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Bloggingheads
02-21-2008, 08:14 PM

threep
02-21-2008, 09:26 PM
I swore to destroy David Edelstein. My hatred almost consumed me. And then he left Slate, and without his constant presence I took steps to make a healthy life for myself. And now, here he is, before my eyes. Before my eyes. It is destroying me.

zookarama
02-21-2008, 10:09 PM
Jesus, what have we become? I feel soiled. Couldn't watch the whole d/v.

Eastwest
02-21-2008, 10:54 PM
I thought I had already understood how low this government had taken us, but I was clueless.

How horrifying. A "must-watch."

Here are a few easier-to-endure DE & AG gems via Dingalink:

So Much for the Moral High Ground. (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/8914?in=00:38:02&out=00:38:29)

How "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" Recruit for Al Qaida. (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/8914?in=00:38:47&out=00:39:08)

Terrorism's Goal & George Bush's Work for Bin Laden. (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/8914?in=00:39:08&out=00:39:30)

Bin Laden's 2004 Endorsement of George Bush. (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/8914?in=00:39:31&out=00:39:56)

EW

PS: Can't even imagine how much our own soldiers, diplomats, citizens abroad, and others will suffer at the hands of foreign torturers in future years and generations, all so unnecessarily, all for what George Bush and Dick Cheney thought they were doing in the name of "patriotism," all of it justified by this administration's moral depravity, aided and abetted by the Congress.

ed fielding
02-22-2008, 04:33 AM
Yup. A form of patriotism no doubt well developed in early hominids decisively trumps the Constitution, Bill of Rights, democracy and our common humanity. That is what we here call progress, and damn proud too.
I hope, well, I hope for a fresh wind of justice and liberty for all them as needs it. More immediately; it is downright thrilling to see Col.Morris Davis, formerly Chief Prosecutor at Guantanamo, has declared himself “happy to testify” on behalf of the defense in the impending evidently-intended-to-be show trials of the six ‘detainees’.
That’s my ideal of a true warrior.

Chicago Jim
02-22-2008, 06:30 AM
A few years ago in college I had to do a report in a Crime in America class. We had to bascially had to do a presentation on a major American crime. For whatever reason I choose Enron on the spot and quickly realized that I had no idea what I was reading about and the lingo and such ( for example: Mark to Market Accounting) went right over my head. Gibney's film saved my hyde in a big way. So thanks to Mr. Gibney.

Id encourage everyone to see "Enron :The Smartest Guys in the Room"

Some of the stories about Ken Lay are priceless. Im generally a Republican but was sicked by everything I saw in that film and it was well worth watching.

StillmanThomas
02-22-2008, 09:41 AM
An absolutely heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching diavlog. John McCain, who was almost tortured to death in Hanoi, just voted against anti-torture legislation. It is stunning how the culture of fear corrupts everything. God help us all.

Eastwest
02-22-2008, 12:06 PM
Started clicking around and also heard on "Democracy Now" that the Discovery Channel bought rights for this very important and informative documentary and then decided to suppress it so that the American people can't watch it.

But of course, Discovery has to act just as cowardly as every other corporation. If their income stream might be threatened by controversy (even if the facts are incontrovertible), then Discovery will see no problem with being unpatriotic by keeping the truth from the citizens.

Sure, you can see this as theatre, you say? Oh, really? Fact is it's not really so easy to find a place where it's playing.

EW

bjkeefe
02-22-2008, 12:24 PM
Eastwest:

Got a link for the story about the Discovery Channel? Sounds like something worth looking into.

bjkeefe
02-22-2008, 12:27 PM
Outstanding reporting by Alex. Kudos to BH.tv for putting him on. These stories about our government run amok need much more sunlight than they have been getting.

Good to see David Edelstein , too. I've long been a fan of his from hearing him on Fresh Air.

Eastwest
02-22-2008, 01:02 PM
Re BJ's:
Got a link for the story about the Discovery Channel?

Yeah, you can listen to or watch the interview in multiple formats and/or read the interview transcript here:

http://www.democracynow.org/2008/2/12/discovery_channel_accused_of_political_censorship

I'm really sick to death of this kind of corporate behavior. It's so common and so undemocratic. They bought the rights and are now deliberately sitting on it to keep people from seeing it.

EW

AemJeff
02-22-2008, 01:19 PM
Wow. These were just a few examples taken from a single documentary. That reacting to the cynical depravity with which this administration conducts its affairs gets characterized as "Bush Derangement" by equally cynical apparatchiks is galling to me.

It seems to me that there are three main arguments against torture and abuse. I can't think of a single argument in its favor. The first is direct morality - I'm willing to consider as a hypothetical that greater harm might be risked if you don't torture, but as was pointed out in the diavlog, the main form this counterargument takes is the "ticking time bomb" which seems convincingly discredited, to me. The second is that torture has little utility - when you're being tortured, the motivation is to give your antagonist whatever they want to hear, not to tell them the truth. That seems self-evident. Lastly, we lose the moral high-ground. Whether you believe in the mythology of America or you don't - and I'd argue that that's a good thing to subscribe to, so long as the belief doesn't become an ideological blinder - there's a profound, measurable benefit from being able to claim that vantage.

I see no downside to a no-torture rule based on a simple "I know it when I see it" type of standard. I'd welcome any serious minded refutation to that thesis.

bjkeefe
02-22-2008, 01:41 PM
Re BJ's:


Yeah, you can listen to or watch the interview in multiple formats and/or read the interview transcript here:

http://www.democracynow.org/2008/2/12/discovery_channel_accused_of_political_censorship

I'm really sick to death of this kind of corporate behavior. It's so common and so undemocratic. They bought the rights and are now deliberately sitting on it to keep people from seeing it.

EW

Thanks much for the link. I urge everyone to watch the video available on that page (the pertinent part is the first six minutes or so).

You're absolutely right about the crass and craven behavior of corporate America, Eastwest. If ever there was a film that should be made available before a presidential election, one I might add in which one of the candidates is pro-torture, this is it.

I loved Vincent Warren's description of the Bush Adminstration during that interview:

They admit what they can’t deny, and they deny what they can’t admit.

P.S. Another short interview with Alex Gibney here (http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/02/gibney_interview.html), discussing the Discovery Channel decision. Also on that page, a small piece of good news:

Update 2/21/08: HBO Documentary Films announced that they have acquired the domestic television rights for "Taxi to the Dark Side." The film will debut on HBO in September, 2008.

HBO, unfortunately, isn't as available as the Discovery Channel, but at least it's a start. Go BitTorrent, is what I say.

bjkeefe
02-22-2008, 01:42 PM
Well said, AemJeff.

Eastwest
02-22-2008, 02:15 PM
Re AJ's:
...there are three main arguments against torture and abuse:...

[1] morality...
[2] little utility...
[3] loss of moral high-ground....

I'd welcome any serious minded refutation to that thesis.

Not a "refutation," but rather more an "amplification" of issues implicit in #3:

#4) Downstream vengeance against Americans everywhere and in every role from vacationing citizen to bound-to-be-tortured active-duty soldiers.

#5) Well-justified condescension to America on the part of more civilized countries and their citizens. This diminishes and to a great extent eliminates America's ability to inspire other countries and draw them in to supporting truly justifiable international policing or sanctioning actions.

EW

Bloggin' Noggin
02-22-2008, 02:19 PM
Great diavlog. I'm afraid I missed the film. Damn! I hope it wins and that I'll get a chance to see it. Looking at Yahoo, it doesn't look like any major reviewer reviewed the film. The Yahoo users give it a bad grade because a lot of the users were Bush/Cheney Republicans, apparently who think that if America tortures and no film maker tells the American people about it, that no one else will know about it (including the victims and their families and friends). They blame the film maker for getting our troops killed, rather than blaming the torture.
Shut your eyes and it all goes away....

Thus Spoke Elvis
02-22-2008, 02:43 PM
It seems to me that there are three main arguments against torture and abuse. I can't think of a single argument in its favor.


Really? Here's a few:

1.) Torture does, in many cases, work -- there's a reason why it's used so often throughout history to extract information. CIA personnel have claimed, in the case of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, that he only began giving the U.S. valuable intelligence after he was waterboarded. http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/09/how-the-cia-bro.html It is not fool-proof and people do sometimes give false information, but this is also the case with all forms of interrogation. "Good cop" techniques, for example, sometime lead to the captive attempting to "please" his friend/captor my giving him information that he'll want to hear. Extracted information always needs to be corroborated, with torture and every other interrogation technique.

2.) Sometimes very harsh interrogation is the only way to break hardasses so that they will be susceptible to less aggressive forms of interrogation. There's a reason why "good cop, bad cop" is such a commonly used technique. Sometimes people just doesn't appreciate the appeal of a carrot unless the alternative choice is a stick.

3.) Opposition to torture in all circumstances is primarily based on moral reasons. People who hold this view should recognize that not everyone believes that a person should be treated with a certain amount of dignity simply because of his genus species. The view that all human beings have inalienable rights is no less arbitrary than most other moral positions, and vast parts of the world do not share this view (indeed, it wasn't a widely-held position even in the United States until recently, contrary to what our Declaration claims).

Personally, I think it's inherent in human nature (at least in males) to view the infliction of violence upon others as appealing. This instinct needs to be controlled for obvious reasons, but I hardly think it's immoral to recognize its existence and, in certain cases, fully embrace it. I'd wager, for example, that a good number of people in this country would love to beat a Osama bin Laden to death with a baseball bat, if the opportunity presented itself. I don't condemn them.

You may disagree, but I find your appeal to the purported sanctity of all human life -- no matter what the content of that life may be -- to be no more rational or convincing than my position that other considerations should determine the respect we accord to others.

piscivorous
02-22-2008, 03:20 PM
...
1.) Torture does, in many cases, work -- there's a reason why it's used so often throughout history to extract information. CIA personnel have claimed, in the case of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, that he only began giving the U.S. valuable intelligence after he was waterboarded. http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/09/how-the-cia-bro.html It is not fool-proof and people do sometimes give false information, but this is also the case with all forms of interrogation. "Good cop" techniques, for example, sometime lead to the captive attempting to "please" his friend/captor my giving him information that he'll want to hear. Extracted information always needs to be corroborated, with torture and every other interrogation technique.... Sorry I have to disagree with you analysis that torture broke Khalid Sheik Mohammed. According to what I have read it was a religious experience, a conversation with Allah, where the Sheik was given explicit permission by the profit to divulge all. It was shortly after being water-boarded that the sheik experienced this miraculous revelation so in this one instance at least it should be looked on as a holy event.

P.S I was going to let this diavlog between two committed far left propagandists go but since you were doughty enough to set the ball rolling I that I might chime in.

AemJeff
02-22-2008, 03:22 PM
1.) Torture does, in many cases, work http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/09/how-the-cia-bro.html
That's an assertion and the article you linked to doesn't back up your premise; it leaves the question open.

It is not fool-proof and people do sometimes give false information, but this is also the case with all forms of interrogation.

You're missing the point, here. Of course you're going to get what you want sometimes, regardless of the method. There's no reason to have confidence in the result of an act of torture. Add to that the repugnance inherent in the act and that's a pretty strong argument against.

2.) Sometimes very harsh interrogation is the only way to break hardasses so that they will be susceptible to less aggressive forms of interrogation.

"Very harsh interrogation" is a pretty ambiguous phrase, don't you think? And it doesn't answer the problem of the inherent unreliability of the information obtained.

I don't even understand your third point. The morality of an act is explicitly dependent on cultural referents, and as you've pointed out the universality of rights is codified into our founding documents.

I'd wager, for example, that a good number of people in this country would love to beat a Osama bin Laden to death with a baseball bat, if the opportunity presented itself. I don't condemn them.

The wish isn't the act. The point of morality isn't based what you'd like to do, but on what you actually do. I might not even "condemn" the act you illustrate with, but I'd still insist on taking legal action against the perpetrator.

...your appeal to the purported sanctity of all human life...

Huh? where'd I say that?

All of your points ignore the most important argument against, which is the inherent value of maintaining the moral high-ground. See EastWest's reply to me for a good summary of why that's important.

bjkeefe
02-22-2008, 03:33 PM
There was a short bit (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/8914?in=20:24&out=21:00) in this diavlog in which the subject of Colin Powell was brought up.

I have long since condemned Powell for his participation in the snow job that sold the Iraq Invasion, but I hadn't thought much about another of his sins: his failure to speak up about the torture issue. I do wonder why Powell still refuses to say much of anything -- he can't seriously think he has any political career possibilities left -- but the idea raised by Alex that Lawrence Wilkerson might be saying what Powell wishes he could say was an interesting one. The conventional wisdom, epitomized by Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Wilkerson), is that the two men have had a "falling-out."

Putting my skeptic's cap back on, it's kind of funny how so many of us, even on the left, will believe anything good that we can dream up when it comes to Colin Powell. I saw something yesterday in which both Powell and John McCain were described as having handled their public images masterfully: They both get love from the moderates and liberals to the degree that when they do or say something bad, we continue to say, "Oh, he didn't really mean that. I know what he really thinks."

Thoughts on Powell?

Wonderment
02-22-2008, 03:49 PM
6) Illegal under international law. Makes USA a rogue human rights state. Sets a terrible precedent for future rogue states using the same "national emergency" or "ticking time bomb" pretext.

Eastwest
02-22-2008, 04:16 PM
As for, "Thoughts on Powell"?:

To my mind, he so compromised himself with his presentation to the UN (which I bought hook, line, and sinker out of immense respect for him) that he has no remaining credibility for me at all.

Sure, he had his pre-speech temper tantrum, refusing to read some of the worst BS he was told to present to the UN, but there was much else which he did use that he MUST have known was BS.

And so he went ahead and presented far and away the most convincing of all the pre-war speeches advocating invasion. He preferred then to be "the good soldier" instead of the true patriot who, even in the face of terrible personal career consequences, does the right thing.

So he's toast to me. He never adequately apologized. He was one of the most influential people in convincing skeptical intelligentsia to support an invasion. He betrayed our trust massively.

Never say "never" on forgiveness, sure, but, still, he's consigned to my ethical Siberia forever unless and until he makes a full accounting for himself. Half-apologies are just as BS as no apologies. Worse, really.

EW

Thus Spoke Elvis
02-22-2008, 04:38 PM
I'm not going to get into a line-by-line debate, as that's a waste of everybody's time. Instead, I'll just make a few brief points and let my earlier post speak for itself.

1.) If torture never worked, presumably people would have stopped using it as an interrogation technique millenia ago. They haven't, and it's been used for intelligence purposes in the last few decades by countries including the United States, Britain, France, Israel, and the Soviet Union. There's a reason for this. Torture sometimes, though certainly not always, is useful for acquiring valuable intelligence information that cannot be acquired through friendlier forms of interrogation.

2.) People who think that torture is always unconscionable are entitled to their opinion, but they are living in a fantasy-world if they believe that their view is held by everyone outside a few psychopaths. Vast sections of humanity do not believe that every human being is worthy of a minimal amount of dignity solely on account of his biological makeup. This is also true with respect to democratically-elected governments. Very harsh forms of interrogation, including waterboarding, have long been used by the United States and other "civilized" countries well before the Bush Administration. Just because our Declaration of Independence claimed that all people were vested with certain inalienable rights didn't mean the Founders actually believed it (or, if they did, they defined "people" in a limited fashion).

3.) There are definite policy reasons for limiting the usage of harsh forms of interrogation, including because of the PR damage it might do with some of our allies' populaces. But that seems like a good reason to do it discreetly (as we did in the Cold War), rather than stop doing it completely. It's also good to limit things like pain or suffering, but that doesn't mean that such things are never necessary to accomplish a worthwhile goal.

bjkeefe
02-22-2008, 04:54 PM
Eastwest:

Well said. Those are just about my exact feelings.

Thus Spoke Elvis
02-22-2008, 05:08 PM
There was a short bit (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/8914?in=20:24&out=21:00) in this diavlog in which the subject of Colin Powell was brought up.

I have long since condemned Powell for his participation in the snow job that sold the Iraq Invasion, but I hadn't thought much about another of his sins: his failure to speak up about the torture issue. I do wonder why Powell still refuses to say much of anything...

Is it possible that he isn't opposed to it, at least in some situations? After all, his close friend and number two at the Dept. of State, Richard Armitage, is believed by many to have been involved in the CIA's Phoenix program in Southeast Asia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Program

Bloggin' Noggin
02-22-2008, 05:14 PM
1.) Torture does, in many cases, work -- there's a reason why it's used so often throughout history to extract information.

Unfortunately, I think there are many reasons why -- many of them not in the least rational. Why did the Romans require that their slaves give evidence only under torture -- even when they were willing to give evidence freely? You gesture toward one reason why we may have moved toward a policy of torture that has nothing to do with efficacy or cold blooded rationality -- namely, the impotent desire to get back at these people. If Osama isn't here to be battered with our baseball bat, then this taxi driver might do.

3.) Opposition to torture in all circumstances is primarily based on moral reasons. People who hold this view should recognize that not everyone believes that a person should be treated with a certain amount of dignity simply because of his genus species. The view that all human beings have inalienable rights is no less arbitrary than most other moral positions, and vast parts of the world do not share this view (indeed, it wasn't a widely-held position even in the United States until recently, contrary to what our Declaration claims).

If torture is wrong, what difference should it make to us that some people (or many people) don't realize that it's wrong? Or, if you want to be more subjectivist about it, if torturing people is against our values, why should the fact that others don't share those values cause us to change our values?

Personally, I think it's inherent in human nature (at least in males) to view the infliction of violence upon others as appealing. This instinct needs to be controlled for obvious reasons, but I hardly think it's immoral to recognize its existence and, in certain cases, fully embrace it.

Are you saying this because you don't believe anything is immoral? Much of this paragraph seems to be a kind of argument from nihilism, but I'm not sure.

I'd wager, for example, that a good number of people in this country would love to beat a Osama bin Laden to death with a baseball bat, if the opportunity presented itself. I don't condemn them.

That's big of you.

You may disagree, but I find your appeal to the purported sanctity of all human life -- no matter what the content of that life may be -- to be no more rational or convincing than my position that other considerations should determine the respect we accord to others.

I don't think this was the appeal at all. From my perspective, it has more to do with whether this is something WE can honorably do than with whether the person deserves it or not. Certainly, the remark about "the sanctity of life" is an attack on a straw man rather than a fair statement of what Jeff actually said.
Even from a utilitarian perspective, the fairest test of whether it's moral or not doesn't look simply at one case, but rather at the consequences of a policy of torture, and if you are corroborating information extracted by torture with more torture, you should realize that those false positives are not costless -- they likely mean you end up with innocent torture victims. It's doubtful that torture over the long run has a better record of accuracy than other techniques, and the practical and moral costs are quite significant over time. I don't see how a policy of torture ends up being morally justified even on utilitarian grounds.

Wonderment
02-22-2008, 05:19 PM
Thoughts on Powell?

People cut Powell a lot of slack because he really was politically to the left of the pack of neo-cons who held power and because he had a personal charm completely lacking in the dyslexic faux-hick Bush, the sullen sonavabitch Cheney, the crazed technocrat Rumsfeld, and the scared-shitless sychophant Rice.

Powell looked like the only nice guy in the bunch -- the one most likely to be capable of nuanced thought, empathy and prudence, and least likely to be a fanatic.

He failed us all miserably, of course.

I think of him as the good kid on the block who got involved with the wrong crowd of sadistic adolescent gangsters. He skipped his violin lesson one day and got peer-pressured into going along on the crime spree that would ruin everyone's life.

bjkeefe
02-22-2008, 06:24 PM
Elvis:

Is it possible that he isn't opposed to it, at least in some situations?

You could well be right. I guess I just don't think a career soldier would be in favor of state-sanctioned torture, for one, and I still have (residual) feelings that Colin Powell is basically a good guy. But it's entirely possible I'm kidding myself on both counts.

Thus Spoke Elvis
02-22-2008, 06:52 PM
Unfortunately, I think there are many reasons why -- many of them not in the least rational. Why did the Romans require that their slaves give evidence only under torture -- even when they were willing to give evidence freely? You gesture toward one reason why we may have moved toward a policy of torture that has nothing to do with efficacy or cold blooded rationality -- namely, the impotent desire to get back at these people. If Osama isn't here to be battered with our baseball bat, then this taxi driver might do.

I think you're conflating two different separate issues here. First, whether or not torture works, and second, how that tool should be applied. One can believe torture is sometimes an effective interrogation tool (and historical practice bears this out) without believing it's always the most appropriate tool, or that it should be applied indiscriminately.


If torture is wrong, what difference should it make to us that some people (or many people) don't realize that it's wrong? Or, if you want to be more subjectivist about it, if torturing people is against our values, why should the fact that others don't share those values cause us to change our values? Are you saying this because you don't believe anything is immoral? Much of this paragraph seems to be a kind of argument from nihilism, but I'm not sure.

My point was made in response to sentiments expressed by several commenters in this thread, indicating disbelief that anyone could possibly think that torture was morally acceptable in some cases. That view is not nearly so widespread as some commentators seem to believe, as many cultures would scoff at the idea that people are always owed a certain level of dignity solely on account of being human. Further, the foundation for the position that torture is always morally wrong has just as many arbitrary assumptions as the position that torture is sometimes okay. In other words, people shouldn't assume that their moral stance is objectively correct, and that no one can rationally come to a different moral conclusion. That doesn't mean people should abandon their beliefs, just that they shouldn't take it for granted that everyone will agree with them.


From my perspective, it has more to do with whether this is something WE can honorably do than with whether the person deserves it or not. Certainly, the remark about "the sanctity of life" is an attack on a straw man rather than a fair statement of what Jeff actually said.

I was using Jeff's post as a basis to dispute a number of comments made by people, not just him, and I should have been clear on that. If I understand correctly, your position is not that torture is wrong because of what it does to the victim, but because of what it does to our own humanity. But that begs the question -- why does it affect our humanity? We don't think our humanity is affected when we smash a rock into dust or rip out a weed from a garden. Most people don't bat an eyelash over the fact the billions of living, feeling pigs and cows are bred and slaughtered everyday for food. So why would it affect our humanity if we torture Osama Bin Laden, unless he, on account of his genus species, possesses a special trait that these other things do not have?


I don't see how a policy of torture ends up being morally justified even on utilitarian grounds.

We've been through this before, but I completely agree that compelling policy arguments exist for refraining from torture in general. But, in my opinion, there are also clear exceptions to this general rule, when torture saves more lives than it harms. It's more sensible to make limited exceptions than to either ban all torture or legalize all torture.

ed fielding
02-22-2008, 10:20 PM
Elvis, you do the fox among chickens thing fairly well. You certainly expose the unusual civility of conversation and comment hereabouts.
In return:
1. Should you not consider the source when you speak of the torture-positive types? All the experienced FBI interrogators disdain it. The English-wpeaking world has judged it unacceptable since, what, 1661? American personel were executed for engaging in torture in the Philippines early in the last century. You probably know this stuff, and if so you know this list goes on.
Those who have spoken in favor are mostly speaking as puppets of a small bunch of chicken hawks who are inept at almost everything but playing the bully and spitting on the Constitution, leading to...
2. The presumed platform for this discussion is a Republic of laws designed not only for the general welfare but also, in consequence, designed to block tyranny. These laws, as above, form the now-contested foundations of the nation. When speaking of the brutality and savagery of underlying human nature, you appear to be justifying a return to a pre-human state, just for fun, (your fondness for baseball bats hitting flesh), and the pain and injury imposed is all part of the fun. The only place I see this in the American tradition is in the community pasttime of lynching.

Bloggin' Noggin
02-23-2008, 10:08 PM
I think you're conflating two different separate issues here. First, whether or not torture works, and second, how that tool should be applied. One can believe torture is sometimes an effective interrogation tool (and historical practice bears this out) without believing it's always the most appropriate tool, or that it should be applied indiscriminately.

I plead "not guilty" on the conflation charge. You said "there's A reason why torture has long been used to extract information." [emphasis mine]
My response is directed at this "whatever is is right" kind of thinking. Perhaps torture "works" sometimes, but the fact that it has long been used to extract information (most often the kind of information desired by the interrogator (confessions) whether true or false does not prove that it is so effective by any means, since its use is tremendously overdetermined by the irrationalities and baser instincts of human nature.
Maybe you are aware of some scientific studies of the use of torture that would prove your point better than the mere tradition of its use from the ancient Romans through the Inquisition down to Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. I don't think that tradition necessarily shows that it is all that valuable.
People want information desparately at times -- often they want it sufficiently that they will place faith in very unlikely methods -- astrology and tarot cards for instance.

I was using Jeff's post as a basis to dispute a number of comments made by people, not just him, and I should have been clear on that. If I understand correctly, your position is not that torture is wrong because of what it does to the victim, but because of what it does to our own humanity. But that begs the question -- why does it affect our humanity? We don't think our humanity is affected when we smash a rock into dust or rip out a weed from a garden. Most people don't bat an eyelash over the fact the billions of living, feeling pigs and cows are bred and slaughtered everyday for food. So why would it affect our humanity if we torture Osama Bin Laden, unless he, on account of his genus species, possesses a special trait that these other things do not have?

I didn't mean to dispute that OBL was different from weeds and rocks. I can't imagine how you could torture weeds or rocks. Pigs are a rather different matter -- I'm not so sure that very many people would regard torturing pigs as perfectly all right. Most people would probably regard it as ok to kill pigs for food, but what would most people think of someone who tortured pigs for the hell of it? (This is a small part of the reason I object to your use of "sanctity of human life" language. Our ordinary moral standards countenance killing a pig for food or a man for punishment, when they may not countenance torture. Another reason is that those who use that language have a theological objection to the taking of human life that goes beyond the interests of the person himself (i.e., they won't permit rationally based suicide).
I don't believe you could possibly look on OBL as a weed or a rock -- your desire to use that baseball bat wouldn't make much sense in that case -- nor would your desire to break him for his information Your attitude would be as inconsistent as the master who denies that his slave is human (hence a moral agent deserving of fair treatment) while blaming him (regarding him as a moral agent) for running away.
Recall my previous example of using rape to extract information (or as a weapon of war). You can't rape a watermelon or a rubber doll. I think it would be very weird to say that you don't rape people because ofthe 'sanctity of human life" -- the emphasis would be more on human dignity. Suppose that you believe your captive deserves death or worse, and that you think rape would be a very effective punishment (or would extract information or would discourage people from rebelling in the future), might you not refrain from raping the captive purely out of respect for your own dignity and humanity? That the victim isn't just a rubber doll is certainly relevant to whether you are raping, but your reason for not raping might be primarily your own human dignity

I'm not sure why those who morally object to torture bear any burden of proof here. And I think one can take the civility of rational discussion too far. Too cold-bloodedly rational an attitude toward evil is itself evil. When someone is defending inhumanity with cold-blooded reasons, more cold-blooded reasons are probably not the answer. It's like the joke whose punchline is "we've already established that (you're a whore); now we're just haggling about the price." Too purely "rational" an argument against your position runs a high risk of seeming to grant that we're all cold-blooded here, we just have different calculations about our interests. An entirely heatless argument over this seems to accept that this isn't really a moral question at all. People can disagree if they like, but that doesn't show that they are right -- nor that I can't express my disapproval until I've proved that I'mright. I'm sure you could argue with OBL till you were blue in the face and he would never accept that he was wrong. Would you have to wait until you had persuaded him before you had the right to express your disapproval?

I actually agree with Bush that there is such a thing as evil -- 9/11 and torture both seem to share in that quality.

cragger
02-24-2008, 12:50 PM
BN (with an aside to Bob Wright),

Your penultimate paragraph goes to the heart of the problem regarding torture. People can continue refuting the half-clever sophistry and rhetoric of the advocates and apologists until the demise of the internet and it won't make any difference. As you say, one can take the civility of the argument too far; my upcoming bluntness in contrast to the civility of your posts is my own and no fault that statement.

People may defend torture because they enjoy the argument, because they self-identify with a group that has started using it and feel the need to defend that group and identity, or simply because they are the sort of cowards and bullies that find the practice attractive. It doesn't matter why. Engaging in polite discussion about supporting the use of torture is like inviting someone to a dinner party so they can advocate raping children. Ooh, lets talk abut different cultures, concepts of rights, and engage in utilitarian arguments. No, lets not. Get the hell out of my home.

There are many issues on which one can agree to disagree, however passionately. If civilization, humanity, and morality have any meaning at all, there are other issues like torture that are beyond the pale. At the minimum, a moral individual has a responsibility to go beyond engaging the argument and trying to re-establish legal sanctions. One must also apply social sanctions against this behavior. Polite expression of disagreement and disapproval, and a change to a more pleasant topic is not sufficient. This is a case of being part of the problem or part of the solution.

The torturers who are dragging my country through the mud are vile scumbags, pieces of human garbage. Their enablers, apologists, and advocates are morally deficient, morally culpable, and unfit for association.

Bob Wright has said that he would never have AC on BHTV because he refuses to give her a platform to exercise her forms of hate speech. This is consistent with his position on the use of social sanction as an expresson of morality and as a fundamental tool of civilization. I recognize both the administrative difficulty, and the "its a current national issue" excuse, but isn't allowing posts apologizing for and advocating torture fundamentally the moral equivalent of allowing posts promoting the man-boy-love association on your website Mr. Wright? Doesn't this trouble you as much as posts deemed rude toward guests?

AemJeff
02-24-2008, 03:16 PM
Cragger, are you really advocating banning commenters for the content of their beliefs? Should we draw the line at advocacy of torture? How about ambivalence toward racism? Or tolerance of Ann Coulter? Do Elvis' comments cross the line?

What I consider reasonable ought to the standard for everybody, of course; but falling short of that - it might be better if we can actually air any idea, regardless of whether it offends somebody's concept of propriety.

Wonderment
02-24-2008, 05:42 PM
The torturers who are dragging my country through the mud are vile scumbags, pieces of human garbage. Their enablers, apologists, and advocates are morally deficient, morally culpable, and unfit for association.

There are a lot of ways to direct your outrage. I hope you will work to make torture advocates in the Bush adminstration accountable for their crimes and to prevent future uses of torture.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are organizations that devote a lot of energy and resources to ending torture.

Creative sadists will continue to commit atrocities and abuses given half a chance. The fact that the USA can come up with euphemisms like "Enhanced Interrogation" should alert us to future dangers: democracy currently provides victims insufficient protection from human rights criminals.

If the Democrats take the White House and Congress this year, we should be able to get better legislation passed that will enhance rights of detainees and restore confidence in the Geneva Conventions.

Against criminal minds like those who aided and abetted the Bush regime, you need really bullet-proof laws. No loopholes. No room for secrecy, coverups and destruction of evidence. No immunity from prosecution.

bjkeefe
02-24-2008, 05:57 PM
I liked a lot of what cragger had to say. I'm not for banning people who advocate torture from these forums, but I am for shunning them. I no longer engage in "reasoned debate" with people who try to make a pro-torture case. I think cragger is right: this is a position that does not deserve respect.

cragger
02-24-2008, 06:40 PM
Jeff,

The world we live in is of our making. My point, and my question to BW have nothing to do with banning all disagreement, or banning any insult to anyone's tender sensibilities including my own. You are suggesting "slippery slope" and I am saying we need to get up off our asses and turn uphill.

If you care what kind of world you live in, then at some point you either draw a line somewhere or you don't. There are points beyond which you have to act beyond expressing disapproval.

Argue if you want to that drawing any line anywhere means drawing every line everywhere. There is a point at which I draw a line. That line may move here and there as life goes on and I hopefully learn and grow. It may be vague in some places. That line will always be there somewhere, and torturers and I will never be on the same side of it.

I am saying that the world everyone lives in depends in part on what we accept and to the degree to which we act. Insofar as my question to Bob Wright, I suggest that he has explicitly recognized this aspect of responsibility for action by his stated views on social sanction, and by his example of placing his prohibition on providing a forum for AC. He since has placed a much weaker social sanction on a somewhat vague degree of rudeness to guests through his expressions of disapproval and appeals to civility. I am saying that since he has been non-dogmatic but still consistent with his beliefs in those actions, that promotion of torture is a more serious offense than rudeness to guests or use of slurs.

cragger
02-24-2008, 06:52 PM
Precisely.

Bloggin' Noggin
02-24-2008, 08:05 PM
I'm not in favor of shunning those who defend torture here, so long as they are sincere and reasonable, as I think TS Elvis certainly is (garbagecowboy too). It's unfortunate that the administration (and 24) have brought torture back within the pale again, but now that it is, I'd rather not have it seem that the anti-torture folks are so lacking in arguments that they have to resort only to social sanctions and "politically correct" speech. And let's not forget that there are plenty of savagely pro-torture echo chambers out there on the web, where anti-torture arguments would be met with far more opprobrium than we can muster here.

I simply wanted to point out that anti-torture types should be free to object in strong, emotive terms to torture, even though there are certainly people who will disagree.

I also think the pro-torture case is very abstract, and gains a lot of its persuasiveness from its abstraction -- and from the narrowness of its focus. Looking at terrorism and torture in a broader view, terrorism adds something to the risks we face-- but so far at least a pretty insignificant something compared to the whole population or compared to other risks. Let's grant the pro-torture people that torture "works" enough that a policy of torture might SLIGHTLY improve our position (and that's a pretty big assumption, given all the downsides of torture). The US has condmned torture (the very same techniques) when committed by other countries when we didn't see ourselves as under threat. Now all of a sudden, when we face a slight increase in risk, we show ourselves to be hypocrites and cowards: our high sounding values are suddenly not worth even that slight increase in risk.

Some people try to translate this argument into an argument from self-interest (Bob does this, and Jeff does to some degree too above). They say that torture is not worth it from a self-interested point of view. But I say (in agreement with ed above) that even if we suppose that a torture policy would work overall to our benefit in slightly reducing a fairly slight risk, would our values not be worth this increase in risk? Our soldiers accept much higher risks -- are we a free people, able to accept some risks for our freedom and our values, or are we going to admit that we're a bunch of spoiled babies to be protected by "our commander in chief" and our brave soldiers from any increase in our personal risk at any price?

cragger
02-24-2008, 09:25 PM
Here then we diverge. As you previously posted, there is such a thing as evil including torture, and to which I hold that a response beyond expressing disapproval and disagreement, possibly in strong, emotive terms is needed. When there are certainly people who will disagree and who advocate and practice evil, the fact that they use sincere and reasonable language is irrelevant.

The tenor of the language used to justify evil does not change the nature of the beast, nor eliminate the question of whether one is willing to draw the line beyond which the acceptable does not cross. The administration cannot bring torture back from beyond the pale. They can engage in it. Collectively and individually we all decide whether it is beyond the pale.

Engage the argument as you will, and one might make a persuasive argument for doing so. Do no more however, and it reduces to an abstract intellectual exercise. Life involves more than that, and sometimes requires more than that from a moral actor.

Wonderment
02-24-2008, 09:28 PM
The US has condemned torture (the very same techniques) when committed by other countries when we didn't see ourselves as under threat. Now all of a sudden, when we face a slight increase in risk, we show ourselves to be hypocrites and cowards: our high sounding values are suddenly not worth even that slight increase in risk.

Which also sends a message to maniacs like Bin Laden that terrorism works to debilitate democracy.

Is Al Qaeda correct to assume that democracy, for all its sanctimonious rhetoric, cannot survive a series of 9/11 scale attacks?

By responding with torture, Guantánamo, an insane invasion and occupation of Iraq and so on, Bush surrendered our values. You cannot uphold democracy by betraying it.

piscivorous
02-24-2008, 11:02 PM
It seems you argue that there is a sharp and distinct divisor separating morale from immoral but in the real world of human interactions the line between morale and immoral are various hues of gray not black and white. Is it surprising that in conflict that a society must wrestle, within the hues of gray that define morality, of what behavior is acceptable and which is not. As cold as it may sound the decision to use torture is no different than any other cost/benefits decision that a CinC must make in a war environment and like it or not it sometimes must be based on a least morally objectionable basis. The attitude that filtered down from on high, of a no holds bared attitude, which infected and perverted the system was unfortunate and it should be recognized for the moral failing that it was. But that is quite different than a deliberate decision to use aggressive procedures to interrogate specific individuals, at a specific point in time.

AemJeff
02-24-2008, 11:06 PM
By responding with torture, Guantánamo, an insane invasion and occupation of Iraq and so on, Bush surrendered our values. You cannot uphold democracy by betraying it.

Wonderment, I fully endorse this point of view. I'd add that in addition to being a betrayal of our democracy, this has been strategic disaster - the surrender has been for less than nothing.

bjkeefe
02-25-2008, 12:32 AM
BN:

I'm not in favor of shunning those who defend torture here, so long as they are sincere and reasonable, as I think TS Elvis certainly is (garbagecowboy too). It's unfortunate that the administration (and 24) have brought torture back within the pale again, but now that it is, I'd rather not have it seem that the anti-torture folks are so lacking in arguments that they have to resort only to social sanctions and "politically correct" speech.

Well, if you want to keeping arguing with them, go for it. I promise not to jump in, screeching "WE'RE NOT TALKING TO HIM!!!"

It seems to me, however, that the arguments against torture have already been made numerous times on this site, and they have been comprehensive and should be utterly convincing to anyone who isn't using 24 as a basis for his or her thinking. As far as I'm concerned, the pro-torture people have three principle arguments, all of which are easily dismissed:

1. It works.

I say: It doesn't, in general. You mostly end up getting a lot of false confessions. And even if I stipulate that some good information is occasionally obtained, there doesn't say that the same information couldn't have been obtained using other techniques.

2. Ticking time bomb

I say: Overwhelmingly, this is a fantasy. In the extremely rare case where it actually might be true, interrogators will torture, and if they get the desired results, they won't get in trouble. That doesn't mean we need to legalize torture, any more than we need to legalize reckless driving because the occasional cop might not give a speeding ticket to someone racing to a hospital.

3. Other people do it

I say: We're supposed to be the good guys. I don't care if other people do it. We shouldn't. We lose the moral high ground, we put our own people at increased risk, and we offer further reasons for tepid anti-American types to become virulent.

Torture as government policy, even if I stipulate the occasional small gain, nets out as a huge loss for America.

And let's not forget that there are plenty of savagely pro-torture echo chambers out there on the web, where anti-torture arguments would be met with far more opprobrium than we can muster here.

So? There are white supremacists sites out there, too. Should we, therefore, engage in polite debate if someone started spewing KKK rhetoric on this site? Let the people with the abhorrent views gather in their damp little klatches and claques. But don't give them cheap credibility by treating them as equals when they wander out into the light. You're just letting them artificially skew the position of the Overton window.

It is not possible to be "sincere and reasonable" if you're arguing in favor of torture as policy. There are nine million other things to talk about where both sides conceivably have some merit. This is not one of them. We figured this out centuries ago. Continuing to treat those in favor of officially sanctioned torture as though they have some legitimacy just postpones cleaning up the mess that the Bushco cowards have made.

bjkeefe
02-25-2008, 12:48 AM
pisc:

I can accept a "gray area" argument if the context is an isolated incident -- the proverbial ticking time bomb, or, say, the overstressed foot soldier or cop.

I cannot accept the "gray area" argument when we're talking official government policy. There are few absolutes in this world -- I'll be the first to agree with this -- but there are a few, and this is one of them. You can't legalize torture even a little bit, or it quickly becomes SOP.

AemJeff
02-25-2008, 10:52 AM
So? There are white supremacists sites out there, too. Should we, therefore, engage in polite debate if someone started spewing KKK rhetoric on this site? Let the people with the abhorrent views gather in their damp little klatches and claques. But don't give them cheap credibility by treating them as equals when they wander out into the light. You're just letting them artificially skew the position of the Overton window.

It is not possible to be "sincere and reasonable" if you're arguing in favor of torture as policy. There are nine million other things to talk about where both sides conceivably have some merit. This is not one of them. We figured this out centuries ago. Continuing to treat those in favor of officially sanctioned torture as though they have some legitimacy just postpones cleaning up the mess that the Bushco cowards have made.

Brendan, the difference between KKK rhetoric and this, is that in this case we're discussing government policy. As long as that's at least tacitly in favor of torture under some circumstances, it seems to me there's a live debate. It's often said in a slightly different context that "sunlight is the best disinfectant." It strikes me that the same applies here. We might need to use them over and over; but I think we have all the good arguments. Forcing a discussion out of the light often, paradoxically, feeds it. The point of view that torture can be a net good is already metastasized - you can't starve it, it needs to be actively killed.

Bloggin' Noggin
02-25-2008, 11:27 AM
I was going to make the same point -- though doubtless not so economically as Jeff has done. Bush (and to a lesser degree, Clinton with his policy of extradition) has thrown the anti-torture norm open to question in a way far beyond the power of a little shunning by BHtv commenters to close it.

bjkeefe
02-25-2008, 11:33 AM
AemJeff:

You rejected my equating the advocating of torture with KKK rhetoric because you say the former (only) is government policy. I remind you, first, that torture was not U.S. government policy until this administration came to power; second, that even they aren't comfortable admitting they favor it; and third, that it used to be U.S. government policy to discriminate against certain minority groups. We no longer entertain discussion that the latter policy might be reasonable. I look forward to the day when we come back to our senses regarding torture, and dismiss any statement that it might be a good thing with equal swiftness.

I take your other point, although sometimes the idea that "sunlight is the best disinfectant" is contradicted by the reality that light also helps a lot of undesirable things grow. I do agree that forcing things underground can sometimes cause them to fester, but it is also sometimes the case that continuing to discuss crazy ideas as though they're reasonable can prolong their life beyond what might otherwise be expected.

Maybe deciding which category the torture question belongs to is still a tough call. Okay, fair enough. As I said to Bloggin, if some people feel it's better to continue to debate the torture fans than it is to ignore them, I won't attempt to shush them. I just wanted to state my view, in agreement with Cragger, that the idea that torture might be good is not an open question, and that we should move on.

Wonderment
02-25-2008, 04:50 PM
I remind you, first, that torture was not U.S. government policy until this administration came to power; second, that even they aren't comfortable admitting they favor it; and third, that it used to be U.S. government policy to discriminate against certain minority groups. We no longer entertain discussion that the latter policy might be reasonable.

Two quick points: As far as we know, all of the Bush regime torture was perpetrated on minority groups: Padilla and the Arabs/Muslims.

It is fair to speculate whether "white" people would have received the torture treatment. Suspected ETA terrorists from Spain? Jewish Defense League terrorists? Home-grown Timothy McVeigh types?

Second, I'm not sure I agree that they "aren't comfortable admitting they favor it."

Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the authors of the torture memo have been quite clear that they are torture advocates.

They have only dodged the torture charge by changing the name to "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques". Sort of like Clinton changing the definition of sex so that after a Lewinsky blowjob he could assert, "I never had sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky."

cragger
02-25-2008, 07:30 PM
A probably last reply on the subject, since my point is likely as clear as it will get, and not directed in particular to AmJeff despite the linkage point.

The sunlight disenfectant principle regards opening visibility into the actions of government to the people it supposedly represents. If people can see what the government is doing, it helps keep that government in line. Regarding the torture issue, the sunlight is the surfacing of the fact that the US government is practicing torture, allowing the people to try to excise the revealed cancer.

The personal responsibility point that I am making regards the climate that allows people like the now disgraced Mike Mukasey to hem and haw and say "gee, people disagree about torture, I can't really say for sure about anything, maybe someday if I'm forced to think about it I could decide, maybe not." If torture is something on which one holds that reasonable people can disagree, then what the hell is out of bounds?

There would surely be objection and outrage, and probably a deletion by a forum moderator if someone posted an obscenity-laden diatribe filled with racist epithets about what should be done to some group. There is something utterly pathetic about social prohibition of offensive language coupled with acceptance of the promotion or justification of real-life brutality and evil so long as it is politely made.

Refusal to go beyond the realm of offering abstract rational engagement with the promotion of evil may satisfy a form of online entertainment, a way of showing how smartly one can construct an argument or at least how persistently one can post. It also reduces you to a charicature of the out of touch, inefectual, and totally irrelevent ivory tower psuedo-intellectual who discovers that his neighbor is Jeffery Dalmher and dashes off a couple of clever and witty paragraphs about the ethics of cannibalism, delivering them with the invitation "come over for a couple beers after dinner, we can watch the game on TV and move on to arguing about the primary race".

Its an abdication of personal responsibility.

Having no doubt engendered by now the resentment that is accorded to one who points out a moral path to others, I leave all and sundry to deal with my failings, that range of topics not being overly restrictive.

AemJeff
02-25-2008, 08:55 PM
Cragger,

I agree, there's nothing wrong with certain topics being out-of-bounds, at least in terms of polite debate - though I strongly prefer, in a general interest/political forum such as this, that local powers stick to enforcing form and stay scrupulously away from content. However, echoing what I said in response to Brendan, if current government policy does - or conceivably might, for that matter - endorse a particular point of view, then the last thing on our agenda should be refusing to talk about it, or not taking seriously people who hold that view.

Bloggin' Noggin
02-25-2008, 09:26 PM
There would surely be objection and outrage, and probably a deletion by a forum moderator if someone posted an obscenity-laden diatribe filled with racist epithets about what should be done to some group. There is something utterly pathetic about social prohibition of offensive language coupled with acceptance of the promotion or justification of real-life brutality and evil so long as it is politely made.


The point of deleting a post with racial epithets or ad hominem attacks (by which I mean attacking a position or an argument by attacking the defender, not just any kind of personal criticism) is that such posts can rapidly undermine the point of a discussion forum: rational discussion. Insults and ad hominem attacks are irrational appeals themselves and they tend to drive reason out of the other posts as well. Civil rational arguments, even for positions that offend us, still promote the aim of rational discussion -- and that's why a moderator would not delete them.

You contrast mere "offensive language" and "the justification of real life brutality" as though the latter were not also just language. If the comments nanny could delete actual torture from the world and she focused instead on bad words on this forum, I'd agree that there was something screwy about her values. But of course, the actual torture is beyond her powers. Deleting a very nasty post might raise the level of discourse here; deleting an already civil argument for torture (or a critique of a bad argument against torture) saves no one from torture. The best it could do is to keep the forum "pure" -- send everyone who disagrees with us on the subject to some forum where their point of view will not be challenged.

There might be more to be said for the attempt ignore or silence those who defend torture if that would really marginalize and punish them in the real world -- but in the actual world, we'd only be marginalizing ourselves.

cragger
02-25-2008, 10:27 PM
AmJeff

Having so quickly gone past my "probably last" post, I will lapse into the bluntness I suggested earlier, and try to address both the points of lack of personal responsibility and the result of that lack in the government we get and the actions it takes. Consider it a possibly unnecessary emphasis, and not an attempt to dump on you.

The reason this crap is still going on, and the reason slimeballs who refuse to stand up against torture long after the issue has surfaced can get confirmed to the post of Attorney General while declining to address the issue is because we, the American People refuse to stand up.. If "we the people" are too spineless to do more than make disapproving noises can anyone expect congress to do more? If we say "gosh, people disagree on this and we have to accept differences of opinion" why should Mukasey or our "representatives" say any different?

Participatory democacy demands participation. It demands that people rise up and say "listen you gutless wonder, pull your head out of your ass and straighten up and fly right or you will be out looking for a real job". If we as individuals aren't willing to draw the line on what is acceptable in our dealings with others, do you really expect politicians to? 99.9% of the time politicians follow, not lead. They reflect us. Our worst as much or more than the best. As they say "we get the government we deserve". Civil society doesn't just happen, it makes demands of its members.

I am far from suggesting that we not take seriously the fact that people advocate torture. Its as serious as a man hanging from the ceiling in chains being beaten to death, to use the specific example of this diavlog. I hope to hell that anyone who considers this an abstract intellectual argument gets to make that point to some time to a man in that situation.

bjkeefe
02-26-2008, 12:21 AM
Wonderment:

Second, I'm not sure I agree that they "aren't comfortable admitting they favor it."

You're probably right. It would be more accurate to say that they are aware that their policy needs to be cloaked in euphemisms to the extent that they admit what they're doing in secret.

cragger
02-27-2008, 06:39 PM
BN

Your point is well made that we censure speech that is "bad in form" because it has negative consequences if for no other reason. Mine is that bad content does also and similarly deserves censure, a practice that tends to take place in that form of life that happens off-line, and to suggest a point beyond which it would be appropriate to "never say never" regarding the virtual world.

I am at least a couple of posts beyond any point at which I have added force or clarity to that argument, reaping only the obvious joys of venting some spleen and tending to drift into tangential issues as many discussions do. Since issues tend to be interrelated, the obvious endpoint is the development and articulation of the grand unified theory of what is wrong with everything and how we would each fix it, that discussion being better held in congenial atmosphere with glass in hand than in quiet room with keyboard on desk.