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Secret authorization of severe interrogation methods
October 4, 2007 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Secret U. S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations. The New York Times has a 4000-word report today on secret Justice Department opinions--never previously disclosed--authorizing severe interrogation methods. Congress has outlawed cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; in response, Justice declared that the CIA's most extreme interrogation methods are not cruel, inhuman, and degrading. These secret opinions, issued in 2005, are still in effect. Most lawmakers did not know they existed. White House response: "This country does not torture."
posted by russilwvong (107 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, how's that whole "leader of the free world, home of democracy" thing going for you guys?
posted by Jimbob at 11:02 AM on October 4, 2007


"This country does not torture*."



*Torture may be defined by President to exclude beatings, simulated drowning, extreme temperatures, sensory deprivation, or torture. Offer not good in Guantanamo.
posted by klangklangston at 11:06 AM on October 4, 2007 [11 favorites]



Yeah, how's that whole "leader of the free world, home of democracy" thing going for you guys?


It's going well, thanks. We'll work it out.
posted by Soup at 11:06 AM on October 4, 2007


Also, whaddaya wanna bet that Alberto doesn't remember this either?
posted by klangklangston at 11:06 AM on October 4, 2007


Remember when this would have been shocking and surprising?
posted by DU at 11:07 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hey, if it's not organ failure, it's not torture.
posted by Malor at 11:07 AM on October 4, 2007


The thing I've always wondered about the organ failure definition is: does organ failure actually hurt? I mean, that there's a connection at all between organ failure and torture is not clear to me.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:09 AM on October 4, 2007


Ah yes, The Bauer Doctrine.

Isn't the threat of severe tire damage enough to worry about?
posted by Curry at 11:10 AM on October 4, 2007


Hey, if it's not organ failure, it's not torture.

Darth Cheney is well versed in both.
posted by Curry at 11:11 AM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wow, this will surely bring this administration down!
posted by 2sheets at 11:11 AM on October 4, 2007


Well the White house's definition of torture varies from the common man's definition. What we consider cruel and unusual is normal and mundane for them I guess.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 11:11 AM on October 4, 2007


Yeah, how's that whole "leader of the free world, home of democracy" thing going for you guys?

A bit rocky. How's it feel to live in one of our client states?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 11:11 AM on October 4, 2007 [6 favorites]


It's going well, thanks. We'll work it out.

... by torturing the shit out of some people. Booyah.
posted by chunking express at 11:11 AM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


I apologise for my snarky comment. I've been awake 23 hours. Just try to do better in the future America, won't you?
posted by Jimbob at 11:11 AM on October 4, 2007


What a bunch of cocksuckers.
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:14 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Whenever I see a story like this, I always wonder: what the hell are these people thinking? See also.

J. M. Coetzee:
On talk-back radio ordinary members of the public have been calling in to say that, while they concede that torture is in general a bad thing, it may nonetheless sometimes be necessary. Some even advance the proposition that we may have to do evil for the sake of a greater good. In general they are scornful of absolutist opponents of torture: such people, they say, do not have their feet on the ground, do not live in the real world.
I can understand this argument. But this doesn't mean that morality and ethics can simply be thrown out the window. Hans Morgenthau:
There is no escape from the evil of power, regardless of what one does. Whenever we act with reference to our fellow men, we must sin, and we must still sin when we refuse to act; for the refusal to be involved in the evil of action carries with it the breach of the obligation to do one's duty. No ivory tower is remote enough to offer protection against the guilt in which the actor and the bystander, the oppressor and the oppressed, the murderer and his victim are inextricably enmeshed. Political ethics is indeed the ethics of doing evil. While it condemns politics as the domain of evil par excellence, it must reconcile itself to the enduring presence of evil in all political action. Its last resort, then, is the endeavor to choose, since evil there must be, among several possible actions the one that is least evil.
From the article:
Some intelligence officers say that many of [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed’s statements proved exaggerated or false. One problem, a former senior agency official said, was that the C.I.A.’s initial interrogators were not experts on Mr. Mohammed’s background or Al Qaeda, and it took about a month to get such an expert to the secret prison. The former official said many C.I.A. professionals now believe patient, repeated questioning by well-informed experts is more effective than harsh physical pressure.
posted by russilwvong at 11:14 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, how's that whole "leader of the free world, home of democracy" thing going for you guys?

Like shit. I am surprised you had to ask.
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:15 AM on October 4, 2007


"This country does not torture."

Translation: Torture is illegal. What we're doing is not illegal. Therefore, it is not torture.

Here, look at the monkey. Look at the silly monkey!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:16 AM on October 4, 2007


The former official said many C.I.A. professionals now believe patient, repeated questioning by well-informed experts is more effective than harsh physical pressure.

That's all well and good, but since their justification for this is the "ticking time-bomb scenario" where patient questioning is not an option, I don't think this line of reasoning will sway anyone who isn't already convinced that what we're doing is wrong.
posted by SBMike at 11:19 AM on October 4, 2007


Its last resort, then, is the endeavor to choose, since evil there must be, among several possible actions the one that is least evil.
I believe this is Senator Clinton's 2008 campaign slogan.

posted by kirkaracha at 11:19 AM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


"I apologise for my snarky comment. I've been awake 23 hours. Just try to do better in the future America, won't you?"

Don't apologize. (WITH A Z). You Ozzies know what it's like to have a dipshit at the top that you likely didn't vote for. Just do your best to make sure that he never gets the kind of power that our dipshit has.

Plus, I'm one of those damn liberals who believes that America should be the leader of the free world, and should be an example to the striving masses. I feel a fair amount of shame over the actions of my government right now, and I don't mind being reminded that there are other folks watching us and reinforcing our moral duty to, you know, not fucking torture people.

How come all of these fucking conservatives are all "nuanced" on torture, but not on stem cells or gay marriage?
posted by klangklangston at 11:22 AM on October 4, 2007 [5 favorites]


does organ failure actually hurt?

bush's brain gave out on him years ago and he didn't feel a thing
posted by pyramid termite at 11:22 AM on October 4, 2007 [5 favorites]


On talk-back radio ordinary members of the public...are scornful of absolutist opponents of torture: such people, they say, do not have their feet on the ground, do not live in the real world.

I love this. What the hell do the ordinary members of the public know about a "real world" where torture might be necessary against a terrorist threat? The greatest risk most of the ordinary members of the public face is coronary artery disease decades away.

The irony here is that these ordinary people don't live in the real world. The real world is the place where the CIA can kidnap you in the middle of the might, torture you and ship you to Cuba indefinitely, without ever having to explain how or why they picked on you. That's the real world. That's is actually happening. "Talk-back radio" is the opposite of the real world - it is staged theater for the purposes of the listener's entertainment. Ignorance is Strength, I suppose.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:23 AM on October 4, 2007 [9 favorites]


It's time to stop pretending the administration gives a flying fuck about the law.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:23 AM on October 4, 2007


Diglossia for Dummies. Descriptive linguistics run amok. According to Sapir-Whorf, we shouldn't be surprised if those who so excel at torturing language then joyfully insist on extending the metaphor to those whom it represents.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:27 AM on October 4, 2007 [4 favorites]


Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.

Unfortunately, this supposes that these people have the capacity to feel shame, and at this point, I honestly question if they do. They have so consistently done the wrong thing and never apologized or even acknowledged that their actions hurt people, that I have to assume shame isn't an emotion in their repertoire.

And just for fun, since Gonzales is now a private citizen, let's get him into a back room and perform some of the “enhanced” questioning that he signed off on. I think he knows a lot more than he's been remembering.
posted by quin at 11:29 AM on October 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


Surely this...
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 11:29 AM on October 4, 2007


...too will be ignored.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 11:29 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


LOLCRIMESAGAINSTHUMANITY
posted by DU at 11:31 AM on October 4, 2007


"This country does not torture."

...except via massive loopholes.
posted by Artw at 11:35 AM on October 4, 2007


When do the war crimes charges start?

I'm not kidding and I'm not being hyperbolic. Senior US officials have repeatedly authorized torture that's a violation of the most basic principles of human decency, international law, and US law. What does it take to get a criminal investigation started?
posted by Nelson at 11:40 AM on October 4, 2007 [4 favorites]


When do the war crimes charges start?

Not soon enough, although they've got their asses covered on that one too.
posted by SBMike at 11:43 AM on October 4, 2007


At least one branch of government that isn't in the pocket of the interests that perpetuate this war.
posted by absalom at 11:45 AM on October 4, 2007


(the above was in answer to Nelson, and should have started with "When. . . ")
posted by absalom at 11:46 AM on October 4, 2007


Nelson: a Nancy Pelosi that's willing to fight, and potentially lose her political career doing so.

She's got no backbone, and thus no investigations will happen.
posted by Malor at 11:48 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


There will be a reckoning.

There always is, with things like this
posted by Relay at 11:50 AM on October 4, 2007




Ceci n'est pas une pipe torture
posted by edgeways at 11:51 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


It isn't just Pelosi. (Almost) the entire (elected) party is unwilling to fight. They won't even charge Rove, Miers and Bolten with contempt for crying out loud, and they outright failed to comply with subpoenas.
posted by DU at 11:51 AM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


When do the war crimes charges start?

Just as soon soon as we can get some Democrats into Congress the White House, don't you worry!
posted by enn at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2007


This will change, but slowly. We've all been waiting so long, but these things take much longer than they should, primarily because human beings are involved.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:58 AM on October 4, 2007


What a bunch of cocksuckers.

In my experience, cocksucking typically results in the opposite of organ failure.
posted by flarbuse at 12:03 PM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


There will be a reckoning.

There always is, with things like this


That's my fear. But I don't think the reckoning comes for a while. I don't think it comes until we're significantly farther down the road than we already are. But we're definitely headed down that path.

I've always suspected that we now have this apparatus in place less for "teh terrorists" than for the potential of domestic disturbances in the chaos to come. Chaos as in economic chaos after bomb Iran and the price of oil rapidly ascends to $150 bbl, rippling through the economy (possibly at a time when the mortgage crisis has already pushed said economy towards the edge). That sort of thing happens and suddenly you've got a lot of angry consumers in this country.

And - wouldn't you know it! - we now have the apparatus in place to make sure they don't go too far, or if they do, to "take care of them."
posted by kgasmart at 12:13 PM on October 4, 2007 [4 favorites]


does organ failure actually hurt? bush's brain gave out on him years ago and he didn't feel a thing

Actually, to be precise it was Saturday, January 14, 2002 after W. choked on a pretzel. "Pity the poor Bush. He never knew what hit him" [spoken in the manner of the late, great Ann Richards à la her comment regarding Bush 41: "Poor George, he can't help it...He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."]
posted by ericb at 12:19 PM on October 4, 2007


How come all of these fucking conservatives are all "nuanced" on torture, but not on stem cells or gay marriage?

If I told you the secret, I'd have to electrocute your genitalia.

Wait, were we talking about gay marriage?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:25 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


"This country does not torture."

Parsed properly, that's true. I have yet to see anyone who claims to have been tortured by purple mountains' majesty or fruited plains.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:30 PM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Impossible. Bush told these kids that we don't torture! He wouldn't lie to the childrens!
posted by homunculus at 12:32 PM on October 4, 2007


There will be no more reckoning than there was for Iran-Contra or or or. The government is out of the people's hands. We need a fucking PAC for the citizens, one interested in, you know, human decency and like boring, un-commercial shit.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:36 PM on October 4, 2007


There will be no more reckoning than there was for Iran-Contra or or or. The government is out of the people's hands. We need a fucking PAC for the citizens, one interested in, you know, human decency and like boring, un-commercial shit.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:36 PM on October 4, 2007


"This country does not torture."

I was at a concert where they played Hank Williams' "Hey Good Lookin'" three times before the band took the stage. I think that counts for something.
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:37 PM on October 4, 2007


Arn;t these the same damn people as Iran-Contra? They'll come back for whatever the next horrible thing is too.
posted by Artw at 12:38 PM on October 4, 2007


sh - hic - it.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:43 PM on October 4, 2007


If Jack Bauer can do it, damnit, so can we.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:49 PM on October 4, 2007


When the American people are prepared to pay the price for freedom, they may regain it.

America: Are you willing to give up safety for freedom? Don't be giving me this crap about torture not working or someone having "deserved" to be tasered because they were a PITA; the fundamental question is, are you willing to increase your chance of dying in return for safety? Do you really believe in Live Free or Die?
posted by Bovine Love at 1:06 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


That came out wrong, dammit. Are you willing to increase your chance of dying in return for freedom?
posted by Bovine Love at 1:06 PM on October 4, 2007


Our chances of dying are 100%. Our chances for freedom are looking pretty fuckin' slim.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:08 PM on October 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


Bovine_love: Yes. But I suspect that eschewing torture would actually decrease our chances of premature death. After all, people would most likely, you know, loathe and despise us less. Eh?
posted by lodurr at 1:26 PM on October 4, 2007


I see a number of conservatives (here, e.g. Kmiec) supporting the traditional roles of government institutions against the injustices and moral relativism by this administration in the WOT (say, wasn’t that fuck Yoo at Berkeley?)
(but hell, both terms are so all over the map it’s practically the “no good scotsman” fallacy as soon as you broach the subject)

“In general they are scornful of absolutist opponents of torture: such people, they say, do not have their feet on the ground, do not live in the real world.”

I get this a bunch. I’ve stopped with the nuanced arguments against torture and just ask point blank: “Have you ever had to kill anyone?” Typically the answer is “no.” And I say “Then shut up.”

“many C.I.A. professionals now believe patient, repeated questioning by well-informed experts is more effective than harsh physical pressure.”

Real interrogators they knew before. And they knew while all this was going on. It’s been proven time and again by documented successes (and failures when torture was tried). It’s always the wannabe/wannahavebeen fantasists who’ve never been bloodied who make up these pipe dreams and glorify violence. There are many countries that torture - why is it those countries produce intelligence inferior to that within more open societies?
And when one of our people is captured and waterboarded (as Hutson said) how can we protest their treatment? Furthermore - what if we know for certain our guy doesn’t know what his captors want to know? They’re going to torture him for nothing, and we’ll know it and we’ll know we could have done something about it. (Oh, wait, that’s right, our guys are ‘fungible’)

Beautiful statement by Comey:
“It takes far more than a sharp legal mind to say ‘no’ when it matters most,” he said. “It takes moral character. It takes an understanding that in the long run, intelligence under law is the only sustainable intelligence in this country.”

(btw thanks russ)

What I’m unclear on is why the secret opinions are still in effect. Why the Justice Dept. opinions remain unchallenged.
For me (as one of those fucking conservatives who believes that America should be the leader of the free world, and should be an example to the striving masses) it’s a foregone conclusion that those who ordered, participated and executed torture should be tried as war criminals.
Why was the opinion rendered in secret - that is - to congress? Certainly you need operational security (I question whether this would fall under that) but I see no reason why it would be kept from lawmakers other than to avoid proper oversight.

I applaud Comey and Goldsmith , but I’m really sick and tired of seeing all the attrition in good people opposed to acts by this administration.
It’s easy to say live free or die (and hell, I walk it) but I can sympathize with those folks on the inside who might not want child pornography suddenly “discovered” on their computer or that they gave money to a terrorist organization or some such.

I’m with Relay tho. They only get away with it if we let them get away with it.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:28 PM on October 4, 2007 [6 favorites]




A question I'd like to ask those in the administration and outside it who would justify the kind of "legal" torture that is used is:

What should be the US's response to learning that these same techniques are being used against our own troops/agents/citizens ? Is it just OK now that Americans should be waterboarded or whatever else doesn't result in the equivalent of "major organ failure" while being questioned by non-US authorities? If it is legal here, one would assume it should be legal elsewhere, at least as far as we are concerned.

If it's ok to use on the scary brown people of other ethnicities, then it's got to be ok to use on us too.

We increase the evil all around by allowing this; for ourselves and for the rest of the world. Our credibility on human rights is fucked.
posted by JAHxman at 2:06 PM on October 4, 2007


So the expert opinion is that torture is useless or counterproductive. Nonetheless, your rules have discounted that expertise.

I infer therefore that your rulers are either stupid, or sadists. Or both. I'm not sure what that makes people who elect them.

Also, if you get the government you deserve, apparently you guys have done some bad shit.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:11 PM on October 4, 2007


This country tortures prisoners because George W. Bush likes torture. He liked it when he was blowing up frogs with firecrackers as a kid; he liked it when he was branding pledges at Yale with red-hot coat hangers; he liked it when he was mocking Karla Fay Tucker's plea for clemency when he was Governor of Texas; and he likes it now.
posted by jamjam at 2:11 PM on October 4, 2007 [8 favorites]


Garry Trudeau knew Bush at Yale -- they were in the same dorm, and sat on a committee together, though he was a couple of years behind Bush. Trudeau said on Charlie Rose one time that he remembered him as being someone who had the ability to make people laugh and make people like him -- but almost always at the expense of others.
posted by lodurr at 2:23 PM on October 4, 2007


Yes. But I suspect that eschewing torture would actually decrease our chances of premature death. After all, people would most likely, you know, loathe and despise us less. Eh?

I couldn't agree more. As to whether there will be a reckoning at any point I would severely doubt it.
posted by electricinca at 2:24 PM on October 4, 2007


As to whether there will be a reckoning at any point I would severely doubt it

It depends who is on the receiving end of said reckoning. I too doubt that those immediately responsible will fact anything like a reckoning, other than loss of reputation among people they don't give a fig for. Americans collectively are already reaping the consequences of the Rule of Malignant Idiots and will do for years to come.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:33 PM on October 4, 2007


Smedleyman : ...It’s been proven time and again by documented successes (and failures when torture was tried).

Well said. And in fact this is one of the most frustrating parts of the whole argument. Torture doesn't work.

In a sick sort of way, I can see taking an action that you may personally find repellent because it's the most expedite way to solve a problem. Kind of like using fire to cauterize a wound because you don't have time to suture it properly. But the key thing here, is that it has to actually provide a real solution. Torture doesn't. It has been proven time and again that these enhanced techniques don't work as well as less violent alternatives, and yet we continue to use the more injurious systems.

Are we stupid? Are we just bullies? Why do we continue to use a technique that yields useless information? Is it because seeing someone helpless in front of us makes us feel powerful?

It's infuriating.
posted by quin at 3:10 PM on October 4, 2007


This thread could use some Godwin, so I'll go ahead and say that the sort of middle-class mentality that can advocate for torture "in the real world" looks an awful lot like the "But we did not know!" crowd from sixty-two years ago.
posted by pax digita at 3:20 PM on October 4, 2007


"Are we stupid? Are we just bullies? Why do we continue to use a technique that yields useless information? Is it because seeing someone helpless in front of us makes us feel powerful?"

It's not real, anyway, cause it didn't happen on TV. And besides, we have to win, make them godless towel heads pay for NineLeven. Besides, if they don't talk we'll just nuke em all, then we'll show 'em. U S A! U S A!

I am so ashamed to be a citizen of this insane asylum!
posted by GreyFoxVT at 3:37 PM on October 4, 2007


Are we stupid? Are we just bullies? Why do we continue to use a technique that yields useless information? Is it because seeing someone helpless in front of us makes us feel powerful?

I think at least part of the problem is that very few people have made the argument that torture is basically ineffective. Too often, people make the moral argument, and that's completely lost on the political and military leadership (and a large segment of the voting population). They don't give a shit if it's immoral, they keep doing it because they think it must be effective (perhaps it must be effective because it's so immoral?).

As soon as you start talking about right and wrong, moral and immoral, you're preaching to the choir. People who care about that are already against torture. It's the arguments about real-world effectiveness that need to be made more loudly.

There are a lot of people who are not going to universally oppose torture simply on moral or ethical grounds. It's too easy to come up with a hypothetical "24"-like scenario, and imagine it working ... and that's ignoring the dark part of the human psyche that might want to torture the crap out of someone who's tried to hurt you, if not personally than by proxy. Waxing poetic about the vileness of torture isn't convincing them, in fact it probably just makes them likely to write off anything you have to say. Convincing them -- and I think they represent a fairly broad swath of America -- requires arguments about the counterproductiveness of torture in actual use, without getting into arguments over its morality.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:00 PM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Convincing them -- and I think they represent a fairly broad swath of America -- requires arguments about the counterproductiveness of torture in actual use, without getting into arguments over its morality.

That would only work if people actually supported using torture to obtain information. Nobody really does -- when they're not in public, anyway.

We torture because its fun to beat up the bad guys. Because of Nineleven. Because subconsciously we believe our wife is sleeping around with our friends while we're deployed overseas.

Theres nothing rational about it. You can't argue someone out of torture anymore than you could rationally argue someone out of kicking their dog.
posted by Avenger at 4:19 PM on October 4, 2007


The dog was also sleeping around with my friends.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:21 PM on October 4, 2007


Yeah, a modern nation shouldn't really have to debate the merits of torture at all, right? If you're in that position, you've lost already.
posted by stinkycheese at 4:26 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Your dog sounds like a total bitch, IRFH.
posted by quin at 5:22 PM on October 4, 2007


I look forward to the time, not so far off now, when America is an irrelevant also-ran, its economy in shambles and its credibility evaporated, powerless and impotent, the entire nation a post-Katrina New Orleans Mardi Gras of Barbarity, a grease-stain on the history highway.

But I'll also be sad, because there was such promise there.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:22 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Reiterating above comments: torture does not work. Threatening torture, rape or death to one's relatives seems to work a little better, although don't ask me to quote the studies.

But all but the most extreme hypothetical Hollywood scenarios pale beside the moral pall either technique casts upon the true character we citizens of "The City on the Hill," the independent nation which (aside from the niggling problems of Native American genocide and slavery) are supposed to still be modeling.

It's beyond sad.
posted by kozad at 5:25 PM on October 4, 2007


we're also still doing secret renditions and prisons-- CIA detention program remains active: official

Absolutely disgusting. and Congress should just all resign for not stopping any of this. They ignored the Courts, but Congress keeps funding these horrors.
posted by amberglow at 5:30 PM on October 4, 2007


Its like some tired broken record, going around and around again. All I can say is that I simply feel helpless. I voted my Democratic candidate into Congress, and it seems like there isn't much more I can do. Congress seems to be ignoring the pleading that put them into office, and short of an armed uprising, there isn't much that can be done until January, 2009, under the hope and expectation that anyone of any party will be better than our present administration.

As an American, I apologize to the world for this crap that has been perpetuated in our name, again and again. This isn't America, but some bad nightmare that began in 2000 that paused to kick us in the gut in September of 2001, and went on to burn through 80 years of good credit in a tenth of that time.

For some reason, a large expanse of our population went stupid at some point in the early 90's, and the problem is just now slowly righting itself. Blah.
posted by Atreides at 5:54 PM on October 4, 2007


I wonder if a candidate with a platform of impeachment and cleaning-house would be able to win the primaries...
posted by five fresh fish at 5:56 PM on October 4, 2007


If this was not something to hide, it would not have been kept secret.

QED.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:58 PM on October 4, 2007



“Theres nothing rational about it. You can't argue someone out of torture anymore than you could rationally argue someone out of kicking their dog.”

True. But there are laws. Those laws are (in theory) made rationally to protect us when we are angry, irrational, and not thinking straight.
I deeply believe at a fundimental level that torture is one of the most, if not the most, evil acts one human can do to another. And to themselves.

If someone hurt one of my kids I’d want to torture the bastard. And I’m exactly the type of person to do it. I am a bloodthirsty bastard when my blood is up.
The law however, and my friends and family, society in general, is supposed to protect, not only the poor shlub on the other end of my wrath but protect me from myself. Because once I’ve regained my reason, maybe I’ll think about it more. Maybe - I’ve got the wrong guy. And maybe I can forgive or maybe I can’t. But I’m not going to compound the harm by maiming the schlub, and more importantly harming myself by doing it.

And that’s the difference in this “real world” tripe they push. The real world has variables and myriad connections that lead to complexities we can’t forsee.
But I think you’re on to something Avenger - it’s that sublimation of the desire and the projection of it.
No one wants to be the guy who goes and does it, and yet they want it done. And somehow expect it to be consequence free. In the real world, you don’t go to commercial, you don’t toss your popcorn bag and go home, it comes home with you and sits on your chest and you live with it. Sometimes until you can’t. And it either breaks your mind or kills you or makes you kill yourself.
It’s why we’re not supposed to offhandedly go to war and destroy lives on both sides frivolously. It doesn’t just kill people, it destroys the humanity of the survivors.

But you don’t have to convince the dog kickers or the angry or fearful men, you have to convince the lawmakers.

And the debate isn’t over torture. Not for anyone in the real world. Certainly not for anyone who’s executed policy or knows the possiblity they could be on the recieving end of someone else’s policy.

The only question in concern should be over why U.S. government officials aren’t being prosecuted for participating in it.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:00 PM on October 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


stinkycheese: Yeah, a modern nation shouldn't really have to debate the merits of torture at all, right? If you're in that position, you've lost already.


There is the heart of the matter. For every person that says it doesn't work, you'll probably find one who says it does, complete with evidence for both sides. Whether or not it works is irrelevant to the basic question: Do you want freedom, democracy and justice, or do you want safety?

I am struck that even in the depths of the cold war, when nuclear annihilation were the stakes, torture was something the other guy did. It was what separated the good guys from the bad guys. Maybe it was propaganda, but it saddens me to see how much has changed in such a short period.

I'll agree that giving up torture (working or not) is probably a safer policy in the long run, but we are discussing the rational behind torture, not the long-term political effects or reality.
posted by Bovine Love at 6:06 PM on October 4, 2007


The only question in concern should be over why U.S. government officials aren’t being prosecuted for participating in it.

Exactly.

RudePundit:
A Conversation in High Places Regarding Torture
-- ...And some increasingly sad Comey or Goldsmith would say, "Don't really think the Constitution means that."

And some Cheney or, to a lesser extent, Gonzales would say, "Dude, dude, you don't really get this do you? It ain't just that we get to make up the laws as we go. We get to make our own motherfuckin' dictionary. Ain't nothin' torture 'less we sez it is."
...

posted by amberglow at 6:19 PM on October 4, 2007


I look forward to the time, not so far off now, when America is an irrelevant also-ran, its economy in shambles and its credibility evaporated, powerless and impotent, the entire nation a post-Katrina New Orleans Mardi Gras of Barbarity, a grease-stain on the history highway.

But I'll also be sad, because there was such promise there.


QFT.
posted by nightchrome at 7:00 PM on October 4, 2007


.
posted by jepler at 7:01 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


This situation makes me sad, partly because it sounds so familiar. It seems like this "Republics decline into democracies and democracies decline into despotism" thing has been happening over and over with slight variations in every country west of Greece for a couple thousand years. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect the America I grew up believing in never existed and never will. I am saddest when I realize that we (America) have actually become the kind of imperialist power the communists accused us of being during the Cold War. We are no better than anybody else. Surprise. I guess everybody else knew that all along.

Well I, for one, will NOT welcome our new fascist overlords.
posted by RussHy at 7:10 PM on October 4, 2007


Okay, but I'd still rather be waterboarded by the CIA then sent to a US state prison. At the moment we've got bigger problems than black ops sites in Eastern Europe - we need to get the Eighth Amendment working for millions of incarcerated US citizens in our own backyard.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:31 PM on October 4, 2007


*Than sent. Doh. As in comparison, not consequence.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:32 PM on October 4, 2007


I can't be the only one who thought of Nixon's "I am not a crook" when reading "This country does not torture."
posted by dylanjames at 8:14 PM on October 4, 2007


At the moment we've got bigger problems than black ops sites in Eastern Europe - we need to get the Eighth Amendment working for millions of incarcerated US citizens in our own backyard.

I like how this is phrased. Like, we've got to put out this fire and stop this flood. Except in this case, you're doing both the flooding and the burning. So, you know, you could maybe stop doing both? Or maybe just put a hold on the torture and imprisonment without charge thing abroad while you work out the domestic prison situation, if you prefer.
posted by dreamsign at 10:33 PM on October 4, 2007


I'm one of those damn liberals who believes that America should be the leader of the free world.

America is not the leader of the free world anymore. Not the moral leader, at least. That role has long gone to the Europeans.
posted by sour cream at 11:34 PM on October 4, 2007


pax digita: "This thread could use some Godwin, so I'll go ahead and say that the sort of middle-class mentality that can advocate for torture "in the real world" looks an awful lot like the "But we did not know!" crowd from sixty-two years ago."

That's one of the things that puzzles you when you first hear about how evil and bad the Nazis were: why didn't the people back then do anything?
In thirty years' time your children are going to ask themselves that question. And they're going to come up with all the ideas and solutions we give nowadays when talking about Nazi Germany: "I wouldn't have done that!" "I wouldn't have cooperated! They couldn't lock us all up!" "I would never stand for something like that done in my name!" "I would go underground and join the resistance!" "I am not a bad person and could not stand just to follow along with something like that!"

I am not trying to say that your administration is as bad as the people who tried to systematically eradicate so many innocents, but I have to admit that I severely underestimated the complacency a nation can have. I see no rioting in the streets, no one prosecuted for crimes against humanity, no one accused of starting an illegal war of aggression, no one protesting the use of torture (TORTURE! a medieval, barbaric thing that has no place in modern society!).
Ok, some of you write on internet message boards that there might be conceivably some case to be made that torturing people maybe could be seen as something that possibly should not be done to excess, but the overall opinion seems to be "I tried to do something against it, but sorry, nothing happened". Your congress won't take action, your military won't prosecute the guilty people (how many convictions have been made in the trials of the Abu Ghraib soldiers? What were their punishments? How far did it go up the ladder of military ranks? Look it up!) and you yourself relax, because you've done all that you can. "Sorry, torture's a fact of life now, can't be changed, can't do anything about it."
I'm sorry, I know there are many good Americans, nice people with their hearts in the right places and of impeccable moral fiber. But from outside your country it all looks very, very depressing. Sorry for the rant, but it hits so close to home - we Germans made similar mistakes. You could learn from them, you don't have to make them yourselves.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:37 AM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


[..] but I have to admit that I severely underestimated the complacency a nation can have.

i'm not sure it's complacency, probably more along the lines of apathy and ignorance. i guess what's about to follow is a general rant, sorry ;).

i've never lived in or visited the US but as an outsider it seems to me that the entire system is rigged so that the rich minority control everything and the poor majority is too busy struggling to survive to do anything about it.

it also doesn't help when trite statements like 'leader of the free world', 'free speech', 'defender democracy' etc are constantly bandied about. they have lost all meaning and free speech is only worth something if somebody actually has to listen. all that flag waving is some scary shit too (nationalism in patriotic clothing).

i think certain fundamental things need to change before things in the US gets better. things like campaign finance, health care, education. for god's sake, put elections on sundays so that everybody can vote!

hey, i have an idea, maybe next US election there should be international observers to ensure it's legitimacy, you know, like in third world countries.
posted by canned polar bear at 4:22 AM on October 5, 2007


i've never lived in or visited the US but as an outsider it seems to me that the entire system is rigged so that the rich minority control everything and the poor majority is too busy struggling to survive to do anything about it.

Statements like this are interesting, because they illustrate a lens through which folks commonly view us.

This view isn't fundamentally inaccurate, I think, but it's also still quite wrong in a way -- most especially in that the "poor majority" in the US doesn't really see it this way. Part of that is being part of what I like to call the "church of consumption" -- the whole cultural complex around assuagement of anxiety through acquisition and consumption and the general lust to satiate all appetites as rapidly as possible. We get so wrapped up in poking our serotonin metabolism that we lose track of how tightly wired-in we are to the machine.

Only slightly less importantly that most of them aren't relaly "poor" in any useful sense. Even our "poor" are rich by comparison with most of the rest of the world. (Rich in what is a whole 'nother smoke I don't want to get into.)

What I'm driving at is that while the canned bear has a point, it's a point that's liable to be dismissed out of hand by Americans because we're blinded to it.
posted by lodurr at 7:26 AM on October 5, 2007


this may sound odd to but for example lets take a person in europe who can go to a doctor without fear of massive bills yet has less 'stuff' and 'money' than a person in the US who cannot afford decent health insurance. i would consider the european to be richer and freer than his american counterpart.

btw, most of the western world's 'poor' are rich in comparison with the rest of the world.
posted by canned polar bear at 8:28 AM on October 5, 2007


dreamsign: Or maybe just put a hold on the torture and imprisonment without charge thing abroad while you work out the domestic prison situation, if you prefer.

Yes, and there's few things I'd rather see than a stop to both. But maybe people can try and muster the same amount of sanctimonious outrage over problems that affect hundreds of thousands of people as problems that affect hundreds. On the broad topic of prisoner rights and abuses in America, there are far, far bigger problems than undisclosed military gulags. Of course, these bigger problems can't all be blamed summarily on the Bush Administration, so I guess they don't rank high enough for Daily Show quips.

posted by kid ichorous at 8:35 AM on October 5, 2007


But maybe people can try and muster the same amount of sanctimonious outrage over problems that affect hundreds of thousands of people as problems that affect hundreds.

One is problem of a serious flaw (mostly the lack of spending money) in implementation. The other is a fundamentally flawed moral position. Evil vrs. Incompetence. They are not comparable; the quantity of people affected doesn't make a difference. Otherwise we would quit worrying about murder and focus on speeding.

The Daily Show whine doesn't lend your position any credibility, and although I think Bush takes too much heat for something it seems a lot of americans support (implicitly at least), it still has little to do with the issue at hand. How about actually supporting your position instead?
posted by Bovine Love at 12:09 PM on October 5, 2007


“we Germans made similar mistakes. You could learn from them, you don't have to make them yourselves.”

There was German resistance. F’rinstnace the White Rose Society (and others). Although they’re not talked about much in history and they certainly didn’t get any play in their own era.
Legitimate opposition here gets about as much publicity. It’s pretty much the Bush “burn their nuts off” vs. Clinton “No, no, just electrocute their genitals” kind of deal.

“next US election there should be international observers to ensure it's legitimacy”
Tried that. Didn’t work. Badnarik (you probably don’t know who that is, if you do, a lot of other folks sure don’t) raised all kinds of hell over the goings on last election. Went to jail. Pretty much impoverished himself, nearly everyone thinks he’s a nut from the little coverage he did get (lives, fortunes, sacred honor).
Kerry? Didn’t lift a finger.

And indeed the poor are just trying to make it. A bunch of the middle class too. There are some self-made folks like me working on stuff, and I’ve got some juice, but not the kind to capture the attention of the country. And it’s not so much just the poverty. It’s the distraction.
Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you’re awake. He’s making sure you’re always distracted. He’s making sure you’re fully absorbed (to borrow a phrase).

And while I’d agree with kid ichorous’ overall point (while taking exception with some of the particulars) the difference between the prison situation and torture is that the latter represents a major change in integral philosophy and policy while the former is the result of corruption and negligence.
There is no standing policy to rape prisoners. In fact there are protections for prisoners by policy. The fact that those protections are circumvented is an error, not (ostensibly) by design.

Justice doing what they did represents - to speak apples to apples - a stated policy change to proactively rape prisoners as a deliberate and standing part of the prison system.
What occurs in prisons is appaling. It is not standing policy and could - given proper fixes - be changed.
Once the die is cast on torture as a standing policy, there’s no going back and after a philosophical shift like that in our system prisons now will look like Disneyworld compared to 10 years from now.
It’s not that much of a stretch to argue once torture is on the table that it be used domestically.

I’m outraged and pissed off about this and I’m a well off white suburban male, I’m pretty much last in line to get it if it comes home.
Whom do you think is going to be first? Terrorists? Yeah, good luck finding one there Barney Fife.
It’s the guys you already know are “bad.” The guys you already have in power. The guys in prison.

Certainly there’s a difference between torture by design and callousness in the domestic prison system, but cruelty is cruelty, and fighting it anywhere benefits everyone else.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:14 PM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bovine Love: One is problem of a serious flaw (mostly the lack of spending money) in implementation. The other is a fundamentally flawed moral position. Evil vrs. Incompetence.

I'd have to disagree with this logic, because I don't view this as a matter of incompetence so much as one of willful negligence. This is not the failure of best-laid plans.

I think that both cases do in fact stem from the same moral position - the argument that you, by the assignment of a special legal status (criminal, terrorist, enemy combatant, etc), can forfeit your basic human rights. That inalienable rights become, in special cases, alienable.

It's extremely common for Americans to talk about our prisons with a tinge of contrapasso, a smirking Dantean irony. The various assaults, murders, and sexual slavery therein are, we tell ourselves, just visitations of wrongs done outside, and in fact constitute moral retaliation for them. We've created a hell and, righteous beings that we are, have thrown in the devil for a taste of his own.

At its heart, this isn't a matter of insufficient money - clearly not for a nation who, were it somehow understood as a matter of public safety, could bankroll invading the freaking moon. If the last decade has revealed certain compulsions of the American character, one is that there's virtually no limit to what we will sacrifice to shield law-abiding men, and especially women and children, from certain kinds of harm. We'll give up our privacy, we'll let our phone calls be screened, we'll do away with judicial review, we'll build databases and registries, we'll plead with victims for harsher sentences, break any promise, pay any price.

Not so for convicts. It is often our conclusion that no resources at all should be spent on safeguarding their basic rights, because, according to some moral calculus, they don't really possess them. Try arguing that even those convicted of sex crimes maintain some constitutionally-mandated right to privacy, or that even crack dealers maintain the right to a speedy and fair trial, and you'll have to answer for coddling evildoers. Try arguing that even mass-murderers don't deserve to be raped for the rest of their lives. Many (otherwise) reasonable people will argue back not from the Constitution, not from any social contract, but from bloodlust, from a deep well of moral wrath.

So, in the end, these cases are extremely similar - they're a matter of ensuring baseline civil rights for special, liminal groups. However, for one reason or another, it clicks for most of us that a stress posture administered by Blackwater thugs is a cruel and unusual act. It's something that makes the front page (or the Daily Show). On the other hand, it doesn't quite click that withdrawing basic legal protections against rape and assault are torture, no matter how often it happens. But it most certainly is torture, in the same way that refusing to pay for food or water would be. Refusing to pay for food, or to furnish other absolute baseline needs and rights, is not incompetence but punitive negligence.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:56 PM on October 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


In other news: Dems Postpone Rollout Of Controversial Wiretapping Bill
posted by homunculus at 3:47 PM on October 5, 2007


“Try arguing that even mass-murderers don't deserve to be raped for the rest of their lives. Many (otherwise) reasonable people will argue back not from the Constitution, not from any social contract, but from bloodlust, from a deep well of moral wrath.”

Yeah, reasonable point.

“However, for one reason or another, it clicks for most of us that a stress posture administered by Blackwater thugs is a cruel and unusual act. It's something that makes the front page (or the Daily Show).”

I think it’s more than that, but yeah, I take your point. And indeed, it’s been ignored for some time. I’d hope that building an anti-torture consensus and gaining any kind of momentum in that direction would bring more attention to injustice anywhere.
Perhaps because it’s been such a long standing thing and treated as an offhand joke it gets the short end.
I wonder if there are any social institutions set up in opposition to this trend. Something that could address both - since as you point out it does seem to have a common wellspring.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:27 PM on October 5, 2007


America is not the leader of the free world anymore. Not the moral leader, at least. That role has long gone to the Europeans.

The Europeans? Good gawd, the Europeans have hardly become the moral authority of the world. How many genocides, some on the doorstep of Europe, have been ignored by the Europeans. The primary response is 'not our problem', where's the US?
posted by bluesky43 at 5:22 PM on October 5, 2007


Nelson: When do the war crimes charges start? I'm not kidding and I'm not being hyperbolic. Senior US officials have repeatedly authorized torture that's a violation of the most basic principles of human decency, international law, and US law. What does it take to get a criminal investigation started?

Usually war crimes trials are for the losing side in a war. That isn't going to apply here--no outside power is capable of defeating the US military in the field, overthrowing the US government, and putting US leaders on trial.

The US government itself, then, would need to put Bush and Cheney on trial. The closest precedent would be the Congressional hearings on Watergate and impeachment which led to Nixon's resignation. I doubt Bush and Cheney would resign even if they were impeached, though (Clinton didn't). They could still be charged after they leave office, but that looks unlikely as well.

I think the key difference between Watergate and the present crisis is that there was bipartisan support for the Watergate hearings (the Senate vote was 77-0). I don't see any Republican support for impeachment. Without bipartisan support, it'd be difficult for the Democrats on their own to pursue either impeachment or war crimes charges after Bush and Cheney leave office--it'd look purely partisan, just as the Clinton impeachment did.

So if you have any Republican friends who are willing to admit that Bush and Cheney have been tearing up the Constitution, instead of defending it (as they've sworn to do), you should work on convincing them that Bush and Cheney are guilty of war crimes. Same if you have a Republican Congressman or Senator. Both public opinion and Congress have to be on board for Bush and Cheney to be charged with war crimes after leaving office.

PontifexPrimus: I am not trying to say that your administration is as bad as the people who tried to systematically eradicate so many innocents, but I have to admit that I severely underestimated the complacency a nation can have. I see no rioting in the streets, no one prosecuted for crimes against humanity, no one accused of starting an illegal war of aggression, no one protesting the use of torture (TORTURE! a medieval, barbaric thing that has no place in modern society!).

I'd say there's plenty of outrage--it comes through clearly both in the NYT report and in the reactions to it.

What should Americans do, besides relying on the political process? One of the Democratic candidates will likely win in 2008, the Democrats will strengthen their position in Congress, and Bush and Cheney will leave office in 2009.

The violent alternatives--assassination or a military coup--seem far worse. (If assassination becomes a normal part of politics, as in 1930s Japan, I'm guessing that hawks will be better at it than doves. And the US as a military dictatorship would be a nightmare scenario.) I don't see a non-violent alternative: I don't see Bush and Cheney resigning as a result of mass protests.
posted by russilwvong at 5:30 PM on October 5, 2007


Sorry, torture's a fact of life now, can't be changed, can't do anything about it." …I know there are many good Americans… But from outside your country it all looks very, very depressing. …it hits so close to home - we Germans made similar mistakes. You could learn from them, you don't have to make them yourselves.

Worth repeating.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:09 PM on October 5, 2007


"In a letter to Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey, Levin wrote that two years ago he requested — and was denied — the March 14, 2003, legal opinion. Levin asked if Mukasey would agree to release the opinion if the Senate confirms him as attorney general, and cited what he described as a history of the Justice Department stonewalling Congress.

"Such failures and the repeated refusal of DoJ to provide Congress with such documents has prevented the Congress from fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to conduct oversight," Levin wrote."

No reason for that at all.


"But House and Senate Democrats disagree that there is sufficient clarity on the matter, and are demanding to see the memos.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-WVa., said in a statement Friday he is "tired of these games."

"They can't say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program," Rockefeller said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., promised a congressional inquiry."

Or they'll hit them with their purses.
Seriously, does anybody in congress ever just lose it?
Or does it actually have to go to them fucking over the military to get any serious resistance at all?
'Cos I'm really missing the "Just where the fuck do you get off?" style Welch had.
But I'd really like to see it from...well, anybody.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:04 PM on October 5, 2007


The US Democracy is a fairy tale for children, Smedleyman. The US government is by and for the people, not by the longest stretch of imagination. It is by and for a wealthy elite, who use the natural and human resources of the country on whim.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:49 PM on October 5, 2007


Fort Hunt's Quiet Men Break Silence on WWII

"During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone," said George Frenkel, 87, of Kensington. "We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I'm proud to say I never compromised my humanity."
posted by homunculus at 11:53 AM on October 6, 2007


If those are the choices — a battle of wits versus torture — it's little wonder why George Bush would go with the latter. Can't be going into battle completely unarmed.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:03 PM on October 6, 2007


kid ichorous, well presented case on why the treatment of domestic prisoners is immoral. Perhaps we should be paying more attention to it. I think, perhaps, societies can be judged by their treatment of animals and prisoners.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:38 AM on October 7, 2007


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