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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

CIA , torture, immunity « Previous | |Next »
April 23, 2009

The Senate Armed Services Committee has just released an exhaustive review of torture under the Bush administration that challenges the notion that the administration only chose torture as a last resort.

The Bush White House began planning for torture in December 2001, set up a program to develop the interrogation techniques by the next month, and the military and the CIA began training interrogators in coercive practices in early 2002. They then redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.

RowsonCIAtorture.jpg Martin Rowson

The consensus political elite view in Washington's Beltway culture is that the elites should be exempted from all consequences when they break the law. There must be no investigations or prosecutions for CIA officials who tortured detainees and the Bush officials who designed the torture policies. even though this violates international law and US treaty obligations (both the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture.

Karl Rove Is upset about recent revelations about Bush administration torture policies. He says that the Obama administration's recent disclosures about torture are:

very dangerous. What they've essentially said is if we have policy disagreements with our predecessors.... [W]e're going to turn ourselves into the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sunglasses and what we're gonna do is prosecute systematically the previous administration, or threaten prosecutions against the previous administration, based on policy differences. Is that what we've come to in this country?"

For the Republican right represented by Rove, the way for the US to avoid becoming a banana republic is to have a President who ignores the rule of law.

There was firm opposition within the Obama administration to the release of interrogation details in four "top secret" memos in which Bush administration lawyers sanctioned harsh tactics. The memo's were released. The Cheney claim that torture works--ie., a regime of torture staved off terror attacks and saved lives is the current primary line of defence of the torture regime of the Bush administration. Cheney has become the chief defender of the Bush regime.

Paul Krugman says in The New York Times that:

It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era — for the sake of the country, of course.Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

These are the people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama’s attempt to deal with our economic crisis and will be equally relentless in their opposition when he endeavors to deal with health care and climate change.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:25 AM | | Comments (22)


The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use torture on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime.

Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. No evidence was ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.

That didn't stop Bush + Co from invading Iraq.

The brazen defence of torture by the neo-con voices is nauseating. At its most crass, it avoids moral issues completely. People from Cheney down just say it 'worked', illustrating once again their Hobbesian world view that literally any exercise of power is justifiable if it helps to protect their own interests, without any need to consider morality or even proportionality. It's startling to read it expressed so bluntly and it demonstrates the nature of the regime with which Howard's mob was so proud to be associated.

Even worse are the slimy individuals who tell blatant lies, hide behind semantic nonsense like 'enhanced interrogation technique', engage in forensic discussions of different torture methods and make jokes about the whole business to pretend that in fact nothing untoward ever happened. They are indistinguishable from the creatures in totalitarian countries who spend their lives spinning words to prove that black is white.

the reasoning is crude. The "enhanced interrogation program " was justified by "the dire threats" to our [Amercan] nation.The CIA needed to use torture to defend U.S. national security. Releasing the details of the enhanced interrogation program threatens national security. And so it goes round.

Cheny is claiming that the Bush torture program collected a whole bunch of useful intelligence.

Yes Gary, Cheney also said that waging aggressive war against another nation was justified if it might one day damage the interests of the USA. In his calculus it is also self-evident that saving one American life is worth the deaths of any number of non-Americans. It's an ideology that believes the ability to exercise power confers its own legitimacy and issues of morality or ethics are simply irrelevant.

At least, unlike his former boss, Cheney does not go out of his way to bray about his Christian values. Most of his fellow neo-cons even manage to add stunning hypocrisy to their public personas.

Ken, yeah the Senate report says:

The report says: "The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of "a few bad apples" acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorised their use against detainees."

The Howard Government went along with it---they agreed with it.

The Republican conservatives, it seems have little time for accountability or the rule of law.

The Washington Post's editorial says:

American officials condoned and conducted torture. Waterboarding, to take the starkest case, has been recognized in international and U.S. law for decades as beyond the pale, and it was used hundreds of times during the Bush years. Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general of the United States, has stated flatly that it is illegal. In a country founded on the rule of law, a president can't sweep criminality away for political reasons, even the most noble.

However, they back away from prosecutions --not the best option.Why?
the country is at war ... Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict great damage, perhaps on a scale far larger than in 2001, and the country needs its guardians in the armed forces, the CIA and elsewhere to focus on defending the country against that threat.
So the President can suspend the rule of law and that's okay.

I suppose it all depends on what the out come of the torture that decides if it was necessary. If no good information comes of it then it was pointless but if good information comes from it that save lives and injuries the it could be regarded as successful.
For example if one suspect was tortured and the info gathered prevented an action like the Bali bombings I would say that it was acceptable. Likewise I would guess that all those that died in Hiroshima would say the same thing.

I'm trying to come up with some kind of devil's advocate position on this. The best I can think of is the parallel with the peaceful civil rights movement. The point is to achieve equality in a civil society. Exacting revenge for past wrongs would just visit misery on the other side for a change.

Pretty weak, but it's the best I can do.

some (eg., Cheney) say yes good info did come out. Some say otherwise--that it was just contextual info ; or that people gave false info to give the torturers what they wanted to hear.

However, we cannot decide because the info has not been made public. The spooks at the CIA resist. So the utilitarian argument doesn't get you very far. Glenn Greenward comments that:

we [Americans] don't have a country where political leaders are free to commit crimes and then, afterwards, claim that their doing so produced good outcomes.

Nothing is happening about the complicity of the Australians in the torture regime under the Howard government. Secrecy surrounds that dirty episode in Australia which has been covered up by deception.

sadly, its pretty weak. The spooks and those who devised and okayed the torture regime broke the law. Therefore, they should be held to account.

Simple really. That addresses a key issue in Americana political life: namely the overriding belief of the political class is that elites have the right to break the law and not be held accountable. As Glenn Greenward comments:

when it comes to crimes by ordinary Americans, being "tough on crime" is a virtually nonnegotiable prerequisite to being Serious, but when it comes to political officials who commit crimes in the exercise of their power, absolute leniency is the mandated belief upon pain of being dismissed as "shrill" and extremist. Can anyone find an establishment media pundit anywhere -- just one -- who is advocating that Bush officials who broke the law be held accountable under our laws?

He adds that that that view seems actively excluded from establishment media discussions.

Les, I'm starting to think there's torture and there's torture.

There's a difference between eat your dinner or you won't get sweets and waterboard one person several hundred times in one month.

True torture is torture, which is what the argument seems to be about, but the chances of getting reliable information surely decrease with the extent and type of torture used?

I'm getting the impression that the Bush admin figured as long as a person's fingernails were still in place and the electrodes attached to their genitals hadn't actually been turned on, they hadn't been tortured.

I can see the sense there. Do the crime, do the time.

Me, personally, I'm thinking of what I'd be thinking if I was in charge of America right now. In a recession, when the people know the Bush years were a horrible mistake of their own making, when the right is becoming more extreme.

I think I'd be inclined to keep a lid on the more inflammatory bits for a while. I guess I'm thinking about leadership more than governance, but a people is a people, not just a regulatory proposition.

Still a weak argument, I know.

I will dodge the howard secrecy hoohah.

My point is that in war torture is necessary sometimes to gain information.

Some would say the war on terrorism is a valid war and some would say not.

Well Les lots of people including me would say there is no war at all.

Your argument earlier is ... well I won't say what it is, since discussions here are usually civil. But you say we can evaluate the necessity for torture after seeing what it produces. Can you explain how this helps anyone decide upon the moral justification for torturing someone BEFORE the act? Or are we supposed to let potential torturers use their best judgement ... "Hey go ahead if you like fellas, 'sup to you, if he gives us good intel you'll be heroes but if not, you'll end up pariahs." Are you sure you've thought this one through?

Second, if we are going to evaluate torture on the basis of whether it provides 'good information ... that save[s] lives and injuries' to quote you, why stop at waterboarding? I mean why not get the wife of the detainee and stick nails in her eyes in front of him? Or maybe if he has kids they can have their fingers and toes cut off one by one while he watches? If he has information that can save 10 lives, the outcome will be:

- One (1) mentally disturbed but still alive detainee;
- One (1) traumatised but still alive wife or kid;
- Ten (10) people who are still alive and untraumatised who would have or could have or might possibly have been dead.

What's not to like?

Do you see where your logic leads?

"My point is that in war torture is necessary sometimes to gain information."

I have seen no evidence to support this belief. An Australian military interrogator whom I discussed this with a couple of years ago told me that interrogation methods pioneered by Israel intelligence eschew torture and depend on persuasion (sometimes sympathetic, sometimes a little rough) to get the prisoner to forge an emotional link with the interrogators. A far from accurate description is to invoke the Stockholm syndrome.

The counter-terrorism drama, "24", on the US Fox network depicts torture as the essential tool. Jack Bauer uses it in a 24-hour timeframe each episode to persuade a terrorist to reveal where the ticking time bomb is.

In November 2006, "U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind “24.” [...]

"Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country’s security—was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. “I’d like them to stop,” Finnegan said of the show’s producers. “They should do a show where torture backfires.”"

As far as I know, that has not happened. Many people are being persuaded by a fiction drama series that torture is "okay".

I think that's a pretty revolting reflection on some current US media.

Quote taken from

The example of Stockholm syndrome is a good one. It is possible to get reliable information from types of psychological torture involving trust. But nothing from the torture memos suggests excessive kindness or techniques of dependence. You don't gain people's trust by subjecting them to degrees of discomfort.

The kinds of torture we seem to be talking about, bust their balls until they break, is notoriously crap as far as reliable information goes, and there's no point to it unless the point is to get your jollies out of hurting people.

We also forget that the ticking time bomb terrorist, torture or not torture question is about testing ethical positions, not about info gathering techniques.

It's a hackneyed thing, but I venture to hypothesise that we nice white folk imagine that torture is different for those brown fellows of dubious religious heritage. It's one thing to imagine being in their shoes, it's another thing to imagine being them in their shoes.

Perhaps torture is acceptable outside of war.

Now say if my daughter was abducted by a person and the police knew who did it and the person refused to say where she was and was released.

I think I would be inclined to go around and see that person and torture them till I got the information I wanted.

Yes. I think that is a valid scenario for torture too.

I can see your logic Les.

Thinking about it, I couldn't personally torture anyone, but in that situation I might get someone else to do it for me.

The torture of prisoners of war is a few steps up again. Would it be ok for your country to torture people on your behalf, without asking you how you felt about that.

Also, you know your daughter has been kidnapped and you know who did it. You know that this person can give you the info you need. That's not the case here.

This is more like torturing someone who lives in the same street as someone you suspect may have thought about kidnapping some unspecified person at some point.


So are you saying that in regards to child molesters at some point a persons actions negate their rights to be treated fairly?

But in regards to those prisoners that have murdered or have knowledge of murderous activity to be carried out in the future should have more rights?

No I don't think anyone's actions negate their right to be treated fairly. But from a subjective point of view, my daughter's rights are more important than anyone else's. We have laws to try and ensure you and I don't torture our daughters' tormenters.

On whether anyone should have more rights, see above. Laws are supposed to apply all the time, even when some of us think they shouldn't.

The way our system works you have to have actually done something to deserve punishment. You'd want to know with absolute certainty that the person you're torturing has the knowledge you want. You'd also have to be prepared to be tortured yourself if at some point someone suspects you of knowing something you don't necessarily know.

I think the point Lyn is that while you would understandably give greater weight to your daughter's welfare than to the rights of a suspected criminal, the law doesn't. Yes that leads to poor outcomes in certain situations - more in hypothetical extreme ones than occur in practice - but that just means the rule of law is not perfect. To respond by allowing people to start torturing suspected offenders when they believed it was justified would lead to much worse outcomes. This is not abstract theorising but straightforward empirical reality. The shocking thing about the eruption of support for torture is the extent to which the fans appear not to understand anything about the regimes they spent so much time vilifying over the years. They feel a twinge of personal insecurity and they jump straight to the logic of Mao and Mugabe.

That's the point I was trying to make Ken. Between law and the lynch mob, law is preferable if imperfect.

There are so many shocking things about support for torture it's hard to know where to start. It don't understand the logic, or the insecurity that drives it. So much for the notion of the rational agent.