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Tilting at Windmills

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March 11, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

NO TORTURE. NO EXCEPTIONS....Jack Cloonan talks about his experience as a terrorist interrogator:

I worked as a special agent for the FBI's Osama bin Laden unit from 1996 to 2002. During that time, my colleagues and I had the chance to question numerous operatives from al-Qaeda. We broke many terrorists. But we did it the right way: by being intelligent and humane.

One man we captured was Ali Abdul Saoud Mohamed, an al-Qaeda operative behind the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Ali Mohamed had fully expected to be tortured once we took him in. Instead, we assured him that we wouldn't harm him, and we offered to protect his family. Within weeks, we had opened a gold mine of information about al-Qaeda's operations.

....Intelligence failures had much to do with the atrocity of September 11, but those had nothing to do with a lack of torture. Let me be clear on one crucial point: it is the terrorists whom we won over with humane methods in the 1990s who continue to provide the most reliable intelligence we have in the fight against al-Qaeda. And it is the testimony of terrorists we tortured after 9/11 who have provided the most unreliable information, such as stories about a close connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

Read the whole thing. And then ask yourself again: why did John McCain vote against a bill that would have outlawed CIA torture? And why did George Bush veto it? Instead of giving in to schoolyard revenge fantasies, shouldn't we insist that our intelligence agencies do the job right? Or is demonstrating "toughness" more important?

Kevin Drum 1:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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Or is demonstrating "toughness" more important? Well, it does help one swagger when wearing a flight suit and posing for pictures.

Posted by: Jeff S. on March 11, 2008 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

Read the whole thing. And then ask yourself again: why did John McCain vote against a bill that would have outlawed CIA torture? And why did George Bush veto it? Instead of giving in to schoolyard revenge fantasies, shouldn't (A) we insist that our intelligence agencies do the job right? Or is (B) demonstrating "toughness" more important?

You left out (C) we didn't want the truth, we knew the truth, what we wanted is cover.

Posted by: jerry on March 11, 2008 at 2:19 AM | PERMALINK

The like authoritarian figures and McCain is trying to fill the part.

Posted by: Jet on March 11, 2008 at 2:22 AM | PERMALINK

Might is right, bomb bomb bomb. You know.

Posted by: Jet on March 11, 2008 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

OK we get it. You've made your case for Hillary over and over and over. We really get it.

Hillary is going to make tea and cookies for the terrorists, dress in their native garb, and sing "happy and you know it" until they all confess. She has 35 years of relvent experience playing duck duck goose with disadvantaged minority kids, putting diapers on Chelsea, and organizing state dinners for the finicky wives of Russian politicians.

I'm convinced already.

Posted by: asdf on March 11, 2008 at 2:29 AM | PERMALINK

Back at Huachuca it was agreed that only those who didn't know what they were doing resorted to torture.

'course it doesn't help avoid the torture problem when you have kids fail something as simple as IPB five times and still pass and stay in the MOS. We need bodies afterall.. that's what counts.

Posted by: bubba on March 11, 2008 at 2:39 AM | PERMALINK

"Schoolyard revenge fantasies": George W. Bush does everything but wear one of those beanies with a propeller on the top. Not one that's just a beanie, but the kind that has the flat sides and a turned-up lower edge forming lots of little points all-around. The kind worn in cartoons by characters with names like "Spike."

(There's a picture of what I'm talking about here: http://www.badtasteadvertising.com/crap.html.)

"Maah, Dubya's picking on us!"

"You go home to your mother, young man! I don't like to think what Barbara will do when she hears about your behavior!"

Too bad, little Dubya still needs to be grounded.

Posted by: Anon on March 11, 2008 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

It's pretty simple really: They LIKE the idea of hurting, maiming, and ruining people.

This isn't just 'schoolyard revenge fantasies' -- it is about something truly evil and beastly having been awoken in these people. And rather than repudiating torture, they instead have chosen to feed the evil, because the alternative, to realize they've participated in acts of repugnant barbarism, is unthinkable.

Torture is evil. Period.

Posted by: Becca Morn on March 11, 2008 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

I think Jerry hits it on the head: option C, they don't care about the truth.

Remember that these people are pathological liars who believe they can create reality, or at least distort the perception of reality in the minds and opinions of average Americans enough that the facts cease to be important. Just think about how many Republicans still believe Saddam was linked to 9/11, or that Global Warming doesn't exist despite the virtually unanimous evidence to the contrary.

When you torture someone, they have a convenient habit of telling whatever it is you want to hear, whether it's true or not, just to make the pain stop. For example, if you applied enough torture you could probably get everyone in this administration to admit they allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur to provide the pretext for invading Iraq. [okay, bad example]

Tortured prisoners have produced scores of fabricated terrorist plans just to make the pain go away. Bush wins gets to claim to the American people that these (imaginary) plots were foiled. Everybody wins. By which I mean everybody loses except for the Bush administration and their campaign contributors.

Also, there's another insidious advantage to torture most people overlook: evidence coerced under torture can't be used in a court of law.

Wait... how exactly is that an advantage, you ask? Well, suppose some of the people you arrest and send to Guantanamo turn out to have absolutely zero ties to terrorism. Well, you could release them and look like you're losing ground on the GWOT. No, better to let them rot in jail until you're out of office.

But one way or another they will eventually see the inside of a civilian court room. When they do, their cases will be thrown out for lack of evidence, demonstrating that the Bush administration was incompetent and violated the law and the constitution.

But wait, suppose these very same people actually admitted to being terrorists and planning attacks on the US? Well, then they're terrorists right? Right. Or at least, enough people will believe it (or at least be uncertain what to believe) such that the accused will not universally be regarded as innocent victims of abuse.

Sure, they'll still see the inside of a civil court room and their cases will still be thrown out. But not for lack of evidence. Rather their cases will be thrown out because "evidence" that is produced by torture is inadmissible.

Get it? They'll be release NOT because they were innocent but because the (Liberal) civil courts freed these terrorists on a technicality, i.e. Liberals are soft on terrorists (or maybe even on their side!)

The Bush administration not only partially escapes the perception of jailing innocent people but also gets to use the outcome as a weapon with which to attack Democrats for not being tough enough on terrorists (or maybe even siding with them!).

In the meantime these prisoners provide the administration with bragging rights to all kinds of foiled (imaginary) terrorist plots!

Hooray for Republicans! Hooray for Hillary Clinton for helping to elect McCain!

Posted by: Augustus on March 11, 2008 at 3:37 AM | PERMALINK

"Why did John McCain vote against a bill that would have outlawed CIA torture? And why did George Bush veto it? Instead of giving in to schoolyard revenge fantasies, shouldn't we insist that our intelligence agencies do the job right? Or is demonstrating "toughness" more important?"

I believe we should not sanction government torture because it isn't right, regardless of whether or not it works, but I know I'm in the minority. And from a salesmanship perspective, your argument is probably more effective.

But I think pro-torture people would argue that keeping certain techniques legal doesn't guarantee that interrogations will be done the wrong way, and prohibit them from being done "the right way: by being intelligent and humane". It just gives an extra option.

In the real world, making something legal does affect the likelihood of its use. Just not necessarily. Theoretically. I'm sure Alan Dershowitz would agree.

Posted by: luci on March 11, 2008 at 3:50 AM | PERMALINK

I just wanted to comment that I think it's great that the Washington Monthly is taking on this topic so thoroughly, exhaustively and definitely. I imagine few regular readers of WM have a significant opposition to your magazine's stance on torture, but this isn't just preaching to the choir because at some point or another, many of us are going to get into a conversation with someone whose mind isn't made up on torture, people that try to rationalize it away despite their conscience telling them that something is very wrong. It's those people that your readers need to make the case to, and having such a deep well of literature on the moral and practical futility of torture helps us to frame the argument in hopefully the most compelling way possible.

So what I appreciate and applaud is not that the Washington Monthly is taking a stand, but rather that you've given your readers firmer ground on which to make our own personal stands against such intolerable cruelty.

Posted by: Mark Kawakami on March 11, 2008 at 4:53 AM | PERMALINK

Sounds like we should parlay the benefits of "the Stockholm Syndrome".

I am re-posting a link to a very important article, just because I want the maximum number of people to read it:

Here is a link to an excerpt from Phillip Shenon’s new book, wherein he catalogs the multiple, detailed warnings that Bush and Condi Rice received, leading up to 9-11. For example,


"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)

Their response? Absolutely nothing!!!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on March 11, 2008 at 5:55 AM | PERMALINK

Excellent post, Kevin.

Posted by: captcrisis on March 11, 2008 at 5:57 AM | PERMALINK

luci, I believe that I am with Dershowitz on this too. The Constitution is not a suicide pact. Now, the Declaration of Independence, that's another matter . . .

Posted by: Jake on March 11, 2008 at 6:30 AM | PERMALINK

Something's gone wrong with Dershowitz, don't know what. Anytime someone inserts "ticking time bomb" into an argument for torture, substitute "flying pig". TTBs don't exist except on TV and in movies, and you will never have that perfectly imperfect intelligence that lets you know that you have exactly the right person to torture to obtain that crucial fact that you have no other way of finding.

Posted by: dr2chase on March 11, 2008 at 7:41 AM | PERMALINK

why did John McCain vote against a bill that would have outlawed CIA torture? And why did George Bush veto it?

Ummm... because we aren't torturing for information. We're torturing so that the government can establish that it has the right to torture.

But now why would they want the right to torture?

Posted by: DBake on March 11, 2008 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

So when are conservatives going to start answering the hypothetical question: If you could save an American city by NOT torturing someone, could you refrain from doing it?

Posted by: tom on March 11, 2008 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Just chiming in to say it's great WM and PA are addressing this issue.

a) it's never right
b) it doesn't work

In the previous thread Bubba Brazille pointed out that the US has always condoned torture, but never so brazenly or smugly as now. What have we become?

Posted by: thersites on March 11, 2008 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Not "schoolyard revenge fantasies", but politics. Bush/McCain figure supporting torture will help their political chances by painting liberals as wimps. It works.

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

The Bush administration is determined to wreck America on every conceivable level.

Posted by: jen flowers on March 11, 2008 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Bob M: Not "schoolyard revenge fantasies", but politics. Bush/McCain figure supporting torture will help their political chances by painting liberals as wimps. It works.

Hmm...that's probably a factor. But I think that there are likely several factors that explain "our" apparent willingness to sanction torture, and I wouldn't necessarily discount a psychoanalytic component.

I've always thought that one of the reasons that our foreign policy is so fucked is that so many of the key architects - Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Feith, Cambone, Perle, Podhoretz, Wurmser, all those guys - were essentially rank amateurs when it came to the real business of "mixing it up" with authentic enemies, i.e., people that posed an authentic threat to our national security.

Sure, Cheney had been SecDef, Rumsfeld had been a Naval officer, Bush flew F101s for a while. But none of them had seen combat - none of them had really put their asses on the line - certainly none of the "intellectuals" that comprised the neocon wing of movement conservatism. They published articles and talked tough. Or they had "other priorities" that enabled them to get deferments.

I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this, but I'm guessing that it's probably pretty easy to sanction torture when a) you've never seen any "real action," b) when you've got an inflated view of your own intellectual superiority, and c) when your morals are in the crapper in the first place.

Posted by: JM on March 11, 2008 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

I think the world needs to see that the U.S. again views justice as envisioned by our founding fathers and the subsequent years of judicial refinement that have occurred. We won't regain such respect and be taken seriously until we acknowledge George Bush is a war criminal and is hanged. The lessons of Nuremburg still hold. If you commit genocide and murder upon innocents civilians, if you ignore or flout accepted norms of treatment of prisoners of war there is a price to be paid. Bush is no better than the Nazis that sat in the docket before Judge Jackson. He must hang. It will be the first real step toward healing.

Posted by: steve duncan on March 11, 2008 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Transgressors that put God’s organ out of tune, that discompose and tear the body of man with violence, are those inhuman persecutors who with racks and tortures and prisons and fires and exquisite inquisitions throw down the bodies of the true God’s servants to the idolatrous worship of their imaginary gods, that torture men into Hell and carry them through the inquisition into damnation. . . And then, where is the use of torture? It is a slippery trial and uncertain. . . to convince by torture. For many says. . . he that is yet but questioned, whether he be guilty or no, before that be known, is, without all question, miserably tortured. And whereas, many time, the passion of the Judge, and the covetousness of the Judge, and the ambition of the Judge, are calamities heavy enough upon a man that is accused. If the Judge knew that he were innocent, he should suffer nothing. If he knew he were guilty, he should not suffer torture. But because the Judge is ignorant and knows nothing, therefore the prisoner must be racked and tortured and mangled.

John Donne, "Against the Abomination of Torture", sermon preached on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1625, at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Nice to see we've moved on so far from the barbarism of the 17th century.....

Posted by: Stefan on March 11, 2008 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Read the whole thing. And then ask yourself again: why did John McCain vote against a bill that would have outlawed CIA torture? And why did George Bush veto it? Instead of giving in to schoolyard revenge fantasies, shouldn't (A) we insist that our intelligence agencies do the job right? Or is (B) demonstrating "toughness" more important?

Why are they doing this? Sadism, pure and simple. These are evil people who must be captured, prosecuted and punished by a war crimes tribunal for their crimes against humanity.

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

Actually, I think that the mindset that leads to torture is fairly normal for homo sapiens. Which is not to say I think it's a good thing. But the impulse to hurt someone if they don't do what you want runs deep in the species.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on March 11, 2008 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

...shouldn't we insist that our intelligence agencies do the job right? Or is demonstrating "toughness" more important?

Demonstrating toughness.

This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions (h/t Atrios).

For the Bush administration, the appearance of toughness and effectiveness, particularly on security, has always been the paramount concern. Second is whether such appearances can benefit Republicans and/or disadvantage the Democrats. Third is whether they can benefit a corporate ally of the Republicans. Fourth or fifth is whether or not it actually does a bit of bloody good protecting the country or its citizens. Actually, I think by the time they get to three, they've done their job for the day and go home.

Posted by: jonas on March 11, 2008 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Quoting from the wonderful musical "Urinetown:"

"If this is wrong why does it feel so right?"

The desire for torture (aka revenge) comes from the primitive reptilian part of our brain. We all have one. It strikes a basic chord in all of us.

It is ironic that the political party which refuses to acknowledge that we evolved from animals is also the party most bent on literally behaving like animals.

Sadly denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

Posted by: Tripp on March 11, 2008 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Jet, would you please interpret this "The like authoritarian figures and McCain is trying to fill the part"?

Posted by: Captain Dan on March 11, 2008 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

"The" should be "They", Captain Dan.

Posted by: PaulB on March 11, 2008 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Because Schmuck Talk is a panderer, Kevin.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on March 11, 2008 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

JM: I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this, but I'm guessing that it's probably pretty easy to sanction torture when a) you've never seen any "real action," b) when you've got an inflated view of your own intellectual superiority, and c) when your morals are in the crapper in the first place.

You nailed it. Now Obama and Clinton have to define it so the American public gets it: the real wimps are the Bush/McCain types, these schoolyard sissies who avoided fights by running away or sitting them out.

Posted by: Bob M on March 11, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Of course Bush is a BS artist on terror. The primary goal of an anti-terrorism program would be to prevent infiltration, and Bush is an open borders fanatic.

Must be silly season. You just talk nice to hardened killers who have the stomach to behead people and blow up civilians and children and are zealots in their beliefs, and they start spilling their guts.

I would suspect that these prisoners referred to above having been captured red handed had nothing to lose by bragging about their exploits, or were proud of what they did and welcomed martyrdom, or were just typical jailbird stool pigeons ratting on everybody they could for special treatment. Note that we never get any examples of all this wonderful intelligence we are getting from prisoners. Maybe if we give them an amnesty and path to citizenship they would give us some real intelligence, like how to get bin Laden.

I suppose a tough fish like Khalid Sheik Mohammed was taken immediately to the waterboarding chamber and was never given an opportunity to talk in exchange for decent treatment.

I'm opposed to torture, but as with the other freedoms we have, or used to have, there is a price to be paid, namely handicapping prevention and investigation of crime and terrorism. Libs should understand this as by and large they prefer security over the "right of the people to keep and bear arms."

The sheeple seem more interested in security than freedom, which is why McCain changed his position on waterboarding. I believe he was booed on the subject before a "conservative" audience, as he often is on his corrupt stance on illegal infiltration.

Posted by: Luther on March 11, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Why are they doing this? Sadism, pure and simple. These are evil people who must be captured, prosecuted and punished by a war crimes tribunal for their crimes against humanity.

All of that is true, but I think it goes beyond that. As someone said in a previous thread: They want to establish that the U.S. government has the right to torture. Now why [for what future purpose beyond the immediate gratification of their own barbarism] would they want that established?

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

Luther,

Must be silly season.

And with one wave of the hand you dismiss the information from someone who actually has personal knowledge on this matter.

What is your experience in this Sir? If you had some you would have stated it instead of resorting to sarcasm.

You are simply another internet blowhard talking out of his ass thinking the world is the way you want it to be.

Here's a free clue - reality trumps ideology. Experience trumps ideology.

Your ignorance shows through with statements like "liberals want to take away your guns." It sounds to me like you are an ignorant NRA tool and not much more.

Posted by: Tripp on March 11, 2008 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

All of that is true, but I think it goes beyond that. As someone said in a previous thread: They want to establish that the U.S. government has the right to torture. Now why [for what future purpose beyond the immediate gratification of their own barbarism] would they want that established?

Oooh! Ooooh! I know this one! To quash internal dissent and to cow opposition?

Posted by: Stefan on March 11, 2008 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

It is irrelevant to make the argument that torture does not work in acquiring information from prisoners. They are not torturing for information. Torture does work as the most personal and intimate form of terrorism. It is about power. The power to abuse and the power to destroy.

Look at the way the Inquisition used torture. Galileo was show the implements by the Inquisitors and that was enough to shut him up...

I'm curious to watch the progression of the Shrub's mental state once he is no longer president and will never again have his hands on the kind of power he has had the last seven years.

In the back of my mind I hear the theme song of the Bush presidency. It is Psycho Killer.

Posted by: Stuart on March 11, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

As soon as Luther types the word "Libs" we know we can stop reading. That word comes right out of the Limbaugh Lexicon. Just tune in to Rush and you know what Luther's going to say. Like all good independent-thinking "conservatives" he proudly wears the label "dittohead."

Posted by: thersites on March 11, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

"War, Good God! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing".
Peace is needed in all the world.
No more torture, no more fighting.
Vote for Hillary, a humane lady.

Posted by: Mary on March 11, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

In the back of my mind I hear the theme song of the Bush presidency. It is Psycho Killer.

Certainly not. That song has French in it--a big no-no for the GOP.

Posted by: shortstop on March 11, 2008 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

[url=http://www.pi7.ru/zdorove/2022-obedennyy-pereryv-luchshe-potratit-na-zanyatiya-lyubovyu.html ]Достали с этим контактом!!!!!!!!!Достали!!!!!!!!! [/url] Я собственного не стала кастрировать, жалко, так у нгео нрав прям такой, мужской. А в случае в случае если кастрировать, то нрав теряется??

Posted by: Rinatkaallka on September 18, 2010 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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