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October 21, 2001 11:22 AM   Subscribe

The latest trial balloon - the Justice Department apparently wants the right to torture suspects.
posted by faisal (43 comments total)

 
Anyone else watch 'The Siege' recently?
posted by jcterminal at 11:36 AM on October 21, 2001


How about no? The Justice Department wants to use true serum or an alternative (magic lasso) to extract information from suspected terrorists, not torture to keep your ass unblowed-up.

Did you misread the article or are you pulling a big "hey look at this!" headline to get people to look at the article and/or panic and piss themselves?
posted by fuq at 11:48 AM on October 21, 2001


How about we temporarily turn them over to the mainland chinese red guard in our new found spirit of collaboration? Guaranteed, in 48 hours, we have every answer we want.
posted by Voyageman at 11:55 AM on October 21, 2001


Another idea is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture.

Sounds to me that while they're not explicitly saying "Hey, we want to torture these guys," they also seem to have very little problem with sending them to another country that'll do the dirty work for us.
posted by zempf at 12:17 PM on October 21, 2001


Slate had a good article on the use of torture, which discusses the "turn them over the toughs" approach.

A quote from that article: "In 1995, Philippine intelligence agents tortured Abdul Hakim Murad, whom they arrested after he blew up his apartment making bombs. The agents threw a chair at Murad's head, broke his ribs, forced water into his mouth, and put cigarettes out on his genitals, but Murad didn't talk until agents masquerading as the Mossad threatened to take him back to Israel for some real questioning. Murad named names." (The article does include an American angle, fruit of the poisonous tree and such.)
posted by Yogurt at 12:19 PM on October 21, 2001



"Beat him enough and he'll tell you he started the Chicago fire."
-Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn)
Reservoir Dogs

On the other hand, there is this bit of reasoning from Goldberg (scroll down a bit to the "The Case for Torture"). If it's apparent that someone is withholding information that might avert more loss of innocent life, isn't "physical pressure" morally defensible?
posted by Ty Webb at 12:28 PM on October 21, 2001


Ironically enough, I rented 'The Siege' just three days before the attacks.
posted by tpoh.org at 12:43 PM on October 21, 2001


Tell us about it, tpoh! Just joking - you already have.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:56 PM on October 21, 2001


Here's a radical thought.

Maybe they really don't have anything to say. Remember the speculation that some of the hijackers may have gotten on the planes totally unaware of what was going to happen.

If these plans were really in motion for something like four or five years, is it inconceivable that al-Qaida was ultra good in carrying out their plans with ironclad compartmentalization?

I say, either get the goods on them using the conventional means and, failing that, move on and put them on trial for the crimes you can charge them with.
posted by MAYORBOB at 12:57 PM on October 21, 2001


I say, either get the goods on them using the conventional means and, failing that, move on and put them on trial for the crimes you can charge them with.

Seconded. And for those who prefer to transgress, for pity's sake at least have the decency to bloody your own hands. Don't employ the pathetic dodge of passing them along to hired brutes. The moral responsibility is yours either way.
posted by rushmc at 1:02 PM on October 21, 2001


If it's apparent that someone is withholding information that might avert more loss of innocent life, isn't "physical pressure" morally defensible?

No.

Why just innocent lives? How about intelligence information from captured nationals or beatings as a stern warning without going through due process? Those are all relatively important depending on their climate. Today's 'lets torture terrorists' climate may be tommorow's 'lets torture war on drug offenders' climate.

Once you allow torture in any case its going to be very hard to keep it from appearing everywhere else. Of course nasty little problems arise like how do you apologize to the innocents you've tortured or the false confessions you've obtained. Torture me for 20 mins and I'll tell you anything. Give me mind expanding drugs and I'll lie like a hypnotised subject.

To hell with the French and their barbaric ways. The US is supposedly above that and if it isn't expect protest. I love the detached POV some people like Goldberg have, its like the question of innocence and human decency never made much of an impression. A telling quote:

. Even when we torture those who deserve it — pedophile rapists... torture demeans the torturer, and the whole society that condones it.

Hey, he's picking on pedophiles! What a maverick. Sadly, this is a post guilt torture he suggests. That's right, torturing the guilty for the simple pleasure of it. The rest is more dreck along those lines. Something tells me Jonah has never been arrested before.
posted by skallas at 1:02 PM on October 21, 2001


Prior to 911 the Danish media and politicians were discussing the Israeli use of 'moderate force' interrogation. Politicians in parliament supporting the use of force were jeopardizing their careers.

Knowing now what I did not back then I am still opposed to the idea of any kind of physical as well as psychological (long term isolation for instance) torture.

How far can the democratic countries move towards abolishing the basic human rights and still claim that we are fighting to uphold democracy and freedom?

Have we already overstepped the boundary?
posted by FidelDonson at 1:11 PM on October 21, 2001


Of course nasty little problems arise like how do you apologize to the innocents you've tortured or the false confessions you've obtained.

Another nasty little problem is apologizing to the families of those killed an disasters that might have been averted had suspects been made to talk. Obviously there must be strict limits in place, and there are. The slippery slope argument is a panacea for tiny minds; such arbitrary situational moral distinctions regarding violence are made all the time. That's life.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:14 PM on October 21, 2001


Another nasty little problem is apologizing to the families of those killed an disasters that might have been averted had suspects been made to talk.

So exactly how many innocents should these 'strict limits' allow tortured before questioning on a certain subject is closed? Or how to tell the disinfo from the truth? Granted this is the post 9/11 climate and all someone has to yell is innocents and terrorists and come up with a popular but inhumane viewpoint.

I'm also curious if this has ever happened or will ever happen. A situation where investigators can *only* get information through inhumane techniques and save thousands. Sounds more dramatic than realistic. Like the old hypothetical "Would you kill Hitler as a baby to save Europe" questions.

I believe the Clinton administration stopped 15 or more terrorist attacks on the US, yet was not clamoring for torture rights. Is torture the one thing that we're missing and could have made all the difference? Probably no. Is institutionalizing it a bad idea and begging for abuse? Probably yes.

The slippery slope argument is a panacea for tiny minds;

Thanks for the compliment! The slippery slope actually happens in real life, from decreasing the number of tickets to boot your car, years tacked on to dealing CURRENT_POPULAR_DRUG, the Comstock Act being used by the FDA to destroy books, etc.
posted by skallas at 1:40 PM on October 21, 2001


"Calling Stanley Milgram, calling Stanley Milgram..."
posted by holgate at 1:48 PM on October 21, 2001


"You will tell us where bin Laden is or you will have to watch another episode of 'The Ellen Show.'"
posted by TacoConsumer at 1:52 PM on October 21, 2001


Objecting to the use of force, on my behalf at least, is as much a principle case as it is a 'slippery slope'-argument case. There are certain principles that no democratic society can afford to operate beyond. In transgressing that thin line separating civilization from barbarism a society forfeits its right to act on behalf of civilization. It is as simple as that. Using terrorism to combat terrorists (as the US did it in Lebanon and as the Israelis are doing it) is not a viable option.
posted by FidelDonson at 2:05 PM on October 21, 2001


"torture you? that's a good idea. i'm glad you thought of it!"
-mr. blonde
posted by jcterminal at 2:16 PM on October 21, 2001


This is a hell of a dilemma. I am against what's happening now in Afgahnistan. I would not find using truth serum drugs with the detained inhumane, though. However, I would call for non-government witnesses (ACLU, etc.) to make sure the entire process is taking place humanely and will not give in to abuses. There is already concern about what is not known about the detainees.

If they do not know anything, nothing lost (well, anybody here have any experience or knowledge on the dangers and reliability of truth serums?) and they should be released or at minimum given immediate, legitimate access to a public defender.

Sending them to another country (what an irony that the country that recieves the most US foreign aid, Israel, is mentioned among the candidates here), this is a disgusting idea.
posted by mmarcos at 3:05 PM on October 21, 2001


"Damn those founding fathers, they're always one step ahead of us."


The tone of the FBI officials quoted in the article is particularly disturbing. I get the feeling that everything would be okay if it wasn't for that pesky 'we don't torture' angle. They seem more concerned about the bad PR than the moral and ethical ramifications.


Hard to believe it isn't
already going on.
posted by jeffhoward at 3:17 PM on October 21, 2001



Oh yeah, the ACLU, now there's an impartial group that's suitable for use as objective observers. Oh hoo boy.

Sodium pentothal should absolutely be allowed under controlled circumstances and with a court order issued only after a hearing. It may not have full reliability, but it should make it clear whether the person is obfuscating or truly holding back, and if it's the latter, perhaps the reason why. That's a far cry from electrical probes or even buckets of cold water over the head and, most importantly, could help to save lives.
posted by Dreama at 3:20 PM on October 21, 2001


Sodium pentothal effectiveness is a myth. Its like the lie detector, a device to instill fear and doubt into the subject and an opportunity for law enforcement to pressure the suspect. You might as well give them some LSD-25. Or tell them that a well known psychic is in the next room reading their thoughts.

I would not find using truth serum drugs with the detained inhumane, though.

We can agree that physical beatings are inhumane but to alter someone's consciousness without their consent and then badger them for hours if not days is humane? With the right stimulant and you could toss in sleep deprivation as part of the grand "truth seeking" plan.

Drugs don't work and lie detectors don't work. Do a little research and you'll know why drug induced subjects, hypnotized subjects, and lie detector results are verboten in most of the world's courts.

Like jeffh suggest, law enforcement finds its own ways regardless of law. This article is about PR, little else.
posted by skallas at 3:37 PM on October 21, 2001


Lives saved through such means are not worth saving. Truth serum is equivalent to compelling self incrimination through torture. I'm having a hard time believing I'm hearing people advocating it's use in America. I'm outright horrified I'm hearing people call for torture.

The slippery slope argument can indeed be a misleading and inappropriate conversational ploy, but in matters of legality in our precedent-based legal system, it's a very real thing.
posted by Nothing at 3:45 PM on October 21, 2001


Would it be wrong to refuse them only unclean foods such as pork and shellfish so that they either starve themselves, render themselves unclean or talk? It's not physical, it's not drugs. You be the judge...
posted by shagoth at 5:35 PM on October 21, 2001


Two things:

1) holgate--Milgram's experiments are important and chilling, but they have no relationship to the circumstances under discussion. If anything, those being questioned are already disobeying the nearest authority figures. And remember, as Milgram's further experiments reveal, proximity matters.

2) Fifth amendment, folks. Any attempt to introduce torture or "truth drugs" into police matters would run up against that pesky Bill of Rights and it's prohibition against forced self-incrimination.
posted by NortonDC at 5:39 PM on October 21, 2001


Shagoth: interfering with a religion is a pretty serious crime, and it would be tantamount to psychological torture anyway.
posted by Nothing at 5:45 PM on October 21, 2001


Ok already. I think we all agree that torture is bad, mmkay?

If for no other reason think of this: what happens when some law enforcement official decides you know something? This question is completely independant of whether you do, in fact, know anything.
posted by ilsa at 6:34 PM on October 21, 2001


Another nasty little problem is apologizing to the families of those killed an disasters that might have been averted had suspects been made to talk.

The responsibility for those deaths, however, remains with those who directly cause them, not those why hypothetically may have been able to stop those responsible.
posted by rushmc at 7:22 PM on October 21, 2001


How about we temporarily turn them over to the mainland Chinese red guard in our new found spirit of collaboration? Guaranteed, in 48 hours, we have every answer we want.

Hmmm, no. The Chinese government doesn't fool around with people. You either tell them what they want to know or they put a peanut in the back of your neck. It might not be very pro-human rights, but it's effective. If you're useless to them, you die.
posted by pooldemon at 7:22 PM on October 21, 2001


who, not why.
posted by rushmc at 7:23 PM on October 21, 2001


Metafilter : If you're useless to them, you die.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:40 PM on October 21, 2001


As I understand it, the CIA studied Sodium Pentothal and various other 'truth' drugs as part of MKUltra, and found out that they don't work - people dosed on them would pretty much tell you anything, truth, lie, or giant Hollywood fantasy.
posted by faisal at 7:45 PM on October 21, 2001


To Nothing - "Lives saved through such means are not worth saving." if that's how you really feel, why don't you find a family member of someone killed at WTC and tell them that you prefer their loved one dead, to some terrorist being roughed up a bit?
posted by cheineking at 7:48 PM on October 21, 2001


sigh.
are we protecting lives, or an idea of freedom? that is important. if we are only protecting american lives, by all means kill them, all of them. neutron bomb the whole country, and all the middle east for all we care, but by no means let an american soldier die; we are protecting lives.

if however we are protecting freedom, then the way we are protecting it does become important, we can't take away freedom in order to protect it. we can, however, be very proud of the people that give their lives in the struggle.

if we are only protecting lives the firefighters and troops that may die are failures, if however we are protecting freedom they are our greatest heros.

it is not a slippery slope, or something that falls into situational ethics. it is a cliff; if we take the freedom of others in order to protect our lives we are not balancing liberty with safety, we are the destroyers of liberty, and we are cowards. if we believe in freedom, we should be willing to die for that freedom; that includes not only the soldiers, but civilians who would be willing to die rather than support a government that tortures people in order to protect themselves.
posted by rhyax at 8:28 PM on October 21, 2001


cheineking: you should be ashamed of yourself. Who really prefers anyone dead? Those that would give up essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. By defending the Bill of Rights we say we prefer a civilized society to a police state, and we accept that the former will have some crime. The general practice of arresting bad people before they do something isn't compatible with a democratic constitution. Yes, that means we have to wait until the bad guy actually murders someone before we put them in jail for murder. Darn it.
posted by dhartung at 8:42 PM on October 21, 2001


(rhyax slipped in. I support all he said.)
posted by dhartung at 8:43 PM on October 21, 2001


slippery slope

There's nothing slippery about it, and there's no slope if there's no way down. Everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost. Folks, we're talking about Americans TORTURING people that haven't been convicted of a crime.

Not me. No way. Count me out. I'm an American, and I'm DAMN proud that my country doesn't stoop to that level. Should those of us that feel that way hand Osama the keys on our way out?

He wins this one, by virtue of the fact that we're even considering this. Hands down.
posted by swell at 8:52 PM on October 21, 2001


cheineking why don't you find a family member of someone killed at WTC and tell them that you prefer their loved one dead, to some terrorist being roughed up a bit?

I'll go you one better, I know a number of people who have been tortured or whose family members have been tortured. My friend's father went blind under torture. They weren't terroristsor even guerrilla fighters, they were just people who disagreed with the government of my country.

The thing with torture is, it's not a criminological method, or even an effective interrogation technique. It's just state sponsored terrorism to keep the rest of the dissidents in line by sheer, primal fear.

Please don't advocate things of which you don't have even a minimal experience, and please don't pass them off as "solutions".

Oh, and don't say "so I guess you side with the terrorists". It's actually you who choose their side against the rest of us who care about human rights.
posted by signal at 9:28 PM on October 21, 2001


I admit that I should have typed "it is not worth using such means to save lives" rather than "lives saved through such means are not worth saving." The lives, the people, are worth every effort that can rightly put forth to protect them. I'm sorry I implied otherwise.

I stand by the spirit of my statement though. Sacrificing the lives or rights of the few for the sake of the lives or rights of the many is not moral.

I would not go to someone who lost a loved one and tell them that I'm glad their loss was not prevented by torture. It would be crass and insensitive and wrong to do such a thing, especially while they are trying to cope with grief. I will, however, state in public forums, my opinion that resorting to torture is too high a price to pay for a reduction in risk. If you have an opposing opinion, share it, but don't try to guilt me out of my position.
posted by Nothing at 10:45 PM on October 21, 2001


if that's how you really feel, why don't you find a family member of someone killed at WTC and tell them that you prefer their loved one dead, to some terrorist being roughed up a bit?

Give me their number....
posted by rushmc at 6:25 AM on October 22, 2001


I just want to point out that this is very much like the FBI and CIA's desired new surveillance powers under that so-called patriotism bill. In both cases, they aren't asking for permission to do these things, they are asking for evidence gained by these things to be admissible in court.

In other words, they're already using Carnivore and other (currently inadmissible) forms of surveillance and intrusive detection. They're already using drugs and other invasive interrogation methods.

The only thing that might change isn't the behavior, but the admissibility in court.
posted by yesster at 6:44 AM on October 22, 2001


Identity Mix-Up Nets Minister a New SUV. Oops--here's a gas-guzzler to make it all better. What's the "goodwill gesture" for those tortured in error?
posted by Carol Anne at 7:39 AM on October 22, 2001


most importantly, could help to save lives.

Ahhh, the little catch-all phrase people use to try and rationalise over-reaching and over-reacting.

Like when Rep. Cooksey made this comment:

"If I see someone come in that's got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over."

And Attorney General replies to Cooksey's comment with this response:

"Well, I hope that no additional Americans die because of a failure to recognize that some people, that 100 percent of the people who were involved in this, met a certain profile. If more people die because we were trying not to be politically correct, I think that would be a tragedy."

So racial profiling is okay if it "saves lives?"

You know who doesn't fit that "100%" profile, Mr. Attorney General? Timothy McVie.
posted by terrapin at 10:57 AM on October 22, 2001


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