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Tilting at Windmills

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March 10, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

NO TORTURE. NO EXCEPTIONS....The latest issue of the Monthly is devoted to a single subject: torture. An editors' note explains:

In most issues of the Washington Monthly, we favor articles that we hope will launch a debate. In this issue we seek to end one. The unifying message of the articles that follow is, simply, Stop.

What follows is a set of 37 short essays by writers from all over the political spectrum, from Bob Barr on the right to Nancy Pelosi and Jimmy Carter on the left. You can find them all here, and I'll be highlighting a few of them throughout the week. In one of them, journalist Peter Bergen talks about the torture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

What is perhaps most astonishing of all is that the mistreatment of KSM and bin al-Shibh was entirely unnecessary. Before they were captured, they had explained the details of the 9/11 attacks in an April 2002 interview with Yosri Fouda, an Al Jazeera correspondent....The CIA provided summaries of the interrogations of KSM and bin al-Shibh to the 9/11 Commission. There is little or no difference between the account that KSM and bin al-Shibh freely volunteered to Fouda in the spring of 2002 and the version the commission published in its 2004 report. Nor was Fouda's reporting difficult to find: he hosted a one-hour documentary on Al Jazeera, wrote a long piece in London's Sunday Times, and coauthored a book, Masterminds of Terror, about KSM and bin al-Shibh. By the time CIA officials captured the pair, a full account of their operations was only a Google search away.

Obviously, then, it was unnecessary to waterboard KSM to find out what he knew about the 9/11 plot. What, though, of the administration's assertion that coercive interrogation techniques have saved American lives? To assess that claim, we must examine the details of other terrorist plots that KSM gave up after his capture, presented in a document the government released in 2006:

KSM launched several plots targeting the US Homeland, including a plot in late 2001 to have ... suicide operatives hijack a plane over the Pacific and crash it into a skyscraper on the US West Coast; a plan in early 2002 to send al-Qa'ida operatives to conduct attacks in the U.S.; and a plot in early 2003 to employ a network of Pakistanis ... to smuggle explosives into New York and to target gas stations, railroad tracks, and a bridge in New York.

It all sounds very frightening, except that there is no indication that these plots were ever more than talk.

In other words, not only was torture unnecessary, but it was actually counterproductive. KSM produced no new information under torture, only a litany of false confessions — maybe out of vanity, maybe in an effort to protect other al-Qaeda operatives. Who knows. What we do know is that torturing KSM did no good, sent hundreds of agents scurrying after phantoms, and has made his prosecution far more difficult than it needed to be.

Most of you reading this hardly need to be convinced on this score. But you almost certainly know people who do need to be convinced — and who need more than just a moral argument. So this is it. The next time somebody asks, tell them the story of Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Tell them the story of not just how torture has tainted America's claim to the moral high ground throughout the world, but how it's actively hurt the war on terror. Tell them.

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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Comments

The NYT story at Google News about Bush vetoing a stop to torture has a headline about how his veto "Affirms Bush's Legacy" and contains text about how Bush "further cemented his legacy."

Why does the NYT just to use up-with-Bush propagandizing language? Are they FOX NEWS now? It's despicable!!

Affirming? Cementing? Or how about "crawled out from a rock and spread his slime over everything he touches." How about that?

Posted by: Anon on March 10, 2008 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

The NYT story at Google News about Bush vetoing a stop to torture has a headline about how his veto "Affirms Bush's Legacy" and contains text about how Bush "further cemented his legacy."

Why does the NYT have to use up-with-Bush propagandizing language? Are they FOX NEWS now? It's despicable!!

Affirming? Cementing? Or how about "crawled out from a rock and spread his slime over everything he touches." How about that?

Posted by: Anon on March 10, 2008 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

Nancy Pelosi's on the left? News to me.

Posted by: cbtlover on March 10, 2008 at 1:14 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, the people who most need to hear about this are those who only read, believe and circulate all those wingnut hate factory, pass-around emails composed in giant red font.

Posted by: Varecia on March 10, 2008 at 1:16 AM | PERMALINK

This is important work. Others have been working on this as well, but it is a good sign and a positive step for WM to devote an entire issue to this.

Others should follow (as in, they should, not that they necessarily will). Voices in the wilderness need to become a chorus before anyone with power will grow a spine and do what we have always, until 9-11, known was right.

The fact we debate this topic today is sickening. The other fact is that we have to win the debate and put this issue back in the deep dark corner of unserious topics it had, and should, inhabit.

Posted by: abject funk on March 10, 2008 at 1:28 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think the debate about whether "torture" is ever justified can be solved by Kevin, Washington Monthly or this thread (you guys do know that the subject of waterboarding apparently recovers in seconds with no lasting harm, right?), but I marvel at the smug "know it all" attitude of Kevin and others who would rule out torture in any circumstances.

From the comfort of California with no real knowledge or experience related to how to defend against evil terrorists, Kevin definitively declares that the two waterboarding he knows about "actively hurt the war on terror" and that now he and his disciplines should educate the world that "torture" of any kind must be stopped and never considered in any circumstances. The liberal ivory tower must be a nice place to live, where you have all the answers and all your friends agree.

Posted by: brian on March 10, 2008 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

I think Brian has a point here. Similarly, genocide has gotten a bum rap. It's easy to sit in your liberal ivory tower and decree that it's always wrong to exterminate a people.

Also, murder, the sexual abuse of children, and flaying people's skin off and knitting it together into a leisure suit may be justified, depending on the circumstances.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 10, 2008 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

brooksfoe,

Temporary discomfort of a known terrorist to try to save innocents is somewhat different than everything cite in your sarcasm.

I realize that few here are open to any real debate about the possible morality of extremely limited exceptions to a ban on torture. I hope the principle you espouse never causes the death of thousands or millions of innocents. I'm also fairly confident that the people with real responsibility for trying to protect innocents will, regardless of what Kevin and Washington Monthly may think, do what is necessary to try to protect them.

Posted by: brian on March 10, 2008 at 1:50 AM | PERMALINK

Brooksfoe, one problem you face is that the same people who are ok with torture are pretty much ok with genocide.

Posted by: Boronx on March 10, 2008 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

brian, people have been tortured quite often for thousands of years, and yet you're without a clue about what it is what it does.

Posted by: boronx on March 10, 2008 at 1:56 AM | PERMALINK

One last point about Kevin's analysis. He takes the example of two people who were waterboarded and what one guy says about what it produced, than expands from that to conclusions about every situation. You simply can't take a situation or two and decide the same result will apply in every case.

Posted by: brian on March 10, 2008 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

I can't believe I am going to respond to brian-the-banal, but I am, even though I know it is futile.

You sick fuck. You craven fucking coward. The ease with which you dismiss torture is sickening.

(you guys do know that the subject of waterboarding apparently recovers in seconds with no lasting harm, right?)

Let's waterboard you and see if it causes you any lasting harm? PTSD qualifies as lasting harm, you sick freak.

but I marvel at the smug "know it all" attitude of Kevin and others who would rule out torture in any circumstances.

I suppose that I am a smug know it all, because I certainly would rule out torture in any and all circumstances.

And how precious that you dismiss another as having no real experience on which to base an opinion. What is yours? What the fuck have you ever done?

The liberal ivory tower must be a nice place to live, where you have all the answers and all your friends agree.

Fuck you, punk. I don't have to have all the answers, but I have a moral core and I know right from wrong. That is a damned good place to start.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on March 10, 2008 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

The conservative bunker must be a terrifying and dark place to live, being so thoroughly saturated with fear and cowardice.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on March 10, 2008 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

Brian - First off, I think Blue Girl has your number and she strikes me as very bright. Secondly, I wonder if you can even pronounce bronchioles and alveolar sacs; because you clearly don't have a clue as to what happens to them as a result of waterboarding and how mostly irreversible said damage is. Your little tripe about how marvelous and safe waterboarding is is dead wrong and flat out ignorant. Lastly, almost every expert in the world will tell you that information obtained through torture is so uniformly unreliable as to be totally worthless. And before you babbling some BS about the "ticking time bomb scenario", you should know that experts will also state that such a situation would be the worst application for information obtained by way of torture because you could not afford to waste time on bad information. I have worked in the past with some of the leading experts in the world on coerced and tortured confessions and evidence; every single one of them would call you a fool for harboring the thoughts you have expressed here. All also state unequivocally that torture yields such habitually bad and false evidence that it is completely unsupportable as a useful technique. You need to educate yourself on subjects before you spout off.

Posted by: bmaz on March 10, 2008 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

Christ, brooksfoe, how do you make it through a day? Terrists everywhere! Brown people! Libruls! Please return to your Unabomber shack and reminisce of your 2002 glory days. The rest of us need to clean up the mountains of political dog shit left by the GOP.

Posted by: Lux on March 10, 2008 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK

Uh, Lux, I think Brooksfoe was being sarcastic to Brian, and it is Brian you should be aiming that at.

Posted by: bmaz on March 10, 2008 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

Well, blue girl weighs in with her usual respectful and measured perspective. Now, we are worried about terrorist killers suffering PTSD. But then I really did not expect any reasonable discussion here.

I respect the principle of the never torture viewpoint and only question whether it is the right approach in the real and dangerous world.

Good night, and best wishes to all, with the hope that there is never a need to torture any terrorist and never an occasion when a blanket prohibition on torture results in the deaths of innocents.

Posted by: brian on March 10, 2008 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

I only treat those who deserve it respectfully, and you absolutely do not. You barely rate scorn and derision.

You have been slapped down repeatedly on this topic, and still you apologize for torture. You always dismiss the process others have gone through to arrive at their positions, discounting them as irrelevant. So again, what have you ever done? Besides quake in fear, piss all over yourself and apologize for a fascist overthrow of the American way of life?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on March 10, 2008 at 2:27 AM | PERMALINK

And by the way, you towering jackass, I didn't say that I was worried about whether or not terrorists suffer from PTSD (are they real terrorists, or Sears Tower terrorists? apologies to Frank Zappa for that...) - I said PTSD constitutes lasting harm. And you know it - you are just desperate to cling to any reed to support your argument, no matter how thin it is. Even if it means tweaking another persons comment that is right there in complete sentences, ready for the diagramming.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on March 10, 2008 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

brian, I'm not nearly as well-versed as Blue Girl on this particular subject, nor as eloquently spoken, so I guess the standard line, which I've used more times than I can count in response to your nonsensical posts, will once again have to suffice:

Blow it out your ass, clown.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on March 10, 2008 at 2:37 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with brooksfoe, unless he was being ironic -- in which case, my support for him would only be ironic.

I too posted my best photo taken in my bikini. But only ironically.

Posted by: absent observer on March 10, 2008 at 2:38 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how low the standards of the next Republican administration in 2016 or 2020 will be.

Posted by: swio on March 10, 2008 at 2:39 AM | PERMALINK

Hey Don in Hawaii, this is like old times....

Posted by: bmaz on March 10, 2008 at 2:39 AM | PERMALINK

WATERBOARD REPUBLIKKKANS!!!!!

Posted by: me on March 10, 2008 at 2:42 AM | PERMALINK

In most issues of the Washington Monthly, we favor articles that we hope will launch a debate. In this issue we seek to end one. The unifying message of the articles that follow is, simply, Stop.

I'm glad to see this evolution from what seemed to be the WM's position around the time of the 2004 election. Perhaps the tide is truly turning. There are never ever grounds for rules that sanction torture whatever name you wish to give it. And if you ever, ever chanced upon that unlikely circumstance where torture saved lives in the short term (the oft-mentioned 'ticking time bomb'), you break the rules and throw yourself on the mercy of the court.

Posted by: snicker-snack on March 10, 2008 at 3:08 AM | PERMALINK

I come down firmly on the side of not torturing, but I think this whole mess has been blown ridiculously out of proportion. Reading some of the posts here, you'd think we participated in a holocaust or something. I'm not dismissing the seriousness of what happened, but perhaps some perspective is in order.

What happened shouldn't have happened, it shouldn't happen again. People who support torture should be mocked and derided.

In the meantime, the sky isn't falling, America hasn't lost the moral high ground in this war, and our country hasn't suffered a stain that will take a generation's worth of public shame baths to wash away.

Let's stop pretending that because these two thugs were waterboarded, suddenly the world has been turned on its head.

That being said, it is pretty fucked up that America is associated with torture now, and it does depress the hell out of me.

Posted by: Ben on March 10, 2008 at 3:47 AM | PERMALINK

http://www.davidjarvis.ca/essays/torture.shtml

Posted by: Dave on March 10, 2008 at 3:59 AM | PERMALINK

I respect the principle of the never torture viewpoint and only question whether it is the right approach in the real and dangerous world.

You know, I'd give this argument more credibility if torture apologists like Scalia would stop citing the fictional TV show 24 as principal justification for their barbarism.

Posted by: Killjoy on March 10, 2008 at 4:01 AM | PERMALINK

"KSM produced no new information under torture, only a litany of false confessions — maybe out of vanity, maybe in an effort to protect other al-Qaeda operatives. Who knows."

Maybe he did it to, I don't know, STOP BEING TORTURED. Who knows.

"Tell them the story of not just how torture has tainted America's claim to the moral high ground throughout the world, but how it's actively hurt the war on terror."

I know Kevin is trying to be on the good side here, but his middle of the road arguments always validate the hawks' frames.

(1) First of all, "moral high ground"? WTF. We invaded a country that had didn't do anything to us. We killed a million people. It's not the first time. There was no good reason for it, other than we could. We don't give a shit about people in our target countries, there's no other explanation for why we could invade and kill so many, without any good justification, and without significant domestic political pushback. Moral fucking high ground.

(2) Why does opposition to torture always have to be couched in this "oh, but it doesn't work, it actively hurts the war on terror!" bullshit way? It doesn't matter if it "worked" or not. Some things are wrong, regardless of their efficacy.

And the war on terror bullshit? Please stop. Just stop it. It's embarrassing. It's accepted now that there's a few hundred guys out there, thinking bad thoughts, who are mostly too incompetent to do anything about it. Your own (neo-con) rag reports that. Just drop it already.

I can never tell if Mr. Drum, when writing on foreign policy, does this conventional-wisdom-granting for instrumental reasons - to make it palatable for the ignorant middle ground, to stay viably in the employable sector of punditry (which only accepts liberal hawks and belligerent conservatives), or because he's just lazy with his writing. But it's dangerous, and crappy.

Posted by: luci on March 10, 2008 at 4:09 AM | PERMALINK

It doesn't matter what one silly commenter thinks, but Mr. Drum and this rag are on the good side of this issue, and I should have saved my vitriol for more deserving targets. Sorry.

Posted by: luci on March 10, 2008 at 4:11 AM | PERMALINK

The abject fear and panicked abandonment of morality that led most Americans to favor invading a country that didn't actually pose a threat to us is the same anxiety and amorality that leads so many to countenance torture.

Why are so many of our fellow citizens so fucking fearful? They're (unfortunately) not afraid to get in their cars and drive to the nearest fast food joint, enthusiastically increasing their risk of premature death, but freak out over the threat posed by turban-wearing cave-dwellers.

Posted by: bad Jim on March 10, 2008 at 5:18 AM | PERMALINK

I come down firmly on the side of not torturing, but I think this whole mess has been blown ridiculously out of proportion.

How firm are you? If they say it's ok to torture some people, who is it not ok to torture?

Posted by: Boronx on March 10, 2008 at 6:16 AM | PERMALINK

But torture feels so good for the torturers. It's their crack.

Posted by: slanted tom on March 10, 2008 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

Ben wrote:
"What happened shouldn't have happened, it shouldn't happen again. People who support torture should be mocked and derided."

I agree with this, but don't think it goes far enough, Ben. What we've got are war crimes as defined by the Geneva Convention. I'm as patriotic as the next American, and it pains me to assert that my president and vice-president need to be brought up on such charges, especially since I know how divisive such an event would be. If it turns out that the practices that they've ordered and condoned are NOT war crimes, then let that come out in trial. But a war crimes trial needs to take place, full stop (in addition to what you write above).

Posted by: Noogs on March 10, 2008 at 7:31 AM | PERMALINK

When the debate about torture was swirling around the media and the white house all Bush could say is that we do not torture it is against the law, well now he admits it by vetoeing the Waterboarding bill making it illegal to torture by the CIA, now my question is this Bush were you liar then or are you a liar now? which is it you cant have it both ways, OH I forgot you are a Republican arent you then that makes you a LIAR all the time.

Posted by: Al on March 10, 2008 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Just another piece on the mountain of a pile of evidence that the smart people in this country need to take back the leadership of this country, like it should be (since time immemorial, the "wise men," at least, have been respected by and led the societies they lived in), and stop acting as if the leadership of this whole strongest of nations should be left to the people who should be taxi-cab drivers and janitors.

Posted by: Swan on March 10, 2008 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

Unnecessary and counterproductive: That could be the boilerplate lead on pretty much any Bush initiative, torture, tax cuts, invading Iraq, , tax cuts, privatizing social security, tax cuts, Terry Schiavo, tax cuts.

Posted by: anandine on March 10, 2008 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

The Terror Enablers at TCM are rerunning this anti-American movie next May 24 at 6:00 AM EST
"Resisting Enemy Interrogation (1944)
Academy Award nominated training film which instructs soldiers how to handle the interrogation techniques practiced by the Nazis. BW-66 mins"

In which the Nazis employ sophisticated non-violent methods to extract vital information from pow's; the product of a naive age which dealt in reality-based training, as opposed to our current reign of witches, projecting their nightmares onto the nation as a whole. (See above comments from the wet-sheets right.)

Posted by: Steve Paradis on March 10, 2008 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

When the Nazis developed waterboarding back in the 1930s they didn't develop it to uncover actionable intelligence. Neither did the Soviets when they adapted the Nazi technique.

No, both regimes used waterboarding to secure false confessions from people they were going to execute after show trials.

Nobody, except the American president and Vice President, believes you can gain actionable intelligence by waterboarding a detainee. People will tell you anything you want them to say to make you stop. That is different than telling you what you need to hear.

Finding the truth is usually accomplished through a series of calm and careful interviews over several days or weeks. People like to talk and eventually most will. Torture is counter productive to finding the truth.

Torture is used in 24 because a plot device is needed to move the story to a rapid conclusion.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 10, 2008 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

The saddest thing to me is that WM need spend an entire issue saying what should be obvious: Torture is wrong. Period.

Either the USofA stands for something, or it doesn't. That we have tolerated torture, by silence and assent, is unconscionable.

It doesn't work, doesn't produce good intelligence. It forces us to sacrifice the high moral ground upon which our democratic form of government is theoretically built (and destroying that theoretical construct is devastating, here and abroad). And it's wrong. It's simply wrong. It is not what we believe in.

And if our need for security is so degraded as to oblige us to resort to these tactics, we have nothing left worth protecting. The measure of our freedoms is not how we use them in easy times, but how we employ them in moments of danger. Our track record isn't good under those circumstances.

One last thought: I don't come here to read obscenities. We have to learn to talk reasonably with people who disagree with us.

Posted by: Shock from Seattle on March 10, 2008 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

And then they wonder why there are so many terrorists...

The pro-torture Republicans are driving the US military straight into a ditch.

Posted by: Swan on March 10, 2008 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

duh, why do they hate our freedoms?

Posted by: Idiot Republican on March 10, 2008 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Let's be rational about this from the right wing perspective:

1) Far more poeple are killed by 'ordinary' crime every year than terrorism... many times more.

2) Most murders are committed by blacks.

3) Waterboarding is only 'temporary discomfort'.

Solution: Stop crime before it happens. Routine and random waterboarding of blacks will greatly reduce the US crime rate.

Posted by: Buford on March 10, 2008 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

brian, everyone's favorite faux-moderate Republican concern troll, wrote: blue girl weighs in with her usual respectful and measured perspective

brian, despite your efforts to move the Overton window, those who apologize for torture do not deserve respect or a "measured perspective."

Nor, I might add, to dishonest GOP shills. No one is fooled by your act, you partisan freak.

Posted by: Gregory on March 10, 2008 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

'Temporary discomfort' is reading brian's posts, not recreating the effects of drowning.

Posted by: ack ack ack on March 10, 2008 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

There's all kinds of waterboarding. One version involves nylon hose pulled down over the victim's face. When water is poured, gently if you want, over the stocking, the skein of nylon is impermeable to air. For as long as the nylon remains damp, there's no air going into the victim's lungs. Most people can hold their breath for 30-40 seconds. Some can hit a couple of minutes. To account for that the victim is handled roughly while he's settled into position. The combination of rough handling and anxiety makes the need for air begin almost immediately. Even after the victim decides to cooperate, the tight stocking remains impermeable. If it's difficult to pull off, the lungs don't care. After several seconds of unsuccessfully trying to take in oxygen, the fine capillaries of the lungs burst and bleed. Many of the cells that depend upon those capillaries, of course, die. The surviving cells are weakened and susceptible to infection.

The pain of lungs trying to fill with air but being unable to, if protracted, is excruciating.

The beauty part, from the torturers point of view, of course, is that there isn't a mark on the body.


Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on March 10, 2008 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Ben: "...Let's stop pretending that because these two thugs were waterboarded, suddenly the world has been turned on its head..."

Except it's been more than just these two who've been subjected to torture (of many types), whether directly by us or indirectly through special renditioning.

Posted by: Varecia on March 10, 2008 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

The beauty part, from the torturers point of view, of course, is that there isn't a mark on the body.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on March 10, 2008 at 10:18 AM

If you read the literature you will discover that this is exactly why the Nazi's developed waterboarding and why the Soviets adopted the technique. They didn't want show trial defendants (victims) to appear injured.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 10, 2008 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

to . . . Jimmy Carter on the left.

Jimmy Carter on the left? The mainstream media interpretation of the American political spectrum grows more bizarre by the day.

Posted by: Laney on March 10, 2008 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

brian: I don't think the debate about whether "torture" is ever justified can be solved by Kevin, Washington Monthly or this thread (you guys do know that the subject of waterboarding apparently recovers in seconds with no lasting harm, right?), but I marvel at the smug "know it all" attitude of Kevin and others who would rule out torture in any circumstances.

Let's see how this worm's sickening filth reads when you substitute another word:

I don't think the debate about whether "rape" is ever justified can be solved by Kevin, Washington Monthly or this thread (you guys do know that the subject of rape apparently recovers in seconds with no lasting harm, right?), but I marvel at the smug "know it all" attitude of Kevin and others who would rule out rape in any circumstances.

Posted by: Stefan on March 10, 2008 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Headline at HuffingtonPost: "House GOP Funk Worsens." Yeah, I thought there was a bad smell in the room.

Posted by: Anon on March 10, 2008 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

When the Nazis developed waterboarding back in the 1930s they didn't develop it to uncover actionable intelligence. Neither did the Soviets when they adapted the Nazi technique.

Actually, it wasn't the Nazis who developed waterboarding, it was the Catholic Inquisition back in 15th century (and other methods of forced drowning may have been in use even before then).

Posted by: Stefan on March 10, 2008 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

brian: "...I realize that few here are open to any real debate about the possible morality of extremely limited exceptions to a ban on torture. I hope the principle you espouse never causes the death of thousands or millions of innocents..."

The problem with your position is the line to be drawn between using torture to try to save millions or thousands of innocents on the one hand, and a few hundred to a dozen or just one on the other is impossible to draw. Saving just what number of innocent lives is acceptable in terms of torture versus what is not? It's a slippery slope. If torture can be 'justified' to save millions to thousands of lives, then it will be 'justified' to save hundreds to dozens...and then it will be 'justified' to save one life.

Posted by: Varecia on March 10, 2008 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

The NYT story at Google News about Bush vetoing a stop to torture has a headline about how his veto "Affirms Bush's Legacy" and contains text about how Bush "further cemented his legacy."
Why does the NYT just to use up-with-Bush propagandizing language? Are they FOX NEWS now? It's despicable!!

The Times article was worse than that. Here's more of their journalistic malpractice and use of Orwellian doublespeak:

President Bush on Saturday further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers, using his veto to shut down a Congressional effort to limit the Central Intelligence Agency’s latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques.

"Harsh interrogation technques"? Why not just say "torture"? Unless of course now that every time the Times is going to write about, say, political dissidents tortured in China, Uzbekistan, Russia, Iran, etc. they are going to say only that the dissidents were "subjected to harsh interrogation techniques."

Mr. Bush vetoed a bill that would have explicitly prohibited the agency from using interrogation methods like waterboarding, a technique in which restrained prisoners are threatened with drowning

Threatened with drowning?!?!?! The victims aren't merely "threatened" with drowning, they are drowned, period.

and that has been the subject of intense criticism at home and abroad. Many such techniques are prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies.

"Prohibited...by law enforcement agencies." What a mealy-mouthed way to say, simply, "illegal." Why not just say "Many such techniques are illegal"?

Posted by: Stefan on March 10, 2008 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

I would stick to the argument that torture isn't nice and good people don't do it.

The notion that torture isn't effective in getting good intelligence won't sell. You'd have to buy two assumptions to swallow this position. 1. That victims will say anything the interrogator wants to hear. This is true, but the assumption here is that for some reason the interrogator doesn't want to hear the truth. 2. Intelligence obtained under torture can't be corroborated. While victims might indeed lie under torture, if they give information known to be false, they might be dissuaded from doing this in the future. Or if they give names, for ex., wiretaps and surveillance can be used to corroborate information.

Gross exaggerations tend to undermine an argument.

Posted by: Luther on March 10, 2008 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

If you read the literature you will discover that this is exactly why the Nazi's developed waterboarding and why the Soviets adopted the technique. They didn't want show trial defendants (victims) to appear injured.

More accurately, this is why it has been in use since the Spanish Inquisition. It was also used in the Spanish-American War, and President Roosevelt kicked a General out of the Army for using this tactic on prisoners.

Posted by: Pale Rider on March 10, 2008 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

%^$#@ it! Stefan, you prove, once again, you are infinitely smarter and more talented than myself.

Were it not for your ability to serve roasted wingnut on crackers, I would find you to be a worth nemesis, sir. I would be the Salieri to your Mozart...wait, I would be Mozart and you would be...never mind.

Posted by: Pale Rider on March 10, 2008 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

It was also used in the Spanish-American War, and President Roosevelt kicked a General out of the Army for using this tactic on prisoners.

It was also used by the Japanese against Allied prisoners and captured resistance fighters in WWII, and we prosecuted them for it in war crimes trials.

Posted by: Stefan on March 10, 2008 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

The notion that torture isn't effective in getting good intelligence won't sell.

Unless the person being tortured doesn't have good intelligence to give, of course.

When the torturers then check out the information that's not good they'll return to the victim for another round of torture. Repeat until death?

So, we're faced with the prospect of simply torturing likely sources. How likely? How thorough do you want your investigation to be? A policy driven by paranoia -- as a policy that sanctions torture must be -- isn't going to make nice distinctions.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on March 10, 2008 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

brian: From the comfort of California with no real knowledge or experience related to how to defend against evil terrorists, Kevin definitively declares that the two waterboarding he knows about "actively hurt the war on terror" and that now he and his disciplines should educate the world that "torture" of any kind must be stopped and never considered in any circumstances....I realize that few here are open to any real debate about the possible morality of extremely limited exceptions to a ban on torture.

More word substitution:

From the comfort of California with no real knowledge or experience related to how to defend against evil terrorists, Kevin definitively declares that the two rapes he knows about "actively hurt the war on terror" and that now he and his disciplines should educate the world that "rape" of any kind must be stopped and never considered in any circumstances....I realize that few here are open to any real debate about the possible morality of extremely limited exceptions to a ban on rape .

Posted by: Stefan on March 10, 2008 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

I doff my hat to my friend the Pale Rider, whose ability to slice, parboil and serve wingnut with a side of garnish surely exceeds my own.

And rather than Mozart and Salieri, may I suggest a more fruitful musical duo? Perhaps...Gilbert and Sullivan?

Posted by: Stefan on March 10, 2008 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

bad Jim asks a very interesting question.

Why are so many of our fellow citizens so fucking fearful? They're (unfortunately) not afraid to get in their cars and drive to the nearest fast food joint, enthusiastically increasing their risk of premature death, but freak out over the threat posed by turban-wearing cave-dwellers.

I think the ideas in this article provide some help in understanding.
10 Ways We Get the Odds Wrong

Fear hits primitive brain areas to produce reflexive reactions before the situation is even consciously perceived. Because fear strengthens memory, catastrophes such as earthquakes, plane crashes, and terrorist incidents completely capture our attention. As a result, we overestimate the odds of dreadful but infrequent events and underestimate how risky ordinary events are. The drama and excitement of improbable events make them appear to be more common. The effect is amplified by the fact that media tend to cover what's dramatic and exciting, Slovic notes. The more we see something, the more common we think it is, even if we are watching the same footage over and over.

And what do you see a whole lot of on fictional TV shows and on the news? Sensational crime and spectacular terrorism!

The most fearful Americans are the most suggestible ones, and the ones least able to assess the risks in their lives accurately. They should not be the ones writing national policies on matters of risk, nor should they be in a position where they can veto such policies.

And if torture is so effective, and only people who are actually experienced in matters military are in a position to know this, why haven't all the retired members of our armed forces spoken out to support Bush in his veto of torture prohibition? Why aren't they anxious to legalize this valuable activity, in order to get information that will enable the troops to save innocent lives? Is it a mystery, or is it that their experience also contradicts the nonsense about torture that is promulgated on melodramas like 24?

Posted by: cowalker on March 10, 2008 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Congrats to Blue Girl for her contribution to the vocabulary of the phrase "towering jackass." I think it has a future in the insults market and will soon exceed "fuckwad."

Posted by: thersites the blackguard on March 10, 2008 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

snicker-snack brings up a good point.Do the agents involved in torture think it's worth sacrificing America's principles for decades?If so then why would they not be willing to risk a prison sentence?In the past agents have been told to eat cyanide capsules in case of capture to avoid divulging critical information to our enemies.If there were a ticking time bomb situation would a judge convict these agents for torture?If I thought torturing someone would save the country, the last thing I would be worried about was saving my own ass from going to jail.

Posted by: vbrans on March 10, 2008 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

last thing I would be worried about was saving my own ass from going to jail.

Modern Republican patriots are happy to sacrifice other peoples' lives, freedom, and sacred honor. But not their own.

Posted by: thersites on March 10, 2008 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

especially hard for them to sacrifice their honor. They have none.

Posted by: thersites on March 10, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps...Gilbert and Sullivan?

Melissa Gilbert and Andrew Sullivan? Dude, when you throw Broadway at me, I revert to my plain midwestern ways and say "aw shucks."

Do the agents involved in torture think it's worth sacrificing America's principles for decades?

THEY NEVER HAVE THOUGHT THAT--torture is something the Bush administration cooked up entirely on its own as a means of intimidating our adversaries. This article is from Anne Applebaum, and it's over THREE YEARS OLD. I can't believe we're still having these discussions--I can't believe we have to keep repeating this over and over again. Torture does not work.

By contrast, it is easy to find experienced U.S. officers who argue precisely the opposite. Meet, for example, retired Air Force Col. John Rothrock, who, as a young captain, headed a combat interrogation team in Vietnam. More than once he was faced with a ticking time-bomb scenario: a captured Vietcong guerrilla who knew of plans to kill Americans. What was done in such cases was "not nice," he says. "But we did not physically abuse them." Rothrock used psychology, the shock of capture and of the unexpected. Once, he let a prisoner see a wounded comrade die. Yet -- as he remembers saying to the "desperate and honorable officers" who wanted him to move faster -- "if I take a Bunsen burner to the guy's genitals, he's going to tell you just about anything," which would be pointless. Rothrock, who is no squishy liberal, says that he doesn't know "any professional intelligence officers of my generation who would think this is a good idea."

Or listen to Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq during Desert Storm, and who was sent by the Pentagon in 2003 -- long before Abu Ghraib -- to assess interrogations in Iraq. Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply "not a good way to get information." In his experience, nine out of 10 people can be persuaded to talk with no "stress methods" at all, let alone cruel and unusual ones. Asked whether that would be true of religiously motivated fanatics, he says that the "batting average" might be lower: "perhaps six out of ten." And if you beat up the remaining four? "They'll just tell you anything to get you to stop."

Worse, you'll have the other side effects of torture. It "endangers our soldiers on the battlefield by encouraging reciprocity." It does "damage to our country's image" and undermines our credibility in Iraq. That, in the long run, outweighs any theoretical benefit. Herrington's confidential Pentagon report, which he won't discuss but which was leaked to The Post a month ago,[this was from 2005] goes farther. In that document, he warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees in Iraq, that their activities could be "making gratuitous enemies" and that prisoner abuse "is counterproductive to the Coalition's efforts to win the cooperation of the Iraqi citizenry." Far from rescuing Americans, in other words, the use of "special methods" might help explain why the war is going so badly.

An up-to-date illustration of the colonel's point appeared in recently released FBI documents from the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. These show, among other things, that some military intelligence officers wanted to use harsher interrogation methods than the FBI did. As a result, complained one inspector, "every time the FBI established a rapport with a detainee, the military would step in and the detainee would stop being cooperative." So much for the utility of torture.

Posted by: Pale Rider on March 10, 2008 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

I bet that, ten years ago, when they were new journalists - or even still in school - none of the authors ever imagined that they would be writing campaigning articles not about the ills of Big Money politics, or about the pros and cons of health care reform, or the importance of getting more women into government, but about the debate (debate!) over whether the US government should resort to torture.

Posted by: ajay on March 10, 2008 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Pale Rider, if you will do a search WTWC did a detailed analysis of the precise waterboarding technique employed by the Bush administration last year. The Nazis developed the technique from previous water torture methods. They examined the technique "scientifically" and determined it was a good way to force political prisoners to confess. The Soviets quickly picked up on the technique. It fit their needs to a tee. No bruises. Confession in the hand of the victim.

You can find precursers of waterboarding all the way back to the Egyptians if you want, but we learned how from the Nazis.


Posted by: Ron Byers on March 10, 2008 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

"Harsh interrogation technques"? Why not just say "torture"?

With apologies and all due respect to Stefan, "enhanced interrogation" sounded better in the original German.

Posted by: Gregory on March 10, 2008 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Pale Rider, I can't believe we are still talking about this either, but your examples are compelling. Every bit of actual experience testifies that torture is ineffective as well as inhumane. On the other side of the "debate," the only counter-examples seem to be bizarre hypotheses about WMDs secreted in a city with attached alarm clocks ticking. No reasonable intelligence officer is coming forward with lots of success stories about the benefits of torture.

Posted by: Tim Morris on March 10, 2008 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

All the counter-examples come from TV shows and movies. This is what we are becoming, and besides being outrageous and disgusting, it's just plain sad.

Posted by: thersites on March 10, 2008 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Am I the only one who has zero interest in reading an article by Nancy Pelosi about how torture is bad?

I'm sorry but you're the Fing speaker of the house. If you're really against torture you have the power to stop it. You can set the agenda on the floor, you can bring bills forward, you can subpoena people from the CIA and the Justice Department. I don't want to read in a Fing magazine about how you don't like torture, I want you to STOP IT.

Posted by: IMU on March 10, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

A war crime is a war crime. If an American version of Pinochet were to go to Europe, he or she may have a hard time escaping the long arm of the law there.

Posted by: Bob M on March 10, 2008 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, if I were Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo, etc. I wouldn't be planning on doing too much international travel in the future.

Posted by: Stefan on March 10, 2008 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

On the other side of the "debate," the only counter-examples seem to be bizarre hypotheses about WMDs secreted in a city with attached alarm clocks ticking. No reasonable intelligence officer is coming forward with lots of success stories about the benefits of torture.

You know, there's a special level of hell where the creators of the show "24" are headed one day.

You wanna talk about irresponsible entertainment? Let's have that discussion. I remember when George H W Bush gave a speech where he said that Americans want "family values" that are more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons--and the show came back with, "yeah, we're waiting for the Great Depression to end, too." or something to that effect.

That both of those shows could be on the same network is beyond me. It shows how craven Murdoch is to make money, I suppose. But the injection of the "ticking time bomb" scenario into popular entertainment has been around forever. 24 takes it to the extreme, fetishizing the torture and the vicious beating of people and the need to stop some ridiculous ticking time bomb at the expense of all other considerations.

The ticking time bomb scenario is a plot device for bad fiction. It's not something on which to actually base policy. Military intelligence personnel have pleaded with the creators of 24 to stop doing that shit--but guess what? If it makes money, good luck getting anyone to do the responsible thing and quit showing it.

And, yes, the vast majority of viewers are entertained, won't torture anyone, don't believe torture actually works, etc. I get that--I'm not for censoring 24, I'm for explaining that they are irresponsible in how they present the material and that they have an undue influence in the public debate over torture. Keep the damned show on for all I care--it's not like Kiefer can stay sober enough to get a decent part in a movie.

The problem is, the people making policy are immature, pathetic old men who have never served in the military who make ALL of their decisions based on being exposed to entertainment that only a simple-minded idiot would believe.

Posted by: Pale Rider on March 10, 2008 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

The comparison to the Nazis is helpful. What do the Germans do now that the Führer has been 50+ years defeated and being a Nazi is now illegal? They find other stuff to do, like make the Kuschel song, be amorous, not bother people, etc.

What we need to do for all of these pro-torture Republicans is find them some kind of a hobby that can replace drooling over torture and torturing people. Before that, of course, we need to get them out of political power and stop them from being able to torture people. A lot of the pro-torture Republicans are just not going to be convinced by anything we write here- too dumb- and are just going to continue working for torture overtly, or patronize us and continue to work for torture in ways that are more concealed than vocal support.

Posted by: Swan on March 10, 2008 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

I mean, like the Nazis had to be stopped, the Republicans have to be stopped. They weren't going to be convinced; we tried and it didn't work.

The Nazis of the 1930s-1940s would barely recognize the Germans of today. Maybe someday people like the assholes who screwed up our country since 7 years ago can be normal Americans again, but right now the reins need to be taken away from them.

Posted by: Swan on March 10, 2008 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Godwin. Please--someone second the invocation of frickin' Godwin. It doesn't matter.

Posted by: Pale Rider on March 10, 2008 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Seconded, Pale Rider. Shut the fuck up, Swan. You're getting hard to ignore again. Time to dial it back.

Posted by: --Blue Girl on March 10, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

I am so glad there continues to be a group of people, a large group of people, so passionate about the fact that torture in America is unacceptable.

Let's look at some of the things going on in this country right now:

1. A video of police brutality and the pathetic victim's helpless pleas become a national joke.
2. The media nonchalantly refers to the "torture debate" like its a debate on trade tariffs or agricultural policy.
3. Bush vetoing a bill to ban waterboarding is greeted with the idea of a "cemented legacy".
4. Waterboarding is officially a joke in this country, like you tell your friend "if you don't play halo tonight with me I'm gonna waterboard you" or whatever.
5. Evidence of America now using the exact same techniques that Nazis were convicted and executed for is greeted with a yawn. Few media outlets report on this.

I realize a change in leadership, to a leader with a strong moral compass who realizes that torture does more harm than good, who knows that torture puts American citizens and soldiers in harm's way (wasn't there news a few days ago about an American abroad kidnapped *and tortured*?), and who realizes torture is nothing more than the raw exercise of power for power's sake can change this. But for right now, we are a country very comfortable with the idea that we are torturing people. Very comfortable.

And as such I am glad people out there are still as outraged as me.

Posted by: Joshua on March 10, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

"You can find precursers of waterboarding all the way back to the Egyptians if you want, but we learned how from the Nazis."
Posted by: Ron Byers

I bet you think we beat the Nazis in WWII. Think again. We didn't beat the Nazis in WWII. We became the Nazis.

Posted by: slanted tom on March 10, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Nancy Pelosi writing about stopping torture? What a fucking laugh. She could stop torturing us by stopping the pretense that she has a eal, progressive agenda.

Oh, and the fact that the editorial management of WM actually ran her article, let alone (I presume) invited her to write it, shows more effing cluelessness.

Kevin, NEVER AGAIN link to the stupidity of your own employers.

For that reason alone, we might already have a winner in your worst post of the week contest.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on March 10, 2008 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Pale Rider thinks the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.

Uh huh--I have family that was there--at Schofield Barracks. I have family that had to spend day after day sewing people up and tending to the burned and the severely wounded. Coincidentally, that same family member got discharged, rejoined the army, volunteered to go airborne, and went on to get a combat jump in Europe. So far, all we know about you is that you've been caught lying about being "activated" and in Texas.

Hey, next time there's a war--why don't you do your part instead of carrying water for people who laugh at someone stupid enough to join the military?

Posted by: Pale Rider on March 10, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

What I find most interesting about the KSM "confessions" is the variety of different attack plans they considered (or he made up) and the one(s) finally executed. Is it just an accident that they executed the attacks which seemed to fit in with (what we now consider) Bush plans?

Was someone pushing or influencing Al Qaeda to execute only plans which benefitted Bush?

Why didn't they execute those other plans?

Posted by: MarkH on March 10, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

So far, all we know about you is that you've been caught lying about being "activated" and in Texas.

sjrsm lied about being activated? that's just fucking sad. psychotic, but sad too.

Posted by: bonds in seconds on March 10, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

"The notion that torture isn't effective in getting good intelligence won't sell."

Why not? It happens to be true.

"You'd have to buy two assumptions to swallow this position."

No, you just have look at the evidence. Since it's clear that you have not, I'm not going to bother to address the rest of your "argument".

"Gross exaggerations tend to undermine an argument."

No shit, Sherlock. Might I suggest a mirror next time?

Posted by: PaulB on March 10, 2008 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Brian, how do you know they are terrorists? Are you o.k. with torturing someone who turns out to be completely innocent?

If torture is so effective why don't we always use it? Why should we worry about "murderers" or "rapists" or "drunk drivers" or even "speeders" getting PTSD? I mean, they're "bad guys", right? And the "good guys" can do anything they want to the "bad guys" because the "good guys" are good and the "bad guys" are bad, right?

But how do you tell the difference? Don't you think that torturing anyone certifiably makes you a bad guy? If you had any morals at all you would.

But obviously you don't have any morals.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on March 10, 2008 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

My understanding of christian religion is basically don't harm someone else because you yourself wouldn't want to be harmed. Basically its a moral code.

My first question: Which President of the US stated that God speaks to him and this president just vetoed a bill that would require the CIA to not torture combatants and abide by the Army manual?

Second question: Does the Old Testament allow torture and the New Testament not allow torture? They both contradict each other so how do you know what to believe?

Third question: Do you get to pick and choose what psalm and verse you believe from the books of the bible?

As Kevin stated in his article: "Most of you reading this hardly need to be convinced on this score. But you almost certainly know people who do need to be convinced � and who need more than just a moral argument".

I guess the most important question I have is, if your not moral, what are you?

Troubled Texan


Posted by: Troubled Texan on March 10, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Troubled Texan, your understanding of the Christian religion is deeply flawed. A study of all the world's great religions will teach you three universal truths:
1 God is Great
2 God is Merciful
3 God Wants You to Kill the Unbelievers
One variant on 3 is that if your belief is similar to mine but slightly different, you are worse than an unbeliever, e.g Sunni vs. Shi'a, Catholic vs. Protestant, etc.

Posted by: thersites on March 10, 2008 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

A little off topic, though I deplore torture and the cowards who would commit it.

This acceptance of torture, let alone the debate, began, much earlier than 7 years ago. We have been torturing, starting with native Americans and continuing through sponsored surrogates, Central America/Indonesia/Etc.., for many generations.

To posit that Americans have ever held the moral high ground (barring the extremely rare and incredibly noteworthy trials of Nazi officers after WWII) is detrimental to the argument against torture because it allows us to point at some halcyon past.

There is no great past. We have tortured since our countries inception. Only recently have we admitted it publicly. Certainly, there are American interrogators who would not torture, kudos to them. But what does that mean to you and i who pay taxes that are spent on surrogates who torture under our aegis? Who have always tortured?

Read just a little of Reagan's derring do in Central America, our overthrow of Mossedeq, etc...

We are torturers. We have always tortured. Only Americans don't seem to know that.

Posted by: Bubba Brazille on March 10, 2008 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

Troubled Texan and thersites,
You can find many incantations in the various Christian bibles that trumpet violence, stoning irreverent children, uppity wives, conquering and enslaving the "other", etc... Many more of these than calls for prudence, non-violence and peace.

All religions are based on faith which is untenable and leads, through fear, inexorably to violence. There is nothing surprising about someone using the bible, or any religious text, to justify violence and torture. What's surprising is that more people aren't as violent as the texts they read.

Have a gander of Leviticus, think of it as the WORD OF GOD, and ask yourself if torture is okay in the eye's of Christianity.

Posted by: Bubba Brazille on March 10, 2008 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

Bubba Brazille, you're right about torture in our history. What's changed for the worse, I think, is that we're now so damned smug and matter-of-fact, and occasionally even boastful about it. Witness Rush Limbaugh and his "Club Gitmo" t-shirts.

You're right about religion, too.

Posted by: thersites on March 10, 2008 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

I agree about the new smugness. I hadn't thought of that aspect. Considering Limbaugh's violent rhetoric is now posited as reasoned discourse I suppose things have gotten worse. sigh.

I have to go to a battle of the bands. Keep up the good fight!

Posted by: Bubba Brazille on March 10, 2008 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

And this is why I don't enjoy democratic candidates who patronize republican candidates. The republicans have crossed the threshold alright--to insanity. That we most post about America torturing people kills me inside.

Posted by: Sparko on March 10, 2008 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

Someone should set up a business that offers certified waterboarding to conservative blog writers and commenters (certain syndicated op-ed columnists as well). If they want to defend the safety and triviality of the practice, they can get waterboarded, have it taped, and receive a certificate.

Any takers?

Didn't think so.

Posted by: sara on March 10, 2008 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

We are torturers. We have always tortured. Only Americans don't seem to know that.

Because the US consistently betrays its best ideals doesn't mean it should abandon those ideals. Torture is wrong and should not be sanctioned in any way.

Goddammit.

Posted by: Lucy on March 10, 2008 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

sara: Someone should set up a business that offers certified waterboarding to conservative blog writers and commenters (certain syndicated op-ed columnists as well). If they want to defend the safety and triviality of the practice, they can get waterboarded, have it taped, and receive a certificate.

Absolutely fantastic suggestion. I would add that to retain their certifiecation they should be dragged from their homes without warning and randomly waterboarded at least once a month.

And being forced to do a few naked pyramids in front of mocking soldiers and growling dogs for extra credit wouldn't hurt either.

Posted by: trex on March 10, 2008 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

Dowd is a bimbo. She helps no cause but her own.

Kevin. I am surprised you have not written more about Phillip Shenon’s new book about the warnings that Bush and Condi Rice received in 2001, before the terrorist attacks. It is POWERFUL STUFF! They Knew But Did Nothing .

Here are some excerpts from the briefings Rice and Bush received:

"Bin Ladin Planning Multiple Operations" (April 20)
"Bin Ladin Threats Are Real" (June 30)
"Bin Ladin Public Profile May Presage Attack" (May 3)
"Terrorist Groups Said Co-operating on US Hostage Plot" (May 23)
"Bin Ladin's Networks' Plans Advancing" (May 26)
"Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent"
(June 23)
"Bin Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats" (June 25)
"Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile
Attacks" (June 30),
"Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays" (July 2)

And of course, the August 8th, 2001 PDB.

"There is no record to show that Rice made any special effort to discuss terrorist threats with Bush. The record suggested, instead, that it was not a matter of special interest to either of them that summer……"

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on March 10, 2008 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

"In other words, not only was torture unnecessary, but it was actually counterproductive"

True, from a national security perspective. Viewed from the perspective of the needs of the conservative movement, torture is necessary and productive. Thus, our policy of torture.

Posted by: steve on March 10, 2008 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

Lucy
I'm certainly not suggesting the country abandon its ideals simply because it rarely lives up to them. I suggest that a deeper understanding of the government's involvement in torture throughout our history should lead to stronger condemnation.

Going another direction, one could readily make the argument that the government's terroristic bombing of civilian populations, whatever the stated justifications, is torture.

Today, this day, there are literally millions of Iraqis who have lost a loved one, been displaced, been subjected to unnecessary lack of basic nutrients, etc... as a direct result of an illegal invasion by the US government. Are we not torturing the mothers, sons, daughters and fathers of Iraq every single day?

That may seem airy so let me make the argument this way, what is the practical difference between a group of soldiers waterboarding one man and an American "warrior" dropping a bomb on a household of innocents?

I suggest that if we are not directly defending ourselves from invasion, as the law requires, we are torturing whomever we attack, be it formal torture, collateral damage or even killing some armed defender of his home.

Today the government brings illegal, counterproductive, immoral violence on a few million people in some far off land. Cluster bombs on children, waterboarding, it's all awful.

Perhaps the administration knows exactly what its doing. They hold up the inarguable, torture, so as to keep us from the real fight, the illegal war on an innocent population.

It's as if they took a huge shit on the living room rug but want to argue with us about the snot on the kitchen table.

Posted by: Bubba Brazille on March 11, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Bubba Brazille,

Thank you for your generous response. I posted in a fit of incoherent rage over the degeneracy of the Bush administration and didn't mean to suggest that you are cynical about American ideals.

I agree with you about the terribleness of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and that torture is but one point on the continuum of Bad. I'm also aware of the long and brutal history of American imperialism and outright savagery. But the Bush administration's shameless efforts to normalize torture, which until now was considered too uncivilized to be officially tolerated by a great democracy, is a new low.

You are right that Americans are either ignorant or in denial of the more sordid history of Our Great Nation. I believe we are famous for it.

Posted by: Lucy on March 11, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Lucy,

We are in agreement. I'm curious what you think of the argument that the Bush administration knows what it's doing as far as publicly holding up the obviously disgusting so as to avoid discussion of the war at large. In which case we play into their hands quibbling over torture when the war at large is the real issue.

It seems a much used tactic in the continuum of Republican assaults on reason. Witness Democrats infatuation with Hillary and Obama candidates who funded the war, reupped the PATRIOT ACT, etc... Were it not for Republicans since Reagan we would think these two rabid right wing nuts.

And the shit rots on the rug...

Posted by: Bubba Brazille on March 11, 2008 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Sara's suggestion of certifying waterboarding is brilliant. I have long thought the people who torture are likely masochists as well as sadists. They could practice on and certify each other. Heck they could have their own torture clubs wherein sometimes one is dominant, other times one is submissive, have a code of silence and just keep it to themselves.

Posted by: Bubba Brazille on March 11, 2008 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm, I'm an Obama supporter, and I don't think of him or Hillary as wingnuts. Hillary's hawkishness makes me quite a bit more nervous than Obama's, though, although he's no dove. Samantha Power got excoriated for pointing out that if Obama gets elected his Iraq strategy may not conform with the best-case scenario expressed in his stump speech, but of course she was just stating the obvious. Aside from the great unknown of how events will develop in Iraq, a lot depends on how many anti-war Democrats get into Congress.

I'm not convinced Bush is using torture as a distraction. I get the impression that outside the left, which has been up in arms, people don't pay that much attention to the torture issue. I could be wrong, and of course I hope I am.

Posted by: Lucy on March 11, 2008 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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