Green Room

Down in the Dungeon with the Torture Trolls (warning: rated J for Japanese graphic violence)

posted at 5:38 pm on April 24, 2009 by

strangelet, sesquipedalian, <i>et moi</i>

To my knowledge, neither Andrew Sullivan nor Glenn Greenwald is a member of the HotAir community – though I suspect their requests for user-accounts would be granted.  Closed registration keeps out the garden variety trolls that infest more open sites.  Yet we do have a handful of left-of-right regulars to help us maintain contact with that interminable paranoid nightmare the Kossacks call “reality.”   I’m thinking of two regulars in particular who came to dominate discussion under two prior posts of mine on or referring to the so-called (and prejudicially) “torture” issue:  Their contributions exemplify why, inevitably, this topic is at once so fascinatingly painful, so dangerous and yet ineluctable for all concerned.

Many HotAir regulars know sesquipedalian and strangelet, and also know that, though they’ve been known to troll, or walk on the troll side, they’re not really trolls.  Troll is as troll does, and, once you get past their initial reflexes (something virtually impossible with a true troll), past their compulsively expressed disdain for “gun freaks, jesus freaks and pro-life nuts,” once you’ve fended off their rhetorical elbows and massaged your verbal shins, and as long as you keep one hand in jugular protection position and the other one within easy reach of your snickersnee, and didn’t forget your cup, and wore your steel-toed boots, and your helmet, and you vary your schedule and avoid all other routines, they turn out to be smart, articulate, thoughtful – even witty – well-meaning idealists capable of dialogue and seemingly even looking for it.

Yet, in my opinion, they remain controlled, where not consumed, by emotion on this topic – expressing fear, shame, and anger in varying counterproductive proportions, and determined to share – just like many of their allies, and just like the Troll-in-Chief.

sesqui’s opening salvo on my “Where We Agree with Obama…” post, which included the above-linked “nuts/freaks” excerpt, ends as follows:  “[Y]ou and your ilk brought shame to America.”  “You” in this case would be yours truly.  As for my ilk, if you don’t know whom he means, I understand that the DHS has published a highly informative report.  Anyway, after selected ilk had their say, sesqui came back with another broadside:

torture is disgusting. anyone promoting torture is despicable, no matter who the victim is. i don’t care about your rhetorical tricks trying to reconcile having jesus in your heart with actively advocating the systematic torture of human beings. face your shame

When I pointed out that no one except him, either in the top post or in subsequent posts had mentioned religion, he decided to play the patriot card:

it’s despicable, whether or not you’re a christian. it’s unpatriotic and against our values. shining city on the hill, say [expletive] goodbye to that. you keep telling yourself that they didn’t suffer, that it was just a little roughing’em up – it wasn’t. it was planned, systematic torture, as described above.

you believe former bush people that torture worked. so far, no evidence, only hearsay. you want to believe them, because you can’t face the truth. that we senselessly tortured people, and gained very little from it. we tortured people not just to stop a ticking bomb, but to gather the “mosaic” info, random data that may be useful one day. we tortured people for that.

Notice how many times the word “torture” or close variations is repeated in the above and prior excerpts:  sesqui has his hands on an implement that he expects will inflict pain, and so he pokes it in, and in, and in where he expects to find a nerve center.

At the same time, he helps ensure that the discussion is about torture, exploiting the pre-judgment of the issue briefly noted above, and seen everywhere these days in the phrase “torture memos.”  Torture per se is never precisely defined in these discussions – among other things because it can’t be (see below).  In most discourse from the left, it now appears to be peremptoritly equated with “what’s in the memos.”  Now as before, it’s circular:  We know the Bushies tortured because “what the Bushies did” is our definition of torture.

This approach works well for torture trolls for several reasons, prominently among them the fact that the Bush team was consciously struggling to develop effective interrogation procedures without “torturing.”  Regardless of whatever moral judgments you make – if you believe, say, along with some 60% of Americans who usually tell pollsters that torture should remain an option at least in “rare instances” – the US has aligned itself against torture, by treaty with force of law, as ratified under Ronald Reagan, as re-affirmed by Congress under Bill Clinton, and as re-affirmed again by and under George W Bush.  Here’s the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the US was a signatory as of 1988 – the full text having been helpfully provided to us by none other than sesquipedalian himself, with my emphases:

Article 1.
1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.

Article 2.
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

In other words, US public officials and lawyers don’t have the option of freely indulging in thought experiments.  They can’t, just for the sake of discussion, say, “Well, under a broad definition of torture, waterboarding and humiliating KSM was torture, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.”  If they say that, then they’re outlaw torturers for life in every warren, grotto, and cave of the internet, the mass media, and the Democratic Party – coming soon to congressional committee or federal court near you.  They can’t muse aloud about the history of torture, about cultures and whole civilizations, Christian and non-Christian, tribal and imperial, that viewed torture completely differently, and in ways that are arguably no more or less arbitrary than ours.  They can’t, in their official roles, come on HotAir and say, “Well, if you put it like that, yes, I’d go medieval on Abu Zubaydah’s a$$ if I thought it was the only way to save a city – or to save my own family.”  If they do give voice to such beliefs and sentiments – beliefs and sentiments shared by many, many of their fellow citizens, and by the vast majority of human beings ever to walk the planet (sociopaths being the main exceptions) – then they are putting themselves outside the law of the land, which has, in my view short-sightedly and dishonestly, spread-eagled us on a transnational table, and tied us down with all-encompassing ambiguity.

As Green Roomer coldwarrior asked, when confronted by sesquipedalian in an unusually calm colloquy, “What qualifies as severe pain and suffering?”  There can be no single answer:  We’re lost in the Derridean mirror-world in which definitions of words are merely other words, everything is everything, and the eye altering alters all.  And there is no shortage of volunteers ready to don the hood and go right after our eyes.

Why did we put ourselves into the hands of future transnational inquisitors?  It’s not just some international version of Stockholm Syndrome, where we’ve come to love our global captors.  In a series of conflicts going back to the colonial era, Americans have defined themselves, justified themselves in war and conquest, against a series of enemies depicted as torturers:  Native American “savages,” slavers, Imperial Japanese, Communists, Saddamists, terrorists.  The Revolutionary generation’s “self-evident” truths against the British Empire were broader, but inclusive on this theme:  A country founded with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness in mind, deeply protective of the individual against the state as throughout the Bill of Rights, is implicitly a country founded against torture.  What “shocks the conscience” – to use the oft-invoked American legal standard – isn’t just that torture is “disgusting” in the eye of whatever beholder, but that it inherently and immediately pre-empts and contradicts everything we stand for.

This is what, it seems, really gets to strangelet, and how could you not be sympathetic?  Now, when playing droll-troll, she’s the smart-alecky grrl who knows us and our interests better than we do.  One of her favorite tactics, when not l-ing ol at the conserva-rubes, is to cite some right- or middle-winger who appears to have broken ranks.  It’s the “your friends are betraying you” tactic that every interrogator uses.  Yet, strangelet is even less a good bad cop than she is a consistent troll.  In the end, like sesqui, she drops the accuser pose and joins the parade of witness/victims, unforgivably tortured by our willingness to torture, exhibiting her wounds for a jury:

Don’t you think that Sesqui and I (and other likeminded Americans) would have protested if we had known?
I dismissed Cole and Sully [app. Prof. Juan Cole and blogger Andrew Sullivan] because I simply could not believe my country would torture.
I did look away, I was in denial, but not in the way you assume.

That last sentence refers to an earlier exchange in which she had equated herself with Alexei “Alyosha” Karamazov, the “good” brother Karamazov.  Unlike us (Ivans, Dmitrys, Fyodors, Smerdyakovs all), she “could not do it,” could not, in her proferred example, harm the innocent child to save the nation.

In a somewhat similar vein, once drawn into expounding his own position (before lapsing back into attempts to shock and torment us with fragmentary narratives of “torture”), sesqui imagines some future regime under which heroic volunteers will protect him and us from terrorists, then willingly face the consequences:

in case of an impending attack, i’d of course hope that they would do whatever to stop it, but if they break the law, i’d see their punishment afterward as sad but proper. by torturing terrorists to stop an attack, they’d make themselves tragic heroes who compromised themselves for doing “the right thing,” that is, defending the country. immediately afterward, bizarre as it may sound, our priority becomes that they are brought to justice.in those extremely rare cases, if indeed it has ever even gotten close to that, there really is a bomb ticking somewhere, as a human being i’d expect them to go beyond the limit, but i’d consider it one of the great tragedies of life, when someone compromises himself to save something greater. he becomes corrupted by his act.

The dramatic recitation is also almost worthy of Dostoevsky, though alert readers may identify it instead as the predicament of warrior-saint Jack Bauer at the beginning of this season’s 24, willingly facing the music, undergoing crucifiction by congressional committee.  As for sesqui and strangelet specifically, you almost have to admire the courage it takes to confess such cowardice, and the honesty of the commitment to dishonesty, the open denial, even under internet pseudonyms.  In their America, the citizenry will be allowed to pretend innocence, beneficiaries of the actions of Bauer-like heroes, who, in order to preserve the former’s sense of inviolate moral sanctity, will then be subjected to the harshest possible retrospective judgment.

It’s ironic and telling in this context – and I don’t pretend to be the first to point this out – that our national self-torment regarding torture has played out during a period in which so-called “torture porn” has been one of the “hot” genres of popular art.

ROAD TO GUANTANAMO Movie Poster - Banned by MPAA

The poster to the right looks like it’s for any old torture porn movie – and maybe that’s a fair description (I haven’t seen the film).   The imagery was intended to attract people to a documentary film detailing charges of severe mistreatment, what some would call torture, by the US military of Guantanamo inmates. The designer clearly understood that the elements that attract people to this topic include prurient interest, fear, sadomasochistic identification with both the torturers and the tortured, and other inchoate and complex emotional states and investments; many of the same things that draw people to movies like SAW or HOSTEL. Like rather similar poster images for the fictional torture porn films CAPTIVITY and SAW II, it was rejected for theatrical use by the Motion Picture Association of America.

This odd intersection of documentary and fictional torture film aesthetics is not purely a coincidence, in my opinion, just as it’s no coincidence that the torture trolls and others like to focus on childish and irrelevant SAW-like fantasy dilemmas:  Would you torture a child to save Manhattan?  Would you gouge out a suspect’s eyeball on a 50/50 chance of good intelligence?  There is undoubtedly somewhere some pierced and tattooed hate-boy whose favorite blogger is Andrew Sullivan, whose favorite director is Eli Roth, and who is convinced of his moral superiority to Dick Cheney, Jay Bybee, and you, and is desperate to tell you all about it.

We’re all KSM on this topic – undergoing a harsh interrogation completely beyond our control, unsure of where it could be heading, wondering whether our very political and moral lives are at stake.  We’re all Jay Bybee, too, asking ourselves the same questions, from the perspective of the master, not the slave, dreadfully responsible no matter what we do, morally endangered by our relative safety, in thrall to our very freedom to choose.  And there’s no way to know where this process will end:  In the shadow of another if very different “reign of terror,” the writings of the Marquis De Sade were said eventually to have reached every literate French citizen – and if they did any good, the corpses strewn from Paris to Egypt to Iberia to Moscow and back suggest that the effect remained long delayed, at best.

Or how’s this for torture porn?  In the Concentration Camp at Buchenwald, the same building used for interrogations in the daytime was used as an SS-run for-profit inmates’ movie theater in the evenings, the instruments of torture moved aside to make for projector, screen, and seats.  Over the course of that same war, on the good side, the US began with a posture that “area bombing” was inhumane and repugnant.  Gradually, we accepted that our less well-equipped, already area-bombed major ally would engage in the practice – the strategic aerial version of “rendition” to torturing regimes.  Finally, we began to do it as well, at first offering contingent justifications (we were attacking “communications” or “economic” centers),  until finally we were incinerating whole cities in an express effort to compel the enemy to surrender.

Maybe we should never have done it.  Maybe we should have been doing it from the beginning.  Maybe we’re doomed (or maybe we’re lucky) never to recall at the outset of hostilities where the logic of war can drive us by their end, and where the logic of peace tends to drive us back.

Finally, I’ll say first that I appreciate (most of) sesqui and strangelet’s challenges, and I’m prepared to try to understand anyone’s position on these most difficult issues, and to defend my own.  In brief, I support a policy that allows for the application of minimum necessary physical force (including drugs and other technical means) to obtain time-critical information from captive out-of-uniform combatants, subject to consultation with and review by all branches of government.  In practice, I think it would look like a combination of Alan Dershowitz’s “torture warrants” proposal and the ad hoc, consultative and precedent-controlled decisions of the Bush Office of Legal Counsel and associated intelligence and law enforcement personnel.

There’s much said about what “message” we send by what we’ve done or by what we choose to reveal about what we’ve done.  I’d like us to say – that is, to admit, to others and to ourselves – that we will take what measures we need to take in order to protect ourselves and our way of life, and the lives of innocents.  We will strive to do so with pragmatism, honesty, courage, and reason, not fear or shame or evasion or convenient fiction or ad hoc panic.

And if you don’t want to trust our judgment about what’s necessary to achieve our vital objectives, then don’t commit acts of terror against us or our allies.

UPDATE:  My estimate of 60% of Americans supporting torture in at least “rare” instances was based on scanning several polls conducted over the last few years (including some apparent outliers).  James Taranto, in today’s BEST OF THE WEB, cites current Pew Research’s opinion polling that puts the numbers consistently closer to 70-30 regarding “torture of suspected terrorists to gain information,” with nearly half of the respondents regularly falling into “sometimes/often” aggregated from among the four options:  “never,” “rarely,” “sometimes,” “often.”

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Ok…..I agree completely about teh conservo intelligentsia and Palin….they should respect the base or form their own party.
They are simply not going to be able to either scold or browbeat the base into submission.
But…right now you are leading a horse with an empty saddle towards 2012.
Obama was a contender right from his 2004 speech at the DNC.
Times runnin’ out.
;)

strangelet on April 27, 2009 at 3:47 PM

Back to topic, another good Manzi thread.

And, even better than my Dostoyevskian argument, a new epiphany for me, courtesy of commentor Consumatopia–

Even under simple preference utilitarianism, this is way worse than simply killing someone. Killing someone erases their preferences. Torturing them negates their preferences, like we cut them off at some sort of cartesian pineal gland, dividing their body from their will.

My response–
Torture, exactly like slavery, is the negation of freewill.
And that is the antithesis of humanity.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 6:54 AM

Done.
We tortured, it was wrong, do this next.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 6:59 AM

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 6:54 AM

larison answers manzi:

One of the things that has kept me from saying much over the last week or so is my sheer amazement that there are people who seriously pose such questions and expect to be answered with something other than expressions of bafflement and moral horror. … I have started doubting whether people who are openly pro-torture or engaged in the sophistry of Manzi’s post are part of the same moral universe as I am, and I have wondered whether there is even a point in contesting such torture apologia as if they were reasonable arguments deserving of real consideration.

sesquipedalian on April 28, 2009 at 9:58 AM

You two still don’t get it – so I have no expectation that you will. As for Larison and Manzi, I’m sure they mean well, as I grant the vast majority of participants in this discussion do, but I haven’t found their contributions particularly useful, and phrases like “part of the same moral universe as I am” strike me as melodramatic and self-serving: Oh, I’m so deeply appalled that someone else is addressing this issue from some perspective other than the one I prefer!

The scene of interrogation, the elements and the experience of “enhanced” techniques, loom very large when put under very close scrutiny. It’s a familiar act of selective perception: One chooses to enjoy one’s outrage over the vividly imagined violation of KSM, because the people whose murders and maimings he organized have faded into the past and the realm of statistics, and the people whom he intended to have killed and maimed are walking around whole and free. The scene of distant bombardiers dropping highly but imperfectly accurate bombs on distant enemies and unfortunate bystanders in distant lands for half-forgotten, but connected reasons seem hardly to register as a moral issue compared to the dramatic identification with a man whose faced is plunged over and over in water, inducing feelings of panic, fear, and shame, but little or no serious damage to him.

Being able to sympathize with KSM and AZ, but not their their direct and indirect victims, or with the people tasked with protecting their victims, does not represent some noble moral exercise. It’s a primitive, highly selective version of morality, one sub-level of abstraction higher than the same psychological mechanism that enables, one might even say compels, a citizen to favor the lives of friends and family over the lives of unknown strangers. A policy based on a fantastical promise to privilege the health, comfort, and sensibilities of mass murderers over those of the citizens a government is sworn to protect, and of the innocents it will someday be forced to destroy, may make a portion of the populace feel better about themselves and their government, for a while. Their marvelously if narrowly upraised self-consciousness over the banished scene of rough interrogation won’t survive the scenes of atrocity that will follow.

CK MacLeod on April 28, 2009 at 10:42 AM

The scene of distant bombardiers dropping highly but imperfectly accurate bombs on distant enemies and unfortunate bystanders in distant lands for half-forgotten, but connected reasons seem hardly to register as a moral issue compared to the dramatic identification with a man whose faced is plunged over and over in water, inducing feelings of panic, fear, and shame, but little or no serious damage to him.

how can you say that? the widespread moral objection to the barbarism of dresden and hiroshima ensures that they will not happen again, inshallah. as a result of this objection, we now have laser guided bombs and the like, which enable governments to wage extended war in the age of real time war coverage. no civilized government is considering firebombing cities anymore.

Being able to sympathize with KSM and AZ, but not their their direct and indirect victims, or with the people tasked with protecting their victims, does not represent some noble moral exercise. It’s a primitive, highly selective version of morality,

your frequent lapses into wingnut talk discredit your sincerity. your suggestion that we sympathize with terrorists is deeply offensive. we believe that by upholding our standards, we are in fact protecting America’s security in the long-term.

let me throw a few questions at you that may help us better understand each other’s position:

what is your position on the allegedly significant number of insurgent/AQI fighters who were driven to fight the US by our widely-publicized treatment of our prisoners? would you venture a guess how this affected US casualties and the our overall success in iraq and af-pak?

if we implemented the rather permissive interrogation policy you recommend for so-called high value prisoners, what measures would you take to protect the innocent? how do we ensure that interrogators don’t look for information based on false assumptions (particularly in light of our notoriously error-prone intelligence services)?

how do you avoid an appalling scenario, where gov’t officials push for information that would serve their political interests or justify their actions (e.g. we know saddam and osama were good pals, and we know this guy has the details)?

isn’t it wrong to apply techniques that “shock the conscience” of many, to seek information that we’re not sure it exists at all?

does your recommended policy address the possible personal motivations of interrogators, including an inflated sense of self-importance (as in “the future of humanity is in my hands” – maybe so, maybe not) or righteous vengeance (“the guy deserves this anyway“)?

would you use techniques that “shock the conscience” of many with the aim of gathering data not directly related to an impending, major attack, but is considered to be “potentially useful”?

is a system possible that can reliably match the value of information we seek to extract to the severity of interrogation techniques we use for that purpose? in our culture, isn’t such a system a prerequisite to even considering the use of techniques that “shock the conscience” of many?

sesquipedalian on April 28, 2009 at 11:50 AM

Highlander….
We tortured. We went against the rule of law.
Its over.
When Reagan signed the treaty we agreed on the definition.
It may or may not have been LEGAL for Bybee to redefine torture to exclude waterboarding…the truth commission will explore that.
I am pretty sure there will be a truth commission now.
And there is no reason not to protect ourselves with Stephens drugs, deceit, drink, and threats skilled interrogations.
But neither men or republics can be above the law.

And I would not…I understand your utlilitarian pragmatism…one torture for many lives….but I’m Alyosha.
I would not take one slave, not waterboard one terrorist, not torture one child.
I could not.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 12:51 PM

how can you say that? the widespread moral objection to the barbarism of dresden and hiroshima ensures that they will not happen again, inshallah. as a result of this objection, we now have laser guided bombs and the like, which enable governments to wage extended war in the age of real time war coverage. no civilized government is considering firebombing cities anymore.

I don’t know if you’re joking or have a childish belief that precision-guided munitions have solved the “collateral damage” problem.

your suggestion that we sympathize with terrorists is deeply offensive.

So you say when not posing as the high holy humanist. I think you identify in your imagination with the terrorist suspect undergoing harsh interrogation – not quite the same thing as “sympathizing with the terrorists” – while removing from your calculation everything outside the immediate scene.

I can answer most of your questions at once: There is absolutely nothing that you, strangelet, Andrew Sullivan, or Barack Obama has proposed that prevents the various problems of volunteers, officials acting in bad faith, and so on. All that you do is set up some obstacles whose main effect over time will be to ease your consciences. In the short term, you will encourage renditions, battlefield executions, voluntarism, overcaution, and so on. Over longer spans, you will set up ad hoc overreactions that will either be hidden under secret findings and plausible deniability, or will sweep away the would-be guardians of our narrowly defined moral purity.

As to the details of any legal regime and desirable levels and methods of oversight, no system – whether designed by Glenn Greenwald, Alan Dershowitz, you, or me – is going to be foolproof, or can overcome a presumption of bad faith on the part of principle participants.

what is your position on the allegedly significant number of insurgent/AQI fighters who were driven to fight the US by our widely-publicized treatment of our prisoners? would you venture a guess how this affected US casualties and the our overall success in iraq and af-pak?

Yet once again you fully conflate detainee treatment, in particular Abu Ghraib, with interrogation. We don’t know what would have happened if we waterboarded – if we eye-gouged, dismembered, and flayed – KSM, but handled Abu Ghraib like Club Med.

I certainly accept as credible the beliefs of Petraeus and his people that civilian protection and respect of rights was critical to an effective counterinsurgency campaign. Dicretly combatting terrorist plots already under way or being planned is something else altogether.

Prior to the surge, multinational forces operated under another assumption about the “causes” of the insurgency and insurgency recruitment – that the very presence of US troops incited hostility and that handing over authority to Iraqis as quickly as possible was more important than establishing security. That turned out to be a simplistic abstraction that looked good on paper and sounded good in anti-war agitprop, b8ut arguably did a lot more harm than good.

A policy that aims to be both as effective and as humane as possible – humane both to the “evildoers” and to their actual and potential victims – would be better than a policy that emphasizes one while merely hoping that the other takes care of itself.

CK MacLeod on April 28, 2009 at 12:59 PM

strangelet on April 24, 2009 at 8:08 PM

You’re ok messing with the brain and not the body? Dude. But you’re all bent out of shape BECAUSE OF THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION? Bizarre.

I’m sorry, but it’s just weird. I really can’t detect the underlying principles beyond assigning some sort of totemic power to the term “torture.” Treaties aside, it’s just weird.

TheUnrepentantGeek on April 28, 2009 at 1:10 PM

Read my lips, Geek.
Torture is the same as slavery.
The negation of free will.

We signed a treaty defining torture.
Then we changed the definition.

Game over.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 1:34 PM

Yet once again you fully conflate detainee treatment, in particular Abu Ghraib, with interrogation.

as far as the insurgents/foreign fighters are concerned, there’s little distinction between the two. so i’m not differentiating here either. as you can see, the rest of my questions focus on interrogation methods.

sesquipedalian on April 28, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Read my lips, Geek.
Torture is the same as slavery.
The negation of free will.

Yeah, so’s a 55 MPH speed limit. So are silk handkerchiefs affixing ankles and wrists to bedposts. So’s the UCMJ.

We signed a treaty defining torture.
Then we changed the definition.

Game over.

We signed a treaty pretending to define torture. Inevitably, under pressure we sought refuge in ambiguity, relativism, and legalism – and we’ve hardly even begun to test the bounds of the last.

You’re not in the position to declare any game over.

CK MacLeod on April 28, 2009 at 1:44 PM

Prior to the surge, multinational forces operated under another assumption about the “causes” of the insurgency and insurgency recruitment – that the very presence of US troops incited hostility and that handing over authority to Iraqis as quickly as possible was more important than establishing security. That turned out to be a simplistic abstraction that looked good on paper and sounded good in anti-war agitprop, b8ut arguably did a lot more harm than good.

one could argue that it took the iraqis four years of horror to realize that the US is a lesser evil. this realization may also have been delayed by gitmo and abu ghraib.

btw, here’s your EIT-abu ghraib connection:

“We didn’t kill them… We just did what we were told to soften them up for interrogation, and we were told to do anything short of killing them.” – Lynndie England, scapegoat.

sesquipedalian on April 28, 2009 at 1:57 PM

Its over for me.
Realizing that torture is based on the exact same premise as slavery finished it.
The negation of free will, the negation of what it means to be human.
I don’t think you have any arguments left that can touch me.
Game over.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 2:00 PM

That’s England quote demonstrates little, sesqui. It’s a tenuous if not completely phony connection, not an objective one. And you can have no idea what would have been happening in Abu Ghraib if the Iraq war had taken place in the aftermath of successful follow-ons to 9/11.

We’re not in a position, may never be, in critical respects cannot ever be, to perform a full and objective cost-benefit calculation of all aspects of Bush Administration post-9/11 strategy. The system is too complex, and the assessment vulnerable to bias and self-serving oversimplification at every point.

Instead, we bottom-line things politically, and make political adjustments. At this moment, we appear to be turning the dial several notches to the left, while some take advantage of the luxuries of peacetime to indulge in one kind of moral posturing, and to reject a different kind (in many instances the same people now striking the former posture were straining their backs to adopt the other a few short years ago). A few bumps in the road, and the dial will be turned back right on this issue – first quietly, if the bump’s not too shocking, then dramatically if “the bumped” get angry enough.

CK MacLeod on April 28, 2009 at 2:10 PM

Its over for me.
Realizing that torture is based on the exact same premise as slavery finished it.
The negation of free will, the negation of what it means to be human.
I don’t think you have any arguments left that can touch me.
Game over.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 2:00 PM

Enjoy your self-dramatic dance in your imaginary victory circle.

CK MacLeod on April 28, 2009 at 2:11 PM

Victory?
I achieved understanding of why torture is wrong for humans ruled by law.
If it is anyone’s victory, it is yours, Mathematikos.
Sure, you didn’t persuade me to your viewpoint.
But I listened and I learned …me, I learned what I believe.
You are supposed to be teaching me to think for myself…..not how to think like you.
;)

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 2:46 PM

And, in your interest, I will reject solipsisms and false certainties. Thinking for oneself and projecting are not the same thing.

My advice is to work your epiphany-rate down gradually, first aiming for no more than 1 a day, then 1 a month, and so on. Eventually you may determine that real epiphanies are rare. You can live a rich life without ever experiencing a single one.

CK MacLeod on April 28, 2009 at 2:58 PM

You can live a rich life without ever experiencing a single one.

but…..do I want to?
domo arigoto gozaimasen sempai_sama.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 3:10 PM

but…..do I want to?

As regards the real unreal thing, what makes you think you have a choice in the matter?

As for myself, I’m always suspicious of any great revelation that happens to confirm my pre-existing inclinations and prejudices, and that seems to make things easier rather than harder.

Take two Kierkegaards, and text me in the morning.

CK MacLeod on April 28, 2009 at 3:27 PM

Its over for me.
Realizing that torture is based on the exact same premise as slavery finished it.
The negation of free will, the negation of what it means to be human.
I don’t think you have any arguments left that can touch me.
Game over.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 2:00 PM

Perhaps we could discuss why you actually buy the rather silly notion that anyone actually possesses free will in the strictest sense?

TheUnrepentantGeek on April 28, 2009 at 3:35 PM

OOO!
I forgot this …..from Sully’s reader bank

I sort of think of torture like rape: It may not kill the victim, but it gives so much power to the person inflicting it and causes so much trauma to the victim that it’s obviously beyond moral second-guessing: it’s wrong beyond the pale. Rhetorically, I suspect that if we were officially raping females suspected of terrorism, there would be legitimate outrage.

Though one can’t be sure. I’m constantly surprised by what we tolerate in this country.

At Ta-nehisi’s we had a discussion of Joss Wheedon’s Dollhouse…Ta said he thought it was a rape fantasy…..in the every week overwriting of the protagonist’s memory….. I analogized rape and slavery.
It’s the same! Rape, slavery, torture, Dollhouse.
The act renders the individual enslaved, raped, tortured or overwritten with a neural imprint into a non-human.

Perhaps we could discuss why you actually buy the rather silly notion that anyone actually possesses free will in the strictest sense?

Geek??
Of course I believe in free will…..I’m a Sufi.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 3:55 PM

I’m a Sufi.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Like this kind?

TheUnrepentantGeek on April 28, 2009 at 4:12 PM

yes.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 4:20 PM

Terribly interested in how you reconcile:

The extent to which Sufism was influenced by Buddhist and Hindu mysticism, and by the example Christian hermits and monks, is disputed, but self-discipline and concentration on God quickly led to the belief that by quelling the self and through loving ardour for God it was possible to maintain a union with the divine in which the human self melted away.

(from the wiki article)

with:

The negation of free will, the negation of what it means to be human.

Granted I know precious little about Sufism but what I read.

TheUnrepentantGeek on April 28, 2009 at 4:32 PM

/sigh

I don’t like to speak about my faith.
But here is a simplified version of the answer to your question.
The Sufi believe that some humans are born “open-channel” to Allah, like say….Issa…our word for Jesus. ;)
The rest of us can work toward that goal, ending in faana, the union with the Divine Beloved.
Of course there is free will…you can chose your path, you can choose not to work though the seven stages, not to study. You can choose against faana.
It is your choice.
Even Issa could choose, even al-Hallaj (the Sufi saint that was crucified for his beliefs), even Rabi’a could choose.
Freewill.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 4:46 PM

it was possible to maintain achieve a union with the divine in which the human self melted away.

the wiki is wrong.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 4:51 PM

the wiki is wrong.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 4:51 PM

Wouldn’t be the first time. But thanks for the explanation. Wiki makes it sound like Buddhism.

Anyway. Arguments about the definition of torture don’t interest me, nor do hyperbolic screeching about HOW THIS IS SO TERRIBLE!1!11. They both strike me as kinda disingenuous and stupid.

Consumatopia’s arguments on The American Scene do interest me. It occurs to me that I’m open to persuasion either way, having not really made up my mind on the issue (after additional consideration). It’s not simple and it’s not easy – I kinda resent people who claim it is. Of course I’m not a subscriber to free will (I’m not a determinist either), but that doesn’t necessarily matter.

TheUnrepentantGeek on April 28, 2009 at 5:12 PM

Consumatopia helped me pose the thought experiment that resolved the issue for me.
The Highlanders arguments do have validity and weight…and he is right that I am more of a dostoyevskian idealist than a machiavellian pragmatist.
The Brothers K made a big first impression on me.
In Russian lit we argued Alyosha’s position. ;)
But to consider if we would support say…female terrorists being systematically raped in order to extract information…..well…
rape, torture and slavery are the same basically.
The negation of humanity.
What does it mean to be human?

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 7:39 PM

But I am not trying to persuade…..like my shayyk says, each seeker must find their own path.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 7:43 PM

But to consider if we would support say…female terrorists being systematically raped in order to extract information

But, you see, there you go again with the phony scene: Who, where ever proposed that an interrogation program intended to be effective and humane would ever settle on systematic rape of female terrorists? On what planet, in what universe, in what concrete reality would those two concepts ever come together?

You’d have to propose the existence of female terrorists, or perhaps of male terrorists, who were insensitive to every other conceivable measure, but for some reason drew the line at systematic rape of the females – alongside a situation so dire that our most trusted, and reviewable, public servants felt that engaging in such loathsome behavior was the lesser evil. If our society ever reaches such a nightmarishly psychotic point, then rough interrogations – torture – of terrorist suspects will be the least of our problems.

The resort to scare scenarios suggests to me that what you’re really afraid of is your own sadistic imagination.

Are you aware, strangelet, of Dostoevsky’s plan for Alyosha in the never-completed sequel to the BROTHERS K?

If you dislocate your shoulder, then it’s possible that a doctor’s procedure for returning your arm to its socket will be the most painful thing you ever experience. For that moment, there will be nothing else in the universe except the “severe pain.” It would be torturous. But it won’t be torture. There are many other medical procedures that, for the sake of “gaining information,” inflict high degrees of discomfort, including sever pain, on the patient. They are torturous, but they are not torture.

Someday, in addition to the narcotics and other non-ideal methods of extracting information that are theoretically available to us, we may have access to new technologies, the use of which, to some, will represent a gross violation of the person of a terrorist suspect. Is that the “same as slavery” – negating the suspect’s “free will” to yield information, or not?

If we had a drug that could induce a state in KSM in which he could be convinced, to the point of desperate panic, that Allah would torment him for eternity if he didn’t reveal the location of OBL, would that be “torture”?

CK MacLeod on April 28, 2009 at 8:15 PM

alongside a situation so dire that our most trusted, and reviewable, public servants felt that engaging in such loathsome behavior was the lesser evil.

But that is your exact argument for waterboarding.
And that is what our most trusted, reviewable public servants did.
They tortured.

I think drugs will be reviewed as to whether they hold the potential for torture, and torture drugs will be outlawed. I was thinking of oxytocin, the “trust” drug.
Torture, in Consumatopia’s definintion, is the state where death is preferable to more torture.

But…… I am not sure if dollhouse-style neural imprinting would be classed as torture….I think when we have that technological capability, there will have to be new rules and new laws.

strangelet on April 28, 2009 at 9:52 PM

But that is your exact argument for waterboarding.
And that is what our most trusted, reviewable public servants did.
They tortured.

You’re obsessed with a word that frightens you, like a child gazing into the mirror and saying “Mary Worth” over and over again.

Our most trusted public servants did not systematically rape female anyone.

Not even close. It’s sickening to suggest otherwise.

If schools are prisons, then what are prisons?

CK MacLeod on April 28, 2009 at 10:04 PM

Who the hell is Mary Worth?

It’s sickening

Torture is sickening. Rape is sickening.
You honestly think theres much of a difference? You honestly think that if our elected officials had a jackbauer scenario that required rape, they wouldn’t do it?
I thought your whole pragmatism argument depended on that.

What is the difference between rape and torture?

strangelet on April 29, 2009 at 8:21 AM

Waiting for First Things to weigh in.

The central moral evil in interrogating someone by means of torture is that it overrides the victim’s moral agency. That is, the whole point of the exercise is to render the victim incapable of moral self-governance, so that your will, the will of the torturer, becomes entirely sovereign. This is intrinsically wrong both in Aristotelian/Thomist thought and the various moral philosophies derived from Kant. Since, in classical moral philosophy (and indeed in the moral reasoning we use in everyday life) you can’t perform an action that is intrinsically evil in order than good may come about, you can’t torture someone to get information out of him even if that information would save many lives.

As a side note, you would think that this would all be clear to the good people at First Things, who’ve read their Aquinas and their dogmatic constitutions. I know First Things is against torture. I hope we hear some clarification from them soon.

strangelet on April 29, 2009 at 8:27 AM

Also…much like Palin…..this appears to be an issue where the majority of the rightside braintrust is completely divided from the base.

strangelet on April 29, 2009 at 8:36 AM

Manzi decides.

strangelet on April 29, 2009 at 9:04 AM

Mary Worth: http://www.marked4mary.com/

strangelet, I continue to believe that your notion of a Jack Bauer scenario requiring rape is an excessively lurid diversion. It’s like telling a guy his fly is open and being accused of sexual assault. If all application of physical force, representing in any ideal sense “negation of free will” is the same as torture, and if there is no difference between different kinds and classes of physical acts designed to elicit cooperation against someone’s will, then the only moral option left is self-starvation on the way to the quickest possible death, as among the radical Janes – because imprisoning the captive, restraining the captive, denying the captive cigarettes or a premium movie channel, all of that is “torture” which is the same as “rape.”

The problem relates to your intellectually fetishistic attitude toward the word “torture,” which you allow to function like a talisman of black magic in your mental dungeon, converting every act and gesture in its vicinity into a monstrous crime against humanity. However, if there’s any chance of the US raping for info, it would come about as a result of some desperate volunteer in a crisis driven insane by the socially suicidal moral pettifoggery, dishonesty, and cowardice of his Obamaist superiors.

The “why torture is wrong” piece you present is completely unpersuasive. On its face, and at its level of generalization, it presents a moral absolutist position – apparently to be applied in a socially self-mortifying way in this realm of interrogation matters exclusively, leaving all other negations of absolute free will and moral self-governance that pervade social life, in war and peace, intact.

Essentially, you want us to seek out terrorists, if at all, only for the purpose of supplicating ourselves at their feet and begging forgiveness for having sinned against them. Or would this be too much of an intrusion on their convenience and free exercise of moral self-governance? How would anything short of leaving them completely alone NOT be an “intrinsic evil” from which no good could derive?

We don’t agree about the proper use of the word “torture.” Furthermore, I don’t believe that you have for a moment in all of this discussion approached this subject with an authentically open mind. Try explaining your position without using the word “torture.”

CK MacLeod on April 29, 2009 at 10:00 AM

nope, torture is obviously something a person would die to avoid.
Worse than death.
I want to know the Aristotelian/Thomist differentiation between rape and torture.

strangelet on April 29, 2009 at 12:00 PM

That’s ridiculous, strangelet. Not everyone shares your abysmal fear of physical pain, or, in the case of waterboarding, your abysmal fear of losing control.

I stand by my earlier comment that, if we offered forgiveness of student loans and credit card debt in exchange for KSM levels of waterboarding, we would have millions of volunteers.

You have defeated your entire rationale, and exposed it as emotional projection.

And you have neglected even to attempt to answer a long series of questions and arguments, or explain why they do not go to the heart of your case, such as it is.

CK MacLeod on April 29, 2009 at 1:10 PM

I agree with Dr. Manzi.
I also participated in a three thread discussion at TAS, as well as the discussion here.
Here is my closing comment, call meh a naive hysterical child if you like.

And…Consumatopia is right.
I have, actually, been called a naive child on the torture issue.
I did, actually, argue Alyosha’s answer in Russian Lit.
Torture is so grievous an insult to the human condition, so immoral and so deeply and profoundly wrong , that I marvel that the perps that designed and implemented this horrorshow, this slur on the name of a Great Republic, don’t either just curl up and die from shame or fall on their dishonored swords.

— matoko_chan · Apr 29, 06:21 PM · #

strangelet on April 30, 2009 at 8:23 AM

I’d like to see a version of these debates that focus on a particular standard of morality (defined in advance) without resorting to the silly displays of pathos or nonsense about the definition of torture. I’m not interested in people’s feelings or the law, but in what’s right.

I also tend to reject the scenario where people have a threshold where torture is immoral, but then say someone in a ticking bomb scenario should do it an accept the consequences. This strikes me as a cop-out. Either it’s a moral principle or it isn’t.

TheUnrepentantGeek on April 30, 2009 at 12:07 PM

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