycle of vengeance which is fed by feelings of honor and pride taken to inhuman extremes.

But that's not winning; that's making victory impossible, and putting it out of reach.

Posted by: lampwick on December 15, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

It must be nice to be a moral absolutist and see no middle ground. And to be so utterly convinced of our "goodness" ad their "evil." He must be one of those retards who really believes that they hate us "because we're free," and not because we've turned a blind eye to despotism (see our support of Osama when he was fighting the Russians, Saddam when he was fighting Iran, the Shah of said Iran and the Saudi Royal Family) and treated the middle east our like our own private fucking gas station.

I'm sure he thought Lieutenant Kelly was slaughtering people to protect our freedoms or that the Abu Gharib incident was just good people having some fun.

The reason America is loathed around the world is because of our arrogance and our insistence that we alone can determine absolute good and evil and that we insist on our right to violently exercise our self interest and refusal to be checked by any code, or treaty or sense of decency.

And why the fuck do we let them get a pass on the assertion that torturing a crazy person prevented "dozens of attacks?" Since when have those on the right told the truth about anything.

Tell your correspondent do go fuck himself, join the army and head to Iraq.

Posted by: James Brown on December 15, 2007 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Bush has found his perfect stooge.

Posted by: paulo on December 15, 2007 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

How many innocent Iraqis have we killed?

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on December 15, 2007 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK


Consider the similarity between justifications of torture, and justifications of "collateral damage" in war. Wingnuts argue that you can't protect America from terrorists unless you're willing to torture a few prisoners. But even ostensibly-sane people make a similar argument: you can't protect America without killing a few innocent people with stray bombs and such.

Morally speaking, what is the practical difference between the wingnuts and the ostensibly-sane people?

-- TP

Posted by: Tony P. on December 15, 2007 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives.

Does this idiot not understand that this is precisely what terrorists think and this is how they rationalize their own actions?

He can mock liberal thinking as two-dimensional, but at least it has dimensions. As we've found out these past seven years, "HULK SMASH" isn't exactly sophisticated foreign policy.

Posted by: Marc on December 15, 2007 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

The terrorists who torture and kill our prisoners (never something as benign as waterboarding) don't do it because they need information to save innocent people. They do it because they like it, because they want to hurt or kill someone.

And Private Lynndie England gives that statement two thumbs up!

Posted by: TR on December 15, 2007 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Avoiding true moral analysis and motivations allows him to skirt the concept of "evil," a term which makes many liberals intensely uncomfortable.

Yes, because we're not three years old.

You may believe the infantile bullshit spewed out by Bush and his allies to justify their actions, but the grown ups in the world do not.

Posted by: Frank on December 15, 2007 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

nepeta: "This analogy is fraught with political bias to begin with. Can anyone site a case where a Palestinian puts a gun to the head of an Israeli child and fires in the child's bedroom??? I've never heard of such an incident."

I'm sorry to say that I have heard of a similar incident. I'm not sure that it's ever been a common tactic, but I've heard of it. However, I'm not sure it's too far removed from bombing a busload of commuters or a crowded restaurant. That's been done plenty of times.

Posted by: AK Liberal on December 15, 2007 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

What I have always found particularly upsetting is that the torture supporters, the habeas corpus deniers, know they are dealing with someone who is a SUSPECT. It isn't even that they have certain knowledge this is a terrorist, much less that he has useful information. It is enough that the person has been accused.

Posted by: bob on December 15, 2007 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

Total illogic that presumes a high degree of effectiveness of torture at getting actionable and accurate intelligence. If you buy into a false premise you can prove anything to be true or moral.

Of course morality depends in part on motivation. The problem with that line of argument in this case is that our motivation in torturing supposed terror suspects is simply and clearly the sadistic pleasure derived from causing pain and extracting false confessions because we know with absolute certainty that the kinds of torture being used in the so-called war on terror and the conditions under which torture is occurring are good for only those things. The motivation for the U.S. to torture is as bad as they come.

Arguing about how motivation affects the morality of torture is like arguing about how motivation affects the morality of Nazi-style death camps; except under contrived circumstances that never happen, the motivation of anyone supporting such acts is plainly bad because there is no chance of a sufficiently good result from those acts to justify any good motivation.

Torture apologists who make arguments in the style of your conservative correspondent are avoiding the question of motivation, not addressing it. They know they lose on the question of morality, so they try to reframe the question as one of motivation, but they never actually discuss what motivations for torture might be because they know they lose that question as well.

Posted by: R Johnston on December 15, 2007 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

Just as a beginning, and leaving out the amazing load of muddled thinking that the rest of this consists of, I would ask What 'dozens' does he refer to?

"John Kiriakou said that waterboarding a terrorist stopped dozens of attacks. Dozens."

Are these schemes on the order of the joke terrorists trials we have been witnessing lately, or is that 'Classified' also?

Posted by: jay boilswater on December 15, 2007 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

So: kill all you want or more
Make sure, do it right
Dead is dead, and doornails forget
And then you'll notice
How the waster and the wasted
Get to look like one another
In the end, in the end
In the end, in the end
In the end, in the end

-John Cale

Posted by: dr sardonicus on December 15, 2007 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

As with any other form of violence, motivation is everything. A cop shooting a murderer is not the same as a murderer shooting an innocent victim, although both use guns, and at the end, someone is bleeding and dying.

You'd be amazed at how many people find these things nearly equivalent.

Yes, I'd certainly be amazed, because I've never in my life heard anyone say such a thing.

What's life like in the Land of Strawmen?

Posted by: TR on December 15, 2007 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

He says that liberals have a problem with the word evil. I don't. I've been calling Cheney evil for 4 or 5 years now. And I mean evil in the literal sense. I am not using the term lightly. I'm not talking about run-of-the-mill disagreement with his policies. Dick Cheney is a force of evil in the world, and if saying that makes non-liberals shake their head and say, "Look at that crazy liberal, calling the VP evil," that's too bad. He is.

Posted by: blah2 on December 15, 2007 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, it's good if we do it, when it's for the right reasons. So far, it's been for the right reasons.

Kevin,

Talk to this person about the case of Dilawar, the Afghan taxi driver who died in our custody at Bagram.

Basically, he was hung by his wrists from the ceiling of his cell, and kicked and beaten over five days.

By the time he died, the interrogators had figured out that Dilawar was who he said he was: an innocent. A taxi driver. Got kicked to death for driving a cab.

Ask your correspondent for me: what were those "right reasons" that this young man was brutalized, tortured, and killed?

Posted by: Wapiti on December 15, 2007 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

Ask your correspondent for me: what were those "right reasons" that this young man was brutalized, tortured, and killed?

Simple. The "right reason" here was so that Johnny Pisspants and all the other terrified conservatives can sleep well at night.

Posted by: Marc on December 15, 2007 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

Avoiding true moral analysis and motivations allows him to skirt the concept of "evil," a term which makes many liberals intensely uncomfortable.

Yep, evil makes me uncomfortable alright. And your buddy is pretty much the epitome of evil.

In fact, some of the most evil fuckers I know profess to be good pious Christians and patriots.

As for the the two dead kids, dead is dead and motivation doesn't mean shit.

That your buddy and the Americanist can't see that is why they are evil.

I really do think Authoritarianism is a mental disease and we won't get anywhere until we acknowledge that.

I don't want to round these sick fuckers up and send em to a concentration camp. I want to round em up and send em to the loony bin.

Posted by: SnarkyShark on December 15, 2007 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

John Kiriakou said that waterboarding a terrorist stopped dozens of attacks. Dozens. Not attacks on military targets, but attacks on innocent non-combatants.

In a way, this really epitomizes the sham of the conservative argument.

There is absolutely NO evidence that any of this actually went on. We have heard about any number of potential terrorist attacks on US citizens, from Jose Padilla on down. Not one has stood up to the slightest scrutiny as credible cases in which torture has saved a single life.

Where are the cases Kiriakou describes? Why haven't we heard about them, even in the broadest possible strokes that might lend a particle of credibility to them? Why has the dog so steadfastly refused to bark?

If we had an absolute clear cut case of a "ticking bomb" scenario, then, in that case, I think conservatives might have an argument for those narrow cases.

Instead they use mere assertion alleging the value of torture as being sufficient evidence in favor of its use. Real evidence is absolutely unnecessary.

This can mean only one thing: the "ticking bomb" scenario means really nothing to them in their justification of torture. Unlike civilized people, they have no real, very high bar that must be passed before they will consider torture. They want to torture people because it otherwise makes them feel good about how they're treating alleged "bad guys", or because it supports larger fascist inclinations they harbor. And it is no more complicated than that.

Posted by: frankly0 on December 15, 2007 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

"'Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives.'

for fuck's sake, you fucking fool: that's exactly what our "enemies" are thinking. they aren't killing people for fun, they're killing people because they think we're destroying their countries, corrupting their governments, slaughtering their innocents."

Cleek,

His point is that *they* are not innocent and never can be. In the conservative's world the conservatives are the only innocents. He says, "I don't care if they think we're evil. They're wrong. Why is it so hard to recognize this?"

We invaded the Iraq in a war of aggression against international law, and based on rationales that were lies, and we subsequently bombed them back to the stone age, killing hundreds of thousands, torturing anyone for anything, and then fucked up the occupation to avenge terrorism committed by Saudis. So *they* think we're evil, but somehow *they* are wrong about that, but that's because *they* don't have the Americanist and Kevin's buddy (if they are not one and the same) to point out that *we* (with the exception of liberals) are pure and good, at least by definition if not by deeds.

Posted by: jussumbody on December 15, 2007 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

Avoiding true moral analysis and motivations allows him to skirt the concept of "evil," a term which makes many liberals intensely uncomfortable.

God that whole post reeks of moral superiority, or more precisely of the desperate need to feel morally superior.

Posted by: Del Capslock on December 15, 2007 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

It seems might makes right.

The School of the Americas has graduated many in the fine art of torture. All of that knowledge is pretty handy when you're the right wing dictator and the soccer field is full of "leftist" agitators who can be disappeared. One of them is bound to be a real 'commie.

We should be proud.

Posted by: bobbywally on December 15, 2007 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

The "right reason" here was so that Johnny Pisspants and all the other terrified conservatives can sleep well at night.

Agreed. I'm stunned at how many of the he-man war lovers out there sincerely seem to believe that a few thousand insurgents with no state behind them, no army, no nothing, is somehow going to bring this country to its knees.

America beat back the Third Reich and the Japanese Empire at the same time. America faced down the Soviet Union over a 45-year Cold War contest. And yet you self-professed patriots think that this great country is going to be brought down by a scattered bunch of idiots hiding in caves? That's some incredible faith you have in your country. Sweet Jesus.

The only way this country will crumble is if cowardly idiots like yourself rob us of our moral high ground and weaken our society from within.

Sack up, Priscilla. We're America, and we're going to stay true to ourselves and stand tall.

If you value safety more than our values and our liberty, go join up with some Third World dictator. He'll keep your sniveling ass safe, and all you'll have to give up in return is your dignity and your freedom. Sounds like you don't have much of the former to begin with, and don't care much about the latter when push comes to shove.

America. Love it or leave it.

Posted by: TR on December 15, 2007 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

The terrorists who torture and kill our prisoners (never something as benign as waterboarding) don't do it because they need information to save innocent people. They do it because they like it, because they want to hurt or kill someone.

This guy can't be serious. When spoken by Iraqis, Syrians, Afghanis, (and apparently Canadians and Brits), etc., the statement is just as believable - just as descriptively accurate of the what the US is currently doing to others - and frought with exactly the same nationalism and narrow-vision as this supposed big thinker exudes. His entire argument to justify what the entire world views as immoral (and illegal) is that 'he wants our side to win'. Win what?

Furthermore, every government which has publicly sanctioned torture does it on the explicit premise that it does so to protect its citizenry from evildoers. History makes a great case for this otherwise obvious platitude. That some folks actually believe the rhetoric of their supposed leaders shows either an intentional ignorance or something more malevolent.

Posted by: scudbucket on December 15, 2007 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

In reality the only thing that can make one person evil and another good are their actions in the hear and now. Ones end goal being good or evil is irrelevant if the actions taken to reach that goal are evil. So by committing evil acts such as torture we by definition become evil. It doesn't matter if the goal was to save lives or protect people, if you take immoral actions, you have crossed the line into evil.

The conservative commentators logic reminds me of the same logic used to condone the ultimate form of torture that we practice in the country, the death penalty. In the minds of these people the ends will always justify the means. We've even heard some of the most right wing extremists suggest nuking the middle east to a cinder. No doubt after a full scale nuclear bombardment we would have "won" and "they" would have "lost", so why stop at torture, let's just kill them all. Sickening logic...

Posted by: Adventuregeek on December 15, 2007 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

Conservatives are such moral relativists.

Posted by: Frank on December 15, 2007 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

In any war, both sides are convinced they are right, have God on their side, and that the other side is evil. That is why there are rules (such as the Geneva conventions) that EVERYONE has to follow.
Only an idiot would be unable to understand that. But, we know we're dealing with an idiot, because his argument basically boils down to: We're right because we say we are. If someone told him his logic is a tautology, he'd probably think it was a compliment.

Posted by: SC on December 15, 2007 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives
You mean like when someone tried to find out which village was going to be napalmed next?

Posted by: John McCain on December 15, 2007 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

"John Kiriakou said that waterboarding a terrorist stopped dozens of attacks. Dozens. Not attacks on military targets, but attacks on innocent non-combatants."

Properly tortured, Kiriakou would say the exact opposite.

Posted by: Urban Sombrero on December 15, 2007 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

most have said it above in one way or the other, and I concur: the argument is absurd in that it justifies torture solely on the basic of the assertion that we are good and the tortured ones are evil. There is nothing in this reasoning that will not justify wholesale slaughter of innocents anywhere in the world just on the say-so of our security apparatus.

Posted by: gregor on December 15, 2007 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

Bullshit. So, the torturers are supposed to decide the right reasons, as well as the right times, causes, suspects?

And, as McCain once said, this is about us. If we're torturing, we're not the same "we" that the torturers want to be winning.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 15, 2007 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

McCain's plain was shot down on one of he's flying trips over Hanoi. Dropping bombs? Dropping Agent Orange? A few million innocent vietnamese were killed. How many by McCain? Who knows. According to the guy above, McCain should have been tortured. Yet, he was badly beaten, never tortured the way this guy wants. This guy and the likes of him is why America's image in the world is that of a degenerate bully.

Posted by: Palo on December 15, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Ugh!

Philosophy needs to be required of all high school students. The "ends justify the means" argument is at the heart of much philosophical thought, and it's routinely soundly rejected.

Posted by: Colin on December 15, 2007 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

Let's assume that what this guy says is actually what he believes.

(a) We don't let policemen randomly shoot whenever they feel like it. We have intensive oversight of what policemen do, and everything that they do is SUPPOSED to happen in public view so that it can be controlled. Where is this same oversight regarding torture? We know insane things happen --- Abu Ghraib. We know innocent people have gotten caught up in this trawling.
I would have thought that people who claim to be conservative, who claim to be so worried about government powers, would be the first to insist that everything, EVERYTHING, related to torture be part of the public record so that we can see when, for example, "a few bad apples" (the supposed story at Abu Ghraib) start getting their kicks from torture, society can step in and stop this. Yet at every stage of this process, the US government, supported by the political apparatus of the GOP and people like our conservative here, has resisted this sort of oversight (and has refused to apologize or pay compensation to innocent victims caught up in the process).

(b) Since when was saving lives the sole benchmark for morality? If saving lives is so important, how about we institute a national speed limit of 55mph --- that will save a damn sight more lives than torturing terrorists will.
In other words, this is NOT about saving lives, and to pretend otherwise is intellectually dishonest.
Remember, it is conservatives who have, all the time, insisted on numerical analyses of, eg, environmental or health legislation, and have complained when such legislation, in their opinion, costs too much for the good done. (For the most recent example of this, read any conservative screed on the subject of global warming or CAFE standards.) It seems only fair to apply these same conservative rules of the game to this particular topic.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on December 15, 2007 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure that your correspondent really believes that what he wrote is sufficient justification to torture someone who was designated a terrorist. He would be a lot less certain if he also had to prove the guy really was a terrorist and make that decision first, then be held responsible if he were wrong. He won't have to do that, because that decision would be given to some leader who lacked the facts and never had to look the torture victim in the eyes.

The torture itself would also be farmed out to some other individual to conduct. The individuals who conduct the torture soon find that no one wants anything to do with them. It is a job like being a hangman that warps you and ruins you for almost any other job, especially when you begin to like doing the torture for its own sake.

But why does your correspondent himself approve torture? He is frightened by the strange angry men who want to kill him for no reason that he can discern, and he just wants to hurt them.

It's not about the information the victims might have and that is used to justify the torture. If it were, then the fact that studies show that torture doesn't work - it doesn't get actionable Intelligence and causes a lot more problems than it ever solves - would prevent its use.

In his fear, your correspondent will simply refuse to accept those study results. They're too rational and he's scared. fear trumps logic.

Torture is about punishing your correspondent's frightening enemies. He knows they are his enemies because he has been told they are his enemies by some authority figure he accepts - an authority figure who doesn't act weak. Your correspondent is reacting to his own fear with anger, and he is demanding that someone else punish his enemies - really hurt them.

That's the source of that piece of self-justification that was emailed to you.

Posted by: Rick B on December 15, 2007 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

What Charles (5:43) said, yes.

Joe (5:45) - I don't know any liberals who would argue that an innocent child being hit by a stray bullet and an innocent child being intentionally shot in the head as equivalent. One is a tragic accident, the other a cruel act of violence.

Excuse me, but this is mostly bullshit. There are those (Israeli and Palestinian) who have intentionally shot children, but what this crap about "... hit by a stray bullet?" The IDF was grouse hunting maybe, and they got "dusted"? The IDF bombed apartment houses and cars and scattered bomblets through farmer's fields. The children killed by those weapons were no more victims of "stray bullets" than the Israeli children on buses blown up by suicide bombers. The main difference is that with superior weapons the Israelis killed a lot more of them.

All war is murder, and the victims aren't victims of "stray bullets," they are victims of murder. Israel has an excuse, it's fighting for its survival. The Palestinians have exactly the same excuse.

The US in Iraq has no such excuse. We attacked a country which was neither a threat to us or an agressor against us. And we have killed a lot more than Israel and the Palestinians combined.

Posted by: capitalistimperialistpig on December 15, 2007 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

That pro-torture argument will be persuasive to a hell of a lot of people, unless it's pointed out that torture is almost always STRATEGICALLY counterproductive, and that it's disastrous to allow one man by himself to decide those extremely rare occasions on which it might be justifiable. Do NOT underestimate the political power of this argument.

Let me add, however, that I'd dearly love to know more about those "dozens of attacks" that waterboarding Zubaydah supposedly stopped. Maybe the Administration would be willing to tell the appropriate Congressional committees about them in classifed session? (I am, of course, joking...)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on December 15, 2007 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK

There are so many flaws with that 'reasoning' that it's hard to know where to start. Many have already been pointed to. I do think Kevin's correspondent may want to talk to John McCain before he again writes:
Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives.

His second to last paragraph contains a ridiculously false choice. If we have a known terrorist in custody, which we must if we are torturing him, then he is in custody, i.e., NOT being allowed to blow up a building.

The hidden false assertion is that torturing the one we have will prevent the activities of one we don't have - which is unproven despite Kiriakou's assertions, and against which we have plentiful evidence, since many absurd and unreliable things have been said under torture.

We also don't allow policemen to take murderers (or suspected murderers) to secret locations and shoot them in secret to prevent other criminals from shooting their innocent victims.) Nor would we accept without proof the claims about how dozens of murders had been prevented using that method.

Posted by: biggerbox on December 15, 2007 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

But Mr. Kiriakou is lying when he says that abusing suspects has stopped dozens of attacks. If that had been the case, the Bush administration would be trumpeting the details of each instance to the skies.

Observe how the Bush Administration played up Jose Padilla and those 7 seven dweebs from Miami whose trials just ended in mistrials. Those are weak, weak, cases where the supposed perps never got close to pulling anything off or even demonstrating the competence to do so, yet the Bush administration has tried to play them up as much as possible.

Do you think that if the Bush administration had foiled dozens of real plots, they wouldn't be crowing about it and leaking the details like a sieve?

Posted by: fidelio on December 15, 2007 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Your correspondent is a sadist. This is why he lies: because lying is a cheap and deadly form of violence. All of this is only to say that he is human, which in turn means that his environment cannot be blamed for producing him: but it can and must be blamed for tolerating him.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on December 15, 2007 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

To theAmericanist 5:55 PM,

I don't care if they think we're evil. They're wrong. Why is it so hard to recognize this?
It is hard to recognize because:
1. Torture is evil.
2. Waterboarding is torture.
3. Our American government leaders are using waterboarding or they are sending prisoners to third party nations who will practice torture for them.

Conclusion: America' leaders are Evil.

4. We Americans have chosen our (Evil) leaders and we know what they are claiming to do (and we have reports that strongly indicate that they are doing it.)
5. We Americans have not removed our known-to-be evil leaders.

Further conclusion:

America as a whole is Evil.

6. America's evil leaders invaded a nation which was no threat to America. Greenspan acknowledges what we all knew - it was to some extent to control the supply and flow of oil from the Middle East.

7. There were other reasons for invading Iraq, mostly not expressed, but none that indicated that Iraq was a threat to America.

See point #5 above.

This supports the Further conclusion that:

America is Evil.

Simple enough for you?

The rest of the world recognizes the evil of Reagan's use of terrorists in Nicaragua to overthrow the legitimate government there, Reagan's invasion of Granada as a PR ruse to avoid the damage to his Presidency caused by the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, or America's support of the dictator Pinochet or of the totalitarian Shah of Iran. America's support of Saddam in the war against Iran (which Saddam initiated)are other reasons for the rest of the world to question the strange idea that America is somehow inherently Good.

Most of the world recognizes the logic. Why don't you? Are you another conservative blinded by his fear and by American Exceptionalism so that you repeatedly ignore the facts?

Of course you are. You're an American Conservative. You know (without looking at the facts) that America is GOOD, so anything that America does MUST be good. Everything America does is good and moral by definition since it is America. All you have to do is find the right spin.

Your response to what I have written above, of course, will be the normal righteous indignation of the aggrieved conservative wrapping himself in the flag. You won't even question why the rest of the world doesn't buy your crap. You won't question it because you are not capable of questioning it.

Posted by: Rick B on December 15, 2007 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

Is the son, daughter, wife, brother, mother, neighbor, etc. of a "freedom fighter" innocent? Is blowing up a multi-family home causing the death of one or several non-combatants to kill "terrorists" alway justified? My guess is your answer to the first question is no while the answer to the second is yes.
Your world, as you present it, is really not very complicated. Unfortunately, I think the reality of war is a lot more messy than you would have us believe. If it wasn't, George W Bush would have been correct and we would have been out of Iraq in three months.

Posted by: bz on December 15, 2007 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

"I want our side to win. Or maybe more accurately, I don't want our side to lose...."

What? He thinks this is an effing game?!!!!!!

It's not a game! And, as far as I can tell almost all of the so-called terrorists who have been tortured have not been terrorists. How do you justify torturing innocent people?!

Posted by: Mazurka on December 15, 2007 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

Conservatives in a nutshell: Moral relativism is bad, except when we practice it.

Posted by: C.L. on December 15, 2007 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK

The twisted thing about this justification is... well just about everything actually.

How often have we had to put up with Conservatives sorrowfully shaking their heads over fuzzy thinking liberals who meant well but still were led into disaster by those good intentions? Pot, meet kettle.

Odd, you'd think a party that's been sucking up to the Fundamentalists for so long would remember what the road to Hell is paved with.

I think Terry Pratchett summed it up pretty well via Sam Vimes. (paraphrasing) If you do a bad thing for a good reason, pretty soon you'll find yourself doing it for a bad reason - or no reason at all.

Posted by: xaxnar on December 15, 2007 at 9:26 PM | PERMALINK

Cleek>...for fuck's sake, you fucking fool: that's exactly what our "enemies" are thinking. they aren't killing people for fun, they're killing people because...

Actually, I'd bet half the combatants on either side *are* killing and torturing "for fun".

Estimates of the number of psychopaths in any population is 1-4% of males. In peace, they hurt people within the law. In war? When there's a cover of fear of terrorists? It's like christmas for such people; free license, just tack on a political excuse.

I have no doubt that at least half the insurgents, kidnappers, nutty fundis shooting women, and probably 3/4 of the self-selected "Blackwater" contractors, would test sky-high on a Hare psychopathy profile.

And hearing about this on the news, the sadist streak in closer-to-normal citizens gets a thrill, too. Lots of people *like* a good war, a clean cause to hate for.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on December 15, 2007 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

Actually recalls that exchange in "Yes, Minster":
Hacker: You believe that the ends justify the means?
Appleby: Yes!
Hacker: Then you will go to Hell.

Anyway, I doubt the author of your comment in in any way of doing any harm to anyone. With intellectual powers and argumentative skills like that, the only violence he could do is to the ticket stubs in the parking shelter he mans.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on December 15, 2007 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with all of the posters here who aggressively use logic to point out the fallacies in the argument. But why do we have to resort to juvenile name-calling and ridiculous over-exaggerations of everyone who would disagree with us? Because they would do the same to us? Why can't we in a public forum just be right? There is a place to wage battle against the conservative mind, but I feel no satisfaction in the assault on a person who responded to Kevin with more brains than the standard troll we normally read on these pages.

Posted by: yocoolz on December 15, 2007 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

"Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives."

Oh, brother. So this character has just made the case that Iraqis and Afghans are perfectly justified to capture and torture American soldiers (or contractors) because, as it happens, we kill plenty of innocent civilians in both countries.

Now I suppose that the justification of the justification would be that when we kill innocents, we say "oops!" or "sorry!" or "you have to expect some collateral damage" or - if we work for a company like Blackwater, we just flip off anyone who dares question us.

There's clearly no way to talk to nutcases like this, but it's just sad to see America, a former beacon of freedom and decency and respect for human rights, competing with thugs and murderers to see who can reach the bottom first.

Posted by: Jim on December 15, 2007 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

Correspondent needs to consider the questions:

1) how many people did we torture that produced no useful information?

2) how much time/money was wasted running down leads from bogus information obtained under torture?

3) is there no other (more moral) way to get the same information? There's published (New Yorker, hence fact-checked) cases of old-fashioned, legal, moral interrogation working, even on Al Qaeda; why are we so convinced that it will not work in this case?

4) what incentive does the torturee have not to lie? Since we cannot get the information any other way (else, why are we torturing?) verification could be difficult. A hardened AQ guy, might know the names of some moderate mosques he could finger, so as to create more ill-will when our jack-booted thugs mistakenly kick in the door. (If I were an evil international super-villain, that's what I would do.)

5) Long-run, how much do we lose by being known as torturers? Those Abu Ghraib pictures make some great terrorist recruiting posters. And before you say "but you're not supposed to do that", let me remind you that you torture with the army that you've got, not the army that you wish you had. People make mistakes, fail to follow protocols, "accidentally" kill someone they merely intend to interrogate in an enhanced fashion, take stupid pictures, etc.

Or to sum up -- ignoring the immorality of it, torture doesn't help us win. It's a ready-fire-aim reaction, and the moral gravity of it doesn't mean that it is effective.

I also object mightily to the assertion that "liberals" believe truly accidental death is no different from intentional, cruel death. That is a misdirection, intended to absolve us from all the "accidental" deaths we caused in Iraq. Those deaths are not accidental. When you destroy a country and its infrastructure, people die. Gangs take over, medical care becomes unavailable, public health goes down the toilet. Those deaths are not accidental, because any damn fool (except perhaps the one we mistakenly elected as our president) knows that this is what happens when you start a war. Credible estimates suggest that the Iraqi people were better off under Saddam Hussein, in terms of being senselessly killed at a lower rate.

And, further, there is the opportunity cost of the money spent on that war. That's money not spent on education, public health, sanitation, clean water, infrastructure, clearing mine fields, etc. There's many thousands of people who died because we didn't choose to spend that money saving their lives.

Stupid, stupid, conservatives. When you sell your souls, you're at least supposed to get something fun for it.

Posted by: dr2chase on December 15, 2007 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

Um... if we've already got the terrorist in custody, how does torturing him stop anything from blowing up?

Posted by: scarshapedstar on December 15, 2007 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

First of all, if I understand your friend correctly, he wants our side to win because we’re the good guys, right is on our side. A black and white mentality is pervasive in his rationale for torture, not to speak of an ignorance of U.S. foreign policy and the suffering our government has inflicted on other countries and its people for decades. To hold to the belief about our goodness and the evil of the other can be seductive, it allows us to feel righteous, and is a defense against seeing ourselves as we are, a nation that has abandoned the moral high ground, and embraced the basest in human nature.

He says torture is okay, even good because it saves lives. The “saving lives” is a fallacy because people who actually have worked in the intelligence business, a number within the CIA and one in particular involved in interrogations in three wars, have declared torture to be largely ineffective at obtaining accurate information.

I realize I am assuming your friend has no first hand experience with actual waterboarding because he’s accepted the notion being advanced now in the media that minimizes waterboarding no doubt at the administration’s behest. Your friend is a good example of a successful propaganda campaign to decouple waterboarding and torture. Apparently he is unaware that our government prosecuted a Japanese for waterboarding an American soldier in World Water II. No government that I am aware of prosecutes for engaging in “benign” interrogation.

I do agree that terrorists do want to hurt and kill large numbers of people, but to say they like it? How does he know? And what about Lindy England and the night crew at Abu Gharaib? We’ve got them on film smiling before the cameras. They were Americans, but that doesn’t quite fit into his scapegoat ridden mentality does it?

In his Palestinian terrorist example, he raises the issue of evil and implies that torture is justified because we are confronting an evil adversary. Yes, this is the old ploy of demonizing an enemy and then anything you do to them is justified “because they’re evil.”

There is a tragic blindness fueling his support for torture beyond the black the white thinking, and that is an unawareness of what the act of torturing does to a human being. But if the moral argument doesn’t penetrate, those who know say torture doesn’t work.

Posted by: Helena on December 15, 2007 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

You know, I just had a great idea.

The overwhelming success of torture in fighting terrorism should spur its spread to other arenas... like everyday law enforcement.

I think drug dealers could be tortured to give up their suppliers. Surely that would win us the drug war almost overnight.

And we should definitely torture murderers. Oh, I guess that's "murder suspects." But if they hadn't done anything, they wouldn't be suspect, now, would they.

(Go back and add "suspected drug dealers to the past paragraph if you're really that soft on drugs.)

What else? Pedophiles, for sure. Rapists, check. Might as well throw wife-beaters in there. I never liked them. And drunk drivers. Not sure what kind of information those two could give up, but what the hell. Suspected, blah, blah, blah. What's the matter, you're going to go all blubbery over drunk drivers and wife beaters?

Posted by: Eric on December 15, 2007 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,
Two thought exercises for your correspondent.
One. It's the Civil War. I'm a Damnyank with Sherman. You're a plantation owner whose property I'm commandeering. Your children are shrieking abuse at me and maybe throwing rocks. I think I see a gun and shoot. I kill one of your children. Am I a cold-blooded murderer? Or do you shrug it off as one of those things that happen in wartime?
Two. I'm Dick Cheney. I bring you a suspicious person and tell you he's a terrorist and you have to torture him to get whatever information he has out of him. Not some soldier or operative somewhere, you.
You go to town on him. You waterboard him, tase him, put him in stress positions but can't get anything worthwhile out of him.
I (Dick Cheney) come back and say, "Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he was just a cab driver like he said. Tell you what. To even things out, he gets to do the same thing to one of your children."
Deal?

Posted by: dSmith on December 15, 2007 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

Your correspondent exhibits two characteristics common to addicts:
1) The sentimental and vulgar delight he takes in pornographically detailed descriptions of violence committed against people he arbitrarily assigns to be on "our side". 2)Rage against imagined enemies. The total destruction and degradation of the "enemy" must take priority over everything.
The screed is not so much an argument to be countered as it is the desparate behavior of a disturbed person.

Posted by: Chris K. on December 15, 2007 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

he terrorists who torture and kill our prisoners (never something as benign as waterboarding [my emphasis]

Anyone who would make the statement that waterboarding is "benign" is an idiot and not worth responding to.

If someone really wants to understand why torture takes place, they should read the first chapter of Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain.

Posted by: Randy Paul on December 15, 2007 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

just LOOK at the stoooopidity displayed in every thread here.

You do seem to post here a lot.

As for the dozens of attacks averted - I call bullshit. The Bush people would be the first to declassify and trumpet any such thwarted attacks.

Posted by: ckelly on December 15, 2007 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

"A leftist I know sees no difference between a Palestinian child dying from a stray Israeli bullet during a firefight, and an Israeli child dying when a Palestinian terrorist puts the barrel of a gun to the kid's forehead and blows his brains across the back wall of the child's bedroom."

Why are these actions fundamentally different? After all the effects are the same. There is of course the famous "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" which does suggest that they may not be so different.

That unexamined premise, that there is an effective difference between the events, making one event good and the other bad, really has to be carefully examined.

What can we possibly gain by trying to develop a calculus of morality of events based on intentions of actors? For example suppose a single stray bomb aimed at terrorrist accidently killed twenty innocent people? Is that better or worse that than the Palestinian terrorist who intentionally killed a single child? Is the criterion of moral evaluation of the event the intention of the agent?

Our moral calculus can't be based on self-perecption of the worth of our intentions, the "right reasons" of your interlocutor. That path is mired with self-deception.

Posted by: CSTAR on December 15, 2007 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

If torture is so damned effective, then why do it just to accused terrorists? Why hasn't there been a drive to bring enhanced interrogation techniques to our local police agencies? Why doesn't the Congress use waterboarding when they question Alberto Gonzales? What's our problem? Are we too squeamish to see Mukasey answer the damn question of whether or not it's torture when it's really put to him?

The answer: we'll only do this to Muslims. We didn't do it to all the people who must have hid that terrorist asshole who bombed abortion clinics and an Atlanta park. No, sir. That required police work and a plea deal. Good old white Christian terrorists aren't worth stopping if we have to use those methods.

Our torture policy is a big fuck you to Muslims, but I'm sure they'll forgive us if we spend enough money promoting our good side. Mr. Dow 36,000 will be money well invested, I'm sure.

Posted by: jon on December 15, 2007 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

One response I heard elsewhere and would like to paraphrase because I think it will help when this issue comes up:
hypothetical question: your kid has been kidnapped, we have one of the kidnappers, would you torture to get him to tell you the location?
a: As a parent I would do anything. I wouldn't expect an automatic pass for my actions, I'd throw myself on the mercey of the court.
q: What if you only had the word of a single cop that this man was involved?
q: What if the only info was his ex-wife said he did it?
I think that last question is very relevant, as the quality of information we on working with is often no better.

Now on to the difficult issue of collateral damage. This is somewhat distinct from deliberate killing. It is more of a case of taking an action which has some probability of destroying innocent lives. The issue of what good is expected to arise from said action is relevant. The question of how great the probability of collateral death is also relevant. Would you exceed the speed limit driving your severely sick kid to the ER? By doing so you are subjecting innocent lives to a greater degree of risk then necessary. By not doing so you increase the risk to your own kin. These sorts of issues do arise every day. That doesn't make them any easier. Absolute principles rarely are a good guide.

Posted by: bigTom on December 15, 2007 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

Handgun owners kill 25,000 Americans every year.

Shouldn't we be torturing handgun owners in order to protect Americans?

Posted by: Schaeffer on December 15, 2007 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

Trouble is, if "mens rea" applies in heaven, and Jesus IS reported to have said, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do," then this guy gets a free pass through the Pearly Gates.

Posted by: MikeJ on December 15, 2007 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

Edit: Not that I'd change the "mens rea" doctrine, or wish this guy any trouble. Truly.

Posted by: MikeJ on December 15, 2007 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

Perfect encapsulation; liberals equate things that actually happen with the stuff conservative's dream up in their paranoid fantasies. Or, maybe it's that they merely imagine that liberals *would* equate real world stuff with their fantasies if they those fever dreams ever came to pass.

Fuck those god-damned liberals for bowing in the way they imagine to the heinous crimes they imagine.

Ok, as a liberal I want to say to the "conservative" correspondent; sorry, bub, about our imaginary failings... you know with all the pretend barrel-of-a-gun-against-a-kid's-skull crimes that disturb your thoughts. I'm so weak in your imagined world.

Posted by: dennisS on December 15, 2007 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

I support waterboarding of conservatives. I don't think it will elicit any useful information, I just think they are bad people and I don't like them.

Oh wait - I think that makes me a conservative - never mind.

Posted by: Dick on December 15, 2007 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

Based on the mixture of bad logic, false factual assertions, humorously swaggering jargon, and total lack of any kind of real human empathy or understanding found in the missive, my guess goes to tbrosz for being Kevin's "conservative correspondent."

Most self-described "conservatives" these days share these traits, of course, but this one feels like Tom's particular mix of pathologies.

On the plus side it looks like he provides Kevin with some good crazy for when material gets tight.

Posted by: trex on December 15, 2007 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

Er, OK, got it.

We're good, they're bad. Phew! That clears a lot of things up. Thanks, Mr Conservative Moral Justification!

Of course, they also know they're bad, and we're good. Why else would they do bad things? 'Cos they're knowingly bad. It all makes sense now.

And none of the things we do are bad. Because we're good. No ambiguity there! If we do it, it's good. Because we are good. Yes, the world is divided into those who are good and know they're good, and those who...

Remind me again. Which one am I?

Posted by: Andrew on December 16, 2007 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

I'm going to guess Al. It has that typical mix of strawmen and defining deviancy down nonsense.

Posted by: Randy Paul on December 16, 2007 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

And when our government one day tortures someone for "the wrong reasons", what will this guy do then? Protest? Speak up loudly? Whoops! Opposing secret government interrogation programs is grounds for confinement and "questioning" about the place of your loyalties to the government, aren't they now?

Yeah, he's really thought this one out.

And, by the way, Kevin, this guy isn't a "conservative correspondent", he's a fascist that sends you emails. Let's call a spade a spade here. Would you call a guy who emails you about the necessity for workers' revolution and the imperative to confiscate all private property and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat a "left-leaning correspondent" or a bloody Communist?

Posted by: jonas on December 16, 2007 at 1:14 AM | PERMALINK

"But why do we have to resort to juvenile name-calling and ridiculous over-exaggerations of everyone who would disagree with us?"

We don't. And were Kevin's correspondent reasonably thoughtful and intelligent, making logical arguments based on real data, you would have seen responses in kind. Kevin's correspondent was none of these things, which is why the responses you're seeing are entirely appropriate. The letter was flamebait; we're giving the guy exactly what he wanted.

"I feel no satisfaction in the assault on a person who responded to Kevin with more brains than the standard troll we normally read on these pages"

You're assuming facts not in evidence. Based on the silliness of that letter, the lack of self-awareness, the ignorance of basic facts, the ad hominem attacks on "liberals," the strawman arguments and other logical fallacies, I would say that Kevin's correspondent is precisely the kind of troll we see in the comments every day, no better than an Al, an egbert, a TOH, and all the other trolls that infest this site.

Posted by: PaulB on December 16, 2007 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter Kevin's friend: "IOKIYAR"

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on December 16, 2007 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

I'm guessing Kevin's anonymous friend thought the abuses at Abu Ghraib were also morally justified by American exceptionalism.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on December 16, 2007 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

The attitude of the Mr. Drum's correspondent is very troubling. Torturers always base their behavior on the moral imperative to save innocent lives. What is most troubling is what this acceptance may lead to. Institutionalizing torture will increase its use arbitrarily, until it becomes a common practice for all crimes.

Posted by: Brojo on December 16, 2007 at 1:59 AM | PERMALINK

Hmmm, "the ends justify the means." Isn't that the same logic terrorists employ to justify their behavior? It's a slippery slope, Kevin's anonymous friend. Do you really think you can walk back up that slope after you've slid all the way down to the bottom? Good luck with that.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on December 16, 2007 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives.

In all likelihood, EVERY US soldier tortured has been tortured "to save innocent lives". Iraqis and Afghans holding US soldiers perceive Americans as aggressors in the Middle East whose activities lead to the deaths of innocent Muslims, and they believe torturing American soldiers will lead to American withdrawal. We believe this characterization of the situation to be inaccurate, but they don't. If torture is wrong, it must be held to be wrong regardless of why you think you're doing it.

Note further that the situation in Vietnam was even clearer: US soldiers and pilots tortured during the Vietnam War were unquestionably tortured with the aim of saving innocent lives.

Posted by: brooksfoe on December 16, 2007 at 2:41 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting. Kevin attempts a serious treatment of a serious question and he is met with page upon page of rampant unserious idiocy from his flock of followers.

Keven, they don't *want* to think. They don't *want* to be challenged. They come here for affirmation.

I bet you won't be trying that sort of thing again in a hurry.

Posted by: am on December 16, 2007 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

Since the US has killed more innocent people than our enemies, and tortured many more suspects than our enemies have torture our people, one must admit that if there was someone the enemy could torture to stop it, they would be justified under the attitude that torture can be used to save innocent lives. The Americans and Israelis blow up more buildings full of people than any other combatants. We have prisons full of tortured suspects. Everyday the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghanis bury children killed by US weapons.

I do not think torture would stop this killing. I think torture would increase it. When we torture our suspected enemies, that increases violence against us in many ways and is counterproductive. Torture of Americans would make us more violent, just as our torture of supposed enemies makes them more violent. Torture does not succeed in reducing the death of more people.

Posted by: Brojo on December 16, 2007 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

The Americanist states unequivocally that torturing American soldiers will never ever save innocent lives.

So how many times have we dropped a 500lb bomb on a wedding party? Probably between 5-10 times. The people that authorized the air strike were of course motivated by the best of intentions to kill terrorist but have placed too much importance on stand off tactics that minimize our person to person contact with local citizenry, which makes for poor intelligence.

So if an Taliban fighter captures an American soldier and totures that soldier for information and finds out that an airstrike is called for on a group of people that are in fact another wedding party, that Taliban fighter will no doubt believe he is saving innocent lives. And if the group of people are in fact a wedding party, then he will in fact be saving innocent lives.

But none of this would happen, because any American soldier or terrorist with information about an imminent attack, will hold out long enough to allow the attack to happen before breaking.

We prosecuted Japanese soldiers for doing to our soldiers what we are now doing to detainees in Gitmo. We prosecuted them and convicted them of war crimes. By our own definition, we, the U.S. are committing war crimes.

Posted by: coltergeist on December 16, 2007 at 3:08 AM | PERMALINK

I think this whole issue of using torture to gather information is a red herring. It has been cooked up to engage the right wing base. They watch too many episodes of 24 and listen to too much right wing radio. You spot them immediately when they call in on a talk show. They posit some really unlikely situation and ask if you wouldn't approve of torture then. I'll bite. I'm willing to go along with a law that bans all torture, unless we have captured a terrorist who knows the location of a nuclear weapon set to go off in one hour and who will give us accurate information about said bomb if he is tortured.

In fact, skillful interrogators never use torture as the results are not useful. Torture is used to subjugate populations. It is used as a warning to others to modify their behavior lest they be tortured.

Posted by: JohnK on December 16, 2007 at 3:20 AM | PERMALINK

Your conservative correspondent's sadistic perspective makes me very glad that I left the Republican Party 19 years ago. He epitomizes the caricature of "The Ugly American," the kind that has neither an inkling nor a care in the world about the grave damage to our country's reputation and standing such thinking causes us overseas.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 16, 2007 at 3:31 AM | PERMALINK

am: "Interesting. Kevin attempts a serious treatment of a serious question and he is met with page upon page of rampant unserious idiocy from his flock of followers."

The fact that you immediately resort to name-calling proves you immature, and thus incapable of engaging in "serious" discussion.

Therefore, let me instead engage you on your own rather crude and obviously superficial level, in a manner by which you can easily and clearly comprehend both my meaning and intent:

Blow it out your ass, clown.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 16, 2007 at 3:58 AM | PERMALINK

How do we know that those who engaged in torture on our side did it only to get information, and not because they enjoyed it?

This we're-the-good-guys-and-they're-the-bad-guys mentality must be exactly what those who engage in torture on the other side think, too.

Wasn't Torquemada saving souls?

Carolyn Kay
MakeThemAccountable.com

Posted by: Carolyn Kay on December 16, 2007 at 4:39 AM | PERMALINK

This is what passes for "true moral analysis?" That whatever we do to them is OK by definition, because we're the good guys and they're evil?

This is neither true, nor moral, nor analysis. It's the plot of a Chuck Norris movie. No wonder Chuck is a Republican. No wonder he's endorsing Huckabee. No wonder so many "Christians" believe in torture.

Posted by: Jalmari on December 16, 2007 at 4:54 AM | PERMALINK

That's one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen at this site. To put "moral" anywhere in the same zip code with this argument is to impute philosophical nuances to someone with the soul of Vlad the Impaler.

Under the present regime, any misstep, no matter how accidental or misperceived, your contributor and his family could be taken away and tortured or killed for no other purpose than to maintain the ferocity fo failing regime. Is this the "us" he is so smug about? And would be as giddily certain that his wife or child should be waterboarded if the CIA decided it was "good" to do so?

Of course, the man is a sadistic coward and will never answer, or even entertain these serious questions which, unfortunately, are now a permanent product of the dark times he is celebrating.

Posted by: Kenji on December 16, 2007 at 5:11 AM | PERMALINK

Bushie?
Mr. President?
Is that you?

Posted by: clio on December 16, 2007 at 5:28 AM | PERMALINK

LOL -- it really would be harder to illustrate how stoooopid y'all are, if you weren't so cooperative.

I noted that torturing American soldiers would NEVER "save innocent lives".

And.Not.One.Of.You.Figured.It.Out. It never ceases to amaze me how stoooopid y'all can be: arguing THAT YOU WERE WRONG ALL ALONG, as soon as somebody provokes you. It works best when I push your anti-American button, btw.

Wanna see?

Cuz I said torturing Americans never saves innocent lives, we instantly had a handful of folks who huffed, gee, what if a pilot (like McCain!) was tortured to reveal the next village or wedding we were gonna bomb,huh? Wouldn't THAT be about saving "innocent lives"??? See -- tA is one of them fascists....

(patiently)

1) Torture never works.

2) So to claim that an American pilot can be tortured into providing information useful to the enemy is to claim that Americans can torture useful information out of prisoners.

Kindly stop being such fucking idiots. Also,

3) Generally speaking, the specific targets of particular sorties are tactical information that is not decided much in advance, and never shared with those on earlier missions -- at least partly because it would serve no purpose other than to provide an excuse to torture any captured pilots. (see #1).

But the REAL deal, as always, is this:

4) If American prisoners are tortured by our enemies, WE FIGHT BACK. If the goal of any particular enemy is to get us to stop bombing the shit out of 'em, it would be a good thing for us to send and constantly reinforce the message that they must comply with the Geneva Convention with any of our guys who are taken prisoner. If our enemies violate the Geneva Convention by torturing our prisoners, it is likely to encourage us to hit 'em harder and more often: this is a good way to send messages. (Torturing THEIR guys, is not.)

Once again, kindly stop being such fucking idiots.

So, as a public service:

The WashPost has an Op-Ed today by a scholar who studies torture (you KNEW somebody did it), including the Inquisition, the French police when it was legal, and so on: 5 Myths about Torture and Truth by Darius Rejali.

He points out that, despite the bullshit folks here say all the time (conservatives, cuz they are trying to convince themselves, and a significant percentage of PROGRESSIVES make the same arguments when they are feeling anti-American, viz Rick B's "we ARE evil", upthread), most of what you folks believe ain't true:

*Torture did not work for the Gestapo. They got most of their information, and all of the best, from collaborators.

*No, everyone does not talk sooner or later. (I didn't know this -- evidently, something like 85% of the 785 people tortured in France for whom we have records over 250 years said nothing but screams.)

*In fact, many people will NOT say anything under -- some people will, and some won't. Rejali doesn't cite it, but Hemingway has a devastating line about this in fiction about the Spanish Civil War -- how bishops tended to gush information under torture, while ordinary parish priests would simply pray during every conscious moment.

* No, you can't tell when somebody being tortured is lying just to make it stop. Even experienced interrogators are no better than tossing a coin. And finally,

* Apparently, the record shows that you can't really train people to resist torture. You can, or you can't -- and you won't know, until it is REAL.

So: "Torture doesn't work", is STILL the place to start arguing about it. Torture cannot protect us. Take that away from the bad guys, and they're left with the argument "but at least it's cruel and counterproductive!"

Trouble is, as we see in this thread, a lot of progressives actually like that argument. Rick B, Palo, the guy abusing McCain's name above, y'all DON'T want to win the debate on torture, if it means giving up your anti-American reflex. THAT's more important to you than being right, or even humane.

Look how quickly so many of you changed sides on 'torture doesn't work' as soon as somebody say we're NOT evil, so torturing our guys wouldn't save innocent lives.

One more time: WTF is WRONG with you people?

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 16, 2007 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin: your conservative correspondent is a piece of work, isn’t he?

First, let’s address his only factual assertion. He cites Jack Kiriakou:

John Kiriakou said that waterboarding a terrorist stopped dozens of attacks. Dozens. Not attacks on military targets, but attacks on innocent non-combatants.

Hold it right there. Based upon what we know so far, Jack is probably lying or wildly exaggerating. If you had to bet your house, who would you bet on, Jack’s version or the version cited by Ron Suskind?

Why do the pro-torture advocates have such a difficult time coming up with real world examples where torture has worked? Why is it not difficult to come up with examples where other methods did work on terrorists?

Also, your conservative correspondent makes a mistake that really peeves me. He tries to equate the actions of a stray Israeli bullet with that of a deliberate terrorist bullet. Not only does this ignore the fact that most of the killing bullets will not be stray, this ignores what I call institutional crimes or institutional discrimination.

Israel has created a situation that institutionally discriminates against Palestinians. The whole world agrees on this. Even Olmert has recently admitted that Jimmy Carter was right, they have an apartheid situation that will have to be addressed. You absolutely know, 100%, that Israeli soldiers, tanks, and bombs will have to enforce this arrangement. You absolutely know that there will be continuous resistance. Why? Because the institutionalized reality of apartheid amounts to a 24/7 provocation. That reality will never be accepted.

If you write it into law that me and my kind are second class citizens, don’t be surprised that, over time, some of the resistance escalates to violence. After all, you have to use violence to suppress me. Otherwise I ignore your unfair law.

Posted by: little ole jim on December 16, 2007 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

"Torture of Americans would make us more violent, just as our torture of supposed enemies makes them more violent."

The spectacular beheadings that were taking place three years ago--and which seem to have stopped, with the death of al-Zarqawi--have given rise to calls on this side of the fence to any and all kinds of maltreatment of prisoners in our custody. "They cut off HEADS" is the war cry of these people, as if the acts of a mostly despised splinter group justify our doing anything at all, no matter how bestial or brutal, to persons we consider to be on their side. "So what if we (choose one or more: waterboard, sleep-deprive, stress-position, use dogs)?" they say. "They cut off HEADS." Well, QED then.

But, specifically, have any of our GIs actually been taken prisoner by the bad guys? And if so, what was their treatment like? Let's look at the facts.

Posted by: spaghetti happens on December 16, 2007 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Americanist, you moron, the people who were talking about American pilots being tortured weren't arguing that it actually would save innocent lives. They were simply applying the correspondent's "logic" to the other side of the conflict.

You really are a nasty little creature, oozing with unwarranted arrogance. Why don't you go preen elsewhere?

Posted by: dogrose on December 16, 2007 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

Who would Jesus torture in order to save his own life or preserve his way of life?

"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

Posted by: Neal on December 16, 2007 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Reading your correspondents response I find myself thinking, "how do we fix that?". This thinking, so self-referenced that it can and will be used to justify any action, how does society change that? One of the things that scares me most about the last eight years is that this kind of thinking used to be somewhat restrained by social condemnation. It always lurked around the edges of conversation but was often observed to shrivel in broad daylight from the weight of the world answering. Unfortunately this adminstration, this media, has made a nation of safe havens for this thinking, and an echo chamber where it can be heard over and over again. Even Kevin's webpage. And I don't think it will be as sensitive to light as it once was now that its been spending more time in public.

So how do we fix it?

Posted by: shrink in sf on December 16, 2007 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

There is something obscene about reading the Americanist's posts. It's like watching a grown man masturbate in his bathtub.

As someone else just noted, it isn't necessary to argue that a US soldier's torturers succeed in extracting useful information (maybe they do, probably they don't) but that would likely be their motivation.

The giveaway is the premise-that-shall-not-be-negotiable-on-account-of-the-faintness-of-my-heart which is, "we're good, they're evil."

Posted by: obscure on December 16, 2007 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

"Yes, it's good if we do it, when it's for the right reasons. So far, it's been for the right reasons. And no, it isn't good when it's done to us, for the reasons it has been done to us. Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives."

Machiavelli says otherwise. The results justify the means, not the reasons.

I have yet to see an iota of evidence that any lives have been saved by torture - let alone an innocent life. And if you support torture, you're no longer innocent. I have also yet to see any evidence that torture is actually helping to supply the U.S. with needed information.

Posted by: Splitting Image on December 16, 2007 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Not quite, there, Dog: neither I nor the folks I pointed out argue quite the way you so self-righteously claim.

You make three errors:

1) A series of clowns objected to my observation that torturing Americans NEVER "saves innocent lives". So you make a mistake right there, dog: some of the replies were to me, not Kevin's original correspondent, e.g., Coltergeist: "The Americanist states unequivocally..."

(This is important cuz Kevin's original correspondent is wrong, and I'm right. Note that this means we're saying different things before you set more straw men on fire. He was defending torture. I'm pointing out that progressives have a reflexive tendency to lose an argument we oughta win.)

2) Your second mistake is that the argument these knuckleheads make is precisely what you claim it is not, beginning with their notion that Americans are not innocent. Thus, Coltergeist who disputes: "...that torturing American soldiers will never ever save innocent lives. So how many times have we dropped a 500lb bomb on a wedding party?"

That (though it came later in the thread) is the set up, the unexamined assumption, of the guy abusing McCain's name's defense of torture based on rejecting American goodness: "You mean like when someone tried to find out which village was going to be napalmed next?"

So torturing Americans can, so, save innocent lives. That's their argument. You don't like it, stop accepting that it is a given that they DON'T make it, cuz they do.

Note in both cases the argument elides from rejecting what I pointed out, that 'torturing Americans will never save innocent lives' must be false BECAUSE we take innocent lives, to the bizarre notion that torturing Americans MUST work.... cuz it would/could be done to save the innocent lives at a wedding party. (This is an odd example, btw. I don't doubt it happens sometimes, but it DOES seem to happen a lot when America bombs somebody.)

3) Dog, your final error is misunderstanding what I'm doing. "Applying the correspondent's "logic" to the other side..." is EXACTLY the wrong thing to do.

Like I said, I couldn't care less that bin Laden, et al, think they're doing good. They're not.

I don't care that they think WE'RE evil -- and IMNSHO, I know a bit more about what they think and where they're coming from than I suspect you do: Hassan al Bana, al Qutb, and all that crap. They are wrong to hallucinate that we are evil.

We're not.

We are NOT wrong to recognize that they are evil. They are.

Going too fast for you, Dog?

So again: the place to START arguing against torture is that it does not work. Begin with the idea that 'torture is wrong', and only AFTER that, add that it doesn't work, the message you send to the unpersuaded is that you care less about their protection than you do about your own self-righteousness.

What part of this is so hard to understand, Dog?

And, oh yeah: a persuasive argument against torture (that is, one that persuades folks who aren't already persuaded, for moral or other reasons) does NOT include the idea that WE are evil and that THEY are right, cuz somehow "they" think it's okay to torture us cuz we knocked Saddam out of power, or overthrew the Shah, or that some of our ancestors showed up in this hemisphere with tolerances for diseases that the first peoples didn't have.

'Applying our logic to the other side' is a form of utter stoooopidity wrapped in the kind of moral vanity that, well, you exemplify, Dog. But perhaps you're salvageable, and here is a first step:

Pulled your head out of your ass yet, Dog?

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 16, 2007 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

After reading the "reasoning" of your colleague, I must say, it seems for him, he has already been defeated - his intellect just hasn't gotten the memo yet.

Your colleague would do well to note that sometimes the people most concerned about evil are part and parcel traffickers in it. The evil of his terrorists has already conquered his imagination. -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on December 16, 2007 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

This piece is really quite a nice expression of a mindset that I've had a difficulty grasping from time to time. And it makes sense on its face; it's difficult to argue against something as self-evident as "Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives."

True enough.

But the elephant in the room, always with these folks, is the utter lack of a big-picture memory. The mindset that advocates torture to save innocent lives is the same mindset that created the Bin Ladens in the first place. Funded and trained and equipped them.

Everything that we're involved in at the moment falls squarely in the category of "blowback." The stupidity and repeated failure to take note of long-term consequences of our actions -- and, for the moment, torture is right on top of that list -- is where thoughtful objections start.

Indeed I do see the difference between murder and accidental death. But that murder -- and millions of others -- could have likely been prevented by providing the possibility of basic human dignity.

But that is off the table. And so, once again, we have another generation growing up in a war zone. In ten years, they'll be hopeless, too, and angry. And they'll remember that we're the country that attacks them and tortures them. This is a sustained idiocy that our right-wing cowboys play out over and over in their knee-jerk uber-patriotic testosterone war dance.

So, no, I don't see absolute good or absolute evil here. I don't see black and white. I see myriad shades of cause and effect.

Do you want to stop suicide bombers? Fine. It'll take at least a generation; now, maybe two. It's done by providing the guarantee of a home, food, education and soap.

That is the American Way in my mindset, and just once I'd like to hear this addressed in a serious manner by this insane mindset that advocates torture -- and apparently sees no farther into the future than another big showdown at High Noon.

Posted by: Randy Kirchhof on December 16, 2007 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK
'Applying our logic to the other side' is a form of utter stoooopidity wrapped in the kind of moral vanity that, well, you exemplify, Dog.

Scolding others for 'vanity', Americanist?

Your brand of histrionic self-love out-stinks dog shit by far...

Posted by: obscure on December 16, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

So: "Torture doesn't work", is STILL the place to start arguing about it. Torture cannot protect us. Take that away from the bad guys, and they're left with the argument "but at least it's cruel and counterproductive!"
theAmericanist

The argument here - and in several other posts - seems to me to be very confused, both substantively and logically. First, the logical structure of your argument (here and elsewhere). Your claim is that torture doesn't work, so it should be impermissible. The argument is
1. Torture should be permitted only if it works.
2. Torture doesn't work.
Therefore, 3. Torture shouldn't be permitted.

Here's the problem. Insofar as premise 2. is true, it is only contingently true. The world could have been different (or it could in fact be as the supporters of enhance interrogation claim it is) such that torture 'worked'. If so, then your general argument entails that torture is quite possibly justified when it works, a claim which most people categorically reject.

Insofar as premise 1. is true, it merely identifies (loosely, as I stated it above) the conditions under which an exception to the general prohibition obtains. To see this, consider the argument which justifies premise 1, something like:
4. Torture is immoral.
5. Immoral actions are permitted when they work (i.e., when they succeed in protecting or promoting some more basic right (deontological) or achieve in promoting the greater good (utilitarian)).
Therefore, 1. torture is permitted when it works (i.e., when it protect or promotes some more basic right .... etc.)

Here's the primary problem (there are others) with your view: your argument in support of the pragmatic (ie, contingent) claim that torture doesn't work presupposes the claim that, necessarily, torture is immoral. You've managed to stand the conceptual order of things on its head.

That torture DOESN'T WORK is precisely the WRONG place to BEGIN the DEBATE. Got it?

It is, however, the place to begin a discussion as to whether torture can be justified under exceptional circumstances, and what those circumstances might be.

Posted by: scudbucket on December 16, 2007 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin's correspondent is serious, and deserves a serious response. In my experience you can't ridicule people into changing their minds, though you maybe can get them to shut up, at least in your presence. But that plays right into the argument against torture.

I accept, to some extent, the argument that intentions matter. For example, if you kill someone, it matters a lot both whether you were trying to, and whether you had planned it beforehand. Of course, intentions matter.

The problem with torture of "suspects" is that you don't know that they are evil. After you torture them, you will feel quite certain that they are, though. Because you couldn't live with yourself, otherwise. I am quite sure that we have tortured materially innocent persons. That is not acceptable to me, and I don't think it's acceptable to the writer, either. I know that powers given to governments will sometimes be abused. Any conservative ought to know that.

The second point is the principle of "condemn the offense, not the perpetrator." Our justice system is founded on this principle. It happens to be both more healthy for us psychologically, and more effective. People can argue endlessly about whether person X is "evil" or not. But there is far less argument about whether act Y is unacceptable socially.

If you can show that someone has done something materially wrong, then by all means punish them. Do it openly, and show the evidence against them openly. This isn't just more moral, it's also more conducive to imposing civil order.

Third point is that while torture can probably get people to talk, what they say can't really be trusted. Again, the people who have carried out this program will tell you how great and effective it was, because they have to live with themselves. But the evidence for such is thin. We sent police and troops to dozens of sites, and no terrorist act occurred. Does that mean it worked?

A much more effective interrogation method would use both discipline and flattery. Rather than try and drive a wedge between a Moslem extremist and his faith, compliment his devotion to prayer and his beliefs. Use his faith against him, like was done with Abu Zubaydah. You know, when they got actual useful information out of him.

Finally, you say you want to win. What makes you think I don't want to "win". My definition of winning is we stop people from blowing up our skyscrapers. We affect conditions so that Radical Islamists are isolated from the general population, who have something they can do to make the lives of themselves and their families better. They have a path to channel their energies. That is to say, we think "win-win" with the majority of populations. I'd like to see governments established that are more responsive to the needs of the people.

A reputation for justice that is laser-focused will help us in that regard, but a reputation for torture will not.

For example, I would have been quite happy if we had gone into Afghanistan, caught Bin Laden, put him on trial, shown all the evidence against him, and then executed him. If there's insufficient evidence, then maybe life imprisonment.

Finally torture shows a lack of faith in the institutions that have brought us civil order and great prosperity. These institutions served us, and many other countries extremely well. There are elements within Afghanistan, for example, that find rule of law and civil order inconvenient. So they cause trouble and try to stir things up. They try to test our faith in our institutions, and to some extent, they've been successful.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on December 16, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

"In my experience you can't ridicule people into changing their minds"

Based on the tone and the content of that letter to Kevin, my judgment is that it is impossible to reach the author with any argument or data. It was not a serious or thoughtful argument; it was flamebait.

Posted by: PaulB on December 16, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

theFascist's idiocy is basically that he has a fairytale version of the military. He knows that they have engaged in war crimes, he knows that they have slaughtered innocents, and he knows that someone torturing an American soldier to determine the next bomb strike on a wedding could very well save innocent lives. But, because he wants to pretend that the US military's actions are now above reproach (he will admit to war crimes, but only if they are decades old), he blusters on and on in his idiotic manner.

In fact, in his idiocy he pretends the unprovoked assault on the innocents of Iraq is nothing to be concerned about. That such a blatant war of aggression is not the very definition of "evil."

Fascist, the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis that are the result of the evil policy of the United States know that we, in this case, are in fact evil. The survivors do not thank you for their dead relatives, the victims of American torture do not thank you for your good heart, and those who live in daily privation and fear do not bless you for your good intentions.

Posted by: heavy on December 16, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Wow -- every time we go 'round this, it amazes me how quickly y'all fall off, and in the same place.

Randy thinks we could stop terrorism with "...the guarantee of a home, food, education and soap."

Um -- you didn't know that bin Laden belongs to one of the world's richest families? That he had a VERY expensive education?

'Bucket is, just, well pitiful: pointing out that if you START arguing against terrorism by pointing out that it doesn't work, does NOT concede that if it DID work, it'd be okay. (Psst -- if a frog had a glass ass, he'd never jump a second time: so what?)

(patiently) Kevin's approach to arguing about this is fundamentally wrong. Just like it doesn't matter to sensible people that bin Laden and his bastards think they're right, it doesn't particularly matter how apologists for torture rationalize, either.

Remember what a rationalization IS, after all: it's an excuse, and on some level, you KNOW it's an excuse. It's like Twain said: "Forgive and forget. That means forgetting something you don't want to remember, and applying compassion to your human frailty." Folks who rationalize that torture is sometimes okay cuz the bastard knows about plots to kill lots of us, and he's not a soldier nor a criminal, exactly, and besides, this bastard is DO bad -- are rationalizing. Arguing about the rationalization is like saying Clemens could absolve himself by changing his uniform.

What COUNTS is how you move folks from being unconvinced that torture is bad, to convinced that it IS bad, and moving on.

Right?

So it's pretty silly to spend lots of time preaching to the converted about how "we all know that torture is wrong, so we should never do it".

If "we" really did all know that, "we" wouldn't be doing it. Y'all are primarily interested in being the "we" pointing at "them", and NOT in what is important: changing THEIR minds, so it's all about US: how "We, the People" are better than that.

What makes sense is identifying why any appreciable # of Americans would EVER accept torture, and moving 'em off of it.

There are basically only two reasons that an American official would torture somebody.

1) if they thought it worked, that it would yield useful information. Or,

2) if they just wanted to hurt the guy.

#2 is not legit. Americans won't accept it.

(That isn't to say SOME Americans would -- but that gets back to the rationalizations that Kevin is so fond of. I'm not interested in them, cuz -- being rationalizations, which means they are a cover for something else. Attacking RATIONALIZATIONS doesn't move folks from not convinced it's bad, to certain it's no good. Going after what's BENEATH the rationalization can work -- thus, put security first.)

So I keep pointing out that #1 is where to start: Torture does NOT work. It does NOT yield useful information. Start THERE -- have a debate, if anybody wants one, the good guys have the facts on our side -- and advocates for torture are left with #2. They lose. We win.

What's not to like? And yet...

Curiously, we've seen an answer in this thread: a series of 'em in fact, and ALL predictable.

We've got the classic liberal 'if only our enemies had soap!' bullshit. Bin Laden grew up in luxury: get a grip.

We've had astonishingly illogical 'arguments' -- 'Bucket thinks that pointing out that something evil doesn't work must mean that if it DID work, it wouldn't be evil. (In the last torture thread, Paul B blithered that actually knowing what torture advocates think makes you one of 'em.) Think about your own motivation for making the argument, Bucket: you want to feel morally superior more than you want to persuade the person who is not convinced. That doesn't work -- but man!, it's typical progressive groupthink: 'we're right and you're racist' is a typcial progressive "argument".

If only bin Laden had had more access to SOAP while he was being raised in mansions and flying to his private schools in private jets.

Which leads to the true progressive weakness: we're hothouse flowers, fertilized with moral vanity in a cold, windy world. The guy who abused McCain's name, Palo, Dog, and so on (not to mention Heavy, Brojo, Disputo, and so on) are primarily interested in moral preening -- NOT in persuading folks who are unconvinced. We torture? Well, why shouldn't they have tortured John McCain (for information he didn't know, mind), after all, America is NOT innocent, it's "evil", the idea that we're right and they're wrong is the root of it all on OUR side.... cuz, I guess, we've somehow deprived 'em of "soap".

'Bucket is just the latest: that's why I posted about the Post piece today, from a guy who has evidently checked the record. He doesn't find ANY evidence that torture works: most people being tortured just scream or pass out without providing any information, the few who DO provide information aren't reliable, there is no reliable way to train resistance, but then, interrogators are less effective at sorting out the truth from lies than a coin toss would be (and remember, interrogating terrorists isn't like "did you do it?" investigations when the cops KNOW a crime has been committed; it's much more open ended).

LOL -- and yet, driven by the typically progressive desire to be more moral than persuasive, Bucket insists that KNOWING all that must mean that if torture DID work, it would somehow become righteous: the bad guys would be torturing our guys 'to save innocent lives'.

Which doubtless explains all the "America is evil" stuff to which, I note, I'm the only one who objected.

LOL -- what IS wrong with you people?

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 16, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK
....We are NOT wrong to recognize that they are evil. They are.....theAmericanist at 10:58 AM
When you label opponents as "evil" that ends rational analysis of the causes your opponents support and leads you to policies that put you on the same level as they.

This is especially important when you are trying to convince other that your motivation sets an example. Hughes utterly failed to convince anyone in the Middle East that America's motivation was good and decent and Glass man will fail likewise.

At some point rational people, not you, will have to solve this problem. The way to do that is not to invade countries and slaughter hundreds of thousands, not to support dictators no matter how pro-American, not to support repressive occupations. It is essential for American interests to support real policies that enhance human dignity and self-determination. Until we act positively, we will be regarded as evil in the eyes of those to whom we bring suffering, to those whose national aspirations we thwart, to those to have just reason to dislike American policies.

You need to get your head out of your ass because your farts are steadily blowing out your brains, the few to which you can actually lay claim.

... I accept, to some extent, the argument that intentions matter....Doctor Jay at 12:33 PM

Intentions matter to the degree that punishment that intentional acts merit. To claim that good intentions can justify bad deeds is Jesuitical reasoning, that bad actions done for a 'higher purpose' are therefore acceptable.

Posted by: Mike on December 16, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Your correspondent is quite simply a piece of s**t

Posted by: Mark From Cleveland on December 16, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Mike sez we should "enhance human dignity and self-determination...."

Yeah, bin Laden has clearly been oppressed his whole life. Good thing we can't recognize he's evil, huh?

Fuck you, Mike.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 16, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

theFascist, stupid to the end, fails to understand one of the most basic problems of revolution. Revolutions are seldom begun by the people they are intended to help. It isn't that bin Laden grew up with privation you fucking moron, it is that he saw the plight of the poor in Muslim countries and determined that the root cause was western imperialism. See, the truly poor seldom fight back because their daily lives are too full of survival. It is the middle and upper classes with sufficient free time and other resources who can take up the mantle of freedom. Look to the American revolution. Look to the Civil War. Neither of those were started by the people they purported to help (especially the second). But in your tiny brain, bin Laden having soap means that poverty has nothing to do with his motivations.

Stop posting until you have the sense god gave a lump of coal.

Posted by: heavy on December 16, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

"A leftist I know sees no difference between a Palestinian child dying from a stray Israeli bullet during a firefight, and an Israeli child dying when a Palestinian terrorist puts the barrel of a gun to the kid's forehead and blows his brains across the back wall of the child's bedroom. In his two-dimensional perception, the only important factor is that both resulted in a dead child. Avoiding true moral analysis and motivations allows him to skirt the concept of "evil," a term which makes many liberals intensely uncomfortable."

This quote from Kevin's conservative correspondent tells you everything about the simpleton view of the way the world works in the minds of conservatives. In their world, there are only good guys (us)who can never be wrong, and bad guys (the "terrorists" who they classify as everyone who fights against us). They start their polemic with this fundamental simplifying assumption in order to then draw the obvious deductive conclusion that torture is a logical and morally justifiable response. Leftists who refuse to accept the preposterous initial assumption that the "terrorists" are evil personified, are guilty of weak, two-dimensional perceptions.

The argument is so profoundly stupid that I find it hard to believe that the conservative corrrespondent really believes it. I think the conservatives know there can never be a moral justification for torture, but they put together the drivel above as a sop to the intellectually deficient and intellectually bankrupt people who are the only remaining supporters of Bush/Cheney principles.

Posted by: Bob Carmody on December 16, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, let me be pragmatic for a moment.

This justification for torture is tortuously naive. The appearance of impropriety often causes a net negative just as large as actual impropriety. It's not difficult to imagine a young discontent drinking the terrorist Kool-aid because his cousin/brother/father was tortured in U.S. custody - the young discontent won't know that we had good reasons for the torture, and he probably won't care. And then where are we left? Risking future lives to save lives today.

We lose a ton in the way of national reputation because we are so self-assured of our own motivations, while the rest of the world (rightfully) distrusts us.

To disagree with my statements, I believe, requires a (probably racist) belief that terrorist are completely irrational. To be sure, terrorists choose to harm U.S. interests because of our impropriety, perceived or actual, and therefore we should try to limit our improprieties, both perceived and actual.

Posted by: Jesse on December 16, 2007 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK
When you label opponents as "evil" that ends rational analysis of the causes your opponents support and leads you to policies that put you on the same level as they.

Exactly right. The word 'evil' provides nothing in the way of insight into the behavior of others. Nevertheless, Hitler certainly found it sufficient for his purposes...

With all respect to heavy,

he saw the plight of the poor in Muslim countries and determined that the root cause was western imperialism

Clearly, bin Laden is wrong about that. What I gather from reading Lawrence Wright's 'The Looming Tower' is that bin Laden, like religious zealots of most persuasions, has an extremely naive, and shallow, understanding world affairs. (Classic example: he apparently thought that the 9/11 attacks, successfully executed, would or could bring about the "collapse" of America as a nation...!)

He suffers from the tendency to glom on to simple answers to complex questions. A prominent tendency of theistic religions, as well as strutting, prima donna hysterics like Americanist.

Posted by: obscure on December 16, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

obscure, you are correct. I may have left the impression that I agreed with bin Laden and should probably have put "determined" in quotes instead. But you are more importantly right that theFascist is quite the same as bin Laden. His is the sort of jingoistic behavior you find in mindless goons.

Posted by: heavy on December 16, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

"Classic example: he apparently thought that the 9/11 attacks, successfully executed, would or could bring about the "collapse" of America as a nation...!"

Maybe I'm being paranoid, but I see a country that's abandoning it's laws and destroying its wealth, with forces arrayed in such away as to make it difficult to change course.

In college math we studied how a dynamic equilibrium can be disrupted by a small effort (this was in relation to population dynamics) that is made at the right time and the right place, leading to entirely new equilibrium far different than the first, or to something less dynamic, like total collapse.

Posted by: Boronx on December 16, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin’s correspondent is just a nationalist. It is a kind of thinking George Orwell outlines in his classic 1945 essay Notes on Nationalism. He contrasts this kind of political thinking with patriotism.

By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

George Orwell’s nationalist is quite similar to Bob Altemeyer’s empirically characterized authoritarian.

The history of the 20th century can be viewed as a struggle between various forms of nationalism and the liberal ideals of individualism and universal rights that transcend group identity.

Orwell writes, So long as it is applied merely to the more notorious and identifiable nationalist movements in Germany, Japan, and other countries, all this is obvious enough. Confronted with a phenomenon like Nazism, which we can observe from the outside, nearly all of us would say much the same things about it. But here I must repeat what I said above, that I am only using the word ‘nationalism’ for lack of a better. Nationalism, in the extended sense in which I am using the word, includes such movements and tendencies as Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, Antisemitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism. It does not necessarily mean loyalty to a government or a country, still less to one's own country, and it is not even strictly necessary that the units in which it deals should actually exist. To name a few obvious examples, Jewry, Islam, Christendom, the Proletariat and the White Race are all of them objects of passionate nationalistic feeling: but their existence can be seriously questioned, and there is no definition of any one of them that would be universally accepted.

Much of what we call the conservative movement is nothing more than sentiments of classic nationalism organized into a political party. Of course it is ironic that the United States, a nation founded on the promise of human rights that transcend race, class and nation, should become the home of the 21st century’s most powerful and strident nationalist movement. The claim that Americans led by a virtuous leadership have the right to invade other nations, to torture, to suspend habeas corpus, to undertake surveillance of the entire population and keep dossiers points to the betrayal of the principles of American republic by the nationalist. Who holds inalienable rights, universal norms, fairness and equality as naive, and even dangerous, in a violent and hostile world.

Posted by: bellumregio on December 16, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Leave aside the issue of whether our behavior might save someone. Just what kind of person would torture another helpless person? Would you use a firecracker to blow up a toad? Would you slap a child? Would you trip an infant? Would you steal a crutch from a crippled person? That's the kind of person who even considers torturing.

Is that the kind of nation America is to be?

Posted by: MarkH on December 16, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

"But why do we have to resort to juvenile name-calling and ridiculous over-exaggerations of everyone who would disagree with us?"


PB:
"We don't. And were Kevin's correspondent reasonably thoughtful and intelligent, making logical arguments based on real data, you would have seen responses in kind. Kevin's correspondent was none of these things, which is why the responses you're seeing are entirely appropriate.".......because liberal is good, conservative is evil, so juvenile name-calling and ridiculous over-exaggeration would be justified if we did it, but we don't.

Posted by: majarosh on December 16, 2007 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know any liberals who would argue that an innocent child being hit by a stray bullet and an innocent child being intentionally shot in the head as equivalent. One is a tragic accident, the other a cruel act of violence.

No, but sometimes some of us argue that, after the first 8 or 9 times that Israelis bring tanks into civilian areas and hit a few innocent children with bullets, it starts to seem a little less accidental, and a little more cruel.

Posted by: shereld on December 16, 2007 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

The 9-11 attack, had it been focused on Washington instead of NYC and had it been done on the right day, could have slaughtered most of the top federal government. I've always thought tht the reason Al Qaeda focused instead on the WTC is that -- being anti-Semitic nuts -- they believed that America's "real" secret government was run by Jews based in the WTC, and that by destroying (or even seriously damaging) the towers, they could decapitate us. This may also explain why Bin Laden was so monumentally demoralized in the immediate wake of the attack; he actually wrote a letter to his sons urging them NOT to join Al Qaeda. Fortunately, the Cheneyites were there to rescue him...

Posted by: BruceMoomaw on December 16, 2007 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, those who would torture US prisoners would say exactly that: they're doing it to save innocent lives. Torturers will always come up with a rationalization. Once again, right wingers show that they are not even really listening to themselves.

Posted by: digitusmedius on December 16, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Ahh, Americanist. Once again you latch onto the most insignificant aspect of a point -- in this case the word "soap" -- and ignore the substance completely.

I imagine that most everyone here caught the reference, but for the record, the exact quote is:

"Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run." -- Mark Twain

...

Look, here's the point: *We* created modern Iran, through our support of the Shah and his repression. *We* took a little tinhorn noisemaker and turned him into Saddam Hussein -- and gave him WMDs as well, which he used. *We* took a scrawny little "freedom fighter" who'd been disowned by his family and turned him into Osama bin Laden. And *we're* working on our third generation of people in that part of the world who have grown up observing our policies and seeing us as the "Great Satan."

Well, bummer. None of that has worked. Let's torture 'em too. That'll help. They'll hear about it and straighten right up. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Once we stop destroying things and start helping human beings to live like human beings in that part of the world, you'll see change.

There's your soap.

Posted by: Randy Kirchhof on December 16, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

What COUNTS is how you move folks from being unconvinced that torture is bad, to convinced that it IS bad, and moving on.
Right?
theAmericanist

Which was exactly my point (thanks for agreeing with me). Once people see that it is bad, they realize there is an extraordinary burden on justifying it in exceptional circumstances. That it doesn't work, however, is entirely independent of the fact that it is 'bad'.

'Bucket thinks that pointing out that something evil doesn't work must mean that if it DID work, it wouldn't be evil.

You obviously have know idea what a contra-positive is, nor apparently the ability to read: I wrote If so, then your general argument entails that torture is quite possibly justified when it works.

Bucket insists that KNOWING all that must mean that if torture DID work, it would somehow become righteous: the bad guys would be torturing our guys 'to save innocent lives'.

Again, you demonstrate an inability to comprehend. Rather than concluding what you claim, I conclude the exact opposite: that since main premise in the 'torture doesn't work' argument is conceptually dependent on the fundamental immorality of torture, torture would always be wrong.

Questions: do you understand the difference between a necessary and a sufficient condition? A conceptually necessary/sufficient vs. a causally necessary/sufficient condition? The concept of conceptual entailment? YOu might want bone up on these - learn how to use them in practice - so as not to continually make foolish and innnaccurate comments.

Posted by: scudbucket on December 16, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

And conservatives whine when they decry liberals' use of "situational ethics".

What a crock.

Posted by: natural cynic on December 16, 2007 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Whichever commenter labeled this conservative's thinking as "moral relativism" hit the nail precisely on the head.

The Gestapo used similar reasoning to justify torture. Had they not tortured resistors (who, by the way, they always referred to as "terrorists") in the countries they occupied, the resistance would have caused the deaths of German soldiers and innocent civilians. But it's okay, because the torturers were trying to save their own people, right?

Posted by: Jake on December 16, 2007 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

tA, I just re-read some of your posts: they are completely devoid of content except for the admonition that insofar as we want to persuade torture supporters that they are wrong, we should begin with the fact that torture doesn't work.

This may get to the crux of what I believe is wrong with your argumentative method as well as the underlying tone. I'm not interested in persuading anyone of anything. Insofar as I disagree with someone, I will point out what I believe to be the fallacies (factual or logical) upon which their view or argument depends in the hope that they come to see on their own that their beliefs aren't justified, or are inconsistent, etc. You somehow think that the goal of a discussion, about torture for example, is to persuade another to adopt your own view (see the 'we'/'they' locutions above). But this is just plain wrong: discussions about important topics are not about persuading people to change their minds, their purpose is to provide sufficient (know what that means in this context??) information for them to change their own minds.

Posted by: scudbucket on December 16, 2007 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

Let us assume for the sake of argument that Kevin's correspondent is correct when he says that the motivation for torture when done by Americans is to save innocent lives. That in itself is very much debatable, but let's say that it's true.

Then what we have here is nothing more than the old "The end justifies the means" argument. That's all it is. So if you believe that good ends justify evil means, then you would agree that torture is fine if it's being done for a noble reason.

But I don't believe that. I believe that intention and action have to be consistent with each other -- obviously to the best of our ability as flawed humans. Clearly, saving innocent lives and torture are not consistent with each other. The first is good and right; the second is bad and wrong.

So to Kevin's correspondent: I call bullshit.

Posted by: Kathy on December 16, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives.

"Innocent" as defined by me me me me.

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on December 16, 2007 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

You know some sick sacks of shit, Mr. Drum.

I just want to point out that Kevin did not say he "knows" this person -- as in, they are friends or have some other kind of cordial relationship. He said the letter was from one of his "conservative correspondents."

Anyone can write to anyone and that does not imply a relationship, or agreement.

Posted by: Kathy on December 16, 2007 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

(snicker) Bucket, you're so CUTE when you try to show off your 'reasoning', like a four year old flashing her underwear.

When you learn how the Rule of Four works, get back to us, k? Hint: what persuades folks to go from 'sort of this' to 'definitely that' is not an improper use of a contra, nor pedantic, cant parsing of major and minor. Ya wanna impress folks with your 'reasoning'? Put your skirt back down (pretty flowers, though, and I like the shoes: they're called Mary Janes, you know) and tell us how the Rule of Four works.

Obscure: bin Laden "saw the plight of the poor in Muslim countries and determined that the root cause was western imperialism. "

Um, no.

Bin Laden comes from a delusional line in modern Islam that starts, more or less, with Hassan al Bana and the end of the Caliphate, particularly the way Mustafa Kemal abolished it when he replaced the Ottoman Empire with modern Turkey.

Prior to the establishment of Ottoman Rule over most Muslim-majority countries, Islam was directly tied to Arab culture. Sure, non-Arab nations had been converted to Islam -- but the most important, Persia, was the center of the biggest split within Islam (Sunni vs. Sh'ia), and most Muslims were Sunnis and Arabs and after all, the Koran is in Arabic.

But the Turks were converted to Islam, and THEN, they conquered pretty much all other Muslim nations, including all of Arabia. So for several hundred years, there was NO Arab nationalism in Islam. The Caliphate was TURKISH, or more precisely Ottoman.

This severed Arab patriotism from the most distinctively Arab religion.

Before the establishment of the US, this was the world's largest and most successful multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural state: as big as the Romans, lasted longer, better organized. And it was good for Islam, in the easiest way to measure: for one thing, it lasted -- Muslim lands ruled by the Ottomans stayed Muslim, even when the empire itself declined after 1700 or so. For another, it grew: the largest expansion of Islam after the original explosion happened in Indonesia in the declining Ottoman years, after Krakatoa.

Not bad for zombie rule.

But the Ottoman Empire WAS a zombie -- and when Kemal finally drove a stake through its heart by abolishing the Caliphate, along with the collapse of the Ottomans came the British and French imperialists. That made it possible to reconnect Islam with Arab nationalism -- which is what Hassan al Banna did.

Bin Laden's thinking is pretty shallow, but he's not an 'anti-imperialist' the way you use the term. He loves "imperialism", the globalized economy, the huge construction contracts that made his family rich -- hell, there isn't anybody who has made more money off the globalization of Islam as directly (the haj) than the bin Laden family: airlines, air conditioning, and enormous amounts of concrete.

What motivates bin Laden (read his stuff) is the way the Keepers of the Holy Cities have fallen away from Islam itself: he is fighting the Infidel because he's the Infidel, not because he's "imperialist". He fought the Russians in Afghanistan because they were godless people fighting Muslims in a Muslim country; he declared war on the US because we sent OUR infidel troops to defend the Holy Cities against Muslims, he was in the Sudan because it was the cutting edge of Muslim attacks on non-Muslims (with a heavy dose of racism).

He is a shallow, spoiled homicidal asshole -- but after murdering as many Americans as he has, it seems like a good idea to UNDERSTAND him, don't ya think?

Osama bin Laden doesn't give a rat's ass about ANYBODY cuz they're poor. He cares cuz folks are Muslim -- or they're not.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 16, 2007 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

Bucket REALLY wants folks to admire those Mary Janes with the tautological shine: I''m not interested in persuading anyone of anything... [my] purpose is to provide sufficient (know what that means in this context??) information for them to change their own minds."

As noted: "you want to feel morally superior more than you want to persuade the person who is not convinced."

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 16, 2007 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

No tA. Scudbucket has chosen a far more effective method to get people to change their minds... You on the other hand seem to think yelling people down to be the best method... I'll grant that perhaps it works to get the people around you to keep their views to themselves and delude you into thinking you've effected change.

You make a good point... that torture doesn't work (unless your aim is the gaining of false confessions) and this aspect should be trumped to the public. I'm not sure that it needed to be made but a true point nonetheless. Torture is bad AND ineffective. The rest of your posts is just spittle.

Anyway, I'm off to work in my time zone. No doubt will log on to fleck directed my way.

Posted by: snicker-snack on December 16, 2007 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

obscure, you are correct. I may have left the impression that I agreed with bin Laden and should probably have put "determined" in quotes instead.
Posted by: heavy

Nice backpedal, coward. But too late, your admiration for Bin Laden is duly noted.

Posted by: SJRSM on December 16, 2007 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

Snack lurches dangerously close to learning something: gee, tA was right, but um, nobody really needed to make the point except, that, er, torture was official American policy for a # of years despite, well, isn't that just a WONDERFUL, persuasive argument that Bucket made, all about how he's not actually trying to persuade anybody?

And, oh, yeah, how putting out "sufficient" information just lets folks change their own minds: riiiight.

Who was it who noted that progressives prefer being self-righteous to being, er, right?

The Rule of Four works like this: on any genuinely controversial issue, there will be all sorts of nuances and different levels of intensity to how people feel. Folks, being human, will believe all sorts of contradictory things -- we're the good guys, we're doing bad things, torture is wrong, we're not torturing, gimme the jumper cables and I'll do it myself, it doesn't do any good, gimme an hour with the guy and he'll tell us everythign he knows.

BFD -- like it's a SURPRISE that humans ain't consistent? So it helps to know how to measure so the measurement MEANS something.

The Rule of Four gives four choices, and ONLY four choices to define how somebody (or a 5,000 of us) thinks about something: a lot this, a little this, a little that, or a lot that. No middle ground, no 'sorta', no undecided. That way, you draw a line down the middle, and you know how people feel.

It measures two things: this or that, and intensity.

On torture (waterboarding, etc.), what you find is that there is a hard knot of folks who simply refuse to believe in it under any circumstances, although the knot gets pretty small if you ask "what if it was your child buried alive..." sorta crap.

There is a larger knot of folks who are willing to accept torturing for information in "extreme circumstances".

There is a substantial # of folks who are 'sorta this' who become 'sorta that': IF they are approached one way, but not the other.

The way they move from 'sorta for' torture in extreme circumstances, to not just 'sorta against' but 'definitely against', is WHEN THEY ARE CONVINCED IT DOES NOT WORK.

They do NOT move from 'sorta for' even to 'sorta against' when they are told that torture is WRONG, and only EVIL people support it in even extreme circumstances. They are even less moved when they have logic explained to them in garbled fashion -- major, minor, necessary but not sufficient: ye gods, could y'all TRY to be more paternalizing?

;-)

'Course, you have Bucket's idea that he is uninterested in persuading these folks, not interested in persuading anybody -- but in fact, his approach DOES persuade 'em -- just not in the direction he claims to want. (A true progressive trait -- alienate the folks you want to pose for, so you can take their rejection as PROOF you are morally superior.)

When you tell folks who are not convinced that torture should be ruled out in extreme circumstances that "it is ALWAYS wrong" and then add as an afterthough, 'it doesn't work', they do not believe you when you say it doesn't work. That wasn't the most important thing to do you -- and it IS the most important thing, to them.

You cop to self-righteousness, and they resent this moralizing interference with their right to self-defense.

Remember -- on some level, this is all rationalization. But folks are often far more ferocious defending an excuse than they would be, challenged directly on the underlying REASON for the excuse.

There are folks who are afraid that if we don't torture bad guys we'll wind up with a kook with a nuke in Grand Central Station. They're not nuts, not immoral, and they are troubled by the idea. They rationalize that understandable motivation with defensive arguments about how bad the terrorists are, and how extreme the circumstances would have to be for torture to be used properly. Last I looked, those rationalizations were still winning: precisely cuz folks like Bucket are eager to say "well, you're just EVIL" to people who fear for the lives of their children BECAUSE they fear for the lives of their children.

But if you attack the underlying fear directly -- and point out that torture doesn't WORK -- they become much less interested in it.

They're NOT evil -- they're scared. And they have damned good reasons to be scared.

Especially when folks like Palo and Randy and Disputo and so on insist that the REAL problem is Rick B's: "America is evil".

Yeah, THAT helps build confidence that progressives can protect us.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 16, 2007 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, this is some poor reasoning, and poor knowledge of the true state of the world. About what I would expect from a torture supporter.

"A cop shooting a murderer is not the same as a murderer shooting an innocent victim, although both use guns, and at the end, someone is bleeding and dying."

The conservatives analogy is off. What they describe, police simply shooting murderers, is both wrong and illegal. The police can't just shoot murderers, and even less can just shoot suspected murderers, and yet less can they just shoot civilians (which is the proper equivalence to unspecified killing). The police can shoot people they think are an immediate danger to the lives of themselves or others, and have intensive training aimed at helping them appropriately decide exactly when that is. Regular citizens can also shoot people to defend their lives and the lives of others, but don't get as much benefit of doubt as a police officer not having undergone special training. So if you get away from the sloppy conservative analogy you see that this situation actually argues against the conservative thesis. The police can shoot in the defense of self and others, and so can civilians (but they had better be really sure to keep out of legal trouble). The conservative is drawing a typically authoritarian false dichotomy between police officers and murderers. Police officers can commit murder and thus be murderers, non police can kill people without committing murder.

"...no difference between a Palestinian child dying from a stray Israeli bullet during a firefight, and an Israeli child dying when a Palestinian terrorist puts the barrel of a gun to the kid's forehead..."

It's possible this conservative knows somebody who thinks this (though such people are vanishingly rare), but my guess is that this is the conservatives distorted view of another's belief. Look at how ludicrously slanted the analogy is. The Palestinian child is killed by accident, while the Israeli child is deliberately executed. Obviously the acts aren't equivalent. This example explains the moral difference between the US accidentally causing pain to a prisoner, say by dropping them while unloading them from a truck, vs a terrorist partially drowning a prisoner, but that difference has nothing to do with who is causing the pain, but the deliberateness of it. The US can accidentally drop a prisoner now and then, and so can the terrorists, but neither can torture and be endorsed by me.

"The terrorists who torture and kill our prisoners (never something as benign as waterboarding) don't do it because they need information to save innocent people. They do it because they like it, because they want to hurt or kill someone."

See how the terrorists don't have goals? They are just sadistic serial killers who have, for whatever reason, chosen American soldiers as their victims. Could just as easily have been prostitutes or veterinarians (which would have been a lot easier). Lots of americans have been captured and tortured over the years, and the torturers usually seem to want something at least in addition to enjoy themselves. Also note the laughable assumption that american soldiers are only going to be tortured by terrorists. In fact they are almost all tortured by governments. The NVA, the Japanese Army, the German SS, etc. In Vietnam it seems that they wanted information and confessions for propaganda purposes. In WW2 they usually wanted information or labor. At the same time the US does occasionally seem to torture mostly for the fun of it, as in the case of Abu Garib. So the reality is that most torturers do seem to have goals, but they are also often (perhaps always?) sadistic and acting out revenge fantasies.

"Yes, it's good if we do it, when it's for the right reasons. So far, it's been for the right reasons."

Like Abu Garib? Oh, you didn't think of that? Put the whole thing out of your mind I suppose. Do you find yourself doing that a lot to maintain your world-view?

"And no, it isn't good when it's done to us, for the reasons it has been done to us. Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives."

I think it is pretty clear that the north Vietnamese program of torture and coercion of confessions from US pilots was aimed at degrading US morale, causing the US to withdraw from Vietnam, and ending the war thus saving many innocent lives. So I guess this conservative is fine with that torture.

And then wrap it all up with an assertation that the torture has been wonderfully effective.

So... I guess this system of rationalization is at least less evil than the Japanese or German racial superiority justifications for torture.

The american right is at the moral level of the North Veitnamese, though with considerably less justification for thier ridiculous rage.

Posted by: jefff on December 16, 2007 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

Snack lurches dangerously close to learning something: gee, tA was right

Oh, please... we may agree that torture doesn't work but don't assume yourself the fount of any beliefs I hold.

And effective or not, torture remains simply wrong, wrong, wrong (my concern as much for the torturer as the torturee). And your shrill histrionics aside, I'll decide for myself what I want to argue thank you very much which is that torture is both wrong and degrading AND doesn't work.

And if there ever was a circumstance (the much talked about never seen ticking time bomb) where you were sure it would work, you fucking well go ahead and break every rule in the book and afterward throw yourself on the mercy of the court... and, if it could truly be shown that your actions had saved lives... there's not a court in the world that would convict you.

Are you intentionally being a solipsist twat or do you have some sort of chemical imbalance or is it just an inability to properly comprehend what others have written? (and advice for deaf ears: when the world is against you, it's more likely the source of the problem is you, not the world).

Posted by: snicker-snack on December 16, 2007 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Goon! How's is going? Remember in a previous thread where you gave an excuse for why we torture people and got called on it? You then pretended that you were merely giving a reason why "some" might defend torture? Now you want to pretend you've seen some "admiration" for bin Laden on my part? That's some nice trolling.

Remember, only one of us has murdered people. Only one of us has ever expressed any admiration for one person killing another. And only one of us likened the slaughter of a woman and child to a venereal disease. That sick fuck is you.

Posted by: heavy on December 16, 2007 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

Back when the US shot down that Iranian jet liner full of innocent civilians, no torture would have prevented the killing of those people by the US Navy. No Americans faced torture by the Iranians, but torture might have revealed the truth behind the reason for the mass murder. However, torture would also have tainted any information obtained and desires for retaliation for the Iranians' barbarity would have drowned out any sympathy for the Iranian victims. The same thing happens when the US tortures Iraqis or Afghanis or ...

Posted by: Brojo on December 17, 2007 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

Touche, tA,
That last was a beautiful, garbled, surprisingly coherent, prosaic, entertaining, only occasionally disingenuous piece of language. And I understand what you're saying (even if I disagree). But I have a question, which I hope you'll respond to: when you say that we ought to stress the fact that torture doesn't work in order to change direction on this, who are you trying to reach, policy makers or pleebs?

Posted by: scudbucket on December 17, 2007 at 1:13 AM | PERMALINK

If theAm thinks that discussions in blogs like this are intended to persuade "the unpersuaded" with well chosen arguments crafted to have mass appeal he is mistaken.

And I wonder how much mass appeal the Am's own posts would have if any of those unpersuaded members of the public that he envisages dared to venture in here.

So scud's question ("who are you trying to reach, policy makers or pleebs") is relevant -- though I doubt that either of those categories visits here in any numbers. Perhaps theAm should start a blog with the lofty objective of developing persuasive narratives to promote liberal causes among the less liberal. But he'll have to work on his prose, and his French, if he wants innocent souls to come and listen to him.

Posted by: JS on December 17, 2007 at 5:22 AM | PERMALINK

Reminds me of the line from "The Man for All Season,"

To paraphrase, "when you have cut down all the laws, where will you hide?"

Posted by: matt on December 17, 2007 at 7:11 AM | PERMALINK

(snicker) It's odd that I have to keep saying this, yet I can remain secure in the knowledge that it never, ever penetrates: I use this place as a kind of personal focus group.

A poll is intended to reflect the diversity of whatever group you're trying to measure. If you want to know what 140 million folks who are 30% this, and 25% that and 45% the other thing, then you want to poll a few thousand people who fit those parameters.

A focus group is designed for the opposite effect. You want it to be homogenous. If you want to know what left handed legal aid lesbian lawyers think, put a bunch of 'em in a room and encourage 'em to talk the way folks will generally ONLY talk when they are among themselves, when they feel they share a perspective and experiences in common.

That's what I find useful here. The folks who post here, with a couple exceptions, are solid, doctrinaire lefties of a certain character. Excepting parodies like Al or Norman, the range of opinion pretty much runs all the way from A to B. There is a kind of culture of conversation to these threads -- viz., the # of times folks object to my tone, which is useful to me. So it's not so much what you guys say, as what you DON'T -- the stuff that you take for granted that "everybody" knows, the outrageous things you don't protest.

I'm not trying to persuade YOU. I'm learning a little about how it is, on issue after issue, progressives are incapable of persuading large chunks of the public when we are right and they are not convinced.

This thread is as good an example as any. When I provoked y'all by noting that "torturing Americans will NEVER save innocent lives", a series of posters promptly turned their arguments AGAINST torture into arguments FOR it: because they wanted SO badly to insist that Americans kill innocent people (never denied it), for them torture stopped being something that can't yield useful information (which is the truth), and became something that our enemies would do to American pilots to find out "when the next wedding was to be bombed."

LOL -- and then I had some asshole grunt that, er, that isn't what the posters MEANT, that they were just imagining what the other side must believe. Uh-huh.

Then we had Rick posting the simpler form: "America is evil." IIRC, I'm the only one who objected to that. Revealing that folks object when I call somebody stoooopid, but not when somebody sez "America is evil."

Bucket, of course, is just precious. HIS idea is that he isn't trying to "persuade" people, he's just putting out "sufficient" information (and we all know what he means by "sufficient", he takes pains to remind us) and like magic, people will come to see the brilliance of his reasoning and the depth of his morality "by themselves".

Hothouse flowers, in a cold and windy world.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 17, 2007 at 7:40 AM | PERMALINK

Remember, only one of us has murdered people.
Posted by: heavy

Either you are confessing, or you are accusing me of murder. Which I am sure won't be deleted by the "moderator", once again confirming you to be who you are and the "moderator" to be just a thought policeman.

Seek help for your anger, heavy, before it hurts someone.

Posted by: SJRSM on December 17, 2007 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK
LOL -- and then I had some asshole grunt that, er, that isn't what the posters MEANT, that they were just imagining what the other side must believe. Uh-huh

Like I said, you're pleasuring yourself with fantasies of your own brilliance. Embarrassing to watch.

Posted by: obscure on December 17, 2007 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Then we had Rick posting the simpler form: "America is evil." IIRC, I'm the only one who objected to that.
Posted by: theAmericanist

You and Obama. You guys are in the minority in the Democratic Party these days.

So I reject the notion that the American moment has passed. I dismiss the cynics who say that this new century cannot be another when, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.

I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth. We just have to show the world why this is so.


Posted by: SJRSM on December 17, 2007 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

Goon, you claim to have been a bomber pilot, and you claim to have dropped your bombs on human beings - those people are dead. Whether you want to pretend that, because you dressed up in fancy clothes, you didn't murder them doesn't matter. It is you who claim to take pride in your history of killing. I suppose you could have been lying the entire time.

And let's be honest Mary, only one of us supports the placement of hundreds of bombs in the capitol city of a nation in an attempt to assassinate that country's leader. That such action would inevitably lead to the deaths of innocents is obvious even to the densest of posters. That such an action would terrorize the population, equally obvious. Only one of us has ever cheered such a horrific act of terror. Does it offend me for you to have pretended my words spoke of admiration for bin Laden? Not so much as it amuses me that you don't see just how alike the two of you are.

Your cheerleading for death is such a disgrace to the uniform that I wonder if you aren't just pretending. I certainly hope so.

Posted by: heavy on December 17, 2007 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I guess we're just two guys in a bathtub for these folks.

What I struggle with regarding Obama is that he's basically A Speech and a personality. We've elected Presidents for less, of course, but it still ain't much -- and when I consider a Senator with a thin record running against a Governor (Huckabee and Romney can point to positions pretty much on all sides of any given issue) at a time when the public wants to throw the bums out of Washington, well: I worry.

A Governor running against A Senator has a natural advantage.

Obscure: I wonder if you realize just how vividly you illustrate my point. Cuz THAT's the biggest vulnerability that I see for progressives next year -- it's not so much the candidates, as it is the base of their appeal.

I mean -- why DOES it bug y'all more that I point out that folks who say dumb things are stooooopid, than that Rick B sez "America is evil"?

Why WOULD somebody be quick to excuse folks who argue that our enemies can save "innocent lives" by torturing American pilots to find out "when the next wedding will be bombed", AS IF that was a reasonable argument in ANY conceiveable way?

Remember, I had simply said that torturing Americans could NEVER save 'innocent lives'. I'll confess to being a bit subtle, cuz I decided NOT to add that this is another instance of how torture doesn't work -- I wasn't arguing that Americans never blow up innocent people by accident, just taking for granted that the pilots on THIS raid don't know where the NEXT raid will go, and couldn't be expected to give up any useful information at all even under torture, much less stuff that they wouldn't know.

But like I keep pointing out, it's what folks take for granted, what they read into something that ain't there, what they DON'T object to, as well as what they do, that is so revealing in a focus group where people feel "everybody" is like them: there is nothing in what those posters actually said that even REMOTELY supports some asshole's contention that it was some sort of thought experiment on their part. It's obvious, obscure, that they were so eager to dis the idea I did NOT say (that Americans don't kill innocents) that they skipped right to the Notion that, as coltergeist put it:

"So if an Taliban fighter captures an American soldier and totures that soldier for information and finds out that an airstrike is called for on a group of people that are in fact another wedding party, that Taliban fighter will no doubt believe he is saving innocent lives. And if the group of people are in fact a wedding party, then he will in fact be saving innocent lives. "

Colter might argue (lamely) that he actually AGREED with me, cuz our guys would be so well-trained that they'd hold out long enough... to not say what they wouldn't know?

My point is that this is an INCREDIBLY stooopid thing to say, dumb to the point of being both unAmerican and evil. That's why I noted what Dijalis learned from studying torture (noting in passing that I had been wrong about some of it): it really does NEVER work, and you can't train people to resist -- they either can, or can't.

A smarter set of folks would have promptly smacked Colter upside his pointy head with the facts that 1) torture is WRONG (isn't that where y'all keep starting the argument EXCEPT when it is made to excuse our enemies????), 2) It doesn't work, and 3) Even if it DID work, American pilots still can't tell the enemy what they don't know.

And yet -- your reaction continues to prove my point. You're NOT saying "gee, it is wrong AND stoooopid for us to stand by gawking in silent approval when one of us sez 'America is evil'", that we bomb weddings on purpose. (WTF?)

Nope, you're insisting that the guy who objects to that bullshit consensus here is NOT one of "us", and should be ridiculed until he goes away.

LOL -- fuck you. You're too much fun -- and unintentionally useful to me.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 17, 2007 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

Torture is against US and International Law. If conservatives believe it is useful to torture regardless of certainty over the guilt or knowledge of the one being tortured, they need to propose legislation and possibly a constitutional amendment to allow it.

As long as it is against current law, however, it is inherently corrupting of our civil society to rationalize or otherwise justify the failure to follow the law without the majority of country giving their support through appropriate legislation. Unless, of course, they no longer believe in democracy either.

Posted by: BobPM on December 17, 2007 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Goon, you claim to have been a bomber pilot, and you claim to have dropped your bombs on human beings - those people are dead. Whether you want to pretend that, because you dressed up in fancy clothes, you didn't murder them doesn't matter. It is you who claim to take pride in your history of killing. I suppose you could have been lying the entire time.

heavy, I appreciate your honesty. You basically strip back the veneer of nicety from the left and state it as the left sees it. Military = bunch of muderers, America = bad, Osama = misunderstood (bet you wish you could have edited that post). Fueled by pure hatred, undiluted by civility.

You're the poster child for the left.

Posted by: SJRSM on December 17, 2007 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

I hope that the person who you quote dies a quick but incredibly painful death.

Posted by: LarryM on December 17, 2007 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

No, SJRSM, he's not. Heavy and the rest of these guys are sorta the middle managers of the left -- not entirely competent, but tolerable in a profitable enterprise.

Trouble is, the left is only a marginal business at the moment, and one of the better potential results in 2008 is that progressives may elect a President who will FIRE the dumbass middle management that has so damaged the progressive moment for a generation or two.

Nobody elected ME, of course (I refused to run), but I don't think I'm untypical of the mainstream progressive: I'm not a veteran, but I'm waaay pro-military. (Weirdly, one thing I have in common with Senator Clinton (which I just learned the other day)is that we both interviewed with the Marines in the fall of 1975. I wasn't satisfied with college, and the waste of time that was my interview left a lasting impression of the US military at the rock bottom of its morale and management.)

I'm as ferocious a critic of the GOP knuckleheads as anybody I know, but I don't forget that they have won more elections than they've lost over my career -- and I don't believe in dissing the electorate when you're asking for their support. That's why I keep harping on the Rule of Four.

I'm not an elected official (so much for the parallel with Clinton, let's not even mention the beard), but I am waaay respectful of people who run for office, just because they HAVE run for office. We ought to have more of that happy warrior stuff (I wish Clinton had followed up her laugh, when Obama said he was hoping to have the benefit of her advice when he gets to the White House, by asking tartly: "Shall I start now? I got a piece of advice for you, buddy..."), but also flat out respect for ANYBODY who subjects his or her reputation and privacy to the kind of politics that have somehow become accepted.

The country has big chunks of very conservative communities: they get to be represented in government. It's NOT illegitimate for there to be folks in Congress who consider same sex marriage to be a threat to our national security -- it's not, but they think it is, and that's legit enough... for them to be outvoted.

Cuz in the end, that's the historical legacy that progressives gotta get over: we're the heirs of folks who were DENIED the chance to vote (Jim Crow, women, etc.) so a whole lot of our politics is wrapped up in the courts and demonstrations rather than elections. So we have this streak of progressive DNA that disses elections and voters: we're the folks who LOST to Nixon.

Twice.

That DNA is a wellspring of the Adlai Stevenson idea that the public is too dumb to know how right we are -- which you see in these threads all the time, to my unceasing amusement.

But THESE folks aren't the poster children for the left. They're not that important. They're like the deadwood that gets cut out when the new team comes in.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 17, 2007 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Can someone waterboard Drum's pro-torture poster for being a full-blown idiot?

Posted by: Hop on December 17, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

It's odd that I have to keep saying this, yet I can remain secure in the knowledge that it never, ever penetrates: I use this place as a kind of personal focus group.

If you keep saying something, and your audience never seems to understand you, it may be time to reconsider whether it's your message or the audience that's really at fault.

Remember: the response you receive is the true meaning of your communication. And if the response you consistently receive is "Christ, what a pompous garbled insecure asshole" then, well.....

Posted by: Stefan on December 17, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

He doesn't find ANY evidence that torture works: most people being tortured just scream or pass out without providing any information, the few who DO provide information aren't reliable, there is no reliable way to train resistance, but then, interrogators are less effective at sorting out the truth from lies than a coin toss would be (and remember, interrogating terrorists isn't like "did you do it?" investigations when the cops KNOW a crime has been committed; it's much more open ended).

Of course torture works: getting someone to scream and pass out is the whole point of it. The torturer doesn't REALLY want any reliable information -- if he did he'd try to get it through the best method for doing so, which is sitting down and talking to the person. What the torturer really wants to do is cause pain, fear, and suffering, wants to terrorize and intimidate and make everyone else so fearful of being the next victim that they'll bow down and cease resisting his authority. For that, torture works quite well.

Posted by: Stefan on December 17, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Generally speaking, Stefan, when you're objecting to an observation, it helps not to confirm it two seconds later.

Like I said upthread (and in every single thread on torture that I've participated in), IF PROPONENTS OF TORTURE SIMPLY WANT TO HURT PEOPLE, let 'em make that argument.

By starting with "it doesn't work", we force 'em to say "well, okay, but it's still cruel and illegal!!!!"

I've had any # of folks (like you) who object to the way I've insisted on the point, BUT EACH ONE PROVES I'M RIGHT TO MAKE IT.

(beautific smile)

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 17, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK
....I'm learning a little about how it is, on issue after issue, progressives are incapable of persuading large chunks of the public..... theAmericanist at 7:40 AM
Perhaps you should check with American opinion before making such a fool of yourself.
You're the poster child for the left. SJRSM at 10:16 AM
You're a poster child for pro-torture moronic war mongering. On one hand, you defend the stupidity of launching wars against countries that did not attack the US then you defend the utter stupidity of occupying them incompetently.
....So we have this streak of progressive DNA that disses elections and voters: we're the folks who LOST to Nixon.....theAmericanist at 10:47 AM
No,unlike Repubicans, progressives RESPECT the electorate and the election PROCESS. It's a shame that RACISM and CORPORATE MONEY able to make people vote against their INTEREST, but the fact that they do is no reason to support those ANTI-DEMOCRATIC policies CUZ then LOL idiots like you whine and cry like LI'L babies. Posted by: Mike on December 17, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

By starting with "it doesn't work", we force 'em to say "well, okay, but it's still cruel and illegal!!!!"

Why would the people who WANT to torture concede that it's cruel and illegal? That doesn't make any sense.

Posted by: Stefan on December 17, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

You're a poster child for pro-torture...
Posted by: Mike

Since I've repeatedly in this thread and others come out against torture as an interrogation device or otherwise, thanks for making yourself look stupid(er).

Posted by: SJRSM on December 17, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

By starting with "it doesn't work", we force 'em to say "well, okay, but it's still cruel and illegal!!!!"

Problem is that, for every expert you point to that agrees with you, the other side can bring out ten that claim that it does. If one of their people says (truthfully or not) that actual attacks were thwarted because of torture, what makes you think you can be successful arguing against that? The point is, neither you nor anyone else here is an expert on this, because we've never tortured anyone. We say what we read and hear, but the other side has its own experts and you can't fight them.

That's why relying on "it doesn't work" puts you on thin ice. Nobody's going to take your word for it. But arguing the morality of it, the "is this us?" side -- no experts are needed for that one. Everyone is an expert. And if you point out (which you have said before is stoooopid) that our govt incited the country to go to war partly to close down "Saddam's torture chambers", and now is using those same torture chambers, you expose the fraud. Again, no technical expert is needed for this. Everyone can figure it out.

And make up your mind theAm -- what is this place to you? A bunch of guinea pigs? A place where effective political strategies should be developed? Or a place you go to shoot off your mouth after you've had a few beers?

Posted by: JS on December 17, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Your letter writer asserts "John Kiriakou said that waterboarding a terrorist stopped dozens of attacks."
He believes John Kiriakou because Kiriakou asserts something he WANTS to believe. However, years of research and dozens of expert interrogators have said exactly the opposite. He blithely ignores them because he doesn't WANT to believe it, preferring the unsupported assertions of a media-hungry self-promoter. The evidence is all the other way but evidence is immaterial in the gut-based truthiness that sustains this writers exucse-mongering for evil

Still, we don't need to argue the efficacy of tortue because any decent, moral and human person who is not a closet fascist knows that to do evil for good is to do evil. The ends do not justifcy the means and evil acts are evil acts.

Posted by: Kija Persson on December 17, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Let me state up front that I agree that torture is not effective as a means of gathering information. For this reason alone, aside from all the moral reasons, it should not be used. Torture is a good way, though, of breaking and intimidating people and setting examples that other people would want to avoid.

About the Israelis and Palestinians: The Palestinian Terror groups target Israeli civilans regardless of their age and sex. They also hide in the civilan population and use them as human shields. That is why Palestinian civilans are killed in Israeli counter terror attacks. Typical of Palestinian terror attacks was their launching of rockets against Israeli towns and kibbutzes in the Negev desert from the rooftop of a school in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian suicide bombers happen because the Palestinians have been indoctrinated in the hatred of Jews just as the Germans were by the Nazis. Oh, and about people being driven off their land: What about the 850,000 Jews driven out of Arab countries, before, during and after the creation of Israel? Most of these displaced Jews ended up in Israel where they became part of the new country, while the Palestinians were cruely kept in refugee camps by their "Arab Brothers" and became the first permanent refugees, who unlike the millions of refugees of the 20th Century never were resettled and were turned into a hate filled human weapon to be used against Israel. About the explusion of the Jews from the Arab countries where they lived for hundreds, and in the case of Iraq, thousands of years, see "Jewish Refugees from Arab countries: The case for Rights and Redress" at http://www.justiceforjews.com/jjac.pdf
(Hat tip to Hurry Up Harry)

Posted by: David All on December 17, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

The real problem is a several key tendencies of the authoritarian personality, all demonstrated by your correspondent:

The tendency to identify with the in-group's authority figures and to accept at face value their own benevolent characterization of their goals and good intentions.

The tendency to accept at face value those authority figures' identification of "bad guys" whom it is permissible to dehumanize and treat as "other."

The tendency to defend authority figures' actions when they harm innocents, as "accidental" or "mistaken," or "collateral damage." This involves continuing to treat the leadership's self-described good intentions at face value. For example, your correspondent's contrast of deliberate Palestinian terrorism to a "stray bullet" from Israelis, neglecting the fact that Israelis systematically engage in collective punishment, bulldozing entire villages as a deliberate means of policy to terrorize the occupied population.

Your correspondent is the stereotypical Good German who doesn't know, and doesn't WANT to know, what "our guys" in uniform actually do, because then he'd have to take responsibility for it. The Germans didn't WANT to know about the smoke coming out of those smokestacks, either. Pretty much the suburban soccer mom's attitude toward law enforcement--in her world, cops systematically planting evidence, coerced confessions, etc., don't even exist. And the possibility that perhaps the appeal of a badge and a gun, or the ability to engage in waterboarding, would actually ATTRACT the most bestial types of human beings, the kind of people who ENJOY that kind of monstrous power--in short the possibility that POWER CORRUPTS--likewise doesn't exist in Matrix reality.

In fact, the U.S. national security state has trained, funded, and actively encouraged some of the most evil people in the world: Suharto (who murdered hundreds of thousands and was given a hit list by the helpful folks in the Jakarta CIA station), Mobutu, the Central American death squads, Pinochet and Operation Condor... well, you get the idea. And despite the talk of the "communist threat," the main motivation was usually to defend feudal landed oligarchs or Western oil companies.

Someday I hope these filthy fucking pigs get dragged before a revolutionary court in chains. And if some innocent person gets sent to the firing squad, well, after all, your correspondent will understand because WE MEAN WELL.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on December 17, 2007 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Oy -- so many morons, so little time. In reverse order:

1) The "Good German" myth, is a ... myth. Most Germans knew goddam well what was going on, and were all for it.

2) Never Again, squared: the Israel/Palestinian thing should teach the rest of us two simple lessons. We should never again watch (yeah, I know) while genocide is committed is the first lesson. But the second is also critical -- we should never again let a whole people grow up in refugee camps. This sorta crap has to be resolved in the first generation. (Somebody pointed out once that the only country in the Middle East where Palestinians could be citizens was... Israel. What's THAT tell you?)

3) Ah, the "abuse of expertise"... LOL.

Look, knucklehead: CLAIMS are not evidence. There is a TON of evidence that torture does not work. When any asshole advocate for torture tells you it DOES -- remind 'em that John McCain signed a confession. Repeat as necessary.

Finally,

4) Since you ask: I post here (most of the time, it's not like I'm DISCIPLINED about it) cuz I find it useful to watch what folks take for granted, what they assume "everybody knows", what they object to, and what they quietly accept, e.g., "America is evil".

When I feel like it, which is maybe one in four or five threads, I will argue with folks about things that interest me directly, or about which I think I can provoke folks into showing me something that, just maybe, I can use.

F'r instance, I find that the Beauchamp stuff reveals just how profoundly out of touch most progressives are with the military, and I learned a lot pushing that around.

The torture argument gets to something more fundamental, though: it's embarrassingly easy to provoke folks into saying the most ungodly anti-American crap, oddly enough BECAUSE the primary motivation for most folks who argue here about torture is a bone-deep ignorant self-righteousness. KC is a good example of that -- the professional MILITARY is PASSIONATELY against torture as an American policy, cuz they literally have skin in the game.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 17, 2007 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

There is a TON of evidence that torture does not work. When any asshole advocate for torture tells you it DOES -- remind 'em that John McCain signed a confession. Repeat as necessary.

So the torture worked exactly as intended. The North Vietnamese wanted a signed confession from John McCain saying that he was an air pirate that they could wave around for propaganda purposes, and they got it.

Posted by: Stefan on December 17, 2007 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

oddly enough BECAUSE the primary motivation for most folks who argue here about torture is a bone-deep ignorant self-righteousness

Can't. Stop. Laughing.

Posted by: Stefan on December 17, 2007 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

"and I learned a lot pushing that around"

Since you basically lied in your every post on that thread, I really doubt that you learned anything.

Posted by: PaulB on December 17, 2007 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Can't. Stop. Laughing."

That post was hilarious, wasn't it? I loved this comment, too:

"what they object to, and what they quietly accept, e.g., 'America is evil'."

Considering the stereotypes and ignorance that our dear chum brings to these discussions, he's got no room to complain about anyone else here.

Posted by: PaulB on December 17, 2007 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Look, knucklehead: CLAIMS are not evidence."

ROFLMAO.... Oh, the irony, coming from this particular commenter.

Posted by: PaulB on December 17, 2007 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

And so the swaggering jingoistic goon once again hides behinds his pretty clothes and jewelry to excuse his slaughter of human beings. He thinks this separates him from bin Laden. He is, of course, wrong.

So Mary, show me the post where I approve of anything bin Laden said? Show me the post where I approve of killing? Show me the post where I act in any way like you?

See you will, if pressed in the least, show your support for terrorist style bombings. Sure, you want them done from a safe and cowardly distance by people playing dress-up, but bombs placed among civilians are a terrorizing and therefore a terrorist tactic, no matter who does it. And you are okay with that.

I have a much higher bar for killing than you do. I don't support it when irregulars like the Wastewater corporation or random Joe-Iraqis do it, I don't support it when cowards in planes do it, and I don't support it when individual soldiers do it in a house to house search.

I only support killing when there is no other choice. When the alternatives to murder are so heinous that the only rational choice is to take a human life.

Your posts here indicate that your bar is significantly lower. Someone may, someday, perhaps, develop technology that might hurt people who live in a geographic area contiguous to yours but not necessarily within a thousand miles of you and that's sufficient for you to support the slaughter of tens of thousands of his countrymen if it means we might get that person.

And for the record, you aren't the military. Calling you a murderer for your gleeful slaughter of human beings says nothing about those who have the ability to reflect on their actions and who understand that every death is a tragedy. You are a murderer because you care nothing for your victims.

Posted by: heavy on December 17, 2007 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

So Mary, show me the post where I approve of anything bin Laden said?
Posted by: heavy

You agreed with him in thinking that the plight of Muslims is due to western imperialism, you said that our military is just a bunch of murdering thugs, and you said that America is evil. That's quite enough to put an identity on you, thank you very much.

Posted by: SJRSM on December 18, 2007 at 7:44 AM | PERMALINK

This writer's concept of evil is extremely immature. It's on the level of a kid's superhero cartoon. We good, they bad. The line between good and evil does not run between ourselves and The Other. Quoting Christian theologian N.T. Wright, that line "runs through every one of us." I have never met a person on "the left" who is "uncomfortable" with the idea of "evil," although I'm sure there are people - of many political persuasions - that are nihilists and moral relativists. I will note, however, since we are on the subject of nihilism, that it is the writer, not those he's criticizing, that rationalizes evil actions in the service of "intentions."

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that the writer is a religious person, possibly a Christian. In case that turns out to be true, I want to just take a moment and address the issue on those grounds. I am a Christian before I am an American. I know of absolutely no teaching of Christ or an example from His life that would justify torture. And if you are able to imagine Him - who said "love your enemies, return good for evil" - torturing a person to within an inch of their lives, then you might want to re-examine your moral surroundings. I suspect you might find yourself in the wastelands.

Posted by: DC on December 18, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

What your right-wing correspondent fails to understand is that the idea that we do not torture is part of the essence of Americanism. When we send our armies afield, we are defending the virtues of a democratic society; freedom of speech, the right to vote, freedom of religion, etc.

Once we resort to torture, we diminish who we are as a nation, and we lose our right to speak from the high moral ground. Our standing in the international community suffers, and our allies abandon us (see Iraq.)

And worst of all, we lose the right to raise our voices when Americans abroad are tortured.

Posted by: global yokel on December 18, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, it's good if we do it, when it's for the right reasons.

That's exactly what bin Laden, Stalin, Hitler, and every other creep that decided they know so much more than everyone else that they have the right to decide whose lives are worth saving.

We're responsible for more civilians (including many more women and children) dead than bin Laden, by a factor of 10 or so, but it's OK... we've got GOOD INTENTIONS!!

Fuck your "good intentions", they don't mean shit to me. bin Laden think's he's saving the world from the evils of the West, Bush thinks he's saving the world from the evils of Islam... leave us normal people the HELL ALONE. Why don't you try a solution that doesn't kill a whole lot of people who never did anything to you.

If you think it's OK to bomb the hell out of civilian areas because "we're the good guys"... guess what: you're no longer on the side of good guys, you're on the side of people who think they're so fuckin' smart that they know whether the people who die (like on 9-11) are "worth it" or not.

Posted by: prunes on December 18, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

The Israeli analogy highlights the fundamental disconnect between the (Israeli) Right and any hope for peace in the Middle East. Palestinian "terrorists" *don't* put a gun to a child's head and pull the trigger. They blow up coffee shops and buses targeting who they think are "combatants". If a child is killed, in their view it is collateral damage - just as the death of a Palestinian child in a fire fight is considered collateral damage by the Israeli side.

My point is, without a system of morality (it's wrong to torture, kill children, etc), *both* sides have equally valid arguments that they are correct. This is one of the principle weaknesses of moral relativism. And I find it extremely ironic that in the midst of a "national crisis", that the GOP quickly tossed aside the moral high ground and jumped on the torture bandwagon. They pulled a "Romney" and your friend is the prime example of the type of person that should NOT be involved in US policy.

What was that they used to say, "when the going got tough..."?

Posted by: SJH on December 18, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

One other point: You can't have your cake and eat it too. EITHER you embrace moral relativism (i.e. endorse torture/there is no "good" or "evil") OR accept moral absolutism (torture always wrong/always act good).

But you don't get to say, "we are good, they are evil" in an absolutist moral appeal to justify something completely amoral like torturing another human being. That is the sheer idiocy which the Right has embraced.

Posted by: SJH on December 18, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Correspondent:

"A cop shooting a murderer is not the same as a murderer shooting an innocent victim, although both use guns, and at the end, someone is bleeding and dying."

This sentence alone provides a neat little window into the mindset of the torture apologist.

Because guess what? Cops don't get to shoot murderers. A murderer is someone who has been convicted of murder, by a jury of peers.

This may seem like I'm poking at semantics, but I think it demonstrates a systemic problem with many conservatives: not thinking about what they claim to be thinking about. Instead, they slap a convenient label on a person as they quickly rush to their point of their bumper-sticker thesis.

Take the topic at hand, the supposed torture of terrorists. What exactly IS a "terrorist"? How do we even KNOW that the person we are torturing IS a terrorist (and/or has information to be extracted)?

What frightens me about your correspondent is not only does he not know the answer to these questions, but -- as a matter of policy -- it doesn't occur to him to even ask the questions! It's apparently inconvenient to consider the issue.

In his two-dimensional perception, the only important factor is that the subject of interrogation is a 'terrorist' and that we need to 'win', without regard to what a terrorist IS, or even what "winning" means.

There is no logic, no moral standard, no anything other than a us-good-them-bad mentality. It's profoundly backwater and neanderthal, the very traits that conservatives like to thrust on our enemies.

Posted by: Kman on December 18, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

A piece at a time:

"I want our side to win. Or maybe more accurately, I don't want our side to lose."

Who does? This is hardly the basis for any argument. However, it exposes cleanly the anxiety at the heart of most conservative arguments for trashing more than 200 years of American ideals.

"As with any other form of violence, motivation is everything. A cop shooting a murderer is not the same as a murderer shooting an innocent victim, although both use guns, and at the end, someone is bleeding and dying."

This is a rationalization at best, a justification for atrocities at worst. Cops shoot innocent people from time to time, and all of their shootings take place before an adjudication of guilt or innocence. That's why they don't shoot, 99% of the time.

"You'd be amazed at how many people find these things nearly equivalent."

True, dat. And sad.

"A leftist I know sees no difference between a Palestinian child dying from a stray Israeli bullet during a firefight, and an Israeli child dying when a Palestinian terrorist puts the barrel of a gun to the kid's forehead and blows his brains across the back wall of the child's bedroom. In his two-dimensional perception, the only important factor is that both resulted in a dead child. Avoiding true moral analysis and motivations allows him to skirt the concept of "evil," a term which makes many liberals intensely uncomfortable."

Um, I think any rational person knows the difference in those two examples. And I think we're intimately acquainted with the concept of "evil", but we see it in other places from this writer. It's not "evil" that makes people uncomfortable -- it's the lengths some will go to fight evil that causes discomfort.

"John Kiriakou said that waterboarding a terrorist stopped dozens of attacks. Dozens. Not attacks on military targets, but attacks on innocent non-combatants."

Doesn't make it right. And until there's proof of his claims (which appear factually challenged), let's leave him out of this. Because for every Kiriakou, there are others in the military who say torture doesn't work and doesn't produce useful information.

But that's not the point of his post, and it's a lengthy and unsolvable debate for another day.

"The terrorists who torture and kill our prisoners (never something as benign as waterboarding) don't do it because they need information to save innocent people. They do it because they like it, because they want to hurt or kill someone."

Waterboarding is not "benign". It ain't murder, but it ain't benign. Don't try slipping that one under the wire, bub.

This paragraph suffers from cariacture -- terrorists who torture are evil sadists. When we do it, it's clinical, controlled, and we avert our eyes. No American really enjoys torture. Hmf.

There are sadists on all sides, and "people who do what the sadist tell them to do because they're weak" on all sides, and people who try to make an evil thing humane on both sides. And I guarantee you that we've done the same things you say they've done -- killed for sport. But we need to hate the enemy, so we have to believe he's capable of almost anything, while our side stays pure. John Wayne movies weren't true then and they're not true now. They are, however, quite pleasant.

"At some point you have to decide if a known terrorist having a very bad day (after which he goes back to a hot meal and a cot) is more of a moral problem than allowing a terrorist to blow up a building full of people."

At some point, you have to decide whether America is a land of ideals to which others aspire or is, instead, as rotten and hollowed-out as the people we're fighting. This is not now, and never has been, about giving a terrorist a "bad day". (Again, another minimizing euphemism for torture. You go through it and see how bad your day is.)

Treating prisoners humanely has been our hallmark. Why run from it now? Don't get me wrong -- if our guys find a terrorist in the wild, shoot the sonofabitch. But we cannot become what we hate in order to ward off what we hate. If that happens, as GW sez, the terrorists win.

"Yes, it's good if we do it, when it's for the right reasons. So far, it's been for the right reasons. And no, it isn't good when it's done to us, for the reasons it has been done to us. Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives.

Got it?"

Every side always has the "right reasons". There were lots of folks in Germany who thought the way Hitler treated the Jews was harsh, but was done for the right reasons. As someone mentioned up-post, the enemy is torturing our guys to save the lives *they* consider innocent.

Did we really, really wanna turn into al Qaida?

Posted by: Dave on December 18, 2007 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Animals without compassion or any semblance of morality.

Unfortunate indeed.

Posted by: Scott on December 18, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Chris Hedges, a reporter for the New York Times, was the Middle East bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, based in Jerusalem, from 1988 to 1990. He was the Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times, based in Cairo, from 1991 to 1995.

Chris Hedges wrote this piece called A Gaza Diary. Quote:

Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men, six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously wound four more, three of whom are under eighteen. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered - death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo - but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.
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