The Meaninglessness of Claims that Torture “Worked”


Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

Related Post Roulette

239 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    To justify torture, it is not enough merely to say that it works, either. It has to work better than the alternatives, and those alternatives are really good. The large majority of detainees — something like 90% of them — cooperate spontaneously if you simply make clear to them that they will be safe, treated well, and out of combat for good.

    The alternatives are not “torture, or we get nothing from them.” They are “torture, or we get a whole lot on average with relatively humane methods.”Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      But torture is largely about vengeance. Its advocates want to inflict terror on those they believe terrorized us, intelligence gathering be damned.Report

      • Avatar BSK says:

        And you see this when people talk about those who “deserve” to be tortured. If tortured is an ethical means of extracting information, then it matter not whether the “victim” is a good or bad person, on our side or the other side. But folks say, “Yea, he was a jerk! I don’t care if they torture HIM!” then it is simply sadism.Report

    • Avatar BSK says:

      The other issue is that torture was used in conjunction with other methods. So if 50 pieces of information were gained from 10 different methods, one of which was torture and the other nine of which were not, it is hard to know (as outsiders), whether the torture was actually effective, even if the process proved to work. Now, it is possible that the most important piece of information was gained through torture after the other nine methods failed, but it is impossible for us laypeople to know that. So those who insist that “torture worked” in this instance are simply ignoring the reality of the situation. The methods used to extract information, as a whole, worked. Torture was one of those. We can not conclude that torture works either in isolation or is necessary to the process. Specious reasoning if I have ever seen it.Report

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    “In our study, we found no effect of mild torture compared to the control group. We did, however, find a statistically significant effect of severe torture: severe torture produced 6 times the amount of information as both mild torture and no torture (control). In fact, the effect of severe torture was so strong that, though we had initially intended the study period to be 6 weeks, after 3 weeks we stopped the study and put everyone from the mild and control groups into the severe torture group.”Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Exactly. Once torture becomes an accepted technique, but only to be used when absolutely necessary (trust us!), “necessary ” inevitably gets defined down to “we’re not getting everything we want” or even “we’re getting impatient”. It’s precisely the same dynamic that leads to people getting tased when they’re merely being somewhat uncooperative.Report

  3. Avatar Mike says:


    congratulations on wasting all our time with a completely worthless argument by tautology. I can replace, via search-and-replace, “torture” with “cajoling” or “bribery” and have EXACTLY THE SAME ARGUMENT that you just made.

    For instance:

    Relatedly, how do we distinguish between information obtained because of bribery and information merely obtained after or during bribery? The answer, it seems, is simply that we don’t – information obtained during or after bribery is defined automatically by bribery supporters as information obtained because of bribery, even if, as seems to be the case with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the information is obtained many months after the bribery. This is again the result of the moral corruption wrought by bribery: once bribery has occurred, it is only natural to assume that the reason the briberyd man talks more in the future, even if months or years down the line, is out of his fear of bribery. Again, says the moral argument, the corruption wrought by bribery will make all that is useful seem the result of bribery, and that which is not good the result of insufficient bribery.

    Most dramatically, though, even where the utility of bribery may be demonstrable and more than just a mirage of self-deception, the moral argument would claim that the moral corruption wrought by the bribery will spread like a disease to situations where its utility is at best marginal. We will, in sum, wind up with Abu Ghraib and the bribery of fairly ordinary men and women. And that is most certainly not something that will enhance security.

    The question is going to be:
    – Which works best long-term
    – Which works best NOW
    – Which acts upon something that will get a reaction from the particular target. Interrogation officers may very well need to assess, from the demeanor and behavior of the individual, which will work best. Or they may need to switch to the whole “Good Cop, Bad Cop” routine, playing one off of the other, seeing how the subject reacts.

    Keep in mind, of course, that people are different. What works best for one will not necessarily work best for another.

    But arguing by tautology that torture is “always ineffective” and thus “always immoral”? I’m sorry, but the world is not so black and white, and some of us are not so hopelessly naive.Report

    • Avatar BSK says:

      How about not violating our own moral code? I don’t care about whether or not it works. It is wrong.Report

      • Avatar Mike says:

        Says you.

        In a level of dealing with bullies – and face it, that’s what terrorists are – there comes a time when you have to accept that the bullies are barely above the level of retards, and that they are not mentally equipped to deal on the level of “morality”, nor on the intellectual-smarm levels that most ivory-tower types wish to deal on.

        A bully understands things on a very primitive level. He believes he can force you to do things because he threatens you with force, and follows up on it. Likewise, the only thing that stops the bully is the threat of, and execution of, enough force that he realizes he is at the disadvantage.

        Deal with a bully or terrorist on the “higher levels of reason”, and you get a blank stare followed by more violence. Until YOU learn the lesson that they cannot be dealt with on that level.Report

        • Avatar mark boggs says:

          Yeah, that’s why they’re willing to fly planes into buildings – ’cause they’re scared of pain and death.Report

          • Avatar Mike says:

            They’re willing to fly planes into buildings because:

            – They hate us irrationally enough to do so
            – They believe in a collectivist group (the Muslim Ummah) which, as a collective bully, is to take over the world by force.
            – They believe that as a “martyr” for this “cause”, they will receive great rewards in the afterlife.

            And finally, because:
            – They believe that the retaliation from the US against the Muslim Ummah will be small enough that their act can be claimed to be a “glorious victory”, securing for them their afterlife reward.

            If they believed that the retaliation of the US would be severe – say, on the order of Hiroshima/Nagasaki reenacted on Makkah – then they would not do what they did. They are emboldened to terrorist acts precisely because they operate only on the level of the violent bully and believe that the US and “the west”, also known to Muslims as dar al-harb (“the domain of war”), is “weak” and “cowardly” and will not properly answer their force with force of its own.

            And it seems for how we’ve behaved so far that they’re proven right. We went into Afghanistan and made a right fuckup of things, not getting the job done. We went into Iraq, kicked Saddam’s ass, and promptly handed things right back to the clerics while all the while bowing and kowtowing and singing the praises of the Cult of Pedophile Mo. As far as they are concerned, they have already “won”, because by every public action we take we show that we’re more scared of offending their death cult than anything else.Report

            • Avatar RTod says:

              “and believe that the US and “the west”, also known to Muslims as dar al-harb (“the domain of war”), is “weak” and “cowardly” and will not properly answer their force with force of its own.”

              Similarly to what I just wrote below, this seems like a good rally the troops argument but little else. Most of the problem they have with us, right or wrong, is our (perceived or real) occupation of both their counties and their natural resources. I doubt very much that they see us as being weak in sense other than (from their highly skewed perspective) morally.Report

            • Avatar Dave says:

              They hate us irrationally enough to do so

              Exactly and when you start to understand that there’s a lot of irrationality in the mindset of someone willing to blow himself up, the analogy between a terrorist and a bully makes no sense since I’ve never known a bully to do that since bullies do care a bit about self preservation and don’t rely on violence against others, especially their own people, to recruit new members.

              If they believed that the retaliation of the US would be severe – say, on the order of Hiroshima/Nagasaki reenacted on Makkah – then they would not do what they did.

              Yes, people willing to blow themselves up fear death so if we show them we mean business by firebombing or nuking a mostly civilian population leading to the deaths of thousands of people or more for no other reason to “man up” against terrorism, it will not rally people to their cause in any significant way.

              As far as they are concerned, they have already “won”, because by every public action we take we show that we’re more scared of offending their death cult than anything else.

              Exactly, just like sending in the SEALs to put a pair of bullets over Osama bin Laden’s left eye.

              Keep it up. You’re on a roll.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

          You make a lot of sweeping declarative statements about bullies.

          Study this topic much?Report

        • Avatar RTod says:

          At the risk of being tarred as a librul terrorist sympathizer, I’m not sure I agree with the bully analogy – though I certainly hear it all the time. Terrorism is a horrid, pernicious evil but bullying does not feel like the root cause; in fact, almost the opposite.. Most instances of terror that I am aware of are instances where a small disenfranchised group of people, often in an occupied country, attempt to strike back against a significantly larger, better armed and competent in terms where they might have a chance of success.

          Mind you, I think that type of thinking is muddled and wrong (both morally and strategically), but in a certain state of helplessness I can at least understand the “logic” grasped at to use it. The thought of most terrorist going around the schoolyard saying “I’m bigger and stronger than everyone else” and forming strategies around that seem good for garnering political consensus, but pretty detached from the reality of the people you are dealing with.Report

          • The bully analogy is completely off-base for a number of reasons. One that has always jumped out at a me is this: bullies recognize that they are in the driver’s seat; they beat up on the small and meek, the people who present no threat to them. Terrorists, however, always operate from a position of perceived weakness, trying to drive back those whom they believe to have unjustified power over them.

            Al Qaeda has always sought power, though it has certainly never deserved power. It has never been in a position to use power, because it has never actually had any of the power that it seeks. Bullies have power and use it; they don’t need to seek it.Report

            • Avatar Mike says:


              Terrorists believe they have power.
              They believe they have power to make their adversary experience pain, while receiving little in return – either because the adversary is weak and won’t respond, or because the adversary will fail to respond out of fear of collateral damage, or because the terrorists believe they cannot be found.

              The first two are very similar to how your average stunted schoolyard bully works. Either their victim won’t respond because of fear of further violence, or because the wrath of well-meaning ignoramus administrators in a “zero tolerance” school will mean that fighting back = disproportionate violence enacted against the victim (first getting beaten up, then being “punished” in equal measure to the bully via detention or worse, impacting grades, while the bully likely doesn’t give two shits about his grades to begin with and will see detention or suspension as free time to goof off). The third, the terrorists themselves spin into an expression of strength (e.g. “we can strike but they cannot even find us”) anyways.

              Terrorists, and bullies, both believe their strength is supreme, from their perspective. They stop believing it only when given an overwhelming reality check.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                “Terrorists, and bullies, both believe their strength is supreme, from their perspective. They stop believing it only when given an overwhelming reality check.”

                Which is why you only get terrorists from wealthy, strong, dominant nations. Those that are always on the bottom of the heap never produce a one.Report

          • Avatar Mike says:

            The commonality is:

            – Both are engaging to make their adversary/target bend to their will by threat of force and pain.
            – Both believe the the retaliation for same will be “survivable” or negligible.

            Terrorist psychology is almost identical to bully psychology. They rely on the idea that their victim will not fight back, or at least not enough to make any difference. For the bullies, it is the threat of further force that they rely on. For terrorists, a combination of the threat of further force, and the idea that the terrorists will deliberately conceal themselves within the general population (thus forcing the other side to either risk collateral damage, or fail to respond).Report

            • Avatar RTod says:

              Yeah, they do have that in common, but so does any other political/religious/individual force that combats something else.

              It’s a bad analogy.Report

              • I’m not sure they even have that much in common – are we to believe that Israel hasn’t spent the last 40 years fighting back hard against terrorism? Or that the IRA expected no repercussions for its acts of terrorism for the lengthy course of its existence as a terror group until just prior to the Good Friday accords (crikey, how often did I hear the phrase “one eye for another eye, ’til everyone is blind” used in reference to the Troubles?).Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                No, I was just referring to two bulleted points, which said essentially: bullies/terrorist are the same because when they engage in combat they try to hurt the other side, and then hope the other side will surrender and they will win the day. Seems like a pretty mundane universal military strategy to me.Report

              • Sorry – I was focused on the bolded statement. You are of course correct about the bulleted points.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                And it’s still a bad analogy.Report

              • Avatar Mike says:

                are we to believe that Israel hasn’t spent the last 40 years fighting back hard against terrorism?

                Meanwhile, the proxy groups Hamas, Hezbollah, and the PLO roll in the foreign aid, their leaders happy and contented ruling the terrorist training/breeding camps that the Arab forces stuffed the “palestinians” into after 1948.

                And they get wave after wave of propaganda from the middle east, along with various racist “votes” in the completely illegitimate UN.

                Let’s face it. The Paleostinians still think they are winning as members of the Cult of the Pedophile Mo.Report

            • Avatar mark boggs says:

              If I understood bin Laden correctly, he wanted us to retaliate and to do so in such a large measure as to be amazingly detrimental to our own long term interests. How did he do?

              Because if you think that acquiescing to the desire to torture, spending umpteen gazillion dollars and 6000 or so lives, not to mention the collateral damage, is a worthwhile price to pay for Osama bin Laden, I disagree.Report

              • Avatar Boegiboe says:


                Terrorists want retaliation in kind. Terrorists think of themselves as warriors, and any validation of that view spurs them on to seek more war glory. Having war declared against them was the gift they’ve never gotten from everything previous to 9/11. Being held for years in POW camps, being tortured, being KIA are all glorious martyrdom for the martyrs and for the next crop of terrorists they inspire.Report

        • Avatar BSK says:

          The bully has been stopped. He is in jail. Do we really need to waterboard him on top of that?

          I won’t even dissect your obvious misunderstanding of intellectual and moral development.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            Yeah, I’m sort of avoiding addressing the suggestion that mentally retarded people should be motivated through torture too.Report

            • Avatar Mike says:

              Sigh. Either you deliberately missed the point, or you’re that damn stupid.

              The point I was making is that you wouldn’t expect an individual with a permanently stunted 3- or 5- year old intellect to understand higher morality. You’d have to deal with them on the terms they understand, which is “if you do Bad Thing X, you will be punished.”

              Really, that’s what most religion is anyways. There’s a reason it’s called “the fear of god.”

              To wit: “Organized religion destroys who we are by inhibiting our actions, by inhibiting our decisions out of, out of fear of some, some intangible parent figure who, who shakes a finger at us from thousands of years ago and says, and says, “Do it… do it and I’ll fuckin’ spank you.” Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                While I generally agree with your point, here’s a curious point you might want to consider: religion has always been a bit squeamish about actually doing the dirty deeds. In the Inquisition, they scrupulously avoided getting their own hands bloody: they delegated their torture and murders to the civil authorities.Report

              • Avatar Mike says:

                I’m so glad you have now proven yourself to be such a worthless, naive, blase adversary that you’re not even attempting.

                Please just leave. I won’t be responding to you again.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                Rufus, you bore the royal ears! You are dismissed. We are no longer amused.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Okay, well that’s good! Because, really, you weren’t responding anyway. You were just talking to yourself really.

                So, for everyone else. I wasn’t actually convinced by Mike’s gratuitous insults and sweeping declarative statements that he knows the first goddamn thing about what he’s talking about. See because the question here is about how you fight counterinsurgency warfare and anyone who’s even considered the question recognizes the first fact of such warfare: the contested “ground” being vied for is the civilian population. Counterinsurgency warfare is at least 80% politics and 20% warfare. The point: the contested ground is not the psychology of the terrorists. I mean, fight the way Mike wants and it’s as if you’re intentionally trying to lose the war.

                This sort of dumb S&M fantasy, in which the insurgents are trying to bend you to their will and you’re trying to bend them to your will is exactly that- a fantasy. You’re like Murat in Madrid, thinking you can round up and shoot everyone with a gun and Spain will be French. It is, on the most basic level, a complete misunderstanding of what you’re doing fighting terrorist insurgents. So, yes, I don’t take this framework seriously enough to address the question of whether beating or torturing people makes them “behave”. There’s no reason to.Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                Yeah, but my dick feels bigger when I think of fighting like that.Report

              • Avatar James K Polk says:

                Really? Really REALLY?

                You, my good friend, are a certified escapee from an insane asylum.

                Here’s a hint from someone who currently lives in Shithead Arabia and wants the hell out: the “ground” you so love? They’re 80% or more on the side of the terrorists. Why? Because their Imams tell them to be.

                You are NEVER going to “win them over” fighting and bowing down and trying to be “sensitive” to their religion, because every time you do, a thousand Imams pop up giving sermons about how you see, this is just more proof that “the Great Satan is weak, see, they are already speaking of the greatness of Islam and it’s only time until they all convert, praise Allah…”

                Soon as my contract is up, I’m out of here. You want to know what Islam is really like and why Islamic terrorism is such a problem the world over, try living in a country where there are roads you can be SHOT on just for taking a wrong turn into a “Muslim Only” district.Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                Yes, and we can see what shock and awe and all that military might has done to quell them. Should we send more troops? Use bigger bombs? Or should we have been a bit more discriminating in where we decided to commit our resources in the first place? Let them and their Imams have their two minutes hate without us. Or are we back to the “fight them there so we don’t fight them here” meme?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > You want to know what Islam is
                > really like and why Islamic terrorism
                > is such a problem the world over,
                > try living in a country where there
                > are roads you can be SHOT on just
                > for taking a wrong turn into a
                > “Muslim Only” district.

                Mr. Polk, I respectfully submit that before you assume that your experience of Islam and Muslims is universal, you try living in a country with a decent percentage of Muslims… where people aren’t shooting at each other all the time.

                I don’t doubt you’re in a crap environment at the moment. Remember that this environment isn’t a gift from God, it’s a created thing, that has roots in 50 years of geopolitical madness.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                James, you know why your comment is unfair? Because I didn’t make any of the claims you’re slamming me for. I didn’t say the US is going to win in any of those countries, or that they will win if they’re nice enough to Muslims. If you’re right, they’re clearly not, and they should declare defeat and withdraw. Sounds like you have the right idea if leaving. But, getting super pissed at me for making some claim about Islam that I didn’t make is a waste of everyone’s time.

                Here’s what I said- see how super crazy this is- the US is attempting to wage a successful counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. Totally insane definitional claim right? I don’t know what other reason they’d have for still being there though. If you are right, and that operation is doomed, they should leave. Seriously. I’m okay with that. But, see, I didn’t say anything about their hopes for success there- you did. You got mad at me because in your mind, I said “they’re going to win if they’re nice to Muslims.” I didn’t. You claim that, no, they’re never going to win. Okay. So go home.

                Because, you see, if we accept that they’re trying to wage a successful counterinsurgency, then they will have heard that super-insane point about the contested ground being the civilian population because I fishing guarantee they’ve read Gulula. Of course they have. It’s a basic text. And, even if they haven’t, they’re sure as hell following his instructions there. Do you want to argue about Gulula? That would be fine with me.

                Now, you say that following that model for counterinsurgency warfare is like pissing up a rope because you’ve seen those Muslims and it won’t work with them. Okay, then the US is doomed there. Leave. This isn’t my problem.Report

              • Avatar James K Polk says:

                Mr Pat,

                I live in the nation with the largest percentage of muslims in the world. What would you call a decent percentage?

                Saudi Arabia is the “capital nation” as far as one exists for Islam. They control holy sites in disproportionate number especially for the Sunni (who would just burn places in Iraq like Najaf and Karbala to the ground if they had the choice to). They control Mekka, which is a place all Muslims are required to pilgrim to at least once a lifetime. Their religious police, the Mutta’wa, are the equivalent of the Stasi or Gestapo or KGB and MSS and wield far more power than either did. You can be dragged off the street by them, “vanished”, and never heard from again just for having someone say they heard you speaking disrespecfully of the Mohammedian Prophet.

                And this is what the religion of Islam wants to impose on the entire world. If you had not heard, this is what Hezbollah in Lebanon is currently trying to do, as they are driving the Christians out of the formerly constitutional government that guaranteed Christians and Muslims an equal place in rule of the nation.

                I have lived in several Muslim-run countries. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE. I have lived in Indonesia and seen the way the Muslims behave there.

                If you ever have the misfortunate to be convinced to vacation in Kuwait or UAE, do NOT make the mistake of leaving the tourist zones. It is not safe for anyone who is not a Muslim of the region.

                Returning to my point. I have more experience than you know. You have assumed I do not know what I speak of. Please stop assuming that.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                My mother-in-law traveled through the Middle East in the 1960s, unescorted, un-veiled, and did several things that were then as now considered taboo, such as taking pictures inside a mosque. Back then, she got rather placid and polite admonishments not to do that.

                If she did those thing right now, today, she’d probably be shot or worse, yes.

                However, associating that difference as being entirely the consequence of “Islam”, as opposed to the consequence of… well, a whole lot of factors, is taking you down a path where you assume that Islam is the enemy, instead of those factors that have changed since the 1960s.

                Blaise points out one factor: there are institutionalized radicals, now. Saudi Arabia allows this I’d imagine largely because it gives a major outlet to the pissed off people who would otherwise be standing around wondering why the royal family gets to drive a fleet of Mercedes while they’re largely at the mercy of the largess of that same royal family.

                Is this a problem with Islamic radicals, or is it a problem with the Saudi royal family?

                Is fighting the radicals going to make the problem go away?

                In Somalia, radical Islamists have no small measure of political support. This is at least partially due to the fact that Somalis aren’t very fond of Ethiopians and the Ethiopian army was one of the forces that fought the Islamists. Plus, the Islamists have pointed out that both the West and the Russians have screwed them over for 40 years and really, if you don’t believe in Communism and you don’t believe in Capitalism, religious fanaticism might look somewhat attractive, no?

                Is this the fault of Islam, or the fault of the Somali people for transferring, or something else entirely?

                The Muslims in India have always been treated like crap. They, also, have undoubtedly treated the Hindus like crap.

                The plight of the Muslims in India generates sympathy in Pakistan. Radicals use this to generate recruits.

                Is this a problem with Islam, or is it a problem with the fact that the British fished everything up when they left a power vacuum there?Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                I work with 4- and 5-year-olds everyday and get by without torture or the threat of violence. And I’d venture to guess that the average bully, “retarded person”, and terrorist is a bit smarter than my 4- and 5-year-olds, who are pretty frickin’ impressive if I do say so myself.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                But have you tried? Could ensure that hand washing after #2 really happens every time.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                Well, I’m a 6′, 195lb, 27-year-old man (not your typical Pre-K teacher), so I could probably bully them into doing whatever I want. But what would they learn.

                FWIW, I believe in the law of natural consequences, the most extreme of which is isolation from the group, presuming such isolation can be maintained in a manner that is safe for those maintaining it (absent this, I suppose death is an option, but I see no reason the former isn’t possible). If you demonstrate an inability to function with the rest of the group, you leave the group. If we find individuals so barbaric that they are incapable living with others, stick them on an island somewhere.

                Oh… wait… we already do that? And THEN torture them? Shit.Report

              • Avatar James K Polk says:

                I am willing to be that every one of your pupils already knows, from their parents, that there are lines that Shall Not Be Crossed or an adult will deal with them in a very physically coercive way.

                The fact that it is not You, Specifically who is the issuer of these threats is a fabulous exercise on your part of Deliberately Missing The Point.

                Maslow Hierarchy is pretty easy to follow. Terrorists, much like the kinder you are dealing with in your job, rarely move beyond the second layer. The moral arguments put forth by those who have obviously had no contact with real Islam, meanwhile, operate on the tip-top of the Maslow Hierarchy.

                Dealing with someone who is on the same level you are is easy. Dealing with those who haven’t even made it halfway up the ladder occasionally requires stepping a couple rungs down yourself. If they’re going after your physical safety, just saying “Oh please stop oh please stop” over and over again is unlikely to have any positive reaction.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                My children know that there are Lines That Shall Not Be Crossed and they don’t get dealt with in a “physically coercive way”.

                Of course, that’s a sample size of 2. I’m not claiming I know anything about parenting any other kids.

                > Dealing with someone who is on
                > the same level you are is easy.


                > Dealing with those who haven’t
                > even made it halfway up the
                > ladder occasionally requires step-
                > ping a couple rungs down yourself.

                This requires further clarification.

                However, I *will* agree that it is vastly different from dealing with someone who is on the same rung that you are.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                But James, why does torture become the default option? I have had to get physical with children, in the form of restraining them. I am not saying everything can be accomplished through touchy-feely requests. But if terrorists can be stopped without torturing them, then why torture? Are we going to torture the terrorism out of them? Likely not. Torture is a terrible form of punishment. Look them up and throw away the key. Why is any more necessary?Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                By the way… the terrorists have “Lines That Shall Not Be Crossed” a well. They aren’t lawless or amoral. They just have a very different moral perspective. Many of them are devout adherents to laws, including laws which they believe command them to kill. So, they are capable of obiding by rules and laws and staying within lines. They just don’t recognize the lines that we set.

                Which is not to say all lines are created equal. I am not a moral relatavist. But there are some people who are incapable of working within the bounds of a society, generally because they lack a capicity to recognize and understand those bounds. This is not the case with terrorists. They simply adhere to a fucked up moral code.Report

              • I am willing to be that every one of your pupils already knows, from their parents, that there are lines that Shall Not Be Crossed or an adult will deal with them in a very physically coercive way.

                Really? Most parents nowadays still beat their kids? I was under the impression that beating one’s kids for lack of cooperation was kind of frowned upon these days, and usually grounds for a visit from DYFS.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I don’t know. I saw a movie about Michael Jackson and his dad gave him whuppins every other scene.

                Freddy “Boom-Boom” Washington.

                That was the dad.Report

              • Avatar James K Polk says:

                Mr Pat,

                your kinder may be exceptional. Or they may not. Your definition of torture or physical punishment may also not be the same.

                Mr BSK,

                A “fucked up moral code” could be as little as “might makes right” if you think that is it. You say you have physically restrained the kinder. Was it ever physically painful for them? Did they say it was? Did they have to miss a meal? Did they not get to sleep?

                The way some people I have heard define “torture” is to the point where I cannot believe they know the meaning of the term. A pair of underpants on someone’s head is torture? Being photographed in their knickers? Not being able to sleep for a few nights?

                There is a line. In American police dramas you are sometimes shown the police having to do something to scare someone while not actually touching them because they would violate your law if they went from shouting and banging a fist to actually punching. Or pointing an unloaded gun at someone, to scare them, while letting them think the gun is loaded.

                You cannot simply say “torture” without a clear definition.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                Let’s call it what it is: waterboarding. Waterboarding is torture and I see no reason why the practice should ever been employed.

                Have I ever restrained a child and forced them to miss a meal or sleep? No. That would be abuse. Has it been uncomfortablef or them? I’m sure. But I’ve also learned methods that are intended to do so in a way that minimizes the harm done to the child and only use them when the child is a greater harm to himself when unrestrained (e.g., a child bullrushing around a small room with a plate glass door).

                Many Muslim terrorists (and lets remember that there are many, many terrorists who are not Muslim) are strict adherents to their faith. They pray five times a day, do not eat pork, abstain from sex, and follow millions of other rules that have nothing to do with might makes right. They also are willing to kill. To me, it i assbackwards to be so adherent to one set of rules and ignore what I believe should be a basic rule for all humanity. But the point remains that they are capable of following rules. You paint them as if they are incapable of living within bounds, like they are brainless monsters just running around. They aren’t. They think and feel just like you and I, but they just have very different thoughts and feelings. You attempt to deny them their humanity, equating them to “retards” and bullies and children (whom you apparently also regard as less than human). That is crap, plain and simple.Report

              • Avatar James K Polk says:

                Mr BSK,

                I am not Mike. Please cease asserting that I have said things about those who have a mental disease.

                You assert that waterboarding is torture. I have experienced it. It is scary. It is frightening. It is not an experience I would wish on someone. But it is not hanging someone by their thumbs and whipping them. It is not tying someone down and hitting them with a cane until their flesh cracks and blood flows.

                I have seen people claim that preventing someone from sleeping is torture. Or that giving them nothing but water for a few days is torture. It may be uncomfortable. It may be frightening. Is it torture? I cannot agree.

                Do I deny the humanity of those foolish enough to follow Islam? Of course not. Many of them have no choice. If they publicly denounced Islam in the place I live, they would be dragged off by the Mutta’wa and “vanished” from the world. An Imam would come along and reassign their wives to someone else and kick their children to the street to beg or starve. If they even convert in private, they must be ever careful where and when they pray and meet, and ever careful that they still go to mosque in public and say the right things or else they may be suspected.

                Islam rules through fear, nothing more. I cannot expect them to grow on Maslow Hierarchy when the land they live in is one of constant fear. But I cannot say that they can be dealt with on any higher level because they do not have the option to grow to any other level. They must be dealt with on the level they exist sad as it is.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:


                I apologize for conflating your arguments with Mike. I got lost in the threading. That was not fair.

                In your last paragraph, you mention how we should “deal” with them. Well, what is our purpose in engaging them? Are we simply trying to stop them from harming people further? Are we trying to extract information? Change their ways? These are important questions because they directly impact the approach we would advocate for.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Mike you were doing so well, then you go and step on your dick. See below, even Bp agrees with your assessment of the Christian religion.
                BTW, Mikie, what would be the West’s most beneficial strategy against ‘the terrorists?’ I’m enjoying this thread boys, keep up the good work!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                There’s a difference between the Christian faith and the Inquisition. The Church was squeamish, the State was not.

                Every Christian, every Muslim, in fact everyone of any faith, even the atheists, must be on guard against the incestuous relationship between Law and Morality. A perverse version of Golden Rule is also at the heart of the Law: we are complicit in that which we are willing to do to others. We are not only our Brother’s Keeper, we are also his policeman, his jailer, his torturer, his judge and his executioner.

                I don’t like all those labels being stuck on my lapel. I’d prefer to keep Law and Religion apart: my faith leads me work with refugees. It was the antidote to soldiering. It saved my sanity, it gave me back my soul, more precisely, I took it back. I quit believing in Justice. There is only the Law and from the Law comes Pardon, the ultimate exception to Due Process by which we are all condemned.

                Forgive the sermonizing. Rant off. I feel strongly about this: we justify the unjustifiable every time we defer to Authority.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Bob, you need to use that phrase more often. I confess, I think I hurt myself laughing.Report

          • Avatar Mike says:

            You’re seeing “the bully” as one individual.

            “The Bully” is the terrorist organization. We’ve caught one small portion of it.

            I don’t know. Maybe the Al Qaeda fighters wouldn’t be so eager to fight our troops if they still knew we were packing lard-covered bullets and that they would all, definitively, die “unclean” and get cremated for their troubles instead of dying a “martyr’s death.”

            But instead, every time we’ve been given the chance to man up and face the terrorist bullies on the only terms they understand, we’ve instead bowed over and made cowards of ourselves (at least, to the way that they think).Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

              > “The Bully” is the terrorist organization.
              > We’ve caught one small portion of it.

              That’s why your analogy sucks, to be honest. You make some interesting points, Mike, but organizations aren’t individuals and when you assign individual motives to organizations you get junk out the other end.Report

        • Avatar Michael says:

          So if I get you, a bully is a person who uses force to coerce behavior from a victim. Bullies are inherently retarded because they have little capacity for moral thinking that would hamper their use of force on the victim.

          Note though, that the only way to prevent a bully from acting out on a victim, requires the victim to take the roll of the bully. Either the victim is equally morally retarded as the bully, or they must cede their moral ground in an attempt to prevent bullying. In the latter case, the victim is only guaranteed that they have debased themselves and no guarantee that the bully got “the message,” will conform to the victims demands, or won’t one up the victim once more. The cycle is never broken.

          The bully targets those with something to lose to build social prestige. The biggest insult is to ignore their attacks, but subvert their friend group to your cause. Making a bully or a terrorist look impotent is not hard, and doesn’t require torture or violence.Report

        • Avatar Alan Scott says:

          The worst part of this Mike, is that you’re not just frighteningly wrong about terrorists and their motivations. You’re also wrong on the much more fundamental level of bullies.

          Bullies are not sub-human retards, incapable of grasping the tenets of higher morality–rather, they vary on the intelligence scale just like everyone else. It’s not that they don’t grasp morality–it’s just that they’re mean.

          And fighting back isn’t going to stop a bully–Bullies are looking for validation, and fighting back validates them just as much as cowering. Sure, if you kick their ass they’ll leave you alone, but if have a hope of kicking their ass, they probably wouldn’t be bullying you in the first place.

          The best way to deal with bullies is to not give a fish. Just stop caring, and bullies will leave you alone. Admittedly, that’s usually hard to pull off when it comes to the physical violence of a school yard bully (I have the advantage of laughing reflexively when punched in the gut–which would just creep bullies out. Nobody ever tried to beat me up more than once.)Report

    • Avatar mark boggs says:

      Yes, and we all know the emotional and physical scars left by bribery and cajoling.Report

      • Avatar Mike says:

        How well have rewards for tip-offs really worked? Well enough that we don’t want to interrogate terrorists when apprehended in the field?

        How well has the US’s “we pay you not to hate us” foreign-aid-to-assholes program worked? Seems not at all.

        You can name any tactic you want, and supply the same tautological “well it doesn’t work because, and anyways how are you measuring” bullshit as I’ve done above.Report

        • Avatar mark boggs says:

          And yet, in most other cases, short of torture, we manage to retain our humanity.Report

        • Avatar Michael says:

          The pay-offs were to brutal dictators who showed little interests in the concerns of their people. A majority of the aid went to stock piling weapons that kept the masses down, and to maintain our hegemony in the region.

          The only difference between Al Qaida and Mubarak is what form of oppression they wanted to impose on their people.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            You really want a convoluted back story, read about Somalia.

            They got screwed over by every major geopolitical force since 1890. It’s hardly surprising that they raid shipping.Report

    • The point here is actually that claims that torture “worked” are inherently tautological themselves. The moral argument against torture in no small part predicts that tautology to be extremely seductive.Report

  4. Avatar Scott says:


    “But torture is largely about vengeance.”

    Really, according to which expert?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      There are two sorts of abuse which can go on here. The most likely point of a prisoner abuse is upon initial capture: this is definitely vengeance, payback for shooting at the capturing party.

      When you get shot at for the first time, of course, you get scared. But the second emotion surprised me: a sense of aggrievement. Why, dammit, they’re shooting at me! What did I ever do to you?

      We all know what’s going on here. The CIA is trying to play Toljaso. The FBI, who’ve been interrogating crooks for a good long while longer than the CIA, dropped the dime on CIA’s torture policy. Tell you another thing for free, from what I saw of them, CIA is a bunch of bums, they think they’re all billy badass, running around Guatemala hobnobbing with crooked generals and drug lords. Don’t you believe a thing the CIA will ever say, they lie to themselves, they’d lie to their mothers, they lie when the truth would serve them better. They think they’re above the law because they’re not coming at the problem from a spirit of law enforcement. They’re a fishing law unto themselves, leddies and gennemens, I have seen them in action.Report

      • Avatar James K Polk says:

        Libel much?Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Dude, I’ve seen the CIA at work in Vietnam, Laos, Mexico, Lebanon, Pakistan, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Guatemala and if you count the shiny sunglasses who went through my shit at Kabul Airport in Oct 2002, Afghanistan.

          In all my long years, I have never seen an agency get so much wrong, so often. In Guatemala, the CIA backed the most atrocious dictator by the name of Rios-Montt, who fired American howitzers point blank into Maya villages. Ronald Reagan called him a freedom fighter. In Angola, they backed a cannibal, Jonas Savimbi. Given a choice between the right and wrong thing in any given situation, you can bet on these guys to choose the worst option, simply because they think it’s the one they can control.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Libel much?

          This reminds me of “All in the Family” when Edith yelled “wait just a damn minute!” and Archie just looked at her and said “in front of the kids?”Report

  5. Avatar TooManyJens says:

    Another utilitarian objection is that using torture will end up motivating more people to want to fight against us.Report

    • Agreed – I try to allude to that in the next to last paragraph, but perhaps I was too subtle about it.Report

    • Avatar Scott says:

      Doesn’t killing OBL do the same thing?Report

      • In and of itself, no, or at least not in any meaningful sense. Bombing Afghan weddings, though, is a bit of a different story.

        The reason I only alluded to this utilitarian objection at the end of my post was that its effects are felt last, after all the other utilitarian problems with torture have occurred. Torturing KSM, of and by itself, probably didn’t bring a terribly large number of recruits to al Qaeda, or at least not so many as to warrant concern if the information obtained because of the torture was really that valuable. But what does have a massive effect on terrorist recruiting is when that torture starts to spread – and the moral argument against torture predicts that it will spread – and gets used against others, such as the diplomat in the story linked above.Report

    • Avatar Mike says:

      Irrelevant. Anything except “rolling over, playing dead, and converting to the Cult of the Pedophile Mo” will “motivate more of them to want to fight against us.”Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        … and… you’re done here.Report

      • Avatar James K Polk says:

        That seems to be a point that none of these people will ever understand.

        But why should they? They don’t have the experience to have seen firsthand what we are up against. In their world, “real Islam” is this bright happy religion where they would go around picking flowers and singing kumbaya in Arabic all day. Reality never intrudes into their little fantasyland long enough for them to have an honest discussion about the real world.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

          Mr. Polk, I (again respectfully) submit that you know next to nothing about the commentariat here, and ought not judge the experience, motivations, or declarations of them while assuming that you understand the commentariat.

          At least, not until you’ve spent some time here. You might be astonishingly surprised at what you may find.Report

        • Actually, in our world, there is no such thing as “real Islam,” but instead a plethora of different varieties of Islam, some more dangerous than others, but most no more of a threat to the West than any other religion (even if the nature of that “threat” varies from religion to religion).Report

        • Avatar RTod says:

          Have you actually SEEN this site?Report

      • Avatar RTod says:

        I know this is way off topic and we want to be moving away from this, but what is a pedophile mo? Assuming it’s not a really unpopular city in Missouri. Anyone know?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          It’s a reference to Mohammed in regards to the fact that one of his wives was very, very, very young when he married her. (I understand that he waited until she was very, very young to consummate, though).Report

          • Avatar RTod says:

            Wow. That makes that an even douchier comment than I had thought. Thanks, JB.Report

            • Avatar Scott says:


              There are some folks that think that having sex with children is a no- no even if you are a prophet.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Pop quiz:

                What was the average age of marriage in the west in 620AD?

                In 1396, Richard II of England married an 8 year old. That was 770 years later.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                Resulting, or course, in the Cult of Pedophilia Dick. (see? this is easy.)Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                Thanks Scott, good point. Cause I really was defending pedophelia. Not rolling my eyes at the notion that the followers of one of the worlds largest religions are pro-pedophilia.Report

              • Avatar James K Polk says:

                Sex with 6-year-olds should be right out no matter what.

                But to Muslims, it’s perfectly ok. Like the recent 8 year old child bride incident here in Saudi Arabia. It happens all the time, you in other countries just rarely hear of it.Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                You should come to Southern Utah.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                “Sex with 6-year-olds… to Muslims, it’s perfectly OK.”


                This is of course going to come as a HUGE shock to every Muslim I know, who appearantly have been hoodwinked into marrying people arround their own age.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Yes, it does happen. That doesn’t make Saudi Arabia representative of all Islam.

                Shoot, is Fred Phelps representative of all Christianity? Are the pedophile priests representative of all Catholicism?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Pat, much as I would like to say KSA does not represent Islam, and at a spiritual level I’ll stipulate to the fact that it doesn’t, KSA controls the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and as such, does represent Islam.

                You make the point about Fred Phelps. KSA has sent forth tens of thousands of Fred Phelpses into the Islamic world as missionaries, funded the building of thousands of madaariss, institutions for the creation of millions of Teeny Little Phelpses who do more than carry nasty placards at funerals. These swine teach a far more sinister doctrine, that Muslims may condemn other Muslims, destroy girls’ schools, force women into burhka, murder Jews and Christians, that suicide bombing is permissible against Americans.

                That’s reality. If for no other reason than their abuse of Islam itself, KSA can be said to be a Fred Phelps Factory.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                That’s a fair point, Blaise.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                I agree with Pat that this is a fair point, BP. But – and this for me is a huge but – this doesn’t make Mike’s and then James’s point that Muslims are pro-pedophilia any less ludicrous or inflammatory… in the same way that it would be ludicrous or inflammatory to say that Catholics are pro-pedophelia, or go into the Bible texts and declare that Christians and Jews are pro incest, pro-bigamy or inherently blood thirsty.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                That’s a fair point, RTod.Report

              • Avatar Mike says:

                I’m going to have a good laugh at your “point” given that Saudi Arabia, and most other Arab countries, don’t have the guts to actually make pedophile marriages like this illegal in the first place.

                They approve of it. Whether you like it or not, they do.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                Wow, you’re right – that would be quite the knee slapper if that was even in the ball park of anything I said. Do you bother to read the threads?Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                In fact, at the risk of not letting this go…

                Having just gone back and reread, do you realize that you just mocked me for claiming that Saudi Arabia doesn’t make “underage” marriages illegal, and you did that from a comment that did not have the words “Saudi,” “Arabia,” “marriage,” or any words related to laws or legalities in any way appear even once?

                That is an impressive bit of artful counter-point.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Doesn’t quite work that way. It’s not that Muslims are pro-pedophilia. We can both say that sort of talk is incitement. But let’s apply the Martian Test here: understand that I’m a Christian, so this might seem rather odd. The stuff we’re complaining about isn’t pro-anything. They’re tabus, anti-something.

                The Martian picks up the Bible and starts reading along. David and Solomon had many wives. Is bigamy prohibited in the Bible? Well, there is that one bit in 1 Timothy 3 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, but no other prohibitions against bigamy apply.

                The Bible says nothing else on the subject, so I’m forced to admit bigamy isn’t forbidden to anyone but a bishop. The Catholics come along and say a bishop can’t marry anyone. Who’s setting up these tabus?

                What’s torture? Who gets to define it? Is putting a prisoner in the hole for a few days with the lights off torture? Pull him out of there after a few days and he’s stark raving crazy. Threaten him with the hole again and he will curl up in a ball and piss himself and beg for any other fate.

                See, it gets tricksy really quickly. Who gets to say “that’s beyond the limit” ? The Geneva Convention? Doesn’t apply to these guys; they’re not soldiers. The Geneva Convention has plenty to say about combatants out of uniform and it takes a very dim view of it. We shot civilian saboteurs in WW2. We shoot spies.

                See, it’s all so much codswallop. Torture is what we say it is.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                BP, I would argue that the problem with the Martian test is that we do not apply it to ourselves, because to do so would be obviously detached from reality. But we do apply it to those we don’t know because it’s an easy frame of reference; but that doesn’t make it any less detached from reality.

                Put more simply: you can make all of the academic arguments that all of the Muslims I know, hang with, work with, am aquatinted with revere child-fishing. You can quote me all kinds of texts, and tell me about your world travels, and give a fishing power int presentation that proves that spells how right you are.

                And you’re still bone-headedly wrong.

                Making sweeping statements about how all Muslims love/like/condone pedophilia (as Mike and James were doing) is moronic and purposefully inciteful and vitriolic.


              • Avatar RTod says:

                And to wrap that thought back to the subject of torture:

                I would suggest that it is that kind of lazy and vitriolic thinking, the kind that makes you know despite all evidence that all Muslilms want your child to be raped for their or their Iman’s pleasure, that allows one to get to a place where you’re ok with torturing indescriminantly.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The Martian Test says your ethical proscriptions might be laws in your own little Private Idaho but they are not binding on anyone else. Muslims do marry off underage children. I had to deal with this a few years back with a Somali refugee family who were sending their 12 year old daughter into an arranged marriage. Well, actually, by the time the cops and social workers got through with it, turns out they had sold her.

                Your Muslim buddies wouldn’t dream of marrying anyone but someone their own age. The plural of anecdote is not a trend. There are folks who don’t subscribe to the ethical constructs of your Private Idaho and others who don’t subscribe to mine. You don’t have to deal with the Islamic refugees who don’t quite get the laws of the State of Illinois and who haven’t read the ruling at Reynolds v. United States 98 U.S. 145 on bigamy.

                As for this business about making sweeping statements about how all Muslims love/like/condone pedophilia, that is a stupid thing to say. Sober up. The father of that Somali girl in Carol Stream who got sold might differ with your assessment. Each state has different laws about the age of consent. I wonder what the age is in your Private Idaho.Report

            • Avatar James K Polk says:

              Apparently I am now barred from speaking.

              I shall take my leave, then. It serves little purpose to remain here, the people running it obviously are more interested in forcing people to believe as they do than having a discussion.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            I think that’s a politically incorrect statement!Report

  6. Avatar 62across says:

    Even one who takes the unqualified, honorable position still needs to convince at least some of those who do not to take his side in order for his opposition to have any meaning. Repeating, over and over, that something is immoral will not ever convince anyone who basically acknowledges that immorality but finds security more important than morality.

    I don’t think that it is possible to “convince” someone else of a moral position. I don’t know that it is necessary either. I am completely comfortable believing that torture is immoral (effectiveness be damned) and that proponents of torture, like Mike here, are immoral. That I won’t be able to convince Mike otherwise bothers me not a whit.Report

    • Avatar Mike says:

      I will be perfectly happy to stand by then when someone breaks into your house, shoots your wife or kids or does worse to them, and you do not a thing to stop them because “violence is immoral.”Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        How did you get to this, from the comment to which you are replying?Report

      • Avatar mark boggs says:

        Nice how violence and torture are interchangeable in your wording. Which leads me to believe that, in the case of torture, you’ve already served as judge, jury and executioner in the cases of every detainee we have. They are deserving of torture simply by the fact that they have ended up here in Bagram or Guantanamo, because we wouldn’t capture innocent people or ever be mislead by feuding locals into arresting their local opposition with false information.

        But I’m guessing that, as soon as we started the “interrogations, we would realize that we had the wrong guys, right? Because the interrogator knows which answers are true and which are false, right? Especially under duress where someone is prone to say anything to stop the pain, even if it is false but what the interrogator wants to hear.

        Or maybe we had the right guys and with just a bit more force, just a few more gallons of water, they’ll spill the beans. And you have to be really sure, because if it is the right guy, and you let him go and he carries out the mission to eat the world, how will you feel then? Should we just settle on “torture them all and let God sort ’em out?”Report

      • Avatar 62across says:

        First off, that you seek vindication for your position through wishing some horrible tragedy upon my family only reinforces my impression that you are immoral.

        Secondly, as Jaybird and mark boggs have already made clear, torture and self-defense are not remotely synonymous.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        You’d be perfectly willing to stand by while somebody breaks into a house and shoots innocent women and children, just to prove a point? Classy.Report

  7. Avatar BSK says:

    If we are saying torture worked, then what is the goal?

    To extract information?
    To punish?
    To satiate our feelings?
    Something else?

    It seems that people are defining the end of terrorism differently, which inherently makes it impossible to discuss the morality of it.Report

  8. Avatar James Polk says:

    Apparently I am now barred from speaking.

    I shall take my leave, then. It serves little purpose to remain here, the people running it obviously are more interested in forcing people to believe as they do than having a discussion.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Yeah, I’m going to guess you’re not actually barred from speaking, but ran afoul of the anti-spam software and immediately concluded you’ve been barred from speaking. But we’ll see if I’m wrong. Toodles!Report

    • What the $#%^ is it with people coming here, making blanket statements about Islam that on many sites would in fact result in a ban, getting criticized by other commenters for their blanket statements but not even remotely threatened with a ban, and then complaining that they are barred from speaking?

      Here’s a clue: SPEECH IS NOT CENSORSHIP.Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      What do you mean banned? How are you posting?

      Assuming you are not banned, I’d like to encourage you to stick around. You are obviously prety new, because disagreement is pretty much what drives this site. If that’s what you seek you might find this place to your liking. Though, word of advice, if you don’t want people to act with hostility, you might not start off your posts here with a verbal flamethrower.

      Hope you stick around.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Different name: James K Polk versus James Polk. Again, I’m guessing he posted something with a link, the software held it up for verification that it’s not spam, and that led him to conclude he’s been banned. But, you know, that might be wrong.Report

        • I did find two posts in the spam filter, which have now been approved.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            It’s funny how the angriest ones always assume they’ve been banned.Report

          • Avatar Mike says:

            Anyone ever pointed out that your spam filter is crap?Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

              It takes not too much to grok how to get around it. And the boys are generally good at approving comments quickly.

              On the flip side, there’s pretty much zero spam comments here. So, it may be stronger than you’d like, but it’s demonstrably working at its intended purpose.Report

          • Avatar James K Polk says:

            I would like to know what I did that my posts were being filtered.

            It makes no sense. I tried to respond to multiple places and noticed at least four were not present. Then I tried one more to confirm it before posting by response.Report

          • Avatar James Polk says:

            I have tried again.

            Apparently one of you has decided that anything from my normal posting email address is to be filtered.

            This is completely dishonest of you. I was not apparently “mistakenly” filtered but deliberately.

            I am now done. Wallow in your dishonesty if you wish.Report

            • Avatar mark boggs says:

              So you’re posting this to let us all know that you can’t post. I’m not sure that not posting means what you think it means.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              Your comments seem to be appearing normally. None of them are in the spam filter. None of them are in the trash.

              I’d like to help you, but I have no way of demonstrating it, because there’s nothing left to put through moderation or to undelete.

              If you want to take that as evidence that I’m out to get you, well, I guess I can’t stop you.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Also, I just checked, and your e-mail address is very definitely not in the spam filter.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                WD, JasonK. The unfounded complaints of the right-wing driveby psycho should be put to the front of the line so everyone can see how unfounded they are. This is a fair blog. Right-wing psychos are always put to the front of the line.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                It’s interesting that you assume someone who appears to be prejudiced and unbalanced must be right-wing.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                What would you have me do? Not help him out? Ban him? I really don’t see how I was supposed to react here, such that you wouldn’t chew me out.

                I made sure everything was working as far as I could tell. I confirmed that his addresses were not banned, I checked the spam filter, and I gave him an honest answer. I would have treated a liberal in exactly the same way. I don’t know what went on, and it bothers me. That much ought to be obvious to an impartial reader.

                Now — if you or anyone else — lacks the level of trust needed to feel confident that we are administering the site impartially and to the best of our ability, then leave. Don’t grandstand about it, just get out. By your own claims here, you have no reason to remain.

                But I’m not banning you either. So there.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                I figured you’d ignore him since his concerns had been addressed by others. But it’s nice you went the extra mile for him.

                I’ll stick around awhile, thx. But I appreciate you holding the door open for me.Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                I think you should do yourself a favor and spend a negative amount of time worrying about whether this blog is fair. There is more disagreement with less animostiy here than any other blog I read.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      We should ban people for whining when their comments are slammed by mistake.Report

  9. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    Or, “The Meaninglessness of Claims That Torture Doesn’t Work.”

    Since my name is mentioned here, I’ll say only that I believe Hayden’s challenge must be engaged, that the effectiveness question is a separate one, and is often used as a dodge.

    This is not to say Mr. Thompson’s utilitarian argument here—that the net sum of coercive techniques is negative—is necessarily invalid; however, it’s far from self-evident fact. For the sake of even-handedness, I’ll stipulate also that there’s a valid possibility that the same info could be got by less unaesthetic means.

    So if we are not to beg the question, the Hayden Challenge must be engaged.

    [Conflating the effectiveness question also has the virtue of painting those who disagree as sadists, or immoral, or as one commenter put it, that torture is revenge. Such moralizing assertions simply can’t be engaged in good faith. Sadists cannot argue from good faith, they’re sadists!]

    [I do not say Mr. Thompson does that here, however, that’s the environment.]

    “Morality” is always an unhelpful term for me in these fora, where what is moral is more a matter of opinion than reasoned argument. I would break your arm to save a life, yes I would.

    I must object strongly here to the notion that torture is a slippery slope where in the end, anything goes. This might be true of torture in general, however, that’s not what happened in the Gross War On Terror. In fact, I believe it was Michael Hayden himself who discontinued the practice of waterboarding c. 2007.

    BBC: The CIA Director Michael Hayden, who took office in May 2006, is reported to have discontinued water-boarding, but has refused to confirm that publicly.

    The reason he refused to confirm it jibes with a later comment, that it’s best that al-Qaeders and the like don’t know our self-imposed limits on coercion. The fear of waterboarding or torture may have a positive effect on potential canaries, a side argument overlooked in all this, and a “pro-” argument that can stand comfortably in rebuttal to Mr. Thompson’s utililitarian “con” one in the OP.Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      OK, I just googled Hayden’s Challenge and got butkis. Is this a tool of reason, like Occam’s Razor?Report

    • Avatar 62across says:

      “Morality” is always an unhelpful term for me in these fora, where what is moral is more a matter of opinion than reasoned argument.

      That’s a little convenient, isn’t it? It kind of allows you to dismiss the moral argument without engaging it.

      How has it come to pass that the belief that torture is immoral, a belief widely held for millennia, must prove itself inviolable rather than the opposite? Those would go against the moral argument should be the ones who have to provide the rock solid justification. Highly speculative scenarios just don’t cut it.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        One cannot engage a begged question, Mr. Across. “How can you support the immorality of torture, which coercive techniques are?”

        You see the problem.

        Should anyone happen to engage my actual argument, I shall reply. Otherwise, I’ve had my say, at least enough for now. Thanks.Report

    • Avatar mark boggs says:

      But what about the prisoner who is OK with waterboarding? What “next step” would we take to produce his canary? Would we then neither confirm nor deny that we’ve taken kidnapping the suspect’s mother or daughter and raping and torturing them off the table? You say it isn’t a slippery slope, but it kind of is. If we have a bad guy and we assume he has info, but technique A, B, C haven’t worked, how far are we willing to go.

      Nevermind the fact that the whole scenario reeks of near impossibility because it assumes the torturers will know when all the important nuggets have been mined. Can they ever really be sure? Like I said earlier, maybe just a few more turns of the screw or another couple gallons of water. Maybe then, we’ll get the real poop.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        Mr. Boggs, the question then becomes one of line-crossing, and they’ll be crossed [or not] wherever we set them: at tea & crumpets, coercive techniques, or electrodes on the balls. [Just one ball, not both?]Report

        • Avatar mark boggs says:

          But isn’t there one very stark line there that involves intentionally inflicting pain in a cruel and unusual manner in order to extract information (that we really hope will be useful but might not)? On one side is the inflicting of pain, on the other is asking questions in a variety of non-pain-inflicting ways.

          And again, I thought this whole thing was about how much better we are than them. How our way of life is more civilized. How our ideals trump their ideals.Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke says:

            Maybe, Mr. Boggs, but my reply is valid I think, at arm’s length, where I’d like to keep this if possible.

            Perhaps the reality is different, I dunno. It seems they went up to the defined line with KSM, then backed away from it rather than crossed it. But in this whole issue, I wouldn’t want to draw any conclusions or attempt to base an argument on a narrow set of circumstances. It seems to me the argument bin Laden was found without the assistance of coercive techniques might be true, Panetta’s statement notwithstanding.

            My primary argument is that the effectiveness argument can’t be validated, and so should be bifurcated from the morality argument.

            And I’m not terribly sympathetic to the “we’re better than them,” thing, whoever “them” is. We don’t saw off heads with rusty swords like “they” did to Danny Pearl. We are already “better than them” above and beyond the nuances of this issue [if there are any nuances].

            “They” draw no lines atall.Report

            • Avatar mark boggs says:

              Ask a woman if “they” draw lines.

              But beyond that, it does seem that, when we’re talking about doing things to people that not only border on the inhumane but that we ask our people to do these things to them in order to gather information that is of dubious reliability, are we not better off keeping things humane and trying to gather information that may be of dubious reliability? Given that it can neither be proved or disproven that these things work? All things being equal?Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Depends on who the burden of proof is on. I have always held that those who wish to change the status quo bear the burden of proof.

                However, in a philosophical discussion, it’s gentlemanly to share the burden of proof. In this case, the status quo can say “it works.” The con side can make only unprovable assertions for its own case. There’s a structural problem for the “con” side, admittedly, and not one of its own making.

                Now, I thought you were correct that the introduction of any coercion opens the door more for “crossing the line.” There is greater moral hazard, stipulated. Again, corollary to Hayden’s Challenge is a stipulation of moral hazard, but that the answer isn’t to avoid it entirely.

                Keep in mind that although I am putatively disagreeing with you, I’m not saying you [or Mr. Thompson] are wrong. Such is the nature of moral dilemmas, what makes them dilemmas in the first place.

                Or as Yogi Berra put it, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                But hasn’t the stated status quo been that “these United States do not torture?”

                And not that I am asking you to prove your case, as I’ve already ceded that it is probably entirely unprovable that torture always gets it wrong or that humane interrogation always provides the best info.

                But given that both obviously produce a bunch of falsehoods and only one entails us becoming monsters to obtain those falsehoods while simultaneously putting a possibly innocent human being through the process of being tortured, doesn’t it just seem safe to say that we stick with the humane stuff, maintain our position as principled actors (as much as one can), and also, possibly, our dignity?Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Mebbe, Mr. Boggs. That meets “Hayden’s Challenge,” I think.Report

            • Avatar 62across says:

              I agree with your primary argument, BTW.

              Could you elaborate on how you think the lines should get drawn then? Does it all come down to legal definition? Based on his work in this instance, it seems to me that John Yoo would have found a “legal” justification to put the line wherever his superiors wanted it. Aren’t we back to it being a matter of opinion?Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                Can you make the drawing of the line similar to the golden rule? That is, if a US citizen was detained in another country and coerced by that government to see if he/she were spying, the line where that coercion wouldn’t make us go bat shit crazy and yell for blood or military action would be X?

                Whatever that line is, might it not be what we should reasonably agree to?Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Now we’re into the legal, another area.

                I’m all for lines, wherever we as a people set them, to be true to our principles, to be “better than them” or whatever.

                Hayden addressed this explicitly [as above]:

                The honorable position you have to take if you want us not to do this — and believe me, if the nation says, “Don’t do it,” the CIA won’t do it. The honorable position has to be, “Even though these techniques worked, I don’t want you to do that.” That takes courage. The other sentence doesn’t.

                [BF mine.]Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                Actually, I’d meant that to bea moral standard. And I’m not even sure I agree with it yet, just floating it out there.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                I’ve always had trouble with reasoning directly from the Golden Rule.

                If I were a terrorist, could I blame the other guys for trying to save lives? If I were innocent and, um, “coerced” by honest mistake, should I forgive? Shit happens.

                With Mr. Thompson’s rebuttal of my primary point hanging like Damocles’ Sword, I’m hesitant to get too far ahead into what is and isn’t moral. For one thing, that mileage varies is stipulated by both Hayden & yr affectionate correspondent, and “our” argument isn’t immediately concerned with that.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                I get and agree with your point. It’s hard for me to imagine, however, that if we were able to wave a magic wand and go back in time and make it so that either the US never waterboarded or nobody knew we did, and we found out that Iran waterboarded a US soldier suspected of spying….

                I am pretty sure that not only wouldn’t we as a country go apesh*t, I would be willing to bet that the same pundits (and networks) that are pro-wb now would be damanding military action against the barbarism. I think that leads me to think there has to become waged could think about what we find acceptable for our enemies, and create policy accordingly.

                On the other hand, maybe that’s what we DID do with the Geneva Convention, and maybe that’s the answer right there.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                Never a fan of the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? What if you’re okay with (or at least claim to be okay with) a punch in the head. Can you punch another in the head? I advocate for, “Do unto others as they wish done unto them,” with the obvious caveat that this can’t assume a positive action (“You have to give me money because that is what I want”) but can take a form of, “I don’t like when you get sarcastic with me, but you are okay with sarcasm so I will be sarcastic with you.” The whole equality principal simply shouldn’t apply to human interactions. I’m much more of an equity man myself.Report

              • Avatar Mike says:

                Funny things to know about the Geneva Conventions:

                1 – They only apply to states that have signed on to them. Unrecognized actors (rebellions, international terrorist/crime organizations, etc) are not valid for their protections.

                2 – They only apply to military actors who commit their acts while in some sort of uniform and carry their arms openly. Spies, saboteurs, undercover operatives, and anyone else who impersonates civilians does not qualify.

                Al Qaeda is an international terrorist/crime organization. It has derived a substantial amount of its money from drug-smuggling and money-laundering trades. Its members impersonate civilians, do not (generally) carry arms openly, and wear no sort of a recognized uniform. Nor is it attached to any government that has signed the Geneva Conventions.

                In short: if you’re going to argue “but the Geneva Conventions say…” regarding Al Qaeda, I’m going to tell you to go educate yourself and shut the fish up.Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                And because they wear no uniforms and are not recognizable as such, what are the odds that every one you pick up for interrogation is an Al Qaeda member? I’ll bet if you tortured them hard enough and long enough you could get them to admit it though, right?Report

        • I think I see where you’re going with this now.

          I lack time at the moment, so hopefully this discussion will continue for awhile, but for now I’ll say this much:

          1. All coercion is immoral.
          2. Torture is definitionally a form (or forms) of coercion.
          3. There’s a lot of other coercive actions in the world, and even coercive interrogation practices, which are routinely condoned by virtually anyone who is not an anarchist.
          4. What constitutes torture in the interrogation context is thus largely a function of line-drawing, ie: laws.

          This does not end the discussion. However, the “moral argument” is perhaps best titled a “rule of law” argument.

          (I reserve the right to revise these points at any time, as I have not properly thought them through).Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke says:

            Thank you, Mr. Thompson. Thoughtful replies are all that is asked, and I look forward to yours.

            However, your first bullet point is offered as a self-evident truth. There can be no disagreement with self-evident truths. ;-}Report

            • However, your first bullet point is offered as a self-evident truth. There can be no disagreement with self-evident truths.

              Understood. With sufficient time, I would not have offered that statement as self-evident. However, I believe I can say that this is the default position in all modern cultures with which I am personally familiar. There are certainly many, many instances where deviations from this default position are recognized, but broadly speaking, coercion of any sort requires justification to be deemed socially and/or legally acceptable behavior.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

              They can be discarded for the purposes of the discussion, though.

              I believe that all war is immoral. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t engage in war in some circumstance. It also doesn’t mean that the outcome might not be less immoral than the outcome of avoiding the war.

              It still doth leave a stain upon the soul, though. Such is the human existence. I’d contend that anyone who claims that they won’t engage in activities that they believe are immoral under any circumstances is either full of baloney, or has a very well couched or flexible definition of immoral, or doesn’t know themselves very well.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                “I’d contend that anyone who claims that they won’t engage in activities that they believe are immoral under any circumstances is either full of baloney, or has a very well couched or flexible definition of immoral, or doesn’t know themselves very well.”

                +1 and then someReport

          • Avatar Mike says:

            1. All coercion is immoral.


            Trade – whether favors or monetary – is a form of coercion. It is convincing someone to do something for you that they would not ordinarily do, with the promise that you will do something that you would not normally do for them in exchange.

            Some trades are considered immoral. Most religions see prostitution as immoral, for instance. Oddly, those religions have no problem with “marriages” of convenience or gold-digging varieties, despite their resembling prostitution in all but timeframe.

            There are both positive and negative varieties of coercion, in the eyes of the coerced. If you’re training your dog with treats, you are using “positive reinforcement”, aka positive coercion. If you’re using a rolled-up newspaper to bop him on the nose as a punishment, you’re using negative coercion.

            3. There’s a lot of other coercive actions in the world, and even coercive interrogation practices, which are routinely condoned by virtually anyone who is not an anarchist.</i?

            See above.

            If you want to claim that "torture" is immoral, then we can argue over the definition of torture. If you want to argue that, in an ideal world where resources were limitless and everyone had perfect freedom to do whatever they wanted and lived in a bubble separated from all other humans, then all coercion would be immoral, so be it.

            But to say that "all coercion is immoral"? I cannot agree. "Coercion" is the price we pay for living in a world where humans have to interact and come to agreements on how to share resources and deal with one another.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              If all trade is coercion, then “coercion” is a meaningless word.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              Even I wouldn’t agree that all coercion is immoral. I think we have a moral duty to minimize the use and impact of coercion, but that’s not the same thing. Perfect obedience to that duty may itself entail some preventative coercion, without which we’d have even more of the stuff.

              Also what Chris said.Report

              • Even I wouldn’t agree that all coercion is immoral. I think we have a moral duty to minimize the use and impact of coercion, but that’s not the same thing.

                For the purposes I was making this claim, they’re the same thing.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                These abstract pronouncements lose track of reality in a hurry, Mr. Thompson. Yes, of course we want people to do the right thing, without coercion.

                Former AG Mukasey wrote today:

                That regimen of harsh interrogation was used on KSM after another detainee, Abu Zubaydeh, was subjected to the same techniques. When he broke, he said that he and other members of al Qaeda were obligated to resist only until they could no longer do so, at which point it became permissible for them to yield. “Do this for all the brothers,” he advised his interrogators.

                I mean, talk about nuance…Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        If you could get him to talk by engaging in unwanted sex with a sheep, would you?

        Which is more important to you? Your own taboos or the lives of children?

        Are you saying that you would not engage in sex with a sheep if it would save Americans?Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          “Not even if it would help the space program!”Report

        • Avatar mark boggs says:

          Is the sheep male?Report

        • Avatar RTod says:

          OK, just to make sure I’m tracking…. When you say “unwanted sex,” do you mean unwanted by you, or the sheep?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Instead of a sheep, I originally had other nouns in there. It’s the nouns that would be unwilling.

            It’s weird. People are more than happy to weigh the calculus of torturing a person they know is bad against saving the life of a child (as if those two things have anything to do with each other).

            What if the guy has a (noun) fetish and wants to see you (yes: YOU) force yourself upon a noun who isn’t into it.

            Would you?


            “That’s stupid.”
            “It’s my hypothetical. It’s my scale. It’s my thumb on it. And you haven’t answered the question.”Report

            • Avatar mark boggs says:

              Wait. I’m fishing a noun against its will and you have your thumb where?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:


              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                If I had to do it more than twice in an hour, I’m afraid those poor bastards are dead.Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                And it’s not that I don’t love my fellow Americans, but there is only so much salutin’ a soldier can do in a short period.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think that the counter-argument is something to the effect of “well, no terrorist would want to see the act you describe but everybody will talk after being tortured!”

                Given the number of examples given regarding torture not working (e.g., resulting in false positives) being waved away, and given that my example assumes that the guy would tell the truth if adjective nouns were adverbly verbed, I think I’ve demonstrated that there are dynamics at work here above and beyond the whole “getting them to talk” thing.

                That said, Mark, you are a good American who has saved many lives in my hypothetical.Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                It really has a happy ending then? For me, too?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                For all of us, I think.

                (I think I’m mostly irritated by “I have my thumb on the scale of this hypothetical and you have to choose between this thing you’re condemning me for and something bad!”

                It wouldn’t bug me if it weren’t so freakin’ trite.

                (My unsarcastic trait is that we should put the people who did it on trial by jury and allow the victim to testify and allow the prosecution to play the tape of the interrogation and explain what was found as a result of it. If the jury says “we are delighted that the guy gave up the information about where the Lindburg baby was and that you found the baby because of that. Not Guilty!”, then the jury says that. If the jury instead says “the guy didn’t know anything and the interrogator just kept dunking him over and over and over again. Guilty”, then that happens too.

                “But what if the interrogator honestly thinks that the guy knows something?”

                If you are not willing to be found guilty by a jury of your peers, then don’t do it.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                JB, what do you do if the jury says for these two people, you got this great information, but with this third guy you put him through the ringer rather sadistically and got nothing? Does he get acquitted twice but pay for one? Or does he get a pass on the third because of his good work on the others?

                One of the more thorny moral dilemmas with torture is that, philosophically, we always talk in hypotheticals as if we know the guy knows something. (e.g.: the ticking time bomb scenario.) But if we have an entire system set up, it seems logical that we are tacitly agreeing to torture some number of folks who know nothing as we pan for gold.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                What happens IRL with a hung jury?

                I’m just saying that if you suspect that you won’t get a jury of your peers to acquit you of the charges, maybe you should put the needle down.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              Instead of a noun, could I have sex with someone of the opposite gerund?Report

            • Avatar RTod says:

              Do we get to save lives if Angelina Jolie has to have sex with me?Report

        • Avatar dexter says:

          The answer to your question depends on which American I would be saving. For example, if I knew it would save my children or my wife, it would be like that scene in “The Getaway”, where Ali McGraw said she would fish everybody in Texas to get Steve McQueen out of jail, but there are many Americans I would have to think about it for several hundred years.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      If “torture works” means that it’s possible to find at least one instance where torture contributed to a positive outcome, then every government social program works too.Report

  10. Avatar RTod says:

    “How has it come to pass that the belief that torture is immoral, a belief widely held for millennia”

    Is this true? Agreeing with 62across’s larger point, but asking those that know more about history than I. I always thought that looking on torture as evil or immoral was a product of the more modern world.Report

    • Avatar 62across says:

      A historian’s perspective might be more nuanced that what I’ve gleaned from literature. That torture equipment was operated in deep, dark dungeons and torturers wore masks suggests to me torture never occupied a place on the good to evil scale higher than necessary evil.Report

      • Avatar RTod says:

        Somehow that makes me feel slightly better about our species.Report

      • Avatar Mike says:

        Either that, or there’s something about deep, dark dungeons (light deprivation perhaps?) that makes them a great place to torture someone.

        Likewise with wearing a mask. It’s much harder to fight back against someone whose face you can’t see, mentally, as opposed to being able to fixate on some visible ugliness or imperfection and throw insults back at them.

        And of course, the people you’re likely to interrogate would likely be prisoners, and dungeons/jails were virtually synonymous (still are really).

        Or would the question of sheer pragmatism not fit with your “they are embarassed by it” model?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Well, there were public executions that amounted to torturing people to death. I don’t know that many societies had a real problem with torture before the early modern period. I’d think Voltaire’s writings about the Calas case are pretty important for developing the western case against torture. The point is that, I’m no expert here, but it seems to me that anti-torture thought is basically a product of the Enlightenment.Report

  11. Avatar Dave says:


    1 – They only apply to states that have signed on to them. Unrecognized actors (rebellions, international terrorist/crime organizations, etc) are not valid for their protections.

    2 – They only apply to military actors who commit their acts while in some sort of uniform and carry their arms openly. Spies, saboteurs, undercover operatives, and anyone else who impersonates civilians does not qualify.

    Common Article 3 applies specifically to unlawful enemy combatants, and if that was up for debate prior to Hamdan v Rumsfeld, it is no longer the case. I don’t know where you are coming up with your points, but I’d be skeptical of your sources.Report

  12. Avatar Dave says:

    In short: if you’re going to argue “but the Geneva Conventions say…” regarding Al Qaeda, I’m going to tell you to go educate yourself and shut the fish up.

    Does someone get to say that to you? I mean, really, the whole asshole routine doesn’t suit you well. I’m surprised no one’s gotten on your ass about this.Report

  13. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    The entire torture discussion is gratuitous here. It’s really just playing on the court of those who want to vindicate torture to take them up on their claims that this event did so. They should be ignored. The status quo was the this president made a big show of rejecting torture, then got bin Laden. It’s also the case that there is no evidence that past torture made that exclusively possible, or even contributed. I don’t get the sense that the public is seeing this event as vindication of torture. There will always be some in the public who see it that way, though, and there will always be those in the political class with access to microphones who want to argue that way. If their arguments were gaining steam again, I would say they need to be confronted. But my sense is that they are not. And since this is rather a settled issue on the merits, if the public debate about it is not being swayed by this specious advocacy, I don’t see where engaging it does anything but raise its profile more than it deserves, perhaps through the process of false-balance journalism allowing more question to be raised in some minds about a question they thought had been settled. I think the right response to torture dead-enders, now that we’ve had a big political fight about torture and the matter has been largely settled as a moral and practical matter in the public mind, was to let them have their Constitutionally-protected moment before the microphone, and then let the speciousness and marginal nature of their arguments speak for itself, rather than give the press the opportunity to say that “The Question” of the efficacy of torture has been re-raised in light of the killing of bin Laden.

    But I guess all that, too, now is in the past as well.Report

    • Avatar mark boggs says:

      Well part of the problem is they manage to squeeze what has, in the past, amounted to torture (waterboarding – we did in fact prosecute Japanese soldiers for doing it) into a newer, more polite, phrase: “Enhanced interrogation techniques”. This allows defenders of the practice to argue for its merits without actually having to say the word. Coupled with the fact that we are doing this mostly (because we would never mistakenly get the wrong guy) to wicked Islamists, and I think you could argue that the general public may start to see some daylight where this could be rationalized as necessary for our safety.

      It was argued by Rtod or some other astute commentor here that much of this post-kill cheerleading is done simply as a partisan attempt to vindicate the policies of the past administration. But I do think that, aside from the partisan support for it, some folks actually think that, with these terrorists (again, nevermind whether we actually have the right guy) they deserve none of the protections given by the Geneva Conventions and that they probably actually deserve whatever punishment their captors mete out. Ignoring of course the fact that our torturing people has less ultimately to do with what the tortured deserve and more about what we, as the torturers, claim to stand for.Report

      • Avatar RTod says:

        I would agree entirely with this point. And I would add, circling back to an earlier thread here, that this is the danger of having what seem to be surprisingly common beliefs about Muslims embracing pedophilia, or the “logical” arguments that the mere belief in Islam is a process that turns you from a human into no better than an animal – and convincing yourself that these things are universal traits of the “other.” That is, it allows you to circumvent your conscience and allow or even embrace acts that you might otherwise think evil.Report

      • Avatar Mike says:

        some folks actually think that, with these terrorists (again, nevermind whether we actually have the right guy) they deserve none of the protections given by the Geneva Conventions

        Funny thing about that:

        “Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.

        Art 4. A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:
        (1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

        (2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:[
        (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
        (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
        (c) that of carrying arms openly;
        (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

        (3) Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

        (4) Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civilian members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors, members of labour units or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces, provided that they have received authorization, from the armed forces which they accompany, who shall provide them for that purpose with an identity card similar to the annexed model.

        (5) Members of crews, including masters, pilots and apprentices, of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favourable treatment under any other provisions of international law.

        (6) Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.

        Now, please explain to me how terrorists caught on the battlefield, with no rank insignia, no ID, deliberately hiding their arms until the moment of attack, qualify under these provisions?

        Why is this written this way? Because hiding your forces in the civilian population is a huge fishing deal. It makes it impossible to safely allow civilians to pass. It makes it impossible to let medical services travel.

        You want to know why things are so fished up in Gaza? It’s because Hamas uses places like courthouses and schools as rocket launch pads, uses the Palestinian Red Crescent as their own fishing taxi service to shuttle armed fighters back and forth, and keeps ammunition bunkers in the basements of mosques.

        There is of course one final point:

        Art 5. The present Convention shall apply to the persons referred to in Article 4 from the time they fall into the power of the enemy and until their final release and repatriation.

        Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.

        However, “Should any doubt” requires qualification that both sides be signatories to the Convention.

        In the case of Iraq, the Iraqi government ratified it in 1956. However, the Ba’athist government that overthrew it in 1963 subsequently repudiated the Conventions and declared the ratification null and void on several occasions.

        Likewise, the Kingdom of Afghanistan of 1956 ratified it, but the ratification was subsequently repudiated by the Republic of Afghanistan, the “Democratic Republic of Afghanistan”, the split “Islamic State of / Islamic Emirate of/ Islamic Republic of/ Afghanistan” governments which re-merged to be the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan today.

        Please play again.Report

        • Avatar mark boggs says:

          First, Rtod’s suggestion about being less of an asshole comes to mind for you.

          Second, you fail to address the point that says that torturing has less to do with what the terrorist deserves and more to do with who we’re willing to become in order to become “safe.” As if there is some sort of guarantee that torturing will make us so.Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke says:

            The “torture” thing is a replay of the left-libertarian greatest hit of recent memory, and the Bushies’ search for vindication.

            Mr. Drew is correct that the issue has fairly been decided by consensus about what we will and will not do; Congress had the chance to explicitly ban waterboarding but did not. Still, Michael Hayden discontinued it on the theory that it might be illegal under American law.

            The elephant that remains in the room is the rubric of dealing with terrorism/terrorists as a law-enforcement issue, what “works.”

            It appears to me the administration [Holder] is using self-defense in war via the military angle to defend wasting bin Laden at this point, as there are many problems with it as a law enforcement procedure.

            [See the UN, Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, etc.]

            And of course using drones to try to waste an American citizen


            is certainly problematic from a law enforcement standpoint.

            Ah, for the moral clarity of the “torture” days. The anti crew wore the white hats, and of course anything Bush wears black.

            But that’s not the live issue, and Glenn Greenwald is warming up in the bullpen…

            That Barack Obama has continued the essence of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism architecture was once a provocative proposition but is now so self-evident that few dispute it (watch here as arch-neoconservative David Frum — Richard Perle’s co-author for the supreme 2004 neocon treatise — waxes admiringly about Obama’s Terrorism and foreign policies in the Muslim world and specifically its “continuity” with Bush/Cheney). But one policy where Obama has gone further than Bush/Cheney in terms of unfettered executive authority and radical war powers is the attempt to target American citizens for assassination without a whiff of due process.


            • Avatar mark boggs says:

              You’ll get no argument from me that Obama is Bush-lite in regards to civil liberties and in carrying forward many of the Bush-Cheney administrations excesses.

              Some have continued to be clear about where they stand on torture and executive overreach, regardless of who is president.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Bush has nothing to do w/the current crisis. This is Obama’s baby, and there’s no tu quoque-ing on Bush to be had here, an easy and often necessary cover for gentlepersons of the left. That’s what makes it so interesting from my chair.

                At core is the law enforcement rubric vs. the war rubric. The wasting of bin Laden is difficult if not impossible to defend as “law enforcement,” targeting Americans with drones is so off the map that Greenwald quotes Scalia approvingly. Satan is wearing snowshoes.Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                Which is why you never brought up Bush?Report

        • Avatar RTod says:

          This raises an interesting question, though: to what degree we follow (should follow?) the Geneva Convention because we are contractually or legally obligated to do so, as opposed to because it is the correct and moral thing to do?

          When we read stories of sex trafficking, for example, we don’t reach for the verbiage of the 13th amendment to see if the situation we’re reading about really applies to the Constitutional text.Report