Tag Archives: torture

All animals are equal but some are more equal than others

Scots gangsters are using “waterboarding” terror tactics to torture rivals.

Hardened crooks have copied the CIA-style interrogation technique where water is poured on to a cloth covering the victim’s mouth and nose to simulate drowning.

Why in the world would criminals used ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’?  I thought they were the equivalent of frat pranks or just a little good natured ‘roughing up’.  Yep…there’s nothing like being the example for the rest of the world.

You may not weep at the thought of drug dealers behaving in this fashion; you might however be disappointed that they’re taking their cue from the government of the United States of America.

The story brought this quote to mind….

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

h/t Andrew Sullivan

Was Steig Larsson a secret neo-con?

I just finished The Girl Who Played With Fire, Larsson‘s second book in his Millennium trilogy. Both books are quite good as suspense/thrillers but the second has intrigued me in a way the first didn’t.

Spoiler alert:  This post features some minor plot points in the second book (so minor in fact that two our  of three fellow readers I discussed them with forgot them).

While these books feature murder, corruption and misogyny the second book is a bit darker than the first in that one of the main characters (Lisbeth Salander) demonstrates a much greater degree of sociopathology than in the first book.  As Wikipedia says:

He continues the debate from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo of how responsible a criminal is for his or her crimes and how much is blamed on upbringing or society.

And here’s where Larsson is quite good.  He creates a sympathetic character and then makes her do distasteful or horrendous things, I suspect to see how much we’ll forgive or demonstrate how much our morality is situational.

For example:  In the beginning of the book, Lisbeth (a new found multi-millionaire do to some Robin Hood-esque stealing form the criminal) takes a trip around the world and eventually finds herself in Grenada for several weeks.  While there, she engages in a primarily physical relationship with a poor, local 16 year old boy.  When she’s ready to move on and return to Sweden, she leaves without so much as a goodbye and, apparently, without a further thought of the boy.

Now, I wonder how such a character would be interpreted if the gender roles were reversed.  Imagine a rich European adult (I believe she’s around 30) arriving in a poverty stricken country, picking up a teenager and engaging in a relationship with them (in which all the decisions and power are with the adult) and then abandoning the girl when he’s had his fill of her.  Is that really different from the sex tourism that creepy men engage in all over the world?

Now, that part of the story occupies about the first 30 pages of the book and has no direct connection to the rest of the story and doesn’t really provide any insight into Salander.  So, assuming Larsson wasn’t getting paid by the word, why put it in?  Is he trying to explain under what circumstances adults could have ‘acceptable’ intimate relations with teenagers?  Is it OK since it’s the woman in a position of power rather than a man?  Larsson is generally silent on this although he does write Salander in a more positive light than one could imagine doing with a male character in these circumstances.

I’d argue it was to parallel the male villains in the book that engage in a more blatant (and vicious) form of human trafficking and exploitation.  Coincidentally, the female victims are the same age (around 16) as Salander’s boy toy and come from economically depressed areas.  But here it seems clear that Salander isn’t an innocent defender of the exploited.  She exploits in her own way, even if she doesn’t think so.  And of course, her limited abilities of empathy prevent her from even thinking in such terms.

The other point, and reason for the title of this post, involves her behavior in a couple of scenes.  Salander engages in behavior which anyone would (ok, maybe Theissen wouldn’t) regard as torture.  In some cases this activity is directed as the ‘guilty’ who both need to be punished AND have information which she wants and threats of torture are reserved for ‘innocents’ who have information she wants.

Now, as I was mentioning this point to three people who read the book (2 women and a man) both women, independently replied with “Yes, but you have to remember what she suffered through.”

That struck me as odd, because that seems to be the same position of people who want to excuse torture by U.S. personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba or those ‘black sites’.  Their argument is that 9/11 so traumatized the powers that be that they felt they had no choice, were terrified, and had to do whatever it took to prevent more evil from happening.  Does torture in this circumstance (done by a female…against such criminals…etc) become, if not acceptable at least understandable?

Clearly Larsson is on the left side of the political spectrum so is Salander a lefty version of Jack Bauer?  I know virtually nothing about Larsson but I’d like to think he was a bit craftier than that and actually presented people with an image of how things like vigilantism and torture could be made attractive to people under the appropriate conditions.

Kvick Tänkare

As if the post-apocalyptic world wasn’t bad enough, word has come out that the BBC is canceling their series ‘Survivors‘ (no, not the reality TV show).  h/t MEGAT0N

I hated school (well, pre-university school that is).  It was 12 years of mind numbing exercise designed to elicit docile behavior and unquestioning acceptance of authority while incidentally cramming a few facts into our brains without any attempt to make it interesting (ok, there were a couple of exceptions to that but not many).  Well, guess what?  Our educational system may be like that because we don’t really want our schools to encourage creativity…we want docile little Stepford children (to turn into Stepford adults).

Is it really surprising that we are willing to overlook the abuses of dictatorships throughout the world if we have competing (usually short term) priorities?  The only thing that should be amazing is that fact that every time this sort of thing blows up in our faces we just scratch our heads and wonder what happened?

Hey all you single guys out there…Princess Madeleine’s wedding has been put on hold until next year.  You’ve still got time to break her up from Jonas Bergström, ingratiate yourself with the royal family and set yourself up as her consort (insert gratuitous princess shot here in 3…2…

Jason points to a group of military personnel who have formed their own tea-party collective.  They’ve since come out with a statement reaffirming that they are NOT advocating a military insurrection and admit that Obama is the lawful President of the U.S..  Look, I know I’m supposed to regard the tea parties as a legitimate political force in America now but geez, I’m having a hard time taking these people seriously.  It’s like they’re all standing around patting themselves on the back acting like they just invented cold fusion because they agree on some amazingly generic principles.  Yes, only you guys are in favor of not wasting money and building a strong country.

Sven has a bit of artillery and kiwi themed humor.

Freidersdorf fisks that jackass Thiessen (h/t Daily Dish)

I’ve never been a big fan of veggie burgers but now there’s another reason to be picky when picking out a brand.  Some are apparently bathed in a neurotoxin to remove excess fat.

Thiessen’s disaster

Jane Mayer (whose book I haven’t yet read) reviews Marc Thiessen (whose book I won’t waste my time on)  in the New Yorker.  It does a pretty good job of exposing Theissen for the hack he is and when combined with Alexander‘s and Stewart‘s treatment of him should really relegate this guy to the dustbin of history*.
But I’m not posting this to further pile on Thiessen (after all, I’ve done that twice already here) but because of something Mayer writes a couple of things that can be useful for analysts (or anyone else) trying to convince an audience.
…Thiessen explains that he got a rare glimpse of the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program when, in 2006, he helped write a speech for President George W. Bush that acknowledged the program’s existence and offered a spirited defense of it. “This program has given us information that has saved innocent lives,” Bush declared.

In an effort to bolster the President’s speech, the C.I.A. arranged for Thiessen to see classified documents, and invited him to meet agency interrogators. He says that he emerged convinced of the program’s merit.
Another way to say that is ‘Thiessen went to get a briefing by people who had a vested interest in him reaching a particular conclusion.’  Now, obviously I don’t know this but one does wonder how much effort a speechwriter would have put in to examine counter arguments.  I don’t expect the guy to do a rigorous ACH but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that he tried to find alternate opinions.  That’s fine while he was writing speeches and his job was to describe policy but he’s now moved into the realm of pundit which means his arguments should meet a higher degree of rigor.
This reminds me of people who get their first encounter with those who have mighty reputations.  It may be organizational (special forces, FBI, Israeli intelligence, take your pick depending on your own specific community) or it may be individual (whoa, it’s THAT guy!) but in either case the temptation is to consider that source to have unquestioned credibility.  It’s kind of like being starstruck.
In any case it’s argumentum ad verecundiam and should be a big no-no.
*Or to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post…really kind of the same thing nowadays.

Thiessen…adventures in Newspeak

Marc Thiessen had a column up in yesterday’s Washington Post and he continues in the proud tradition of his fellow propagandists.

One lawyer in the National Security Division of Holder’s Justice Department, Jennifer Daskal, has written that any terrorist not charged with a crime “should be released from Guantanamo’s system of indefinite detention”…Should a lawyer who advocates setting terrorists free, knowing they may go on to kill Americans, have any role in setting U.S. detention policy? My hunch is that most Americans would say no.

Uh…terrorist not charged with a crime?  How is that different from someone who’s innocent?

See the clever phrasing?  Couldn’t any of us meet Herr Thiessen’s definition of someone who needs to be locked up forever?  After all, if you haven’t committed a criminal act (and remember, conspiracy is a criminal act) how can you be labeled a ‘terrorist’ (oh, I know!  I know! .eds)

And advocating that we actual have some sort of rationale for detaining people indefinitely?  Does that really fall into the category of ‘radical and dangerous views’?

Do other lawyers in question hold similarly radical and dangerous views?

Yes!  Let’s smoke out these traitors!  Loyalty oaths and informants for all!

I have to admit, I had a moment when I thought this article might be a spoof by some hackers when I saw this line:

Where was the moral outrage when fine lawyers like John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Jim Haynes, Steve Bradbury and others came under vicious personal attack?

Yes!  Yes!  And where was the moral outrage when these fine men were charged as well?  They were only trying to save their country.  Times were tough and danger was everywhere.  You can’t Monday morning quarterback from the comfort of your easy chair!

Marc is a speech writer who knows exactly jack about what he’s talking about.  It’s a free country so he can spew whatever totalitarian bile he wants but there’s very little excuse why the Washington Post (or any other reputable organization) should feel obligated to print it.  The desire to appear ‘fair and balanced’ seems to do little other than to give fringe elements the air of respectability and the impression that their positions are worthy of serious consideration.

Really, am I just totally naive or would these conversations (torture, indefinite imprisonment without charge, infinite executive power, etc) never have gotten out of the starting block twenty or thirty years ago?

Hopfully, the last word on torture

The recent release of the OPR report over the torture memos and accompanying commentary, the debate over the underwear bomber and completely bogus criticism from the right that Obama is putting America at risk because he’s killing too many terrorists (the very bizarro world assertion for which the letters ‘WTF?!’ were designed) has reopened the debate over torture.  I have to admit I think the whole thing is really disheartening.  I mean, the fact that we even have to debate weather it’s ok to drown, electrocute or beat prisoners (or massacre civilians) absolutely leaves me stupefied.  And let’s face it, the discussion has now fully become absorbed in the culture wars and so short of  torturing conducting an enhanced interrogation in front of a live audience where people can see the brutality of it you just aren’t going to change opinions.  So, I’ve just kind of resolved that discussing this issue is a waste of time.

But…before I consign this issue to the dustbin on TwS history, allow me to provide you with this link I picked up in the comments section of the Tom Ricks blog.

At What Cost Intelligence?  A Case Study of the Consequences of Ethical (and Unethical) Leadership‘ by Major Douglas Pryer is an examination of events at several locations in Iraq in 2003 and what made some of them adopt the practice of torture and prisoner abuse and what made others refrain from it.

I really recommend you read the whole thing.  There’s some really engaging writing here and while the unprofessionalism and just plain stupidity of some soldiers (officers -senior officers- and enlisted) will get you frustrated you’ll also find some of the most inspiring arguments for why we shouldn’t debase ourselves by resorting to inhumane tactics and betraying our core principles.

Allow me to quote, at length, from Maj. Nathan Hoepner, the S3 from the 501 MI Battalion in response to an assertion that, detainees needed to be ‘broken’ and that the ‘gloves needed to come off’.

As for ‘the gloves need to come off…we need to take a deep breath and remember who we are…Those gloves are…based on clearly established standards of international law to which we are signatories and in part the originators…something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient…We have taken casualties in every war we have ever fought–that is part of the very nature of war. We also inflict casualties, generally many more than we take. That in no way justifies letting go of our standards. We have NEVER considered our enemies justified in doing such things to us. Casualties are part of war–if you cannot take casualties then you cannot engage in war. Period. BOTTOM LINE: We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there.

It’s when I read things like that by one of our officers that I’m really proud to be an American soldier.

On torture

There’s been a recent dust up by some in the blogosphere by comments made by Marc Thiessen as he shills for his book about the evils of how Obama is and how terrorists are going to swarm into our homes if we don’t torture every Muslim in the world (ok, I exaggerate a bit).

He was recently on a Catholic TV channel somehow arguing that torture enhanced interrogation was in line and consistent with church teaching (yeah, remember when Christ waterboarded the Romans?).  Sorry, the guy is a delusional ideologue.

But…I write today to share a rebuttal by Mike Potemra on the National Review (!).  I have to admit, I don’t agree with the entire content of his argument (as a pro-choicer) but it is intellectually consistent and makes sense from where he’s coming.

More than any other country, we believe that there is no limit to what we can achieve, no problem that can’t be solved, no obstacle that can’t be overcome. This is the attitude that has made us great, but it also exposes us to the risk that we can come to believe that there are no real moral limits that conflict with our desires. When we find that an unborn child is inconvenient, for example, we redefine it as not having ‘personhood,’ and kill it — problem solved! Similarly, now, when he have a real (or just suspected) jihadist in our custody, we say, he should be understood not chiefly as a rights-bearing person with human dignity that should be respected, but rather as a box containing secrets that we can rip apart at will — and now our country is safe! We figure out what we want to do, then we set talented lawyers the task of defining our new limits in accord with our desires.

Check out the whole thing.  Very smart and well written.  H/T the Daily Dish.

Selling crack is a crime, trying to blow up an airplane is an act of war.

That’s what the morons at the National Review are saying.  It’s kind of an ongoing pissing contest between them and Andrew Sullivan that you can follow if you’d like but I just found this line of justification totally bizarre.

So what exactly defines war in their eyes?  Is it the number of people threatened (how many victims to get the terrorist label?), the target (planes yes, cars no), or some other criteria?

How about intent?  Well, what then if al-Qaeda decided to get out of the bombing/beheading business and just develop a global narcotics network in the hopes of destroying Western civilization one drug addict at a time?  Would we still charge members as terrorists?

This is where all this talk of war falls flat.  It doesn’t matter how many times you repeat it, this isn’t a war any more than the war on poverty or drugs is a war.  And you can tell that even those spouting this nonsense don’t believe it because when the right was in power they did virtually nothing to put this country on a war footing (other than tell everyone to go shopping).

We’re at war?  And when is congress going to get around to declaring that?  You know like in that leftist, socialist rag you know as the constitution?

Even if ‘war’ was the appropriate term to use we should avoid it.  After all, what better way to gain legitimacy if you’re a rag tag group of loosely (and that’s being generous)  connected ideologues than to have the most powerful nation on the face of the earth declare themselves to be at war with you?  Just because you don’t give them props and huge PR wins by treating them like evil superbeings doesn’t mean you have to ignore or minimize them.  Just don’t make them out to be the biggest threat to civilization since Attila.

But let’s get back to the knuckleheads at NRO.  Since they advocate torture in cases like that of Abdulmuttalab (And I have no intention of making a case for the term torture instead of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’.  That phrase is an abomination and a patently Orwellian attempt to blur the truth.  It deserves no further attention from serious people.) because it is an act of war, does that mean torture should be permitted in all wars from now on?  Is that the new paradigm for U.S. forces to operate within?

But, little things like details don’t get in the way of the fine staff at the NRO.  You see, they get to make things up so that reality will conform to their ideology.  So they create this new war which is like war in ways they like (we get to blow shit up and kill all those non  Jesus lovers) and different when it’s inconvenient (like obeying the Geneva conventions and other legal guidelines on how wars are waged).

If you’re talking about damage to Americans and our society I could make a very, very good case that criminal networks (or just drug trafficking ones if you prefer) do more damage than al-Qaeda could ever hope to do.

Geez…where do I get a gig where I get to write about crap I don’t know anything about and get paid for it?  Oh…apparently here.

UPDATE:  And just for the record, my position puts me at odds with our President on this issue who said:  “We are at war against al Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again.”  Maybe I’m just playing semantics here but there are some words I think we do a disservice to ourselves by diluting and war is one of them.

Where is our moral authority?

I have to admit, I’m still shocked that people, fellow Americans, don’t get that torturing people is wrong.  They’ll squirm and wiggle away from using the word and invent bogus euphemisms (enhanced interrogations!), attempt to rationalize their beliefs (‘They’d do it to us!’) or ignore evidence that it does not produce credible intelligence to make themselves feel better but the bottom line is they do not have a moral problem with torturing another human being.

So this article in the Washington Post today is not surprising but it is still disturbing:

“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

And yet, there are still people in this country to adhere to the circular logic of the President and Vice-President:

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have said that interrogations never involved torture. “The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values,” Bush asserted on Sept. 6, 2006…”

Yes, ‘Americans don’t torture because it’s against the law and our values, therefore anything we do must be something other than torture.’

Can you imagine that line being used in other places?  ‘Your honor, my client couldn’t have murdered the victim because murder is against the law and our values.  Defense rests.’  Ah…an airtight case.

I’m not naive enough to believe that this outrage was the sole product of the current administration.  For every collaborator you need many more bystanders who do nothing even though they should know better.  This is how good people allow evil to flourish.

Waterboarding roundup

J., over at the Armchair Generalist, had a post a few days ago about the issue of torture as policy and why it doesn’t work.  He cited an op-ed piece by Stuart Herrington who’s got an extensive (over 30 years) record of conducting, teaching and evaluating military interrogation techniques and who says flatly that torture is unnecessary and counterproductive to intelligence gathering.  It’s a brilliant article, check it out.

You can hear more from Col. Herrington here in this interview from NPR’s Fresh Air.

There’s another very compelling article written in the Small Wars Journal blog, here, by another person with decades of experience as a special operations veteran and instructor.  In the course of his duties he’s both undergone and conducted water boarding (in the course of training U.S. military personnel) and he makes no bones about it:  water boarding is torture.  The end of the post also has a lengthening list of links that discuss the debate.  The comment thread is quite good as well.

Finally,  Kaj Larsen at the Huffington Post (a former SEAL member) actually demonstrates a water boarding.

One of the points brought over and over is that torture ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ are needed because ‘9/11 changed everything’ and that supposedly we’re in a new type of war that human existence has never seen before and our very existence is at stake.

Perhaps I’m over stretching a bit I think this has a lot more to do with filling a fantasy some of us have that we’re living in unprecedented, historical times of life or death struggle and that we’ll be remembered for millennia.  Members of both the Left and Right have this fantasy but those of the Right (in my experience) tend to focus on the military manifestation of it (and some times the religion aspect as well with the certainty that the ‘end times’ are coming).  Once you convince yourself that this ‘war’ is so vastly different than anything the human race or America has ever faced before you can begin to advocate things that would have been unthinkable.

I’ve always felt that we (Americans) deserve to ‘win’ because we at least try to hold ourselves to a high standard.  We advocate doing the right thing even if it leads to difficulties.  If our enemies are barbarous and commit atrocities our victory over them is all the more impressive because we don’t descend to their level and mimic their acts.  If we do utilize the same tactics that our foes do:  targeting innocent civilians, torture of prisoners, disregarding the rule of law and embracing inhumanity than I’m not sure why we should win.   What legacy do we pace on to future generations of Americans?   I haven’t had much patience for the Abu Ghraib/torture apologists (especially the ones who get their ‘knowledge’ of terrorism and the military from Tom Clancy and ’24’) and I think most of them are doing as much damage to our country as anyone with their finger on an IED trigger, if not more.

It’s a sad time for our country when people can openly consider, without derision, conducting torture in the name of our country.  I think history will not judge us favorably.