Back to previous post: Prescription for the Democrats

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Forty-two Years

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

November 22, 2005

Tortuous Thinking
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:55 AM * 58 comments

From former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff (COL Wilkerson, mentioned previously here in Making Light):

Powell aide: Torture ‘guidance’ from VP

WASHINGTON (CNN) — A former top State Department official said Sunday that Vice President Dick Cheney provided the “philosophical guidance” and “flexibility” that led to the torture of detainees in U.S. facilities.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, told CNN that the practice of torture may be continuing in U.S.-run facilities.

“There’s no question in my mind that we did. There’s no question in my mind that we may be still doing it,” Wilkerson said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

From ADM Stansfield Turner, former head of the CIA:

Ex-CIA boss: Cheney is ‘vice president for torture’

LONDON, England (CNN) — Former CIA chief Stansfield Turner lashed out at Dick Cheney on Thursday, calling him a “vice president for torture” that is out of touch with the American people.

Turner’s condemnation, delivered during an interview with Britain’s ITV network, comes amid an effort by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, to pass legislation forbidding any U.S. authority from torturing a prisoner. McCain was tortured as a Vietnam prisoner of war.

Cheney has lobbied against the legislation, prompting Turner to say he’s “embarrassed that the United States has a vice president for torture. I think it is just reprehensible.”

Turner, a retired Navy admiral who headed the intelligence agency from 1977 to 1981 under President Jimmy Carter, stood firm on his earlier remarks Friday and, in a CNN interview, scoffed at assertions that challenging the administration’s strategy aided the terrorists’ propaganda efforts.

“It’s the vice president who is out there advocating torture. He’s the one who has made himself the vice president in favor of torture,” said Turner, who from 1972 to 1974 was president of the Naval War College, a think tank for strategic and national security policy.

The White House, through Cheney, have been arguing against the amendment to a Defense appropriations bill requiring the Army to follow its own field manual in the treatment of prisoners, an amendment that passed the Senate 90-9.

Either Cheney has the permission and direction from Bush, or Bush is so weak that Cheney can do and say what he will regardless of Junior’s wishes.

The White House has also been arguing that the CIA should be allowed to torture prisoners, even if the Army can’t.

What does the CIA think about that?

Speaking at a College of William and Mary forum last year, for example, Burton L. Gerber, a decorated Moscow station chief who retired in 1995 after 39 years with the CIA, surprised some in the audience when he said he opposes torture “because it corrupts the society that tolerates it.” This is a view, he confirmed in an interview with National Journal last week, that is rooted in Albert Camus’s assertion in Preface to Algerian Reports that torture, “even when accepted in the interest of realism and efficacy,” represents “a flouting of honor that serves no purpose but to degrade” a nation in its own eyes and the world’s. “The reason I believe that torture corrupts the torturers and society,” Gerber says, “is that a standard is changed, and that new standard that’s acceptable is less than what our nation should stand for. I think the standards in something like this are crucial to the identity of America as a free and just society.”

The moral dimensions of torture, Gerber adds, are inextricably linked with the practical; aside from the fact that torture almost always fails to yield true or useful information, it has the potential to adversely affect CIA operations. “Foreign nationals agree to spy for us for many different reasons; some do it out of an overwhelming admiration for America and what it stands for, and to those people, I think, America being associated with torture does affect their willingness to work with us,” he says. “But one of my arguments with the agency about ethics, particularly in this case, is that it’s not about case studies, but philosophy. Aristotle says the ends and means must be in concert; if the ends and means are not in concert, good ends will be corrupted by bad means.”

A similar stance was articulated last year by Merle L. Pribbenow, a 27-year veteran of the agency’s clandestine Directorate of Operations. Writing in Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s in-house journal, Pribbenow recalled that an old college friend had recently expressed his belief that “the terrorist threat to America was so grave that any methods, including torture, should be used to obtain the information we need.” The friend was vexed that Pribbenow’s former colleagues “had not been able to ‘crack’ these prisoners.”

Pribbenow sought an answer by revisiting the arcane case of Nguyen Van Tai, the highest-ranking Vietcong prisoner captured and interrogated by both South Vietnamese and American forces during the Vietnam War. Re-examining in detail the techniques used by the South Vietnamese (protracted torture that included electric shocks; beatings; various forms of water torture; stress positions; food, water, and sleep deprivation) and by the Americans (rapport-building and no violence), Pribbenow reached a stark conclusion: “While the South Vietnamese use of torture did result (eventually) in Tai’s admission of his true identity, it did not provide any other usable information,” he wrote. In the end, he said, “it was the skillful questions and psychological ploys of the Americans, and not any physical infliction of pain, that produced the only useful (albeit limited) information that Tai ever provided.”

So the question remains: Why is the Bush White House so strongly in favor of torture that they’re threatening to veto a defense appropriations bill that merely reaffirms the policies that are supposed to be already in place? Why do they want a policy in place that not only diminishes America’s international prestige, not only makes the job of gathering intelligence more difficult, not only betrays our national values, but in practical terms flat doesn’t work?

What macho fantasy-land do those White House frat boys live in? What are they dragging us into? What are they doing in our names?

Write to Congress. Write to the editor of your local paper. Vote. This is not the time for silence.

Comments on Tortuous Thinking:
#1 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 11:46 AM:

But Porter Goss says we need waterboarding to extract false confessions!

(Okay, he didn't exactly say that. But I think the implication was there.)

#2 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 11:52 AM:

What macho fantasy-land do those White House frat boys live in?

It's a special place, where 24 and The Passion of the Christ collide; a place where torture is not just an effective intelligence gathering tool, but a spiritually cleansing act of contrition. The Torqumada method of Geopolitics: good for finding that nuclear device hidden somewhere in LA, and redeeming the immortal soul of a Mohammedan.

#3 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 11:55 AM:

Y'all maybe saw this already over at Atrios' place, but just in case: CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described: Sources Say Agency's Tactics Lead to Questionable Confessions, Sometimes to Death. If this isn't what Goss is talking about, he ought to say so.

#4 ::: Peter Hentges ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 01:01 PM:

To the actions Jim recommends I'll add: donate to Amnesty International. (And review other actions you can take that Amnesty recommends.)

#5 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 01:52 PM:

Story I heard from an officer who was in Ulster in the seventies. When they pulled in players (=IRA men) or suspected players, the police and the army found that beatings and stress positions didn't work well, but here's what did.

They realised early on from abuse shouted on the streets that the average Ulsterman was an inveterate racist - Ulster at this time was almost entirely white - the sort of person who considered black people to be just a sort of stupid, aggressive ape. (Which, biologically, they are; so are people of every other race. End of cynical biology moment).

Now, the battalion had several black soldiers, but the largest of them was one we shall call Corporal Smith, who was built like the side of a house and looked as though he ate puppies to pass an idle hour. So interrogations consisted of:

1. Suspect arrested by RUC or army and brought to security forces base.
2. Suspect processed (name, prints etc) and seated in room by himself.
3. Half an hour later, enter Cpl Smith. He proceeds to stand with his back to the door and stare at suspect.
4. Half an hour later still. Suspect now reduced to quivering jelly of terror and convinced he is about to be eaten. Exit Cpl Smith.
5. Enter intelligence officer. Suspect immensely relieved to see 'friendly' white face.
6. Suspect spills guts. No beatings, no threats necessary.

I think there's a similar scene in 'Mississippi Burning'...

#6 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:09 PM:


*suspects this of being a joke that only just barely whizzed past her, but now has disturbing conflicting images of water torture and boogie-boarding lodged in her head*

#7 ::: morfydd ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:23 PM:

Waterboarding = strapping a prisoner to a board and holding him underwater until he thinks he's going to drown.

Not a joke, sadly, but accepted interrogation practice now.

#8 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:24 PM:

Waterboarding is when they dunk someone's head under water and hold them there to the point of almost drowning, then pull them up, give them a gasp of air, and repeat.

There was a scen in the first season of the New Battlestar Galactica where Starbuck does this to a Cylon. It is not pleasent to watch, even in a fictonalized environment. The relaity, I'm sure, is worse.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:00 PM:

It's a thing with our species: we panic when we can't breathe. Nobody can keep their composure when they're being repeatedly half-drowned.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:19 PM:

Jim, I'm not sure macho posturing enough to account for this much effort at such a high level of government.

Here's one theory: Bush & Co. want torture to be an option, want places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to exist, because they think it'll scare potential adversaries.

Here's another: Bush & Co., and possibly some of their subcontractors (doubtless including Halliburton), have been condoning and/or conniving at the torture of captives in greater numbers, and to a far greater extent, than anything we've known about so far. They're hoping to escape prosecution as war criminals, and they think their chances of finessing the whole thing will be damaged if Congress makes such a firm public statement about the unacceptability of torture.

And another: Bush personally wants it to be an option. Remember, one of the objections to the defense appropriations bill was that it "would tie the hands of the Prsdnt." Bush is a mean little man, a chronic coward much given to heroic posturing, and he's disproportionately vindictive when crossed. I can see him liking to have torture as an option.

No proof either way, and some of those are more plausible than others, but I think all of them are plausible.

#11 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:21 PM:

Eeek. Well, that's pretty much what I was imagining, then.

#12 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:31 PM:

And another theory -- at least some of those involved know exactly what torture does by way of creating terrorists where terrorists did not previously exist. And that's why they're doing it. Note that the idea of cancelling elections in "an emergency" was floated last year...

No, I haven't read 1984 recently. I just watched the original BBC adaptation at an impressionable age.

#13 ::: Alison ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 04:38 PM:

The reason why Cheney wants the CIA to be able to legally torture prisoners is pretty clear: they already have and someone has evidence that he personally sanctioned it, which could lead to war crimes prosecution of himself and/or the President under international law.

It's just a guess.

#14 ::: Alison ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 04:40 PM:

Duh, duh. Read the rest of the comments before you post, Alison dear. Sorry for the duplication of effort, Teresa.

#15 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 04:59 PM:

Yeah, actually, I've been thinking a lot about this sort of thing in light of the visitors we had yesterday. Somebody suggested that I was going a little far in demonizing the little scamps, and I backed down a little. But it bugged me, and I chewed on it, and I hereby retract my retraction.

While I was gratified that they were ultimately booted out and further gratified that it didn't take long, I did notice there were a number of people who made an attempt to engage them in civilized debate. While I normally think that civilized debate is a good thing, in the case of the neocons I'd say it's a pointless exercise and maybe even counterproductive.

I myself used to make an effort be a lot more civil when dealing with that sort of person. Then someone I love was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease. Pardon my brief pity-party here, but this diagnosis really did change my thinking on a lot of issues. I'm sure you know there's a lot of really smart people who want to use government grant money to study how stem cells could be used to cure this disease that causes fate-worse-than-death* levels of suffering for millions of people every day. But they can't do it because the subhuman filth infecting the white house decided that it would hurt them politically to support that research.

It's one thing to read about it in an editorial in USA today, quite another when you get a phone call from your doctor saying "your MRI is back, there's a problem, can you be here in a couple of hours and it might be a good idea to bring someone to help drive you." I'm pretty confident that if George fucking Bush's daughter was in a wheelchair, Jesus would tell him to rethink his position on stem cells.

That turned out to be my particular threshold for courteous behavior. But even if you haven't been personally harmed by the neocon agenda, I think that it's important to keep in mind that the things these bastards do (or, in the case of our recent visitors, shout rah-rah for) aren't just philosophical abstractions or news clips on CNN. They're real life atrocities that cause real suffering for millions of people every single minute of every single day.

I can see how decent folks might, with the best of intentions, attempt to engage them in debate in hopes of changing their mind. I can sympathize with the reasoning and I don't think any less of anyone for it, but I would argue that even making the attempt is both doomed to fail as a practical matter and morally counterproductive.

First, the practical side. We're all exposed to approximately the same set of media. I would argue that the sort of personality that is capable of looking at the changes in the world over the last four years and concluding that Bush and co. are a positive force has some serious flaws either in their reasoning, their empathy, or their ethics. My feeling is that regardless of what the precise problem is, there's not going to be any getting through to them. I'd encourage you to experiment; I'm confident you'll eventually get tired of trying.

Next, the moral issue. Just attempting to engage another person in a civilized debate displays a measure of respect for that person, their point of view and their agenda. To my mind, that's a bad thing in this case. By engaging neocons in civilized debate or otherwise treating them with respect, you are implicitly conceding that their positions may have merit. My personal feeling is that any agenda which includes torture and imprisonment without trial is, prima facie, indefensible, evil and wrong.

The rift in American politics right now is not just a slight difference of opinion--the things that the neocons support, that they espouse, really are capital-B Bad. Maintaining a polite pretense that the issues under discussion are just a disagreement between people of essentially equal moral stature trivializes the problem. Young or not, stupid or not, if those filth want to be the bootlicking toadies of evil bastards then they really should be treated that way. Maybe if enough decent people spit on them they'll eventually get a clue.

*Think I'm being melodramatic about the fate-worse-than-death bit? Go hang out in a neurologist's waiting room for 1 hour.

#16 ::: LeslieS ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 05:17 PM:

What Scot H said.

I don't know how we as a nation can hold our heads up with a government engaging in such barbarous behavior. Pathological doesn't begin to describe it.

#17 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 06:26 PM:

Somehow, the presidential pardon of the turkeys seems incredibly obscene, under the circumstances.

#18 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 06:30 PM:

I think the turkeys may be done for, this year. There's a cabinet secretary, two chiefs-of-staff, and a half-dozen congressmen in line ahead of 'em.

#19 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 06:44 PM:

The "pardoning of the turkeys" has always struck me as a fine example of style over substance. Just once, I'd like to see a president or governor "pardon" the turkey and then eat a vegetarian meal that holiday.

I hate the idea that so many people seem to have that if an animal still has its fur or feathers and is therefore cute, gosh, you can't eat that! But if it's already been slaughtered, skinned or plucked, and butchered, hey, no problem. Anyone who eats meat needs to face up to where it comes from. Anyone not willing to do that should stop eating meat.

#20 ::: Anony ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 06:51 PM:

Link to the source of the Burton Gerber quote:

#21 ::: Vito Excalibur ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 07:02 PM:

Scott, I absolutely sympathize, and in fact I think the same thing in my darker moments. The problem is that we can't really say "All right - these people are simply not possible to run a country with - I will start over fresh with better people." Quite aside from the becoming-the-monster problem, it's not possible. These are the people we share the country with. The only way to get there to be more of us than there are of them (I'm frowning on the "shooting" solution) is to turn them into us.

They have been doing a fabulous job of turning us into them - witness the popular support in the polls for the legality of abortion, the social safety net, etc., and yet the fact that "liberal" is a dirty word and Republicans - I can't bring myself to say conservatives - are running all three branches of govt. So shift across this divide is possible.

I agree that rational debate, or an attempt at rational debate, probably isn't the way to do it, which makes me sad b/c it's my preferred angle of attack. Still, I can't think that absolutely refusing to talk to them in any way is going to work. If you have an idea how it would, though, let me know. Meanwhile, I'll keep talking to the ones I can talk to.

#22 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 07:43 PM:

Power is real.

A single-minded concentration on power (though it is argueably a single-minded concentration on money, with power as a secondary interest as a means of getting rid of any social mechanism that might present a bar to profit by any means) over generational time results in having most of the power.

That much of that drive has been funded by those who profited immensely from the Savings and Loan fiasco is, I think, co-incidental, rather than evidence of specific conspiracy, but it does rather indicate that a concern for the niceties of legality has been absent for a long time. The recent change is not disdain for the rule of law; the recent change is a belief that they have at long last removed themselves from the reach of any manner of law.

The present republican party really are slavers and racists and misogynists who think that, in an ideal world, everyone else would be their property; that everyone else exists by the specific will of God to be their property, to do with as they please to have them do.

Since they're not willing to accept the legitimacy of voting as a means of resolving political disputes -- the Republic fell in 2000, when it was generally accepted that a judge could say who won an election without counting the votes -- and since there aren't enough honest vote counts to remove them from power even if all the honest counts are won by votes for someone else, the range of available options that involve your children not ending their days in chains are limited.

This is the fundamental problem with all civil politics, what I call the Quaker Dilemma -- what do you do with people who are flatly unwilling to acknowledge an obligation to the common good and a submission to the rule of law?

Oh, and Vito -- from them's point of view, 'us' is 'slaves and losers'. It's a hard sell.

#23 ::: Vito Excalibur ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 08:06 PM:

The way I see it, there's two possibilities. Either:

1) The republic didn't fall in 2000, any more than it has fallen during previous election chicaneries; it wobbled but will recover. In which case, voting still matters; and "them", for the purpose of voting, includes people like my mom & dad, who tend to vote Republican, and who I assure you do not think of me as a slave or a loser. They and people like them are potential "us." We need to convince them of that.


2) The republic has fallen; in which case, why are you so calm about it? In all seriousness: what should we do if this is true? I'm neither a political scientist nor a historian, but I know that they are to be found here. What is the next course of action for a committed progressive in whose country democracy has been overthrown?

#24 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 08:44 PM:

I'm not calm about it, but I'm the sort of -- rare! -- Canadian who commemorates the anniversary of the Battle of Queenston Heights. I'm more watching out for the creepy tide of filthy money moving north, and trying to vote for folks with spine and brains, and writing letters to cabinet ministers, and such like.

There are a lot of traditional folks who vote Republican because that's what they've always done or that what good, God-fearing people do, or that's how they react to the comforting rhetoric about the pace of change (which is mostly for the worse, and somehow not connected to the polices of the folks producing the comforting rhetoric), or they're not really paying attention and repetition does create belief, sure. Those come under the heading of 'dupe' or 'useful idiot' from the point of view of the thieves and the thugs and the theocrats.

What you should do is get organized, take over the local mechanisms of government to the extent possible, and start working your way up, with the goal of reducing the slavers and the looters to obedience to the rule of law by the least sufficient means.

Noticing that, attempts at structural or rational benefit explanations aside, the present executive is pro-torture because they think it's a good thing, might provide an increase in motivation.

Yes, really -- it's a great way to create fear (fear makes you stupid), it's a way to manufacture if not consent than at least whatever support they need for the next idiotic war, and there is a small and shrivelled sort of soul that derives real and lasting satisfaction from being able to say 'take them out and hurt them beyond bearing or sanity or hope, because I say to'.

#25 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 09:51 PM:

Scott H, I'm not sure when you decide a person is irretrevable. A lot of people who used to be Bush supporters aren't any more.

I don't know if they were convinced by civilized arguement, or by the weight of recent events, or by being yelled at.

#26 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 10:05 PM:

The present republican party really are slavers and racists and misogynists who think that, in an ideal world, everyone else would be their property; that everyone else exists by the specific will of God to be their property, to do with as they please to have them do.

Idaho Statesman April 9, 2005

Idaho´s congressional delegation has questioned the Patriot Act for years, but this is the crucial year to do something about it. Portions of the anti-terrorism law -- a rapid legislative response to the Sept. 11 attacks -- come up for renewal this year. Skeptics may never have a better chance to rein in this law. Idaho´s two senators and two House members are pushing similar bills to repeal some of the most troubling parts of the Patriot Act.

Either the Idaho delegation (all of it) are not in fact Republicans - could have fooled me - or their plots are so deeply concealed that I might as well give up.

If you care for speculation on the questions raised here from another perspective - then taking as true what I have repeatedly asserted on these boards and what the national media pretty much confirm - National Command Authority set up a black project in Afghanistan involving torture and walked away and left it running such that the machine was sputtering in Iraq - neither stopped nor useful (I'm not saying it ever was or could have been useful any time any place I'm saying the machine was started and left running and ran astray even from the intent). It seems more likely to me that there was and is an emotional committment to the rightness of the original decision than a strong desire to pull people off the streets and feed them to shredders. I suggest there is to some extent a parallel with some leaders who I understand are willing to do absolutely anything to protect their own people from their external enemies. The issue then is one of other or internalizing externalities to frame it somewhat differently.

This is the fundamental problem with all civil politics, what I call the Quaker Dilemma -- what do you do with people who are flatly unwilling to acknowledge an obligation to the common good and a submission to the rule of law?

The U-District Meeting in Seattle would say leave them alone, even shun them until they become enlightened but don't for Heaven's sake imprison them; indeed have no prisons. Obs SF Ghandi meets the Werhmacht.

Everybody knows the common answer to that - you send them to re-education camps and teach the survivors to love Big Brother.

obs SF in the Narnia season - That Hideous Strength.

#27 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 10:21 PM:

Clark -

There are still some leftover decent people in the Republican party; the takeover was, after all, fairly recent.

But they're not, as a party or a Congress, doing big slices of their jobs -- the Patriot Act didn't get trimmed, there's no oversight over where the Iraq money is going, and so on.

As for the 'black project in Afghanistan', that is probably true but almost certainly not complete. Too many CIA flights too recently taken place, some of them being recently reported as staging through Canada.

Plus, there are some among that party who give countenance to those who argue seriously in public that women are the property of their fathers or husbands, and they mean chattel property without doubt, because that is what the Bible says about it.

#28 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 11:51 PM:

Teresa: I'm rather in favor of Scenario #2, that is, they've done it, they know it, eventually we will all know it, and they don't want to go to jail. Scenario #2 is also plausible.

Scott H: my sympathies, truly. I both agree and disagree. I think there are some people you can talk to... some of them are my neighbors.

However, there are some values I hold that are not up for discussion. Whether women are human beings is one. I stopped discussing that decades ago. Whether torture is permissable is another. It isn't. No discussion. You want to blither on about it, you leave the room, or I do.

#29 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 11:55 PM:

Retry. I meant Scenario #3 is also plausible. GWB appears to be a mean-spirited, vindictive, fearful little man, and I can easily believe something in his nature might be stimulated by the idea of torture.

#30 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 12:25 AM:

I know this isn't an Open Thread, and I apologize for breaking the rules, but I just read on DailyKos that a source in the UK (who is being prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for letting it out) has revealed that Tony Blair talked GWB out of bombing -- Al Jazeera.

The trouble is, I believe it, without question.

#31 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 01:47 AM:

Plus, there are some among that party who give countenance to those who argue seriously in public that women are the property of their fathers or husbands, and they mean chattel property without doubt, because that is what the Bible says about it.

No question there are some in that party who.... and that regardless of how we define that party. See e.g where Jimmy Carter discusses with Terry Gross on Fresh Air and with Steve Inskeep the changes in the creed of the Southern Baptist Convention. Changes that led Carter and his wife to leave and according to Carter take most of their local congregation (where he teaches Sunday School) with them - in the year 2000 CE. My point of course is that there are yet yellow dog Democrats who remain Southern Baptists and so believe what the Bible says about it. No cause so noble as to repel fu...heads and so distinguishing on the presence of fu...heads is futile.

Again of course Carter speaking as both retired naval officer and former President as well as born again or evangelical Christian opposes torture in all cases.

Quite agree that neither those Republicans I can stand nor those Democrats likewise is doing the necessary.

Carter of course says my shifting coalitions of support comprised the available members of both parties who agreed with me on specific issues, with my most intense and mounting opposition coming from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. (One reason for this was the ambition of Senator Ted Kennedy to replace me as president.)

Too many politicians are, what the NRA has been called, ag'iners.

Notice also that did John Kerry sit in the Oval Office it would be equally appropriate to refer to "those Whitehouse frat boys" Skull and Bones all inter allia. Also that Cheney holds a consitutional office in his own right - would one wish to see POTUS disappear Mr. Cheney in a display of strength?

Perhaps like the chess player who chewed cigars in the no-smoking rooms and so threatened to smoke - the threat being mightier than the execution - Mr. Cheney wishes to hold the threat of Nacht und Nebel available.

#32 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 03:11 AM:

" I'm not sure when you decide a person is irretrevable. A lot of people who used to be Bush supporters aren't any more."

I have a simple rule for determining when a racist is irretrievable:

1. If they can look at a child of the race they are prejudiced against and see a problem to be disposed of, they are irretrievable.

2. If trying to retrieve them may lead to violence this does not make them irretrievable, but it certainly removes any obligation to try.

#33 ::: Naomi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 03:38 AM:

Help, I'm confused (yes, really). Insults apart, can someone please explain how GWB can traipse around the world lecturing other governments on human rights when he so blatantly and ferociously ignores them in his own country? Is this yet another version of the 'don't do as I do, do as I tell you' philosophy of life? It's so sad, the government of the land of the free championing use of torture, and of course, stopping Sadam from torturing his people as one of the alternate reasons why the Iraq war part 2 was started. Ah me, what a dreadful, sad, and deparessing joke.

#34 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 05:49 AM:

Naomi, the reason GWB can traipse around lecturing other countries on human rights is that people don't get struck by lightning even for much worse things.

"Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virture", and I'd rather live in this world than in one where no one in power thought it was worth even pretending to support human rights.

In re the common idea that it might be bad for GWB to be removed because Cheney would be president: Do you think Bush has a restraining effect on Cheney? Or it's just less convenient for Cheney to do what he wants when he's only VP? Or that being president would make Cheney so puffed up that he'd do worse?

Bryan, 2. If trying to retrieve them may lead to violence this does not make them irretrievable, but it certainly removes any obligation to try.

It's probably a good thing that neither the civil rights movement nor the allies thought that way.

General point--I'm concerned that we haven't seen the last big disaster from this administration. Granting that it presumably doesn't have the resources or support for another war, I keep wondering how many other Michael Browns were appointed. Or that we could wake up one day and find that some huge proportion of the federal money was stolen--I'm not talking about tax cuts and deficits, but just plain stolen.

Why is the Bush administration so much in favor of torture? I think it's because they like torture. They don't like one of their favorite things being forced underground by a unfavorable legal and social climate.

#35 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 05:54 AM:

The Al-Jazeera thing surfacing in the British press today seems to me to be at least tangentially related.

In case you hadn't seen it, British newspapers obtained leaked documents suggesting that Tony Blair had an argument with George W. Bush, in which he talked Bush out of bombing the Al Jazeera office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, a country that is effectively a US ally. Today's development is that not only are the leakers (two civil servants) to be prosecuted -- which suggests the leak is authentic -- but the Attorney General's office has just dropped gag orders on the main British newspapers, warning them that they too will be prosecuted if they publish details of the (classified top secret) transcript of the Bush/Blair conversation.

The reason I cite this as tangentially relevant to the question of torture is ... well, hell, where to begin? Al Jazeera is an independent news agency that is completely out of step with the Pentagon's management of the post-9/11 media campaign. It was set up by former BBC World Service staff when the BBC got rid of its Arabic service in a wave of downsizing some years ago. Its reporting values are best described as being inherited from the BBC, hence its tendency to be a thorn in the side of whoever is in a position of power.

The mere possibility that the US president seriously considered sending bombers to take out a news office in the main business district of an allied country should be a jaw-dropper. It strongly suggests that earlier "accidental" bombings of Al Jazeera occupied hotels in Baghdad and elsewhere were nothing of the sort. And it is entirely explicable if it is symptomatic of a mind that believes that adverse criticism alone is sufficient cause to warrant maiming and death.

(I suspect the reason for the frantic British government response to the leak is that if verified, it would reflect very badly on Tony Blair by association.)

#36 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 07:07 AM:

It's interesting that the insurgents/terrorists also target journalists. This fits with my theory that war is criminal activity which people have been able to do because they've been able to keep it "off the books". Bringing war fully into consciousness makes it much harder to sustain.

#37 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 07:22 AM:

"If trying to retrieve them may lead to violence this does not make them irretrievable, but it certainly removes any obligation to try."
"It's probably a good thing that neither the civil rights movement nor the allies thought that way.
I said it removed the obligation, I didn't say that one should never do it, which are two different things. Or are we in disagreement here?

I don't believe in telling someone that they are obligated to risk violence, although if someone is willing to risk it to do a good thing that makes their willingness more laudable.

Note also the use of the word laudable. It often seems nowadays that one is lauded for doing what one is obligated to do, given the lamentable fact that very few people do what they are obligated to do, nonetheless I try to restrain myself from complimenting others on fulfilling their obligations.

#38 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 08:43 AM:

It may be useful to note that one of the reasons Bush took us to war with Iraq was the supposed fact that Iraq was providing training to al Qaeda in biological and chemical weaponry.

It turns out now that that information had been obtained from one individual, under torture. (See above, telling the torturers what they want to hear.) This information wasn't backed up by any physical evidence, or corroborated by other sources and methods.

Here's Bush himself on 06 Feb 03:

One of the greatest dangers we face is that weapons of mass destruction might be passed to terrorists, who would not hesitate to use those weapons. Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.

There you go, false intelligence, gained under torture. I got yer tickin' bomb right here.

#39 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 11:03 AM:

Oh, this isn't the end of freedom:
There wasn't a bang
Nor even a whimper.

As the outrages add
We remain free to be appalled
Who are not yet being tortured.

#40 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 12:07 PM:

Why is the administration keen on torture?

1. It allows the authorizing official to aggrandize his role in history: "I am willing to go further than anyone else to defend my country!" A childish tactic, but it apparently works for some people.

2. Torture actually works very well. Not for intelligence gathering, of course--the suppression of internal dissent.

And we all know exactly how the Bush administration feels about dissent.

#41 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 02:13 PM:

the Attorney General's office has just dropped gag orders on the main British newspapers, warning them that they too will be prosecuted if they publish details of the (classified top secret) transcript of the Bush/Blair conversation.

I do believe that the British press get gagged any time an official prosecutorial investigation starts. This is to prevent jury-poisoning and variations on trial-by-headline. If someone from Britain would confirm/deny, please?

#42 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 02:21 PM:

Lin: that's true, but this is different -- this is notification that any publication of the document will result in prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

It's the first time such D-notices have been used since Labour was elected in 1997 (with a remit to replace OSA with a Freedom of Information Act).

#43 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 02:40 PM:

Charlie, thanks for the clarification.

#44 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 07:11 PM:

Charlie: was the FOIA meant to totally supersede the OSA? What provisions are there for secrets of state?

More importantly, will there be a Section Three of the FOIA?

#45 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 08:32 PM:

Jakob: FOIA was passed, but watered down considerably beforehand, and OSA still exists.

If there was a Section Three and you asked that question I would have to Deal with you. Fnord.

#46 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2005, 01:42 AM:

Well, I had a post in me, but it kind of withered away, partly because I couldn't be bothered getting into a fight, partly because I didn't really know what I thought, partly because Making Light is high enough in comment traffic that if you don't post soon you're talking about old news.

But - Scott H's post upthread about when to try to engage with people and when to write them off prodded me into typing - that and the fact that I'm going home in 15 minutes and I can't be bothered starting new work.

It's simply this - the thread about Teresa's dead neighbour spun off topic in an almost usenet-worthy fashion when we had the invasion of the offended Republican bloggers, and there was a lot of nastiness in the air, and some very unpleasant behaviour on the part of the visitors. What nagged at me though was a suspicion that Jessica's post about "You know you're in a sleazy strip club when..." was a joke that was being wildly misinterpreted.

I finally went over to her blog and read the relevant entry, and sure enough, it was in the spirit of those joke emails that travel around offices - you know "You know you're having a bad hair day when..." - or in an American context, much like the joke lists on the Letterman show. It wasn't actually funny, but that's never stopped a joke being a joke before. I never for a minute thought that Jessica really didn't know she was going into a strip club, or that she thought that I thought she didn't know.

And yet there was all the mud being thrown over here about her hypocrisy in pretending she didn't know it was a strip club. I got to wondering if we weren't seeing a bit of dehumanising going on on our side of the fence - an unwillingness to believe that someone could be a total shit *and* be someone who joked around wih their friends.

To make things clear - I didn't like the way the visitors behaved, and from reading Jessica's blog I doubt I could have a friendly conversation with her that lasted much over 30 seconds, but... I thought she was being jumped on for any old reason, and I felt a bit uncomfortable about it. That's all.

And as for the notional topic of this thread "Why is the Bush White House so strongly in favor of torture", I don't know if I'm channeling Heinlein or channeling Heinlein channeling Mencken or Twain, but it brings to mind the old saw about how for every problem there is a simple and obvious solution which is wrong. I think torture is that simple wrong solution - the "ticking bomb" arguments have an easy surface plausibility, and if you don't go any further - there you are.

#47 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2005, 02:32 PM:

[heading off to Family Dinners, but first, lest I not remember later]

A proposal--strip Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Libby, at the least, of their US citizenship for abrogation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, offenses including but not limited to abrogating such clauses as cruel and unusual punishment, rights regarding requirements for warrants for arrest and search and seizure and secret arrests and no access to legal representation.... they have instituted and president over police state methods, which are to my mind in clear and unequivocal violation of both letter and spirit of the basic legal documents which are the legal basis of the existence of the United States of America. Theyr'e traitors, and deserve US citizenship much less than e.g. Robert E. Lee who permanently was stripped of his.

#48 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2005, 03:02 PM:

One thing that doesn't get mentioned much, if at all, is that all of these newly approved "interogation techniques" are just old tortures with the names changed.

Water boarding? That used to be called "The Ducking Stool," a favorite from the witch trials.

Stress positions? Ah, the Inquisition used those, but called it "The Strappado."

And then there's the pronouncement that so long as it doesn't hurt as much as organ failure, it's cool, which means thumb screws, the boot, the spider, and choke pears are all good to go. So long as you come up with some fake new name for them. Persuasion Bartletts, anyone?

I sometimes imagine Alberto Gonzales wearing The Gossip's Mask.

#49 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2005, 03:31 PM:

Kevin: is the "Gossip's Mask" the same thing as the "Scold's Bridle?" Sounds like it.

#50 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2005, 04:08 PM:

Yes, same thing. The more entertaining ones have pig noses and donkey ears to go along with the razor-edged kazoo that makes the victim sound like Donald Duck.

If I had more programming savvy, it would be a good project for a flash animation.

#51 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2005, 10:18 AM:

"They're traitors, and deserve US citizenship much less than e.g. Robert E. Lee who permanently was stripped of his."

That's a slightly misleading way of putting what happened to Lee. After Appomattox, as a condition of the surrender, all high-ranking Confederate officers were required to sign an oath of loyalty to the United States, as a condition of having full civil rights as citizens restored. Lee signed the oath but never heard back from the federal government, and he subsequently died just five years after the war's end, rendering the issue moot.

In 1975, Lee's signed oath was discovered by a government records clerk, and his citizenship was retroactively restored by an act of Congress. It's speculated that his oath had been deliberately "lost" by a government official who felt Lee should suffer just a bit more. Civil wars are like that.

#52 ::: Per C. Jorgensen ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2005, 10:53 AM:

Weren't there rather few Confederates who never got their US citizenships back? (Not counting unreconstructed rebels who moved abroad, or cases such as Lee.) I believe Jefferson Davis never got it back, as well as Admiral Raphael Semmes. I believe that in the latter case there also was some public outcry in New England against his ever getting it back. He himself commented that the commerce raiding he had participated in had hurt the yankees where it hurt the most, that is, when it came to money.

#53 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2005, 07:32 PM:

The Spanish Inquisition decided that torture didn't work, early in the 17th century.

And if anyone ought to know, they would.

#54 ::: Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2005, 09:07 PM:

JDM, you asked "what fantasy land" they're living in... ...well... ...what other putative-democracy uses torture? In fact, the very same methods of torutre? And the ticking-bomb theory? And has links so close with the neo-conservative crowd that the same people wrote the PNAC plan and the Likud one?

That's where they're living.

And why the U.S. is putting up with this is beyond my ability to fathom.

#55 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2005, 01:43 PM:

what other putative-democracy uses torture? In fact, the very same methods of torutre?

Much to my shame as a Briton, the UK used torture during WW2.

I didn't note any comment about the effectiveness of the torture, though.

#56 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2005, 05:03 PM:
I am rather offended by the direction that the "extraordinary rendition"/"rigorous interrogation" debate has gone, primarily because it is based on unreliable sources. I don't just mean those being interrogated, who are (by their nature) unreliable sources. I mean those contributing to the debate itself. Go ahead—name even one individual on the "pro-torture" side of the debate who has publicly contributed to the actual policy debate raging in Washington (and elsewhere) who has hands-on experience interrogating non-American intelligence sources. John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales don't; Jay Bybee and John Yoo don't; and so on. I cannot name a single Administration official, or even not-in-the-government shill, who has such experience—even second-hand, in the sense of directly supervising the interrogation. My knowledge of this is not encyclopedic; I'd welcome documentation demonstrating otherwise.

So starts a comment from Scrivener's Error, by someone who knows what he's talking about.

Read the whole thing.

#57 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2005, 10:39 PM:
A recent American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) posting of one of forty-four US military autopsy reports reads as follows: "Final Autopsy Report: DOD 003164, (Detainee) Died as a result of asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to strangulation as evidenced by the recently fractured hyoid bone in the neck and soft tissue hemorrhage extending downward to the level of the right thyroid cartilage. Autopsy revealed bone fracture, rib fractures, contusions in mid abdomen, back and buttocks extending to the left flank, abrasions, lateral buttocks. Contusions, back of legs and knees; abrasions on knees, left fingers and encircling to left wrist. Lacerations and superficial cuts, right 4th and 5th fingers. Also, blunt force injuries, predominately recent contusions (bruises) on the torso and lower extremities. Abrasions on left wrist are consistent with use of restraints. No evidence of defense injuries or natural disease. Manner of death is homicide. Whitehorse Detainment Facility, Nasiriyah, Iraq."

The ACLU website further reveals how: "a 27-year-old Iraqi male died while being interrogated by Navy Seals on April 5, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. During his confinement he was hooded, flex-cuffed, sleep deprived and subjected to hot and cold environmental conditions, including the use of cold water on his body and hood. The exact cause of death was "undetermined" although the autopsy stated that hypothermia may have contributed to his death.

Another Iraqi detainee died on January 9, 2004, in Al Asad, Iraq, while being interrogated. He was standing, shackled to the top of a doorframe with a gag in his mouth, at the time he died. The cause of death was asphyxia and blunt force injuries.

So read several of the 44 US military autopsy reports on the ACLU website -evidence of extensive abuse of US detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan 2002 through 2004. Anthony Romero, Executive Director of ACLU stated, "There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths." ACLU attorney Amrit Sing adds, "These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations." Additionally, ACLU reports that in April 2003, Secretary Rumsfeld authorized the use of "environmental manipulation" as an interrogation technique in Guantánamo Bay. In September 2003, Lt. Gen. Sanchez also authorized this technique for use in Iraq. So responsibility for these human atrocities goes directly to the highest levels of power.

#58 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2005, 11:16 PM:

How do we turn them in for war crimes?

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.