Archive for the ‘torture’ category

Funny/Tragic

June 17, 2014

This is so on-point it hurts:

iggy pop amnesty

 

Iggy’s confessing that  “Justin Bieber is the future of rock ‘n’ roll”  — and the caption reads “Torture a man and he’ll tell you anything.  Torture isn’t just inhumane, it’s ineffective.  Stop it.”

This comes from the brilliant folks at or working with the Belgian operation of Amnesty International

Here’s another one:

Dalai Amnesty

Same caption to the Dalai Lama admitting that “A man who doesn’t have a Rolex at fifty is a failure.”

It’s worth remembering that the claque who clamored us into war more than a decade ago and are trying to do so again include many of the same people who told us torture would keep us safe.

There is no limit to the wrongness of these people — and as our Belgian friends reminds us, their dishonesty is both a moral and a practical failure.

And by the way — thanks to Iggy Pop and the Dalai Lama for their willingness to take part in this campaign.

In Our Names

July 8, 2013

Titian_-_The_Scourging_of_Christ_-_WGA22826

Driving back from dropping my son off at his first day of summer camp, I turned on the radio in the middle of our local broadcast of the BBC’s World Service.  Almost the first thing up was an interview with director Asif Kapadia, talking about his latest project, a short film starring Yasiim Bey’s (Mos Def).

Bey’s subject: what it is actually like to be force fed, as is now being experienced by detainees at the US indefinite detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.  Bey’s supporting cast included two doctors, volunteering for the roles.  In the camp the procedure is performed by US personnel, working towards the stated purpose of securing the freedom and liberty of the citizens and residents of the United States.

Bey’s video is propaganda in the purest sense. That does not mean it can’t show us something that we should know.

Warning — and pay attention to me here, kids:  This short film is hard to watch — very much so — which is its point.  Don’t hit play if you have a hard time putting images of cruelty or violence out of your mind.  I’m putting it below the fold so that you don’t click on it by accident.

(more…)

A Thought I Wish I Could Get Out Of My Head

November 12, 2011

I read in TPM that Herman Cain said this in the debate tonight:

“I do not agree with torture, period,” Cain said to start the exchange. “However, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture. That is the critical consideration.”

Asked specifically about waterboarding, Cain tipped his hand. “I don’t see it as torture,” he said. “I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.”

 

I hear that, and I find mindself performing a thought experiment that leaves my stomach in knots.  What if someone in State College had said something like this:

“I don’t see it as molestation….I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.”

The moral catastrophe speaks for itself, right?

That’s the problem with the failure to call things by their right name.  No one in the Penn State scandal has tried to term what happened there as anything other than the misery it was, child rape and a fundamental betrayal.  We aren’t that far gone yet.

But the repeated use — and the authorization at the highest level — of acts we hanged people for after World War II?  Those are just “enhanced techniques.”  To this day even the liberal New York Times can’t bring itself to say that inconvenient word “torture.”

That Herman Cain is no fit president is hardly news.  I just wish this particular pathology were confined to him.  It’s not.

Image:  Dieric Bouts, The Martyrdom of St. Hippolytus,1470-1475.

One More Quick Word Before I Go

May 9, 2011

I dropped the ball on the debate in the middle of the week on the idea of torture “working” raised by my response to Josh Marshall’s brief post over at TPM. Despite my promises to engage, I learned once again the eternal truth: the last week or so of the school year is, how shall we say it, interesting to students, and hence a touch crowded for their teachers. So, apologies, all.

Many of the commenters and then mistermix argued that I seriously misread Josh’s point. That would be that torture as a policy is always and everywhere wrong, even if one can imagine that an incident of torture might every now and then provide a bit of timely, useful information. To those folks, Josh was making (somewhat clumsily) a strong case against torture, and not a rhetorical concession to the monsters in our polity who have already done such damage to our country.

Because this has been chewed on pretty good around here, I’m not going to do my usual 4,000 word logorrhea game here, so I’ll just make two quick points.

1: I believe I am in violent agreement with mistermix et al: torture is a disastrous policy, and Josh concurs with that claim. But I do think that it is a real problem to make even rhetorical gestures to the wrong side of this argument. Once you say that it is conceivable that torture “works” — even in the limited sense that Josh may mean it here, as a (very) occasional source of bits of actionable intelligence, then IMHO you have tiptoed onto that often invoked, much more rarely encountered political sasquatch, the slippery slope.

That is: I think the concession allows the bad guys to return to scenario mongering, talking 24 nonsense and muttering about bombs in Times Square…and adding zombie lies about how sustained torture got something good out of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed or whatever, ramping up until the “vanishingly rare” of Marshall’s implied formulation becomes so critically important that it becomes (again!) unpatriotic not to perform the water torture on every detainee, just in case.

2: That leads to my larger point, and it is again one upon which, I think, both sides of the Balloon Juice discussants at least basically agree.

And that is that the use of the word “works” here obscures the reality that torture, in fact does not do so for any reasonable definition of the word “works.”

This is important because if you don’t get that, then in fact you can come up with a formally coherent (even if BS) argument that torture is morally acceptable. That’s the problem with slippery slopes, after all. Eventually you slide to the point of some ham-fisted utilitarian argument, where the harm done to a few people is outweighed by some hypothetical good.

Yes — obviously — there are lots and lots of logical as well as practical flaws in that cartoon of reasoning. But it illustrates the problem with making good faith concessions to bad faith argument.

The real argument that Josh was trying to make (assuming, as I’m willing to, that those who read him kindly are correct) is that it doesn’t matter whether acts of torture work, because summed over the policy, torturing does much more harm than good.

That’s true. Torture throws tons of bad info into the system; it puts our own people at risk, it utterly wrecks hearts-and-minds attempts; and so on. All this we know. It’s wrong, because it does more damage to the individuals who practice it and the societies that adopt it than any conceivable gain — I’m not trying to diminish the moral argument. But, again, to the question of how to conduct the campaign against the pro-torture thugs, we cannot, IMHO, allow them to define, even partially, the frame of the argument. It never is, or should be, about what happens in the dungeon where one luckless victim is being broken — except as illustration of the fact that the use of the vomit-in-the-mouth Orwellianism (really anti-Orwellianism…) “enhanced interrogation technique” is itself sin against any attempt to imagine a moral regime.

Rather, the argument over torture has to be about what happens summed up over the full range of consequences of a decision to ask the CIA to do what we hung Germans and Japanese for perpetrating. You can’t capture the moral catastrophe without demonstrating that the logic of torture evokes more torture to “remedy” the inability to extract “useful” knowledge from each prior attempt — and all the other evils that flow once it becomes possible to think of torture as an occasionally valuable practice. Whenever we allow the Cheneys and Yoos of the world to bullshit their way into a “debate” over whether water boarding KSM did or didn’t help lead to Osama, we’ve already conceded much more than we should, or is safe.

[Quick update: Commenter J argues that it’s important not to be absolutist on torture never working in the small sense — which tells me that I still wasn’t clear about my argument. I’m saying it’s meaningless to assert that torture can work on that scale. Look at it this way. On Monday, you torture ten people. Nine of them give you no or bad intel. One gives you a piece of valid data. You act on the results of all ten interrogations. Did the one valid one work? No, IMHO.]

That Josh may have been making this argument, I concede. That he did so in a way that opens the door for the wrong interpretation is a problem. I ended my last post on this asking for eternal vigilance; it is too damn easy to fall into habits of speech and arguments that concede much more than we intend to people who have already done immeasurable harm to our country and its security.

And with that belaboring of what was already hashed out in a few hundred comments. I’ll deliver my promised extra treat on 17th century English torture and the law as soon as I can, perhaps in 2011. Happy Mother’s Day, y’all.

Image: El Greco, Portrait of a Cardinal c. 1600. This is a portrait of one of two cardinals, each head of the Spanish Inquisition.

Did Anyone Actually See David Broder’s Body?

May 4, 2011

[This is a cross post from Balloon Juice, where it prompted quite a discussion and, this morning, this response from mistermix.  I’m going to tag back later in the day, (promises, promises) but for now, here’s where all this started.  (P.S.  Sorry for not getting this up here at the same time as over at BJ, as is my usual custom.  As happenes, work intervened.]

David Broder is dead, or so they say.

I’m telling you he’s undead, and like the Jack the Ripper figure in that Star Trek episode, seems to be infecting the previously sane.

Exhibit A:

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Here’s Josh Marshall, Josh Freaking Marshall, earlier today:

As a more general matter it’s important to recognize that torture could easily have produced the key information. It just seems not to have in this case. You can be doctrinaire in opposing torture without being doctrinaire in assuming that it can’t produce any good intelligence, which would be foolish.

Here’s Senator Feinstein, speaking to the particular, as reported in Josh’s own Talking Points Memo:

“To the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a wide-ranging press conference.

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Moreover, Feinstein added, nothing about the sequence of events that culminated in Sunday’s raid vindicates the Bush-era techniques, nor their use of black sites — secret prisons, operated by the CIA.

“Absolutely not, I do not,” Feinstein said. “I happen to know a good deal about how those interrogations were conducted, and in my view nothing justifies the kind of procedures that were used.”

And as for the general claim, that “torture could easily have produced the key information,” here’s the lede to that very story, written by Brian Beutler:

More and more evidence suggests a key piece of intelligence — the first link in the chain of information that led U.S. intelligence officials to Osama bin Laden — wasn’t tortured out of its source. And, indeed, that torture actually failed to produce it.

If Marshall wants to argue that torture is a valuable tool for intelligence gather, let him make the case.  I don’t actually think he does, of course.  But his bland suggestion that it might be so reeks of both-sides-now-ism.

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Combine that with the hippy-bashing use of the word “doctrinaire” — as in hide-bound, close-minded, and inflexible — to describe the properties of opposition to torture, and you have a bit of even handed applause for the right’s conventional wisdom that Mr. Broder himself would have admired.

Marshall is better than this bit of overly fast punditry…but in some sense that’s the point.  It shows how easy it is to slip into Broderism, into the habits of sloppy thinking, or simple refusal to think, even for people who’ve made a career of bullshit detection.

Eternal vigilance, peeps.

Image:  Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime, 1808

None Dare Say Its Name: “Even the Liberal New York Times” edition.

May 3, 2011

One reason the Bush got Bin Laden meme is in with a chance is the growing chorus claiming that “enhanced interrogation” was the key to cracking the case.  (Warning:  wingnuttia at that link)

This is nonsense, of course, on at least two levels. One, well documented by lots of folks, including, repeatedly, commenters here, is that the mind-crumbling treatment of detainees being touted as the key to the case is both unnecessary for properly trained interrogators and counterproductive as well.  Oh and people, like Khalid Sheik Muhammed, the man that Cheney’s acolytes allege gave up the nickname of the courier who led US intelligence to Bin Laden’s compound, have already admitted lying to end the pain (hoocoodanode?)

The other reason this claim is nonsense is that the accumulating record of this case demonstrates that a lot of old fashioned intelligence work — and some basic policing, in fact — and not torture produced the leads that ultimately brought a Seal team to Abbottabad.  The New York Times has written a mostly impressive account of the case that reads in part like a procedural thriller.  In it, the reporters describe how the courier was first tagged:

Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier. When the Americans ran the man’s pseudonym past two top-level detainees — the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; and Al Qaeda’s operational chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi — the men claimed never to have heard his name. That raised suspicions among interrogators that the two detainees were lying and that the courier probably was an important figure.

So KSM did not reveal the secret under torture.  Rather, he held his tongue…and this is how US intelligence closed the gap:

By 2005, many inside the C.I.A. had reached the conclusion that the Bin Laden hunt had grown cold, and the agency’s top clandestine officer ordered an overhaul of the agency’s counterterrorism operations. The result was Operation Cannonball, a bureaucratic reshuffling that placed more C.I.A. case officers on the ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

With more agents in the field, the C.I.A. finally got the courier’s family name. With that, they turned to one of their greatest investigative tools — the National Security Agency began intercepting telephone calls and e-mail messages between the man’s family and anyone inside Pakistan. From there they got his full name.

Boots on the ground, intercepts, the slow, boring sifting through data.  Cop work.  Spy work — the real kind, not the deluded fantasies of those who think Jack Bauer actually works for the US government.

All good so far:  the usual suspects of or enamored with the Bush-Cheney crime family are wrong, lying and gaining at least a bit of traction, but mainstream media accounts are out there that give them the lie.

So what’s my beef?

This, from the same article:

As the hunt for Bin Laden continued, the spy agency was being buffeted on other fronts: the botched intelligence assessments about weapons of mass destruction leading up to the Iraq War, and the intense criticism for using waterboarding and other extreme interrogation methods that critics said amounted to torture. [Italics added]

No.

It’s not that “critics say” waterboarding is torture.

As everybody likely to read this already knows, many times over, waterboarding is torture, as defined by international law and has repeatedly been recognized as such by the U.S. in the prosecution of other nations’ war criminals.  It is also recognized as such by everyone who has experienced it.  See, e.g. Christopher Hitchens.

This has gone on too long.  I’m sick of it.  Killing Bin Laden is a significant milestone in the pursuit of the criminals who murdered US citizens in 2001 (and many others before and after, of course).  We know now that the success of that mission turned on classic approaches to investigation and the pursuit of fugitives.  That the US government tortured people for years produced one of the key victories won by  Osama Bin Laden, as discussed in John’s thread earlier today.

The inability of the newspaper of record to simply state that torture is torture helps preserve that victory.  They should know better.  Hell, they do know better.  But in that one weasely little “critics said,” the New York Times gives aid and comfort to the worst — and least competent — among us.

Image:  José Ribera, Ixion, 1632.

It’s A Tear Down

April 24, 2011

That would be any culture that could produce a video/mobile game like this. Before you click that link, be aware that it takes you to the beta site of an Android game called Dog Wars.  From that link (all typography in the original):

Raise your Dog to Beat the Best!

A GAME THAT WILL NEVER BE IN THE iPHONE APP STORE!!!

Feed, water, train and FIGHT your virtual dog against other player’s… action games, chatroom, many characters and dogs to choose from, virtual store, etc.

If this already has been blogged widely, my apologies.  Hell, my apologies for belonging to the same species as the presumptively sentient types who wrote the necessary code.

I know that there are all kinds of real arguments folks have over whether or not games or porn or violent kids shows or Kill Bill evoke or displace the behaviors they depict.

What’s more, I’ll concede that point, FWIW:  if I were a betting man, I’d lay cash down on the proposition that no one is going to be seduced into dog fighting by playing with digital pit bulls on a three inch screen.  But that’s not my point.

It is that our culture — all the ways we experience, interpret and express feelings and ideas about the business of living in the world — dies just a bit every time something like this slips by.  If we think that cruelty isn’t be fun, then representations of the joy of sadism can’t be passed by in silence.

Perhaps I’m just too much of an alter-kocker in saying so, but there it is.  To be clear:  I do not argue that games like these should be banned.  I think it, its makers, and anyone playing it  should be shamed.

It should be no more acceptable to play this than it is scream “kike” in Fenway’s bleachers (happened to me once; called the guy on it; did not get my head removed, to my rather surprised relief).

I would not let my son play with any kid who showed him that game, and I tell the parents so and why.  I would respond to anyone who talked of it with gusto to me (pretty unlikely, I’d say, given my DFH-ish daily round) that this kind of thing is a moral and an aesthetic cancer.  I’d write this.

It just isn’t acceptable to celebrate others’ pain.  Dogs, people, whoever.  I’m sickened, saddened and most troubled by the comments at that link that tell me to chill, because after all, it’s only a game.

Well yes it is…but if the old writer’s adage — you are what you read — has any truth to it, we need to be damn careful about what we play.  And if we care about our collective capacity to care about what happens to one another, then it seems to me both right and necessary to name and shame those who wallow in this particular swamp.

Please forgive the rant.  I’m just gobsmacked by this one — perhaps over reacting to what is, after all, just one more in a long line of stupid human tricks.  But still…

Image:  William Blake, The Stygian Lake, with the Ireful Sinners Fighting, (illustration for Dante’s Inferno, Canto VII), 1824-1827.