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09 November 2007


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I have dealt with one victim of waterboarding as practiced by the National Police Field Force, RVN, in 1968. She remained in a coma while in the MPs' custody --approximately 20-24 hours; I think I remember hearing she had admitted to having relatives who went to fight with the VC before she came in, or perhaps her neighbor said it, or the NPFF CO thought he wanted to use an excuse for some reason.

It's torture and it shouldn't be used, even through outsourced covert assets.


A few days ago, Evan Wallach, a former JAG officer who counseled MPs on the rules regarding prisoners, wrote an op-ed for the Post:


In it, he stated that it is a matter of both international and federal law that waterboarding is torture, and therefore illegal. That someone can be confirmed as AG without acknowledging that shows just how low we've sunk. I'll quote from that article, although blockquotes don't seem to work here:

[begin quote]

In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with violating prisoners' civil rights by forcing confessions. The complaint alleged that the officers conspired to "subject prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning."

The four defendants were convicted, and the sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

[end quote]

I think it's pretty clear what the legal issues are here. Mukasey just said what he did so he doesn't have to prosecute half the Cabinet and start impeachment proceedings.


I am so disgusted that my Senator, Senator Feinstein supported Mukasey that I have decided to become an independent and I have been a Democrat for 40 years. It seems there is really no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. Is there no one we can look up to or admdire. I like Kuchinich, at least he is honest, that is more than I can say for the rest, Republican or Democrat.

Jim Schmidt

In a previous post (Antro on Logic, 11/03), I wrote of Consequetialism as the moral justification for torture: the ends justify the means. The ends justify the means morality has several substantial criticisms, but, sophistry aside, torture is illegal in America, both by treaty and domestic law. Any discussion of using torture must first acknowledge it is criminal, and, in American or any modern civilized state, reprehensible. But, what was settled is now in back play by the tough guys and wordsmiths of this administration. And the argument of choice is the ticking time bomb scenario.

The ticking time bomb scenario is offered as a rationale (so far the only rationale) for torture, and is a classic “for the greater good” argument. But, the ticking bomb scenario is a highly specific, even fantastical thought experiment, suited more to the cheap, theatrical tastes of “24” then a serious justification for reprehensible, dishonorable conduct. However, the simplicity of the premise (school bus full of children, nuclear bomb in a big city, etc.) opens the door for a general consideration of torture as one more valuable tool in our anti-terrorism apron.

Witness how casually we now canvass millions of private conversations, both domestic and international, all based on the greater good argument that the potential of capturing one rare needle in a haystack makes up for violating any number of constitutional protections and established law. So, if torture produces the results we want, use it. So, if dragnets, indiscriminate extra-legal incarcerations, third degree police tactics produce the results we want, use them.

Eventually, what starts as uncommon, becomes commonplace.

The theme of the law sliding along the slippery entrails of the greater good and devolving into a nasty, stupid, brutish thuggery and sadism is well documented historically (Abu Ghraib and extra-ordinary rendition is just two recent examples) and represented broadly in literature, visual arts, theater and film.

The simpleminded police thugs in "Amarcord" (1973) by Federico Fellini are one example of the consequence of replacing the rule of law with the expediency of ends.

Sadism? Hardly need to explain the temptation here, but the following dialogue from Dr. Strangelove has an apt description of what the ticking time bomb mentality becomes when it becomes common:

General Jack D. Ripper: Were you ever a prisoner of war?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Well, yes I was, matter of fact, Jack, I was.

General Jack D. Ripper: Did they torture you?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Uh, yes they did. I was tortured by the Japanese, Jack, if you must know; not a pretty story.

General Jack D. Ripper: Well, what happened?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Oh, well, I don't know, Jack, difficult to think of under these conditions; but, well, what happened was they got me on the old Rangoon-Ichinawa railway. I was laying train lines for the bloody Japanese puff-puff's.

General Jack D. Ripper: No, I mean when they tortured you did you talk?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Ah, oh, no... well, I don't think they wanted me to talk really. I don't think they wanted me to say anything. It was just their way of having a bit of fun, the swines. Strange thing is they make such bloody good cameras.

"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964)

We need to stop the excuses and get back to basic principles: America does not torture.




lie down w/ dogs, get up w/ fleas.

blind total support for Israeli NeoKons leads to crazy things like support for torture, recall of jets on the way to rescue the U.S.S. Liberty by LBJ so as not "embarass" an ally, invading a country like Irak that did not threaten us nor desired war w/ us.

Where does it stop? When our cherished core principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and 14th Amendment are turned inside out.

Hooray for Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul!

I just got a hate chain email from a local goverment official saying we should boyott the Eid El Fitr Feast U.S. stamp, issued in honor of the Muslim lunar feast that closes the Ramadan fast. This is b/c Muslims are responsible for Beirut barracks bombing, 9/11, Irak, etc.

It reminded me of the Israeli body piercer I used to represent. He used to go around shouting "let's kill all the Muslims" while dating a Jordanian Muslim woman. I used to tease him whether his girlfriend also needed to be killed. He said well an exception could be made for the women. She joined the U.S. Army and is now working as a translator in Irak.

I wonder if even she knows the difference between "Muslim terrorist" and "takfiri salafist."


Legal Crimes offend laws of men which can be arbitrary and changeable, but stupidity is an offense against one's or the nation's own best interests. Failure to willingly further one's own best interest is stupid and imbecilic.

wikipedia has the best take on the incident made famous by Tolstoy in his book War and Peace.

"The judicial murder of Enghien shocked the aristocrats of Europe, who still remembered the bloodletting of the Revolution and who lost whatever conditional respect they may have entertained for Napoleon. Either Antoine Boulay de la Meurthe[1] (deputy from Meurthe in the Corps législatif) or Napoleon's chief of police, Joseph Fouché,[2] said about his execution, "It is more than a crime; it is a political fault." ("C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute."), a statement often rendered in English as "It was worse than a crime; it was a mistake." The statement is also sometimes attributed to French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord. "

Ancedotely, the Duc and Bonaparte discovered themselves both sleeping with a certain Mdme Georges causing animosity.


"In extremis, I might do something really beastly to someone to satisfy the needs of the "ticking bomb" fantasy scenario, but it would not be waterboarding, and I would want to know that it was not legal."

I've always thought this fantasy a bit unrealistic in the sense that terrorists that would know the whereabouts or timing of a "dirty" or "ticking bomb" would be committed enough to their cause that they would suffer loss of life before revealing the location and/or timing of detonation. Just a thought.

john in the boro

“When Hitler said that he hoped for the day when it would be considered a disgrace in Germany to be a jurist he spoke with great consistency of his dream of a perfect bureaucracy.” (Hannah Arendt, 2003, “Responsibility and Judgment,” 58)

President Bush is not Hitler. But, apparently he too hopes for the perfect bureaucracy. One, in which, administrators are reduced to mere functionaries of government policy. Mindless loyal drones implement the leader’s will without legal or moral restraint. The presence of courts, judges, juries, and due process are superfluous in such a bureaucracy. The necessity of charging and bringing to trial individuals for specific offenses disappears along with the individuals. In effect, we have a dual system of justice: one for crimes against society, one for crimes against the state, one open, one closed, one with rights, one without, one subject to the principle of equality before the law, one subject to the principle hate my enemies. The individuals subjected to “enhanced” treatment bear collective responsibility for what are individual criminal acts. Likewise, the perpetrators of the “enhanced” treatment of prisoners bear collective responsibility for executing government policy. Arendt notes that where everyone is responsible, no one is accountable.

President Bush, with congressional support, holds an immense population collectively responsible for the tragic and criminal acts of a small group. He also places the responsibility for his decisions to act outside of moral, legal, and constitutional boundaries onto the American people at large. Where everyone is responsible, he is not accountable. The confirmation of Mr. Mukasey is just the latest manifestation of the perfect bureaucracy. So, as Michael Murray suggests, this is not a mistake, this entire shameful episode is deliberate, pervasive, and widely embraced within the halls of government and by significant numbers of the general population.

The only way to get past this illegal behavior is to indict individuals for their actions. The “ticking bomb” scenario, redefinition of torture, quaintness of the Geneva Conventions, and other misleading abstractions fall away from the reality of specific charges against named individuals for specific actions. The reaffirmation of personal accountability would be a salutary close to three decades of presidential misconduct and congressional indifference.


PHILIPPE SANDS: Let me put it in yet another way. Could you imagine any circumstances in which the use of water boarding on an American national by a foreign intelligence service could be justified?

JOHN BELLINGER: One would have to apply the facts to the law, the law to the facts, to determine whether any technique, whatever it happened to be, would cause severe physical pain or suffering.

SANDS: So you’re willing to exclude any American going to the international criminal court under any circumstances, but you’re not able to exclude the possibility of water boarding being used on a United States national by foreign intelligence service? I mean, that just strikes me as very curious.

BELLINGER: Well, I’m not willing to include it or exclude it.

note: john bellinger is the legal adviser to the secretary of state. from his posted dos bio, he appears to have no prior military experience; although he is the beneficiary of an elite education.



People like me are given to rational thinking and moderation in action. That's what the word "professional" implies.

Bravo, Colonel Lang, entirely correct.

Torture is unique in that it fails the test of professionalism at multiple levels. At the most immediate level, it is unprofessional simply because it fails to deliver results of adequate reliability.

But then at larger and more distant levels, it is unprofessional in that it sabotages the larger ends to which the means are being employed.

Victory is often a function of the recruitment of valuable, trustworthy allies. Torture alienates many who might otherwise be thus recruited -- leaving the torturers only a pool of potential allies who are untroubled by the practice, or who have been bought, or who have themselves been under coercion. Such allegiances have seldom been of either durability or utility.

Decency is a force multiplier. Honor is a weapon whose lack of a blade detracts not at all from its power. Dignity lends the enterprise a moral force which can sustain the effort even when circumstances become difficult.

Torture has no such beneficial sequelae of any sort.



Colonel Lang:

Where is the original of the stained glass image that you head the column with??



Editorial, Nature, May 2002, Volume 40, Number 5, Pages 212

"The World Medical Association (Declaration of Tokyo) defines torture as `The deliberate, systematic or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons, acting alone or on the orders of any authority, to force another person to yield information, to make a confession, or for any other reason'. Although torture may be defined as pain inflicted by one human being on another, it is most often regarded as an aspect of legal systems or of repression by the state.

"Torture has a long and dishonourable history from ancient cultures (including Egyptians, Persians, Greeks and Romans) up to the 18th Century. By the second half of the 18th Century, torture was abolished over most of Europe. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911) stated `The whole subject is now one of only historical interest as far as Europe is concerned'. Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany demonstrated otherwise and Amnesty International now estimates that about one third of current political regimes use torture on a regular basis."


see also in the same issue:

A Moreno & M A Grodin: "Torture and its neurological sequelae" at http://www.nature.com/sc/journal/v40/n5/full/3101284a.html


Avnery on Yassin?


I have read Mr. Nance's article on smallwarsjournal and I found the discussion following it telling.

You find all the arguments in there. A recurring apologist theme was that waterboarding is ok, because these animals deserve no better. The accusation was that those who are against waterboarding have sympathy for the enemy. Utter nonsense. What these people don't get is that they confuse and treatment of prisoners and intelligence gathering with punishment.

I found some of the IMO clearest replies came from one guy named 'CWO Wright (ret)' toward the end of the page.



This “Torture Debate” is so ironic in that I am hearing from some very virulent Anti-Communists on this subject and it is amazing to me how in this “Debate” they are now embracing their Inner-Stalin.

Perhaps ironic isn’t the right word? How about horrifying!


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The Shah of Iran employed torturers; they were usually recruited from the dredges of society and truly & thoroughly enjoyed infliciting pain and sufferring on their betters - usually Middle Class intellectuals or learned men of Islam.

My understanding was that they had been trained by Americans in torture methods.

I very very strongly caution you against following in that path; it will not make US safer - it will only corrode you on the inside as you have to employ Evil in trying to achieve your aims.

W. Patrick Lang


You are mistaken. It was not necessary to teach Persians how to torture. pl

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

You are entitled.


The Bush admin's push for waterboarding has ZERO to do with terrorism, intelligence, or information gathering. It's been proven to be counterproductive at best.

It's really ALL about asserting executive power in the GWOT. The White House wants the power to interpret the law, enforce the law, and create the law. They want no-holds-barred executive power, and they don't want Congress, courts, laws, or human decency to stand in the way.

That's the only possible conclusion that makes sense to me as to why they refuse to back down on this issue.


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