Back to previous post: Amazon versus Macmillan

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: “No one goes around suggesting that everyone should become their own autonomous cheesemakers and cheering the death of the cheese industry. Why? Because that would result in a lot of shitty cheese.”

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

February 3, 2010

Intelligence in, intelligence out
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:03 AM * 54 comments

Remember Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber”?

Remember how a Rasmussen poll concluded that 58% of US voters favored waterboarding him, while the conservative media staggered toward its collective fainting couch at the idea of reading him his Miranda rights?

Well, according to an article on Reuters today, he’s been providing “useful, actionable intelligence” in the time since he was Mirandized. Know how we got that intelligence? Rather than disappearing him in some gulag or subjecting him to “enhanced interrogation”, it appears that US officials have treated his injuries and “brought family members from Nigeria to help convince him” to talk.

So now we have information about developing threats in Yemen, more reliable information than we would have had by torturing the guy.

And it’s not fruit of the poison tree, so it’s admissible evidence in court (perhaps not open court, depending on security issues). This means we can put Abdulmutallab on trial like any other person accused of a crime. (Which, interestingly, means he is more likely to be convicted and, if so, given a serious sentence than if he went before a military commission.)

I think this is a good thing for us. I believe that by holding a criminal trial, by looking into his face, hearing what he has to say and the case against him, we’ll learn more about the threats that face us than we have from years of whispering our fears in the dark. And if he’s found guilty, we can then sentence him according to our tradition of law, which is older and stronger and wiser than at least 58% of us have shown ourselves to be.

And the next time someone is concerned that a son, a brother, or a friend is planning an attack, it will be that much easier to step forward, because we treat accused people decently. No matter what our enemies say.

There’s plenty I’m not happy about with the Obama administration right at the present moment. I want health care reform so bad it aches. But this would never have happened under a Bush presidency*, or a McCain one. We’re doing the right thing here, the intelligent thing, and it’s important that we stand up and say it.

* I stand corrected. Where were the fainting couches then?

Comments on Intelligence in, intelligence out:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 08:41 AM:

... this all presuming we should consider anything the guy comes out with as reliable...

... but yeah - mom/dad are far better pressure than torture.

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:05 AM:

Abi... this would never have happened under a Bush presidency, or a McCain one

Fucking right.

#3 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:19 AM:

Wait. Are you suggesting that the FBI knows more about questioning people and getting useful information out than Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Dick Cheney?

#4 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:40 AM:

#3 albatross: "Wait. Are you suggesting that the FBI knows more about questioning people and getting useful information out than Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Dick Cheney?"


After the invasion of Iraq it turned out that me and my friends *really* *did* know more about the political situation in Iraq and their military capability than Cheney and Rumsfeld. Or than Blair and most of the UK Parliament. Or at any rate we knew more than they could admit to knowing and still start their war.

So maybe we can believe that the FBI might know something they don't as well.

#5 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:48 AM:

"...this would never have happened under a Bush presidency, or a McCain one."

It might not have happened under a McCain presidency, or a Palin one, but I think it did, for the most part, happen under Bush. Compare this case with the Richard Reid case.

#6 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:58 AM:

This may be beside the point, but I wonder if his decent treatment has as much to do with a shift in mentality as it does with how influential his family is. He is, after all, the son of the former chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria and commissioner for economic development, not a kid from an ordinary Nigerian household.

I most certainly hope it's the former, but am not convinced that the latter didn't play a part.

In any case, the net result is excellent, i.e. they're getting good intelligence, and the public has a concrete example of decency being a much better option than torture—even if it had to take a son-of-a-VIP for this to happen.

#7 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:59 AM:

The sad thing is, this won't change anything. They still want to torture him, and will come up with a variety of bullshit reasons why they have to.

#8 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 11:47 AM:

Albatross (#3): You could replace the words "questioning people and getting useful information out" with "everything" and still get a "yes" answer out of me.

#9 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:05 PM:

Adam Lipkin @ 8... One could point out that much of the mess the previous occupants of the White House have made of the 21st Century came from their not listening to experts who disagreed with what they wanted to hear. Doesn't matter if it was about getting information from a prisoner, or waging war, or science.

#10 ::: Mags ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:28 PM:

The al-Qaida dudes probably sucked in Abdulmutallab by saying, "It won't hurt, dude. A big pop and then bam! 72 virgins for you!"

So he tries to set off the explosive and next thing he knows, his crotch is on fire and a Dutch guy has swan-dived on top of him. Not quite POP and 72 virgins.

One must wonder if disappointment and disillusionment had anything to do with Abdulmutallab's confessions as well as his humane and legally appropriate treatment.

#11 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:36 PM:

j h woodyatt: It may have happened. I don't know that it mostly happened. The asserted facts (by Cheney) are that torture was a standard tool in the box.

We know they did a lot of it (the memos make it plain). We know a lot of it was done to people who are being kept outside the justice system.

We know (because of Jose Padilla) that being a citizen was no safety against it.

And I know that all of it was a wasted effort, legally and practically.

(nb, as a term of art, all intelligence is actionable. It's part of the definition. It's a peeve, sort of like the way the use of "caché" instead of cache grates. If it's not actionable its information)

#12 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:39 PM:

I think the influence on family, friends, co-ethnics, co-religionists, and so forth is really important.

"I think Danny is planning a bomb, maybe, but I'm not sure, and if I tell anybody he'll disappear and be horribly abused for years, so I guess I'll just keep quiet" => BOOM!

"I'm not sure Danny is planning a bomb, but the US will investigate fairly and won't abuse him even if he really is, so I'll call the embassy." => arrest, information, etc. (Not that any sane person will casually assume this second case yet; but it's tremendously valuable to us if we can get back to where more do.)

The Resistance operated in France during WWII, the VC operated around villages in South Vietnam, the communists operated through most of China during the revolution, and so forth, because they were supported or at least not actively opposed by quite a lot of the population. Al Qaida seems to be in that category in too many countries, so they continue to operate a lot. Was it Mao who said the peasantry is the sea in which revolutionaries swim? (Well, he probably at most said something vaguely similar in Mandarin.)

#13 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:39 PM:

#10: One must wonder if disappointment and disillusionment had anything to do with Abdulmutallab's confessions as well as his humane and legally appropriate treatment.

Perhaps so, but someone disappointed in his cause is a lot more likely to change his mind about it if he's being treated well by the people who are supposed to have been his enemies.

#14 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:55 PM:

Mags: I don't think that's a useful stereotype. There are lots of reasons someone might elect to engage in such things, and the myth of "72 virgins" is pernicious. It implies there is some fundamental difference between "them" and "us" (and it's not a valid one, since there are a lot of people who think dying in the cause of Jesus gets them an immediate entrée into heaven).

Given the vast differential in power, the various rhetorics about what we are doing (Bush calling it a Crusade, biblical verses cast into the furniture of gunsights sold to the military), and what our motives are (this is confused by both sides having different intepretations, and declartions of same); and the actual deeds we've done; I'm surprised there aren't more people who are that radical.

If what we've done to Iraq, and the sorts of things we've done in Afghanistan; as well as the various things we've said, done and not done, in regards to our positions on Palestine/Israel had been done to us instead of by us, there would be lots of people trying to "take it to the enemy".

#15 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:58 PM:


I've seen discussions very like this on TNC's blog, wrt calling the cops. If you expect the cops to calm the situation down and make sire nobody gets hurt, you call for minor stuff. If you expect them to show up looking to kick some ass, and ready to shoot anyone who looks threatening, you only call when there are no other options.

#16 ::: Mags ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 01:13 PM:

thanate @13, that's very true.

Terry Karney @14: Yes, I was being facetious, as is my custom, and I apologize if it was offensive. My real point is that Abdulmutallab might feel that al-Qaida has failed him, since apparently they did not supply him with the tools he needed to complete his mission--either equipment or training, however he failed to set off his explosive. And that disillusionment might be a contributor to his giving of information as well as his treatment. He just might not be as radical anymore. That goes back to thanate's comment as well, though I hadn't quite gotten that far to connect the dots.

In any event, I'm glad Abdulmutallab is being treated compassionately and in a legally appropriate way AND I'm glad we're getting the information!

P.S. The swan-diving Dutch guy is totally my hero and I wish he weren't so shy about being in the media.

#17 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 01:17 PM:

Terry @14: I always like to remind hawks that the Arabic word for "crusade" is Jihad.

"Crusade", to the islamic world, has a very different meaning from what it has at home in the US, or in the UK for that matter.

(I still can't believe how unbelievably irresponsible Bush's scriptwriter was, to put it in the speech he delivered on September 12th. Sort of like promising a "final solution" to the Arab/Israeli problem ...)

#18 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 01:46 PM:

Charlie: I don't believe for one second it was "irresponsible". Using the term crusade was one hundred percent deliberate; the Bush administration positively wanted to make the USA hated throughout the Arab world. They wanted a justification to go back into Iraq, which as-you-know-Bob had nothing at all to do with Al Qaida or September 11.

#19 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 02:13 PM:

The Islamic world is still pissed off about the Crusades, but, as far as I know, they actually won that series of wars back in the Middle Ages.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 02:17 PM:

...and they'd like to keep it that way.

Also, you know, even when you win, being invaded isn't exactly fun.

#21 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 02:54 PM:

They lost Spain. And ever since then, it's been one damn infidel invasion after another.

#22 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 03:55 PM:

Terry Karney @ 11: "It may have happened. I don't know that it mostly happened."

I chose my words poorly, and the result was ambiguous meaning. I meant to remark that the Abdulmutallab case is mostly similar to the Reid case, not that the Reid case was handled in the typical mode for the Bush administration. My aim was to correct our fair moderator's mistaken claim that what was done with Abdulmutallab would never have happened under Bush. It mostly did, at least in the case of Richard Reid, and as she correctly notes: hypocrisy isn't a bug for the modern GOP, it's a feature.

#23 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 03:58 PM:

I'm not sure the correction at the bottom of the post is correct, if the "this" you say couldn't have happened in the Bush years is a foreign national of color being Mirandized and treated fairly after a failed terror attack. Richard Reid was a white guy (with rich parents IIRC).

The comparison isn't direct when racism (and for that matter nationalism) is as strong a factor as it was with the Bush/Cheney gang.

#24 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 04:16 PM:

Xopher @23:

My main point was about "terrorists on planes"* getting treated as criminals rather than supervillains. Reid is a good minimal pair for that. I think people who want to blow up or otherwise destroy planes have us spooked (understandably, of course). So our ability to control our terror and deal with them rationally was a good sign in 2001, and is now as well.

Not torturing them is an even better thing, and there, I think, we don't have a minimal pair. Reid was arrested and treated according to the rule of law in 2001. We weren't seriously accusing our own team of waterboarding anyone until 2005 or so, so the national discourse legitimized and valorized torture to a much lesser degree. Hawks get a lot less credit for not calling for him to be waterboarded in a culture where that was still a shocking thing to contemplate an American doing.

* I have had it, yadda yadda

#25 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 04:40 PM:

Richard Reid was of mixed race (White/African-Carribean), and not white in appearance. (Indeed when he was first arrested there were suggestions that 'Richard Reid' must be a false name for someone so obviously non-white - the assumption being that he must be Middle-Eastern - though these were swiftly proved wrong.)

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 04:44 PM:

Andrew: I stand corrected.

#27 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 10:56 PM:

Abi writes: "We weren't seriously accusing our own team of waterboarding anyone until 2005 or so..."

I really do NOT want to seem like I'm trying to make a habit of contradicting one of my absolute favorite moderators here. Really.

But. While your mileage may vary, my personal reference for where the point where I would say "we" started leveling serious accusations against "our own team" about— let's broaden the scope beyond waterboarding to include the whole book of the forbidden arts— was when the reports started surfacing in spring of 2003 about the homicides of prisoners of war in Afghanistan.

And that episode wasn't that hard to believe after the reports in August 2002 that U.S. special forces troops had knowledge of mass graves outside Abdul Rashid Dostum's prison in Kunduz and could reasonably have been expected to know about— and to prevent— the massacre at Sherbergen, but they chose not to do so. Though, I won't blame others if they want to point at May 2004, when Seymour Hersh published "Torture At Abu Ghraib" in the New Yorker.

My apologies if this post comes off as impertinent. It's hard for me to write about this stuff with getting testy, despite my best efforts to keep a lid on myself.

#28 ::: truth is life ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 11:25 PM:

They lost Spain. And ever since then, it's been one damn infidel invasion after another.

Well, Spain is a bit different, insofar as it started before the Crusades proper did. In fact, the Reconquista started as soon as the Muslims themselves conquered the peninsula in the 700s (around 300 years before the Crusades started) and continued until the Muslims were effectively subjugated in the 1200s.

And the Muslims weren't exactly blameless here either. Part of the reason for the Crusades in the first place was the Seljuq invasions of Byzantium in the late 1000s, more specifically the disastrous loss of territory they sustained. Many sources point to that as the beginning of the end for the Empire. The Byzantines helped spark the Crusades after that to try to regain land that they had lost to the Muslims over the 400 years since Muhammad and to provide a bulwark against Muslim incursions. Of course, with the Fourth Crusade this backfired quite terribly when the Crusaders decided to conquer Constantinople instead of Jerusalem...

(Not to mention that aside from Sub-Saharan Africa and Indonesia, much of the expansion of Islam itself has been due to military action)

#29 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 01:10 AM:

jh woodyatt @27:

Narrowly: because I was working with the Rasmussen poll, which mentioned waterboarding, I went looking for when the allegations of that particular practice started turning up in the narrative. As you point out, we were already pretty tainted by the time.

Broadly: Note that those dates are still after the arrest of Richard Reid in 2001. You plot the path of the coarsening of our moral fiber; I point out that in 2001 we were still much less coarse than we are now. (I don't know that second-term Bush would have treated Reid the way that first-term Bush did.)

Generally: I am fine with factual correction and disagreement, and flattered by your opinion of me. I appreciate your restraint on any testiness.

#30 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 01:42 AM:

#12 David Dyer-Bennet

Al Qaeda has more in common than the Khymer Rouge or Shining Path than the WWII Resistance in France or Poland. For one thing, the Resistance movements involved people who wanted the narrow-minded intolerant militaristic violent bigots gone.

The Khymer Rouge, Shining Path, and Al Qaeda are all examples of vicious narrow-minded intolerant militaristic bigots, whose attitudes towards thoe of different religion/culture/values is/was to commit murder and mayhem and intimidation upon them. And Al Qaeda's attitude to and treatment of women, is even more vicious than the murdering homicidal maniac Khymer Rouge--the Khymer Rouge despised intellectuals and murdered them, Al Quaeda murderer people for the act of advocating literacy for girls and women, and blows up schools full of children.... That's not a resistance movement, it's a full-fledged reign of fanatical terrorism.

#31 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 01:57 AM:

j h woodyatt: I understand your being testy, but... as a matter of general public discourse there weren't really conversations about the merits of torture until after May 2005. The allegations/accusations of various irregularities/warcrimes were dismissed as, "the usual leftist knee-jerk hatred/failure to understand how war works" meme was used (and ever will be) to dismiss them.

#32 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 01:59 AM:

Mags: There are a lot of things going on when one is captured/interrogated. That he failed on a suicide mission is just one more factor in the list of tools to building an approach.

A good interrogator will look for those leads, and follow them. I know where I'd start. I also know what I'd be looking for to corroborate/invalidate that starting point.

#33 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 10:21 AM:

Terry Karney writes: "The allegations/accusations of various irregularities/warcrimes were dismissed as, "the usual leftist knee-jerk hatred/failure to understand how war works" meme was used (and ever will be) to dismiss them.

Yes, I'm painfully aware of how this works. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and buffed the furniture with it... The accusations were dismissed, as usual; doesn't mean they weren't serious.

One thing I haven't been able to remember very clearly is the somewhat different point that you're talking about: just at what point we started seeing serious attempts to defend publicly the proposition that the U.S. should be torturing its prisoners of war.

Because, first they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they take you seriously and mount a defense. I suppose the good news is that the Abdulmutallab case shows that we might still win yet.

#34 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 10:44 AM:

We are not getting information from Mr. Abdulmutallab despite handling his properly under the US Constitution, but because we are doing it right. Key paragraph from the 2/2 Associated Press story:

In the days following the failed bombing, a pair of FBI agents flew to Nigeria and persuaded Abdulmutallab's family to help them. When the agents returned to the U.S., Abdulmutallab's family came, too, according to a senior administration official briefed on the case. The family persuaded Abdulmutallab to work with the FBI, believing he would be treated fairly in U.S. courts, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. (emphasis mine)
It also helps that many countries are much more comfortable with FBI agents talking with their citizens than CIA field officers. The main FBI rep for a country is usually credentialed as the "legal attache" and everyone understands just who they are. In the past, FBI investigations overseas of terrorist actions have often been quite effective.

The question is whether you want to look good on Fox News or actually get something done.

#35 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 10:50 AM:

Idly wondering -- could it be that some Conservative elements miss the Communists as an enemy? And the reason that they wish to elevate Islamic radicals to supervillainy is to give them something worthy of hatred?

In a lot of ways, they're better than the Bolsheviks. They're not Christians, they're (largely) non-white, and they're scarier.

They're the Other, and they're not really human, right?

#36 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:00 AM:

My America just might still be around.

#37 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:21 AM:


One swallow a summer does not make.

In the meantime the U.S. as we have known it has militarily occupied Haiti for the third time in a century. They are not there to help, but, as a friend was told by a soldier, "to keep somebody else out." Who that somebody might be that must be kept out, well there are several candidates, starting with the legally twice elected President Aristide, twice then, forcibly removed from office, and the second time kidnapped right out of the country. Then there are the concerns about Cuba (who had been performing heroic medical service in Haiti for many years already), Venezuela. Who else? Well, NOT the mormons, scientologists, baptists and evangelicals who kidnap Haitian children -- hey, another Haitian natural resource to which we're entitled -- who, unlike Doctors Without Borders, can get into the airport.

Love, C.

#38 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:29 AM:

Constance @ 37... I'll take whatever foolish glimmer of hope I can get. Besides, if McCain and Madame La Rouge had been around, that one swallow would have been shot out of the sky with a cannon.

#39 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 12:03 PM:

j h woodyatt: It's not so much that I am talking about something different, as it is that you seem to have meant to say something other than what you did.

You said that fair treatment of high profile terrorism cases were mostly treated as if the accused were afforded the protections of the law.

when this was disputed you changed it to "broaden the scope". I would aver that they things you used to do such broadening aren't relevant. Battlefield crimes are not the same as behind the lines (or criminal) torture of prisoners.

They are far different from systematic use of such things as waterboarding.

And, while the allegations may have been seriously made, they weren't taken seriously, and so (as abi pointed out) didn't enter the public discourse as a thing to actually be considered as a real problem until well after the Reid case.

#40 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 12:13 PM:

Steve C.@35:

Idly wondering -- could it be that some Conservative elements miss the Communists as an enemy? And the reason that they wish to elevate Islamic radicals to supervillainy is to give them something worthy of hatred?

I think there's something to this. The staunch anticommunist Conservatives were denied their Last Battle. They spent most of their lives preparing for all out nuclear heck with the Soviets, only to have that promised heroic death snatched away. What's worse, Communism just sort of rolled over and died nonviolently and without any say on their part. They've never quite gotten over that. They won, but it was hallow victory because it was passive from their point of view.

So they've been looking for something to fill the void left by the death of Teh Commies and decided that Terrorists would do nicely. They're scary, dark skinned and have a completely different culture. It reaches back to grab that racial fear and loathing that was propagandized during WWII (which was their father's Good War, the one they've been looking to fight their whole life) and fills the void left by the end of the Cold War.

That they have to puff up the villainy of their new Big Bad is almost beside the point. That's mere detail. The point is, they have a new reason to get out of bed in the morning, because today might be the day they get to start World War III, and prove to the ghosts of their fathers that they are real men.

#41 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 12:47 PM:

Given that todays Torygraph has an editorial headlined "Adapting our defence to a dangerous new world" I feel that the need for enemies is very clear.
Personally I can't see much danger at all for the next decade or two. We've got problems in Afghanistan and Iraq because certian liars got us into them. A few terrorists can be dealt with. Meanwhile life expectancy's increase and the biggest upsets to our way of life are people messing up the economy.

Of course I fully expect more problems later on, from resource issues and the occaisional nuke, but its hardly a dangerous new world unless you are obsessed with having enemies to beat up.

#42 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 12:48 PM:

Steve C. @35: Idly wondering -- could it be that some Conservative elements miss the Communists as an enemy? And the reason that they wish to elevate Islamic radicals to supervillainy is to give them something worthy of hatred?

I've heard talk about how we do not dare intern the Gitmo prisoners on American soil for fear of the possible repercussions. My thought in response: "For f&@!-sake, these are men isolated in a foreign jail, not escapees from the Phantom Zone!"

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 01:07 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 42... these are men isolated in a foreign jail, not escapees from the Phantom Zone!

That's what THEY want you to believe.

#44 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 01:22 PM:

"Why did you bring the book I didn't want to be read to out of up for?"

#45 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 01:23 PM:

Whoopsie, wrong thread again.

#46 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 02:00 PM:

Steve@44: Also, the quote is incomplete.

"What did you bring that book I didn't want to be read to out of about down-under up for?"

#47 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 03:13 PM:

Keith, #40: Yes. I know someone who calls this the "seeing the leopard" school of politics, after the way a baboon troupe behaves when a predator comes into view. Up to that point, they may all have been doing individual things -- but when there's a LEOPARD, everyone comes together and works as a unit, and the boss suddenly feels like The Boss.

Baboons only do this when there's a real leopard making a real threat. Humans have both the intelligence to figure out why it's a desirable form of behavior (for The Boss, which is to say for the People Who Matter) and the creativity to invent an endless stream of leopards.

#48 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 03:16 PM:


Hadn't heard of Seeing the Leopard before, that's fascinating. Of course in humans, it leads to Crying Wolf.

#49 ::: ginmar ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 04:32 PM:

Anybody who argues for torture is revealing far too much about themselves for my comfort, much like anti-gays-in-the-military are outing themselves for their ridiculously simplistic ideas about gender roles and sex. There's lots of vicarious living going on behind the scenes, with one group fantasizing that they have the power of life and death over scary enemies, and another group fantasizing that they're objects of such desire that people will lose their shit over them. (I stood up once at a briefing and said the second to a butter bar giving the talk; he didn't take it too well that his charms were quite resistible.

Maybe revealing anecdote: the Blackwater guys in Iraq were all big macho overbuilt over muscled guys who liked to tell you how they'd been Delta, Seals, etc., etc.,---but those guys do tend to enlist for career-length hauls, and in fact their first enlistments tend to be long ones: six or eight years. Those of Blackwater personnel tended to end quite abruptly: seven years. Nine years. Eleven years. Other than honorable. General. Do you know how easy it is to get an honorable discharge? Maybe it was too hard for them. Maybe the UCMJ was a hindrance.

The special forces guys we occasionally worked with were pretty cool. Didn't strut and bellow around me like the bullish Blackwater guys; it was more like, "Hey, girlfriend, how you doin' today?" "I got PMS and a rifle, boyfriend, life is good." Weren't big huge guys, either, even when they started out big and muscular.

The torture dudes and their backers are like those Blackwater guys. It's not about torture; it's about what gets them off, what they want to do and preserve, and what they want to fight. If what they want to fight doesn't exist, watch out: they might make you into it.

#50 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 04:34 PM:

Has anyone done a timeline of public discussions/pronouncements about torture? I recall some prominent civil-rights-oriented lawyer advocating for its use right after 9/11, but I don't recall the name. And my memory is that we had a sequence of disclosures and revelations--we don't torture and shouldn't, we don't torture but maybe we should, some bad apples sometimes torture but we don't tolerate it, maybe we use a little harsh questioning but that isn't torture, for the worst of the worst we've used something kinda like torture but we won't call it that...and then somehow it morphed into we must use torture on terrorism suspects to keep our children safe.

#51 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 04:44 PM:

"Hey, girlfriend, how you doin' today?" "I got PMS and a rifle, boyfriend, life is good."

This exchange is beyond price, and so are you!

As a Scawwy Bad Unit-Disruptative Homosexical, I do have to admit I've had my fantasies about Special Forces guys. Never, ever, about the kind of testosterone-poisoned thug-freaks who work for Blackwater, the type we used to call 'gorillas' until we all learned that real gorillas would set a good example of patient restraint to the average human male.

#52 ::: ginmar ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 04:54 PM:

Ah, PMS jokes, the universal uniter. ("Dude, I have PMS and a gun. Don't make me combine them.") Erm, boy, that sounded weird.

You know who disrupts units? The heteros who think 'hetero' is just 'hero' misspelled. Ahem. Not going to go off on that tangent, know, don't these guys think about what they're revealing about themselves? "Torture is grrr-eaat!" But it doesn't work, and one of the most insidious things about it is the fact that if you torture somebody who's not a terrorist, you could have just given him an excuse, and if you torture somebody who is a bad guy you might just have hardened his resolve.

THe torture guys and the anti-gay guys really seem motivated by very basic class issues to me. They think they're the top of the heap, better than anyone else, and their attitude toward these things makes it seem like their empathy is reserved for those who don't set off the "Not Our Kind, Dear" alarm bells. Let them have their way, they'd actually damage the causes they claim to hold dear! That's the mindset of someone who's proud, wrong, and at the last gasp has decided to dig his heels in. They know they're wrong but they won't admit it, period. Their whole identity as Crusader depends on it.

What gets me about this is I know of at least one case where the US' refusal to commit torture might have turned the guy around, as much as he could be, that is. I mean, he's not a BoyScout now, but he's got something to think about and we noticed some different behavior from him afterward.

#53 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 05:23 PM:

albatross, 50: You'e thinking of Alan Dershowitz. The article in question was January 2002.

#54 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 08:15 PM:

Constance, #37. the WashPost has articles on Haiti every day, and other than Comfort, all the US military on Haiti are UN Peacekeepers or functioning under the UN.

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, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.