"But, Comrade Stalin," stammered Beria, "five suspects have already confessed to stealing it."
December 18, 2005 2:40 AM   Subscribe

The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. . . . . When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes.
Vladimir Bukovsky, "who spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities," explains how America's use of torture "will destroy your nation's important strategy to develop democracy in the Middle East."
posted by orthogonality (93 comments total)

 
You know, if I posted an erotic story on the front page as part of a thread, I'd probably be banned. Yet this shit flies.
posted by Citizen Premier at 2:42 AM on December 18, 2005


And there's the Suffragettes, too.

Thanks for the link.
posted by gsb at 2:46 AM on December 18, 2005


Once the Bush administration starts having erotic sexscapades with detainees, you're welcomed to start posting about it on the front page, I'm sure, CP.
posted by chasing at 2:46 AM on December 18, 2005


Almost tempting to try out that theory Premier..

Has Lierotica been FPP'ed yet?
posted by lemonfridge at 2:47 AM on December 18, 2005


Literotica*
(maybe if i visted it more often I would spell it better)
posted by lemonfridge at 2:48 AM on December 18, 2005


Citizen Premier writes "You know, if I posted an erotic story on the front page as part of a thread, I'd probably be banned"

The torture being done in the name of all Americans, Citizen. We'll all be paying the consequences for years.

If it horrifies you merely to see words written about it, what do you think it engenders in the victims?
posted by orthogonality at 2:51 AM on December 18, 2005


> You know, if I posted an erotic story on the front page as part of a thread, I'd probably be banned.

Don't assume everyone else will also it that way. In fact, if you find that Vladimir's story gets you off, maybe you should just keep that to yourself.
posted by SteelyDuran at 3:02 AM on December 18, 2005


My grandparents were of Bukovsky's generation, and stood in the shadow of the NKVD for years, CP. Your degradation of this post as "this shit" gives you the credibility of the average Holocaust denier.

Great post, orthagonality. This is as far from a left/right issue as I can imagine, and these remembrances deserve to be further publicized.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 3:19 AM on December 18, 2005


Good post, thanks otrhogonality, although almost made me puke.

But I do find the commentary here disgusting. This close to making a MetaTalk FPP about this. Jesus.
posted by keijo at 3:47 AM on December 18, 2005


It's not the link that bothers me, that's fine, it's the friggen in-depth story about torture right on the front page. Sometimes, I'm just not in the mood for dark literature.
posted by Citizen Premier at 3:55 AM on December 18, 2005


This close to making a MetaTalk FPP about this.

Sorry, that's just... funny. Was it meant to be?
posted by Citizen Premier at 3:56 AM on December 18, 2005


Citizen Premier writes "It's not the link that bothers me, that's fine, it's the friggen in-depth story about torture right on the front page. Sometimes, I'm just not in the mood for dark literature."

You think the account is dark literature? This isn't from some Anne Rice novel: it actually happened.

You're not "in the mood" for it? This is real. It's being done in your name, by order of your elected leaders, every day, as often as not to innocents. But you're not "in the mood"?

One thing I have to thank Bush for: reactions like yours make me understand how the Holocaust, the Gulag, the Killing Fields happened. How "good citizens" like you allowed the murders of Emmet Till and Medgar Evers and Matthew Shepard and James Byrd. "Good citizens" like you, too "sensitive" to bother themselves with hearing of atrocities they allow, by their inaction, to happen.
posted by orthogonality at 4:10 AM on December 18, 2005


America's use of torture "will destroy your nation's important strategy to develop democracy in the Middle East."

I have no doubt that this will indeed happen... as soon as the US government puts together anything even vaguely resembling such a strategy. In the meantime, there are plenty of other things that it can destroy.
posted by Clay201 at 4:11 AM on December 18, 2005


Sometimes, I'm just not in the mood for dark literature.

Why don't you take it to Meta, then?

Also, note that the article posted is a combination of a) a factual account of events as they happened, and b) some editorializing. Qualifying it as "literature" makes it sound like you believe that the events described in the link are fiction. They are not.
posted by sour cream at 4:12 AM on December 18, 2005


[...]the men and women in your armed services or the CIA agents who have been or will be engaged in CID practices.

Our rich experience in Russia has shown that many will become alcoholics or drug addicts, violent criminals or, at the very least, despotic and abusive fathers and mothers.

I wouldn't be surprised to discover Guantanamo isn't but a a theatrical mock-up of a torture prison. Some torturing as sleep deprivation may be happening (which is bad don't get me wrong) but something not nearly as consistent and systematic as they apparently did in Russia.

Similarly in Abu Grabi some people were most probably abused, but not systematically. After all as Vladimir Bukovsky points out clearly, torture isn't a reliable method to obtain accurate information as the tortured is willing to confess _anything_ true or false so as long as the excruciating riveting pain is temporarily suspended.

It could be that both prisons has been also used as scaring images, as much as terrorist threath has been used as a scarecrow for people with terror alert level colors and all that scarying bullshit.

Both the abuse in prison and the terrorist threat being real and very plausible, it's rather easy to make them look extremely threatening and worrying and far more present and incumbing then distant and unlikely.

That would be consistent with the management-by-fear policy, already experimented during McCarthyism..which obviously taught some people to be afraid and distrust any government, something extremists supporter of corporate feudal model would appreciate or at least tolerate willingly.

Which would also go finely with a renewed republican tradition of War On Something ..on Drugs to appease and scare the families and divert billions into security that doesn't stop drugs...war on Sex to appease and scare the religious freaks, divert money to "religious" organization and blackmail any industry using..on Terrorist to divert billions into , again, security that doesn't work or is useless.
posted by elpapacito at 4:41 AM on December 18, 2005


can we please stop talking about Citizen Premier? thanks. I love derails and everything, but one that starts at the first comment is a bit much.
posted by shmegegge at 4:48 AM on December 18, 2005


orthogonality : You're not "in the mood" for it? This is real. It's being done in your name, by order of your elected leaders, every day, as often as not to innocents. But you're not "in the mood"?

Could you please relax just a tiny fraction? The essay you posted was well worth reading, and I thank you for that, but I came very close to never seeing it because of the nauseating excerpt you chose. Good link, but... Jesus Christ almighty.
posted by Ritchie at 5:03 AM on December 18, 2005


ritchie: the description of torture is certainly not a pleasurable read, but it's not supposed to be an entertainment or diversion piece.

Actually, it can't be unless one wilfully skips the details that convey the horror and the pain it causes...an when describing a torture skipping the "bad" part means skipping the whole event already.

I can understand your feelining disgusted ritchie, but consider that isn't not caused by the description..the description itself is very detailed and that's how any good description is supposed to be..not leave any detail because, by omitting details, the "picture" become less realistic.

Actually nauseating over the description of reality could be a sign that you almost felt the pain the poor sap suffered and you therefore sympathize with him...but if that disgust and nauseation prevents you from seeing the truth as it is, you may have a problem. Anybody could just color a description with nauseating details just to prevent your reading.
posted by elpapacito at 5:20 AM on December 18, 2005


If we want to talk pieces of shit, take a look at the Patrick Stewart interview. As for erotica, that recent jackinworld post stayed, although it was more adolescent than erotic.
posted by caddis at 6:15 AM on December 18, 2005


Reading about torture should bother you, that is the point. What would you rather do, ignore it and pretend it isn't so bad for its victims or face it like a man?
posted by caddis at 6:17 AM on December 18, 2005


poor citizen premier. the man expresses his dislike for the tone of a washington post fluff piece and he gets called a holocaust denier in return. my, what utterly troll-like behavior.

equally disappointing is the set of implications that rises from behaving this way, namely:

a. orthogonality is a genius for having posting this article.
b. everybody who agrees with what the posted article has to say is beyond reproach.
c. everybody else can go fuck themselves.

allow me then to ask one question that has irked me for a long time, and that you guys 'seem' to have the definitive answer to.

If you could be sent back in time to pre-WWII germany and kill Hitler, and thereby prevent the Holocaust from ever happening (assuming that that result would actually follow), would you do it - would you kill Hitler?

God forbid any one of us be afforded this opportunity, only to sit back and play "good citizen", right Ortho?
posted by phaedon at 7:28 AM on December 18, 2005


Sunday morning and we've already compared the US to Stalin's notorious NKVD. And now phaedon has Godwinized it. Good start on the day.
posted by j.p. Hung at 7:40 AM on December 18, 2005


Anything challenging to ones intellect usually gets poor entertainment marks by the MeFi "show me something new" crowd.
posted by stbalbach at 7:43 AM on December 18, 2005


Modern day ethical arguments work by the mechanism of implying an equivalence between the opponent and National Socialism (nazi) and drawing the conclusion that the opponents point of view is evil.
Phaedon, you're argument adds another consequence to this reasoning: not only is the opponent bad but he should be killed before he does something.
The existence of Godwins law proves that popular reasoning can argue an equivalence between NS and almost anybody and any stance or point of view.

It's a very dangerous argument to make.

In the Netherlands a politician (Pim Fortuyn) was killed at the moment that he was experiencing a phenomenal political succes, because the killer (Volkert van der Graaf) thought this was equal to the rise of National Socialism in Germany.
posted by jouke at 7:50 AM on December 18, 2005


Sometimes, I'm just not in the mood for dark literature.


Mmm. I imagine that sometimes torture victims are not in the mood to be tortured, either. Ain't life a bitch?
posted by Decani at 7:52 AM on December 18, 2005


I remember stumbling across some Soviet-torture-of-religious-believers book when I was a kid, that was grotesquely homoerotic. I don't remember who wrote it, but is that maybe what CP is thinking of?
posted by atchafalaya at 8:16 AM on December 18, 2005


Can I just pause for a moment and laugh at the dittoheads? I have to thank "Citizen Premier" for providing one of the best examples I've yet seen of the far-right's latest denial tactic. If people are talking about something that's uncomfortable for the government (like, oh, TORTURE), attempt to shut down the debate based on semantics or legalities.

I mean truly, I am LMAO here. Calling that account "dark literature" is one of the most incredible exercises in creative doublethink that I've heard in my entire life. ESPECIALLY considering that there is no humanly way possible that "Premier" could believe what he's saying for one moment.

Yet rather than join in the relevant debate on torture, he posts it anyway, hoping to derail the conversation and keep us from talking about things that the government says we shouldn't think about.

Thus, I tip my hat to you, Citizen Premier. Truly, you are a troll among trolls, and a tool among tools. Congratulations.

Now, back to the salient point: Torture is indefensible, immortal, and ultimately, completely ineffective. No reasonable thinking person can support it. And pretty much ipso facto, if someone DOES support torture, they have no business leading anything larger than the local bowling squad.
posted by InnocentBystander at 8:24 AM on December 18, 2005


Great post, orthogonality. Thanks.

I have to admit I'm astonished that anyone could refer to the linked article as "this shit" or (truly amazing) "a washington post fluff piece." I can only presume that these commenters are so entrenched in their political bunkers they're unwilling to poke their heads out for even half a second. Here's a man who's been through things none of you (I'm pretty sure) have and who's explaining how the US is hurting, not helping, its goals by employing such methods, and you not only don't want to listen, you don't want us to listen either. Shut up, put on your blinders, and above all, don't think!

Some torturing as sleep deprivation may be happening (which is bad don't get me wrong) but something not nearly as consistent and systematic as they apparently did in Russia.


Did you even read the link?

Now it appears that sleep deprivation is "only" CID and used on Guantanamo Bay captives. Well, congratulations, comrades! It was exactly this method that the NKVD used to produce those spectacular confessions in Stalin's "show trials" of the 1930s. The henchmen called it "conveyer," when a prisoner was interrogated nonstop for a week or 10 days without a wink of sleep. At the end, the victim would sign any confession without even understanding what he had signed.

I've read more than one person with experience in these matters say that sleep deprivation is the worst torture they've undergone and they'd rather have any number of other more obvious physical tortures than go through it again. But never mind, go on pretending it's "bad don't get me wrong but..."
posted by languagehat at 8:24 AM on December 18, 2005


would you do it - would you kill Hitler?

Yes. And then I would take the responsibility for any laws I had broken.

It is precisely this last distinction that people who make these hypothetical arguments fail to make: that between moral responsibility and the law.

The two categories are not identical. Yes, it is hypothetically possible that violating the Constitution might yield a greater good--but only if you then throw open the doors of truth and explain yourself to the people, asking for forgiveness in light of the context.

Otherwise, you're just a totalitarian with a rationalization based on supposed moral virtue.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2005


You know, what I really hate about the "would you kill Hitler?" question is the ignorance it embodies.

There's no need to KILL Hitler. Just go back to when he's in college and buy a bunch of his paintings. Become his patron, and he'll never be anything more than a fair-to-middling watercolor artist.

If you answer "Yes" to that question, no matter your reasoning, perhaps you should ask yourself why you're so eager to kill when, with perfect hindsight, there are many nonviolent ways of stopping him as well.
posted by InnocentBystander at 8:50 AM on December 18, 2005


Sunday morning and we've already compared the US to Stalin's notorious NKVD.

Where? The article is about torture not just being cruel and inhuman treatment but also detrimental to the efficiency of an intelligence apparatus. Regardless of what country and what political system that intelligence apparatus is working in. The author brings up Stalin's notorious NKVD because that's what he experienced.

That's not comparing the US to Stalin. It's comparing the use of torture - because, in any context, no matter how different, it's still torture.
posted by funambulist at 8:51 AM on December 18, 2005


The "would you kill Hitler" question is just another more absurd version of the "ticking bomb scenario" question. They're both ridiculous, disingenuous hypotheticals, completely detached from the reality of abuses on detainees. One is projected into the future, the other in the past, which makes it twice as absurd and disingenuous.
posted by funambulist at 8:56 AM on December 18, 2005


languagehat: did you even read my post or jumped to conclusion *not outraged, therefore not utterly condeming, therefore guilty* ?

Try not getting too emotional , try getting some nice link here pointing to investigations revealing that abuse has been systematic and that it can't be traced only to a few very rotten soldiers.

If anything that would show that it's a controversial matter and an interesting one. No matter if there's Bush or Clinton written all over it, don't you agree ?
posted by elpapacito at 9:09 AM on December 18, 2005


Elpapacito - Based on the sheer number of reports of torture, the "few bad apples" argument just no longer flies. For THAT many apples to be bad, there must be something wrong with the tree.

If you're honestly looking for a smoking gun-style "Bush directly orders torture" memo before you'll be convinced, well, you'll be on the fence for a very long time to come.

And for that matter, where is the smoking-gun "Bush makes it clear that torture is never, EVER acceptible under any circumstance" memo? Hmmmm? Until just a couple DAYS ago, he and Cheney were trying to get exemptions to McCain's amendment that would ALLOW people to torture. By NOT immediately jumping onboard with McCain's act, and actively trying to allow certain groups to be able to torture, the administration explicitly admitted there was a torture-permissive atmosphere in the chain of command. No matter how loudly they screamed, "We don't torture!" they were still, at the exact same time, saying, "But we WANT to torture!"

I'd call that a pretty rotten tree.
posted by InnocentBystander at 9:19 AM on December 18, 2005


funambulist is dead-on about the inanity of this question, but it gives me the opportunity to share how this site has changed my life. Now when faced with that question, or the more common: "Would you support torture if it saved X people" I just summarize something brilliant that signal once said: "I don't know, would you rape a little girl if it brought back the dinosaurs?"

Well, phaedon, would you?
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:20 AM on December 18, 2005


That would surely be the way Mondo Dentro, if one were to have the opportunity. Someone like Hitler is more than merely an evil man but the product and personification of something deeper and more horrible. He's the expression of a whole peoples collective unconscious and deepest fears. It's a whole other level of rot. I mean could the Nazi Movement been stopped that easily? Who would've succeeded Hitler? Would he not have become a possibly even more evil symbol from beyond the grave. I.e. a martyr/saint to the "Aryan Nation"? Also Hitler's rise would've never been possible without the draconian punitive humiliating conditions imposed on Germany with the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919), after WW I.
posted by Skygazer at 9:23 AM on December 18, 2005


So getting this back on track. I completely agree with the authors premise that the Bush administrations embrace of torture as a tool in the war against terror is a slippery slope, one that has been proven to be of questionable value and one that undercuts this nations moral authority. I fear the blowback from the war on terror and the Iraq war might lead to the fertile grounds for further extremism both in the United States and in the middle east. See the Versailles Peace treaty above.

Leaders who rule by fear and threat of torture are always wrong, no matter how they might color it with words like "freedom and liberty and human rights". It the worst sort of doublethink.
posted by Skygazer at 9:34 AM on December 18, 2005


Thanks for the post.

And to the ostriches in the audience... there are plenty of other threads to bury your head in.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:41 AM on December 18, 2005


I'd call that a pretty rotten tree. posted by InnocentBystander

I'd call yours a pretty reasonable argument, far more then implying I'm the spawn or satan or something. Good work !
posted by elpapacito at 9:52 AM on December 18, 2005


Lately I've read one book about Stalin and now am in the middle of one about Mao. Stalin killed anywhere from 30 to 40 million in his purges, Mao killed as many as 70 million. A fair percentage of them died while being tortured. Very few people during those times were willing to come forward in those times to defend an accused even if it were their wives, parents or children. These mass murders completly destroyed those countrie's industries simply because there wasn't anyone left to run them. In the case of Russia, it's a country that is has been overrun by mafia, in the case of China, it's become the U.S's bank with a terrible human rights record that goes ignored due to being the U.S.'s banker. Dont' piss off those who you owe money too . . .
Regarding those who think ignoring this will make it go away, that's what Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Pol Pot depended on to carry out their purges, and what this administration is depending on you to do as well. Those persons who think doing the right thing is ignoring or hiding away from these crimes do not deserve to call themselves americans, they are only totalitarian sympathizers and in that sense Stalinists, Maoists and Nazis. The description fits as harsh as it may seem. Moral cowards.
posted by mk1gti at 10:34 AM on December 18, 2005


All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.... -Edmund Burke

Or what Hannah Arendt termed the Banality of Evil (From Wikipedia): the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.
posted by Skygazer at 10:52 AM on December 18, 2005


Those persons who think doing the right thing is ignoring or hiding away from these crimes do not deserve to call themselves americans

Oh well maybe they don't, yet they have something in common with Pakistant, Afghanis, Indians, Germans , English but not Italians , Lappons, Russians and Polar Bears.

They fear unconfortable truths. Some truth is really awe provoking and being terrorized is a rather normal reaction....that's why the bullshit that invading some country will stop terrorism was sold....by scaring the "consumer" into buying.
posted by elpapacito at 11:09 AM on December 18, 2005


They used to say the same thing about Saddam's Mukhbarat -- good for torturing, but otherwise very Keystone Kops-ish.
posted by clevershark at 11:17 AM on December 18, 2005


The idea that a modern war, just because it's waged by democratic enlightened nations, will not contain rape, murder, torture and massive amounts of collateral damage is naive. War has always been and always will be these things. There's never been a 'clean' war. Not even WWII, as much as people try to Ambrose-ize it. Whether or not the higher levels of government legalize or condone these things is completely irrelevant; they will happen. That being said, the current war is not worth it, and our moral failure is sanctioning war when it was completely unnecessary.
posted by Football Bat at 11:20 AM on December 18, 2005


the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.

seems what we've arrived at here, what with erotica, dark literature, time travel, washington fluff pieces, sunday morning godwin-ing and all.

the obviously deliberate derailing might seek to distract discussion from the central point that increasing sadism in policy means incompetency takes over the policy apparatus. there's evidence enough of that coming from the white house, though. (but don't tell anybody. we wouldn't want to tip off the terrorists that we're trying to find them.)

what the derailing is unintentionally highlighting is how that sadism and incompetency is filtering out through society, creating dimwitted cheerleaders and interference runners all amongst us, parading as too squeamish and offended to face reality before pancakes and coffee.

congratulations citizen premier, winner of the asshat of the month award!
posted by 3.2.3 at 11:25 AM on December 18, 2005


War has always been and always will be these things...Whether or not the higher levels of government legalize or condone these things is completely irrelevant; they will happen.

Everyone breaks the speed limit. Ergo, there should be no speed limits.

That's the same argument.

Now, surely, you can see the flaw in it, right?
posted by mondo dentro at 11:36 AM on December 18, 2005


Bush=Hitler-Stalin Yipee!!!!!
posted by ParisParamus at 11:43 AM on December 18, 2005


There's never been a 'clean' war. Not even WWII

Apart from what mondo dentro said, there is another thing to be pointed out here: the conventions against torture, and much of international law pertaining war crimes and conduct in war, were created precisely right after WWII. Thanks in no small part to the US.
posted by funambulist at 12:09 PM on December 18, 2005


Killing Hitler wouldn't have prevented WWII anyway.
posted by empath at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2005


What does killing Hitler have to do with torture? What an asinine comparison. Beside, you let the person making that choice know what Hitler does later and know that killing him would prevent it, not relevant to the decision to torture some schmuck dragged off the streets of Baghdad because his neighbor told the US forces he was a Saddamist. If you had lived then, and did not have the benefit of hindsight, would you have killed Time's Man of the Year for 1938?

When we torture, the terrorists have already won.
posted by caddis at 1:02 PM on December 18, 2005


So in the end, does this mean torture will go back to being a covert activity?
posted by squeak at 2:11 PM on December 18, 2005


"long experience in the use of these 'interrogation' practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus."

..as evidenced by the behavior of Lyndie and 'Chip'. If you force people wallow in their own crapulence by encouraging torture, some will resist and leave the service and others will thrive. What he's saying is, if you are torturing as a matter of course, all problems eventually lead to one solution: torture. It dulls the finely honed skills of the investigators, and allows people like Ivan "Chip" Frederick to set the standard of excellence. Very frightening.
posted by kuatto at 2:22 PM on December 18, 2005


No, Paris! Bush should be an indicted felon by now! Don't you agree?

Back on point: There are some things that are immoral, but however must be done. Torture is perhaps one of them. If I was presented with the incredibly improbable state of affairs where torturing someone would definitely save lives, I would do so, and also gladly accept the punishment for my (hopefully tremendously illegal) actions. If the benefits of saving enough lives makes the torturing of another human being justified, it would clearly justify my own acceptance of punishment.

re: football bat, yeah, that's why you don't go to war, nor accept war as a possible alternative, unless all other alternatives have been exhausted. War is hell, and frankly, right now, there is no threat to my well being, nor the well being of the united states that even comes close to requiring the vast injustices that accompany all out war, IMHO.
posted by Freen at 2:44 PM on December 18, 2005


mondo: not the same thing at all actually. My point was that war in its essence is impossible to put rules on. There's nothing inherent to driving that makes rules impossible.
posted by Football Bat at 3:07 PM on December 18, 2005


funambulist: so? It's not like we've paid heed to any of them.
posted by Football Bat at 3:08 PM on December 18, 2005


not the same thing at all actually

yes, it is. You have to see the abstract equivalence, which you seem not too. And this...

My point was that war in its essence is impossible to put rules on

proves it.

We do put rules on war. You in fact know this--and you are saying "why bother?"

Just because something happens all of the time, doesn't mean that society should sanction it or view it as normative.

Child molestation has always occurred, too. Should we not bother having laws against it?
posted by mondo dentro at 3:23 PM on December 18, 2005


"not to"

oops.
posted by mondo dentro at 3:23 PM on December 18, 2005


yeah, well i sort of slept on this thread but, i wish you guys took it a little more for granted that im not in some 'political bunker' with my 'gulag' homeboys combing the beaches of australia in my offtime looking for some lebanese chick to rape so i can bring back dinosaurs.

frankly, i think the moral implications of using torture can involve a more challenging debate than the one offered here previoiusly. i apologize for 'godwin'-izing the issue though.. i guess that was pretty dumb, but i fell for it after holocaust denier remark.
posted by phaedon at 3:24 PM on December 18, 2005


So in the end, does this mean torture will go back to being a covert activity? - posted by squeak

It never was a legitmate covert activity, for exactly the reasons Bukovsky mentions: "Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources."
Not that people didn't abuse their power and it didn't happen of course.

The Hitler question is so juvenile. Like anti-semetism didn't exist in Germany until Hitler unbottled it. Like there weren't deep unified principles at work, an underlying philosophy, rather than a bunch of random stuff occuring and Hitler capitalized on and suddenly beguiled the German people. Give me a fucking break. How do you live in headspace that small?

If I was presented with the incredibly improbable state of affairs where torturing someone would definitely save lives, I would do so...posted by Freen

And I would kill you. Before you did it if I could. Because, unlike the Hitler scenario, it is a tactical decision.
Torture is the equivalent of capitulation. In both cases the damage done to society is the same. We cannot sacrifice our principles to the whims of circumstance.
If it’s worth torturing to save people from the hypothetical bomb, why is it not worth it to concede to terrorist's demands in order to stop the same hypothetical bomb?

Might never makes right. Ever. We either adhere to the rule of law of we cede to Hobbesian nature “red in tooth and claw.” This does not mean we don't ever use force. But force is applied as a tool in a plan, as a means to achieve a goal. Torture is naked force. The flip side of that is absolute yeilding to force - unconditional surrender or a routed retreat. Those are not plans in and of themselves.

This year in Ennepetal an Iranian national took over a busload of schoolchildren and was stopped by GSG9 with no casualties.
They did not yield to his demands nor did they use overwhelming force to neutralize him. This is what I mean by having a plan.

It is wrong to accept personal responsibility for torture because the punishment cannot fit the crime. You cannot mitigate personally an act that damages society as a whole.

Done personally - for personal revenge or some personal cause, certainly then you can argue you are solely responsible for torturing someone. But torturing on behalf of society to save lives diminishes that society. Many of us would rather die than live without human dignity.

It is beyond contempt to simplify this issue as political rhetoric or ignore it as unpalatable in polite society. You are working to devolve humans and society into a conflict of brutes.
I assure you, in all sincerity, as a master of brutality, if that occurs it will be me among those who will be killing you all.
But that's ok. You can take solice in the fact that, for me, it's only personal.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:30 PM on December 18, 2005


mondo: not the same thing at all actually. My point was that war in its essence is impossible to put rules on. There's nothing inherent to driving that makes rules impossible.

Bullshit. Who are you, Hermann Goering? That is why we have war crimes. Don't do the crime, if you can't do the time.

When we torture, the terrorists have already won.
posted by caddis at 3:37 PM on December 18, 2005


So does that make us torturists?
posted by phaedon at 3:47 PM on December 18, 2005


It never was a legitmate covert activity

Never said it was legitimate and regardless of previous laws, treaties signed, promises made - torture is still used regardless of what Senator McCain wants (not that what he wants is a bad thing). I personally don't think torture is necessary, not sure it is all that effective in getting to "The Truth" and think in the end you make a heck of a lot of enemies you didn't have before by using it. But the question remains, will Senator McCain's bill stop americans from using torture? Meh ... the cynic in me says, "nope, not at all" and history backs up my cynicism.
posted by squeak at 4:10 PM on December 18, 2005


caddis: point 1, one of the first rules of argumentation is to never compare anybody to nazis. I mean, calling me hermann goering isn't offensive, it's just funny. point 2, since the US has used torture since god knows when, does that mean the terrorists had already won? wow...
posted by Football Bat at 4:22 PM on December 18, 2005


caddis: point 1, one of the first rules of argumentation is to never compare anybody to nazis. I mean, calling me hermann goering isn't offensive, it's just funny. point 2, since the US has used torture since god knows when, does that mean the terrorists had already won? wow...
posted by Football Bat at 4:22 PM on December 18, 2005


uh.. sorry 'bout that there...
posted by Football Bat at 4:29 PM on December 18, 2005


This article made a really important point that seems to have been bypassed in the comments above: that torture compromises the effectiveness of intelligence agencies because the long-term-effective, capable personnel get replaced by the short-term-gratifying dunces.

If so, then it doesn't even matter whether torture is sometimes effective (and hence possibly justifiable in some simplistic utilitarian way) because as a long-term policy, it's going to leave you without any effective intel capability. You wouldn't know WHO to torture if you didn't have good intel, and if you did have it, you wouldn't need to. And you would be reduced to the Soviet condition, where torture is an instrument for terrifying the populace, not for gathering information. (Against an enemy that prizes matrydom, even the deterrent effect of torture won't work).

I've heard quite a bit lately on the gradual hollowing out of the traditional agencies in the US and the loss of their human intelligence capabilities, and this article is all part of that picture. It sounds as though you're about half-way down the road to a gutted service that relies on torture alread.

What I didn't read was the one thing I thought I was going to. How the hell can you set up a democracy, dependant as it is on respect for human rights, and sell people on the ideas of freedom from torture, when it turns out that you practise it yourselves? How can the goal of democracy in the Middle East be sold to that region's people by hypocrisy?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:45 PM on December 18, 2005


Never said it was legitimate and regardless of previous laws, treaties signed, promises made - torture is still used...- posted by squeak

Sure. I should have made clear by 'legitimate' I meant useful, condoned, etc. etc. I understand some cops beat the hell out of people to get confessions. That doesn't mean it's part of policing. And of course it pisses off any legitimate cop because he'd rather catch a guy who's actually responsible for a crime. Similar scenario. Blurrier situation. Much bigger stakes.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:00 PM on December 18, 2005


This whole Godwin thig really annoys me. The "law" merely states that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. " There is nothing in it that says any discussion using such comparisons is automatically voided.

Can someone please explain why merely citing one of the most important events to take place in the last century (ie: the whole Hitler, WW2, holocaust atrocity) renders any further discussion invalid.
Are we going to use this historical abomination to learn something from or continue to sweep it under the carpet as irrelevant every time it comes up?
posted by Merlin at 5:05 PM on December 18, 2005


Godwin was just another Nazi.
posted by caddis at 5:34 PM on December 18, 2005


If so, then it doesn't even matter whether torture is sometimes effective (and hence possibly justifiable in some simplistic utilitarian way) because as a long-term policy, it's going to leave you without any effective intel capability. You wouldn't know WHO to torture if you didn't have good intel, and if you did have it, you wouldn't need to. And you would be reduced to the Soviet condition, where torture is an instrument for terrifying the populace, not for gathering information. (Against an enemy that prizes martyrdom, even the deterrent effect of torture won't work).

This needs repeating.

There is no excuse for torture. None, especially not these bullshit hypothetical doomsday scenarios.

And people wonder why I keep holding off on getting American citizenship. I don't want to be a citizen of a country that does this. Not in my name, or name of the ideals that this country's government says they support.
posted by kosher_jenny at 6:29 PM on December 18, 2005


Anyone who thinks torture is a valid response needs to read this history about Stalin and his minions or this one about Mao and his. They only used torture to get their kicks. No attempt was made to get useful information. It was just an opportunity to make someone else feel like shit. The truth did not matter. Justice did not matter. Freedom against tyranny did not matter. Get it through your thick heads. Torture is the counterweight to civilization. What do you want? Flying cars and starships or living in caves huddled against wolves? You need to choose. Going with torture is being a proponent of living in a cave. Regression of civilization instead of advancement of civilization.
And fuck this Godwin bullshit.
posted by mk1gti at 7:49 PM on December 18, 2005


Funnily, [or perhaps because I'm not an American and would like to make a show of not being one;-) ], the most interesting bit here is the apparent humanity of Mr. Bukovsky's captors in the KGB; clearly, he seems to think that, given a choice, they wouldn't have done it to him, but only did because they wanted to avoid the same fate. Which, methinks, is an interesting take on human psychology; you want to be evil to someone in order to avoid being the same evil to yourself.

Also, this notion of a lawyer of his own choice... I'd like to know what happened next. Was having a freely chosen defence lawyer enough to ensure justice? Or was it an act of futility? Somehow, my notions of the Soviet justice system seem to be inclining towards the latter (although, bears mention that the article did say he's been living in England since 1976).
posted by the cydonian at 8:10 PM on December 18, 2005


The incident happened in 1971 during Brezhnev's time. It was a rejection of Khruschev who, although seeming the same as Stalin was working against the worst aspects of his governance.
Bhrezhnev was a return to Stalinism while still, towards the end, realizing that Stalinism would never work and that something more 'lenient' would have to take place to make the Soviet Union work.
Gorbachev came too late in the U.S.S.R.'s history, but he was not the first to advocate for moderation in the 'new' Soviet Union. The author's statement of the KGB regretting it's actions is not out of place for the atmosphere of the time.
posted by mk1gti at 8:25 PM on December 18, 2005


If I was presented with the incredibly improbable state of affairs where torturing someone would definitely save lives, I would do so

not only an "incredibly improbable state," but one requiring an omniscience which no one has. however, very probable is the outcome stressed by bukovsky: a state of incompetent sadists.
posted by 3.2.3 at 8:27 PM on December 18, 2005


Smedleyman:
You are working to devolve humans and society into a conflict of brutes.

The sad thing is, many Americans would read that as a compliment. "Brutes" sounds so tough and realistic and practical, after all, so unlike those effete leftist weaklings.

Excusing torture under the excuse that "war is hell" is a great way to appear realistic and practical and brutish. It portrays the torture apologist as worldly, experienced, and comfortable with the application of strength, while portraying the torture objector as naive, deluded, and fearful of force.

Nevermind that torture is actually a really shitty way to achieve objectives in the real world; the image and feel is often powerful enough to gloss over such inconveniences.

/Save for the ethnic and cultural demographics, it's really quite similar to how the "keepin' it real, homeboy" sentiment of many inner-city youth. But that's getting off-topic.
posted by PsychoKick at 9:01 PM on December 18, 2005


I'm not quite getting the rabid anti-Americanism in this thread. It's not as if America is any more torture happy than the rest of the world (besides the bukovsky link, see France's terror laws, British invovlement in N. Ireland, the Massoud, etc), and, in fact, given the out-cry that's occuring in the press, government, and citizenry in American, I'd say that most Americans hate said torture and don't condone it in the least.
Moreoever, I agree the war in Iraq is stupid, and Bush is an idiot for bringing us there in the first place. I think we know this already. That being said, yeah, sorry PsychoKick it's not about trying to look cool. That's a completely ridiculous assertation, up there with saying that pro-choice people love abortion.
Should we be using torture right now? I don't think so, but I'm not about to write it off as you shouldn't just do such things. I mean in that case, you also shouldn't carpet-bomb, shoot at retreating enemy soldiers, lay land mines, destroy a city's infrastructure, etc... But that's how you win. The point of war is to impose your will upon the other. Not to make friends. I'm more interested in what joe's_spleen pointed out: that reliance on torture dulls an intelligence gathering organization.
posted by Football Bat at 9:45 PM on December 18, 2005


3.2.3: Which is why I said it's incredibly improbable. I've thought about that, and I think you're right, only given near omniscience would torture be morally permissable. So let me clarify my point a bit.

I make that argument because the vast majority of people who are "pro-torture" mistake legal and moral claims. They argue that because a possible, though highly unlikely, instance exists (the requirement for omniscience notwithstanding, there are some of us that beleive an omnisicent being communicates with us) where torture could be morally allowed, we should legally sanction torture. I think that is flawed, and for the reasons I stated above.

I am arguing against that position, as it is the position that most "pro-torture" people take. Having had this argument on Mefi, and in person with people who beleive the US should legally sanction torture as an interrogation technique, it is very difficult, bordering on impossible, to explain to them that such a state of affairs that could possibly begin to justify torture is so incredibly improbable that it is indistiguishable from impossible.

In my experience it is much easier to argue that torture should be highly illegal, and punished to the fullest extent of the law in order to ensure that it is only used when such an improbable event occurs. This way, they get to keep their machismo, and manly-ness. They can continue to beleive that the show 24 is an accurate portayal of the world, and the the protagonist is moral, and "the good guy". While also having the beneficial side effect of ensuring that all those incompetant sadists are suficiently locked away for a long long long time.

on preview:
mk1gti: Amen!
posted by Freen at 9:51 PM on December 18, 2005


Well, I apologize for ranting as the first comment and getting the thread off to the wrong start... I do need to be reminded about torture, yes... just not on the weekend, maybe.

I know, "all it takes for evil to triumph in this world is for great men to do nothing," but I'm not trying to be a great man, I'm just trying to be a man.
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:37 PM on December 18, 2005


Football Bat
You need to do some reading up about Stalin's use of torture. It simply did not work. Lenin, Stalin, Khruschev, Brezhnev led to the downfall of the U.S.S.R. because they thought that torture had a place. They knew it would not bring results, just agreement before they slaughtered those they forced into a lie by deeply painful and mentally disturbed means. Practising the same techniques a serial killer practices on his victims is not a rational way to handle a problem.
Offering the maligned and powerless a way out by offering them a chance always does and always has. Think about it.
posted by mk1gti at 11:15 PM on December 18, 2005


I'm not quite getting the rabid anti-Americanism in this thread. It's not as if America is any more torture happy than the rest of the world...

First up, I'm not rabid. I love you guys to bits. For better or for worse, most of my cultural world as an English speaker, my economic world, hell, every sphere of my world is partially or more American. I love the values enshrined in your constitution. Seriously, citizens of my country who've been poorly brought up believe from American media that they have constitutional rights that legally in my country they don't - how fuckin' fantastic is that!? But on this score, YOU SUCK. IN NEW ZEALAND, WE DO NOT TORTURE. IT IS NOT LEGAL.

From this you should also take that I'm not anti-American. How could I not love you guys? What I'm anti- is your government, and certain actions condoned by your government. I am anti-certain-current-American-government-condoned-actions, not anti-American.

What I'm not getting is how you fail to realise how bad America looks in the rest of the world. You used to be the good guys, now you're just not as bad as some of the others.

I'm more interested in what joe's_spleen pointed out: that reliance on torture dulls an intelligence gathering organization.

I'm sad, FootballBat, that you're even interested in the utiliitarian argument. I did make that point, but it was really only for the benefit of the morally retarded. If you had to rape a five-year old to find out where the bomb was, would you do it? If not, why not? (Hint: answers that involve choosing which five-year old will not receive credit).

I'll tell you why not: because there are some things we don't do. That's what distinguishes us, the good guys, from them, the bad guys. If you would like to join us on the good guy side, you need to stop asking "what harm could I prevent" and start wondering how a righteous person would actually behave.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:55 AM on December 19, 2005


"so? It's not like we've paid heed to any of them"

What kind of response is that?

And you missed the point - the body of laws about conduct in war and against torture was set up after WWII, because of what WWII involved. Everyone, US in the lead, agreed there had to be rules about war, so all this talk of "war is hell, so anything goes" is highly disingenuous. It doesn't matter if those laws have been breached after being set down, it matter that they were set down. (And, at level of principles at least, there have always been codes of military conduct, even in ancient times and different civilisations).

The US is not the one or even main offender in breaching international law. But ironically because of its political influence it does expect compliance from other nations. And, even aside from the moral question, that's another aspect similar to the effect of torture in diminishing the efficiency of intelligence work - if you vow to abide by rules you yourself set down, and then breach them, all the while demanding others obey them, you are shooting yourself in the foot. It's not just hurting your credibility, which may matter less to you than military force, it is hurting the efficacy of your policies at practical level. Especially against terrorism and ideological fanatism behind it.

Torture just adds more fuel to all that - not the disclosure of torture, not the publication of photos, but the existence of it, the rationalisations of it, the double standards about it, the denial and contradictions about it, and so on. Terrorists and kidnappers who put hostages in orange uniforms, they ask nothing better than more Guantanamos, so they can keep justifying their actions, exploiting anger to brainwash people into fanaticism. It's like giving them another excuse. Guantanamo exists for intimidation purposes, in that respect elpapacito had a point (which doesn't mean it's a mock up) - but how is that intimidation working?

That's always been the purpose of torture, pure intimidation, and in real life, not in movies or tv series, it's never achieved anything in practical terms, except fuel more instability and disorder, which in turn grants those who adopt torture more after-the-fact justification for their policies. That's the only way in which torture has ever been effective.
posted by funambulist at 4:05 AM on December 19, 2005


Football Bat:
>Moreoever, I agree the war in Iraq is stupid, and Bush is an idiot for bringing us there in the first place. I think we know this already. That being said, yeah, sorry PsychoKick it's not about trying to look cool.

I beg to differ. When there is no rational reason to support one's position, it becomes all about protecting image and feel. What that entails may not fall into the popular mainstream definition of "cool", but the underlying motivations are quite similar, if not the same.

>Should we be using torture right now? I don't think so, but I'm not about to write it off as you shouldn't just do such things. I mean in that case, you also shouldn't carpet-bomb, shoot at retreating enemy soldiers, lay land mines, destroy a city's infrastructure, etc... But that's how you win. The point of war is to impose your will upon the other.

Oh dear, not that old saw again...

The point of war is to achieve objectives. Imposing your will on the other is merely one part of it, another tool in your arsenal. An important tool, but confusing a mere tool as "the point of war" turns the war into nothing more than a pointless, wasteful show of force and bravado. No different than so much samurai getting mown down by guns and conscription because they wanted to impose their tools of swords and bushido as the only valid forms of war.

>Not to make friends.

In war, a friend is someone who will let you impose your will, and perhaps even aid you in it. So yes, the point of war is not to make friends. It is quite a useful tool to have in war (alliances, sympathizers within enemy ranks, etc), but it is not the point.

"In war, anything goes," but so few are willing to realize what that really means. It means that if necessary, one must restrain from imposing one's will upon others. Especially when it interferes with achieving objectives in the first place.
posted by PsychoKick at 7:46 AM on December 19, 2005


“Should we be using torture right now? I don't think so, but I'm not about to write it off as you shouldn't just do such things. I mean in that case, you also shouldn't carpet-bomb, shoot at retreating enemy soldiers, lay land mines, destroy a city's infrastructure, etc... But that's how you win.” - posted by Football Bat

It’s hard to add to PsychoKick ‘s comments.
I’m probably won’t express this well, because I don’t know how to relate it in general terms.
But - I would say, that as a matter of practice you in fact shouldn’t carpet bomb, shoot at retreating soldiers, etc.

There are several ways to fight a war, whether through attrition or dynamically.
Attrition is the typical means, but it’s lazy and getting outmoded. Dynamic warfare focuses more on mobility than mass and targets leaders and key points rather than just slugging it out.
And there are several types of conflicts - there is war, which is, strictly speaking, a contest of cross purposes between two major entities involving mass of material and troops with fairly clear victory parameters. And there are disorders, which can just go on and on for years with no real objectives seen or achieved and no real victory conditions in sight (sound familiar?). Ostensibly disorders should be handled by those elements that handle asymmetric threats (special ops and low intensity conflict (SOLIC), et. al).
Part of the problem is the change in state vs state warfare, which confuses lots of people (almost all our current conflicts are ethno-nationalist or inter-ethnic or anti-regime). But it’s not an excuse to ignore established methods that work.
In essence - no, you don’t “win” by carpet bombing or chewing up infrastructure, those are methods used to further a goal. Poor and outmoded methods I would add, given that only 10 percent of conflict in the world is state vs. state.
You win by convincing the enemy to stop fighting. Bombardment doesn’t do that. Bombardment only disrupts support and lines of supply, and it doesn’t do a good job of it against non-static targets(the Ho Chi Minh trail - f’rinstance) .
In fact even with a static target, given the dominance we have, we should focus on capital preservation in urban operations.

Why would retreating soldiers surrender or indeed even continue to retreat if they’re being fired on? That’s not convincing them that stopping the fighting is a good idea.
Torture certainly won’t convince an enemy to stop fighting. In fact it will create more enemies.
One of the major reasons the U.S. did so well in WWII is because we accepted surrendering soldiers well (remember? the Germans didn’t want to surrender to the Russians? Think that made it easier on the Russian troops or harder?)

For the most part people talking about doing controlled violence is like virgins talking about sex or laymen talking about surgery. There is a science and art to it. It is not mere mechanics or butchery. You don’t simply kill and kill and kill until the other side gives up. That is genocide, not victory.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:20 AM on December 19, 2005


“Shoot at retreating soldiers”
Jesus, the more I think about that the stupider it sounds. No offense Football Bat, lots of people have those kinds of misconceptions. It’s those I’m addressing not your comment in particular.
For the most part that happens because you don’t know the enemy is retreating. It’s not like it is in SOCOM or in the movies. Bit more confusing and chaotic.
I don’t know why people feel qualified to expound on these things though. I’m not a doctor. I wouldn’t argue technique with a doctor. But when it comes to warfighting everyone is an expert. Must be the politics; versus something more concrete like sports.
You can say “George W. Bush is the greatest President of all time” and some people might take you seriously. But say “The ‘76 Buccaneers was the greatest NFL team of all time” and you’ll get nothing but laughs.
Same thing with torture. It’s the ‘76 Buccaneers of warfighting technique, but for some asshead reason because some guy in a suit somewhere says it’s ok and the right talking heads agree, people jump on the bandwagon.

To reiterate - torture is the equivalent of capitulation.
Got it? I can’t make it any clearer.

The ‘76 Buccaneers lost all their games - badly.

Why are there arguments on this? A doctor tells you you have cancer and you need an operation you don’t start telling him that George Bush thinks operations are for suckers and cancer is needed to fight terrorists, it’s just not so.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:00 AM on December 19, 2005


mk1gti: I'll read the sebag book, been meaning to for a while.
everybody: the reason I've been so adamant about my position in this thread is that I've been reading up on the mid to late 90s Chechen-Russian war lately. And while examining the war for the Russian side, there's a hell of a lot of evidence to support Smedleyman's comment about 'poor and outmoded methods', ie pointless brutality, mass murder, carpet-bombing, etc back-firing quite often. Many journalists seem to think the Chechens fought more 'honorably' than the Russians (this, of course, pre-dating the recent unpleasantness, which I'm not even going to try to defend), but all the same, one of the key elements that kept Chechnya from defeat was Basayev's raid on Buddenvosk, the taking of hostages, and then the killing of some of them. The Chechen fighters were at a low point when Basayev conducted the raid, and the attack was instrumental in the truce in the end of '96. Had the Chechens lost, the consequences what have been dire, the majority of those who fought probably would have been shot, and the country might be (if possible) in worse shape than it is today. And while I want to be there with you guys slapping down lines which ye shall not pass, here's what's bothering me: when someone is faced with the choice to either do something hideous or to die, I find it immensely difficult to condemn this person. This is born more out of my own ignorance and inexperience than anything else, but I haven't heard anyone here arguing from any other more experienced position.
posted by Football Bat at 11:52 AM on December 19, 2005


The Viet Minh got rid of the French through guerilla tactics. Again, the French lost Algeria in 1961 to guerrillas. Greek nationalists in Cyprus also carried on guerrilla warfare against the British until they got independance in 1959.
Che and Fidel took out Batista starting in what - 1956?
MacMorrough Kavanaugh beat Richard II with guerrilla tactics and Hugh O’Neill beat the English for nine years (until he lost at Kinsale using open position instead of guerrilla tactics)
  There’s Fintan Lalor of course - the Lalors fought the English for 400 years. Even when their leaders were executed they got back and re-occupied their lands (stalemate).
The RIRA is still giving England a hard time.

The reason is not because of the lines which ye shall not pass, but tactics.

Guerrilla tactics will always be condemned by the larger force. The larger or established force will always incite the masses against any guerrilla force. It makes it all the more important not to use techniques - as a matter of course - that could legitimize that incitement. Torture would be one of those.
A guerrilla unit in any town won’t give the impression that force of arms or terror is their power over people, but that they are the force of and for the people. People have to identify with them. That’s not going to happen through hostage taking and torture.
In addition, a guerrilla does not arbitrarily choose targets or missions. If you’re going to take hostages it has to be handled so the public understands and sympathizes with it.
I don’t condemn out of hand the folks who have to “do something hideous or to die.” The methods used by the Chechens were mostly borne out of frustration and desparation. Not out of good tactics.
In guerrilla warfare, more than in any other type of military effort, the psychological activities must coincide and be conducted simultaneously with the physical armed struggle itself. You have to know how to put barriers in front of your opponent. Not only terrain and climate, but cultural weaknesses.

They were fortunate that Russia practices only war by attrition even in it’s special forces units. The tactic of hostage taking worked only because of that fact. Perhaps this was by design to elicit sympathy. If so it appears to have worked. So I suppose it’s a moot point.
However had they been facing German special forces or a more professional group the outcome would have been entirely different when they took hostages.

This is not a matter of laying down moral lines or trying to make nice with bloody warfare.
Rather the opposite - by observation of good tactics - absorbing what works - we can pass on the benefit of experiance to others who are perhaps more rash.
Torture is also a rash act. And impatience is a cardinal sin for any commander, guerrilla or traditional.

The moral of not torturing is not being overlayed on what would otherwise be a no-holds barred situation.

Rather the moral is derived from the tactics that work.

It’s very tempting to give in to rage and swing with all your might without aiming, without considering your target. It’s very gratifying when you get lucky and make contact.
But if you fight without method, you lose, period.
I know this from both personal and field experiance.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:54 PM on December 19, 2005


when someone is faced with the choice to either do something hideous or to die

But this is not the case with either the Chechens or the Russians. The Chechens do hideous things to preserve their self-proclaimed "independence" (which they use for such noble purposes as smuggling, corruption, and general lawlessness); the Russians do them to keep the Chechens firmly under their bootheel. I have little sympathy for either goal, and none whatever for anyone who chooses to destroy other human beings for his own purposes.
posted by languagehat at 1:46 PM on December 19, 2005


If you could be sent back in time to pre-WWII germany and kill Hitler, and thereby prevent the Holocaust from ever happening (assuming that that result would actually follow), would you do it - would you kill Hitler?

I don't know. If I knew that killing you, personally, slowly and painfully, would save a bus full of nuns, would I do it? Eventually you have to abandon the extreme hypotheticals and say, 'Yes, but what LAWS will we make?'

Then, when people break those laws you put them on trial and they can -- possibly -- argue that the seriousness of the situation required them to act to save lives regardless of legality. A judge and jury can then decide their guilt or innocence.

Simple as that.
posted by verb at 2:26 PM on December 19, 2005


languagehat - if you look at who was in power in Chechnya in the 90s (especially Maskhadov), you'll see that there was a genuine attempt to create a nation state for the people, not just for thugs. not anymore unfortunately.

smedleyman - thanks for the well-thought out response. I'm going to have to do more thinking and reading about this. Probably also going to have to take a shower and get the defender-of-torture stink of my torso...
posted by Football Bat at 3:30 PM on December 19, 2005


brief derail; the Chechen-Russian conflict is documented as going on since the late 1800's, but according to Robert Young Pelton's book 'Three Worlds Gone Mad', the conflict has been going on since the late 1400's (1460?). I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to live as a people who have been engaged in warfare with another people for over 500 years . . .
The reason? Numerous, including border security. Chechenya is a mountainous area on Russia's southern border that if able to break away would leave their southern border as wide-open flatland with difficulties in protection from encroachment.
posted by mk1gti at 4:12 PM on December 19, 2005


F. Bat: I know (I've got a number of books on Chechnya, including Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus by Carlotta Gall, Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power by Anatol Lieven, and A dirty war: a Russian reporter in Chechnya by Anna Politkovskaya), but a history of oppression and a brief attempt to create a facsimile of a real state don't justify the tactics the Chechens have used. (Not that I think you're saying they do.) In the beginning, they at least stuck to their ancient prohibition against killing other Chechens, but that went by the boards pretty quickly. The fact is that dirty fighting begets lots more dirty fighting, and there's no excuse for creating a situation in which that becomes likely. Compare Sri Lanka, where a reasonably peaceable situation was turned into a decades-long, unimaginably brutal civil war because some politicians decided making hay out of the ethnic issue would be useful in the upcoming elections. The Chechens should have accepted the very generous deal that was available right after the collapse of the USSR; their insistence on total independence has cost them virtually everything they might have thought worth preserving.

mk1gti: You mean the late 18th century (late 1700s), not the late 1800s. I wouldn't take the Wikipedia entry very seriously; the presence of misspellings like "Caucasusian tribes" is a bad sign. For a contentious topic like this, there's no shortcut—you have to do a fair amount of reading in varied sources before you start to have a grasp of the situation. And I love Pelton's "Dangerous Places" books, but he's no historian, and the idea that "the conflict has been going on since the late 1400's" is just plain loony.
posted by languagehat at 5:15 PM on December 19, 2005


Stalin: Top or Not?
posted by Freen at 8:59 PM on December 20, 2005


language hat: duly noted.

Freen: gives new meaning to the term 'uncle joe,' I guess...
posted by Football Bat at 5:10 PM on December 21, 2005


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