January 06, 2005

Torture, Again

Lots of developments:

1) Army doctors may have been involved in torture:

Medical personnel helped tailor interrogations to the physical and mental conditions of individual detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to the report. It says that medical workers gave interrogators access to patient medical files, and that psychiatrists and other physicians collaborated with interrogators and guards who, in turn, deprived detainees of sleep, restricted them to diets of bread and water and exposed them to extreme heat and cold. "Clearly, the medical personnel who helped to develop and execute aggressive counter-resistance plans thereby breached the laws of war," says the four-page article labeled "Perspective."

"The conclusion that doctors participated in torture is premature, but there is probable cause for suspecting it."

2) More developments on the "rendition" practice front:

On Oct. 5, 2001, Pakistani authorities seized Habib, and over three weeks, he asserts in a memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, three Americans interrogated him.

The petition says he was taken to an airfield where, during a struggle, he was beaten by several people who spoke American-accented English. The men cut off his clothes, one placed a foot on his neck "and posed while another took pictures," the document says.

He was then flown to Egypt, it alleges, and spent six months in custody in a barren, 6-foot-by-8-foot cell, where he slept on the concrete floor with one blanket. During interrogations, Habib was "sometimes suspended from hooks on the wall" and repeatedly kicked, punched, beaten with a stick, rammed with an electric cattle prod and doused with cold water when he fell asleep, the petition says.

He was suspended from hooks while his feet resting on the side of a large cylindrical drum attached to wires and a battery, the document says. "When Mr. Habib did not give the answers his interrogators wanted, they threw a switch and a jolt of electricity" went through the drum, it says. "The action of Mr. Habib 'dancing' on the drum forced it to rotate, and his feet constantly slipped, leaving him suspended by only the hooks on the wall . . . This ingenious cruelty lasted until Mr. Habib finally fainted."

At other times, the petition alleges, he was placed in water-filled rooms where he had to stand on tiptoe for hours to avoid drowning, or in ankle-deep water that his interrogators told him "was wired to an electric current, and that unless Mr. Habib confessed, they would throw the switch and electrocute him."

3) Then there is this NYT piece. Not suprisingly, it's a classic Times piece scheduled, shall we say, for the 'right'time (gettin' everyone ready for ye olde Gonzalez hearings). Put differently, and unlike the WaPo pieces, there is nothing really new in it. It's about the "migration" issue (Gitmo to Bagram to Abu Ghraib) and the FBI reports I've blogged earlier. Still, consider it a refresher and go read it.

4) Speaking of Gonzalez, don't miss this piece:

Alberto R. Gonzales, who goes before the Senate on Thursday as President Bush's pick for attorney general, plans to offer an unapologetic defense of a draft memorandum he wrote in 2002 describing parts of the Geneva Conventions as "quaint" and "obsolete," administration officials said on Wednesday. Critics of the Bush administration, who stepped up their attacks Wednesday on Mr. Gonzales, the White House counsel, have called on him to repudiate the memorandum, which held that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to prisoners taken in the war in Afghanistan.

But a senior administration official who is involved in preparing Mr. Gonzales for what could prove a contentious hearing said that he would not back down from the legal rationale he had laid out in the memorandum.

"He'll explain what he meant - that he stands by the decision not to grant full protection to Al Qaeda and the Taliban under the Geneva Conventions and that that position was correct legally and for important public policy reasons," the administration official said.

On Wednesday night, The Associated Press released the text of what it said was the opening statement that Mr. Gonzales planned to deliver on Thursday, in which he said he would abide by treaties prohibiting the torture of prisoners.

Here's the part of the text that matters:

As we fight the War on Terror, we must always honor and observe the principles that make our society so unique and worthy of protection. We must be committed to preserving civil rights and civil liberties. I look forward if I am confirmed to working with this Committee, the Congress, and the public to ensure that we are doing all we can to do so. Although we may have differences from time to time, we all love our country and want to protect it while remaining true to our nation’s highest ideals. Working together, we can accomplish that goal.

After the attacks of 9/11, our government had fundamental decisions to make concerning how to apply treaties and U.S. law to an enemy that does not wear a uniform, owes no allegiance to any country, is not a party to any treaties, and – most importantly – does not fight according to the laws of war.

As we have debated these questions, the President has made clear that he is prepared to protect and defend the United States and its citizens, and will do so vigorously, but always in a manner consistent with our nation’s values and applicable law, including our treaty obligations. I pledge that, if I am confirmed as Attorney General, I will abide by those commitments.

I'm sorry, but that's a tad too breezy and unapologetic for me. Regular readers will recall that I had a very visceral (and, in parts, admitedly sophomoric) reaction to the Gonzalez-approved August 1, 2002 memo that, as I wrote then, basically defined torture down. Put simply, I was disgusted by the memo on both a visceral and intellectual level. Anthony Kronman's thesis, in terms of the dearth of any true lawyer-statesmen still around, seems well borne out by such episodes. Gonzalez smelled too much like a dutiful yes-man, divorced from a moral ballast and his duty to provide both legally and, yes, ethically coherent advice. As others have previously written:

It's hard to believe that the memo was poorly researched, so it makes one wonder whether the Justice Department was being disingenuous. A lawyer who is arguing to a court is allowed to be disingenuous because it is up to the judge to evaluate that argument against the adversary's and decide what the law is. But a lawyer who is writing an opinion letter is ethically bound to be frank.

How could Bybee have written such a scandalous opinion? Lawyers who tell their clients what they want to hear -- rather than the advice they need -- are sometimes rewarded with career advancement. Last year, Jay Bybee was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

There is a proud tradition of lawyers bravely telling clients not what they want to hear, but what the law requires. Judge Bybee's actions stand in stark contrast to the best traditions of the bar.

Gonzalez, as White House counsel, is complicit in Judge Bybee's scummy memo. And yet. Glenn is right that true opponents of torture might not be best served by using the Gonzalez hearings as a lightning-rod-under-the-klieg-lights-full- blown-gotcha-exercise. Why? The story line will go something like this. With fellow Hispanic (and conveniently Democratic) Ken Salazar introducing him (no divisive Ashcroftian biblical-looking scowling white man he!), talk will swiftly turn to the immediate post 9/11 climate of hysteria and panic. The constitution (and treaties!) aren't a suicide pact and all that. Orrin Hatch is on the record Gonzalez will get confirmed. Specter will probe, as will other moderate Republicans, but their will be no fatal blows landed likely. And this whole massively important torture scandal will degenerate into political gotcha, spin, the worst Washington shenanigans and tiresome C-SPAN preening, talk show crapola, assorted bullsh%t. But all this is just too important for it to be handled in such manner. Gonzalez must be asked probing questions and pushed hard, of course. But let's not make this hearing a referendum on the torture scandals that continue to grow and grow. Such a spectacle will cheapen events of mass import to our moral fiber, our ethical moorings, America's conduct in the war.

Like Andrew, regular readers know I long ago discounted the risible
'just a few bad apples in Abu Ghraib argument' (and the related 'whatsa matter with a couple frat hazings gone overboard with a couple hapless Mohammeds' line that cretins in the blogosphere, on the Hill, and elsewhere have regularly trumpeted with astounding imbecility).


Let's retire at the start the notion that the only torture that has been used by the U.S. has been against known members of al Qaeda. This is not true. Many innocent men and boys were raped, brutally beaten, crucified for hours (a more accurate term than put in "stress positions"), left in their own excrement, sodomized, electrocuted, had chemicals from fluorescent lights poured on them, forced to lie down on burning metal till they were unrecognizable from burns - all this in Iraq alone, at several prisons as well as Abu Ghraib. I spent a week reading all the official reports over Christmas for a forthcoming review essay. Abu Ghraib is but one aspect of a pervasive pattern of torture and abuse that, in my view, is only beginning to sink in.

Indeed. And see Anne Applebaum too:

Although many people bear some responsibility for these abuses, Alberto Gonzales, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is among those who bear the most responsibility. It was Gonzales who led the administration's internal discussion of what qualified as torture. It was Gonzales who advised the president that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to people captured in Afghanistan. It was Gonzales who helped craft some of the administration's worst domestic decisions, including the indefinite detention, without access to lawyers, of U.S. citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.

By nominating Gonzales to his Cabinet, the president has demonstrated not only that he is undisturbed by these aberrations, but that he still doesn't understand the nature of the international conflict which he says he is fighting. Like communism, radical Islam is an ideology that people will die for. To fight it, the United States needs not just to show off its fancy weapons systems but also to prove to the Islamic world that democratic values, in some moderate Islamic form, will give them better lives. The Cold War ended because Eastern Europeans were clamoring to join the West; the war on terrorism will be over when moderate Muslims abandon the radicals and join us. They will not do so if our system promotes people who support legal arguments for human rights abuse.

The president's opponents -- Democrats, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- are lining up to oppose Gonzales. But there are Republicans who ought to understand the deeper issues at stake as well. I am thinking of Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who was the moving force behind the recent passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act. I am also thinking of Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who has been an eloquent spokesman on behalf of the victims of religious persecution around the world. Other influential critics of international human rights abuses include Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, whose presence in Kiev last month had an enormous, uplifting impact on Ukrainian human rights demonstrators; Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has given his time to promote human rights even in obscure, unfashionable places such as Kazakhstan and Belarus; Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has called for linking of trade agreements to human rights; and Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, a member of the Judiciary Committee (which will pose questions to Gonzales) and a politician who can speak knowledgeably about human rights issues in Russia, China and the Middle East. [emphasis added]

My heart yells out in agreement with Applebaum; my brain gives me pause for a couple reasons. One, Arab states have so often been involved in grotesque torture that Abu Ghraib, while not exactly a vote-getter for us or Ayad, has not resonated as much in the Arab world as one might think--so that the tactical setback vis-a-vis our conflict with radical Islam (in relation to the torture scandals) is not as dramatic as Applebaum portrays. And the accountability, while not having gone high enough in the chain of command (Karpinski'd should become a new word--short-hand for ass-covering higher ups--as in, 'He got Karpinski'd--she took the bullet for him!) has differentiated American democracy from Arab autocracies in terms of the reaction to the scandal. This, to a fashion, has been noted in the region. Second, I am a pragmatist. I know and feel Gonzalez is going to get the nod. To pillory him and make his hearings an anti-torture crusade, spearheaded by everyone from the ACLU to a few rogue Republican senators--and then still have him confirmed, well, it will accomplish little. What is needed is a dispassionate hearing that neverthless delves deeply into the issues raised by, for instance, the August '02 memo. But this torture story is so much bigger than Alberto Gonzalez. Trust me. Let's not make his (non)confirmation a referendum on whether organ failure has to occur for something to be called torture. Gonzalez should never have lent the White House Counsel's office to such morally defunct and, too boot, poor legal advice. But there aren't any Dean Achesons around, alas. And trying to Bork Gonzalez in some Washington firestorm simply isn't the best way to get to the bottom of the torture scandals that look to grow and grow. Put differently, and if you were really looking to go for the jugular, this just ain't the right time for an attempted TKO. Keep (at least some) of the powder dry--or risk a setback in getting to the real bottom of how widespread torture has been during the post 9/11 era through Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan and likely points beyond.

Posted by Gregory at January 6, 2005 04:44 AM

Habib is an Australian citizen. Through his lawyer, this guy has made quite a few claims, each more fantastic than the last. He has accused Australian consular officials of being party to his 'torture'. Here's the Australian Attorney General on these claims:
"You have a difference of views and I certainly don't work on the assumption that what Mr Hopper is alleging on behalf of his client is true."

It's my understanding the Australian diplomatic corps is about as liberal as the US State Department. I can't see them lying about something like this (especially when it would be easy to blame it on the Egyptians). That's not to say this guy hasn't been put through the ringer, but he has cried wolf so many times now, it's hard to take him seriously. Habib is not a good witness to support your thesis.

Posted by: Systolic at January 6, 2005 07:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh, and Habib is almost certainly a terrorist, by the way. His activities have been well documented in the Australian press. So it's up to you whether you believe him.

Posted by: Systolic at January 6, 2005 07:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You're right. The administration's policies are disgusting, but the Democrats and the media are so into gotcha that no one believes them anymore. The Abu Gharaib pictures were plastered all over front pages for weeks by the same media that also gleefully filmed the lynching and burning of 2 Americans, and proudly posted pictures taken by an AP photographer who just happened to be passing by when terrorists murdered election workers in cold blood. If senators like Brownback and Santorum waded in there would be some credibility, not so much to stop Gonzales's nomination, but to air out this issue without all of the partisan baggage. It is frustrating that the base of the Democratic party are raving lunatics and the media are seen as propagandists. There is no effective opposition to this dangerous administration.

Posted by: jimbo at January 6, 2005 08:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Some questions:

Do al Qaeda, the Taliban, or the other terrorist groups follow the Geneva Conventions?

Do the Geneva Conventions apply to those who refuse to follow them when dealing with signatories of the Conventions?

Should they apply to such groups? Why?

What other "legal rules" would require us to treat unlawful combatants like they are lawful combatants? What moral principle requires us to treat those who violate the rules the same as we treat those who follow the rules?

I could say more, but den Beste said it better than I could, years ago.

Posted by: Greg D at January 6, 2005 09:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My fear is that the folks on the Left in the Democratic Party will march the party RIGHT OFF THE CLIFF. By defining torture "upwards" to include : a. withholding special meals for information, b. sleep deprivation, c. extensive air conditioning (or none at all in steamy Camp X-Ray), d. religious materials and/or reading materials, e. exercise/leisure privileges ...

Well the average American is going to say ... dang I'd just go ahead and shoot Khalid Sheik Muhammed (9/11 Training Mastermind) and figure that the Democratic Party is on Al Queda's side. There are things Americans shouldn't do because we ARE Americans, but with-holding privileges or observing ALL of the Geneva Convention protections for non-state actors who don't observe them in return (as the UN and most of the Left would like) is a disaster, morally, legally, and politically.

Both Israel and Britain went through similar exercises; Israel's Supreme Court held that "stress positions" and "intimidation" could be used, but no actual physical infliction of pain or broken bones, etc. Britain has been more murky, defining ad-hoc rules mostly post-mortem to dead IRA prisoners "interrogated" by British authorities, be they the RUC, SAS, or Special Branch.

The problem is we don't have a clear standard of how to operate. Should someone suggest with-holding of privileges, including say providing non-haram meals until info is given, I'd personally be OK with that. Al Queda and Taliban, terrorist prisoners don't observe the rules of war and have not signed the convention; they don't deserve physical torture but shouldn't be immune to questioning like a criminal suspect because they are not a burglar caught coming out of a closed jewelry shop.

I would also be OK with the WWII approach that the Supreme Court signed off on at the time; military tribunals, with execution for the guilty (note, two American citizens were shot). They were saboteurs sent by the Nazis in violation of the Geneva Convention, so got no protection (they had no uniforms/insignia, and did not follow the rules of war).

Simply shooting a lot of the clearly guilty (as established by a fair military tribunal) would likely produce a lot of volunteered information. It would also IMHO be fair and following established precedent.

It's worth noting that one of the released "innocent" prisoners at Gitmo went on to kidnap and kill Chinese engineers in Pakistan, when he was returned to that country. Expect that to be brought up in the full on circus.

I'd hoped Dems would use the hearings to probe just WHAT the Bush Administration would define as guidelines to how prisoners MAY and MAY NOT be questioned, and the rationale. Unfortunately we'll get a circus, with the result that most folks will confuse the Dems with Osama's defenders.

Particularly if say the issue of Osama being captured and subjected to interrogation comes up. You know that hypothetical will be thrown out there (Gonzalez isn't stupid). This could be the Democratic Party's "Kitty Dukakis rape question" ... and the results won't be pretty (we need a tough Democratic Party to keep an eye on Bush).

Please GOD tell me Sen Patty Murray ("Osama builds daycare centers. That's why Muslims hate us") won't be anywhere near this disaster. I can see her walking into that one. Same with Feinstein or Boxer.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 6, 2005 09:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Pull your head in mate. You should know what the Geneva conventions were designed to do. If not shut up until you do know.

Posted by: davod at January 6, 2005 09:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I do not have a problem with sleep deprivation, psychological pressure and other harsh interrogation methods described in that Mark Bowden article in the Atlantic. I do not believe everything an ex-Gitmo detainee says. I do not believe the Geneva convention always applies. In fact, do not feel any compassion whatsoever for real jihadis.

But there IS a slippery slope towards real torture and murder, as we have already seen. Who does what to whom? These methods must be applied very selectively, against people we know for sure are terrorists. It must be done by experts. That is manifestly not what happened in Iraq.

Some of you do not mind? But you will not get many useful results that way, and the moral damage done to America will outlast any benefit. Maybe Guantanamo is different from Abu Ghraib? By all means, let us argue where we draw the line. But note that you can end up with a situation where clueless guys in a strange land condemn innocents to torture and death on a hunch. That is just counterproductive. It is amateurish. It is not right. It is not worth it.

Posted by: werner at January 6, 2005 11:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"What is needed is a dispassionate hearing that neverthless delves deeply into the issues raised by, for instance, the August '02 memo."

What is needed will never be had so long as your party, the party of torture, runs the Congress.

Posted by: Predictor at January 6, 2005 01:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"What moral principle requires us to treat those who violate the rules the same as we treat those who follow the rules?"

How about the Golden Rule?

Posted by: praktike at January 6, 2005 02:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I confess I'm new to the Gonzalez/torture thing. Exactly what statements (verbatim, please) did he write that are said to be erroneous under the law?

Posted by: John at January 6, 2005 02:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike, if you are referring to the Geneva conventions, it is absolutely clear that if one side breaks the rules it forfeits their protection. That is also a moral question, because otherwise there is no incentive not to break the rules. If the GC is to mean anything, you cannot give a free ride to one side.

The problem is anyway academic becuase I cannot remember any war since 1941 in which American soldiers have been treated according to the Geneva conventions. To its credit, that does not mean the US army will hang any prisoner from the next tree. The question remains how the US should treat its captives in this war, but keep the convention out of it.

We know how US soldiers are treated when captured, but somehow I don´t think reciprocity is what you mean when you suggest the "Golden Rule"?

Posted by: werner at January 6, 2005 03:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Golly. Y never thought i'd read soemthing so silly here!

wars are won with warfare - NOT VALUES!

FDR fire-bombed Dresden and Tokyto and many other places.
Truman dropped A-bombs TWICE!

If hand-wringing left-wing do-gooders has their way our military would wage wars with sptyiballs a UN resolutions.


Whatever went on at Abu Graib or Gitmo against non-POW enemy combatants PALES in comparison to the routine of what we did in WW2; golly: we summarily executued NAZIS who ran camps AT THE SITES ON THE DAYS WE TOOK THEM! HUNDREDS!

What I see here is an example of people who think that war can always be clean and simple and waged without setbacks, mistakes, and excesses.


We are fighting the MOST RUTHLESS despicable inhmane enemy that mankind HAS EVER FACED.

We muist do whatever it takes to WIN.

There'll be plenty of time to repent after victory.

Ankle-biting hand-wriingers who set unrealistic standards for war only aid the enemy.

Posted by: reliapundit at January 6, 2005 03:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Posted by: jimbo at January 6, 2005 08:48 AM

"If senators like Brownback and Santorum waded in there would be some credibility, not so much to stop Gonzales's nomination, but to air out this issue without all of the partisan baggage. It is frustrating that the base of the Democratic party are raving lunatics and the media are seen as propagandists. There is no effective opposition to this dangerous administration."

I see. Republicans could be responsible, but they won't. And it's the Democrats fault. Makes perfect sense.

Posted by: kurzbein at January 6, 2005 03:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

No, kurzbein, you don't see. Republicans could be responsible, but they won't. Democrats could hold them responsible, but they can't. Their Machiavellian "The Bushitler is EEEEEEVIL, so the ends justify the means" stance (see F9/11, Mary Mapes, etc.) has destroyed their credibility, even when they're right (see "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"). Jimbo isn't blaming Democrats for Republicans being irresponsible, he's blaming them for squandering the ability to make them pay the political price for it.

Posted by: tugboat at January 6, 2005 03:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sheesh. The Golden Rule is "treat others as you would wish to be treated." It's one of the oldest principles around.

Posted by: praktike at January 6, 2005 03:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Of course Republicans could be responsible. The Democrats are on the side of the terrorists, so if they actually are responsible, I am surprised. The Democrats say "quagmire" at every news report which their faithful lackeys in the media have unending quests to provide. The Democratic plan is to talk the terrorists to death at the UN and other diplomatic venues, but they don't seem to care that the terrorists would just as soon stop the conversation with a bullet.

A liberal hawk like FDR or Truman would have a hard time finding a home in today's Democratic Party.

Posted by: David R. Block at January 6, 2005 03:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

On the Golden Rule -- it is the opposite of reciprocity. You behave toward another as you should regardless of either the past or expected future behavior of the other. prak answered the moral question which was presented, not the instrumental/legal question, wherein the slippery slope lies.

On the broader issue raised by Gregory, Andrew and Glenn, of how those who want the Bush Admin torture matter addressed should "play" the Gonzales hearings, I've stated from the outset of his nomination that this should not become the "line in the sand" for the Dems. In the big, big picture of the confirmation of judicial-related positions thru the Senate, the powder better be dry for the Chief Justice.

The filibuster threat can be gently off-stage suggested on Gonzales to ensure adequate disclosure during hearings, rather than the typical refusal to discuss "classified" items that Ashcroft always tried to get away with. The Dems will mostly vote against him in committee and on the floor, but loud threats of filibuster isn't the way to go.

The core of the problem for the "opponents of torture" is that there's no way to control the fashion in which it's going to be played in the press. It's all good and well to lecture to the Dems and those who feel strongly on the torture issue that they should use another forum to thrash out the policy and behavior of the Bush Admin.

The Bush Admin has decided to brazen it out and go the "soft on terrorism" route vis a vis their political opponents, and there's no reason to expect they won't be successful again. But then that's what the Bush Admin has done on every criticism of their conduct from 9/11 -- whether torture or planning for occupation or Patriot Act or critiques of strategy against insurgents, even when the criticisms come from credible, conservative good ol' former military brass. There's always this undercurrent of "lack of patriotism" and "lack of toughness" that gets the goat of this Truman Democrat.

But they're smart enough not to rely totally on the "fear factor." They also trot out "freedom on the march." to make people feel that good results are coming so don't pay attention to all those petty details from the carping sidelines. That's either sniping from partisan low-lifes or the "hate America" crowd.

Now, since saving us from fearful things and spreading freedom are pretty attractive ends, why worry our little heads about the means, huh? And in any event, Americans don't do bad things, so these nasty incidents are just that, isolated incidents we don't need to worry about. Since the thrust of the torture discussion is that it's more than "bad apples," but the US public doesn't want to believe that Americans can do bad things, there's no reason to expect that the "fear" and "freedom" combo won't work again this time.

At some point the credibility gap is going to catch up with the Bush Admin for the majority of the population (see e.g. the report yesterday on the Army Reserves not just breaking down but broken.) But they'll still get their base fired up with the "soft on terrorism." And unless something truly horrific happens, or the Iraq conflict continues at its current intensity for another year or so, they'll get a sort of passive collusion from the folks who do their best not to examine distasteful things too closely.

The Gonzales hearings are irresistible for the media because it's such a great dramatic frame -- conflict and screaming sells, so that's what they'll peddle. The Dems on Judiciary could be total patsies of the Admin, but the press would still find the voices of the ACLU et al to make the drama they want. And the ACLU is so-o-o-o much fun to demonize.

Since the whole thing is going to descend into a food fight that benefits the Admin, I'm not sure what tactics opponents of the torture-detainees-rendition policies should adopt. Maybe one tactic is to shine the spotlight on the pattern of manipulative tactics of the Admin rather than the specifics of the Geneva Convention. It seems that every time the specifics are argued, the apologist lawyers come out of the woodwork, arguing the nice points and missing the simple moral story praktike pointed out.

Posted by: nadezhda at January 6, 2005 04:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The idiot up above who says the Democrats are on the side of the terrorists needs to go fuck himself, or get out of the house, or, even better, outside this country for a little while. Also, the guy who said this: "We are fighting the MOST RUTHLESS despicable inhmane enemy that mankind HAS EVER FACED...There'll be plenty of time to repent after victory" is a fool. Who gives a shit how bad ass these madmen are. We need to defeat them by killing the shit out of them, assuming we can clearly identify who "they" are, but we also need to convince their less deluded neighbors that our way of life is superior to the one they and their forebears have known. We need to do these things at the same time. Personally, I don't think we're doing good enough on either score.

In any event, I agree with the conclusion of Gregory's post. It's unfortunately not viable right now for the Democrats to adamantly oppose the Gonzalez nomination. That said, people who think the Republican's have a monopoly on foreign policy smarts are living a dream.

Posted by: fnook at January 6, 2005 04:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"FDR fire-bombed Dresden and Tokyto and many other places.
Truman dropped A-bombs TWICE!"

Actually, the Air Force conducted studies in the aftermath of WWII and pretty much determined that these were not the critical factors in either the defeat of either the Germans or the Japanese. They were pointless.

Posted by: praktike at January 6, 2005 04:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The principle "if the bad guys do it, we're free to do it, too," has the interesting implication that the good guys may become indistinguishable from the bad. But that aside, when one weighs the gains (information acquired) from torture against the losses (ill repute), it's not evident but that this administration has bungled yet another line of endeavor. And compounded it by making the man who superintended the endeavor America's superintendent of justice.
I've not myself given up on the notion that America should stand for the furtherance of justice and the rule of law.

Posted by: Still hopeful at January 6, 2005 04:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike - I will state for the record my desire that if ever I plant a dirty bomb, I wish to be tortured until I tell the authorities where it is and how to disarm it.

Now the Golden Rule *demands* that I commit torture if I find myself in the reversed role.


Posted by: John at January 6, 2005 04:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nadezhda: Why would a self-described "Truman Democrat" adopt Stalin's daughter's name as her handle?

Posted by: tugboat at January 6, 2005 04:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Despite the few slogan-shouters among the comments, I find this post, with much of its commentary, very thought-provoking. So I figured I'd add 2 cents. In a very real way, during any confirmation, we have to set nominees straight with their record. However, we are Americans, and we tend to believe in trends. It is all well and good to scold someone for having done boneheaded things in the past, but what's important is that he or she is doing something to make himself or herself better.

Gonzales and his supporters have pointed to the moral uncertainty (and certainly, a sense of vengefulness) in the months right after 9/11 as a source for the intent behind the memo. That's fine; I can accept that. But having said that, it's been 2-1/2 years since the memo; what have we done in the mean time in terms of educating our commanders as to how to conduct interrogations? What have we learned in terms of the productivity of more extreme forms of abuse? How extensive is it? Has it stopped? Have we improved our techniques so that we don't have to condescend to such behavior without at the same time sacrificing our ability successfully to prosecute this war?

There's no way anybody can claim this war is being carried out perfectly. Some may even argue that the fact that we've had to go to war is already an admission of imperfection (as much in us as in our enemy). Yet that's never stopped our armed forces from evolving toward a degree of humanity rare among mankind. It shouldn't now.

Posted by: Bruce at January 6, 2005 04:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


What you are stating about the strategic bombing campaign is false.

The Air Force concluded that the strategic goal of rendering Germany incapable of further resistance was not met. That does not imply that Germany's capacity to resist was not seriously impaired by the strategic bombing campaign. It just means it wasn't as impaired as hoped for.

In the case of Japan, the strategic bombing campaign in fact forced her surrender through the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Posted by: PM at January 6, 2005 04:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's the slippery slope, and all for less than a thousand prisoners.

1. No torture allowed.

2. More humane conditions...maybe Geneva?

3. Legal representation, of course.

4. What crimes did they committ?

5. No proof of crime? Release them.

If we can stop at POINT 1, I'll be happy. But I suspect it will quickly move on to the others.

Posted by: Aaron at January 6, 2005 04:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The English word for "nadezhda" is "hope." I think of Truman Democrats as optimistic realists -- not an oxymoron, just takes a bit of work sometimes.

Posted by: nadezhda at January 6, 2005 04:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The legal question - are members of AQ and various terrorist organizations entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions - is pretty easy. They are not, for a variety of reasons. The Gonzalez memo is pretty hard to argue with on this point.

The policy/moral question - should we give them those protections anyway - is much more difficult, with utilitarian arguments in particular cutting both ways.

Posted by: R C Dean at January 6, 2005 04:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"In the case of Japan, the strategic bombing campaign in fact forced her surrender through the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

Actually, it's been determined that Japan was already going to surrender after Hiroshima.

Posted by: praktike at January 6, 2005 04:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The problem with these confirmation hearings is that senator's are often too into making inflammatory speeches rather than gathering information. And the hearing deperately needs to be about Gonzales' judicial judgment as applied to torture. Personally, I would be for replcing all the Democratic senators with Brian Lamb, asking polite probing questions about the decisions made, and perhaps some desription of the consequences of the decisions made. (Read from the FBI memos our host linked to some months earlier)The Democrats need to go for quietly riveting, and hope a media that tends to be well-disposed to them can cover the story simply by letting the camera roll.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at January 6, 2005 04:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


So you're against torture eh?

What about prison? Aren't all the things you've outlined also done, whether formally or informally and by prison authorities or other inmates, in prisons all over the world? Particularly in American and Europe?

Isn't homosexual gang-rape of new prisoners in federal prisons worse than the incidents of "torture" that you've outlined?

Soooooo. Where's the outrage then?


Want to convince me? All you have to do is pledge to suffer the same consequences of any American victim of future terrorism. So those acts of terror, that won't be prevent because of intel generated from torturing a terrorist, that kill or main people will be reflect onto you. Someone loses a leg, you go in for an operation to have your leg amputated. Someone dies, you eat a bullet.

Then I'll believe you. Until then you're just a Cafe Communist. Talking up, but living the lie.

Posted by: ed at January 6, 2005 04:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If you're listening now, Lindsay Graham is asking very good questions.

Posted by: praktike at January 6, 2005 04:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I wonder if a careful examination of the evidence will reveal that doctors were involved in the torture not to devise it, but to ensure it did not go too far.

Knowing what I do about this country, I have a very hard time believing the allegations of torture being made. No, not a very hard time, an extremely hard time.

If true, they must be punished vehemently. But history and intuition tells me I need to give the US the benefit of the doubt. Not because we're infallible, not because we're perfect, and not because we're angelic, but because we're always so damn scrutinized, not only by others, but so often by ourselves.

Posted by: Hovig at January 6, 2005 04:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think you must distinguish torture used as an interrogation technique from torture arising from prisoner abuse. In either case, torture can result from a deliberate policy, from a lack of proper oversight, or a mixture of both. There are plenty of examples where torture and mutillation of prisoners is part of policy of prisoner abuse. For example, this post describes torture training camps for youths in Zimbabwe. However, other than in the Arab world, nobody is seriously arguing that prisoner abuse per se was a US policy.

In other cases, torture can result from a lack of proper oversight. At Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq, this latter seems to have been the case. Here, many of the documented incidents occurred after and as a result of prisoner misconduct. Since there appears to be no US policy condoning the use of torture as a prisoner control mechanism, I think it is fair to say that the documented instances of torture was not the result of a policy decision made at the level of Alberto Gonzales (not that he had any authority to make policy in any case).

In spite of Greg's claims to the contrary, there is a complete lack of documentation (at the level which would meet legal requirements) suggesting either the use of torture in Iraq or Afghanistan as an interrogation technique, nor of a high-level policy decision condoning prisoner abuse. However, unlike some of the apologists for the military, I do not argue that the abuse was limited to a "few bad apples."

I would argue that instances of prisoner abuse were likely wide spread and even expected under the conditions that the guards were placed in. These include i) lack of proper command and control under General Karpinski, ii) lack of proper training (most were National Guard MPs who were not trained for this mission) and iii) too few MPs for too many prisoners. This third point, in particular, led to conditions where the control of the prisoners was tenuous at times, leading to more than one prisoner riot as well as several cases of mass prisoner escapes.

It is also clear to me that the very serious question of torture is being raised now simply to exploit a potential political weakness. Anyone who suggests otherwise deserves to be laughed at and pelted with rotten vegetables. As such, this whole exercise is most likely to backfire in the face of those using it to get to Bush and precisely for the reasons given by Glen Reynolds.

Posted by: Krusty Krab at January 6, 2005 04:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

While I can appreciate the legal and moral niceties of your opinions, and while my devotion to the rule of law is still there after many years of practice, none of these arguments trump my obligations to defend myself, my family, my friends and my countrymen against folks whose actions have amply proven their stated desires to kill as many of us as possible.

Self defense has long been accepted as a part of the foundation of American law, even if it has temporarily fallen from favor in some circles who urge that all response to criminal actions be left to the State. Under that doctrine of self defense, I am free to use a proportionate level of force to respond to threats against my person or against others.

So, if you wish to debate the morality of the use of force, in whatever form, in matters of self defense, please feel free to do so. But understand that I will not stand idly by awaiting your pronouncements.

"It's better to be judged by twelve, than carried by six."

Posted by: Bill at January 6, 2005 05:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I was disappointed during Clinton's impeachment that a few Dem Senators - say Byrd or Monahan - did not cast a symbolic vote to say that perjury is not acceptable behavior. I did not think Clinton deserved the political death penalty for his acts, but he did deserve to have it on his record forever.

If some of Sullivan's more lurid charges have any basis I would support an equivalent symbolic vote here. I do not think Gonzales is a bad guy, but (since Rumsfeld was not sacked, the appropriate response) I think some Republicans should show that the US does not condone these acts.

I do not think panties on the head are equal to what our enemies would do to us. If discomfort, disorientation, etc. will get critical info I would say that would fall within the golden rule Pratkite recommends. I would not begrudge the North Vietnamese keeping our guys awake for a day or two if that is what is required for us to have the same right. But some of these charges are beyond tha pale, and we need to face them squarely.

Posted by: wayne at January 6, 2005 05:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Without partisan politics being involved, there would be no national forum for discussion of the torture revelations by this administration. I don't think that's preferable.

I am afraid Glenn Reynolds is probably right in his political assessment. As an American, I have to say that really really bothers me.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at January 6, 2005 05:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Stalin's daughter was Svetlana. His second wife was Nadezhda.

Posted by: big dirigible at January 6, 2005 05:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The government does know that abu Ghraib has firm roots in the American penal system; sadistic guards and wardens, and individual and mass tortures. Wondering about Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General is to be purposely distracted from the real loss of rights by too many citizens, to say nothing about non citizens, in the United States.

It isn't Gonzales or Rumsfeld or Bush who are responsible for these incursions on our rights; we are the responsible parties. We have conscientiously ignored the blatant facts that control of government is our job in every way. We have ignored constant incursions into our rights in the name of "controlling crime" or "national security" or "homeland security" or whatever the current mantra happens to be. Its _us_ who have allowed this abomination to grow.

Think about reality and take off the blinders! See what is happening to people around you that you "can't see". By surrendering "a few rights" for security we will end up with neither security nor rights.

Posted by: jbb at January 6, 2005 05:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My mistake. If my memory can be trusted at all, wasn't Nadezhda younger than Svetlana? Anyway, my point got across and Nadezhda the poster gave an edifying and eloquent reply.

Posted by: tugboat at January 6, 2005 05:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, it's been determined that Japan was already going to surrender after Hiroshima.

Really? Who determined that? There were 3 days between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Why didn't they pick up a phone and call somebody? Ultimately, the Japanese did not surrender until 14 August, a full 5 days after the Nagasaki bombing and more than a week after the Hiroshima bombing. Doesn't sound like they were quite ready after Hiroshima.

Posted by: Rob Smith at January 6, 2005 05:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One thing to remember: many of the prisoners that were tortured and abused at Abu Ghraib were not members of al-Qaeda, and were not terrorists. In fact, the majority of prisoners detained at Abu Ghraib were eventually released, after the Army determined that they were wrongfully detained as a result of false accusations stemming from local score settling.

So, there are perhaps mutliple issues:

1. Is torturing a known al-Qaeda operative acceptable.

2. If so, should that also be extended to other arenas such as Iraq, and to other persons such as detainees picked up with little more than an informant as proof of malfeasance.

Underlying it all, who determines the status of a prisoner as in al-Qaeda or another terrorist organization.

Many of the commenters have been far too willing to conflate all Iraqi insurgents, and further, all detainees at Abu Ghraib with al-Qaeda and terrorist organizations.

Posted by: Eric Martin at January 6, 2005 05:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Bill:

"none of these arguments trump my obligation to defend myself, my family, my friends, and my countrymen against folks who have amply proven their stated desires to kill as many of us as possible"

and along with reliapundit:

"wars are won with warfare, not values"

I also agree that our enemy is ruthless, despicable, and inhumane, hand-wringing will get us killed, and we must WIN.

Posted by: syn at January 6, 2005 05:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Appalled Moderate writes Without partisan politics being involved, there would be no national forum for discussion of the torture revelations by this administration. I don't think that's preferable.

I would put it the other way. It is precisely because partisan politics are involved that there will be no real national forum on torture. There are plenty of moderate Republican Senators and Members of the House of Representatives who are every bit as angry as anyone else (including me) that this was allowed to occur. Unfortunately, the left has politicized it to the point where it would be political suicide for them to raise their concerns now.

There is hope though. The real solution is the "digital revolution" which created this mess for the Bush administration to start with. It is digital cameras and video cameras which brought to light the problem to start with. The reality of digital cameras and video presents a problem for those who would either use torture as a means, or tolerate its presence via neglect.

I know for a fact that there are policy makers within the military who are looking at the question of torture and prisoner abuse with a much different viewpoint than they would have done four years ago. I call this progress, and I see no problem with the fact that they are motivated by the consequences of a reoccurance of Abu Ghraib.

Politicizing torture by vilifying your opponent is little better than condoning torture. It reduces a very complex phenomenon rooted in the human psyche to a simple political equation. Understanding the causes of torture and applying the systemic corrections needed to reduce its prevalence is the only real solution.

We don't need Abu Ghraib to generate a national forum on torture, but it could have been used as a seed for a rational discussion on this very real problem. Unfortunately, it is now nothing more than a political tool of the opposition party.

Posted by: Krusty Krab at January 6, 2005 06:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg --

FYI. Comment on this post at Obsidian Wings (http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2005/01/10_print_wtf_20.html).

Posted by: von at January 6, 2005 06:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I have always thought that the Democrats should filibuster but say they'd be happy to allow a vote when the necessary documents were released or their GOP colleagues agreed to issue subpoenas.

That pretty clearly won't happen. But do you think it might be an effective tactic? Would you support it?

Bear in mind: the Republicans, including the decent ones like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, will not actually cross party lines on votes on this issue. They have never done so. And Hastert will not even allow legislation like, e.g., Edward Markey's bill on rendition to come to a vote. He has stated that he will not allow debate on bills not supported by "a majority of the majority".

So real hearings will not happen. Subpoenas will not be issued. Bills will not be introduced.

If this is not the place and time, what is it? To get headlines the Democrats can't just make the same speeches they've made on and off for months. They need to DO something. A Senate filibuster is the only thing they can do. Conditioning it on a very reasonable request for information they should've gotten months ago, rather than "borking Gonzalez", seems like it could be quite politically effective.

They won't do it. On the judiciary committee alone, you've got Schumer, Salazar, Kohl who wouldn't be up for it, Feingold who might well not be up for it because of his statements on Ashcroft....but that's what they'd do if they were smart.

Posted by: Katherine at January 6, 2005 06:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Can anybody shed light on this one? It was just passing mention in a book on another subject, but strikes me as relevant. Apparantly, the SS executed some American prisioners during the Battle of the Bulge, and after the War, the US Army used torture on their SS prisoners to find the perpetrators. If this is true, then, no, I don't feel America became in the least like the SS, or betrayed its ideals, or blighted its soul at all. In fact--shame on me for feeling so--I say Good, served the bastards right. This to my little man-in-the-street-brain is as self-evident as a truth can get, and I'll put those dear souls in Abu and Gitmo in the same circular file.

Posted by: charles at January 6, 2005 06:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The primary problem faced by those against torture that they keep calling silly things torture.

Sleep deprivation is NOT torture - people do it to themselves every day.

"Stess positions" are NOT torture - and comparing it to crucifiction is so far beyond reasonable that it's almost not worth responding to. But, just to make sure you realize the difference...

"Stress positions" involve sitting or standing in a position that is uncomfortable for a long time, possibly resulting in pain, often soreness for a few days, and, in the most extreme cases, injury (such as recurring back pain); people do this sort of thing to themselves... regularly, in fact. Many "reptitive stress" injuries would fit the the defintion of "stress position". I personally have some lower back pain when I get home from work some days from insufficient support in the chair at my place of employment... did they torture me?!?

Crucifiction involves driving nails through the wrists and ankles, affixing the body to a solid object behind. Victims of crucifiction are documented as having spent DAYS in labored brathing, pushing up on the nails in their ankles so they can pull upright enough to get enough air. It was not unheard for someone to live long enough after crucifiction to begin getting the early symptoms of lockjaw from the rusty nails often used. Death would come when the person was too tired (physically or mentally) to push up against the nails in their ankles to breathe, and they would suffocate. A form of mercy was to break their legs, so they would just go ahead and die.

That's what you are saying is equivalent. That's why so many people write off the "anti-torture" folks. Statements like that comparison are simply so stupid that the speaker is no longer credible.

Which is sad, because we DO need a legitimate debate. We need legitimate and specific rules about what is and is not allowed.

PS. The individuals involved (those fighting outside of any organized unit with no identifiable "uniform" of any sort to distinguish them from non-combatants and general criminals with guns) are SPECIFCALLY EXEMPTED from the protections for soldiers in the Geneva Conventions. The "rules of war" rearding them are actually quite clear: we can sumarily execute them at any time we desire. In fact, that was standard procedure until sometime after WWII. Go read those precious Geneva Conventions - that's what they say. Giving them the soldiers' protections of the Geneva Conventions makes a mockery of the Geneva Conventions, as there is no reason for anyone to follow them, as they cannot expect to receive those protections in return. There are some GENERAL protections for all people that might apply to torture (which would not include sleep deprivation).

PPS. Abu Ghraib. For those of you who haven't actually looked into this, the army was already prosecuting those involved BEFORE any media storm. What was done was wrong BY THE STANDARDS IN PLACE IN THE ARMY. The behaviour there was not condoned by the army. When the media found out about it and made a big deal out of it, it was ALREADY OVER, and the criminals who did the deeds were already being prosecuted. Stop and think logically about what that means.

PPPS. Sorry, people keep adding while I write this. PM is correct. Sorry, praktike, I don't know where you got your information about those bombings, but you are completely wrong. The dropping of the A-bombs, in particular was decisive in ending the war with the Japanese (something the firebombing of Tokyo failed to do, so we upped the ante). Essentially, that saved Japan as a nation, as the Japanese had been instructed to fight us to the last man, woman, and child. It would have cost of thousands upon thousands of soldiers, and it would have basically ben a form of genocide. And, by saying that Hiroshima was enough, you admit that the bomb caused that surrender (though, no it sure didn't seem lik enough, since they still hadn't told us anything about surrendering, even given ample opportunity). Basically, you got called on your crap, and you're pulling more crap out. Stop it.

Posted by: Deoxy at January 6, 2005 07:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


War involves killing people and breaking their will to resist.

As a general rule, I don't engage in those activities while attempting to follow the Golden Rule.

Every day, various US governments kidnap hundreds, if not thousands, of people. And they rob millions. Yet there is no real complain about it, because the governments call these actions "arresting people", "fining criminals", and "taxation".

If we're going to follow the Golden Rule, step 1 is to eliminate all government. Step 2 is to eliminate all war. And step 3 is to inhale more of the magic fairy dust that makes you think any of that is possible.

If I were a Democrat, I'd be screaming here about "the Separation of Church and State", and how you needed to keep your religion out of my government ("the Golden Rule" comes from the Christian Bible, after all). Since I'm not that bone-headed, I'll simply point out that the best definition of insanity I've ever read is "doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results."

Practicing the Golden Rule with terrorists just gets more innocent people killed. If you consider that "moral", your morality and mine clearly have little in common. But, I'm focused on doing good, not merely feeling good about myself.

Posted by: Greg D at January 6, 2005 07:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike - Believe it or not, I had never heard the expression "golden rule" before. We don´t call it that around here. But we should not apply it any more than the Geneva convention. The question here is not how we can get along with these people, who will do absolutely anything. You cannot come to terms with hungry sharks. The question is merely how we can detain them and get information from them without hurting innocents and damaging ourselves.

Posted by: werner at January 6, 2005 07:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Look, people, the memo at the heart of this debate is clearly an attempt to allow torture and exonerate those who practice it.

Andrew Sullivan, who has review all of the official reports, says that "The torture was done by hundreds of different U.S. military officers and soldiers from almost every branch of the military."

This isn't a debate about the procedures about standing up and sleep deprivation and so on. That was the main subject of the Sanchez/Rumsfeld hearings in the spring.

This is about some pretty brutal events that, in fact, happened, and that the Bybee memo -- that has now been largely repudiated by the DOJ -- would have justified in contravention of the UCMJ.

So, do you support the Bybee Memo or not, people?

Posted by: praktike at January 6, 2005 07:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

WRT to the off-topic Japan/A-Bomb debate, you can feel free to read Embracing Defeat.

Posted by: praktike at January 6, 2005 07:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Regarding what the D's should do, since the R's clearly lack the backbone to oppose torture -- I told my senators I did not care what they said, or whether they filibustered, as long as they just noted "no". Simple opposition. I didn't ask them to make headlines, or make a fuss, just vote against him.

As to "the Democrats have politicized this too much" -- are you kidding? What would "appropriate" opposition to torture look like? "Oh dearie me, we don't think that's proper?" And, have you considered how stupid it was to not only do the deed (and do it a lot, and not just to verified Al-Qaeda baddies, but to people who were just picked up off the street in Iraq), but to continue doing it, concoct bogus justifications, squelch internal opposition, and then get caught? You are saying that the Democrats should just leave that $100 bill lying on the street? "Oh dearie me, we don't think that's proper"?

And finally -- the existence of a few bozos comparing Bush to Hitler, or what have you, does not say much about the much larger number of people who merely vote Democratic, or support D candidates, or contribute money to campaigns.
Remember Vince Foster? Whitewater? Travelgate? Gingrich claiming that liberal values caused a mother to murder her children? The Republican Party is not exactly a yahoo-free-zone either.

Posted by: dr2chase at January 6, 2005 08:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Look, people, the memo at the heart of this debate is clearly an attempt to allow torture and exonerate those who practice it."

Define "torture". If you use "reasonable", "inhumane", "exessive", or any other such word, define those as well.

It's just like "cruel and unusual". Who gets to decide what is "cruel"? And who gets to decide what is "unusual"? I particularly like how things that were the NORMAL punishment at the time in a MAJORITY of the country have been claimed to be "unusual"... Indeed, it is arguable that any punishment defined by statute is the "usual" punishment for that crime.

This is similar. When does interrogation become torture? The memo in question basically argues for a much higher threshold than some people are comfortable with.

Threatening someone is not torture (or even DA in this country practices torture regularly).

Flaying someone alive, carefully keeping them alive as long as possible, is torture.

Where, EXACTLY, is the line between? That is not entirely defined. Personally, I think specific rules defining what is allowed would be good. Listing specific things that aren't allowed also wouldn't hurt. The list of what is allowed would need to be thorough and exhaustive, while the list of what is not allowed would be as example only.

But we won't get that as long as "gotcha" politics are running the show, especially when things taht aren't considered torture by almost anyone get lumped in as torture just to score polical points.

I've lost the link, but here's a rough quote (from memory) that I think outlines our problem:

"Something like that [a list of what is and isn't allowed, with such examples as sleep deprivation and "stress positions" allowed] strikes me as morally dubious. But allowing the deaths of thousands of innocents in another 9/11 because we were unwilling to keep mass-murders uncomfortable and hungry in the dark is morally repugnant."

That's not exact, but I think it gets the point across.

Cause permanent harm? torture to the point of death? Not acceptable (and not usually useful, either).

Causing discomfort, even the point of pain? Disorientation? Make them uncomfortably sleepy?!? (Boy, infants are torture MACHINES, I tell you.) If that gets lumpd in with crucifiction (as someone did), then the word "torture" no longer has any useful meaning.

Posted by: Deoxy at January 6, 2005 09:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Bybee memo says that "[Severe pain] amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

In other words, you could shock people, pull out fingernails, hang people on hooks, flay their skin, punch people in the face, break their fingers, etc., and Jay Bybee would not consider it torture.

Do you support those measures?

I do not.

Posted by: praktike at January 6, 2005 09:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Does it matter that some prisoners died as a result of asphyxia and severe beatings administered during interrogations?

Would that rise above sleep deprivation and stress positions? Would that amount to torture to you Deoxy?

How about sodomy? Rape? Where do you draw the line?

Here's an excerpt from one article in the Army Times:

• Six prisoners died from “blunt force trauma” or excessive force on the part of captors or prison guards, including two within a week of one another at the same prison. Two prisoners at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, died of complications Dec. 3 and Dec. 10, 2002, after being struck forcefully on their legs by guards or interrogators, military records show. One death certificate said the leg beating “complicat(ed) coronary artery disease,” and the other certificate said the beating led to a “pulmonary embolism,” or a heart blockage that is often caused by a blood clot.

• At least four prisoners died in Iraq from strangulation, asphyxia, smothering or “compromised respiration,” including Abid Mowhosh, a major general who headed Iraq’s air defenses, whose death certificate says he died from “asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression.”


Posted by: Eric Martin at January 6, 2005 10:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In January 2004, the Army Criminal Investigation Division conducted an investigation of prisoner abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib (one of many locations) during one period of time, which preceded Taguba's report. The investigation lists the involvement of more than 10 soldiers and civilian contractors in abusing more than 20 detainees, including repeated, severe beatings—some of injured detainees, as well as nudity, sexual abuse including raping and sodomizing detainees, forced food and sleep deprivation and various methods of humiliation.

One detainee, for example, received several beatings, had his kidney, back and legs jumped on, and was sodomized with a police baton.

Here is the report:


Posted by: Eric Martin at January 6, 2005 10:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Somebody should inform the real Praktike that someone is placing comments under his name. Tearing off fingernails would NOT qualify under the standard - a fingernail is an organ just as the skin is (the largest organ of the human body). As for the ability to predict when the Japanese were going to surrender - the tens of thousands of American POW's forced to dig their graves, told they would be murdered if one US soldier landed on the home islands might disagree.

Posted by: wayne at January 6, 2005 10:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Where do I stand on torturing prisoners?

I think the US government has the moral and legal right to do anything it wants to people caught fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. I think the same is true for anyone caught, outside the US, committing or aiding and abetting terrorism.

But, you ask, what should we actually do?

I think torture for the sake of torture is a bad idea.

I think we should be using sleep deprivation, drugs, and fiddling with the food they eat to disorient prisoners and get them to answer questions. I think we should offer not to kill them if they answer questions quickly, and give us useful information in a timely manner. I think that if someone refuses to help, and we squeeze useful information out of him anyway, then when we think we've squeezed him dry, we should try him, convict him, force feed him bacon in front of other prisoners, smear him with pig fat, and then execute him.

They refuse to be part of our civilization, they deserve none of the benefits of it. I'm opposed to pulling people's fingernails out because I think we have better ways to get information, not because I think the terrorists have any "rights" worth observing. If you have a problem with that, tell it to the families of the election workers in Iraq who are being murdered by the terrorists for the "crime" of trying to bring democracy to Iraq.

When you can get them to listen to you, and when you've listened to them, then come talking to me.

Posted by: Greg D at January 6, 2005 11:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pratike is just wrong on the Japanese. There was considerable discussion, and the decision to surrender came only AFTER Nagasaki. For some time the Japanese High Command simply did not believe the reports, and it took actual photos for them to comprehend the devastation.

Even then, it was a near thing. An abortive coup took place by junior officers, who briefly kidnapped the Emperor and searched for his pre-recorded surrender speech. They wanted to continue fighting, trusting to providence which had saved Japan from the Mongols, and the Japanese "fighting spirit."

This coup ended when some senior military officers who had been wavering (the coup was mostly the Army) decided they could not naysay the Emperor's decision, and acted against the juniors whom they had half-heartedly encouraged. The coup plotters were shot; the Emperor released, and the surrender speech given. It was, however, a very near thing. Without BOTH bombs dropping it's very likely that resistance would have continued; costing millions of lives.

As for the Gonzalez hearings, we're gonna get "gotchas" on torture, and believe me Gonzalez has the Bin Laden hypothetical up his sleeve. More important is holding the Bush Administration to the fire on a lack of a unified policy for treatment and questioning of prisoners.

John "American Taliban" Walker Lindh comes from a wealthy, Marin County family, so he gets a civil trial and civil treatment, including lawyers, etc. Others get released by pressure from their governments (Britain, Pakistan) and at least one Pakistani has gone on to kidnap and murder Chinese engineers in Pakistan as part of Al Queda. Jose Padilla gets some sort of military tribunal, but we don't know what it is because neither does the Bush Administration yet. Some people get held indefinitely.

Can we use sleep deprivation? Drugs under medical supervision? Food, clothing, heat/cold privileges? None of this has been defined. America deserves answers, instead we'll get a circus that only makes Democrats look like Bin Laden's ACLU mouthpiece.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 6, 2005 11:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Last add:

Bush's big, and consistent failing, has been an ad-hoc, seat of the pants response to everything. There is no "vision thing" from him, sometimes that's needed, but it's a weakness.

Dems need to stop playing petty gotchas and hold him to his weakness ... every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine should get up in the morning and know EXACTLY how he/she can treat prisoners and question them. Unfortunately we'll likely get MORE seat of the pants stuff.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 6, 2005 11:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg D,

The problem with that formulation is that it assumes that every person detained in Iraq and subjected to the abuse and torture were terrorists (because there is a difference between sleep depravation and sodomy with a baton, the former being abuse, the latter clearly torture).

In fact, according to Army intelligence, 70-90% of the prisoners detained at Abu Ghraib were innocent people caught up in massive sweeps or informed on by neighbors with an axe to grind.

Would you be alright with abusing and/or torturing innocents who get caught in the crossfire?

Posted by: Eric Martin at January 7, 2005 12:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The trouble is, you folks are trying to get arguments going on the merits; and, outside a few pundits, as here, the number of people who believe this has anything to do with torture can be tallied without taking your shoes off.

Over on DU they're soiling their underwear over the possibility of doing in the Bushiter and Rethuglicans. The Kosovars and Eschatonites are doing the same, with a trifle more literacy (but no more class.) And on the other side... in the coffee shop this afternoon, the fella I'll call "Dub" summed it up this way: "He ain't a Democrat bein' appointed by a Democrat president. The rest of it's excuses an' politics."

We could use a debate. But our hopes have been Daschled.

Ric Locke

Posted by: Ric Locke at January 7, 2005 01:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You may find this interesting: http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_1_terroists.html

Posted by: Bill at January 7, 2005 04:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Free Frank Warner has a good perspective on this:

Posted by: George at January 7, 2005 04:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I do not assume that everyone arrested is guilty, go read what I wrote.

The interrogation techniques I specified are not likely to lead to "false confessions" by people who are not, in fact, guilty. That's why I specified them.

Do I have a problem with US Military personnel pulling fingernails et. al.? Yes.

Do Democrats have any moral standing to bitch? Not unless they complained when the Clinton Administration started the process of "Rendition" (sending terror suspects to other countries that would torture them).

Am I willing to support complaints by people who claim that terrorists are entitled to Geneva Convention protections?

Not a chance in hell. Terrorists have no moral claim, on anyone, ever. Failing to see that marks a person's judgement on this subject as being worthless.

Posted by: Greg D at January 7, 2005 09:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

once the first nuke goes off inside the US, this debate will be over.

Posted by: john marzan at January 7, 2005 11:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If only Robert Mapplethorpe had taken the photos, then we would be calling it art instead of torture.

Posted by: syn at January 7, 2005 01:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Mudville Gazette (as noted by Instapundit) has a quiz on Abu Ghraib that's worth checking out.

Posted by: Todd Grimson at January 7, 2005 03:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As a lifelong democrat, I cringe when something like this comes up. We are idiots to push the torture issue as a political sledgehammer for bashing Bush. The election is over. Move on, you fools. If not, the repos are going to smother us!

Posted by: Marvin Thulenberg at January 7, 2005 04:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Under the Geneva Convention I think we could expect:

1. POW Camps
2. POW Transfers
3. UN or Red Cross Visits
4. POW Family Notification

Can someone provide me with any examples of those expectations on behalf of our adversary?

Posted by: RDBBLOGGER at January 7, 2005 04:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg D,

You wrote:

I think we should be using sleep deprivation, drugs, and fiddling with the food they eat to disorient prisoners and get them to answer questions. I think we should offer not to kill them if they answer questions quickly, and give us useful information in a timely manner. I think that if someone refuses to help, and we squeeze useful information out of him anyway, then when we think we've squeezed him dry, we should try him, convict him, force feed him bacon in front of other prisoners, smear him with pig fat, and then execute him.

My question is, how would a policy such as this play out in a context such as Iraq, or Afghanistan? As I mentioned, many innocent people were swept up in both locations, and some were subjected to torture and abuse. If this were official, or unofficial, policy, who determines the status of the detainee in terms of them being a terrorist or a Taliban fighter?

What if they don't give information because they are innocent, but the interrogator doesn't believe him? What should be done then? Conversely, why are you so certain that false confessions wouldn't result from your methodology? They are the frequent result of coercive techniques.

I'm just looking for a clarification.

Posted by: Eric Martin at January 7, 2005 05:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"trying to Bork Gonzalez in some Washington firestorm simply isn't the best way to get to the bottom of the torture scandals that look to grow and grow"

Gack, this is such a Democratic thing to say -- "let's wait for the right time to make a stink". Oh come on, admit it, Democrats just don't know how to be attack dogs the same way that Republicans do. If this were the other way around the Republicans would be attacking on all fronts at the same time -- big, little and nothing at all -- not waiting around for the "right time".

Over and over again Democrats get their a--es whupped because they're too polite to be on message all the time.

Time to draw a line in the sand, and EVERYTHING that crosses the line gets the same treatment -- attack, attack, attack.

Posted by: Frank Leahy at January 7, 2005 07:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You idiots! Your enemy is not a uniformed army. It is a vicious rabble who do not hesitate to dismember and decapitate CIVILIANS!! They do far worse to any of your soldiers they capture.

Grow up you foolish children. Do you honestly think the depriving the Wahabi of sleep is a cruelty? If it will achieve saving lives of innocent Iraqis? You superficial twittering mindless jackasses. How did you ever come to rule the world?

Posted by: Muhamed at January 7, 2005 08:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Would any of the actions I proposed lead an innocent man to "confess" to crimes he didn't commit, or to give us information about the terrorists if he doesn't actually know anything about them?

If we arrest someone who we think is a terrorist or terrorist supporter (and we have some actual evidence to back that up), and do the above to him for a week, then release him because we didn't get any useful information, would that be a horrible thing? Given the alternatives? (How long do you think the innocent guy is going to spend in jail now? How many guilty guys are we releasing, and how many innocent civilians have died because of it, because we don't do something like this now?)

War sucks. The only thing that sucks more than fighting a war, is losing one.

Do you want to lose? Are you willing to lose (I'm not). If not, then tell us how you would have the US go about getting information to defeat our enemies.

If you can't do that, then everything you have to say on this subject is worthless.

Posted by: Greg D at January 7, 2005 11:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't care what book you can finger, be prepared to defend yourself your incorrect assertions. The Japanese Military Command voted 4-4, even after Nagasaki, to continue the war. The tie was only broken by the Emperor's intervention.

The Japanese were not prepared to surrender before Hiroshima, and they only surrendered after Nagasaki after the Emperor's intervention. I do not have to detail their plans to repel an American invasion, you can do your own homework. The bombs saved lives, American and Japanese.

Posted by: Jack at January 11, 2005 12:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg D: "I think the US government has the moral and legal right to do anything it wants to people caught fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. I think the same is true for anyone caught, outside the US, committing or aiding and abetting terrorism."

No, because torture is illegal under US law. The law is called (confusingly!) the Torture Statute. It imposes criminal penalties for torture inside the US; torture committed by US citizens outside the US; and torture committed abroad by non-US citizens who later come to the US.

Now, you may well think that the US government has the moral right to crucify Taliban militia, or put them on the rack, or break them on the wheel, or subject them to the Fate of a Thousand Cuts, or whatever; but it does not have the legal right. That is not up for debate. (The apparently debatable subject is "what exactly qualifies as torture".)

Greg: " I'm opposed to pulling people's fingernails out because I think we have better ways to get information, not because I think the terrorists have any "rights" worth observing."

Hmm. Well, again, you are entitled to believe that terrorists have no "rights" worth observing. Personally, I've always believed that it is self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights (among these being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). But hey.

You're an evil little man, really, aren't you?

Posted by: ajay at January 11, 2005 03:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The bombs saved lives."

NOT according to Dwight Eisenhower.

The people who died in those bombings were not the insane militarists who controlled Japan.

The US could have blown up the ocean instead, and the effect would have been the same. No, it was RACISM that drove those bombings of two cities, racism and the desire to show Stalin where the new boundary was.


Posted by: Paul in LA at January 13, 2005 03:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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