7/26/08

The Torturing Company We Keep

I've often pointed out to my friends at Lucianne.com that torture is both morally wrong and essentially ineffective except for satisfying primative instincts for revenge and obtaining false confessions for use in propaganda.

This Republican administration has been breathtakingly stupid in its policies on the use of torture, and anybody who comes after them in government is going to have to undo considerable damage to our reputation and sensibilities.

This is, of course, a direct result of the ideological inbreeding rampant in the modern Republican Party in general. We've managed to elect (did we really?) the intellectual least common denominator of American culture, and in return the world views us as knuckle dragging villains just as bad as the thugs who attacked us.

Congratulations to "movement conservatism" for delivering us this day..... I say this so-called version of conservatism should join other failed experiments in the dust bin of history, and America should be restored to its Liberal roots.

Here is a very nice article on the issue from The Consortium:

Published on Saturday, July 26, 2008 by Consortium News
The Torturing Company We Keep
by Michael Winship


At one point during the five and a half years John McCain spent as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, he was tortured and beaten so badly he tried to kill himself.

After four days of this brutality, he gave in and agreed to make a false confession, telling lies to end the unbearable pain.

Later, he would write, “I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.”

Similar techniques were utilized in the Asian war preceding Vietnam - Korea. The Communist Chinese used these techniques to interrogate U.S. POW’s and force them to confess to things they didn’t do, such as germ warfare.

A chart of the Chinese methods, compiled in 1957 by an American sociologist, lists the methods, among them, “Sleep Deprivation,” “Semi-Starvation,” “Filthy, Infested Surroundings,” “Prolonged Constraint,” and “Exposure.”

The effects are listed, too: “Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator,” “Weakens Mental and Physical Ability to Resist,” “Reduces Prisoner to ‘Animal Level’ Concerns,” and others.

On July 2, The New York Times reported that the chart had made a surprise return appearance, this time at Guantanamo Bay, where in 2002 it was used in a course to teach our military interrogators “Coercive Management Techniques,” to be used when interrogating detainees held there as prisoners in the “war on terror.”

In other words, we had adopted the inhumane tactics of enemies past, tactics we once were quick to call torture. Tactics created not to get at the truth but to manufacture lies that we then characterize as credible.

How can we expect this to be an effective way to extract real information from terrorists?
Since 2005, Congress has banned the use of such methods by the military but we have no way of knowing whether the CIA continues to use them.


For example, The Associated Press reported Thursday that, “CIA Director Michael Hayden banned waterboarding in 2006, but government officials have said it remains a possibility if approved by the attorney general, the CIA chief and the president.”

Such is the secrecy and deliberate obfuscation that have characterized our nation’s descent into lawlessness and duplicity, depicted brilliantly in New Yorker magazine investigative reporter Jane Mayer’s new book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.

Post 9/11, she reports, “For the first time in its history, the United States sanctioned government officials to physically and psychologically torment U.S.-held detainees, making torture the official law of the land in all but name.”

The late American historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., she says, told her that “the Bush administration’s extralegal counterterrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.”

Over lunch in 2006, the year before Schlesinger died, he said, “No position taken had done more damage to the American reputation in the world — ever.”

Read all of this in light of the series of hearings on Capitol Hill over the last weeks in which members of Congress have tried to find out how in the name of protecting us from further terrorist attacks, the Bush White House has twisted or abandoned the law to allow what most of the international community recognizes as torture.

The administration remains in denial.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft told the House Judiciary Committee, “I don’t know of any acts of torture that have been committed by individuals in developing information. …
“So I would not certainly make an assumption. I would attribute the absence of an attack [since 9/11] at least in part, because there have been specific attacks that have been disrupted, to the excellent work and the dedication and commitment of people whose lives are dedicated to defending the country. Interrogators have used enhanced interrogation techniques but they haven’t used torture.”


Grim hairsplitting. This week, as the result of a Freedom of Information Act suit, the ACLU received a heavily redacted copy of an infamous August 2, 2002, memo, signed by then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee and written with his subordinate, the equally infamous John Yoo.

“An individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” it reads. “The absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture… We have further found that if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.”

Jameel Jaffer, head of the ACLU’s national security project, told Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent, “Imagine that in an ordinary criminal prosecution a bank robber tortures a bank manager to get the combination to a vault. He argues that the torture was not to inflict pain, but to get the combination. Every torturer has a reason other than to cause pain. If you’re going to let people off the hook for an intention other than to cause pain, you’re not going to be able to prosecute anyone for torture.”

Deborah Pearlstein, a constitutional scholar and human rights lawyer who has spent time at Guantanamo monitoring conditions there, testified to Congress that, “As of 2006, there had been more than 330 cases in which U.S. military and civilian personnel have, incredibly, alleged to have abused or killed detainees. This figure is based almost entirely on the U.S. government’s own documentation.

“These cases involved more than 600 U.S. personnel and more than 460 detainees held at U.S. facilities throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. They included some l00-plus detainees who died in U.S. custody, including 34 whose deaths the Defense Department reports as homicides. At least eight of these detainees were, by any definition of the term, tortured to death.”

Pearlstein cited a recent British study that discovered that our detainee policies had led to Britain’s withdrawal from joint, covert counterterrorism operations with the CIA “because the U.S. failed to offer adequate assurances against inhumane treatment.”

The House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has issued a report stating the United States can’t be trusted to tell the truth about how it interrogates detainees.
“Given the clear differences in definition,” the report concludes, “the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future.”


On Monday, the first American war crimes trial since World War II opened at Guantanamo, the United States presenting its case against Salim Ahmed Hamdan before a jury of U.S. military officers.

Hamdan, who at the time of 9/11 was Osama bin Laden’s driver, is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. Two surface-to-air missiles were found in a car he was driving - he says it was a borrowed vehicle and that he had no idea what was in the trunk.

The judge has thrown out confessions Hamdan made in Afghanistan after his capture.
“The interests of justice are not served by admitting these statements,” the judge said, “because of the highly coercive environments and conditions under which they were made.” Hamdan was bound for long periods of time, with a bag over his head.


You will know us by the company we keep. The burners of witches and the medieval masters of thumbscrews and Iron Maidens, the interrogators of the Spanish Inquisition, the North Vietnamese soldiers who beat John McCain and his fellow American prisoners of war into false confessions.

We have joined their ranks.

In the almost seven years since 9/11, we have countered terror not only with vigilance and war but fear, imprisonment without due process and yes, torture.
Torture is no more about learning the truth than rape is about sex. Both are about the violent abuse of power.


Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at http:www.pbs.org/moyers.

14 comments:

S E E Quine said...

If there's one thing that I think no one could deserve, it's torture. Maybe I'm biased, seeing as I've been tortured myself, but my analysis of the situation is that torture makes you want to have been killed at birth, if only to prevent you from having to live through those moments.
` There is no description I can give for the pain, the fear, the despair, the feeling of bleeding to death, dehydration, starvation, being pumped full of drugs that distort your mind, being treated like an inanimate object, etc.
` There's nothing like torture, and I'm glad for that.

Ghost Dansing said...

i'm sorry to hear you've been tortured.... i certainly argue that there is no place for torture as acceptable policy in a Liberal Democracy like America..... but your reaction is obviously very personal and certainly lends credence to my far more intellectualized propostion.....

i'm sorry you were tortured..... i'd certainly like to know more about that, but understand if you wouldn't want to go into it....

S E E Quine said...

I've written about it on my blog before (A story not for the faint of stomach).... It's no fun.

Oh, and something I didn't mention before - I read about medieval witch torturing and about how every reaction they could possibly have somehow confirms that they are a witch.
` So, they could scream, pass out, deny, confess, and it was all used as proof that they did it! And they would also be made to say things that weren't true.
` Not only that, they were forced to sign a confession after having their feet submerged in molten metal or some such, and that would be considered signing it after light torture!
` It's funny the way that politics have changed little concerning torture.

Ghost Dansing said...

yes torture is effective for just about any deviant objective than the one they claim they are using it for.... getting reliable information.

i looked up the four pieces you wrote on your blog..... horrifying....

S E E Quine said...

Yeah, like what the eff is wrong with our medical system?

You know, one weird thing torture can do is cause people's memories to change, anyway!

Mary Ellen said...

I agree wholeheartedly that torture goes against anything that could possibly be considered moral or human...but in fact, it's been going on in history for hundreds, if not thousands of years. I know the Republicans have been very open about their approval of such methods, but are they really any different than the methods used under Democratic leaders? It could be that in the past, it was kept "hush-hush". I have the feeling that our military has been using torture all along and keeping it under wraps.

Will McCain be any better than Obama in this practice? I think they will be the same, to be honest with you. The difference is, McCain will be open about it and Obama will lie about it.

Think about it...Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and many others in the Senate knew about what was going on with Rendition flights...they just remained mum, under the guise of "National Security". They also remained mem when they heard that Bush had been using the telecoms to spy on ordinary citizens...long before 9/11.

I think this stuff will continue, it doesn't matter who is President and what party they represent.

I know...it sounds cynical, but I can't help it these days.

Ghost Dansing said...

hi s e e quine..... thanks for stopping by again. that was some outlandish trauma you suffered with that dentist..... that should never ever happen, and i believe memories might be mixed up and such..... heavy duty pain....

i understand you point mary ellen.... there is so much we don't know about what the government does in our name.... we should know more....

i don't think torture is good for what Dubya and boys say it is good for..... getting good information.

whatever we're doing, we should knock it off. we're the good guys.

but i do understand what you're saying and the cynicism is somewhat justified.....

you know me though. i think the Democrats would be better on this. but i'm a yellow dog....

Mary Ellen said...

ghost dansing- I agree 100%, torture accomplishes nothing and it's absolutely immoral. I used to think the Democrats would be better at anything,but I've fallen away from that view this year. I'm not sure what it was, the disenfranchisement of Florida and Michigan, giving away the 4 delegates that Hillary earned by the votes of the people of Michigan to a candidate whose name wasn't even on the ballot, the way the Democratic Congress and Senate gave Bush whatever he wanted, acting more like Republicans than Democrats....or, the big one--supporting and voting for the FISA Bill that stripped us of our 4th Amendment rights. It was all too much.

Mariamariacuchita said...

"Torture is no more about learning the truth than rape is about sex. Both are about the violent abuse of power." This says it all.

And about the sadists they hire to do the torturing....

Ghost Dansing said...

i understand your puzzlement mary ellen.....

i agree maria maria..... and the sadists they hire.....

Daisy said...

Well written, Ghost Dansing. There is no righteousness about, no reason for, and no justification for torture in any form or in any scenario. Torture is just another word for a combination of cruelty, hate, and violence. I am embarrassed and ashamed of our leaders who think it is a useful tool to attempt to get information. It is just wrong in every way that it can be wrong.

Off topic and on a lighter note, Happy Sunday to you! :D

Ghost Dansing said...

thanks for dropping by daisy..... obviously i agree with you agreeing with me.....

have a happy sunday to you too!

thepoetryman said...

AND WE STAND STILL,
Seemingly unmoved by it all.
And we stand still,
Force the broken rubble together,
To the crimson clay and gray maggots we leave our breathing,
Feet stuck down in the red earth.

Do we know what it is that we have done?
Forgive me... We know not...

Writhing limbs beneath the ground
Unmoved of the dulled shanking sorrow
Broken by the distant flow of murder
Dejected of all the slighted affections
Replaced by a programmable worry
Struck anesthetized of bone-shrieking pain
Vanished by the good God damned dash
Pushed back to the very dread filled end
Trampled flat by the gush of skin
Stopped short of inhaling lethal shame
Turned off from what’s not the same
Blinded by the inundation of labor
Wrought immobile by the last quaver
Succumbed to hunger and greed
Paled of piercing a blood-red deed

Do we know what it is that we have done?
Forgive me... We know not...

O the flesh and bone and blood, and blood and blood-
Murderous days and nights
Of the world’s child
By our conscious monstrousness!
Again and again, without moving,
Planted there in the earth!
We are living and breathing
Yet we might as well die away,
Pass on down, end, vanish, fade...

Who could possibly want what we have;
Freedom with feet wedged beneath the ground,
God without a miserable mince of goodness,
Equality with white-faced conditions?
Hope is a four letter word.
Writhing limbs beneath the ground.
What? What? What? Goddamnit! What?

We’re not alive, at least not our senses; reality.
Why not place our bodies entirely under
If we’re just going to stand so unhappily silent?
Surely we’ve nothing worth continuing for,
Surely we’d be better off if we sunk complete,
Better than remaining red-faced, horrifyingly immobile
With no weight to bear from such empty spirits...


© 2008 mrp/tpm

Ghost Dansing said...

thanks for the poem Poetryman.... it really fits with the article.