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January 6, 2005

Happy New Year. Ogged of Unfogged:
[…T]his will become a “Democrats are soft and looking to score points” issue. I’ve given up. Complain, protest, organize and fund all you want; one more attack here and your neighbors will be lining up to torture somebody, anybody.
Ezra of Pandagon:
Unfogged is right; barring a miracle of competence and media responsibility, opposing torture will end up making the Democrats look like we get the vapors whenever the menfolk whip out the cigars and talk terrorism. Our press flacks are ineffective, our caucus can’t stick to a message, and we don’t have a party leader charged with articulating our position to the public.

Doesn’t matter. Torture just isn’t something you compromise on. I’m as coldly political as the next guy, but not torture. That’s not part of the country I grew up believing in.

Digby of Hullabaloo:
[T]he mere act of finally drawing that line in the sand, of saying “No More,” is the very thing that refutes the charge. It’s hemming and hawing and splitting the difference and “meeting halfway” and offering compromises on matters of principle that makes the charge of Democratic spinelessness believable. This isn’t about a special interest giving money or bending to the will of a powerful constituency. People can feel the difference. There is nothing weak about simply and forcefully standing up for what is right. […] I think it may just be a defining issue for Democrats.

It’s not that I believe that all Americans are horrified, or even a majority of Americans are horrified. Clearly, the dittoheads think it is just ducky. But that isn’t the point. Just because they aren’t horrified or even endorse it on some level doesn’t mean that they don’t know that it’s wrong. They do. And it is very uncomfortable to be put in the position of defending yourself when you know you are wrong. Even good people find ways, but it cuts a little piece out of their self-respect every time they do it.

Every person alive in America today grew up with the belief that torture is wrong. Popular culture, religion, folklore and every other form of cultural instruction for decades in this country has taught that it is wrong, from sermons and lectures to films about slavery to photographs of Auschwitz to crime shows about serial killers. [1] It is embedded in our consciousness. We teach our children that it is wrong to torture animals and other kids. We don’t say that there are exceptions for when the animals or kids are really, really bad. We have laws on the books that outright outlaw it. The words “cruel and unusual” are written into our constitution.

The problem is not that there isn’t a widely accepted admonition not to conduct torture, it’s that many people, as with all crimes, will choose to ignore the admonition under certain circumstances. However, that does not mean that they do not know that what they are doing is wrong. There is nothing surprising in that. It’s why we have laws.

The arguments for torture being raised by the right are rationalizations for what they know is immoral and illegal conduct. Their discomfort with the subject clearly indicates that they don’t really want to defend it. (Witness the pathetic dance that even that S&M freak Rush Limbaugh had to do after his comments were widely disseminated.) Will they admit that they know it’s wrong? Of course not. But when they take up their manly jihad and accuse the Democrats of being swooning schoolgirls they will also be forced to positively defend something that many of them know very well is indefensible. And every time they do that their credibility on values and morals is chipped away a little bit.

I don’t expect them to change their tune. Way too much of this comes from a defect in temperament and garden-variety racism and that’s not going to go away. But Democrats have to thicken their skins and be prepared for the usual attacks and insist over and over again that it is against the values and principles of the United States to torture people, period. It is not only right, it is smart.

As I wrote below, the opposition will bluster and fidget and scream bloody murder. But listen to the tenor of their arguments. [2] [The Wall Street Journal] rails against the “glib abuse of the word” as if they can run away from the issue by engaging in a game of semantics. They are reduced to claiming that unless we torture it will be unilateral disarmament. We, the most powerful military force the world has ever known, will be defeated by a bunch of third world religious misfits if we don’t engage in torturing suspects. Just who sounds weak?

[1] Maureen Dowd: “Before [Alberto Gonzales] helped President Bush circumvent the accords and reserve the right to do so ‘in this or future conflicts,’ you had to tune in to an old movie with Nazi generals or Vietcong guards if you wanted to see someone sneeringly shrug off the international treaty protecting prisoners from abuse. (‘You worthless running dog Chuck Norris! What do we care about your silly Geneva Conventions?’)”

[2] The Poor Man: “The point is this: ‘To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a “presidential directive or other writing” that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is “inherent in the president.”’ Alberto Gonzales thinks that the Magna Carta is liberal pablum.”

[09:46 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Happy New Year.:

Michael ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2005, 11:04 PM:

I still can't understand why the wingnuts think we can't defeat terrorism without torture even though "we" defeated Nazi Germany without torture. ("We" in quotes because it obviously wasn't just the United States -- we had people in power back then for whom diplomacy was more than just another word for weakness.)

I guess this is really why I don't care as much about the politics of intellectual property any more. It just seems so very ... quaint. So twentieth, in a way. Back before the Reichstag (oops, I mean 9/11, whatever) changed everything.

But in talking with my Red State dad, who actually says he won't fly to Puerto Rico to visit me and his grandkids because he's afraid of terrorists (yes, terrorists, you can't swing a cat in either Indiana or Puerto Rico without hitting a suicider, as we all know) -- as I say, in talking with my dad, I realize that they've left reality entirely at this point. How can you fight that? I honestly just don't know any more. All I know is to get my family to safety before they close the borders. And having to feel like that is just not what my America was all about.

So, yeah. Happy New Year.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2005, 11:56 PM:

Big mistake. The "politics of intellectual property" are just as important. How are we going to tell the world about the Gitmos when ClearChannel's lawyers control all the pipes?

Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 07:02 AM:

We don't get much US internal politics on the news over here apart from Presidential elections, but Sky News ran a spot last night showing Gonzales at his hearings answering questions about his advocacy of torture.

Why bother saying "I don't recall writing that" when you then go on to say you agree with the conclusion? Is he trying to pretend that he is just going along with a pro-torture consensus rather than driving it?

Elric ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 09:35 AM:

What bothers the hell out of me is that the same self-lobotomized jackasses who try to make weaselly arguments in favor of necessary torture are the same ones who scream loudest if the procedures they advocate are applied to any American prisoner.

In any argument with these toads, that may be the most penetrating argument. "Is it okay with you if other people do this to our sons and daughters?"

If that can't get through the fog around their brains then there's no hope, and no need to be polite in terminating the dialog. They won't notice what you say because the voices in their heads are louder.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 10:30 AM:

Just what we needed: an attorney general whose motto is "The King's word is law."

Grant ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 10:43 AM:

It's frustrating to watch, Niall. Kind of like Bugs Bunny wiggling his way out of getting shot by Elmer Fudd with a series of non sequiturs, only without the humor.

"Did you request the memo authorizing torture?"

"Duck season!"

As to why he would uphold the principle while denying responsibility, I think this passage from international law expert Anthony D'Amato on Brian Leiter's blog explains a great deal:

In the middle of [torture memo collaborator] Professor [John] Yoo's essay, in legalistic language that most readers might not bother to parse, he reveals that "Gonzales also observed that denying POW status would limit the prosecution of U.S. officials under a federal law criminalizing a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions."

What does this convoluted sentence mean? It means that Mr. Gonzales may have made it clear to the DOJ attorneys drafting the various memos that if they were to conclude that the Taliban and Al Quaeda come within the protection of the Geneva Conventions, or that the policies or practices at Guantanamo and Al Ghraib amount to criminal torture prohibited by U.S. law, they would be placing the President of the United States and his top advisers personally at risk of criminal indictment. Indeed any indictment, irrespective of final outcome, would probably have a huge negative political impact politically and could even result in a change of administrations and a change of legal staff at the DOJ.

In other words, if a zealous prosecutor, including one within the DOJ, were to seek indictments against the President and his advisers, Mr. Gonzales' position, as now revealed by Professor Yoo, was that the DOJ's legal conclusion in its memos should be modified or changed and rationalized, if necessary, not on legal grounds, but just in order to protect Mr. Gonzales's clients from prosecution.

So to get the nomination, he has to pretend his involvement in this fiasco was minimal. But to protect capo di tutti capi, he has to maintain omertá.

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 11:42 AM:

WHat bugs me is that the Democrats who are asking these questions have made it very clear they're going to vote for the bastard anyway. What's that for? Is there any Machiavellian here who can explain to me how cooperating with evil helps to fight it?

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 01:35 PM:

It makes me want to spit.
Specter for torture! Schumer for torture! Hurray for bipartisan cooperation!

Grant ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 03:19 PM:

Charles Pierce:

Because sometimes it's just good to say "no," simply for the sake of saying it, because doing so lessens your complicity in a comfortable politics in which the destruction of American ideals is more admired for its clever tactics than it is condemned for its lasting damage. This is a government of vandals, and shame on anyone too dumb to realize it, or so ambitious that they'd make peace with it. Shame on any Democratic legislator who didn't line up with Boxer yesterday, especially the ones that gave pretty speeches and voted the other way. Shame on any Democrat who votes to confirm Alberto Gonzales. Shame on any Democrat who attaches himself to any Social Security plan while this administration is in office. This is a time to say no, just for the pure hell of it. Trust me, there's no political price to be paid that you're not already paying, piecemeal, out of your souls.
Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 03:42 PM:

We should be encouraging any congressperson who stands up in any way to the administration (even if it's little things). We should be demanding more, at the same time. On a related note: only my Senator, Barbara Boxer, voted against the certification of the election. Barack Obama voted for it, in his first Senate vote: I'm extremely disappointed. Anyway, Barbara Boxer should receive mail from you, as well as some of the 31 Representatives who also voted against certification.

Dang, I just spent half an hour trying to find a list of the Reps. Thomas fails me. Or I'm just not used to getting around in it.

Likewise, I'm not finding a list of the congresspeople who are giving Gonzalez a hard time. Somebody help?

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 06:09 PM:

It's all been said before, by a better writer than I.

Here is naught unproven, here is nothing hid:
Step for step and word for word--so the old Kings did!

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 06:24 PM:

Dave, I made that point myself, not long ago.

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 07:12 PM:

If we don't legalize torture, then we'll just ship the victims over to Egypt or someplace and let them do it, and cheaper too. We must stop American torturers from losing their jobs to overseas competition!

PinkDreamPoppies ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 07:40 PM:

I guess what bothers me about Digby's argument is that it seems to be untrue, at least in recent years. Yes, "cruel and unusual" has been written into our constitution, but popular culture seems to be trending toward a more accepting view of torture in "extreme circumstances" and a narrower view of what constitutes the "cruel and unusual."

Vigilante movies have been increasingly popular since 2001, the most egregious example of which I can think of being "Man on Fire," that charming motion picture in which Denzel Washington tortures and kills dozens of people in order to avenge the death of a little girl at the hands of evil kidnapping. The last season of "24" had the heroes torturing suspects to avert a terrorist attack. Meanwhile, reality television has reintroduced the geek show but has also normalized things that would usually be viewed as cruel and unusual.

I think that right now a lot of people are sympathetic to the idea that torturing in the name of "preventing another 9/11," and I think that popular entertainment, a reflection of the populace, supports that feeling. While I am, admittedly, buried in a pretty red area of the country, it wasn't uncommon to hear people say that what went on in Abu Ghraib wasn't torture but merely "intimidation" and/or was acceptable in order to protect "our troops" who were, in turn, protecting us from terrorists and "another 9/11."

I guess I can't bring myself to have as much hope as Digby does that people are opposed to cruelty. They may be opposed to cruelty when it's them or a proxy for them (e.g., a U.S. soldier) but I have seen little to disuade me from the impression that people in this country are very sympathetic to the idea that it's okay to torture "bad guys" and terrorists.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2005, 03:21 PM:

PinkDreamPoppies: "... popular culture seems to be trending toward a more accepting view of torture ... "

Yes indeed. We watch a lot of cop TV shows in our house; "NYPD Blue" and "Law & Order: SVU" features its cop heroes beating the crap out of suspects, and TV Guide and the entertainment media never really remarks on it.

One recent episode of "SVU" had a New York cop going to Prague (iirc) to chase down a pedophile mastermind operating on the Internet.(I bet you didn't know that most of us Internet users spend most of our time buying and selling children on the Internet to use as sex slaves---and they say you don't learn anything on TV.) When the cop finally catches the child-molesting pervert, the pervert sneers, "Are you going to arrest me? Everyone knows nothing bad will happen to me if I'm arrested in America." The cop says, "We're not in America now," and demonstrates the error of the child-molester's legal position.

"NYPD Blue" has toned it down a lot quite a bit. It was quite commonplace when Jimmy Smits starred on the show. Meanwhile, all the entertainment press had to say about the show was (1) ewww, who wants to look at Dennis Franz's butt and (2) isn't Jimmy Smits just an adorable dreamboat?

Of course, the people the cops beat up are always guilty.

I read a very thought-provoking article in an 18-month-old "Atlantic Monthly" a few weeks ago. It argued that torture is sometimes necessary---but also that it must be tightly controlled, because once a society starts torturing people, it becomes the norm. The article concluded that torture requires a legal and societal framework that existed before 9/11 in America: torture is officially---and sincerely---illegal, but occasionally practiced anyway. But the people who do it need to know that they are risking their careers, criminal prosecution, and the opprobrium of society for their act, so they better be damn sure that the torture is necessary.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2005, 05:13 PM:

Following up my own post: not just illegal, but condemmed and considered immoral.

bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2005, 11:04 AM:

decloaking -

MoDo has been as blind to trends as so many on the Left for so long - it isn't just movies, and it isn't just since 2001 - Tom Clancy was mainstreaming the ethical nature of torture, when committed by the right people upon the wrong sort, back in the mid-90s.

I don't have any Clancy around the house, but I have a similar bit of tripe that I posted back in June on Nothing New - a brief exerpt from Infectress, by Cmdr. Tom Cool, USN, 1997:
"Do you know what is one of the most difficult challenges in repressing low-intensity conflict, terrorism and insurgency?" Carrington asked.


"Defeating the enemy without becoming him," he said. "In pursuit of noble goals, we must be careful when we undertake to break the law."

"Which crimes are we contemplating, Mr. Carrington?"

"Those will become evident momentarily. Let me lay them out for you. What do you know about the Mexican terrorist group Punto Uno?"

"Punto Uno is an environmental terrorist group that thinks the world's population needs to be imploded to a tenth of its present size. The population times point one. Punto Uno. Small group, quiet, well-connected, mysterious, more interested in networking and building infrastructure than in premature violence. When they act, they do so violently but anonymously. Pound for pound, one of the world's most dangerous groups. I like them in the long haul."

"It would seem that you know a lot about them."

"No, I don't. No one does. I've taken an interest in them since I had some indications a few years ago that they had connections with Infectress."

Carrington smiled, tilting his head back and studying Diane down the length of his nose. "Infectress, yes," he said. "That is the connection that I thought you might be interested in. We shared your information about the DNA splicer with the Mexican Interior police. Based on that tip, the Mexicans chose to redeem an undercover source, a son of a murdered policeman who had been living as a terrorist since he was eleven years of age. The undercover source had managed to become a member of a three-member Punto Uno clandestine cell. One member of the cell killed herself during the attempted arrest. The other was taken alive. One Miquelangelo Cabeza de Vaca. An accomplice of Infectress. He smuggled the DNA splicer into and then out of Mexico."

Diane smiled, but tremulously, as if she were afraid to hope the news was as good as it seemed.

"That's … strange. I didn't see that on the secure net."

Carrington shifted in his seat. He cleared his throat. "Cabeza de Vaca has been taken into special custody by the Mexican police."

"Special custody?" Diane's eyebrows lowered. "Do you mean incommunicado?"

"That's right. The Mexicans don't care to openly arrest terrorists. This is the lesson they think they've learned. They arrest a terrorist, they get a dozen bombings. Or they get a high-level kidnaping, such as the one last year, when the Zapatistas seized the governor of Chiapas and ransomed him for a mere commando-in-training. When they can, they prefer to snatch the terrorist and hold him incommunicado until they're finished interrogating him. Then…well…" Carrington shrugged.

Diane spoke her mind. "Special custody? That's not arrest. That's a violation of habeas corpus. That's kidnaping, that's state-sponsored terrorism. And I think that you're also suggesting torture and murder."

Carrington studied Diane's face. "That's…correct, Diane. That's what happens down there now. What do you think about that?"

Diane snorted. "I think it's horrible. I'd never tolerate it here in America.

Carrington smiled slowly. "Neither would I, Diane. Once a government allows its police to kidnap, torture and murder - good words, good plain words - then it cannot defeat the enemy, because it has become the enemy. And I'll arrest the first agent I discover who's guilty of such crimes. And I won't, I can't allow my Bureau to participate even as silent witnesses in such acts, even on foreign soil. So … just so you know. The Mexican Ministry of the Interior holds Cabeza de Vaca. In return for the tip, they have invited the Bureau to participate in his interrogation. As a matter of policy, we intend to refuse.

The unspoken offer seemed to hang in the air between Carrington and Diane. She realized that Carrington wanted someone to participate in the interrogation, but that he needed someone he could trust, someone motivated, someone whose connection with the Bureau allowed for the hope of plausible denial of Bureau foreknowledge and sponsorship. He needed someone exactly like Diane.

She held up her hand, palm toward Carrington. She tried to assmilate the information that Carrington had just shared with her. She considered it from several angles. The situation grew more ugly the more she looked at it.

What separated her from Infectress, once she decided that the ends justified the means? That it was all right to torture and kill one individual in order to save any number of other lives?

Her mother had brought her up with a lifelong respect for the law. Her mother had taught her that the law was something greater and nobler than human behavior. Diane believed that to abandon the law was to revert quickly to savagery. She had seen enough savagery in her life to know what horror and agony it engendered.

Her innermost voice spoke quietly but surely. This was wrong. She would have to let this opportunity pass.

Looking up into Carrington's cold, appraising eyes, however, she knew that she would not listen to that quiet voice. She would listen to the voice which did not whisper, but spoke with force. Mad for the blood of Infectress, this voice demanded that she go.

"I'll go."

Trifecta here - extraordinary rendition, deserved torture of terrorists, and by the time we get to the end of the book, nuking Ay-rabs for the salvation of the rest of the world.

I can find it starting as early as the 60s in Alistair Maclean, too. It's a stock trope of male-targeted genre fiction: We do it reluctantly (usually) and with some angst, because we are the Good Guys, but since they are heinous bastards and it's for The Common Good, without guilt or shame...and only the wusses, the bleeding-heart moral-relativist ninnies who thus display their unfitness for leadership, object.

bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2005, 01:43 PM:

It occured to me belatedly that "trifecta" is not strictly correct. Yes, we do have acceptance of torture, yes, we do have acceptance of the principle of farming it out to less-scrupulous satraps, yes, we do have the attitude that the lives of Arabs are in and of themselves than the lives of Americans - but underlying it all, so large that it cannot be seen any more than the whale (or seaturtle) we have mistaken for an Island because it is under our feet, the one thing which is most important and congruent in this typical example of espionage/action-adventure/technothriller memeage:

Disrespect for the Law.

The standard of the Clancyesque-milsf attitude towards torture is that of course we must do it secretely, because the wimpy, effeminate, civilian leadership just doesn't understand how things are in the real world, so we must protect them from themselves as well as from the knowledge of what we have to do to keep them safe and happy...

All of conservativism is embodied in this, then: the Strong Father setup [aka Mama Corleone, aka "Mater Si, Magistra Non!"], the inverted social order of the Ksatriyah Complex, the "unprincipled ideallism" that leads directly to Minitrue and Minilove. It is the mindset that led to the ascendence of Oliver North as a folk hero, and the trashing of John Kerry as counterpoint.

We are now admitting to contemplating the use of Death Squads in Iraq, btw. (And people wondered why they were putting John Negroponte in place after his performance in the 80s!) I ought as a Taoist Christian to hate to say I told you so, but I only hate the fact that I have to, to be honest. Undoubtedly this will go just as well as when we did it in that abberation from Americanism, Vietnam, or that other abbertation, Central America, or that other time when we forgot American Values in Haiti, or that other other time in the Philippines, or...

Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2005, 02:11 PM:

It's not just since the '90's; think of the success of the Dirty Harry and Deathwish films series.

To be Johnny-one-note about it, I trace this to an antinomian streak in our culture---if you're a Good Guy, you're allowed anything, and your isolated judgement can be trusted.

Much of the anger around I see as traceable to persons who believe themselves to be members of some Elect but find some things still forbidden them---the Simpsons' Mr Burns' agitation at discovering that he's not allowed to run down a small child no matter how much money he has comes to mind...or at least some small number of hierarchophiliac white men who no longer have someone automatically below them in the perceived hierarchy.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2005, 03:20 PM:

I think one of the root causes for widespread acceptance of torture is the belief on the part of civilians that we can somehow know whether someone is guilty or innocent. The cops know it (goes the argument) they're just being hampered by those sissy due-process laws.

In fact, the cops don't know. Nobody knows.

I recommend the excellent documentary "Remembering the Friedmans" as an illustration. It's the story of a widely-publicized child-molestation case in the 80s. The defendant, a schoolteacher, was accused of molesting a great many boys, under the guise of providing computer tutoring.

The documentary is based on extensive home videos taken by one of the defendant's sons, who seemed to be a compulsive videotaper. There are interviews with investigating officers, journalists, and the defendant's alleged victims.

The defendant admits to one case of molestation and, IIRC, declines to comment on the others.

I guarantee you will start the documentary certain that Friedman is guilty as anything, and you will finish the documentary confused as hell, having no fucking idea whether he molested any but that one kid.

You will also have only a vague idea of what he actually did with the one kid. I mean, all child molestation is bad, but there are degrees of badness, and you won't even be sufficiently sure of Friedman's behavior to make that judgment. Did Friedman just diddle the kid? Touch him? Was there penetration? Ejaculation? The only two people who know are Friedman—and he's dead—and the victim himself. And maybe even the victim doesn't know, there are all these studies about how memory of childhood trauma is unreliable in adults.

As a journalist, I did a bit of courtroom and cop reporting in the 80s. More recently, I sat through extensive jury selection on a relatively high-profile murder trial. And that experience of confusion, of not knowing, was universal for me.

Even if the defendant confesses, you often don't know if he did it because he was guilty, or because he figured he'd be convicted anyway.

This is not how it works on TV. On TV, the cops and prosecutors always know who did it. Lennie Brisco hauls them off in handcuffs with a witty, dry remark.

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2005, 07:17 PM:

A small thing, but it gets to me when an administration which is willing to lock people up forever and torture them on no evidence is so enamoured of "innocent until proven guilty" for itself.

As for American culture, I'll mention the Destroyer novels, which were about a covert arm of the US government which secretly protects the Constitution by extra-legal means (including torture), since if the need for such protection were known, the Constitution would be wrecked. The first book was published in 1971. It had the usual feature of the torturer never targetting the wrong person, and the aftermath of torture for the victim never being shown. After all, it was a humorous series.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2005, 07:18 PM:

I think that if you trace torture back through fiction and drama, it goes back a long way. Think of the movie "Dirty Harry", which is suffused with a moral greyness. Looking back through Clancy, there are threads in his early work which, with hindsight, lead straight to the gigantic hawsers of depravity in his recent books. The last one I read, borrowed from a Public Library, was full of what amounted to state-sponsored terrorism -- sponsored by the USA. Even though it also had the more comforting routine falsehood or heroic, competent, mea chancing to be in the right place to stop a terrorist attack.

It's a long way from "The Hunt For Red October" to making your hero as assassin who happens to be the son of the ex-President.

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 01:16 AM:

For a while now I've been getting more and more anxious, because the last thing I would ever want to do — heaven forbid — is jump the rhetorical gun: At what precise point do references to Nazi Germany cease being ludicrous hyperbolic excesses when talking about my own country?

Is it the point where we trump up a transparently phony cassus belli to invade and occupy a foreign country? The point where we construct camps in which we hold people indefinitely without trial or recourse to due process? The point at which we torture people for no particular goddamn reason? The point at which we openly weigh the possibility of employing actual Death Squads to go forth in our name and administer collective punishment?

I'd really like to know, because I'd sure hate to accidentally jump the gun and have people think of me as shrill.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 11:13 AM:

My thoughts exactly, Ray. Everyone laughs about how the conversation is over once someone mentions the Nazis -- but how are we to stop it from happening again, here, if it really starts up?

And you forgot the whole "the power to set aside the law is inherent in the Führer--um, I mean, the President" thing.

JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 01:04 PM:

Let me hasten slowly to the defense of Clancy-as-he-was, with the caveat that I haven't read anything of his since the villainous Japanese plutocrats one...Debt of Honor? In his Super Bowl-gets-nuked book (which I may be misremembering), the superhuman ex-SEAL and his sidekick have captured the people who actually set the bomb. Ex-SEAL tortures them to find out who they were working for, if there was another bomb, like that. They spill their guts and finger the Clancyverse Khomeini. Ex-SEAL passes this info up the chain of command, whereupon the President decides he's going to nuke the city of Qom to get the Khomeini-analog. However, Our Hero refuses to back up the President on this, precipitating some sort of Constitutional crisis. This turns out (what a surprise!) to be the right thing to do: The bombers lied. They wanted to wreck the reputation of the US in the Middle East, and wiping out a city that way to get one person would have done that. Eerily prescient, eh?

Anyway, I find it kind of interesting that Clancy-as-he-was wrote a ticking time bomb story where the Good Guys used torture and got demonstrably incorrect information. The authors inspired by him don't seem to have gotten the message, though.

PinkDreamPoppies ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 02:02 PM:

I should have been somewhat more specific: I don't think that torture has been mainstreamed in a way that it never has before, but that it has enjoyed a reemergence into the popular culture and that it is stronger than it was previously. If you consider the vigilante flicks of the late seventies and early eighties ("Dirty Harry" and "Death Wish" come to mind) there is a palpable difference between those movies and the more recent revenge fantasies clogging the box office. In "Dirty Harry" there is a sense that the movie's world is, as another commentator said, "morally gray." Clint Eastwood's titular character is portrayed as being unpleasant and, most importantly, other characters in the movie comment on his methods with disapproval. He is, yes, right in the end and it was, yes, necessary to violate or transcend the law in order to properly met out justice, but his morals and methods were questioned by a stock character from 80's revenge flicks: the police chief. This dissenting voice, no matter how shrill, balding, and worthless, at least provided a counterpoint to the movie's vigilante/revenge themes.

In counterpoint, "Man on Fire" has Denzel Washington's character torturing kidnappers but there is no suggestion at any point that what he is doing is not ethical. There is no chief of police to question his methods or to ask "when does it stop?" There is not that requisite scene from 80's movies wherein the cop is asked for his badge. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to make it clear that had his rampage never occured justice would not have been served. More egregiously, and more subtley, the movie creates an association between Denzel Washington's character and Christianity---making it plain in a few key scenes that he has been put in that situation through divine intervention and that his vigilante rampage is being guided by the hand of God.

During the 90's---the Clinton Era, if you must---there seemed to be fewer vigilante/revenge movies and more effort put into the question of whether or not and in what situations torture is acceptable. The aforementioned plot twist in "Sum of All Fears" is a good example; another examples is from, curiously, another Denzel Washington movie, "The Siege." The hook is that New York City is under attack from fundamentalism Muslims who have been bombing various places to the point that the Army has taken control of the city and anyone with even a passing resemblance to an Arab has been locked up. At one point the Army captures a man they believe may have knowledge about the terrorist attacks and they torture him for information. I think that they end up getting some valuable information from him, but the relevant scenes were staged in such a way as to suggest that what the Army was doing was wrong regardless of potential benefit.

Perhaps the rise, fall, and reemergence of the vigilante/revenge motif in popular culture can be traced to two things: the relative popularity of conservative ideals, and the threat of sudden attack, first from the Soviets during the Cold War and now from terrorists. As someone else mentioned, the conservativism on display in the works mentioned has its basis in the idea that government is, by its nature, incapable of reacting to threats and delivering justice and that it is necessary for private citizens to rebel against government in order to restore goodness and justice to the world. This idea becomes more popular, I think, when people feel threatened, powerless, and as though their government has not done enough to protect them and/or get revenge. Additionally, the "ticking time bomb" scenario becomes much more black-and-white when it's emotionally resonant with the current situation; it's easier to say that torturing someone to prevent a bomb from going off in twenty minutes is wrong when you don't believe that a bomb very well could go off in twenty minutes that will kill you and your entire family.

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 02:20 PM:

Some things to think about. Sergeant Tracy Perkins, who ordered his men to throw two Iraqi civilians into the Tigris River, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and a bunch of other things, and was acquitted of everything but agggravated assault, assault leading to battery, and onstruction of justice. His defense: "He's a good soldier and he didn't see anybody drown." Yes, the defense that was put up for this guy was that he had won medals and therefore shouldn't be found guilty.

He lost one rank and he's getting six months.

What message? Good soldiers aren't accountable.

And, here's something passed on by Anna Mazzoldi, just something to think about with respect to the lack of fallout from the various scandals limping through the press barrier from Iraq:

an SS soldier remembers Auschwitz, and what became of him

I do not think that Godwin's Law applies any more, because the lessons of the resistance and nonresistance to the Nazis are entirely appropriate to the situation in which we find ourselves.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 05:05 PM:

40 years ago, Spinrad wrote "The Big Flash", in which a rock group was created to make use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam acceptable. I suppose it's paranoid to think there may have been some deliberate support for the purveyors of the pornography of violence.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 05:35 PM:

I do not think that Godwin's Law applies any more, because the lessons of the resistance and nonresistance to the Nazis are entirely appropriate to the situation in which we find ourselves.

I personally think Godwin's Law is obsolete and quaint.

cd ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 06:42 PM:

I personally think Godwin's Law is as useful and applicable as it always has been, because all it is is an observation that the longer a discussion goes on, the higher the probability that someone will whip out a comparison to the Nazis or Hitler.

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 07:54 PM:
I personally think Godwin's Law is obsolete and quaint.


Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 08:07 PM:
Some things to think about. Sergeant Tracy Perkins, who ordered his men to throw two Iraqi civilians into the Tigris River, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and a bunch of other things, and was acquitted of everything but agggravated assault, assault leading to battery, and onstruction of justice.[....]

He lost one rank and he's getting six months.

As I've pointed out elsewhere, it is extremely unlikely that the young Iraqis would have received even this much justice were it not for the fact that one of the victims was related to (and the other one was known by) a prominent — and generally pro-American — Iraqi blogger, Zeyad of Healing Iraq fame.

Only the fact that they had an advocate who was media-savvy, well-spoken, fluent in English, and with numerous blog contacts in the USA prevented their case from getting swept under the rug from the outset.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2005, 08:13 PM:

Lucy - Thank you for posting that link to the Guardian article. I wonder if/when the tv program will make it across the Atlantic.

We live in scary times, and we need media pieces like this now more than ever.

Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2005, 01:03 PM:

Maybe I watched a different movie from the rest, but one thing that stands out for me in (the first) Dirty Harry was that his actions in torturing his victim were what prevented the due course of law/government from doing their part.

A noteable lesson...

Laz ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2005, 02:24 PM:

I must say I feel sorry, in a way, for US Liberals, because you don't seem to have a voice. In fact, in the States, the word "liberal" seems to be a euphemism for "eater of babies". From here in the UK, it seems to me (and many others, believe me) that the current administration's policies are one small step away from fascism, and heading rapidly in that direction.

I don't really know what you readers of this blog -- reasonable people, by the look of it (stand up straight and call yourself "liberals" for God's sake!) -- are supposed to do. Reasonable, sane viewpoints, grounded in reality, are sorely under-represented by the US media as far as I can see... From an "outsider's" perspective, it looks as though America is full of insane, stupid, bloodthirsty bible-bashing freaks, every bit as bad as such Bond-villains as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein -- perhaps worse.

I've been wondering about the future for a while... How can we un-brainwash the american populace?

I don't know. I really don't.

In the end, I hope someone over there realises that the sorts of policies implemented by the Oil Regime are almost certainly the reason why the 9/11 attacks happened in the first place. Torturing and bombing the innocent, lying to everyone about everything, stealing from the poor to give to the rich, theft of the oil-wealth of other nations, total and blatant corruption of government, you name it. It's just incredible that these people can get away with it -- and it's very hard for me to understand how it's possible until I remember that only 20% of US citizens even have a passport... And that suggests a depth of ignorance (of the majority) I can barely conceive of.

Amazing. Just amazing. And it makes it hard to remember that many of the very best things (concepts, products, writing, everything!) come from the USA.

I can't speak for everyone in the UK -- many British people are also unbelievably stupid -- but certainly there is a general feeling of disgust and horror at what the US Government is doing in the name of the American people, in the name of "democracy".

In mainland Europe, I'm sure this feeling is much stronger.

I genuinely believe that Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Ashcroft et al should be tried for war-crimes -- although I'm not sure this is possible since various international treaties which ought to apply here have not been signed / ratified by the US.

Blair also should be prosecuted -- and that IS possible.

The alternative to prosecution is basically an acceptance of this shift towards global fascism and policies of hatred. That will suit the politicians very well, no doubt. The problem with politicians, of course, is that they do not act in the interests of the people they pretend to represent (except perhaps coincidentally on occasion), but in their own interests.

The people who are, in the end, going to suffer the most are going to be the ordinary people. Now and in the future, you will be hated -- unjustly -- around the world because of the despicable actions of your (and our) so-called "leaders". These people do not represent you; they never intended to represent you.

It's hard to accept because once you do accept it, you realise that there is no way out short of revolution... and of course a revolution will just replace one set of evil people spouting empty rhetoric with another, spouting slightly different empty rhetoric, and maybe wearing different coloured hats.

The Oil Tyrants have been very clever to talk so much about Jesus. It seems that in the US, many many people will believe anything at all as long as a few evil people claiming to represent Jesus tell them that it's what Jesus would have wanted.

Absolutely incredible -- Bin Laden's tactics precisely, and the Believers can't see it. Too busy thinking about Jesus's amazing love for us all to notice that the guy in front of them is just a demon with a crucifix around its neck.

Honestly, I think religion is the problem. Not a specific religion, just religion in general -- and for me, that includes both atheism and scientific dogmatism. Any fixed system of belief inhibits rational thought, because it acts as a filter on truth -- people see what they have been brainwashed into expecting to see, rather than what is actually there. Religion should be stamped out -- how else can religious people be saved?

But then... because I am a baby-eating liberal, I don't believe in victimising people for their beliefs. Unlike the so-called "Christians" running both our countries right now.

What would Jesus say about all this, I wonder? : "Life's a funny old game, mate... But never mind, eh? Just enjoy life as long as you have it -- the good things -- that's my advice... Yeah, I've mellowed a little in the last two thousand years -- used to be a real firebrand, me -- but I've grown up or something. I just don't let things get to me -- life's too short. This time round I ain't got the stomach for all that politics. Just gonna chill out with a few beers and watch the football, instead. The apocalypse can wait."

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2005, 02:43 PM:

I've often said, in recent times, that our nation's led by doers of crimes. Men who ought to be in prison rule instead; the body's sick when you infect the head.

But I don't think you'd find the world a better place if religion were stamped out, no matter how humanely (or miraculously) this was accomplished. Please don't tar all religious people with the same brush; many of us are the very liberals you're trying to get to stand up and fight.

Laz ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2005, 04:43 PM:

Aaah no don't get me wrong... Nothing wrong with religious people at all. I am well aware that religion and liberalism are not enemies... I certainly do know some fine churchgoers, mosque-goers, and visitors of temples of all kinds.

Please don't feel tarred with a brush of any kind. I am mostly in favour of the teachings of Jesus and others. It just disturbs me that people who Believe can be so easily manipulated into thoughts and actions that are so clearly contrary to the teachings of their various prophets...

It's just very sad that many (by no means all) of those who claim to follow these prophets don't seem to understand their teachings... It's sad that the words and deeds of good people are so often hijacked for political reasons.

I guess I object to that particular approach to religion that leads the faithful to unquestioningly believe certain statements, when there is no evidence to support those statements. Perhaps that's ok when you're asking whether or not God exists, or whether or not it's ok to eat pork... But I do think that often the readiness to blindly accept questionable "statements of fact" can easily be a trait that spills over into other aspects of life, such as whether or not Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.

It's a difficult one.

I wouldn't ban religion -- anyway it would be unenforceable. But maybe I wish it had never existed in the first place...

Oh, if only wishes really WERE horses...

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2005, 05:10 PM:

...we'd be hip-deep in horseshit? :-)

Laz ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2005, 06:04 PM:


We're already hipdeep in horseshit.


Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2005, 08:55 PM:

Laz, as an American, let me say that I'm very happy to serve as a bad example to help you fuel your smug and unearned feeling of superiority.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2005, 09:52 PM:

Mitch, Laz is getting his information from the US mass media--the same ones we are cursing for giving such a short shrift to liberal viewpoints. Just about everything he's said--except possibly the material about oil and religion--has already been said here.

Are we going to wait until it all comes home to be ashamed of them Bush, et al? Because make no mistake about it, it is going to come home. And it's going to hurt.

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2005, 09:23 AM:

Honestly, I think religion is the problem. Not a specific religion, just religion in general -- and for me, that includes both atheism and scientific dogmatism. Any fixed system of belief inhibits rational thought, because it acts as a filter on truth -- people see what they have been brainwashed into expecting to see, rather than what is actually there.

I'm somewhat sympathetic to that pov, having grown up in the Philippines, where the Catholic Church had the shameful history of pacificacion to deal with.

Religion should be stamped out -- how else can religious people be saved?

Doesn't really work though, as a new "isms" just takes its place.

Truly religious believers should be open to questioning their faith. If the religion really has a Truth, then it will stand up to any question, right?

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2005, 04:09 PM:

I've just been reading a novel by Andrew M. Greeley, one of the ones about Bishop "Blackie" Ryan.

I recommend them as a partial antidote to the toxicity of the self-proclaimed christian majority in the US (and, alas, some of them are cousins of mine).