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Our government does torture, but it is just like the treatment of young reporters by newspapers

16 February 2010

Summary:  one measure of the magnitude of our governments’ deeds is the size of the lies necessary for their apologists to justify them.  Just as our assassination programs are described as “killing on the battlefield”, they describe our torture programs as no big deal.   How would the Nuremberg Courts have weighed that defense?

Since Obama has blessed our national torture team, we probably will never learn the full story of the deeds done in our name.   Only a full investigation in public would reveal the details.  What we know is horrifying.  More horrifying to me is the casual reaction to these dark matters.  They defining torture down, so that we can look at ourselves in the mirror.  Hitler must smile with reading his morning newspaper in Hell.

  1. Binyam Mohamed Case: Is Sleep Deprivation Really Torture“, Iain Martin, blog of the Wall Street Journal, 11 February 2010 — “Plenty of international lawyers will say the law clearly defines it as such, but I’ve worked for newsdesks on newspapers that think sleep deprivation is just standard procedure for young reporters.
  2. Is Sleep Deprivation Really Torture?“, Alex Massie, Spectator, 12 February 2010 — A review of torture cases around the world, putting US actions in perspective.  “Fundamentally, even if you feel like discounting all of the above, ask yourself this simple question: If a captured British or American soldier were subjected to this sort of treatment would you consider it torture?”

We have the necessary documents to assess Martin’s cavalier description of this as like the ” standard procedure for young reporters.” 

Memorandum (source)
From Steven G. Bradbury,Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the United States (Wikipedia)
To John A. Rizzo, Senior Deputy General Counsel, CIA
May 10, 2005
Excerpt from page 11:

The primary method of sleep deprivation involves the use of shackling to keep the detainee awake. In this method, the detainee is standing and is handcuffed, and the handcuffs are attached by a length of chain to the ceiling. The detainee’s hands are shackled in front of his body, so that the detainee has approximately a two-to-three-foot diameter of movement. The detainee’s feet are shackled to a bolt in the floor. Due care is taken to ensure that the shackles are neither too loose nor too tight for physical safety. We understand from discussions with OMS that the shackling does not result in any significant physical pain for the subject.

The detainee’s hands are generally between the level of his heart and his chin. In some cases, the detainee’s hands may be raised above the level of his head, but only for a period of up to two hours.

All of the detainee’s weight is borne by his legs and feet during sleep deprivation. You have informed us that the detainee is not allowed to hang from or support his body weight with the shackles. Rather, we understand that the shackles are only used as a passive means to keep the detainee standing and thus to prevent him from falling asleep; should the detainee begin to fall asleep, he will lose his balance and awaken, either because of the sensation of losing his balance or because of the restraining tension of the shackles.

My opinion of these things

IMO opinion these people should be tried as we tried NAZI’s for similar war crimes.  If there is a God, I wonder if these people will rot in Hell for their deeds — and staining the name and honor of the United States.

Other sources of information

  1. The  bureaucratic steps that took us to this dark place:  “A Torture Mystery – How Did the CIA Come to Use Stress Positions for Sleep Deprivation?“, Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent, 29 April 2009.
  2. What Torture Never Told Us“, Ali H. Soufan (FBI special agent 1997 – 2005), op-ed in the New York Times, 6 September 2009
  3. Comments about Soufan’s article and torture in general, Patrick Lang (Colonel, Special Forces, retired), posted at his Sic Semper Tyrannis, 6 September 2009
  4. Book deals for the men:  “A Man Who Knows The Secrets: Veteran CIA Lawyer Seeks Book Deal“, blog of Newsweek, 10 January 2010 — Unlike private criminals, government criminals can profit from their deeds.
  5. Getting Away with Torture“, David Cole, NY Review of Books, 14 January 2010
  6. Meet the Real Jack Bauers“, Marc A. Thiessen, National Review Online, 18 January 2010 — “In Courting Disaster, the real CIA interrogators explain why their methods bear no resemblance to what you see on Fox’s 24.” 
  7. Now that it has done its work and convinced many Americans that torture is OK (for us, evil when done by others), the lies slowly get exposed:  “CIA Man Retracts Claim on Waterboarding“, Foreign Policy, 26 January 2010 — Will we see retractions from conservatives who trumpeted his testimony?
  8. If Marc Thiessen Doesn’t Want to be Compared to the He Should Stop Advocating Torture Techniques Used in the Spanish Inquisition“, Matthew Yglesias, ThinkProgress, 8 February 2010
  9. A bit of background for the above article:  “No One Expects The Spanish Inquisition“, Matthew Yglesias, ThinkProgress, 8 February 2010 — Good news!  We’re not as bad as the the S.I.

 For links to studies and reports about torture see So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?  That’s a deeper analysis of the subject.

For more information on the FM website

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page. Of esp relevance to this topic:

Other posts about torture:

  1. Something every American should read, 25 March 2009
  2. We close our eyes to torture by our government. The Brits are stronger., 9 April 2009
  3. So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?, 30 April 2009
  4. The Reverse Nuremberg Defense – “We were just giving orders“, 20 May 2009

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Also — you can now subscribe, receiving posts by email — see the box on the upper right.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. MTJY permalink
    16 February 2010 12:40 am

    Well said FM!

  2. billy-bob permalink
    16 February 2010 2:52 am

    I’m with you on the disgust-levels Fabius. However I believe there is no god and the universe is cold. No one is going to hell or heaven. Power rules. And those of us with a will to power would no doubt corrupt absolutely as have all the others who’ve come before us.

    I am saddened, disgusted, and angered that my tax dollars go to funding endless wars, torture, financial terrorism, medical thievery, and all of the other assorted and sundry schemes our government officials put into play to enrich their corporate masters.

    What can we do? Run for office? Vote the bums out? Change countries?
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    FM reply: Elections are held every two years. If we prefer to watch TV rather than organize, then we deserve our fate.

    “I believe there is no god and the universe is cold.”

    I cannot imagine why you consider this relevant. Would it make a difference to the USA if the torturers rot in Hell for eternity, if everybody approving torture suffers alongside them?

  3. mclaren permalink
    16 February 2010 2:53 am

    Cheney admits to torture conspiracy“, Consortium News, 15 February 2010 — “Speaking with a sense of impunity, he casually negated a key line of defense that senior Bush officials had hidden behind for years – that the brutal interrogations were approved by independent Justice Department legal experts who thus gave the administration a legitimate reason to believe the actions were within the law.”

    Meanwhile, the “Pentagon Quietly Explores De-Citizenship of US Citizen Terrorists” (Steve Clemons, TPM Cafe, 10 February 2010). Since the Pentagon already classifies political protests as “low-level terrorism” (se Open Salon) there you go. Step into the street carrying a sign that reads U.S. OUT OF AFGHANISTAN NOW and sometime in the near future, you could be declared a terrorist, stripped of your citizenship, shackled and dumped on a CIA learjet with a black hood over your head, and flown to Gitmo for endless torture. But it’s legal, because you’re not a U.S. citizen, and you’re not on U.S. soil.

    Of course, I’m conjuring up wildly hysterical nightmare scenarios, for U.S. prosecutors would never ever file terrorism charges against mere non-violent political protesters, right? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight… “Terrorism charges lodged against protesters at GOP convention“, blog of LA Times, 3 September 2008.

    Welcome to the land of the free and the home of the brave, bitches.
    .
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    FM note: Here is the relevant part of Clemons’ TPM Cafe article, weak basis for excitement (but a good basis for concern) —

    “A senior Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has told me that to his knowledge, there has been no serious discussion in the Committee of stripping US citizenship from terrorists, but a senior Pentagon official has confirmed that some in the military are exploring the upsides and downsides of such a more routenized mechanism for stripping citizenship?”

  4. zemtar permalink
    16 February 2010 3:15 am

    Completely disgusting. I have tried to defend lawyers on this website. I cannot defend this.

  5. billy-bob permalink
    16 February 2010 5:52 am

    FM: “I cannot imagine why you consider this relevant. Would it make a difference to the USA if the torturers rot in Hell for eternity, if everybody approving torture suffers alongside them?

    Only responding to your line in the original posting: “IMO opinion these people should be tried as we tried NAZI’s for similar war crimes. If there is a God, I wonder if these people will rot in Hell for their deeds — and staining the name and honor of the United States.

    God and hell have nothing to do with any of this. No one is going to rot anywhere in the afterlife for staining our country’s honor. This is about sheer unadulterated power and control.
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    FM reply: I forgot my own pretty rhetoric! I agree with your conclusion.

  6. 16 February 2010 12:13 pm

    First, I like your continued concern about torture — yet ‘sleep deprivation’ without shackles might not necessarily be torture. How else to keep them standing and not sleeping? I don’t know.

    I don’t like torture, but I like loosing (like in S. Vietnam & Cambodia) even less. It’s obvious that, partly to reduce torture (by the US), there will be more assassinations / executions; far fewer captures by the US of prisoners.

    I am convinced that there was far more gov’t approved torture in Iraq in the 7 years prior to the Bush regime change invasion, than since; including the US actions in Abu Ghraib, and the rogue Iraq gov’t torture (often by Shia of Sunni). Does reducing total gov’t torture in Iraq count for nothing?

    If x Iraqis have been tortured by gov’t since 2003, and 9x Iraqis have been tortured by non-gov’t orgs, and this is roughly the same as the 10x Iraqis tortured by Saddam’s regime in the 7 prior years, I would still favor the regime change invasion for reducing torture — because the first goal is to reduce gov’t torture first. But I believe X to be quite small, and non-gov’t orgs to be more like 20x, and Saddam’s prior 7 years to be more like 100 x. These are beliefs, with little data, and subjective value comparisons. Yet most who have opinions probably also have beliefs about the relative amounts of torture of the various organizations. One thing that bothers me hugely is the one-sided criticism of the org doing the least torture among the various groups.

    As the slo-mo genocide in Darfur continues, I’m certain more women are raped/ tortured in Darfur since Powell & Bush called out the genocide in 2004, than have been raped/ tortured in Iraq since then.

    The relevance is this: I accept and support the neo-con vision of ‘making the world safe for democracy’ — partly because it reduces Total Torture in the World. I think reducing the torture the US gov’t is responsible for is generally good, but NOT GOOD if the result is MORE World wide Torture in the near future.

    Do you really believe that there has been less gov’t supported torture in Darfur than in Iraq since 2003? Do you really believe there was less torture under Saddam in Iraq? In Afghanistan?
    I believe there is less torture where the US military is dominant. Not none, but less. And the almost total silence about non-US torture makes me feel that the anti-torture folks are not really so much against torture, as against US imposition of imperfect democracy and non-ideal human rights.
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    FM reply: The laws of war that you so casually throw overboard resulted from centures of hard-won evolution. As evident from your previous comments, all this is obviously beyond your understanding, lost in your fantasies of watching (perhaps leading) soldiers on crusades to make the world safe for whatever. Along with your team of regimental torturers. God only knows what other crimes you plan, as the logic in your comment allows anything up to genocide (after all, they did more of it). If the folks in your dreamworld are lucky, you and your officers would quickly be shot as war criminals. With your pretty justifications recorded along with those tried at Nuremberg.

    For a more sophisticated version of Tom, read this essay “On Political Morality“. Unlike Tom, the author was able to apply his theories.

    Fortunately this is too delusional to affect much of America. I hope. Montesquieu, a philosopher who strongly influenced the Founders, said the mainspring of democracy is virtue — and of despotism, fear. America will survive and prosper if we remember that, stay cool, and work together.

  7. Pluto permalink
    16 February 2010 1:18 pm

    FM: “Since Obama has blessed our national torture team, we probably will never learn the full story of the deeds done in our name.

    Oh no, FM, we don’t get off that easy. The lid WILL come off some day and then we’ll get to see what cruelty was done to “protect” us. Remember the pictures from just after WWII of horrified German citizens being marched past corpses from Hitler’s concentration camps? It seems to me that we’ve got a pretty good chance of finding ourselves in the same position.

    Re #7: And the almost total silence about non-US torture makes me feel that the anti-torture folks are not really so much against torture, as against US imposition of imperfect democracy and non-ideal human rights.

    Let me see if I parse this statement correctly, you would have us INVADE THE REST OF THE WORLD TO IMPOSE OUR IDEAS ON THEM? And you justify this in the name of reducing non-state torture? But want to allow the US government to torture whomever it desires as long as it keeps the noise down? I understand your belief in the righteousness of the US version of democracy and human rights (as opposed to the international version as expressed in the Geneva Convention) but can you explain the logic of why it is in the best interests of the citizens of the US to spend our lives, treasure, and honor to do so?

    On the other hand, I can clearly see why it is in the best interests of US citizens to monitor the activities of their government and to prevent it from torturing people. Otherwise some day we may be on the receiving end of the torture.
    .
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    FM reply: I believe that learning all the details of what our government has done would be beneficial for America. Not learning would be “getting off easy”, but allow the rot to continue spreading.

  8. Rune Kramer permalink
    16 February 2010 1:25 pm

    It’s remarkable how “sleep deprivation” is similar to ‘forced standing’. ““Of human bondage“, Darius Rejali, Salon.com, 18 June 2004 —

    The kinds of torture used at Abu Ghraib stem from techniques common to colonial imperialists, Stalin’s secret police and the Gestapo.

    … Forced standing: Stress positions include Japanese kneeling positions, Soviet “sitting” positions and the Israeli shabeh techniques. But the American form draws on the oldest technique of all, forced standing (called the planton in Latin America and the stoika in the Soviet Union). The hooded man in the famous photo from Abu Ghraib was kept standing on a box for a whole evening. Like water torture, forced standing leaves no marks.

    Two experts commissioned by the CIA in 1956, Harold Wolff and Lawrence Hinkle, described the effects of forced standing: The ankles and feet swell to twice their size within 24 hours, and moving becomes agonizing. Large blisters develop. The heart rate increases, and some people faint. The kidneys eventually shut down.

    In the early 20th century, forced standing was a prescribed field punishment for soldiers in West European armies. Soldiers in the British Army referred to it as the “crucifixion,” and French legionnaires called it the silo. By the 1920s, forced standing was a routine police torture in America. In 1931, the National Commission on Lawless Enforcement of the Law found numerous American police departments using forced standing to coerce confessions. In the 1930s, Joseph Stalin’s NKVD used forced standing to coerce seemingly voluntary confessions for show trials.

    Perhaps the new label make it more civilized.

  9. atheist permalink
    16 February 2010 2:43 pm

    From post:

    All of the detainee’s weight is borne by his legs and feet during sleep deprivation. You have informed us that the detainee is not allowed to hang from or support his body weight with the shackles. Rather, we understand that the shackles are only used as a passive means to keep the detainee standing and thus to prevent him from falling asleep; should the detainee begin to fall asleep, he will lose his balance and awaken, either because of the sensation of losing his balance or because of the restraining tension of the shackles.

    I remember reading in a book about the human body (maybe “Body-Watching” by Desmond Morris), that what generally killed the victim of a Roman-style crucifixion was less the nails through the hands and feet, and more the fact that they were left standing for days on end, with their arms raised. Apparently after remaining in that position for that length of time, the human circulatory system starts to fail.

  10. Tom Lopinski permalink
    16 February 2010 4:16 pm

    The point is not reduction of total torture or even making us safe from enemies; the point is what we believe in and what we stand for. If we say ok torture is permissible, that presidential ordered assassinations are permissible, that holding people outside of the legal system because it is for our safety is permissible, that acting outside of our laws and the rule of law is permissible what we are really saying is that our culture is a failure and that the dictators, torturers and mass killers were right.

    Our pretense of democracy and human rights are just for show and when things get serious the “law of the jungle” is what is really valid. Sure torture, assassinations, ignoring the laws can seem to make things easier or faster but by agreeing to them we are giving up what we are supposed to be. If we give up all we believe in and all that makes us who we are then the people who attack us have won.
    .
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    FM reply: Nicely said. Will we sell our souls for safety? Probably imaginary safety.

  11. Marcello permalink
    16 February 2010 8:50 pm

    “Fortunately this is too delusional to affect much of America.”

    Actually what Tom says is pretty much mainstream as far as I can tell. Not a majority perhaps, but mainstream neverthless.
    .
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    FM reply: My comment was unclear. I referred to Tom Grey’s desire for massive crusades across the globe to produce what he considers civilization. That has near-zero support in America, which is why so many lies were required to launch the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

  12. Tom permalink
    16 February 2010 8:53 pm

    I went to Catholic grade schools in the 1950′s. Try any of the following in any order of multiples. Grabbing by the tie and being slammed into a wall. Objects thrown at you including, but not limoted to, heavy textbooks. Slapped, punched and/or paddled with heavy wooden boards. Blows to the back of the head. Etc., etc., etc. I guess the terror detainees can thank Allah they weren’t handed over to Irish nuns and Priests from the 1950′s. Sleep deprivation sounds positively quaint compared above litany of Catholic grade school punishment.
    .
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    FM reply: I hope this is intended as a joke. In which case it is just bad taste, rather than despicable.

  13. KFofB permalink
    16 February 2010 9:00 pm

    Sleep deprivation is nasty stuff. I’d rather be waterboarded or “slappped, punched and/or paddled” as Tom suggests.
    .
    .
    FM reply: Tom is a despicable fool. Sleep deprivation as used by torturers is not only unpleasant but has many and profound ill effects (see Wikipedia).

  14. Tom permalink
    17 February 2010 1:11 am

    {Snip. Only one such comment is allowed, esp mocking torture. Children should be seen and not heard.}

  15. Xiaoding permalink
    19 February 2010 1:11 am

    FM : “IMO opinion these people should be tried as we tried NAZI’s for similar war crimes. If there is a God, I wonder if these people will rot in Hell for their deeds — and staining the name and honor of the United States.

    This is a fine statement…for an individual, who is in charge of his own welfare, but no one else’s. I would also say it is immoral statement. It has no context, no examples with which to judge. This would be a horrible statement, however, from one who holds a position of responsibility, in our government, who has taken an oath, to protect the citizens of the United States of America. Indeed, if an official holds this belief, they should resign immediately, since they betray that oath. If such an official, acts on his belief, and protects a terrorist from torture, then who is he protecting? The answer is obvious.

    I find many of the replies to this post to be very immature. I hope none of them sees their families die, to uphold their ill considered beliefs. Actions have consequences. People in positions of authority, need to consider the consequences, of NOT torturing someone, if they believe that suspect holds vital information.

    What if the suspect, has information, that if extracted, through torture, would save the lives of 2.5 million of our fellow citizens? Should he torture the suspect, or not? If you think not, then, I beg you, NEVER WORK FOR THE GOVERNMENT. You are not up to the task. It is not a badge of shame, you just are not right for the job. Thank God, we have many who are. Many fine, and yes, MORAL people. More moral than those who deny responsibilty, who run from the harsh realities of this world.

    A more productive discussion, IMO, would be an exploration, of what legal framework, we could put into place, to oversee torture, it’s use, so that is does not get out of control. Saying that that is not possible, is just childishness.
    .
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    FM reply: The US has lasted two centuries without your beliefs. If they become majority thinking, it’s finished. We’ll be on the way to the dustbin, with NAZI Germany and the Soviet Union. And deservidly so, with our ancestors cheering our end — for betrayal of all their work.

    “What if the suspect, has information, that if extracted, through torture, would save the lives of 2.5 million of our fellow citizens?”

    Speaking of childish thinking. That is not the case here. There are exceptions to every rule. When you grow up you’ll realize this.

    No more of this. Adovacy of evil has no role on this website. Further comments will be deleted and you banned from further comments.

  16. 19 February 2010 6:06 pm

    Tom L:Our pretense of democracy and human rights are just for show and when things get serious the “law of the jungle” is what is really valid.

    Actually, when I consider Killing Fields in Cambodia, AFTER the US left indo-China, Rwanda’s genocide of the 90s, and the slo-mo genocide in Darfur — I think most Human Rights orgs do seem to be more ‘just for show’ than to stop the genocides.

    The Holocaust genocide against the Jews pushed the US to form the UN, one of whose primary purposes is to stop genocide.
    Torture is bad.
    Losing is worse.
    Losing and letting the winners commit genocide is even worse.

    I don’t advocate: massive crusades across the globe — but I advocate for more complaints against massive, genocidal violations of human rights as is occuring in Darfur.
    How many posts here have been against US torture? Many.
    How many have been against genocide? Few.

    To focus much more criticism against a lesser evil, while avoiding criticism against a greater evil, doesn’t make me think such a critic has the ‘moral superiority’ that so many intellectuals crave.

    Finally, you falsely accuse me on The laws of war that you so casually throw overboard.
    Bush, Cheney, Yoo — all accept ‘the laws’. The problematic issue about sleep deprivation is whether it is explicitly included as torture.
    The general issue is this: where, exactly, is the line between the toughest legally allowed investigation and torture? For instance, if 48 hours or more of sleep deprivation is torture, does that make 47 hrs, 59 minutes OK? And then a 1 hr nap (or how long?).

    In CA, the speed limit is some vague “safe” limit, in bad conditions, or some maximum specific limt. like 65 mph. Which most folk violate by about 10 mph. That’s how real laws, in the real world, are really enforced (or not). Some clear specific line, and then enforcement around that line. With lots of descretion, maybe too much, for the enforcement group.

    We don’t have clear lines on sleep deprivation, nor were there previously on waterboarding.

    And of course, despite clear UN statements against genocide, the UN previously decided there was no genocide in Darfur, so that part of the UN charter didn’t need to be invoked.

    I think Clinton, Bush & now Obama have been pretty cool towards Iran’s violations of the NPT — and as they get a nuke, it’s not clear to me what the virtuous policy is. The ‘stop Iran’ policy of fear is at least clear, but seems getting closer to being too late.
    And yes, I prefer US blockade action rather than allowing Iran to get a nuke.
    But I fear that won’t happen.

  17. Marcello permalink
    19 February 2010 6:22 pm

    FM reply: “My comment was unclear. I referred to Tom Grey’s desire for massive crusades across the globe to produce what he considers civilization. That has near-zero support in America, which is why so many lies were required to launch the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

    I agree that the “massive crusades” of the sort Tom Grey or intellectuals like Thomas Barnett are advocating is a minority thing. In practice however:
    1) they are impossible, fiscally if anything else.
    2) the public opinion can be can be reliably counted to provide sufficient support to those few wars that the èlites do actually start.
    Therefore it is largely academic point. The remaining ones such as routine torture etc are mainstream, as noted. Xiaoding and similar posts might still raise a debate in the conservative websites I frequent (not exactly fringe ones, in case you might wonder) but it would be hardly considered worth banning people over or even just more controversial than a VAT vs income tax dispute.
    .
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    FM reply: We have troops fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and (perhaps) Yemen and the Phillipines. And the scope of our wars widens, slow but perhaps inevitably. So your assurance that massive crusades are “impossible” seems a bit excessive.

  18. Xiaoding permalink
    22 February 2010 11:35 pm

    FM reply: “No more of this. Adovacy of evil has no role on this website. Further comments will be deleted and you banned from further comments.

    I did not expect cowardice! For shame! There is no excuse for this. Discussion of fear is one thing, to give in to it, is to give in to the evil you supposedly oppose. Censor away, I will speak truth elsewhere! It is no shame to be banned for the truth. Let it be known, you seek not. You have been steadily losing credibility for months, anyways.
    .
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    FM reply: Good-bye. At some point these discussions become bandying words with advocates of evil. Torture and assassination have been considered evil for centuries in western thought. You’ll find much company with supporters of Stalin, Hitler, Mao — and their lessor imitators.

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