So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?

It is something new, I believe, that so many Americans approve of torture by our government.  Perhaps this is another result of the horrific mixture of hubris and paranoia (described in America’s Most Dangerous Enemy) that has come to dominate our culture.  It so, I believe it a symptom of a serious illness afflicting our society.  Incidents like this provide a mirror, benchmarks by which we can see how America has changed.

This raises questions about the American project.

  • How will a failure to thoroughly investigate these crimes affect America?
  • If not this, then what will crimes by government officials deserve prosecution?

For a brief discussion of the legal basis for torture, and the complexities of prosecuting officials, see these posts at the Volokh Conspiracy:  here and here.

Contents

  1. Some applause for America’s torturers
  2. Excerpts
  3. Reports by our government, its officers and agents, and major NGO’s about torture
  4. Other articles about torture
  5. Update:  the My Lai Massacre — evidence we sometimes approve of torture
  6. Afterword and for more information

Sections 3 and 4 provide links to a wide range of sources.

(1)  Some applause for America’s torturers

Comments posted here and at Matthew Yglesias’ site about torture.  Thousands more are scattered about Internet.  Cry for America, for what we have become.

The difference is that you know Zubeydah or whoever is a bad man. (source)

Has M.Y. forgot about 9/11? These enhanced interrogation techniques are used only on the worst of the worst. Would you prefer that we Mirandize terrorists? If we stop using these techniques, then there will likely be another attack, but this time, the blood will on MY’s hands! Rudy/Palin 2012! (source)

I don’t think we need to apologize to the world for beating up knuckleheads who send even their children to blow us up. Rather it is our DUTY to do everything reasonable to save innocent lives. (source)

“Torture” and “Torturers” are loaded terms. I would hazard that most of these detainees were treated less harshly than most kids at the hands of bullies, every day in what pass for public schools. (source)

I still maintain that the idea that “waterboarding, slamming detainees against a wall, and stuffing a prisoner with a fear of insects into a small box with a bug” are torture is ludicrous. I’ve endured worse in resistance training. … should we just turn Gitmo into Club Med, provide Korans and chaplains, free massages, group therapy, and Prime Rib on Sunday in the hope that the Jihadist leaders we have busted our collective hump to capture will give up their info willingly? Get real. (source)

When it comes to how these people are being treated, you have to consider what you are dealing with. These terrorists don’t play the game by our rules, or by any rules of civilized conduct. To treat them as if they were just any John Doe in America who has been accused of a crime just plays into their hands, in my opinion. I really have no sympathy whatever for their complaints. Frankly I don’t understand all the sympathy these terrorists seem to be getting from some. Rather odd considering who these people are and what they are trying to do to innocent people.

To put it succinctly, these terrorists are the enemy. They should be treated as such. When they make up their minds that they want to play by the rules again and resume normal relations amongst the peoples of the world, then we can talk. Until then, we have to fight them until they are defeated. The methods described appear to me to be very mild. If anything, we are too damned nice to them. (source)

We’re using 21st Century, Western morality while fighting a 5th Century Islamic morality. Given the choice between losing half of Philly to a dirty bomb or being accused of having descended to the practices of our enemies then I’ll grant the latter. Turn on the AC. In our lifetimes some nitwit in Washington is going to feel too morally elevated to approve the waterboarding of an important captive. That decision will cost innocent Americans their lives and we’ll all be more vulnerable afterwards. I abhor the notion of torture. But, if my child were held by some demented masochist I’d be the first one pulling up the fingernails. (source)

(2)  Excerpts

(A)  Testimony of Dennis C. Blair (Director of National Intelligence) before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 22 January 2009:

“Torture is not moral, not legal, not effective.”

(B)  Statement of Dennis C. Blair (Director of National Intelligence) on 21 April 2009 — Excerpt:

I recommended to the president that the administration release these memos, and I made clear that the CIA should not be punished for carrying out legal orders.  I also strongly supported the president when he declared that we would no longer use enhanced interrogation techniques. We do not need these techniques to keep America safe.

The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security.

(C)  Book review of The One Percent Doctrine – Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 by Ron Suskind, Washington Post, 20 June 2006 — Excerpt:

One example out of many comes in Ron Suskind’s gripping narrative of what the White House has celebrated as one of the war’s major victories: the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. Described as al-Qaeda’s chief of operations even after U.S. and Pakistani forces kicked down his door in Faisalabad, the Saudi-born jihadist was the first al-Qaeda detainee to be shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here.

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries “in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3” — a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail “what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said.” Dan Coleman, then the FBI’s top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.”

Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda’s go-to guy for minor logistics — travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was “echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President,” Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States.” And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.

… In interviews with intelligence officers, Suskind often finds them baffled by White House statements. “Why the hell did the President have to put us in a box like this?” one top CIA official asked about the overblown public portrait of Abu Zubaydah. But Suskind sees a deliberate management choice: Bush ensnared his director of central intelligence at the time, George J. Tenet, and many others in a new kind of war in which action and evidence were consciously divorced.

(D)  My Tortured Decision“, Ali Soufan (the FBI supervisory special agent who oversaw the Zubaydah interrogations), op-ed in the New York Times, 22 April 2009 — Excerpt:

FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

… There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

(E)  Preface By Antonio Taguba (Major General, US Army, retired), from “Broken Laws, Broken Lives”, Report by the Physicians for Human Rights, June 2008.  Bold emphasis added.

This report tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individuals’ lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors.

The profiles of these eleven former detainees, none of whom were ever charged with a crime or told why they were detained, are tragic and brutal rebuttals to those who claim that torture is ever justified. Through the experiences of these men in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, we can see the full scope of the damage this illegal and unsound policy has inflicted — both on America’s institutions and our nation’s founding values, which the military, intelligence services, and our justice system are duty-bound to defend.

In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded. The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. And the healing professions, including physicians and psychologists, became complicit in the willful infliction of harm against those the Hippocratic Oath demands they protect.

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

The former detainees in this report, each of whom is fighting a lonely and difficult battle to rebuild his life, require reparations for what they endured, comprehensive psycho-social and medical assistance, and even an official apology from our government.

But most of all, these men deserve justice as required under the tenets of international law and the United States Constitution.

And so do the American people.

About Antonio Taguba (Major General, US Army, retired):

Major General Antonio “Tony” M. Taguba (US Army, Retired) led the official US Army investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, testifying before Congress about his findings in 2004.

Major General Taguba served 34 years on active duty until his retirement on January 1, 2007. He has served in numerous leadership and staff positions, most recently as Deputy Commanding General, Combined Forces Land Component Command during Operations Iraqi Freedom in Kuwait and Iraq; as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs; and as Deputy Commanding General for Transformation, US Army Reserve Command.

(E)  Drop by Drop: Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U.S. Courts“, Evan Wallach, Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, May 2007 — Excerpt:

Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) American judges or commissioners heard American prosecutors roundly condemn the practice as it was applied to American servicemen, and voted to convict the perpetrators. The United States was not alone in prosecuting water torture before national tribunals, nor were the Japanese its sole practitioner. It is worth comparing those trials with Norway’s prosecution of German defendants for the same form of misconduct, and the United Kingdom’s trial and execution of Japanese interrogators who used the method. (p. 5)

… In all cases, whether the water cure was applied by Americans, to Americans, or simply reviewed by American courts, it has uniformly been rejected as illegal; often with severely punitive results for the perpetrators. (p. 10)

… The clearest exposition of the U.S. position on the use of the water treatment as torture is found in cases in which the Japanese armed forces applied it to Allied prisoners of war during WW2. Japan’s use of the technique was extremely common, and was part of the widespread use of torture as a tool of interrogation. An extensive discussion of the effectiveness of water questioning, and one with which some Americans might be expected to be familiar because of the fame of the victims, was found in the trial of Japanese officers responsible for the torture, trial, and in some cases execution, of crew members of the April, 1942 Doolittle raid on Tokyo. (p. 11)

… The United States tried a significant number of Class B and C war criminals before national tribunals. Among them were several conducted at Yokohama, Japan and one in the Philippines which elicited compelling descriptions of water torture from its victims, and which resulted in severe punishment for its perpetrators. {p. 16)

About the author:  Evan Wallach, a judge at the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York, teaches the law of war as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School and New York Law School.

(F)  A Dubious C.I.A. Shortcut“, Philip Zelikow, op-ed in the New York Times, 24 April 2009 — Excerpt:

The United States has plenty of its own experience to consider, in law enforcement (remember the frenzy a generation ago over the Supreme Court’s Miranda decision requiring suspects to be read their rights?) as well as in war. In World War II, the United States and Britain had special programs for “high value” captives. Thousands of lives were at stake. Yet, even in a horrifyingly brutal war, neither government found it necessary to use methods like the ones in this C.I.A. program. George Marshall would not have needed a lawyer to tell him whether such methods were O.K.

More recent history is also revealing. America inadvertently carried out an experiment in how best to question Qaeda captives. On the one side there was the C.I.A. effort, while on the other there was the military-run program against Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Iraq program, organized by the Joint Special Operations Command, was reformed after the Abu Ghraib scandals. It respected basic international standards. It used teams made up of experts from the military, the C.I.A. and law enforcement. The F.B.I. did not have to stay away, as it did from the C.I.A.’s “enhanced” interrogations.

Qaeda captives in Iraq were hard cases, often more seasoned in violence than captives taken elsewhere. Yet the program in Iraq was and remains highly successful. I was impressed when I observed it in 2005 as part of a wider look at our intelligence efforts. I know that Joint Special Operations Command leaders told the White House that they could interrogate captives effectively under the higher standards.

There is another variable in the intelligence equation: the help you lose because your friends start keeping their distance. When I worked at the State Department, some of America’s best European allies found it increasingly difficult to assist us in counterterrorism because they feared becoming complicit in a program their governments abhorred. This was not a hypothetical concern.

About the author:  Philip Zelikow, a professor of history at the University of Virginia, was the counselor of the State Department from 2005 to 2006 and the executive director of the 9/11 commission.

(G)  Ice Water and Sweatboxes – The long and sadistic history behind the CIA’s torture techniques“, By Darius Rejali, Slate, 17 March 2009 — Excerpt:

In the 20thcentury, there were two main traditions of clean torture—the kind that doesn’t leave marks, as modern torturers prefer. The first is French modern, a combination of water- and electro-torture. The second is Anglo-Saxon modern, a classic list of sleep deprivation, positional and restraint tortures, extremes of temperature, noise, and beatings.

All the techniques in the accounts of torture by the International Committee of the Red Cross, as reported Monday, collected from 14 detainees held in CIA custody, fit a long historical pattern of Anglo-Saxon modern. The ICRC report apparently includes details of CIA practices unknown until now, details that point to practices with names, histories, and political influences. In torture, hell is always in the details.

The ice-water cure

“On a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets. … I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation,” detainee Walid bin Attash told the Red Cross.

In the 1920s, the Chicago police used to extract confessions from prisoners by chilling them in freezing water baths. This was called the “ice-water cure.” That’s not its first use. During World War I, American military prisons subjected conscientious objectors to ice-water showers and baths until they fainted. The technique appeared in some British penal colonies as well; occasionally in Soviet interrogation in the 1930s; and more commonly in fascist Spain, Vichy France, and Gestapo-occupied Belgium. The Allies also used it against people they regarded as war criminals and terrorists. Between 1940 and 1948, British interrogators used “cold-water showers” as part of a brutal interrogation regimen in a clandestine London prison for German POWs accused of war crimes. French Paras also used cold showers occasionally in Algeria in the 1950s. In the 1970s, Greek, Chilean, Israeli, and Syrian interrogators made prisoners stand under cold showers or in cold pools for long periods. And American soldiers in Vietnam called it the “old cold-water-hot-water treatment” in the 1960s.

Cold cell

Abu Zubaydah, another detainee, says, “I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. … [T]he cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold.” There, he was shackled to a chair for two to three weeks. “Cold cell” is one of six known authorized CIA interrogation techniques.

Since the 1960s, torturers have adapted air vents to put “the air in a state of war with me,” in the words of one prisoner. In the first recorded case in 1961, guards at Parchman, Mississippi’s state penitentiary, blasted civil rights detainees with a fire hose and then turned “the air-conditioning system on full blast” for three days. In 1965, detainees in Aden reported that British guards kept them “undressed in very cold cells with air conditioners and fans running at full speed.” In other countries, interrogators have forced prisoners to stand or squat for long periods in front of blasting air-conditioning units or fans, as in South Vietnam (1970s), Singapore (1970s), the Philippines (1976), Taiwan (1980), South Africa (1980s), and Israel (1991 to present).

In a scene eerily similar to the CIA interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, South Vietnamese torturers held Vhuen Van Tai, the highest-ranking Viet Cong officer captured, in a windowless white room outfitted with heavy-duty air conditioners for four years. Frank Snepp, a CIA interrogator who interviewed him in 1972 in the room regularly, described Tai as “thoroughly chilled.”

Water-boarding

Abu Zubaydah says that after he was strapped to a bed, “[a] black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe.” If the contents of the mineral-water bottle were carbonated, this would be a well-known Mexican police technique (tehuancanzo), documented since the 1980s. The Mexican signature mark is to mix in a little chili pepper before forcing the water down the nasal passage.

Water-boardingis not a technical term in torture, and reports have described several different water tortures under this name. The ICRC report puts to rest which kind the CIA used. It turns out to be the traditional “water cure,” an antique Dutch technique invented in the East Indies in the 17th century. It migrated here after American troops returned from the Philippine insurgency in the early 20thcentury. By the 1930s, the water cure was favored by the Southern police. Interrogators tie or hold down a victim on his back. Then they pour water down his nostrils “so as to strangle him, thus causing pain and horror for the purpose of forcing a confession.” Sometimes torturers cover the face with a napkin, making it difficult for the prisoner to breathe, as the ICRC report describes.

Sweatboxes and coubarils

Abu Zubaydah says, “Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. … The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 feet 6 inches] in height.” The large box, which Abu Zubaydah says he was held in for up to two hours, is a classic sweatbox. Sweatboxes are old, and they came into modern torture from traditional Asian penal practices. If you’ve seen Bridge on the River Kwai, you know the Japanese used them in POW camps in World War II. They are still common in East Asia. The Chinese used them during the Korean War, and Chinese prisoners today relate accounts of squeeze cells (xiaohao, literally “small number”), dark cells (heiwu), and extremely hot or cold cells. In Vietnam, they are dubbed variously “dark cells,” “tiger cages,” or “connex boxes,” which are metal and heat up rapidly in the tropical sun.

Abu Zubaydah was also placed into the smaller box, in which he was forced to crouch for hours, until “the stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful.” This smaller type of box was once called a coubaril. Coubarils often bent the body in an uncomfortable position. They were standard in French penal colonies in New Guinea in the 19th century, where some prisoners were held in them for 16 days at a stretch.

Both kinds of boxes entered American prison and military practice in the 19th century. They were a standard part of naval discipline, and the word sweatboxcomes from the Civil War era. In the 1970s, prisoners described sweatboxes in South Vietnam, Iran (tabout, or “coffin”), Israel, and Turkey (”tortoise cell”). In the last three decades, prisoners have reported the use of sweatboxes in Brazil (cofrinho), Honduras (cajones), and Paraguay (guardia). And after 2002, Iraqi prisoners held in U.S. detention centers describe “cells so small that they could neither stand nor lie down,” as well as a box known as “the coffin” at the U.S. detention center at Qaim near Syria.

Standing cells

WalidBin Attash says, “I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 feet 6 inches-by-6 feet 6 inches]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell.” Over the last century, many prisons had built-in, tall, narrow, coffin-size cells, in which prisoners were forced to stand for hours, their hands chained to the ceiling. In the early 20thcentury, the women’s prison in Gainesville, Texas, had a standing cell in the dining room so that prisoners could smell the food.

High-cuffing

Detainees routinely describe having their hands cuffed high above their heads while they stand with their feet on the ground. This is less damaging than full suspension by the wrists, which causes permanent nerve damage in 15 minutes to an average-size man. High-cuffing increases the time prisoners may be suspended, elongates the pain, and delays permanent injury. It is a restraint torture, as opposed to a positional torture, which requires prisoners to assume a normal human position (standing or sitting), but for a prolonged period of time.

High-cuffing is an old slave punishment of the Americas, once called “hanging from the rafters.” John Brown, a free slave, said of it, “Some tie them up in a very uneasy posture, where they must stand all night, and they will then work them hard all day.” American military prisons adopted the practice in World War I. High-cuffing was the standard prescribed military punishment for desertion, insubordination, and conscientious objection. Prisoners were handcuffed to their cell door eight to nine hours a day, in one case for up to 50 days. They described high-cuffing as excruciatingly painful, and the American public, otherwise unsympathetic with these prisoners, found the practice appalling, sparking a newspaper debate over “manacling” in November 1918. A month later, the War Department rescinded high-cuffing as a mode of punishment.

Towels, collars, and plywood

Sometimes torturers come up with something entirely new. “Also,” says Abu Zubaydah, “on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements.”

This is a novel approach to beating someone in a way that leaves few marks. For 30 years, I’ve studied a long and remorseless two centuries of torture around the world, and I can find only one instance of an account resembling the collars and plywood technique described in the ICRC report. It’s American. During World War I, conscientious objectors in military prisons report that their guards dragged them like animals with a rope around the neck, across rough floors, slamming them into walls. This one, as far as I can tell, is entirely homegrown.

About the author

Darius Rejali is a professor of political science and the author of Torture and Democracy, the winner of the 2007 Human Rights Best Book Award of the American Political Science Association.

(3)  Reports by our government, its officers and agents, and major NGO’s about torture

The best source of information about torture I’ve found is “EDUCING INFORMATION, Interrogation: Science and Art, Foundations for the Future“, Intelligence Science Board, National Defense Intelligence College, December 2006 — 372 pages. The authors are skeptical. Also, the Wikipedia entry on torture has valauble background information.

Remember, President Reagan sighed the United Nations Convention against Torture in 1988.

  1. Treatment of Fourteen ‘High Value Detainees’ in CIA Custody“, International Committee of the Red Cross, February 2007 – except in the New York Review of Books, 9 April 2009 (aprox 24 pages)
  2. Waterboarding is Torture, Period“, Malcome Nance (major heavy CI and Special Ops background, see his bio), Small Wars Journal, 31 October 2007
  3. Broken Laws, Broken Lives”, Report by the Physicians for Human Rights, June 2008
  4. Guantanamo and the SERE schools“, Pat Lang (Colonel, US Army, retired), Sic Semper Tyrannis, 2 July 2008 — Putting the above story in a larger context of good and evil, of America and its enemies.
  5. Executive Summary of the Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody“, Senate Armed Services Committee, December 2008 (18 pages)
  6. Testimony of Dennis C. Blair (Director of National Intelligence) before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 22 January 2009
  7. Statement of Dennis C. Blair (Director of National Intelligence) on 21 April 2009
  8. My Tortured Decision“, Ali Soufan (the FBI supervisory special agent who oversaw the Zubaydah interrogations), op-ed in the New York Times, 22 April 2009
  9. Declassified Narrativeon DOJ Office of Legal Counsel’s Opinions on the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, Senate Intelligence Committee, 17 April 2009
  10. Office of Legal Counsel memos about detention and questioning of prisoners:  OLC site, Wikipedia links.

(4)  Other articles about torture

  1. Book review of The One Percent Doctrine – Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11By Ron Suskind, Washington Post, 20 June 2006
  2. Book review of The One Percent Doctrineby Ron Suskind, New York Times, 20 June 2006
  3. Drop by Drop: Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U.S. Courts“, Evan Wallach, Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, May 2007
  4. Verschärfte Vernehmung“, Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic online, 29 May 2007 — Comparing NAZI methods to ours.
  5. Of Course It Was Torture“, Gene Healy, president of the Cato Institute, 20 April 2008
  6. China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo“, New York Times, 2 July 2008 — Terrible news about our government.
  7. The flawed thinking of the administration’s torture advocates“, Steven Kleinman, posted at Nieman Watchdog, 7 August 2008 — It doesn’t work.
  8. Believe Me, It’s Torture“, Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair, August 2008
  9. Cancel Water-Boarding 101“, David J. Morris, Slate, 29 January 2009 — “The military should close its torture school. I know because I graduated from it.”
  10. Lincoln’s Laws of War“, John Fabian Witt, Slate, 11 February 2009 — “How he built the code that Bush attempted to destroy.”
  11. Ice Water and Sweatboxes – The long and sadistic history behind the CIA’s torture techniques“, By Darius Rejali, Slate, 17 March 2009
  12. Detainee’s Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots“, Washington Post, 29 March 2009 — “Waterboarding, Rough Interrogation of Abu Zubaida Produced False Leads, Officials Say”
  13. Bush’s Torture Rationale Debunked“, Dan Froomkin, blog of the Washington Post, 30 March 2009
  14. Report Details Origins of Bush-Era Interrogation Policies“, Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent, 21 April 2009 — “Senate Armed Services Document Outlines How Pentagon Used Torture Resistance Training in Interrogations”
  15. Report: Abusive tactics used to seek Iraq-al Qaida link“, McClatchy Newspapers, 21 April 2009
  16. A Dubious C.I.A. Shortcut“, Philip Zelikow, op-ed in the New York Times, 24 April 2009 – He was counselor of the State Dept from 2005 to 2006 and the executive director of the 9/11 Commission.
  17. Disbar The Bush Lawyers And Get A Special Prosecutor For The Rest“, comments by Lawrence Wilkerson (Colonel, US Army, Retired; former Chief of Staff to Sec State Powell), Huffington Post, 27 April 2009

Attorneys discussing the law:

  1. Congress Shouldn’t Impeach Bybee“, Frank Bowman (Prof of Law at Uof Missouri-Columbia), Slate, 24 April 2009 — “Much as he deserves it.”
  2. Analysis at the Volokh Conspiracy:  here and here

The Brits are investigating their torturers:

  1. Metropolitan police investigation fails to quell independent inquiry calls“, The Guardian, 27 March 2009
  2. Torture victim Binyam Mohamed: don’t scapegoat MI5 officer“, The Guardian, 27 March 2009

(5)  The My Lai Massacre — evidence we sometimes approve of torture

An email from a reader alerts me to a example of torture widely approved by the US public.

(A)  From the Wikipedia entry about the My Lai Massacre

The My Lai Massacre was the mass murder of 347 to 504 unarmed citizens in South Vietnam, all of whom were civilians and some of whom were women and children, conducted by U.S. Army forces on March 16, 1968.

Many of the victims were sexually abused, beaten, tortured, or maimed, and some of the bodies were found mutilated.2 The massacre took place in the hamlets of Mỹ Lai and My Khe of Sơn Mỹ village during the Vietnam War. 3, 4  Of the 26 US soldiers initially charged with criminal offences for their actions at My Lai, only William Calley was convicted. He served three years of his life sentence. … Three U.S. servicemen who made an effort to halt the massacre and protect the wounded were denounced by U.S. Congressmen, received hate mail, death threats and mutilated animals on their doorsteps.5 Only 30 years after the event were their efforts honored.6

(B)  From How We Got Here: The 70’s The Decade That Brought You Modern Life (for Better or Worse), by David Frum (2000), page 84:

My Lai is remembered as a turning point in the war, and indeed it was, but not in the way people usually think.

  1. In the twenty-four hours after the military court declared Calley’s guilt, the White House received more than 5,000 telegrams and 1,500 phone calls. The messages ran 100:1 in Calley’s favor.
  2. Congressional liberals like Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut joined with conservatives like Georgia’s Herman Talmadge to condemn the verdict.
  3. Representative Don Fuqua, a Democrat from Calley’s home state of Florida, proposed inviting Calley to address a joint session. “We are his accusers. Let us invite this American serviceman here to tell his story.”
  4. The governor of Indiana ordered all state flags to be flown at half staff for Calley.
  5. The governor of Utah criticized the verdict as “inappropriate” and the sentence as “excessive.”
  6. Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia proclaimed “American Fighting Man’s Day,” and urged Georgia motorists to drive all week with headlights on.
  7. The Arkansas legislature approved a resolution asking for clemency.
  8. The lower house of the Kansas legislature demanded Calley’s release from prison. So did the Texas Senate and the state legislatures of New Jersey and South Carolina.
  9. The draft board in Quitman, Georgia, wired the White House that so long as the Calley verdict stood, it would not induct any more young men.
  10. Members of draft boards in Athens and Blairsville, Georgia, and in Elizabethtown, Tennessee, resigned.
  11. A Poughkeepsie, New York, radio station invited listeners to call in their opinions. It received more than 2,000 calls in just one hour. Only 36 defended the verdict.
  12. Governor George Wallace spoke at a rally in Calley’s defense at Columbus, Georgia, alongside Governor John Bell Williams of Mississippi.
  13. The Columbus rally was just one of a series of demonstrations across the nation; Jacksonville, Florida, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Dallas quickly followed.
  14. By the end of the first week after Calley’s conviction and sentencing, 79% of Americans polled expressed disapproval of the verdict.
  15. Within the month, a Tennessee recording company announced that it had sold more than 200,000 copies of a song titled “The Battle Hymn of William Calley.”

(6)  For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest are:

  1. About America – how can we reform it?
  2. Good news about America, a collection of articles!

Forecasts about the American spirit, the American soul:

  1. Diagnosing the eagle, chapter IV – Alienation, 13 January 2008
  2. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  3. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  4. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  5. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  6. This crisis will prove that Americans are not sheep (unless we are), 8 January 2008
  7. About security theater, a daily demonstration that Americans are sheep, 25 January 2009

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105 thoughts on “So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?

  1. The apologists for torture make interesting reading. A melange of typical American psychological traits emerges. Among them are uncritical acceptance of popular stereotypes (the prisoners were all extra tough, amoral, fiendishly dangerous; terror as a world-wide network poised to strike us at any time); “ends justify the means” thinking; heightened conviction of rightness in adversarial situations (John Wayne thinking); scorn for subtler, non-physical approaches; racism (Arab lives worth less than ours).

    We’re a violent culture and people without the advantage of education or wider experience slip easily into these kind of attitudes. And it doesn’t help when our leaders encourage them.

  2. FM: So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?

    Like the question of when a fetus is worth protecting in the abortion debate, it tells us that Americans can’t agree on whether the tactics outlined in the memos are “torture” or not.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: But that represents a change, as we did agree on this even a generation ago. As most of the western world still does. So we are an outlier both with respect to our peers today and our own past.

  3. What makes it even worse (if its at all possible) is suggestions/evidence that torture was used as a way of “discovering” a high level link between Iraq and Al Quaeda. So not only is it a war crime, but a war crime which helped fabricate evidence to start a war!

    Those involved in the Bush administration better not travel out of the country.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This is discussed in one of the links given in the post.
    * “Report: Abusive tactics used to seek Iraq-al Qaida link“, McClatchy Newspapers, 21 April 2009 — Excerpt:

    The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

    Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime.

  4. Yankee Sailor: I challenge anyone who insists that waterboarding is not torture to be waterboarded.

    See “Waterboarding is Torture, Period“, Malcome Nance (major heavy CI and Special Ops background, see his bio), Small Wars Journal, 31 October 2007.

    For a first person report, see “Believe Me, It’s Torture“, Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair, August 2008 — Summary:

    “What more can be added to the debate over U.S. interrogation methods, and whether waterboarding is torture? Try firsthand experience. The author undergoes the controversial drowning technique, at the hands of men who once trained American soldiers to resist—not inflict—it.”

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    Fabius Maximus replies: There are dozens of testimonies by military, intelligence, and legal experts that waterboarding is torture. This post links to a dozen or so. I do not understand why this debate continues. IMO the references given in this post should be considered a definitive answer to this issue.

  5. Water boarding is torture and a war crime for which we hanged others after WW2. I am philosophically opposed to torture, and find it anathema to core Amrican values.

    Yet I feel I must point out that the torture carried out by our government was done in a weak and wheeny way, and further did not produce any benefit. Since the powers that be, and flunkies who carried out torture were incompetant, we have paid the price in dignity and shame for their efforts without recieving one iota of value.

    This is the Lose-Lose scenario.

  6. Update added to this post: the My Lai Massacre is evidence that we sometimes approve of torture

    (A) From the Wikipedia entry about the My Lai Massacre

    The My Lai Massacre was the mass murder of 347 to 504 unarmed citizens in South Vietnam, all of whom were civilians and some of whom were women and children, conducted by U.S. Army forces on March 16, 1968.

    Many of the victims were sexually abused, beaten, tortured, or maimed, and some of the bodies were found mutilated.2 The massacre took place in the hamlets of Mỹ Lai and My Khe of Sơn Mỹ village during the Vietnam War. 3, 4 Of the 26 US soldiers initially charged with criminal offences for their actions at My Lai, only William Calley was convicted. He served three years of his life sentence. … Three U.S. servicemen who made an effort to halt the massacre and protect the wounded were denounced by U.S. Congressmen, received hate mail, death threats and mutilated animals on their doorsteps.5 Only 30 years after the event were their efforts honored.6

    (B) From How We Got Here: The 70’s The Decade That Brought You Modern Life (for Better or Worse), by David Frum (2000), page 84:

    My Lai is remembered as a turning point in the war, and indeed it was, but not in the way people usually think.
    * In the 24 hours after the military court declared Calley’s guilt, the White House received more than i5,000 telegrams and 1,500 phone calls. The messages ran 100:1 in Calley’s favor.
    * Congressional liberals like Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut joined with conservatives like Georgia’s Herman Talmadge to condemn the verdict.
    * Representative Don Fuqua, a Democrat from Calley’s home state of Florida, proposed inviting Calley to address a joint session. “We are his accusers. Let us invite this American serviceman here to tell his story.”
    * The governor of Indiana ordered all state flags to be flown at half staff for Calley.
    * The governor of Utah criticized the verdict as “inappropriate” and the sentence as “excessive.”
    * Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia proclaimed “American Fighting Man’s Day,” and urged Georgia motorists to drive all week with headlights on.
    * The Arkansas legislature approved a resolution asking for clemency.
    * The lower house of the Kansas legislature demanded Calley’s release from prison. So did the Texas Senate and the state legislatures of New Jersey and South Carolina.
    * The draft board in Quitman, Georgia, wired the White House that so long as the Calley verdict stood, it would not induct any more young men.
    * Members of draft boards in Athens and Blairsville, Georgia, and in Elizabethtown, Tennessee, resigned.
    * A Poughkeepsie, New York, radio station invited listeners to call in their opinions. It received more than 2,000 calls in just one hour. Only 36 defended the verdict.
    * Governor George Wallace spoke at a rally in Calley’s defense at Columbus, Georgia, alongside Governor John Bell Williams of Mississippi.
    * The Columbus rally was just one of a series of demonstrations across the nation; Jacksonville, Florida, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Dallas quickly followed.
    * By the end of the first week after Calley’s conviction and sentencing, 79% of Americans polled expressed disapproval of the verdict.
    * Within the month, a Tennessee recording company announced that it had sold more than 200,000 copies of a song titled “The Battle Hymn of William Calley.”

  7. Right, not policy, but falsely perceived exigent circumstances, followed by flag waving. Same thing likely would happen if we discussed the various small scale massacres of German Wehrmacht personnel by our boys in exigent circumstances. Again not policy but scattered flag wavers will rally. But it is not policy as it is in some places, and it is not how we want to view ourselves. It ruins our mythology.

  8. A European view: The United States has always stood for freedom, economic prosperity and a new hope for the world. It is difficult for underestimate the impact. My own mother from Poland still carries a scrap book from the sixties – not regarding the Vietnam War but articles and pictures from the Kennedy presidency and the Apollo space program. Both were an inspiration for her in a repressed communist society and she was so fond of the Kennedy family that she named me after Robert Kennedy. Even today the United States carries a strong spell on many Europeans who watch American movies, TV dramas or get excited because the Americans elect a black person as their president.

    The view of the United States has been damaged by the last eight years. It is difficult to say how much torture is the cause for that. I suspect that the invasion of Iraq, the resulting carnage, the missing WMD’s and the sense that this war was probably just about oil still had a stronger impact. For better or worse: with the exception of the pictures taken at Abu Ghraib there exist no pictures taken from a prisoner getting tortured. The lack of photos makes the whole debate more abstract. I suspect this is lucky for the United States, because if it would be strongly associated with torture it would be almost impossible for any European politician to cooperate with the Americans. The war in Iraq proved that it is possible for countries like France or Germany to say “no” and get away with it.

    I consider this to be a very important time. If the United States say no to torture the last eight years would be considered an anomaly – a kind of Bush madness. But if no accountability is placed it is almost assured that torture would be used again and perhaps even more widespread, because if a little torture works why should even more torture not work even better? I don’t say that the United States would become isolated, but more and more countries would find it difficult to cooperate with the United States and NATO would become (if it isn’t already) and empty shell. Any American criticism of China for human rights violation would become a laughing-stock. Perhaps more importantly: At some point – not today – a judge in Spain or Britain would allow the arrest of a former senior US official like Addington or Alberto Gonzales. They will at some point go on vacation and what can prevent them for getting arrested like Augosto Pinochet was arrested in 1997?

    Please understand: The civil war in Bosnia killed 200.000 human beings. We put Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic on trial for that. If you consider how many people have been killed in Iraq since the war in 1991 we are no longer talking about hundreds of thousands but about millions. I can’t see any reason why a senior American official won’t at some point be put on trial in the Hague.

  9. Let me emphasize what I would call the “show trial” path of thought. If the state is out to indoctrinate and/or intimidate it’s population, it is perfectly sensible for it to produce show trials, where living persons admit crimes he/she didn’t commit. This is what leads to torture.

    Americans are indoctrinated-intimidated into approving not only torture, simply everything. We say:”Right or wrong my country”.

  10. It is one thing to come out as anti-torture. It is quite another to be in an existential position of decision making where one is forced to choose between odious alternatives. You have prisoner A, and waterboarding, and a probabilistic threat against city B.
    The anti-torture dialogue is great. We need this level of introspection on a variety of issues. I fully agree with the critics and hope I’m never in the situation sketched in the previous paragraph. At the same time, the discussion seems incomplete without mention of what You Yourself Would Do in the odious situation.
    A significant number of citizens have now died, and you fell short of doing everything you could to protect them. Will the argument fall the same way? Perhaps.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Hypotheticals are interesting classroom discussion (would you kill a druggist to get the only available medicine to save your son?), but have little to do with this situation. As the wealth of expert testimony linked here shows, the Bush Administration’s torture was unrelated to any “ticking bomb” scenario.

  11. Sorry, my give-a-damn’s busted. We would have been within our rights to summarily execute most of those terrorists right there on the battlefield. I don’t really care if waterboarding is torture or not, if it got information out of KSM, it’s fine with me. And if that makes me a bad person, I don’t give a crap.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Where do you get this misinformation? Few of these people were captured on a “battlefield”. Many were picked up in sweeps on the street or their homes, based on some intelligence data (which might or might not have been correct). Potentially like the “no-knock” SWAT raids that have killed quite a few Americans.

  12. “It [f] so, I believe it a symptom of a serious illness afflicting our society. Incidents like this provide a mirror, benchmarks by which we can see how America has changed.”

    It would be very helpful if some historical and data context were supplied. How much has torture incidence increased since the Civil War? WWII? VietNam? When did America totally abandon all forms of torture? When did America then resume the practice of torture? That & other context will indicate when and “how America has changed”? Otherwise, all you have here is unleashed hysteria.

  13. I’m alright with holding an inquiry, as I believe it might finally force lawmakers to define their terms rather than play to political advantage.

  14. I really hope lefties get what they want, and Eric Holder tries something insane like indicting former DOJ lawyers (or better yet, the former Vice President). It seems like the Democratic Party just doesn’t get that Americans have no patience for this childish foolishness. The adults will be back in charge sooner than you think.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Unless this comment is from God, it is just an assertion of your personal feelings. Why should anyone take this statement seriously against the weight of expert evidence shown here? Much of which is from experienced military and intelligence professionals, who state that the torture was both unneccessary and ineffective.

  15. Clyde is correct about shooting them summarily on the battlefield, sans trial. The Geneva Convention, re: Partisans, supports his contention. I hardly think the Democrats will enforce that section despite their rhetoric about ‘following the GC’.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Again, this is irrelevant to this discussion. Government reports show that few of the prisoners held in Cuba were taken “on the battlefield.”

  16. Let me get this straight. Torture is ineffective.

    1. So you are telling me that trained interrogators, who are evaluated based on the amount of actionable intelligence they obtain, use ineffective techniques just for kicks.
    I don’t buy it.
    One thing that always amazes me about liberals is that they always know how to do other peoples jobs more effectively. Health care, auto companies, interrogation, etc. If people would only do what they tell them to, the world will be a better place. They have all the answers.
    2. Are you saying if it was effective, you would be for it?
    3. The WWII comparisons don’t hold water. These facts have been blown out of the water. The US and Britain were brutal to the civilians and prisoners of Japan and Germany. Please don’t try to rewrite history.
    4. Please define torture? Based on your definitions, I could make the case that imprisonment was torture. Where you draw the line is correct?
    5. Why are we attacking men who were trying to protect our country? You could disagree with their policies, but do you have to attach some unproven evil motives to their actions? I find it interesting that you are eager to excuse our enemy’s transgressions, but people who mean well, our fellow Americans, these acts are unforgiveable and need to be prosecuted to the highest degree.
    6. Prosecute all of the Democrat lawmakers who knew about this first to demonstrate that this isn’t just some political witch hunt. Start with Pelosi and you may gain some credibility in my eyes.
    7. Why is the Clinton administration free from scrutiny? Pinetta routinely sent prisoner to other countries to obtain information. Why is outsourcing your torture more acceptable? At least Bush was willing to stand-up and take direct responsibility for it.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Perhaps you can write to the experts — military, FBI, intelligence — who wrote or testified that torture is ineffective (see section 3). No doubt they’d love to learn from you that they are wrong. That you think these men are “attacking men who were trying to protect our country” is dispicable.

    Most of the rest of this is nonsense. First, it suggests that you did not read the post or the links. Second, perhaps you could provide quotes to support your wilder fantasies (such as “you have to attach some unproven evil motives to their actions”).

    Perhaps you should also write a rebuttal to the 372 page study by the Intelligence Science Board (National Defense Intelligence College). Most of the rest of this suggests that you did not read the post or so much as glance at the links.

  17. “But that represents a change, as we did agree on this even a generation ago.”

    Sorry, but when we did we agree on this a generation ago? To the extent that there has been a a change it’s that we’ve gotten softer and more sentimental.

  18. Imagine yourself in a room with your childen in a box on which is an explosive. The explosive can only be disarmed by the other person in the room whom you have been able to detain. The bomb is set to explode in an hour and the only way you can free your children is to convince the detainee to disarm the bomb. You have the ability to waterboard him. Do you waterboard him? If you say yes you would waterboard him, then you cannot say you are against torture. It is simply a question of how dire the situation needs to be before you will do it.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Please no more of this sophomoric fantasizing. These hypotheticals have nothing to do with the actual situation. BTW — I suggest you not try this as a justification for murder or theft. “Judge, would you steal or kill to get the only available medicine to save your daughter’s life?”

  19. “If you consider how many people have been killed in Iraq since the war in 1991 we are no longer talking about hundreds of thousands but about millions.”

    Do dishonest hacks like this really need to be a givena forum to spout thier lies?

    “Any American criticism of China for human rights violation would become a laughing-stock.”

    You {snip}. Do you sleep better at night because your hate for America makes you excuse scum like the Chinese?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Please avoid such schoolyard taunts. The statement about China was speculation about the geopolitical effects of these revelations, and a legitimate point.

  20. “It is something new, I believe, that so many Americans approve of torture by our government”

    Not really. Americans disapprove of torture for punishment or propaganda, but they don’t for tactical use, and never have (nor does any other culture, western or otherwise). There’s no question that our pundit/political class was signficantly more comfortable with outsourcing this function, as we did prior to the W administration, but bringing the function in house is the only thing that’s changed.

  21. RE: Comment #19 Your simile fails. Apart from the fact that it’s like comparing appels and oranges, it would be more correct if you wrote that the other man in the room purportedly knows how to disarm the bomb. Now would you think your actions were justified if the bomb went off even though you used torture and you subsequently finds out that you have been apprehending the bomb-makers chauffeur?

    RE: Comment #20 (Political Hack) He is rubber, you are glue. Pot calling the kettle black. Need more pithy ideoms or do you understand what I am saying?

    Do you guys even read these posts before spouting your gung-ho rhetoric or is that irrelevant because every critic is an unamerican traitor and enemy to the state?

  22. This is good stuff, you’re talking about physically coercive methods. Unfortunately, that’s merely how the right is trying to frame the debate. The left has successfully framed the debate as “any coercive method.” This means that illusory threats and any other methods inducing psychological pressure are included in their definition of pressure.

    Nobody on the left will define torture because, to the left, torture is “any coercive measure.” As any good leftist criminal defense attorney will point out, *all* questioning is coercive once a person is in custody.

    So while the right will probably acquiesce and tolerate what they think is a ban on a couple somewhat noxious physical duress techniques – that’s how we will understand ‘torture’ – the actual ban that is sought and which will come to pass will go much, much further. Having worked in the humanitarian aid field for a bit I’m pretty sure most totalitarian states would laugh at what we consider torture in this debate, but our ban will include their methods, as well as things like waterboarding, and things I have trouble calling harsh methods, such as making the individual stand at parade rest for 3 hours, which was something I had to endure routinely along with 14,000 other souls for divisional formations and parades. Moreover, normal interrogation methods of the sort we would tolerate in U.S. police investigations will be banned because they are coercive. A simple questioning path along the lines of this:

    “What do you think your co-conspirators will do to you if we release you and it looks like you co-operated with us? That’s what we will make it look like if you do not talk to us.”

    will be out of bounds, and criminalized. The goal of the left and the farcical international humanr rights NGO’s is not to stop torture; it is to render our human intelligence effort against state sponsored and stateless terrorist actors a eunuch, because those actors are working to smash western cultural hegemony via destruction of our physical security and our moral imperatives, including self-protection. The leadership of the disingenuously named communist front organization, Center for Constitutional Rights, has been very open about their goals in the past – to thwart the U.S. government in any way possible.

    So while many people who oppose waterboarding and similar methods mean well, their support is being co-opted to advance a larger and actually invidious cause. Mark my words. You people here are debating waterboarding, but the actual movement in the law will be about whether we can hold and/or question terrorists.
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    Fabuis Maximus replies: Do you have any evidence — citations, or anything — to support this theory?

  23. RE: Comment #21 I have to pull out one of my favourite words again, myopic. This time in regards to your statement Americans disapprove of torture for punishment or propaganda, but they don’t for tactical use, and never have (nor does any other culture, western or otherwise).
    Now if this were true, please explain to me why CIA-planes are no longer allowed to enter danish air-space without disclosing flightplan and cargo/passenger-manifest (and the CIA will not give this information), thus rendering refueling on Greenland impossible when outsourcing torture? You are probably a smart boy who can figure out the connection between this and my denigrating opinion of your myopic view.

  24. How ifficult can it be to fathom that the Allies prosecuted and hung enemy interrogators as WARCRIMINALS because the utilized WATERBOARDING after WWII? What has changed to make this different?

  25. I see you have used my comment as one of the examples of comments which you used to illustrate your point. What have we become? A good question. To me, it seems that much of Western Civilization has fallen into some type of trap. For want of a better term, I would call it the trap of bad thinking. We have become a civilization of people who can no longer think effectively in order to solve our own problems.

    One of these problems is terrorism. One can disagree on the best way to handle the problem. But the solution has to come from a decent respect for what is truth of the situation. In short, what is the cause of the problem, and what is a viable solution for it. But we can’t agree on the cause of terrorism, or even what it actually is. You can’t think effectively, much less act, if you can’t even agree upon a definition of terms.

    What I was being critical of in my comment was the type of bad thinking that uncritically assumes that justice is synonymous with the law. I have come to think that if you receive justice in this system, consider yourself fortunate. Justice doesn’t automatically come from a trial or a process. So, is justice and the law one and the same? Is this another example of a failure to come to agreement about the meaning of terms?

    To give an example, consider OBL. If Clinton really wanted him in the mid nineties while he was in the Sudan, he could have gotten him. He could have put OBL on trial, so why didn’t he? Did he fear that a trial would fail because of how much evidence would have had to have been suppressed because of national security concerns? A trial could have ended in an acquittal, and made a mockery of our system of justice and our nation. I think he refused (and so did Bush, by the way) in order to avoid such a possible scenario. Yet a solution may have been possible. Instead, we get 911 and a war. Not very good problem solving, wouldn’t you agree?

    I think we have become a nation of soft headed nincompoops who can’t solve their way out of a wet paper bag. So it is with a lot of our problems.

  26. I will stand with Lincoln’s General Order 100 Article 82 as he was concerned with the differences between soldiers and those who took up arms unlawfully. It is of no wonder that Lincoln was a man who treasured the source of law for the US and would understand Blackstone in Book 4, Chapter 5. Blackstone, himself, had worked with de Vattel who devoted Book III of his master work to warfare. Of course he would be looking to Pufendorf, Hobbes and Grotius, amongst many.

    So the question of what is right to do with those that revert to the savage Law of Nature is clear, well defined and has historical backing going all the way back to the Old Hittites, Babylon and Ancient Egypt. The Hittite foreign minstry archives, the inscriptions at Medinet Habu and the clay messages at Pylos are little different from the exact, same problems we face today, save things are much faster now. Those that revert to the Law of Nature can easily gain back the protection of the law of man: give themselves up to the law to be judged by it. That they do not, continue to plot and kill, undermine Nations and all laws dictates what to be done with them. We did not put them into that state of being.

    The defense of civilization requires the removal of man who reverts to Nature. Not with malice, not with hatred, but with prejudice. We prejudge that our laws and vestment of our negative liberties in the organs of society is worth defending. We alwasy leave open to those who realize the error of their ways to submit to civil justice. At any time before capture they could seek that. If you believe that torture gets nothing, then doing our duty to ourselves and our brother Nations is required immediately. Determine who these killers are and summarily deal with them. If you hate the torture, then support the fast, expedient end to these humans gone savage. Challenge others to waterboarding? Challenge yourself to say you will do the right thing if confronted ALONE to protect us all. Not call for help, but do it yourself. Can you? Would you? It is your responsibility to all of us and us to you to do so.

  27. Excerpt from “Terrorism and moral torture“, Richard Fernandez, Belmont Club, 22 April 2009:

    “When I ran safehouses in the anti-Marcos days the first order of business whenever a cell member was captured by the police was to alert the surviving members, move the safehouse and destroy all links to the captured person. That’s because everyone knew that there was a great probability that the captive would talk under duress, however great his bravery and resistance. Nobody I know, or have heard of who has had experience in real-life situations has ever said, “our cell should continue as usual and the safehouse should remain open, despite the fact that one of our own is being tortured by the secret police, because I read in the New York Times that coercion never works.”

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    Fabius Maximus replies: Who says “torture never works”? He gives no evidence that this is other than a stawman. Also, I do not see a bio for him at either the Belmont Club or his website — that would be interesting information.

  28. Re comment #23: The sole point of my post is simply to say that if there is any situation where you would say that torture is OK then you cannot make the statement “torture is wrong.” At that point it simply becomes a matter of defining under what circumstances torture would be permitted. So statements that there’s something wrong with Americns because they are OK with torture are silly because we are all OK with torture. Again, it’s a matter defining when and how.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: These “what would you do to save a city or your child’s life” questions are sophomoric because (1) they consider extreme situations as justification for dissimilar situations and (2) all life is grey. As in “we have already established what you are, now we’re discussing the price.” If you wish to build your moral code on them, fine. That is not the way the rest of the world is structured.

  29. The major problem with the “torture” debate is that one side has dumbed down the definition. (Yes, there is a reason why I put torture in quotes.)

    There was an article in the Washington post, that I assume many here approved (or would approve of if they haven’t read it) in that a former Bush official. “Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official“, Washington Post, 14 January 2009 — “Trial Overseer Cites ‘Abusive’ Methods Against 9/11 Suspect”

    Basically it states that “OMG!!! I just couldn’t stand it! We tortured those poor people!!!”

    Hmmm? What did we do?

    “For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” said Crawford, who personally reviewed Qahtani’s interrogation records and other military documents. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.”

    At one point he was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus, according to a military report. Qahtani “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation” and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” the report shows.

    Hmmm torture is now crossdressing, yo mama jokes, and being led around on a dog leash? Really?

    The cry that AMERICA HAS LOST ALL MORAL BEARINGS!!!! is based, in part, because we tell yo mama jokes to people who force there women to wear sacks any time they are in public. It is based, in part, because we do things that people are willing to pay lots of money to have done to them in the finest dungeons in San Francisco and New York City. (In America it is called “exploring your sexuality”; when discussing America’s conduct it is called “torture.”)

    The cry that Abu Ghraib was a den of evil was based on similar activities. Putting naked prisoners in a three high human pyramid? Doesn’t that happen during Greek week at our colleges? But it becomes torture when it happens to some mentally repressed idiots who are trying to kill us?

    “But, but, but, if we engage in torture then we have no moral leg to stand on.” Like a moral leg to stand on actually worked. Maybe I am wrong, maybe Daniel Pearl is still alive somewhere rather than being beheaded with a knife. Maybe William Buckley, CIA station chief in Lebanon, wasn’t tortured over 15 months before being murdered back in 1984; tapes of his benign treatment were sent to the CIA. He wasn’t tortured because his captors understood that we had the moral high ground, right?

    Oh wait a minute, both those happened before we started “torturing” and before Abu Ghraib. How is that possible? After all we had the moral high ground then!

    The problem with stating “So many Americans approve of torture;” is that you have dumbed down the term torture. Cutting off people’s heads with a knife is torture, waterboarding is not.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: So you would allow folks to be tortured under the domestic legal system? That’s an … interesting … opinion. Perhaps you could organize block parties to discuss starting this in your community.

    As for the rest, its nice that you have this opinion. Personally, I will go with the opinions of the experts — military, intelligence, legal — that I have cited.

  30. This is a depressing debate. Waterboarding is pinning someone down and pouring water down their noses, repeated as necessary, after the subject has had every opportunity to divulge information only he may possess concerning an extra-national “network” of national intelligence agencies and proxy groups financed by criminal enterprises, including massive drug trafficking, and dedicated to the destruction of the USA, its Allies, and – by implication – the modicum of international order achieved during the last several decades.

    There is no analogy to Japanese imperial soldiers and their staff: we did not hang people for waterboarding, you fools, we hung them for atrocities that ranged all along the spectrum of perversity; we did not nuke Japan because they had waterboarded Pearl Harbor and Shanghai and Singapore.

    What has changed in this country is the native common sense moral pragmatism, educated by ancient largely English habits, have been replaced by an effeminated preening Leninism, the triumph of which will make all prior US history – that is, its character and nature – utterly unrecognizable and probably appear to be criminal. If you cannot stomach the idea that these human weapons dedicated to your personal and national destruction and explicitly reject the protections and responsibilities afforded to nations participating in the covenants which you so admire – covenants authored only because of destruction which this entire system of relationships is intended to avoid – then you should probably just stand aside. I’m reminded of the makeshift placard someone had on the eve of the 2004 election: “Bush – saving your a$$ whether you like it or not.”
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Your opening paragraph is clearly false, based on the evidence shown. The middle paragraph is bizarre. We charged Axis soldiers with wars crimes, including waterboarding. Nobody said here that we nuked Japan because of waterboarding. Your last paragraph contradicts the statements by a wide range of military and intelligence experts. That you toss aside their advice indicates that you have good self-esteem, but little else.

  31. If I’m not mistaken, more reporters and writers have been waterboarded for story purposes than actual terrorists for interrogation purposes. If waterboarding was really torture, you wouldn’t see reporters and writers willingly submitting to it.

    The End. I wonder if the Left is fooling itself? Because they’re sure not fooling us.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have any evidence for this assertion? Also, this satement is nuts. Undergoing something once, briefly as a test, is different than conducted at length dozens or hundreds of times.

  32. Sir:
    Apparently you have read all of the links you provided. Can you please explicitly define, based on your opinion, what is exactly torture and what is not? I looked (not long) at the links you provided and didn’t see an explicit definition.

    If you are going to say America has an illness that is dominating our society, please exactly define torture. Is 24 hours without sleep torture, but 20 is not? Is playing loud music torture for 5 hours in a row torture for 10 days in a row torture? Is being held in isolation for 1000 days torture, but 50 days not? If the prisoner is Muslim, would not letting them have a Koran be torture?

    Where is that line between interrogation, coercive interrogation, and torture? If a prisoner says they don’t want to talk, is asking them questions after that torture?

    Per the Volokh link “The techniques were: wall-standing in a “stress position”; hooding; subjection to noise; sleep deprivation; and food and drink deprivation. In other words, quite similar to many of the techniques used by the CIA to interrogate captured terrorists.

    The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that these techniques do not constitute “torture.” For “although they were used systematically, they did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture as so understood.” ”

    Do you agree with Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in the above instance, or is that torture in your mind?

    I’m sure you think my questions are facetious, but if I am to have an illness, please tell me the exact symptons.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I present expert material on subjects on which I am not an expert. If you think the experts cited here are wrong, contact them directly. No doubt they would love to hear your corrections to their professional training and experience.

    I don’t do free research for folks asking about the material presented in these posts.

  33. It really isn’t material if the experts cited are correct or not, since we’re more interested in the legal definition of torture at this remove. Such will be the basis for any investigations or prosecutions. Notably, lawmakers have been loathe to pinpoint that definition.

    FWIW FM, while I’m neither/nor on the subject, I have noticed a tendency to deride disagreeable comments as if they were mere bombast. The disconnect I’m experiencing has to do with you diagnosing something wrong with America itself and not regarding that as similarly unfounded, partisan, or extreme.

    Perhaps we were never as noble as you think, nor as evil as some would have it.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: All I have are questions about this.

    Who used the word “evil”? Mostly pro-torture comments. The only other mention I see of it is by Pat Lang (Colonel, US Army, retired). You are welcome to go to his website and disagree. I suggest reviewing his professinoal background before doing so (see his Wikipedia entry)

    On what basis do you say that “we’re more interested in the legal definition”? It’s clearly a peripheral point to the subject of this post.

    “you diagnosing something wrong with America itself and not regarding that as similarly unfounded, partisan, or extreme.”

    Those are labels, content-less ones IMO. As in “you are wrong because your statement is partisan!” That’s just chaff in the discussion. I present an opinion and support it with various kinds of evidence. If you disagree, fine. Why should I care unless you provide some supporting basis?

  34. I find it funny that people cannot tell what is torture, when it is listed in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

    And it is elaborated in the Article Five of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

    If after all those written laws and we still can’t agree on what is torture, then the Constitution is useless and our founding fathers’ efforts are completely wasted.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Perhaps some folks just prefer to close their eyes. I have not found any actual experts (although there probaby are some) and few attorneys working in this field saying that waterboarding is not torture.

  35. “You are probably a smart boy who can figure out the connection between this and my denigrating opinion of your myopic view”

    Good morning Rune. I’ll try to make this as simple as possible. Policies such as the one you describe are set by political leaders, and sometimes the views of political leaders differ from those of the people they lead. Maybe that’s not true in your case, but in general…

    Let’s take an unrelated but similar example. Every country in western Europe has abolished the death penalty, so that must mean all the people who live there oppose it, right? Well, take a look at this article: “Are Europeans Against the Death Penalty?”, Bradford Plumer, blog of Mother Jones, 27 January 2006. Granted, a right wing rag like Mother Jones is little more than a shill for fascist law and order Republicans, but try to keep an open mind.

    I’m sure you agreed with absolutely everything the Bush administration did while they were in power, and feel likewise about the Obama administration; I suppose there’s some merit in adopting every opinion held by your more educated and intelligent betters in the government, but you may be shocked to learn not everybody feels that way.

  36. Fabius,

    I’m curious about your opposition to hypotheticals yet open to the intentional use of an ill-defined and utterly imaginary concept of “moral authority”. Up until it become in vogue to use our “moral authority” as a cane with which to bash the Bush Administration over the head, the Left never really considered the United States to be a moral authority on much of anything. Our actions in Chile, Angola and other areas of contention around the world have (rightly or wrongly) been used as a demonstration that the United States is a nation of cowards and criminals. Chalmers Johnson and Noam Chomsky didn’t become popular with the Left because of waterboarding– their arguments about the basic depravity of the US government have been a virus for well over a decade. Yet we’re now supposed to believe that their greivance with the use of waterboarding is that it diminishes the moral superiority of our nation? When exactly, comrades, did we become morally superior to anyone? There’s a logical disconnect there that I’ve yet to see anyone mention, much less legitimately address.

    The things that make our nation great– the people, the opportunity, the physical beuaty, the quirky political beliefs, the vast adherence to the law of the land– that has not changed a single bit by the waterboarding of three individuals. I’ve yet to see a local law enforcement official give someone a pass on their crimes simply because KSM was waterboarded five times. I’ve yet to find a single case of a responsible citizen turn to crime because Zubaydah had someone slap him in the face. I’ve yet to find a single case of corporate malfeasance caused by al-Nashiri being slammed into a wall. I didn’t cheat on my taxes this year because I suddenly felt our nation was no longer a moral superior to any other nation. So where is this impact on our morality? I’d love to find it so I can at least have solid evidence of our nation as a whole changing because of these acts. You consistently ask those who’ve commented on this blog in favor of these techniques to support their claims with evidence yet I’ve seen no calls for evidence from those with an opinion that happens to mirror yours.

    If a citizen of another nation sees fit to no longer view the United States favorably because of this then I suspect that they never had a realistic view of who we are in the first place. We’re a flawed nation, but our saving grace has always been a collective love for our nation. It was that love for our nation that led interrogators to use the techniques they did, not some sadistic desire to finally torture someone. You, and others like you, ignore the motivation to “torture” as much as you obsess over the details of it. Oh I’m sure you can trot out many “experts” who oppose the use of waterboarding, but I’ve seen no effort on your part (or the part of anyone in the media) to pursue or find those that advocated its use and allow them a fair chance to explain their stance. The screeching cries of, “You betrayed our nation’s ideals,” is loud enough to drown out any serious conversation on the topic and unfairly paints the individuals who did and do support the use of EITs into an unfavorable corner.

    What betrays our nation’s ideals is to pretend as if the collective pronouncement on what is and is not moral trumps the right of anyone who disagrees to state their position without being branded a twisted deviant.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Why do so many people not use quotes? This would avoid writing long posts in reply to figments of the writer’s imagination.

    “I’m curious about your opposition to hypotheticals yet open to the intentional use of an ill-defined and utterly imaginary concept of ‘moral authority’.”

    The words “moral authority” do not appear in this post, either directly or by implication. I consider the concept to be delusional, in that I have seen no evidence that any nation has such a thing in the eyes of the world. Some individuals or groups do — like religious leaders or such. But not nations.

  37. “I have not found any actual experts (although there probaby are some) and few attorneys working in this field saying that waterboarding is not torture.”

    Where does this lead us? We know that interrogators, either employed directly by the CIA or contractors, utilized waterboarding in order to obtain information from three men.

    From that we can arrive at several conclusions:

    1. The interrogators who utilized waterboarding were not experts, so their opinion on waterboarding does not really matter.
    2. The interrogators who utilized waterboarding were experts, believe it is torture and participated anyway.
    3. The interrogators who utilized waterboarding were experts, believe it is not torture and participated with a clear conscience.

    Despite the CIA’s history of incompetence in some matters, I doubt very highly that they utilized individuals who are not expert interrogators. That leaves the second and third options (or more, if you can present an alternate logical conclusion). Please provide me with a reason to believe that the second option is the definitive answer and that no experts actually believe that waterboarding is not torture.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: CIA history consists to an astonishing degree of large programs run by people with no idea what they were doing. Their expensive and ultimately bloody building of organizations in Eastern Europe to fight the USSR and the Bay of Pigs are noteworthy but not unique examples. Several of the citations given mention that the experts running the SERE program offered advice which was ignored.

  38. FM: “It is something new, I believe, that so many Americans approve of torture by our government. Perhaps this is another result of the horrific mixture of hubris and paranoia (described in America’s Most Dangerous Enemy) that has come to dominate our culture. It so, I believe it a symptom of a serious illness afflicting our society. Incidents like this provide a mirror, benchmarks by which we can see how America has changed.”

    Fabius, I believe your theory about America “changing” from some (presumably more “moral”) earlier state is a flawed premise. In the past (when the world was “round” with horizons beyond which could not be seen), policy was carried out by commanders and soldiers on the scene; their actions were not photographed or videotaped (because such technology did not exist) or in fact recorded on any extant media, so the American public was ignorant of whatever they might have done to complete the job at hand. And I suspect the public would not have cared to second-guess these men, as there used to be trust that our soldiers were honorable men who would only do what needed to be done.

    Are you saying you no longer trust the men on the scene? That you know better than they do what needs to be done? That you are more moral than they are? Perhaps this is what has changed about America, if anything really has: armchair quarterbacking/backseat driving, and attitudes of moralistic superiority, after the fact. So if there has been a “change” in our culture, perhaps it is that Americans no longer have trust in each other — or to have common sense.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks, these are all good points. As my update about My Lai suggests, my premise might be wrong.

    As for your last paragraph, there is overwhelming evidence that these efforts were both illegal and ineffective, based on both studies and expert testimony. Investigations now are no more “backseat” driving than for any other illegal or ineffective government actions.

    “That you know better than they do what needs to be done?”

    You seem to miss the point of citing studies and a wide range of military and intelligence experts.

    “That you are more moral than they are?”

    I suggest that should you ever wind up on trial, you not try the “he who is without sin cast the first stone.” That’s not how the world works. This post discusses the legality and effectivenss of torture, and how our attitudes toward torture have changed. I leave questions like yours to God.

  39. “The words ‘moral authority’ do not appear in this post, either directly or by implication. I consider the concept to be delusional, in that I have seen no evidence that any nation has such a thing in the eyes of the world. Some individuals or groups do — like religious leaders or such. But not nations.”

    You have to be literally delusional to believe that the concept of “moral authority” isn’t a heavy weight being swung against these practices. The concept of morality and our standing in the world is consistently used throughout the arguments you link to– from Blair’s statement to the Physician’s for Human Right’s report (which, if you’ve ever read it, would come to find has some glaringly obvious flaws).

    However, if you want to pretend that morality, and moral authority, plays no part in this debate than I’ll happily leave you to your post. It does me no good to argue against someone who so stubbornly clings to their sense of infallibility.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Let’s replay the tape.

    “I’m curious about your opposition to hypotheticals yet open to the intentional use of an ill-defined and utterly imaginary concept of ‘moral authority’.”

    I did not say that nobody believes in the moral authority. You implied that I did. This is incorrect. I cited a wide range of experts on this topic, but did not say that I agree with every word in every article. The post stated my range of concerns.

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