Tag Archives: torture

Just avert your eyes and pretend there’s nothing to see…

It may go unnoticed as time passes but I think my nation suffered two serious blows to its honor and integrity over the past decade.  The first was the decision to engage in torture.  Acting like frightened little creatures backed into a corner, people who should have known better panicked and threw our principles away for a dubious El Dorado of security.

The second blow was the decision to allow those perpetrators of torture to escape justice as if it never happened.  For some of the same behavior that earned others in past wars a charge of ‘crimes against humanity‘ and a war crimes trial, our torturers will get promotions, pensions and who knows…maybe even ponies 1

And we didn’t even try to hide our actions.  Instead, we had people lining up not just to defend these actions but the revel in them.  To brag about them.  To wish for us to embrace torture as a normal and acceptable way to do business.  To declare that we should return to torturing.

Go ahead and watch…

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  1. I had to hit that triple alliteration.

Torture, terrorism and Iran

One of my LinkdIn groups posted this articlefrom Commentary magazine.  It’s title will tell you everything you need to know about the content of the article.

“Killing Iranian Scientists is Not Terrorism”

The argument (such as it is) revolves around the old idea that everything America does, by definition, is good and pure and Iran (and, I suppose the rest of the world as well) is evil and base.  Therefore killing foreign nationals isn’t a problem so long as it’s in our national interest.

And let’s be clear.  The killing of Iranian scientists, if done by (or by the direction of) a foreign power is an act of terrorism.  Just look at the FBI’s definition:

International terrorism involves violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or any state. These acts appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping.

So, let’s dispense with any nonsense discussion about whether this is terrorism or not.

This seems to have parallels between this and the Orwellian discussion about torture that’s seemed to have died down (but not resolved).  And in that vein, I’ll recommend this article from the Atlantic that does a little ‘compare and contrast’ between our ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and the Inquisition.

The Inquisition, with its stipulation that torture and interrogation not jeopardize life or cause irreparable harm, actually set a more rigorous standard than some proponents of torture insist on now…the Bush administration put forth a very narrow definition, arguing that for an action to be deemed torture, it must produce suffering “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” To place this in perspective: the administration’s threshold for when an act of torture begins was the point at which the Inquisition stipulated that it must stop.

Nice…always a good sign when you can’t even come out on top of a moral comparison with a movement responsible for the death of thousands.

Dan Drezner tries to figure out what the recent assassinations and public statements by both the US and Israel mean.  He puts some weight behind the categorical denials by US spokespeople that there was no US involvement in the assassinations while Israel gives non-answer answers that only draw attention and suspicion to themselves.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US has warned Israel not to launch any sort of pre-emptive strike on Iran so make of that what you will.

What may be the real shocker of this story is the report that Israeli Mossad agents, posing as CIA agents, recruited Pakitani terrorists to carry out assassinations in Iran.

Sounds like a bad spy movie, right?  Well, give this a read (really, check out this story).  At the very least it deserves a close look.  There is some ‘good’ news here (well, everything is relative).  It looks like the administration doesn’t give Israel a total blank check.

Israel regularly proposes conducting covert operations targeting Iranians, but is just as regularly shut down, according to retired and current intelligence officers. “They come into the room and spread out their plans, and we just shake our heads,” one highly placed intelligence source said, “and we say to them — ‘Don’t even go there. The answer is no.'”

Look, I’m not some shmoe who thinks Iran is some great country and the big, bad U.S. of A is out to kill a bunch of innocent people just to fill the pockets of some robber barons (ok, well maybe that last part a bit).  But C’mon. We have time and every reason to believe that Iran is a rational actor.  That means even if they got a bomb the deterrent from Israel and/or the US would make an Iranian first strike highly unlikely.

But we’re not even at that point yet.  Sanctions continue to bite, there’s clearly domestic unrest and Iran has few real allies.   Let’s not push Iran from pressure to negotiate to backs against the wall and nothing to lose.



“We had destroyed the man’s life based on an error,”

DangerRoom has a lengthy interview with Glenn Carle, a former CIA employee who was deeply involved in all those renditions and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ you (no longer) hear about.  There are some interesting nuggets here.  We’ll never get the full story in our lifetimes but here is a little crack in the wall.

On getting his book approved by the agency and the classification of information generally:

Wired.com: How did the CIA react to you publishing this book? Huge sections of it are blacked out.

Carle: The agency redacted about 40 percent of the initial manuscript, deleting entire chapters, almost none of which had anything to do with protecting sources or methods. Much of it was so the agency could protect itself from embarrassment, or from allowing any description of the interrogation program to come out.

Proof that the CIA is filled with commie pinko surrender monkeys:

Wired.com: David Petraeus, the incoming CIA director, suggested to Congress that there might be circumstances where a return to “enhanced interrogation” is appropriate. What would you say to him?

Carle: That there is almost no conceivable circumstance in which the enhanced interrogation practices are acceptable or work. This belief is a red herring, wrong, and undoes us a bit. We are better than that. Enhanced interrogation does not work, and is wrong. End of story.

Quite honestly, it’s exhausting to even write about this subject anymore.  The issue has become part of the culture wars and so we’ve got to a point where everyone throws up there hands and says ‘Well, the left believes ‘A’ and the right believes ‘b’.  I guess we just have to agree to disagree.’

And the fact that Americans in the 21st century can’t even agree that torture is wrong is very, very sad.

Kvick Tänkare

Andrew Sullivan does a nice job of taking the pro-torture nuts to task by comparing their quotes with those from George Orwell’s 1984.  I recently had a marathon length debate among some friends in which I was the only person who saw waterboarding (and torture more broadly) as problematic.  I found it both amazing and disturbing that a couple of my friends made a case that the teachings of the bible (Old and New Testament) actually endorsed such activities.

The meek may inherit the earth but if they don’t do what you tell ‘em, feel free to cut off body parts, electrocute, or drown them.  Just don’t enjoy it too much.

I always knew I liked the Secret Service

Earlier today, posted on the @SecretService account: “Had to monitor Fox for a story. Can’t. Deal. With. The. Blathering.”

Jon Ronson has a new book out called the Psychopath Test.  He takes a humorous look at what can otherwise be a very serious subject.  In the past it was conspiracy theorists or attempts by the U.S. to develop secret weapons and this time (as the title may suggest) he talks about psychopaths.   Check it out.

I find this strangely alluring.  Is that weird?

…it’s an all-female roller derby match between Malmö’s Crime City Rollers in their first ever “bout”, against their rivals from the capital, Stockholm Roller Derby.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

Changing topics completely, researchers have found the remains of an ancient battle site in Germany that dates back to 1200 BCE!

The injuries to the skulls suggest face-to-face combat in a battle perhaps fought between warring tribes, say the researchers.

The injuries included skull damage caused by massive blows or arrowheads, and some of the injuries appear to have been fatal.

One humerus (upper arm) bone contained an arrow head embedded more than 22mm into the bone, while a thigh bone fracture suggests a fall from a horse (horse bones were also found at the site).

The archaeologists also found remains of two wooden clubs, one the shape of a baseball bat and made of ash, the second the shape of a croquet mallet and made of sloe wood.


All animals are equal but some are more equal than others

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

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

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

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

The story brought this quote to mind….

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

h/t Andrew Sullivan

Was Steig Larsson a secret neo-con?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kvick Tänkare

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

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

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

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

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

Sven has a bit of artillery and kiwi themed humor.

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

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

Thiessen's disaster

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

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

Thiessen…adventures in Newspeak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopfully, the last word on torture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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