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07 November 2005


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Susan in Iowa

The prospect of torturing anybody--even Osama--never, but never, gives me a dreamy look in my eyes. I'd rather give him to Patrick Fitzgerald to have his way with him. Still, I confess I get a slightly faraway look when I listen to John Yoo on some TV program, still trying to justify torture. What could he be induced to say under duress--for our amusement and for his edification on the usefulness of information derived that way? Hmmm.

But I think McCain adds a self-interest argument that should be compelling even for those who have fantasies about garden shears. That is, that what one side may use, another may use. If we don't want American soldiers being tortured by their captors, then we should not allow torture in our ranks.


last February, I wrote "Daily Kos: Outsourcing Torture: Secret History (FBI v. CIA)." it's linked by clicking on my name.

It draws heavily on the reporting of Richard Sale -- a terrific intelligence reporter -- and of Jane Maher's key piece in The New Yorker. There is a way to get information without torture, and it's been perfected -- as Pat says -- by "intelligence interrogators [who] are supposed to be skilled at their trade. Their trade is about applied psychology, not about beating confessions out of people."

Sad that the Chickenhawks in the administration don't know that, or -- worse -- care.

J Thomas

My view on this is that torture is a matter of individual self-sacrifice.

It should be illegal with horrendous consequences.

And if you personally -- in your capacity as a soldier or government employee, or even as a private citizen -- find yourself in the ticking-bomb situation where you firmly believe it's necessary, you should go ahead and be the one to do it.

And you should turn yourself in afterward and suffer whatever consequences come. Ideally if you have the resources you should run a camcorder while you do it, or at least dial your cellphone to the people who need the information and let them listen to the whole thing. Make sure there's no doubt about just what you're doing.

If the nation later believes you did what was absolutely necessary, you'll be a national hero like Nathan Hale or Paul Revere. The President might pardon you. Even if you're convicted the guards are likely to go easy on you during your 20 years hard labor, and they're likely to try to keep the worst prison rapists away from you.

On the other hand, if you made a mistake ... then just say "No excuse, sir" and accept the awful consequences.

If you personally are certain that the danger to the nation is worth sacrificing your honor by torture, then it's worth sacrificing your own personal freedom and your life. It's your duty as a citizen to make that sacrifice. It would be wrong fot the government to decide it was legal for you to do it. That cheapens your sacrifice.

I particularly like this view because it keeps all the fantasies intact and adds to them -- and yet it keeps the reality in sight too. You can fantasise about it all you want, but if the time comes to actually do it you'd better be *sure* you're right.


I'm appalled that the subject of torture has even become a matter of public debate. Why would we even consider it? It's counterproductive and just flat-out wrong.
However, when I discuss with others how brutalizing it is, how they'd never be able to perform such acts themselves but are willing to permit others to do it in their name - that it's a bloodthirsty fantasy, that they simply don't know anything about that level of violence - I'm dismissed as idealistic and soft.
Is the fearmongering turning us into a nation of sociopaths? How have we sunk to this level? It's sad.

tim fong

Thank you for posting this. I sat through a symposium at my school , last year on this topic. The disturbing part was the glibness with which the pro-torture presenter rattled of a list of torture methods. They were all (comparatively) pretty tame, but he seemed to take a certain glee in shocking the audience.

I actually got him to say that yes, he supported torturing the innocent children of terrorists if it would cause said terrorists to disclose a ticking time bomb.

Your comment about asking the fantasizers if they would like to be the ones with the garden shears rang particularly true. None of the people that agreed with the presenter wanted to be the torturers. Yet they were happy to have someone live out there fantasy for them. These people are future members of the bar, and by extension the political elite.

What can we do to get through to them?


Exactly. Most people who are torture advocates have never got near any dangerous situation. They are scared. Or, they have this mean sadist fantasy, as you say. They'd torture shoplifters if they could, just to alleviate the inchoate anger they have.

Story: When Abu Ghraib came out last year, I was in Iraq. I was pretty upset, raving in the office. One Iraqi colleague downloaded some videos of Saddam-regime tortures to console me, to say "hey, it's not that bad."


it's horrifying that this is even a topic of national discussion. yesterday, blitzer framed his argument just as you stated -- a bomb's gonna go off in five minutes, how about breaking some bones.

laura rozen at warandpiece.com commented that if the name was 'milosevic' and the country was 'serbia', cheney's ass would be sitting in the hague right now. i like to remind people that until recently augusto pinochet had immunity.

John Howley

So, if torture doesn't really "work" in the sense of producing "actionable intelligence," then why is our Dear Leader so enthusiastic about it? Sadism is not enough, there must a rational functionality to it. Intimidate the terrorists, I'd say. But not just the bad guys. To really control a population, on the Nazi, Baathist or Soviet model, you need three elements working in tandem. One is detention without legal recourse (disappear into the camps). Second is widespread police surveillance (as in 30,000 "national security letters" last year). Third is bad things happening in detention. Once the population at large is aware that these three elements are in place -- they're watching you, you can disappear in the night, and grisly things can happen to you in the detention centers -- they will become docile and obedient. None of these three elements actually needs to be employed extensively so long as people believe they are in effect. How close are we to this happy state?


Note #1: This is the result torture. We have a leader who can't hold moral torch with pride in world forum. He now has to parse, wiggle and dodge on fundamental problem of modern state (machination of torture as policy instead of just and humane judicial system.)

We lost that subtle but precious asset. Moral high ground. Never again can we say to the world, let's move toward better, just and peacefull world when chaos reign without somebody smirking.

Pople would simply says "Hey FU pal. keep your BS to yourself."


Bush Avoids Questions About CIA Leak and Secret Prisons
President refuses to support torture ban

President Bush took a few questions while speaking today in Panama.

While campaigning in October of 2000, Bush said "We will ask not only what is legal but what is right. Not what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves." Today Bush was asked if he had upheld this promise to the American people. Instead of offering a straightforward answer, the president stonewalled with the familiar "We are cooperating with the investigation..." deflection.

Bush was also asked if the Red Cross would be allowed to inspect the "secret prisons" which have been recently reported in the Washington Post and other publications. While the president didn't answer this question directly, he took the opportunity to strongly imply that he supported torture as long as it was conducted via legal methods and loopholes. He seemed to give the impression that torture was necessary tool when used to protect the American people.


John Howley

I haven't read her book, but I did hear Karpinski on the Tavis Smiley Show a few moments ago. She said quite clearly that the very first discussion of the necessity of deviating from the Geneva Conventions occurred in the Oval Office. From that first step all the other horrors have followed. In other words, it was probably Bush who mumbled "Sounds good to me" after Alberto Gonzalez (or whomever) walked him through it. If the Senate language holds, it will be a slap in the face to GWB himself, which McCain will relish (remember the 2000 South Carolia primary).


Dear Patrick:

Thank you. This is a very clear and incisive piece on where we stand on Torture. It is also a very clear explanation of how this Administration administers torture and where the American public is coming from. Obviously as long as they don’t have to do it, it is okay.

I will cross post this.

Also, belatedly, as I have been too busy to mention it, I love the new format.


Berube note on Waposh article

“Tomorrow, after my death, certain people may decide to establish fascism, and the others may be cowardly or miserable enough to let them get away with it. At that moment, fascism will be the truth of man, and so much the worse for us.” --Jean-Paul Sartre, public intellectual


citizen k

All morality rests on sacrifice. You have to give up something to do the right thing. This concept has been consumerized out of America and replaced with unmoored self-esteem and fear.

Hannah K. O'Luthon

Thanks for your excellent posting. Fiat justicia, ruat coelum. (And note that's "justice" not "torture"!)


During my 33 years plus working in the military and civilian intelligence communities, I spent six years directly interviewing/interrogating a myriad of subjects, ranging from straight forward interviews, subject interviews, and interrogation of espionage agents and hostile subjects to prisoners of war. I spent another three years in a variety of positions from tactical combat situations to strategic levels as a direct consumer of these reports. I have commanded interrogators in a combat theater and have been responsible for their training in both wartime and peace. Forgive this litany. Its simply to establish I know of what I speak.

Moral considerations aside, first and foremost, believe me, torture does not work. It was not and should never be in our doctrine. Cross that line and anything becomes justifiable. Second, intelligence is developed through a fusion of information derived from multiple sources. Complete reliance on a single source; one whose information is secured through torture is foolharty and a sign of incomptence. Any analyst worthy of the title will tell you that. If there is only one source available, there is a failure to establish a comprehensive, integrated collection plan.

There is no justification, ever, to use torture. I think Cheney and his advocates have again ignored the professionals and are showing us once more their propensity to embrace an “end justifies the means” philosophy. Torture is impractical and morally wrong. It is indefensible for any reason under any circumstance. It just doesn’t work.


My memory is that 70% of the population reported they were not disturbed by the actions of My Lai even though it involved gunning down kids.

The antiwar movement and others succeeded in spreading the notion that this was fairly routine and approved from the top. Much of the pro war movement accepted this and found nothing disturbingly wrong with it.

This is the majority, right and left. During the same period a researcher tested people to see how far theyy would go, they were supposed to "correct" an individual using shocks. Most went beyond the point marked "danger" on the dial and stimulated screams.

Justice and values are held by a minority. I felt some pride in our system when the first reports of abuses, the planned trials and corrections came out. This is what distinguishes our society from othes, not perfection in action, but the capacity to admit and at least partially correct flaws.

I was not surprised when much of the right trivialized hese events and denounced those concerned as terrorist loving softies. Most of the population has never done the requisite base of citizenship which is understanding the justificaton and debate over the bill of rights including innocent until proven guilty, slippery slopes and all the rest. Their patriotism is pre enightenment, not to a system of laws, but to emotions.

One does however expect leaders no matter how imperfect to pay at a minimum token respect to these things, these are the proper forms of our ruling class. Bush has done so, Cheney flaunts them.

The public is perhaps more poorly informed than in the past. Conservatives invoke our traditions whle trying to neuter them because even hallowed thoughts from centuries ago remain subversive. Much of the left has accepted the Marxist critique that these forms are hollow so while it will invoke them there is no deep belief, they are simply a tool for attack.

But then again the majority have alwas been weak on these things and yet they have not been silenced and have prevailed often enough to remain a mark of who we are.

Serving Patriot

First, they came for the "terrorists"

Then they came for their families, friends, and collegues

Then they came for the "Muslims" and immigrants

Then they came after bono-fide, US born citizens,

Then they came after the "wild liberals"

Then they came after the Democrats and outspoken critics

Who will they come after next?

30,000 national security letters in just a few short years is a whole lot of folks. I wonder how many of those people have already "disappeared" into a Padilla-like hole?


Michael Murry

Regarding the whole Dick Cheney "torture" thing, I once wrote a little essay about a fortunately brief and passing experience I had with the the awful subject. I called it:

The Hero with a Single Face

Even in the worst of times, genuine heroes do appear among us. I can remember one time when I worked with a truly brave, principled, and compassionate man during my service in Vietnam.

As the base translator/interpreter I often had to work with a young navy lieutenant who ran our little base medical facility. I don't know if I can remember the lieutenant's name anymore, so many years have passed, but I do remember his wispy blond hair and well-trimmed mustache. He would call on me for assistance anytime a wounded or injured Vietnamese required medical attention and the doctor needed important information from the patient.

One time, a marine colonel brought in one of his wounded American soldiers along with a wounded Vietnamese, supposedly an enemy prisoner. The lieutenant did what any good doctor would do and immediately determined which patient needed what treatment and which one needed attention in the most urgent way. The wounded American had taken a bullet in one of his legs or arms, as I remember, but otherwise he seemed able to manage for the moment. The Vietnamese, for his part, had a gaping wound in his abdomen, had clearly lost a lot of blood, and obviously had difficulty enduring a great deal of pain. So the doctor quickly gave the American an injection against infection and discomfort, stopped the bleeding from his injury, and turned to treat the more severely wounded Vietnamese.

Then the shit really hit the fan, so to speak.

The wounded American soldier tried to attack the wounded Vietnamese man lying on his back on a wheeled operating table, and the marine colonel told the doctor not to treat the Vietnamese until he had "talked first." As an enlisted man caught between two superior officers and facing the prospect of participating in the forced interrogation of a badly injured man, I didn't know what to do or how I would do it. Things had suddenly gotten really bad really fast.

The young doctor saved everyone involved with a display of steely resolve such as I had never before witnessed. He told off the marine colonel in no uncertain terms; said that he ran his operating room and said who did what in it; and told the colonel to get his man under control or take him somewhere else. The treatment then went on as it should have; two injured people got the treatment they required; no one died; no interrogations took place under illegal or immoral conditions; and I never had to find out if I had the courage and sense of honor sufficient to stand my ground and do the right thing like the lieutenant had done.

I've never forgotten that experience, nor several others like it that I remember from days I would just as soon forget. I only know that I try to keep the memory of a young navy lieutenant alive in my mind as a constant reminder of how nobly and courageously some people can act when the situation calls for it. I have no doubt but that such heroes still exist in this world and that they go about their daily jobs little dreaming of what good they will do when someone else, enemy or friend, needs them the most.

The late Joseph Campbell wrote a book on mythology once, called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I think of that title often whenever I think of that young lieutenant who served so many different people so well and so quickly so long ago. I can't honestly say that I've seen all the thousand faces of heroism, but I know that I've seen one of them.


What are we to make of William Arkin's blog piece here, Re: Syria?


Jonah D. Wail

To clarify a point by Blunt above:


: : During the same period a researcher tested people to see how far theyy would go,
: : they were supposed to "correct" an individual using shocks. Most went beyond the
: : point marked "danger" on the dial and stimulated screams.

The "Milgram Experiment" is that of which you speak... Stanley Milgrim.

But it was before the Vietnam era 1963 ...


Although there was professor Philip Zimbardo's "The Stanford Prison Experiments" of 1971- which was a variation of the Milgram experiment.


I believe that is the one that Blunt remembers.

How would I know?

Part of the curriculum for US Navy Survival Training School.

Twice as a student and then as an instructor.


One thing I find it disturbing about Torture.

Torture works! Not as source of information, but as instrument of terror. That's the dirty secret.

It's to scare the general populous and to feed the visceral feeling to hurt people we don't like.

That is why eradicating torture is so hard. It's an effective instrument of supression.

It's never was about information. What will happen soon is Bush will start using torture just like any other authoritarian regime in the world.

Michael Murry


The Chinese have a colorful proverb for your "torture one to terrorize another" example:

"Kill the chicken, scare the monkey."


It was the Milgram experiemt I heard of at that time. I obviously didn't pay attention to it's date, but the beavior shocked me. A similar shock came from a poll in which the majority found the Declaration Of Independance too radical.

It disturbs me that people then and now have not learned the "common places" that have made our nation unique. Many consider fundamentals a devilish invention of the ACLU.

It's not that people disagree with these things, but that they've never been educated on these concepts of our tradition. As Colonel Lang noted even "liberals," though I think the proper term is "leftist." I don't think you can be liberal or conservative without some of this basics, just disagreement on accents, but still limits on police powers as essential.

I don't know how we manage to defend the American way if we don't know what is. I remember a Russia dissident recalling how when he came into the US a rightwing politician showed him kids playing to show what made us unique and great. The Russian was stunned, children play in Europe and if one has ever been over there especially in the east often behave in ways more aligned with our Rockwell images than our own kids.

So we had a politician leading the war against communism who thought our deepest strength was playgrounds. What strikes me about this more recent revelation is that we put parts of our "gulag" in eastern Europe. These people have been our friends, but the best of them have memories. On a hill above Brno is a castle that was used as a prison. There are memorials to the handfuls of Italians and Hungarians the Austrians held there. And some sense of shame that it happened on Czech land.

So now we've not only engaged in behavior that reminds the nations that perhaps love us best of the nightmare they've recently left, in some cases we've also made them complicit.

My memory of the late sixties and early seventies was not primarily of a smug radicalism, but people with a broken heart, lost and dusturbed by their seeing the darker side of America. Most did not fit into any agenda, but this country lost much with their alienation. Now we're doing it again.

J Thomas

Michael, there's an iraqi folk tale that almost exactly fits your chinese aphorism. It's a lot longer but i'll tell it anyway:

A man bought a monkey to weave at his loom. When he got the monkey home he started showing it how the loom worked. But the monkey jumped up into the rafters and laughed at him.

So the man brought in a sheep and started teaching the sheep how to weave. The monkey laughed at that too. Sheep have hooves, they can't weave. The man demonstrated it all three times to the sheep but the sheep just went Baa, baa. Then the man got angry. "If you won't weave, why should you live?" and he cut the sheep's throat and cut the head entirely off. And then the monkey stopped laughing and got scared, he jumped down from the rafters and started weaving as fast as he could.

And that is where we get the proverb, "Kill the sheep so the monkey will learn."

Michael Murry

J Thomas:

Thanks for the illuminating folk tale. I'll remember it.

In a related -- but differently constructed -- vein, the Japanese have a little tale of the three great historical samurai who unified Japan after a long interregnum of civil war: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. This last man founded a dynasty that lasted two-and-a-half centuries.

Each of these famous men had his own unique personality, of course. The first, Nobunaga, just slaughtered anything or anyone who got in his way. When he burnt down the great mountain monastery if Mt. Hiei (to squash militant Buddhist monks who opposed his rule) he said: "I didn't destroy this monastery. This monastery distroyed this monastery." The second, Hideyoshi built the great castle city of Osaka and said on his deathbed: "Osaka castle and all that I have built are but a dream within a dream." Hideyoshi believed in coercion to get what he wanted done. Tokugawa, as the last and greatest of the three, just waited out the others till they weakened themselves and then he administered the coup-de-grace at the climactic battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Tokugawa believed in patience.

Anyway, as the Japanese tell it: a cuckoo wouldn't sing; so the three great men, each in his own way, had a go at convincing the bird to make music. The little mnemonic that the Japanese learn by heart goes like this.

Nobunaga: Sing, cuckoo, or I will kill you.

Hideyoshi: If you don't sing, cuckoo, I will make you sing.

Tokugawa: If you won't sing, cuckoo, I will wait until you do.

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