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More on the Torture Tapes
Posted by: Dale Franks on Saturday, December 08, 2007

Over at BlackFive, Uncle Jimbo has a bit of a different take on the CIA torture tapes.
There are two good reasons to destroy the tapes. Hayden put the first one front and center, our interrogators are shown on them. Keeping their identities secret is very important, and something Valerie Plame could have paid more heed to. Once the interrogations were completed and transcribed, there is no use to them other than the ghoulish watching of human suffering.

Which brings us to reason number two. They were almost certainly horrifying and awful and their viewing by many Americans would cause a reaction. It would likely move public opinion toward more restrictions on what methods may be employed. We have already put too many and the unpleasantness of the coercive techniques would be offensive to some who would otherwise approve of using all techniques short of torture.

I believe there are quite a few things being discussed in open forums, that belong back on the dark side. It is right and proper that our government does unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things in defense of our freedom.
Wow.

Is that true? Do we really want the government to do "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" in the defense of our freedom? And what, exactly is the limit to which "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" that the government can go to? This strikes me as the beginning of an awful slippery slope. I mean, once you explicitly authorize government officials to do "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things", how do you ensure that that they only do those things when it's proper to do so? And who defines when it's proper?

Our experience with government indicates that the acceptable universe of "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" will only increase over time?

The thing is—and, for the moment, let's leave moral arguments out of it—before you authorize "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things", shouldn't you ensure that its actually useful to do so?

Let's take torture, since that is the proximate case.

We've taken a lot of heat in the past for condemning its use by the US. Not that we care, other than to observe that a lot of people who otherwise like us, think we're nuts on the torture deal. There's a lot of people, apparently, who think that we should torture these terrorist bastards to get information from them.

Now, that's an attractive idea, if we're gonna be honest about it. Hook up a field phone to some bad guy's package, and start turning the dynamo crank like we're trying to connect with Hong Kong until he coughs up some info. After all, who cares if we give these bastards some pain? They deserve it, right?

The trouble is, torture, in general doesn't work. Or rather, it only works in a narrow set of circumstances.

There are two big hurdles you have to overcome. First, there are simply guys that you can't break. Oh, sure, it's not a large set of people, but they exist. But the second problem is a big hurdle, and that's the confirmation problem.

For torture to work, you have to a) have someone who can be broken by torture, and b) have the ability to confirm the information you get from the...uh...torturee.

For torture to work, you have to be able to, in fairly short order, be able to confirm the truth or falsehood of what the torturee tells you. If the information is confirmably true, you reward him. If it's confirmably false, you punish him. You make it clear that if he tells you a lie, he will be punished severely for it.

If you can't do that, then the torturee is simply going to tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear. Col. Robinson Risner spent several years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. In his book, he relates how American prisoners, when they broke, would spin the most outlandish tales of US military intentions in Vietnam. He was confronted with his captors' precis of American intentions during his own torture sessions, and he was amazed at the tales the NoVi's were willing to buy.

So, before you even begin to question someone, you have to know enough to try to crack them for confirmable information. So, when you catch Mohammad al-Jihadi, you have to have enough information already about his plans to confirm the information he tells you. If you can't confirm it, and you're just shooting in the dark, then you're just torturing the poor SOB for no reason, at the end of the day, because you can't depend on anything he tells you.

But, you can't ignore the moral and political questions that accompany the performance of "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things."

Alan Dershowitz has recommended the use of "torture warrants" for those special cases when...intense questioning...may be required. And, I guess if you're going to regularize torture, some sort of oversight of that type would be useful—indeed, necessary.

But that doesn't answer th question of whether it should be regularized. In general, I would come down on the side of "no, it shouldn't be regularized." I think that, in the normal course of events, it's usually unnecessary to use torture, and that the perils of regularization lead inevitably to its more generalized use, even when it's not appropriate—or necessary.

And I can't help but think of Martin Sheen's lines in the ABC TV movie Missiles of October. In that movie, Martin Sheen plays Bobby Kennedy. The Executive Committee is discussing simply bombing the Soviet missile sites in Cuba. And Sheen says, "Gentlemen. America is supposed to stand for something. It's a symbol of morals and values for the entire world. How does bombing a tiny Caribbean country demonstrate those ideals?"

In that vein, I'd ask, how does regularizing torture exemplify those ideals the United States is supposed to stand for?

Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day. Even in the existential struggle of the Second World War, we never stooped to the facile excuse that torture was necessary to defeat the Japanese and Germans. Why should we do so now?

And what does it say about us if we are willing to do so? Is all this talk about freedom and human rights nothing more than pleasurable mouth noises, or do we really mean it? And if we do mean it, then are we willing to take the risks—and the losses—necessary to make those ideals something more than high sounding rhetoric?

If not, then what are we?

Those are not easy questions, nor are the answers simple, but they are questions that we, as a people, need to ask and answer. And if the answer is that we can do whatever we need to do to ensure our own survival, than let's at least have the honesty to admit that we're doing so for selfish reasons, and that our "principles" only apply to us, and that everyone else is fair game, as long as we get to go about our comfortable daily lives.

Let's admit that it's just naked self-interest that drives us, and cease to cloak our actions in transparent self-righteousness.
 
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I think the distinction you draw between principle and survival is something that was clear and simple in the days of WWII, but as luxury we can no longer afford with the current enemy. The war against the axis forces had clearly defined goals in a military/geographic sense, the enemy was identifiable, and we could defeat or imprison them. Islamist terrorists hide among the general populace all over the world and their conviction and access to modern weaponry means their impact potential far outstrips that of an enemy soldier 60 years ago.

In a sense, they have already won a semi-victory by forcing the west onto the back foot where our principles are concerned. IMHO if the fear of capture leads to a reduced number of attacks on our forces then that justifies whatever is necessary to generate that fear of capture. Our first duty is to our men and women on the front line, not the enemy.
 
Written By: Blewyn
URL: http://
Funny, that you have a post on FDR’s Pearl Harbor speech. If only the government hadn’t done horrible things in World War 2, you could have posted in German and we wouldn’t have a ME problem since there would be no Jews.
 
Written By: tro
URL: http://
If only the government hadn’t done horrible things in World War 2 ...
Such as?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
If only the government hadn’t done horrible things in World War 2 ...

Such as?
Hiroshima, Dresden. You may not agree and feel that these actions were necessary but that is what the whole argument is about. Who gets to label and what they get to label.
Yes, terrible things happen during wars-some are unintentional, some are not part of policy, but they happen and usually are dealt with. But they will occur again.
I don’t get my morals from a Hollywood movie.
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
Hiroshima, Dresden.
These were "horrible" in what way, given the accepted strategy and tactics (ie "total war" practiced by all sides) for war fighting at that time?

And of course, not having done either of them wouldn’t have changed the eventual outcome of the war, would it? So it is hard to argue that if we hadn’t done what you classify as "horrible" things, we’d be posting in German and wouldn’t have an ME problem.

I’m looking for "horrible things" our government did which, without doing them, we’d have risked what tro asserts. Dresden and Hiroshima don’t support that assertion.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
The North Vietnamese may have been incompetent interrogators but that does not mean that torture is not a useful and productive technique when efficiently done by a properly trained intelligence organization. Fortunately or not, the US doesn’t seem to wish to practice such techniques in a regularized way.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Do we really want the government to do "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" in the defense of our freedom?
Yes. War is one of them. Waterboarding Khalid-Sheik Mohammad and two other terrorist masterminds in order to extract information to prevent imminent terrorist attacks which would otherwise result in the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds, of innocent men, women and children, is another.
 
Written By: Jimmy the Dhimmi
URL: www.warning1938alert.ytmnd.com
If only the government hadn’t done horrible things in World War 2 ...

Such as?
Hiroshima, Dresden. You may not agree and feel that these actions were necessary but that is what the whole argument is about. Who gets to label and what they get to label.
Exactly so. And let’s remember it’s the winners to get to break up the label guns after it’s all over. It’s their morality which gets put into place after the victory.

Dale talks about a slippery slope.
Do we really want the government to do "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" in the defense of our freedom?
I am amazed that a veteran of our military would question thus. The answer is, "Of course we do, else our military wouldn’t exist. Is dropping a Bunker Buster on a AQ safe house in Mosel to be considered "pleasant"?

If you take the argument to it’s logical conclusion in the opposite direction, you could argue that slippery slope was already started down the moment we came up with a military in any form. I’m sure the anti-war types would agree with that statement as far as it goes.

In reality what we’re arguing about is not absolutes, but matters of degree. Where the disagreements, in the room for argument comes in, is who gets to label what is unpleasant and unfair. The anti-War types will argue that any killing or aggressive action in the name of freedom is unacceptable. But the bottom line, here it is...

“We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” -Attributed to Eric Blair

McQ:
And of course, not having done either of them wouldn’t have changed the eventual outcome of the war, would it?
Interesting.

I agree...Psychological warfare is certainly harder to pin down as to its ultimate result, so I think the case can be argued either way, as to whether not avoiding those actions would have resulted in our defeat. I do think it would not have...Though most certainly it would have created hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of additional Allied casualties.


And there’s the central point, here. Seems to me that the very point of bringing up those two incidents was one of priority. In other words, if those incidents by their taking place save American lives? I think ultimately, the answer is yes.

If that’s the yardstick by which such actions are justified, then isn’t torture the same question scaled down from millions of people, to a paltry handful?

Our current situation is very similar to then... allowing for the scale in each. As then, there’s no way that our current enemy can defeat us militarily. Yet the question arises again as it did in the case of Dresden and in the case of Nagasaki and Hiroshima whether or not the length of the war could be shortened, and thus Allied lives saved, by those actions.

I say that both the actions in Dresden and in Japan, were more than justified.

And so the KSM Interrogation comes along, and with it the understanding that his information as supplied saved American lives. I’d have to say that such actions there were justified, as well.

As for the rest, let’s not be fooled here. The largest part of the screaming these days is coming from a group of people who is looking desperately for something / anything to hang on the current administration so as to gain political power. The people who were screaming the loudest about this business, don’t give a damn about our morality. They are only interested in political power.

All that said, I do not suggest that such actions shouldn’t be questioned. Even the pilots of the plane that dropped the first a bomb on Japan as they were flying away and questions. "My God, what have we done?" Such questions are a self-check mechanism.

However, even given that sel-questioning process, in each of the cases cited, the purposes were that lives were saved. American lives. These were not acts of aggression, but rather acts of defense... and thus defensible.





 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
I would like to know how we are supposed to go about collecting intelligence. The church amendment pretty much killed human intel. With torture off the table, what is left. Our intel agencies are pathetic, politicized and ineffectual. In a time when our intel agencies can even keep a secret from the NYT, what are we to do? So far, nobody with a room temp iq is buying the new NIE, and I personally trust Israeli intel agencies considerably more than I do our own. Generally, I disapprove of torture, and if the intel community can’t keep it under the table, then they shouldn’t be doing it. I keep hearing people harping about various techniques used by intel gathering organizations. I want to know how we are supposed to go about gathering intel.
 
Written By: Paden Cash
URL: http://
I am amazed that a veteran of our military would question thus.
Really? Shows you how much you know about veterans of the military then. Because while we may be called upon to do what we would consider to be "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" we refuse to do immoral things - like torture people. In fact, we are expressly forbidden from doing something which is either unlawful or immoral or following orders which would direct us to do them.

While engaging in combat and dealing with the aftermath is "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful", it isn’t immoral.

If you can’t break that out of the mix, I’m not surprised you’re surprised.
In other words, if those incidents by their taking place save American lives? I think ultimately, the answer is yes.
And I’d say it wouldn’t matter, given that we were already engaged in the bombing of civilian population centers. That was how we conducted war at that time. You may have noticed, with the advent of precision munitions, we don’t do that any more.

Dresden is thought to be "horrible" because most viewed it as unnecessary.

Hiroshima’s only "horrible" factor is it was a WMD. No one, apparently, would have minded much if we’d have just dropped big dumb iron bombs and killed that many. It isn’t the killing that was viewed as "horrible", it was the method of killing. As you might imagine, it mattered not one whit to those killed.

The fact that we had firebombed Tokyo with much greater loss of life than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined never seems to get mentioned, because, you see, fire bombing, at least in the case of Tokyo (but apparently not in the case of Dresden) was acceptable based on the method of war being waged.

So again I ask, what "horrible" things did we do in WWII which were necessary to keep us from speaking German now? And by "horrible" let’s focus on those we’d all consider "immoral but necessary" in that context.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
I would like to know how we are supposed to go about collecting intelligence.
That’s the $64,000 question. One of the glaring weaknesses our intel operations seems to be HUMINT (human intelligence). Good old human agents in foreign countries who monitor and report. Years ago we gutted that capability for a number of reasons. We felt we could rely on SIGINT, ELINT, satellites and other technology to fill the void. We were wrong.

Now, we have to go back through the process of standing up that sort of a network again and that’s a very difficult and time-consuming process. But it is one of the major reasons our intel sucks.

Without such a network to verify intel gathered by other means, we have an analysis problem - our analysis is often over-general and vague. See the latest NIE for an example.

How are we supposed to go about collecting intelligence?

Get rid of the career bureaucrats and those with a political agenda. Develop an aggressive and pervasive HUMINT network. Augment it with technology. Stick to straight and honest analysis regardless of what the policy implications may be. Make the intel agencies accountable for what they produce or don’t produce.

You know - the normal stuff any successful spy agency would do.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
You’re right, McQ, we don’t do that any more. We don’t win wars either.

Google up Peiper, Biscari, Sicily. "The Biscari massacre was a war crime committed by US American troops during World War II, where unarmed German and Italian prisoners of war were massacred at Biscari in 1943, as ordered by George S. Patton."

American troops adopted a policy in the Pacific of simply pouring burning gasoline down into caves full of Japanese, because they got tired of soaking up casualties from fake surrenders.

OTOH, there wasn’t much of an insurgency in Japan, either.

War is brutality, by definition. If you’re not prepared to be brutal, then be prepared to lose. Part of winning is to convince the enemy, current and potential, that getting in a war with you is just a slow suicide.

 
Written By: SDN
URL: http://
You’re changing terms midstream, McQ. Dale posited "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" — not "immoral". I submit that "immoral" is much more context-dependent than we would like to admit — you actually nod in that direction when you essentially defend Dresden as "accepted strategy and tactics (ie "total war" practiced by all sides) for war fighting at that time". I happen to agree with that — Vonnegut didn’t.

But we have, and will continue to cross lines. We have to remain vigilant about it, but let’s dispense with the hairshirts.
 
Written By: Phil Smith
URL: http://
War is brutality, by definition. If you’re not prepared to be brutal, then be prepared to lose. Part of winning is to convince the enemy, current and potential, that getting in a war with you is just a slow suicide.
No one is claiming wars aren’t brutal. They are brutal by their nature. But, in that context, there are different kinds of "brutal". There’s the "brutal" which is an unavoidable consequence of war in general and then there’s "brutal" which is very deliberate, targeted and completely immoral - like torture, beheading, etc. I understand and accept the former as a sometimes survival necessity. I have no use at all for the latter and condemn it completely, no matter who is doing it.

It is the latter type of ’brutal’ under discussion here. Attempting to conflate the two only confuses the discussion.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
There is certainly an ethical road to the "torture" of a captured terrorist.

In a relatively relaxed situation, which is to say not an exigent one, the prisoner can be closely questioned without the use of any physical or mental "techniques" or "methods" that would even remotely equate to "torture."

At some point it has to be determined whether it’s likely that the prisoner has any information that fits a particular puzzle or which opens a door. If he’s not cooperating, you make things a little more difficult for him.

Still not cooperating, and if you deem him worth the effort, you raise the level of difficulty; maybe you waterboard him at some point.

But if you believe that he knows along which highway a truck bomb is heading with intent to kill a thousand people, you get out the cordless drill.

With this terrorism thing, it’s not an excuse to engage in willy-nilly sadism, although every outfit has those types, I suppose. But when push comes to shove, you have to be ready to do what you gotta do.

I’m not going to sit by and simply let Ahmed kill lots of people when I know that Mohammed, who I’ve got in custody, knows where Ahmed is headed with his truck bomb.

That’s a clear moral choice; in fact, it’s a moral imperative. Now, if the rules say I can’t do that; I go where I need to go to get the dispensation. If I have no access to that, and the decision is mine, I go to my conscience.

This is why warfare must take place outside of the realm of civil justice, and the commanders up to and including the commander-in-chief must have the discretion to win, with consideration to the proportional value of particular acts.

In our role as a sovereign nation state, we do not have reciprocal treaty obligations, actual or implied, with al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization. We show moral discretion, when it is appropriate and required, as moral people of honor. But when the bus is coming into the station with two thousand pounds of explosives, we have a moral obligation to do what we gotta do.

I suspect that after 9/11 there was a sense that we were really way behind the curve in counter-terrorism, especially the intelligence side of counter-terrorism. Given the attacks, it was considered exigent to get ahead of that curve. No one should be surprised that while that exigent sense lasted our side hit the path in hard motion. And that’s the way you deal with a situation like that.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
I am amazed that a veteran of our military would question thus.
Really? Shows you how much you know about veterans of the military then. Because while we may be called upon to do what we would consider to be "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" we refuse to do immoral things - like torture people.
And the the actions cited were not torture? I suppose you’d get a different answer, were you to speak to the survivors of such attacks. And let’sassume by some miracle, a man could know he owed his life to someone being interrogated so. Would they call the action immoral? I doubt it.
While engaging in combat and dealing with the aftermath is "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful", it isn’t immoral.
Don’t blame me for the choice of words, Bruce. I addressed the question as framed by Dale. I will say that as far as your answer goes, on that point, we don’t fully disagree.

Notice, however, how I brushed up against that subject in the case of individual occurrences:
All that said, I do not suggest that such actions shouldn’t be questioned. Even the pilots of the plane that dropped the first a bomb on Japan as they were flying away and questions. "My God, what have we done?" Such questions are a self-check mechanism.
The line I’m drawing here, is that while individual occurrences should certainly be questioned in each individual’s mind as to morality, the general concept of as Dale puts it ...
Do we really want the government to do "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" in the defense of our freedom?
...would seem to be answered affirmatively by the very existence of our military, and the relationship it holds to our government.
And I’d say it wouldn’t matter, given that we were already engaged in the bombing of civilian population centers. That was how we conducted war at that time. You may have noticed, with the advent of precision munitions, we don’t do that any more.
Don’t we? Devil’s advocate; How many civilian deaths have occurred in ’nam, and in Iraq? I’m not suggesting that those should not have occurred, but I am saying that civilian deaths in the field of battle are, alas, part of the game. That’s particularly true when you’re involved in a guerrilla warfare situation, where civilians don’t always were signs labeling them as such, nor do the combatants. Moral certitude, you see, requires having all the information for a given situation.

That said, there is an analytical side of me that wonders how much we’ve lost in terms of psychological warfare, when we denounce such actions as Dresden and Japan.
Hiroshima’s only "horrible" factor is it was a WMD. No one, apparently, would have minded much if we’d have just dropped big dumb iron bombs and killed that many. It isn’t the killing that was viewed as "horrible", it was the method of killing. As you might imagine, it mattered not one whit to those killed.
No argument. I submit that that kind of thing factors into most antiwar protests of our day. It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to have emotional appeal.
The fact that we had firebombed Tokyo with much greater loss of life than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined never seems to get mentioned, because, you see, fire bombing, at least in the case of Tokyo (but apparently not in the case of Dresden) was acceptable based on the method of war being waged.
Hmmm.

Perhaps part of the question that should be asked here, is "acceptable the whom?". certainly, these points get argued back and forth, 65 years later. In those arguments, however, I have noticed something...

For all of the claims to principle and moral certitude, I observe that there’s an awful lot of conditionals that go into that question of morality... And that each person, or subgroup, has their own trigger level on each of those conditions. I suppose were that not true we’d not be having this discussion, so far after the fact.


Martin:
With this terrorism thing, it’s not an excuse to engage in willy-nilly sadism, although every outfit has those types, I suppose. But when push comes to shove, you have to be ready to do what you gotta do.
Exactly so, and I have never been an apologetic for what you call Willy nilly Sadism. That, certainly, would be outside the bounds of morality, in a very clear-cut way.
This is why warfare must take place outside of the realm of civil justice, and the commanders up to and including the commander-in-chief must have the discretion to win, with consideration to the proportional value of particular acts.
I find myself in full agreement, here.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
You’re changing terms midstream, McQ. Dale posited "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" — not "immoral".
What Dale wrote is up to Dale to explain. But in fact that discussion is about morality and immorality. I don’t accept the generalization that "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" must only apply to moral things.
I submit that "immoral" is much more context-dependent than we would like to admit — you actually nod in that direction when you essentially defend Dresden as "accepted strategy and tactics (ie "total war" practiced by all sides) for war fighting at that time". I happen to agree with that — Vonnegut didn’t.
I’m not defending Dresden, I’ve only explained why it happened. Since I wasn’t alive and had no say in the decision and thus I have nothing to "defend". I’ve also "implied" that it wouldn’t happen today and why. The "why" has to do with a moral code which has been enabled by technology. Pretty much the same thing as Rules of Engagement (ROE) in a theater of war.
But we have, and will continue to cross lines. We have to remain vigilant about it, but let’s dispense with the hairshirts.
What hairshirt? Torture crosses the line and is immoral and I refuse to sanction it by claiming it is necessary or issue dispensation to those who do it out of "necessity".

You don’t agree and want to claim that morality depends on the situation. Most people I know call such claims "situational morality" or "situational ethics". In reality they are examples of no morality or no ethics at all.

If you’re satisfied living that way, then you won’t mind if a group, sometime in the future, decides, for whatever reason, the situation dictates they take your life, or home, or whatever they please. They will have, based on thinking such as yours, become used to rationalizing their conclusion because "we have, and will continue to cross lines" and you and others like you found that to be acceptable "reasoning". However, in the future case, you just happen to be on the other side of that line.

No biggie. If that’s the way you want to live, don’t complain when it plays out in a "context-dependent" scenario you don’t like.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
And the the actions cited were not torture?
Uh, no, not anymore than a gunshot wound during war is considered torture. If you haven’t anything better than this to offer, save it.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
The point you’re missing is that what we’re discussing as a matter of degree, Bruce. By bringing those situations up, that’s the question I’m asking; where the line gets drawn.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
The point you’re missing is that what we’re discussing as a matter of degree, Bruce.
No, we’re not discussing a matter of degree, Eric. Not at all - and that is what you continue to miss.

We’ve drawn the line. Now we’re saying we want to ignore it. That’s not a matter of degree. That’s a matter of moral convenience.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
One of the glaring weaknesses our intel operations seems to be HUMINT (human intelligence). Good old human agents in foreign countries who monitor and report. Years ago we gutted that capability for a number of reasons. We felt we could rely on SIGINT, ELINT, satellites and other technology to fill the void.
“It all comes down to the point that we have to start listening to people again, no matter how unpleasant the message is. The CIA doesn’t have a choice but to once again go and start talking to people – people who can go where it can’t, see what it can’t and hear what it can’t. That’s the CIA I joined in 1976, not one enamored of satellite technology and scared of its own shadow, but one with the guts to walk in the wilderness and deal with what it finds there. That’s the CIA we need today. And until we have that CIA - one with thousands of human ears and eyes, out listening where the ones who will do us harm hatch their evil schemes – I don’t think any of us should feel safe again. …the only way to gather such intelligence is by having the political will to let those who know how to learn secrets perform their jobs, no matter how murky the swamp is. I wish I had the confidence that we were willing to walk down that path and stay on it.” —Robert Baer “See No Evil”, 2002

Baer’s pessimism is well founded. I doubt there has been or will be any meaningful change. The rot is too advanced.
...in the normal course of events, it’s usually unnecessary to use torture, and that the perils of regularization lead inevitably to its more generalized use, even when it’s not appropriate—or necessary.
I would leave those decisions up to professional interrogators. I would also point out that terrorists have had training in interrogation resistance, similar to our own SERE training.
Even in the existential struggle of the Second World War, we never stooped to the facile excuse that torture was necessary to defeat the Japanese and Germans.
But we did stoop to rounding up Japanese Americans and putting them into internment camps.
 
Written By: Words Twice
URL: http://wordstwice.blogspot.com/
Refreshingly honest, McQ. At least you seem to admit that you would prefer to see dozens or perhaps hundreds of innocents being killed in a terrorist attack than to see an Al-qaeda mastermind, directly responsible for thousands of murders, undergo simulated drowning for 2 minutes.

Most people would duck that ultimatum, and try to weasel out of making a choice.
 
Written By: Jimmy the Dhimmi
URL: http://www.warning1938alert.ytmnd.com
This strikes me as the beginning of an awful slippery slope. I mean, once you explicitly authorize government officials to do "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things", how do you ensure that that they only do those things when it’s proper to do so?
And once you start banning anything "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" where do you end up?

Look at today’s definition of cruel and unusual... Congital visits, cable TV...

What worries me is this is the start of the slippery slope where we as a nation will try to interact with the world using only techniques that will make the weakest kneed individual sitting comfortable and warm feel good about it.

And that won’t end well for us.
 
Written By: Ryan
URL: http://
No, I’m not arguing for situational ethics. I’m not actually arguing, just accepting as a given, that the language of morality is dependent on time, place, and underlying societal norms and mores. We have to be careful not to allow those underlying assumptions to be warped out of current recognition, but we are going to make moral calculations like the one referenced in the comment about incinerating Japanese troops. We’re going to be forced to do so, whether you, I, or anyone else likes it — just like the commanders in the Pacific had to make that choice. Please note that they were forced into making a decision as a result of prior decisions made by their opposite numbers — men who, as best I can understand, believed that false surrender and fighting to the death even under conditions that could not realistically result in victory, were not only acceptable but required under their particular societal norms and mores. Our society managed to survive that particular wound to our underlying mores, and as long as we’re careful — which includes debates such as this one — we’ll survive this moral challenge as well.
As far as working out in ways I don’t like, well, that’s happened already. We have to be careful that we don’t end up with an Egyptian secret police. But we also have to win. I don’t know if waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was necessary. I’m glad I didn’t have to make that call. I’m afraid I would have, though.
 
Written By: Phil Smith
URL: http://
At least you seem to admit that you would prefer to see dozens or perhaps hundreds of innocents being killed in a terrorist attack than to see an Al-qaeda mastermind, directly responsible for thousands of murders, undergo simulated drowning for 2 minutes.
"Prefer"?

Hardly. A bit of a twisted concept there, Jimmy.

And your reaction to doing that and finding out that he knows nothing?

Does "oops" pretty well sum it up? No biggie, right? I mean lines are there to be crossed, right?

Makes you wonder why we even bother to draw them, doesn’t it?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
And your reaction to doing that and finding out that he knows nothing?

Does "oops" pretty well sum it up? No biggie, right? I mean lines are there to be crossed, right?
Well that oops caused Abu Al-Qaeda a few minutes of discomfort but it’s hardly as bad as erring in the other direction and standing by while hundreds or thousands perish.
 
Written By: Bob
URL: http://
Al-qaeda mastermind, directly responsible for thousands of murders, undergo simulated drowning for 2 minutes.

Yeah, right. It’s always easy when we’re discussing the Ultimate Bad Guy. But Khalid AL-Masri didn’t need to be the Ultimate Bad Guy to be snatched and shipped off to Egypt to be electrocuted and burned alive. And Abu Zubadiyah, the guy whose tape actually disappeared, was probably a low-level logistics handler with mental problems - a bad guy, part of an edifice trying to kill Americans, but neither a planner nor an implementer of attacks. And true to form, when we started torturing him, he started coming up with all kinds of plots that he’d been part of.

There are all kinds of things we could do to keep Americans safe that we nonetheless do not do for moral reasons. If keeping Americans safe is the highest altar on which we should sacrifice everything, we should start lining up Muslims for the gas chambers, because Americans are statistically more likely to be killed by Muslims than other religious types. We should start geneologically screening Americans at birth and sterilizing anyone whose genes appear to indicate the potential for violence. Also, the government should destroy all alcoholic beverages on sight and shut down the companies that create them - they’re known to cause drunk driving, which kills Americans.

It’s not, in fact, entirely about keeping Americans safe. Safety is only one value among many. Americans die regularly so that masses of Americans can enjoy risky activities. Americans die so that Americans can avoid paying a slightly higher percentage in taxes.

On the other hand, people like you are exactly why it’s unsafe to keep America safe by torturing people. The "liberal media" could put out news that The US government destroyed the torture tapes of Oprah Winfrey, but as long as it was written in a reporting tone, with reporting that the government made a bunch of speeches announcing her affiliation with a Suspicious Mosque, and produced a bunch of electronic-looking gizmos and some explosives and claimed there was a "ticking bomb" at stake, you would... believe them. And I would write a skeptical comment about it in a blog. Until you personally have a brush with the National Security Apparatus, you don’t care what happens to amorphous "other people" in the name of keeping you personally safe.

That’s why TSA policies making people take off their shoes at airports attract as much or more controversy than stories about the CIA.

 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
I’m not actually arguing, just accepting as a given, that the language of morality is dependent on time, place, and underlying societal norms and mores.
If I misunderstood your point, I apologize.

There is no question that morality evolves. And its evolution is dependent on many things. Ours happens to be grounded in the term "inalienable human rights" and that is what has shaped our societal norms and mores. But, as pointed out, in warfare it also is connected with ability (ROE) and capability (precision munitions) which enable our ability to act morally in situations.
We have to be careful not to allow those underlying assumptions to be warped out of current recognition, but we are going to make moral calculations like the one referenced in the comment about incinerating Japanese troops.
The point I’m making is deliberate torture, as a matter of policy is, in fact, a warping of those underlying assumptions.

In the case of the Japanese soldiers it was a fight to the death that they chose to pursue. The choice then becomes stark. But in the end, it is still self-defense.

Look, an enemy soldier with a weapon will try to kill you (or at least has the means if not the opportunity to do so). So it is incumbent upon you to kill him first. That’s accepted as a moral act. However, when the enemy soldier drops his weapon and surrenders, to kill him then is murder. We make that distinction in warfare and we prosecute those who "cross that line".

We don’t write it off as some necessity and categorize it as some "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" we must accept. We call it what it is - murder. And almost everyone accepts and understands that distinction.

Yet some of those same people see nothing wrong with the deliberate infliction of intense pain and suffering on another human being who is completely within our power and totally defenseless with the hope of extracting information he may or may not have out of some sort of claim of ’necessity’.

I see that as immoral behavior and argue that it is not acceptable in a nation which claims to have any grounding whatsoever in inalienable human rights. If you want to torture, okay, I can’t stop you - but don’t come whining to me about your rights if you do (and that’s a general reference to "you", not a personal one).
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Well that oops caused Abu Al-Qaeda a few minutes of discomfort but it’s hardly as bad as erring in the other direction and standing by while hundreds or thousands perish.
The flaw in that assumption is the person you’re torturing actually has the information.

What if he doesn’t? What does the "oops" mean then? How do you morally defend your actions then?

The simply answer is you can’t. And at that point, you’re no better than Abu al-Qaeda and every despicable thing he stand for.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Here is an excellent article from the
"International Society for Individual Liberty"
which explains why Americans are so much
more willing to accept and even support
torture now than they were 50 years ago.

http://www.isil.org/towards-liberty/legitimizing-torture.html

 
Written By: Terry
URL: http://www.tvsmarter.com/documents/democracy.html
The flaw in that assumption is the person you’re torturing actually has the information.

What if he doesn’t? What does the "oops" mean then? How do you morally defend your actions then?
You don’t use an aggressive interrogation technique unless you have damn good reason to believe he has the information you are after. If your intent is to save innocent lives then I think you are behaving morally. If you are dishing out the punishment to Abu Al-Qaeda for no other reason than you like lording over him then I don’t believe it’s moral. Aggressive interrogation techniques shouldn’t be the norm. If the interrogator wants to use them then he has to make his case why it’s necessary and permission should be obtained, and I don’t mean the interrogator’s immediate supervisor.
The simply answer is you can’t. And at that point, you’re no better than Abu al-Qaeda and every despicable thing he stand for.
I disagree. Abu Al-Qaeda doesn’t anguish over difficult moral decisions like I would, he just does what ever he wants. If you look in his torture manual you probably won’t even find water boarding because it’s too benign.
 
Written By: Bob
URL: http://
If I misunderstood your point, I apologize.
Not necessary. It’s a complicated subject, and it won’t translate easily to blog comments.
In the case of the Japanese soldiers it was a fight to the death that they chose to pursue. The choice then becomes stark.
Not anymore. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the use of flamethrowers would be a war crime today. There are those here and abroad who consider our current use of cluster munitions a war crime. I’m not sure I disagree.
However, when the enemy soldier drops his weapon and surrenders, to kill him then is murder. We make that distinction in warfare and we prosecute those who "cross that line".
Yes, until the enemy displays an understanding of our ROE and adopts false surrenders, dressing as civilians, approaching roadblocks, etc. as tactics, at which point we change our ROE. We also end up killing innocent civilians as a result of those changed ROE. But that ain’t necessarily murder. It’s an adaptation of our moral codes to exigent reality — one which we change back to the stricter version as soon as possible.

I don’t think the line is as clear as you seem to be arguing. I don’t think it ever has been, or will be. As a side note, that kind of moral clarity only exists in moral systems that are unchanging and inflexible.

No more for me, though. The boss is calling.
 
Written By: Phil Smith
URL: http://
Is that true? Do we really want the government to do "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" in the defense of our freedom? And what, exactly is the limit to which "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" that the government can go to
Everyone loves the sausage, nobody wants to know how it’s made though.

 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Yeah, right. It’s always easy when we’re discussing the Ultimate Bad Guy. But Khalid AL-Masri didn’t need to be the Ultimate Bad Guy to be snatched and shipped off to Egypt to be electrocuted and burned alive. And Abu Zubadiyah, the guy whose tape actually disappeared, was probably a low-level logistics handler with mental problems - a bad guy, part of an edifice trying to kill Americans, but neither a planner nor an implementer of attacks. And true to form, when we started torturing him, he started coming up with all kinds of plots that he’d been part of.
Which, of itself, first of all, and certainly when added to the interrogation I mentioned of KSM, what seemed to defeat out of hand the argument that torture doesn’t work. They would seem to indicate it works remarkably well.

At that point, the choice becomes the life and or comfort of one enemy soldier, versus the lives of many Americans.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
I don’t think the line is as clear as you seem to be arguing.
In some situations where the morality is still evolving, perhaps not ... in the case of torture, which is the subject here, I think it is quite clear.
As a side note, that kind of moral clarity only exists in moral systems that are unchanging and inflexible.
The fact that murder is still murder in almost every manifestation you can name from time immemorial until now argues that unchanging and inflexible" aren’t always bad. Morality, as it pertains to murder, has mostly evolved to the point that what constitutes murder is quite clear to the vast majority of people.

I’ve still yet to see anyone here argue that torture is a moral act. I’ve seen those who want to slip past that sort of discussion with an argument of "necessity" trumping morality in certain situations. Or a correlary argument - the "greater good" argument - which claims that saving many lives is worth the violation of the rights of some or, one assumes, many people to extract information they want. Of course most of those arguing the latter wouldn’t cop to it being a collectivist premise, but it is.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
I’ve still yet to see anyone here argue that torture is a moral act.
Hmmmm. Apparently, you missed it;
There is certainly an ethical road to the "torture" of a captured terrorist.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
You don’t use an aggressive interrogation technique unless you have damn good reason to believe he has the information you are after.
And if you’re wrong?
Abu Al-Qaeda doesn’t anguish over difficult moral decisions like I would ...


"Anguish" ameliorates the violation of another’s rights?

And, btw, they’re not "moral decisions". They’re moral violations. You already know it’s wrong when you do it.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
The fact that murder is still murder in almost every manifestation you can name from time immemorial until now argues that "unchanging and inflexible" aren’t always bad. Morality, as it pertains to murder, has mostly evolved to the point that what constitutes murder is quite clear to the vast majority of people.
I doubt that the definition of murder is all that clear even in our society, except as a legal matter — and even then, it varies from state to state. Joe Horn would have been arrested immediately in some states. There are an awful lot of people who think what he did is justified. On the flip side of that coin, killing one’s sister because she got raped is universally accepted in some parts of the world. Mitigation isn’t a part of their moral vocabulary. That’s the starkest contrast I can come up with right now for flexible v. inflexible. I think there’s a lesson in there, too.
I’ve still yet to see anyone here argue that torture is a moral act. I’ve seen those who want to slip past that sort of discussion with an argument of "necessity" trumping morality in certain situations.
I won’t speak for anyone else, but I’m not arguing the morality of torture. As far as necessity trumping morals, I wouldn’t use that language either. I think that the accurate formulation is that at the extreme bounds of human moral agency, morality and necessity can be incommensurable.
 
Written By: Phil Smith
URL: http://
I doubt that the definition of murder is all that clear even in our society, except as a legal matter — and even then, it varies from state to state.
I think for the most part, the vast majority of people are pretty well aware of what constitutes murder. Certainly there are and will be legal arguments, but as we all know, legal and moral aren’t necessarily at all the same.
I think that the accurate formulation is that at the extreme bounds of human moral agency, morality and necessity can be incommensurable.
If, arguendo, we accept your premise, then each of us has to decide which they will follow, don’t we?

And doing so either draws a line or rejects line drawing.

The problem with the latter is that you have the chance of being drawn on the wrong side of someone else’s line and, if it happens, haven’t a complaint in the world, or much of an argument, if you don’t like the results. Or put another way, morality has a certain survival utility that may be more powerful in the long run than ignoring it for the sake of situational convenience.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
McQ writes:
I’ve still yet to see anyone here argue that torture is a moral act.
I made that argument above.

If you take torture to be a criminal act in the same sense that murder is a criminal act, then you’ve boxed them together and must view them both as lines that cannot be crossed.

But if torture is seen more generically in the same sense as killing, then you must ask "why are we torturing?" just as you ask "why are we killing?"

In fighting terrorism, for instance, information, or intelligence, is key weaponry. The terrorist will uniformly strike without warning. So, a captured terrorist cohort holds weapons, in the form of information, and he must surrender them. And he is no regular soldier, holding knowledge of when his army will meet yours, who by treaty (perhaps) is entitled to protections, in the broadest sense, under the laws of war. He’s holding information about murders that are being planned, and since he is an illegal combatant, he has very small claim on any rights or protections. By being an illegal combatant and a terrorist, he has forfeited his rights nearly to the extent that a gunman who runs out into the street and starts shooting innocent people has forfeited his right to live.

Terrorism is by definition outside of the norms of civil society, and those norms do not apply to it. It is an attack on civil society per se, not merely a crime defined within the confines of civil society—an armed robbery, for instance, for personal gain, and civil society must have means to respond to that attack, which will come out of the shadows, without warning, against civilians for a political purpose.

The most clever ruse that the terrorist has developed is to use the moral norms of civil society against it (firing on civilians, for instance, while huddling with civilians so that return fire will kill more civilians than terrorists). I don’t think that it is that difficult to draw a line that defines when appropriate measures will include "torture" as a justified means of self-defense, just as killing in self-defense is justified.

Hence, there are situations where it is a moral imperative to disarm a terrorist operation by disarming a captive terrorist who holds informational weaponry.

For instance, if I have a terrorist picked up in Iraq who appears to be no more than a hired gun, I’ll want to know just the most mundane things about him. Where is he from, for instance. Where has he been staying. Etc. He has no right to withhold information from me. And if he’s a guy who is saturated with IED trace materials all over his clothing and skin, beard, hair, well, I want his information, because that’s going to help stop our troops and Iraqi civilians from getting dead for just driving down the road.

You bet I do what I have to do to get that information. There are still lines that I don’t cross. But that sucker is holding weapons and he has to surrender them. I need to be able to defend myself from those weapons, and I need to be able to win.

I’m not surrendering any moral ground, per se, so long as I conduct the interrogation in accordance with the moral imperative of disarming the terrorist of his informational weaponry. That is the nature of the asymmetrical battlefield, and you either you fight in accordance with the rules of that battlefield or you are fighting the last war, and the last war is always the wrong war to be fighting.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
If, arguendo, we accept your premise, then each of us has to decide which they will follow, don’t we?
Yep. I freely admit that is an ugly conclusion. As the world so often is.

But we can’t logically reject the premise merely because we dislike the conclusion. You’ve drawn a reductio ad uncomfortable, not absurdum.
 
Written By: Phil Smith
URL: http://
There are going to be times when torture will be used; the biggie that comes to mind being potential nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon usage.

My personal thought on it is that at that point, one had best HAVE a system in place, but rarely used. I’d suggest a limited time (as in a week, max) warrant issued by a Supreme Court justice.
 
Written By: Silussa
URL: http://
"If torture is not evil, then there is no such thing as evil"
 
Written By: Terry
URL: http://www.tvsmarter.com/documents/democracy.html
If you take torture to be a criminal act in the same sense that murder is a criminal act, then you’ve boxed them together and must view them both as lines that cannot be crossed.
Not at all hard to do for someone who believes in the concept of inalienable human rights, wouldn’t you say?

The rest of your comment is mere rationalization of the collectivist "greater good" premise.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
But we can’t logically reject the premise merely because we dislike the conclusion.
It all depends on where you begin the analysis, doesn’t it?

Greater good or inalienable individual rights.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
"Anguish" ameliorates the violation of another’s rights?
One problem we have is in determining which techniques are considered torture and which aren’t. I’d guess that we could all agree that attaching someone’s testicles to a field phone and cranking away or taking pliers and ripping off fingernails would be considered torture. Do you consider water boarding torture? I don’t. I think it’s a very aggressive interrogation technique and should only be used as a method of last resort and only with approval from way up the chain of command. So I agree that we should never stoop to torture, as I understand the definition. There are others out there that label any interrogation technique which causes a terrorist stress would be considered torture. Before we can even begin to discuss torture we have to come to some agreement as to what constitutes torture.
Not at all hard to do for someone who believes in the concept of inalienable human rights, wouldn’t you say?
Does an 8 month old human fetus have human rights?
 
Written By: Bob
URL: http://
Do you consider water boarding torture?
Is it the infliction of severe physical or mental pain as a means of punishment or coercion? Most people agree, at a minimum, it is that. So by definition, it is torture.

It has also been an interrogation technique that has been outlawed for decades by the military because it considers it to be a form of torture.
Does an 8 month old human fetus have human rights?
Why are you asking me, I’m not the one condoning torture ... you tell me, does it? As far as I’m concerned it does.

If you consider it to have such rights, it would seem to me, given your thoughts on torture, that you might be able to conceive of a situation in which the violation of its rights might be justified assuming you are able to rationalize a "necessity" which you felt was pressing enough and would serve the "greater good", however you would choose to define that. Is that a fair surmisal?

Because that’s the gist of this conversation - no hard, clear lines, only fuzzy gray areas in which we can situationally justify and rationalize our violations of the rights of others for the greater good.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Is it the infliction of severe physical or mental pain as a means of punishment or coercion? Most people agree, at a minimum, it is that. So by definition, it is torture.
Except that I don’t agree that water boarding inflicts severe physical or mental pain. Extreme discomfort? Absolutely, but not to the degree that it constitutes torture.
It has also been an interrogation technique that has been outlawed for decades by the military because it considers it to be a form of torture.
I don’t have a problem with the military banning the technique. In my opinion that type of technique should only be used by the CIA and even then only with President hacking off on it.
If you consider it to have such rights, it would seem to me, given your thoughts on torture, that you might be able to conceive of a situation in which the violation of its rights might be justified assuming you are able to rationalize a "necessity" which you felt was pressing enough and would serve the "greater good", however you would choose to define that. Is that a fair surmisal?
Yep. The health of the mother constitutes the "greater good." I’m willing to set aside the human fetus’ right to life if it becomes necessary to save the life of the mother. I’m similarly willing to set aside the "rights" of the terrorist to in order to save the life of many innocent victims.
 
Written By: Bob
URL: http://
Yep. The health of the mother constitutes the "greater good." I’m willing to set aside the human fetus’ right to life if it becomes necessary to save the life of the mother. I’m similarly willing to set aside the "rights" of the terrorist to in order to save the life of many innocent victims.
Fair enough. Then you have no legitimate complaint when some group decides to set aside your rights for the greater good as they define it, do you?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
BY the same token, then, you have no leg to stand on when you complain that the government of this country and it’s military was powerless to defend you against Al Queida.

Tell us, Bruce... at what point does this concern for the rights of terrorists get preempted by the rights of actual citizens?






 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Do we really want the government to do "unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things" in the defense of our freedom?
I am amazed that a veteran of our military would question thus. The answer is, "Of course we do, else our military wouldn’t exist. Is dropping a Bunker Buster on a AQ safe house in Mosel to be considered "pleasant"?
I completely agree with Bruce: here you show a lack of understanding of the mentality of American soldiers and veterans. I’m a third generation infantryman, my grandfather survived three brutal years in Japanese prison camps and the Bataan Death March. The values instilled in me by him, my combat veteran father, and the military make the application of torture unthinkable. The "unpleasant, unsavory, awful things" Jimbo refers directly to is torture, NOT the legitimate use of force within the bounds of the Laws of Armed Conflict. Life is not an episode of "24". Americans should not torture. Our national honor is at stake. The "there’s a bomb in New York City, and I know for sure this Arab knows where, and I need to find out before it detonates in two hours" scenario is not based in reality.

Legitimizing torture means:

- Our enemies will be more reluctant to surrender. They will fight with renewed resolve because they believe they will fear mistreatment if captured.

- Our enemies will be more reluctant to rally to our side and become former enemies dedicated to fighting against terror.

- The ambivalent populace whose support is pivotal to succeeding in counterinsurgency –– the ’fence-sitters’ –– will be repulsed and further dissuaded from aiding us. The surge has resulted in real progress by the fact that we have won over the populace through local ’awakening’ movements.

- Innocent people will be subjected to it. Persons detained under false pretexts, such as by trumped up tip offs from political/economic/social rivals, may be tortured.

- America will forever lose the moral high ground -– we will be on the same level as tin-pot autocracies. Our diplomats will be laughed at in their faces when they mention human rights.

- Bringing dishonor upon the United States. Reducing our prestige and clout in the world community, whose support is critical in executing this global counterinsurgency.

- Contributing intelligence of very questionable value. Getting good intelligence is difficult enough, we don’t need reports with information fabricated by someone just trying to stop the pain of torture.

- Doing irreparable psychological harm to the torturers. Undertaking combat in a just war is traumatic enough itself.

The Iraqi people have seen firsthand, over the last four years that the insurgents and terrorists have brought them nothing but misery and bloodshed. The Americans have clearly been the lesser evil, by the most critical judgment. Our enemies torture, mutilate, murder. We do not. We live and fight by a moral code, values. We attempt to ensure respect of our Iraqi and Afghan hosts. We provided medical treatment to enemy wounded and treat their prisoners fairly and justly. We value our honor.

Applying a blowtorch and pair of pliers to a suspected terrorist might even reveal where the next car bomb is going to be. But it probably won’t help you find the ten more that are directly related to its use.

Abu Ghraib was mild. I think most of what happened there that was sensationalized by the media and wasn’t even really ’torture’ at all (prisoner abuse, certainly). And how badly do you think that hurt our war effort? How many Iraqis and foreigners do you think rallied to the anti-Coalition cause because of that or similar incidents (real, sensationalized, or fabricated)?

Like it or not, insurgencies are not won by killing a lot of people. Life is not "24". Body counts do not count for anything. Insurgencies are won by gaining the support of the populace. And, paradoxically, offering amnesty to former insurgents is often necessary or expedient.

The ’War on Terror’ is a misnomer, we are really engaged in a global counterinsurgency. Lessons learned from progress in Iraq can be applied on a larger scale. This isn’t about ’terrorist rights’. I don’t believe they are afforded such under our Constitution – they are not American and they are not lawful combatants. However, they are human beings, as are we. As Nietschze said, "He who fights monsters should take care that he does not become a monster himself. When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you."

I’d recommend anyone considering the topic of counterinsurgency and torture to read up on the Battle of Algiers. The French achieved tactical victory and strategic defeat in an Arab nation, with significant consequences for the systematic use of torture.
 
Written By: J
URL: http://
I don’t like torture. I consider it immoral. I do not want a government which officially practices, supports, and approves of immorality. I think anyone practicing torture should be prosecuted. That being said, I think there is much truth in the old ’Mission Impossible’ concept;

"Your mission, should you choose to accept it, ...... As always, should any member of your team be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions."

If someone feels it is really, really, honest-to-God necessary to torture someone, then feel free to step up to the plate and do it. I may contribute to your legal defense fund, and if you do save Manhattan from nuclear annihilation you can probably count on jury nullification and an ’incompetent’ prosecution that will be reversed on appeal. If you want to use heroic measures, be a hero.

 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://

- Our enemies will be more reluctant to surrender. They will fight with renewed resolve because they believe they will fear mistreatment if captured.
Spare me the platitudes, huh?

Spare me these horror stories about tortures which were never used in any of the situations that are currently under discussion. I can think of only one reason you bring them up; to give more weight to your argument. You never mentioned, however , that they were never used.
(Gee, I wonder why? )

In fact, the biggest objection in terms of torture was placing panties on their heads and sleep deprivation. Well, excuse me, but in the annals of man’s inhumanity to man, being beheaded would seem to trump sleep deprivation. Are you suggesting tehse animals... and that’s what they are... are going to tell us what we need t know to save lives because we’re very nice to them? Perhaps you think cookies and warm milk will work better?

As an example... Let’s say I come to you and say that there is a couple that hates you so much that they will kill their six month old baby so as to kill you, I am describing a level of ferocity, and a level of savagery that is beyond any possibility of recognition that they’re being treated nicely. Hmmmm?


Spare me the nonsense about questionable intelligence coming from it. In the handful od cases where the mild procedures we have used have been brought to bear, the intelligence has been solid gold. KSM, for example. Again, you fail to mention this. Why?


Spare me the nonsense about how our Allies will be reluctant to join us. Our Allies, are conducting more stringent and trying investigations then are we. On that basis it seems to me that our Allies are going to be reluctant to join us not because we torture , but because we make the mistake of not doing so.

Spare me the delusional fear that they will torture our people, because we very occasionally torture theirs. Please explain to me in what war this country has ever fought, the Geneva conventions have been actually followed at all points. You cannot, because they have not been.

Spare me the pretense at morality. In this situation, they mean little, because war is, in fact the absence of morality. Morality only gets re-established once the war has been settled… and that morality gets defined exclusively by the winners. If you’re ging to argue from a morality standpoint and ’civilized warfare", allow me to remind you that the Brits thought we did not fight according to the laws if civilized warfare, during the Revolutionary war. They considered the American army a band of guerrillas. Should we give them their Colonies back?

Finally, allow me to remind you that if we’d stuck by the letters of the Geneva convention, we’d have been summarily executing terrorists, not interrogating them, and then housing and feeding them three Halal squares a day at great expense. You’d prefer that?

Survival …as a people, as well as survival as individuals… is the focus, here.

If we give that up, and we give up control of the situation, what good is any of the rest of it? If we don’t win, if we don’t maintain utter control of the situation, what possibility do any of those “high ideals”, this morality we hold, have, to survive in the world? If we are unwilling to do what’s necessary defend ourselves by whatever means, then what it comes down to is we don’t deserve to survive.

Which, seems rather handy, since we probably won’t.

I say again: It is the winners who are the ones who get to decide what constitutes morality… and they won’t pay what YOU or I consider moral, any mind whatever… as they have repeatedly demonstrated.

This argument about torture keeps falling back on the Geneva conventions, and so perhaps this aspect needs a mention. First, a reiteration of previous points.

* There are no rules in war, other than the rules dictated by the winner, afterward.

* The Geneva Convention which purports to be civilized warfare, is in fact nothing of the sort, and is not worth the paper it was written on, having repeatedly been broken in every war ever waged since it’s signing. There’s a reason, here; Warfare is not civil under any conditions. War is, instead, the utter lack of civility. It is therefore unrealistic to assume or demand any degree of civility in wartime.

That re-established:

* Those seeking closer adherence to the Geneva Convention during wartime, even on moralistic ground, particularly when the enemy is overtly not adhering to said convention, are themselves immoral, given they end up costing their own side lives, by causing their own military to, in effect, fight with one hand tied behind their back.

* When a people go to war, it is by definition a last resort against an immoral enemy. It’s understood that war of itself is an immoral act. In going to war the line of immorality has already been crossed… but it is also understood that the greater immorality is to allow the enemy to continue it’s immoral activity. It is assumed, thereby, that whatever actions are taken in pursuit of winning said war against said immoral enemy, are in the immediate sense, of lesser moral consequence than the defeat of the enemy, and the actions of the enemy, both before and during said war.

* Hindsight, which is what is being engaged in here, is a luxury a nation at war cannot afford. For example, consider the post 9/11 world, and the discussions about ‘How far would you go to stop another 9/11?” We succeeded in stopping any more such attacks on us, and we continue to hold them back. Being concerned now with the ‘rights’ of those attacking us is at least counter-productive, and self-defeating.

The choice before us, as I see it comes down to one enemy combatants comfort, or a handful, over thousands of American lives.

The choice is an easy one. Having the courage to see it through, apparently, is not, for some.









 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
McQ tries the back exit in response to my comment:
"If you take torture to be a criminal act in the same sense that murder is a criminal act, then you’ve boxed them together and must view them both as lines that cannot be crossed."

Not at all hard to do for someone who believes in the concept of inalienable human rights, wouldn’t you say?

The rest of your comment is mere rationalization of the collectivist "greater good" premise.
It’s nothing of the kind.

And "inalienable human rights" do not mean what you think they mean.

The murderer forfeits the protections of his inalienable right to liberty and perhaps to his own life by taking the life of another without just cause.

The terrorist is a murderer: he has perhaps murdered directly ("pulled the trigger"), but he is always an accessory after the fact to all murders committed by his cohorts and is a party to an ongoing conspiracy to murder.

The terrorist is also an illegal combatant, subject to martial justice, not civil justice.

The terrorist is also armed with informational weaponry, which he has no right to hold onto.

So, when I posed the question directly following the paragraph you quote...
"But if torture is seen more generically in the same sense as killing, then you must ask "why are we torturing?" just as you ask "why are we killing?"
...that’s what you need to address, rather than write it and what followed off as a "rationalization."

If this is going to one of those "we’re too busy having a discussion about torture to have a discussion about torture" sort of things, then it’s by definition a pointless discussion.

 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Then you have no legitimate complaint when some group decides to set aside your rights for the greater good as they define it, do you?
From where I sit, you have the order wrong.

Abu Al-Qaeda and his cronies decided our "inalienable human rights" needed to be set aside for their idea of the greater good FIRST.

So by what you say, THEY have no legitimate complaint when we torture them for info.

Fine by me.

I’ll argue that torture of AQ agents is a moral act. It is consistant with my principles- keeping my people safe and not giving a sh*t about my enemies- whom I consider sub-human in this case at any rate (if you want to call that a self-justification or whatever, be my guest)
And your reaction to doing that and finding out that he knows nothing?

Does "oops" pretty well sum it up?
No, I wouldn’t care enough to even say oops. My reaction would be more along the lines of "this is what you get for f**king around with us in the first place"

Our enemies have chosen this. I have no qualms about our nation descending to their level vis a vis brutality. Because we’re STILL better than thay are. Why we do it determines that.

It sure would be mighty interesting if ALL actions and policies undertaken by the Fed, state and local govts had to pass the "morality" test, wouldn’t it?
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Effectiveness.

I agree with shark, but torture is ineffective in terms of punishment "for f**king around with us in the first place".
Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day. Even in the existential struggle of the Second World War, we never stooped to the facile excuse that torture was necessary to defeat the Japanese and Germans. Why should we do so now?
During WW2 you were able to attack directly the bases of your enemies, within 3 years you were able to defeat the systems of German nazism and Japanese ultra-nationalism. Then changed the systems of government in Germany and Japan to being compatible with your own. Torture was subsidiary, because you were doing damage to them by other more effective attacks.
For torture to work, you have to a) have someone who can be broken by torture, and b) have the ability to confirm the information you get from the...uh...torturee.
Here is a very good test case, 6 years of interrogations after which you are still looking for an enemy to attack. Interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects has failed to yield an answer the very basic - who is funding and supporting them. Beyond the Taliban (who have been much reduced) there are no links known to any targetable regime or religious practice. Whatever the method used in interrogation - change it, because whatever you are doing it is not working.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
It’s nothing of the kind.

And "inalienable human rights" do not mean what you think they mean.

The murderer forfeits the protections of his inalienable right to liberty and perhaps to his own life by taking the life of another without just cause.
Anyone who thinks an inalienable right is something which can be forfeit is someone who doesn’t seem to understand what the term means.

They "forefeit" nothing. The term "inalienable" precludes that. Instead, we choose to violate their inalienable rights for a reason, such as self-defense (they were trying to violate our right to life). Since it is reactive, it is deemed morally proper (i.e. we didn’t initiate the force, only reacted to it and did so to protect our own inalienable right to life).

So again, rejecting your premise of inalienable rights being something which a person can forefit, we’re left with an argument which is essentially a rationalization (or "moralization" if you prefer) for rights violation for the ’greater good’ since the person being tortured is no longer able to initiate force nor is that person a threat to your life (liberty or property). All you can now do is claim "necessity" and the greater good as grounds for your conduct.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Bravo, Dale and McQ. A lot of supposed libertarians here and elsewhere are only too happy to hand the government the big torture club, turn out the lights, and hope they only use it on the "right" people. Does anyone really fail to understand that if we give people the authority to torture they will find more and more people to use it on? Does anyone really not understand that if we let these decisions be made in secret the power will be abused? Do people actually not get that if the government is allowed to torture somebody on their assuption that he has terror info to spill, all of our right not to be tortured is null and void? At least you do. Bravo.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
Does anyone really fail to understand that if we give people the authority to torture they will find more and more people to use it on?
And do you not understand that legal or not, they’ve always had that ability?
That, despite that point, it gets used as infrequenly as it has would seem to negate your concerns.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
And do you not understand that legal or not, we’ve always had the ability to murder anybody we want to?
That, despite that point, it gets used as infrequenly as it has would seem to negate any need for laws against it.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://

 
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