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10 April 2012


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Mr. Kirkman,
it doesn't matter whether you find it pertinent. It is also irrelevant what Bud Day, his heroics and suffering aside thinks. You can hide behind him all day if you like. But comparing atrocities leads nowhere.

The legal situation is crystal clear. Torture, and that includes water boarding, is prohibited under US domestic law. It is prohibited under the UCMJ. It is prohibited under international law.

As a result the Vietnamese captors of Bud Day as much torturers as the guys who water boarded KSM reportedly 183 times (started to have him drown to instil perfectly justified terror of imminent death, bring him back, and, literally, rinse, repeat).

I can't quite see how that in your eyes does not amount to torture, perhaps because he wasn't bleeding, but alas.

If bloody, savage brutality is what you seek you can also find that in US conduct since 2002. Strapping people to the ceiling and beating them was something that happened to the occasional Iraqi and Afghan prisoner at the hands of US personnel, if IRFings or the beating to death of an Iraqi general is any indication.

Is that brutal enough in your eyes to amount to torture? Accidents perhaps? If so, why were there so many of them?

And legality aside, what about the trivial point that it is categorically wrong?

And why are you cooking up the ticking time bomb scenario that exists only in fiction and movies?


John Kirkman,
one more thing about about comparative atrocity.

Your, or Mr. Day's. argument says that since what the Commies did to US POW in Vietnam was torture, and since water boarding is comparably not nearly as bestial, that it is not torture.

That is fallacious, because torture is not characterised by bestial brutality that Mr. Day had to endure.

As an argument it is also dangerous. Basically it gives everybody a pass as long as what he does doesn't get to the level described by Mr. Day.

What that practically means is this: Water boarding? Sexual humiliation? Rape (of male or female soldiers)? Prolonged isolation? White noise? Stress positions? Prolonged solitary confinement? Freezing temperatures and extreme heat? Days of forced sleeplessness? IRFing? Putting someone in a confinement box for 18 or so hours (to wit: there is a reason why that is allowed for US service members in SERE training for no longer than 20 minutes)?

According to your argument, neither is torture.

Are you even aware whose play book the US is copying with the use of enhanced interrogation techniques'?

Then there are the consequences of this "not really torture", which are quite severe: If one looks at that German national, Kurnaz, whom the US had abducted because he had the misfortune of having a similar name like a terrorist: After he was put to some Afghan prison and eventually Gunatanamo, he came back a total fruitcake and had to be institutionalised as a result of the treatment that he received.

As others here have said it before, John McCain had it just right on this: It is wrong, period.

David Habakkuk


I do not want to detract from the importance of the moral questions involved, but some history which bears on the question of the usefulnesss or lack of it of torture in interrogation may be worth mentioning.

It turns out that during the Second World War some pretty thuggish methods were used at the London interrogation centre which dealt with German PoWs. Violence was however strictly prohibited in the MI5 centre which dealt with suspected spies.

As Joshua Levine notes in his history of Operation Fortitude, the deception operation which persuaded the Germans that the Allies would invade across the Pas de Calas, the reasons had nothing to do with moral or humanitarian considerations.

The Indian Army veteran who ran the centre, Lieutenant Colonel Robin Stephens, was certainly not a civilised or likeable human being - indeed, he is reported to have been generally disliked for his 'almost Nazi behaviour and vile temper.'

The strict prohibition against violence on which Stephens insisted rested on purely pragmatic grounds. One was that a key purpose of the interrogation centre was to recruit double agents - who were indeed critical to Allied deception operations.

To 'turn' an agent one wanted to win their confidence. And one could not win the confidence of a man or woman who had been tortured.

The other was that, as Levine observes:

a victim of torture would merely say what he (or she) thought the torturer wanted to hear in order to escape punishment; and once a false answer had been given, all further information would rest on that false premise.

Certainly one can construct hypothetical scenarios in which an imminent threat can only be averted through acquiring information by torture. But if highly improbable scenarios are used as the basis for interrogation techniques in actual situations, the results are likely to be at once immoral and ineffective.


John, your final line: "Is there an author here who would hesitate to kill someone by any means if so doing would prevent the events of 9/11?"

First, it is now 2012 not 2001. Second, you won't hesitate to 'do whatever is necessary'? So accusation - by anyone? - is enough to justify torture - to 'prevent' another 9/11. That is an immoral position. Mr. Day's experiences at the hands of the Government of North Vietnam in 1967 does not justify torturing anyone in the custody of the US Government.



The question of "whatever it takes" comes up from time to time. When people used to say that to me at public events I used to enumerate things it might "take" and ask them if they would do specific things. In fact what they really meant was that people like me should do whatever it takes. pl


Mr. Habakkuk,
I am aware of the London Cage, where apparently they pioneered were several of the methods that became known as 'no touch torture'.

London office of the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre, known colloquially as the London Cage.

The London Cage was run by MI19, the section of the War Office responsible for gleaning information from enemy prisoners of war, and few outside this organisation knew exactly what went on beyond the single barbed-wire fence that separated the three houses from the busy streets and grand parks of west London.

Years later Tony Whitehead, a consultant psychiatrist in Brighton, recounted in his memoirs how, as a young aircraftsman delivering a belligerent SS sergeant to the Cage, he was shocked to see a German naval officer in full dress uniform on his hands and knees, cleaning the entrance hall floor. An enormous Guardsman stood with one foot on the prisoner's back, casually enjoying a smoke. When Whitehead collected his prisoner three days later, the man was completely subdued, rarely looked up, and addressed him as sir. "I do not know what had happened to him at the London Cage," Dr Whitehead wrote.

But that does not appear to be what you are referring to. Can you elaborate?


Long before the events of 9/11 I had a long discussion with a Jesuit priest. At the time I posed the time-worn, "what if the suspect knew the location of a hidden bomb that would kill thousands of people in a matter of hours. Wouldn't we do 'whatever it takes' to get him to divulge the secret then?"

His answer was "no," and surprisingly along with the strict moral code I expected, he also invoked Nietzsche. "When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you." He said that a man cannot do these things without utterly destroying himself along with his victims.

The implication posed to PL, "let George do it," simply does not work. No one can "do it" and remain human. We shouldn't do it and we shouldn't advocate it.

After 9/11 I had this discussion with a comrade who was giddy with what seemed at the time to be power. He was in a decision making position with respect to a particular detainee. I said something like, "why don't you just kill him? Everything he says is a lie. If you want to help us, stop doing what you're doing."

Even the ineffectiveness argument did not work. I finally fell back on "you know this won't stay secret." That didn't work either, but I was right. We simply should not do this stuff, renaming techniques does not change the facts.

David Habakkuk


They were separate operations. The London Cage, which as you say was run by MI19, dealt with prisoners of war, and was organised by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Scotland. The interrogation of suspected spies was the province of Camp 020, run by MI5, and commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robin Stephens.

In 1946, Scotland refused to allow the Red Cross access to the London Cage, writing to the War Office that 'The Secret Gear which we use to check the reliability of information obtained must be removed from the Cage before permission is given to inspect the building.'

Whether the methods employed produced useful intelligence that could not have been obtained by other means I simply do not know. The eschewal of violence with suspected spies seemed to have worked well, given that a very significant number were successfully 'turned' and were central to the 'Double Cross' operations.

These are matters well beyond my experience, but in relation to the intelligence challenges of accumulating information about -- and penetrating -- jihadist groups, I would tend to think the wartime MI5 approach would be more productive than that of MI19.

The point that if someone once tells an interrogator what he or she thinks they want to hear, to stop the pain, they will acquire a new reason to fear to tell the truth, seems plausible.

A quite different approach to that of the 'London Cage', incidentally, was applied to many of the senior German officers captured. They were given comfortable quarters in a country house called Trent Park, which was bugged with positively Soviet thoroughness.

John Kirkman

“American Civil War: Unconditional Surrender
The most famous early use of the phrase occurred during the 1862 Battle of Fort Donelson in the American Civil War. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union Army received a request for terms from the fort's commanding officer, Confederate Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner. Grant's reply was that "no terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works."”
What General Grant meant, and General Buckner clearly understood – both were USMA graduates - was either you surrender or we will kill you. Is this torture? Grant had a gun to Buckner’s head, and he surrendered, and saved the lives of his outgunned and demoralized army. I apologize for such a brief reference to a pivotal battle, but it seems easy here to rearrange history in terms one finds more comfortable.
Torture comes in many guises, and techniques vary with individuals, but when lives are at a stake one does what one must, and torture is seldom necessary. Nuclear weapons are now very plentiful, very compact, though heavy, and one would be foolish indeed to base a plan of action on ignoring the use of such a weapon against the United States. Very few are offered the opportunity to directly question someone who is known to have information that could prevent the use of such a weapon against the United States. I hope that person is not one of those on this site who are offended by the bestiality of modern warfare.
One technique that I have been told worked at least once in Vietnam was to take two individuals known to have critical information up in an armed helicopter; the questioning would start, and if it didn’t produce results one of the enemy soldiers would be thrown out of the chopper, and the remaining one usually talked.
Bud Day was flying combat missions against an enemy that knew he was coming, and where he was coming from, due to the stupidity of the leadership in the Pentagon and White House who insisted on dictating tactical actions in a war they didn’t understand and were not qualified to comment on, let alone lead. Most of the production run of F-105’s were destroyed and their pilots with them due to such a situation. Colonel Day is a man I would listen to any day of the week, because he lived in the real world of war, which is seldom conducted in a manner one would desire.


John kirkman

You are yet another tough guy by-stander telling us how tough you are. Would you be up for pulling a man's fingernails out with pliers? You personally? You are a damned phony like many here. You "were told" that we threw people out of helicopters? What a jerk you are! pl



I gathered that tht was exactly where Mr. Kirkman was heading.

David Habakkuk

John Kirkman

Nuclear weapons are now very plentiful, very compact, though heavy, and one would be foolish indeed to base a plan of action on ignoring the use of such a weapon against the United States.

Maybe. But it increasingly seems that one of the most significant roles of nuclear weapons in the international system is as a weapon of choice for 'information operation' artists, who understand how panic terror can be used to make democratic states do silly things.

This trick was very successfully used on you -- and also on us here in Britain -- in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. The damage to your country, and to mine, has been immense.

Currently, a great deal of effort is going into using similar scaremongering to panic you into an attack on Iran, whose catastrophic consequences could well dwarf those of the attack on Iraq.

Unless the 'sheeple' wise up and stop cowering in terror, they are for it.

David Habakkuk


I think the remarks of the Jesuit may go to the heart of the matter.

An observation they prompt. One tends to assume, confronted by torturers and murderers, that they were what they ended up being from the start. But although this is often so, it may sometimes not to be the case at all.

Some years ago I came across a memoir of his father by Beria's son -- of which I read about half.

Clearly, it was an apologia. But strangely, it did not strike me as simply dishonest -- as for instance the apologias of Tony Blair do.

And despite all the evasions and misrepresentations, some impressions that came over were I suspect quite accurate.

Among these, that of a real hatred of Stalin on the part of his most notorious henchman, provoked by the feeling that Beria was being moved into the hot seat, running the terror, knowing that his predecessor had been thrown to the wolves when it became convenient, and expecting that he might be thrown to the wolves in due turn.

It could be that, at least in part, Beria's was a case of someone who did not start so very abnormal, but headed down a road which lead to complete disintegration.

As the Jesuit was pointing out, even if the arguments on grounds of expediency seemed to make sense, the road of torture is so fraught with perils that it is better to give it a very wide berth, in all circumstances.

John Kirkman

The US has used torture for decades. All that's new is the openness about it
By ignoring past abuses, opponents of torture are in danger of pushing it back into the shadows instead of abolishing it

At least the point is clarified and the practice not discussed because we do do not engage in the practice. Hogwash.


Regarding "Bud" Day via Mr. Kirkman.

You are a useful idiot giving some here a chance to echo salient points.

"Our president and those fools around him who keep bad mouthing
Our great country are a disgrace to the United States."

Why is the primary pledge of the soldier's oath to the Constitution and not the "great country?" Never liked the "homeland" reference, smacks of "Motherland."

I'll fight for the Constitution not the homeland.


Mr. Habakkuk,
thanks a lot!


Or 'Fatherland'.


The Bush 43 administration, rearguard (like Liz 'Don't prosecute my dad' Cheney) and a united Republican hackery have sold their constituents a bill of goods, namely, that water boarding is not really torture.

That is BS no matter how one puts it, in particular in light of half a century of contradicting precedent. And it isn't as if the Bushmen didn't know that - Bush didn't issue his retroactive pardon for no reason.

I won't forget the disgusting spectacle of Republican candidates falling over each other in order out-endorse each other torture. The IMO stupidest remark, because of it's breathtaking inanity, was Mitt 'Kolob' Romney's '... I want to double Guantanamo' line.

All these candidates were pandering to people like Mr. Kirkman.


... you are saying torture should be just another national lifestyle choice?

Alba Etie

The most salient point regarding illegal activity such as waterboarding ( we hanged til dead at least one Imperial Japanese General for waterboarding Allied POW's ) -besides its being a war crime - is that no actionable intelligence, ever comes from torturing prisoners.

Alba Etie

Col Lang
I have never' worn the uniform " - but as I grow older & wiser ; I have become more respectful and attentive to you all that have been' flying in the helicopters." That is why myself and many civilans over here in the 'cheap seats " -are very reluctant to have any more misbegotten military engagements. And maybe just maybe if the Iraqi Working Group - the so called 'Vulcans " had been made to be part of the first contact in the illegal occupation of Baghdad -perhaps then we might have had a pull back from the neocons taking us to War in Mesopatemia.( If Cambone , Addington, or darling Lynne Cheney had been tasked to walking point in the Second Battle of Fallaujah ..)
Many of us remember that the UN Weapons Inspectors were still in Iraq finding no WMD - and the BushCheney war machine forced the inspections to stop .
How much money did the Cheney clan make in the GWOT & Iraqi ? We will never know its in a 'blind trust " . And in this context - the very military industrial complex that my former Republican Leader General Dwight Esinenhower warned about - lead us into an illegal war & illegal activity re torture. Why was no Senior Civilan Leadership punsished for abu Gharib ? To me it smacks of fascism .


Thanks for standing up for what you truly believe in.


Alba Etie

You obviously know nothing about me. You are just bloviating from "the cheap seats." I spoke out against the invasion of Iraq before, during and now. You are too lazy and ignorant to know that. pl


Alba Etie,
Lynne Cheney is Dick Cheney's wife. The one you mean is Liz Cheney, his daughter.


??? what did AE say about you to deserve this response ???

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