pageok
pageok
pageok
Conservatives and Torture:
Publius asks, "Where's the outrage?"

  I have enabled comments.

  UPDATE: New rule on comments: if your comment is not civil and respectful, I am going to delete it. You may have the greatest point in the world, but if you can't figure out how to express it in a calm and respectful way, don't express it here.

  This rule applies retroactively, as well. If you find that a comment of yours was deleted, you are welcome to post the idea again. But please, keep it civil. You may not realize it, but your arguments are much more effective that way.
Anderson (mail) (www):
One of Ronald Reagan's great achievements was a simple one, and much derided by liberals at the time: he named the Soviet Union for what it was, an "evil empire."

I now live in an America that "preemptively" invades another country that posed no direct threat to us, conducts random or effectively random sweeps of civilians, tortures them, and then either kills or releases them.

And an America that maintains its own, putatively lawless zone at an offshore military base, where prisoners who may or may not have been enemies of the U.S. are tortured, apparently for its own sake as much as for any realistic hope of gaining "information."

Republicans who are confronted with these facts (and thus unable to simply ignore them) tend to either retort that "the other guy is worse" (like Soviet apologists pointing to America's race issues) ... or that "the end justifies the means" (like the apologist for Communist terror that Orwell derided in his famous essay on "Politics and the English Language") ... or ... well, what justifications are there, exactly?

The way to avoid *becoming* an evil empire is to set bright lines and declare, "we do not cross these; we do not do these things, even if our enemies practice them; we will not degrade ourselves by such practices."

I and my family are now citizens of a nation that routinely tortures people when it feels like it, as a matter of national policy ... and of a nation that endorsed this torture by re-electing its instigator/enabler-in-chief. And hardly any of our supposed Defenders of Values in the Republican camp seems to especially care. Will someone explain, to Publius and me, why we should ever trust the Republican Party again? Because if you can't take a stand against torture, then what *can* you take a stand against?

(Oh, I remember: you can take a stand against "Happy Holidays." Great.)
12.23.2004 11:12am
Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
Where's the proof — supplied by people who don't hate or dislike the Bush administration — that such things are actually widespread?

The other problem, I think, is that the opposition to this war makes it difficult to be a critic of parts of it. There is a (probably unconscious) fifth column of people in this country trying to get us to lose by waging a vietnam style media war. I don't doubt that they don't think of it that way and that they're doing it with the best of intentions, but they make it difficult for the rest of us.
12.23.2004 11:26am
Jeff R.:
Well, for a little perspective, consider the conditions that we allow, even officially quasi-condone, in our domestic civilian high-security prisons. Next to the Oz-es of the world, Gitmo and Abu Grahib are walks in the park. So there's an even bigger mystery of missing outrage over that.

And both cases boil down to the fundamental fact that most Americans, generally speaking, cannot get particular exercised about the prospect of bad things happening to bad people. Show them a genuinely innocent man glowsticked in Iraq or raped in Leavenworth, and there you'll see the outrage [and even then it will be more toward the fact that he was in the prison in the first place than toward the general conditions in the prison.], but when bad things, even worse things than the justice system has dealt out, happen to murderers, drug dealers, terrorists, etc...well, people would rather give the guy who shivs Dahmer a medal than extra time. (Ditto a guard who looked the other way.)

Also part of why legal doctrines that sanction official misconduct by the authorities to the benefit of the guilty (and thus to the detriment of public safety) [exclusionary rule for phyisical evidence, 'fruit of poisoned tree' e.g.] aren't particularly popular.

I'm not particularly saying that this is a correct response, but for a lot of people it takes a genuinely innocent victim to cross the line between dispassionate disapproval and outrage.
12.23.2004 11:28am
Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
Anderson,

"I now live in an America that 'preemptively' invades another country that posed no direct threat to us"

And you previously lived in a country which stood by and did nothing (effective) while a dictator murdered hundreds of thousands of people in a brutal police state.

I'll leave it to you which you think is better.

For my part, I can't imagine why people talk about "international law" and get away with it. There are no international courts with jurisdiction over the world, there is no international police force and international army to enforce this court's jurisdiction. "International law" doesn't exist any more than "Martian law" or the laws of the "United Federation of Planets" exist. The mere fact that many people want it to exist and some people occasionally act like it exists doesn't make it any more real than the fact that some people actually believe in "the prime directive" as a moral principle makes Star Trek real.

The term "law" is used primarily in two ways:
1. the directives of a government
2. (loosely) the statement of moral principles

International law clearly doesn't exist in sense (1) since there is no world government (government's essence is force, and there is no international force which can coerce all nations to its will). National soverienty is at best a highly tenuous moral principle in the case of dictatorships.
12.23.2004 11:39am
James W.:
Where's the outrage? Why should there be any outrage? Liberals have ignored a lot of the most obvious aspects of the torture issue while pursuing the flights of their imagination. What has been ignored?

- The prisoners are not protected by the Geneva Convention. To extend its protections to terrorists while they shrug off its responsibilities (e.g., not beheading civilians), the Convention becomes as useful as a Denny's paper placemat. Still, treaty or not treaty, conservatives have no problem conceding that torture is bad and shouldn't be done.
- Torture has no become the most malleable word in the dictionary. Even if the Geneva Convention were binding, few of the complained-of practices would be classified as torture under it. And the ACLU/ left is not winning many converts when my fraternity initiation was tougher than what a lot of these people are put through.
- Conservatives don't trust the reports of torture. Neither should you. Why? Because those doing the reporting have a history of lying to the public. I'll believe it when it comes from a more reputable source than the ACLU and the NYT's anonymous State Dep't insiders.
- When soldiers do cross the line, they get punished. It's pretty tough to claim that the White House endorses this behavior while it sends the perpetrators to prison.

Conservatives haven't taken a stand against torture because they don't need to. Cursed be us who think with our brains instead of bleating about non-events for the sheer sense of self-importance
12.23.2004 12:04pm
H:
It is sad to see a prior poster minimizing the torture, when in fact to call it "torture" is to minimize what has occurred. Back when Abu Ghraib was disclosed, it was reported that 27 or so prisoners of the U.S. had died in either Abu Ghraib or Afghanistan. It is unlikely that any died of natural causes; there people (80-90 percent of whom were picked up at random, according to the Red Cross) were likely tortured to death. And now the ACLU has evidence that Bush personally ordered torture, and the mainstream media will not report it. But at least Bush has not, as far as we know, lied about a blow job from an intern.
12.23.2004 12:06pm
len:
Unlawful combatants deserve little more than a summary hanging. Great Britain used this mechanism a lot in World War II, sparing the rope only for truly cooperative and useful spies.

If you haven't figured out what the WTC, Madrid, and Beslan mean to you personally in the context of some 20 regional conflicts involving Islam, you're never going to. So put it out of your mind and worry about other things.
12.23.2004 12:08pm
Jimmie (mail) (www):
There's a hell of a lot of distance between the two separate allegations which are being made: 1) That the administration sanctioned things such as sleep deprivation, "stress positions", and loud music, and 2) That there are currently allegations of actual turture such as beating. That the second exist does not mean that the first has occurred also. That is the assumption that's been drawn and it is not at all supported by the evidence (being the documents obtained by the ACLU).

We wouldn't reasonably accuse a police chief of sanctioning brutality if we heard about allegationf of brutality in one of his station houses. We definitely wouldn't after we learned that the last time it happened, there was an extended investigations into the brutality and several offenders were fired and punished.

So why are we now, except that we're expecting the very worst behavior out of the Bush administration?
12.23.2004 12:21pm
Yevgeny Vilensky (mail) (www):
I find it quite fascinating that the retort often used by those who are not the bit outraged by the practices of our government at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib is that "these enemy combatants are not subject to protections under the Geneva Convention."

Color me stupid, but how do we know if they are enemy combatants or not? Obviously, everything is in some sense a battlefield judgement call. But without any kind of judicial review of these persons' status and without any protections of the GC against heinous acts committed against them, then we have no way of knowing that we are not torturing perfectly innocent people who did nothing wrong.

If there is no court, no process that gets to determine if they are combatants, your retort that these people are illegal combatants does not apply.

As for Confederate Yankee's argument that the various "stress positions", etc are not torture...

Well, certainly. The things that we have actually done is not necessarily torture, but close. But the problem, however, is not with what we have necessarily done. The problem is the legal argumentation used by Mr. Gonzalez and his pals to condone torture. It is not just stress positions that Gonzalez said were allowed. In fact, the memos indicated that the GC did not apply. Period. That left the door open to such disgusting behavior as what happened in Abu Ghraib.

Oh, and if you're chained hand and foot for 48 hours, not being able to go to the bathroom is torture. Having to mess on yourself as a result is torture. These people are not animals, as much as we may wish to think that they are. The point at which we start dehumanizing them, little by little we dehumanize ourselves and eachother. It used to be that that kind of treatment of prisoners was wrong. Period. Now, it is ok. Soon, we will think it's ok to do so to non-illegal combatants, but to our own prison population as well.
12.23.2004 12:25pm
jjasper (mail):
sorry about the double comment. The second one is the edit I wanted to get through. There's a delay in them getting posted, and I've been having some problems with Mozilla and this site.


"Unlawful combatants deserve little more than a summary hanging. Great Britain used this mechanism a lot in World War II, sparing the rope only for truly cooperative and useful spies. "

America was founded by unlawful combatants.
12.23.2004 12:27pm
Yevgeny Vilensky (mail) (www):
Oh, one more point...

Has there ever been a good economic study of criminal behavior in terms of cost-benefit analysis of crime versus punishment?

From such analysis, I think that we could reasonably argue that it is wrong to allow the disgusting behavior that occurs in our prisoners to continue.

If I go rob a bank, I likely have figured in my analysis of whether to rob the bank or not, the advertised sentences for bank robbery (well, I would have) . Since technically, torture and beatings by fellow inmates, and rape is not allowed in prisons, I may say, "hey, the small probability that I go to prison is worth it." But if we allow behavior such as rape to go on in prisons, we have essentially committed false advertising in our sentencing guidelines.

Now, I am not saying that we should make it easier for would-be criminal offenders to make use of rational choice theory to decide whether to commit a crime or not. But what I am saying is that our system is in a sense contractual and as such, we need to honor those contracts even in the case that they are broken. In exchange for being able to live in a society that protects your liberties, you agree not to infringe on those of others. If you break those rules, there is a set number of things that can happen to you. Nowhere, is prison rape listed as one of them. And if it were, I think that there would be serious Eight Amendment issues there.
12.23.2004 12:33pm
von (mail) (www):
This is in the process of descending into a shouting match, but, in answer to Publius question:

Well informed, thoughtful conservatives have expressed moral outrage regarding the torture revelations. (Sebastian Holsclaw at Obsidian Wings and Tacitus of Tacitus.org and RedState.org immediately spring to mind.) Less well informed or less thoughtful conservatives have not.

It is possible, after all, to (1) realize we're at was, and wartime justifies certain exceptional things and (2) understand the limits and intentions of the Geneva convention, without (3) approving or defending that which occurred at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.
12.23.2004 12:38pm
Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
"But without any kind of judicial review of these persons' status and without any protections of the GC against heinous acts committed against them, then we have no way of knowing that we are not torturing perfectly innocent people who did nothing wrong."

To a degree, this is always the case. What proof do we have when a cop gives someone a speeding ticket that the person was actually speeding, or that the radar really said 30mph over the limit?

There's always some element of trust of the enforcers of policy, unfortunately. Everyone taken from the battlefield can claim that he wasn't on it, and was just grabbed out of his house for no reason. If anyone can be designated an unlawful combatant, then there is going to be this sort of need for some trust.

Incidentally, unless you can tell me what the Alqaeda uniform looks like, you're going to have a hard time claiming that Alqaeda fighters were wearing it (one of the elements of being a lawful combatant).
12.23.2004 12:50pm
Pro Libertate (mail):
I've been with the GOP for 20 years, and I can assure you that I'm appalled by the abuse in which my government is engaged. If we are supposed to be the "shining light on the hill" and the champion of individual rights, how can we justify abusing prisoners, if not actually torturing them? I know the real world sometimes forces us to do things we'd rather not do, but it doesn't take an idealistic left-winger to see that a government that does this sort of thing in one situation could easily start doing it somewhere else. For instance, why not increase the pressure in, say, interrogations in the War of Drugs? This is yet another symptom of a government that increasingly lacks constitutional limits or real accountability.

There are always going to be abuses of power--at the bottom, middle, and the top--but it's our jobs as citizens to draw the line where we say, "no more". Once a real problem has been identified, everyone associated with it should be out of power. Period. "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion", right?
12.23.2004 1:04pm
Seamus (mail):
"America was founded by unlawful combatants"

Uh, no. The colonial soldiers, for the most part, fought wearing uniforms (or at least some badge or mark to distinguish them from noncombatants), were subject to organized command, and conformed to the laws and customs of war. In those cases where they didn't (e.g., Nathan Hale), they were subject to court-martial and execution.

Whether their war was legal or not is an entirely different issue.
12.23.2004 1:07pm
KW (mail):
Chris Lansdown writes:

"And you previously lived in a country which stood by and did nothing (effective) while a dictator murdered hundreds of thousands of people in a brutal police state.

I'll leave it to you which you think is better."

Umm, we _still_ live in a country which stands by and does nothing effective as a dictator murders hundreds of thousands in a brutal police state. Ever heard of North Korea?
12.23.2004 1:17pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
I am outraged at torture, and I was outraged about Abu Ghrahib, but I am more outraged at the American tort system, family justice system, criminal justice system and prison system. I am not particularly outraged at torture because I don't believe it is being sytematically practiced. I also believe that when it is practiced it is being detected in the same way (probably, unfortuneately, at the same rates) as police abuse of prisoners in this country. I furthermore believe that when it is detected it is prosecuted.

Why am I not more outraged? Too many times people have cried wolf. Too many chicken littles saying the sky is falling. The recent armor kerfuffle was an example. The even more recent machine signature kerfuffle was another example. Abu Ghrahib is another example. For about two months the media tried to tie Abu Ghrahib to higher ups. They didn't. When people repeatedly blow problems out of proportion, repeatedly make predictions about disasters which don't materialize, and repeatedly accuse the administration of incompetence, ignorance and duplicity, when they really just have a difference of opinon, the grain of salt I normally apply becomes a salt lick.

I'll go review the articles, but I'll reserve my outrage until the people like Donald Sensing and Strategy Page, who know the military, have had a chance to look things over. I am emotionally exhausted due to all the false alarms this War has presented and I am unwilling to tune up my outrage until this issue has failed to be debunked.

Let me give a couple of torture examples. There is nothing wrong with faking an execution, or hanging a noose nearby to get someone to talk. It's merely an extreme example of lies by an interregator, a good cop versus really bad cop routine.

Waterboarding is the practice of repeatedly dunking a bound prisoner to convince him you are going to drown him if he doesn't talk. I do have a problem with waterboarding, because if you screw up, you drown the prisoner. If you could safely do this and never accidentally drown/harm the prisoner I would not have a problem with it. If done right waterboarding just scares the bejesus out of the prisoner. Problem is that it is too easy to screw up, especially with a determined prisoner.

Yours,
Wince
12.23.2004 1:24pm
jjasper (mail):
"Let me give a couple of torture examples. There is nothing wrong with faking an execution, or hanging a noose nearby to get someone to talk."

Wince, the problem with this is, in cases like Iraq, no one really knows for sure who they're interrogating, or what they're guilty of. A lot of these people, when confronted with a fake execution *will lie in order to do what they think will let them live*.

Fake executions get lies just as often as they get truth. Which means any Intel we get is tainted, and likley to get soldiers killd.

What is it with the right wing trying to justify extreme techniques *that don't work*? Do you people want to get our troops killed? Do you just not care? Or are you foolish enough to still believe that using fear of death or torture works? You've been watching too much TV.
12.23.2004 1:40pm
John Jenkins (mail):
That article appears to be one long example of begging the question. Assume the truth of your assertion and you can win any argument. I don't condone torture, and neither should the U.S. Government, but my definition of torture might be a bit narrower than Publius's.
12.23.2004 1:46pm
UncleFester (mail):
I think the outrage is delayed because of Abu Ghraib.

1. Remember that the military reported the Abu Ghraib problems well ahead of the press, and that the press wasn't interested until there were some pictures.
2. There were charges pending in Abu Ghraib when the story hit the press.
3. There were convictions in Abu Ghraib, and we see prosecutions and convictions in other matters. So what's supposed to happen in these cases, is happening.
4. We saw a furor over government counsel advising that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply. But what's the alternative? Executive branch not getting legal opinions, or directing that only "warm and fuzzy" opinions be delivered?

I think there'd be more outcry if the facts were clearer and if the military didn't already have a good track record of dealing with it. This stuff can't be stopped. It can only be limited, and violators prosecuted.
12.23.2004 2:01pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Lansdowne: "Where's the proof?" Worthy of any Soviet apologist. By definition, proof of these things will not come from any Bush loyalist; only Bush loyalists can be trusted to speak the truth; ergo, these reports aren't true, Q.E.D.

Jeff R: "Our prisons are even worse, and anyway, these victims are bad people." The former only proves the point ever further. The latter begs the question. Many of the victims at Abu Ghraib were ultimately found to have done nothing wrong. And consider the case of Hamdi, who we were told was such a gross threat to the U.S. that the ordinary protections had to be discarded in his case. Where is he now? One adverse Supreme Court decision, and he's free after 3.5 years, provided he *promises not to sue the U.S.* How many more Hamdis are being abused in Guantanamo?

Confederate Yankee, by his name, associates himself with a regime that fought to protect its right to enslave other human beings. Perhaps "Soviet Yankee" will post next?

James W. resorts to legalisms, doubtless comfortable that no government agents will be beating him any time soon. Do the Geneva Conventions apply? A complex question with complex answers. Has the U.S., in every conflict before the W. regime, chosen to apply those conventions as a matter of moral, ethical, and practical rightness? Yes.

Len's "summary hangings" have their eerie parallel in the "summary beheadings" carried out by the enemies we despise. In any event, can anyone be confident that all the detainees at Guantanamo are "unlawful combatants"?

Thanks to all those who have posted above that they oppose what we're doing to our detainees. I hope you represent a majority of this site's readers. Peace on earth to those of good will!
12.23.2004 2:21pm
Chris (mail):
I don’t know if I qualify as a conservative in the classic sense, but no I am not outraged by the prison abuse and torture by American forces. When I first heard and before I saw the pictures I have to admit that I was expecting much worse. I was expecting something similar to the video of the American being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, hidden video of a CIA interrogator using a cattle prod or something out of “Midnight Express.” When I saw pictures of prisoners in naked pyramids, muzzled dogs and prisoners in uncomfortable positions I wasn’t outraged or shocked or even surprised. Why should this war be any different than all the others? American solders commit crimes just like any other military force. What is different is that the American soldiers who crossed the line into criminal behavior have been and will be prosecuted for their behavior by their own chain of command.

I agree with the utopian concept that it’s wrong to torture prisoners. It would be nice if everyone played by the same rules but first we have to define the rules and judging from Publius’ outrage, even appealing to a person’s sense of compassion would be torture, “[b]ut there is nothing – and I mean nothing – that undermines our efforts and our mission more than the torture of Muslims, especially when that torture is coldly calculated to exploit Arabs’ religious views.” Does this mean that a woman interrogator can’t wear a tight t-shirt so that it makes the prisoner “uncomfortable” or do you prohibit her from attending the session even though she is the ranking officer? Must all questioning stop during prayer time? When guards are searching a cell do they have to provide a Muslim cleric to ensure that the Koran isn’t touched by the hands of an infidel? Maybe Publius should remove his tinted partisanship glasses.
12.23.2004 2:43pm
David Innes (mail) (www):
As a moderately conservative Christian democrat I'm disturbed by the contention that torture is not illegal as long as the victim has no standing under the law. This rather sharply contradicts Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

It contradicted it when Saddam did it. It contradicts it if Americans do it.

And as a moderately conservative Christian democrat I opposed Saddams’ behavior because it was immoral, unethical, and wrong (though technically legal since he made the laws he operated under.) I appreciated the use of America's moral and military might to end his practices. If we practice the same behavior then, "legal" or not it's still immoral, unethical, and wrong. The difference being that when Saddam did it my government contributions didn't pay to do it in the first place, to deny it in the second, to cover it up in the third, and, finally, to defend it.

Machiavelli said that a good prince should be willing to sacrifice his immortal soul for the benefit of his state. If George Bush and his coven have chosen to forgo their salvation, and *if* in some way our nation benefits then so be it. They have had their reward. But if we consent to or approve of their acceptance of damnation then we shall have ours.

Machiavelli's folly, however was two fold. First, he lived in an era where it was believed that one could purchase dispensation. Thus a prince could sell his soul for temporal gain but then buy it back. I believe Martin Luther disputed this theory.

Second, though, he failed to acknowledge that traffic with Satan is always a zero-sum game. For every laudable gain recognized a horrific loss is overlooked. For every lit cigarette in a real bad guy's ear to gain useful intelligence an innocent man, woman, or child will be "merely" sodomized with a light stick for the amusement of dissolute guards. To act against the mistreatment of innocents risks questions about torture of legitimate prisoners. As a consequence all but the most licentious (and well photographed) transgressions must be denied, lest a moral American population react in disgust.

I believe Mr. Madison and others had this dour understanding of man and sin in mind -- made vivid by recent experience at the hands of troops of their own erstwhile countrymen -- when they wrote our Constitution. To the extent Americans fail to appreciate this today they are not conservative.

We can only pray that God forgive the Pharisee who knows the letter of the law but knows not God. When Mr. Bush stands at the throne of God he will have to answer himself. For his sake we must hope that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Lansdown's arguments are as persuasive Above else he will be lost.

David Innes
12.23.2004 2:50pm
Thief (mail) (www):
Remember that the jus in bello is a two-way street. If you're facing an enemy that doesn't respect the laws of war, what incentive do you have to follow them? That's like boxing under Marquis of Queensbury rules while the other guy gets to fight freestyle. What you get is a degeneration of moral expectation, so that "what is lawful" is discarded in favor of "what will win." We've seen this countless times before. Medics in the Pacific in WWII followed the Geneva Conventions and wore the Red Cross and didn't carry weapons...until they started getting picked off by Imperial Japanese snipers. So they ditched the crosses and picked up guns.

Becoming an enemy combatant (i.e. no uniforms, no open weapons, deliberate misuse of flags of truce or protected places, deliberate targeting of civilians) gives you many tactical advantages over a military that fights according to the Geneva Conventions, but you lose the protections accorded to real militaries who fight according to the laws of war. This penalty was originally created to restore some sense of humanity and order to the battlefield, and to make sure that lives were not wasted on hopeless last stands. The implicit assumption is that if you want a fair fight you will get one, or a dirty fight if you want that. (And don't dare mention Protocol I to the GC. All it does is remove the penalty and allow people who don't follow the GC to recieve the same treatment as those who do, thus removing the very incentive that the GC relies upon for real world implementation.)

I am saving my outrage for those who deserve it.
12.23.2004 2:52pm
David Innes (mail) (www):
One last point, by the way: Yes, I believe that issue may have been exaggerated by the press and by those who (correctly in my view) believe the invasion of Iraq was an unnecessary distraction from the war on Terrorism. On the other hand it's hard to imagine that our armed forces, backed by a government entirely controlled by Republicans would permit the prosecution and conviction of soldiers, nor the sanctioning of officers in the chain of command, if there were no abuses. As the quintessential "conservative" Attorney General Edward Meese pointed out, "If you weren't guilty, you wouldn't have been arrested." (I happen to believe this was an egregious misstatement of Constitutional principles, and therefore not Conservative in any meaningful sense. But I believe the debate isn’t about conservatism but about the radical extremists who claim to be "conservative." If you’re unwilling to stand by him then you have nothing to stand on at all.)

Conversely, by the Meese principle, if it is not a crime to abuse and/or torture detained unlawful combatants then why do these people also act in order to avoid arrest?

David Innes
12.23.2004 3:22pm
Jimmie (mail) (www):
"Color me stupid, but how do we know if they are enemy combatants or not? Obviously, everything is in some sense a battlefield judgement call. But without any kind of judicial review of these persons' status and without any protections of the GC against heinous acts committed against them, then we have no way of knowing that we are not torturing perfectly innocent people who did nothing wrong.

If there is no court, no process that gets to determine if they are combatants, your retort that these people are illegal combatants does not apply"

Except that there's a huge problem with this.

The Geneva Conventions weren't made to deal with courts and "combatant-determining processes". They were made so that a soldier in the field would know who were and were not legal combatants. That is why the Conventions refer to people wearing uniforms, people under arms, and so on.

It boiled the decision down to something akin to "If he's wearing a uniform, you have to take him prisoner and treat him humanely until your command decides what to do with him. If he's not, you can assume he is illegal and you can summarily execute him".

The agreement didn't deal with whether or not they did anything wrong. By definition they did something wrong (i.e. trying to kill your soldiers) simply by being on the battlefield engaged against your troops. The agreement dealt with how you held such detainees while your nation was negotiating with theirs to get them back. Essentially, "illegal combatants" were not included in the agreement because they weren't playing by the rules of warfare and were either not acting at the behest of a government or were, in which case the government was "cheating" and had no civilized claim to humane treatment.
12.23.2004 3:29pm
Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
Anderson,

I'm fine with neutral sources to constitute proof. The problem is that it's very difficult to find even neutral sources.

This is actually a problem with life in general — typically when someone is neutral to some issue they have no reason to exert themselves about it.

Even finding a jury of someone's peers is difficult in that juries must be compelled to serve and even then many people do their best to get out of such service.

But this is mostly just a restatement that life is uncertain and reliable information difficult to come by. Which is why I'm slow to believe evil about the Bush administration — they seem to generally have done a good job (disclaimer: no people are perfect and even aside from that I disagree with Bush about a number of policies) and to have so many enemies determined to accuse them not so much of anything but of everything that it generally seems more worthwhile to ignore all accuasations until some overwhelming proof is brought forth.

Another way to look at it is that the people current claiming that Bush or Rumsfeld personally authorized torture and mutilation are probably the same people claiming that 300 tons of RDX went missing, the national guard documents were real and proved Bush shouldn't be in office, the turkey was fake, there was no Plan™, there would be hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties and millions of refugees, we were going to be bogged down in quagmire in the Dread Afghan Winter, The Patriot Act massively curtailed civil liberties, etc.

In short, the first question to ask when one hears criticism of the Bush Administration is, are these the same people who were wrong about everything else? I'll start worrying about being outraged when it isn't these people producing the claims to be outraged about.

This is not an ideal epistemological framework, certainly, but so far it appears to be a fairly workable heuristic.

Certainly if (real) torture was actually officially sanctioned, I would strongly oppose it. I'm not sure if I would be outraged, though, because outrage carries with it the connotation of judgement. It is difficult to judge people who use torture to try to save their fellow soldiers (to people whose friends are being shot and blown up by IEDs, etc. this is a situation not unlike the ticking timebomb nuke-in-a-city experiments which have been discussed on this blog before).

Note: I am here assuming that the reason why torture is so commonly used is that it is at least reasonably affective at its goals. It would be very strange if it persisted for so long if that were not the case. (Additionally, I presume that simply threatening people with far worse torture if their confessions turn out to be false would prevent a great deal of faked confessions. I suspect that whatever other vices and virtues torturers have, they are probably skilled at achieving their goals.)
12.23.2004 3:32pm
A Blogger:
Brian G.,

This is a bit off-topic, but I am curious: did you support the impeachment of President Clinton?

As best I can tell, the impeachment of President Clinton was a major priority of many people at the same time that Al Qaeda was planning and training for the 9/11 attacks. Do you now see the impeachment of Clinton as the product of "desperate Clinton-haters" who should have been focused on terrorism and the threat to thousands of American lives?

If so, dis you see it differently at the time? If not, how is this consistent with your views about terrorism-- is the idea that report of torture that are being taken extremely seriously worldwide are someone less important to the United States than lying in a civil deposition unrelated to the presidency?
12.23.2004 3:43pm
AMH:
This debate is interesting because it shows a person's real moral compass. Torture is wrong period. If a person steals a loaf of bread because they are hungry, is that still stealing? Yes. If you put a lit cigarette in a prisoners ear torture, even if that person was fighting you before? Yes. By many of the justifications for these activities I have read previously, when would you stop this downward spiral? By your (many people who comment) logic then, in Vietnam, what the Vietnamese would sometimes/many times do to our captured soldiers was fine because it was 'retribution'; for the killing of their people. If you cannot hold up your own standards that you want other countries to apply, then do not expect them to do so...People seem to have short memories…Wasn’t it the US who was instrumental in crafting the Geneva Conventions? Don’t you think there was a reason? A reason that still holds today.
12.23.2004 3:55pm
Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
David,

First, there is a world of difference between "legal" and "moral". It is quite legal to have a quarrel with your brother that you never forgive him for. Within christianity, it isn't moral.

Second, there is a difference between the alleged torture and what Saddam did, though I don't know how significant it is. If americans are doing it, they're doing it to save their fellow soldiers and more generally to end the bloodshed. When Saddam did it, they did it to ensure their grasp on wealth and power.

However, even the torturers in Saddam's regime are in a strange position — for most of them if they did not perform the torture that they were instructed to, they themselves would be tortured. It doesn't make their actions excusable, but neither are they beyond the realm of comprehension or what any other person might do in the same circumstances.

I think that we can all agree that there would be no torture in the best of all possible worlds, and that there would be very little besides torture in the worst of all possible worlds. How outraged over it we should boils down, I think, to the question of where we are between those two worlds.

And it is not wholely a coincidence, I think, that affluent people living in comfort far from the dangers of the battlefield seem to think that it's a better world than those close to it. The more evil one sees, the more evil one is willing to tolerate to end it, after all.
12.23.2004 3:58pm
Cecil Turner (mail):
Publius, like many who try to apply law to warfare, is out to lunch. He misses the whole point of the Geneva Conventions, broadens the definition of torture into meaninglessness, and conflates DOD guidelines for treatment of unlawful combatants at Guantanamo with the excesses perpetrated by individuals at Abu Ghraib.

The Geneva Conventions are agreements between states to mitigate the horrors of war. It has specific requirements and definitions (e.g., for combatant status), which Al Qaeda clearly doesn't meet. Moreover, when one side systematically flouts the conventions, it makes no sense to extend all the privileges to them; in fact, it encourages other belligerents to flout them in the future.

The torture treaty also has specific definitions (and failing to provide a needed bathroom visit does not qualify). I'm sure there is an ethical argument to be made on whether government lawyers should attempt to draw the line on where "torture" begins . . . but the infamous "Torture Memo" draws a defensible line, and the DOD guidelines, as reported, don't appear to push the envelope. (BTW, my experience with "water boarding" suggests there's no significant danger of drowning, though it certainly doesn't feel that way.)

Al Qaeda detainees as Gitmo are a special case. The distinction between armed prowlers and legitimate combatants was formalized (in US custom) by the Lieber Code in 1863, which calls for summary punishment. "Unlawful combatant" is at least 50 years old, as laid out in Ex Parte Quirin:
"an enemy combatant who without uniform comes secretly through the lines for the purpose of waging war by destruction of life or property, are familiar examples of belligerents who are generally deemed not to be entitled to the status of prisoners of war, but to be offenders against the law of war subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals."
This is distinct from the Iraqis at Abu Ghraib, to whom the DOD interrogation guidelines did not apply, and whose treatment was clearly unlawful (the perpetrators of which are being punished).

Finally, the efficacy argument is unconvincing. Torture (or, more properly in this case: "torture") produces unreliable results, and compelled confessions aren't believable. But considerations are somewhat different for extracting intelligence (which can be cross-indexed to others' information)--when the detainee's primary goal is to withhold it. Obviously there is some limit to what a civilized society should sanction, but I'm not sure "waterboarding" (in limited cases) is an inappropriate limit.
12.23.2004 4:01pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
David Innes, thanks for reminding us of the Machiavellian problem. Whether it's possible to run any nation on Christian principles is doubtful, but when the self-proclaimed Party of God is the one using "The Prince" as a manual, one has to wonder ....

Anyone who has followed the news accounts of our American torturers has to be struck by the sheer practical waste as well. Machiavelli would find little if anything to approve in our jettisoning of our moral advantage. Insiders continue to complain that not only are we torturing and abusing people, we're doing so with no good result.

Chris Lansdown's last post above is thoughtful enough, but continues to suggest that FoxNews is his information source. Tons of high explosives DID go missing; it's better attested than the birth of Jesus or the death of
Socrates. A wide variety of media sources and international organizations (and I mean the Red Cross, not Al-Jazeera) have provided details of our torturing prisoners. Mr. Lansdown's mention of the faked National Guard papers is telling by contrast; those came from one news source alone, and were shot down in a few days. (I continue to think they were faked by someone familiar with the destroyed originals, but that's my own, minority opinion.) There's no comparison with our torture activities. The photos from Abu Ghraib alone should have sickened anyone who loves this country.

Cf. these recent remarks from the House of Lords, refusing to allow the government to incarcerate prisoners indefinitely (to say nothing of torturing them):

"Such a power in any form is not compatible with our constitution. The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory."

A "conservative," as I used to understand the term, was someone who agreed wholeheartedly with such words as those. Unfortunately, today's Republican leaders have no principles, only appetites. (As for the Democrats, they continue to be ... sigh ... Democrats.)
12.23.2004 4:03pm
James W.:
To Anderson:

"James W. resorts to legalisms, doubtless comfortable that no government agents will be beating him any time soon."

- A bit strange to spurn "legalisms" while opponents argue that the Administration is violating international law and attacking the Gonzales legal opinion (not against its substance, of course, - nobody has refuted the legal analysis - the attacks are simply upon its existance). If opponents want to make it a legal issue, then legalisms are a necessity, not a comfort. And legalisms would net me a nice damage award if government agents came to beat me without cause

"Do the Geneva Conventions apply? A complex question with complex answers."

- The analysis is complex, but the answer is simple: no. The very existence of complexity hardly aids the arguments that the Administration is malicious and brazen in its tactics.

"Has the U.S., in every conflict before the W. regime, chosen to apply those conventions as a matter of moral, ethical, and practical rightness? Yes."

- That's a strange claim considering how liberals can be so fond of holding up every example of actual or claimed U.S. war atrocities throughout history as proof that the U.S. is a cruel and evil empire. Now, miraculously, Anderson denies that they ever existed at all. This war is no different. Some soldiers screw up. Most don't. War opponents don't care either way. They just enjoy the chance to protest.
- Even if the Geneva Convention did apply, none of the treatment described recently would be torture under the treaty.

There's a gaping distance between whether the tactics currently used and actually sanction by the Administration ARE allowed or SHOULD BE banned. The answer to the first is "yes." The answer to the second is much more open. Don't confuse the two.
12.23.2004 4:04pm
SupremacyClaus (mail):
Come the next terror attack on our soil, we have a dandy list of interrogation second guessers, here.
12.23.2004 4:06pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
James W. makes some fair points, but the argument stands: Americans should not abstain from torture because of the Geneva Conventions. They should abstain from torture because they are Americans. Any American who doesn't think that's sufficient reason is not someone I'm comfortable sharing a country with.

It's a mischaracterization, though, to say that I claimed we've never committed atrocities. We certainly have, like every other nation. But we're not talking about a rogue Lt. Calley here. We're talking about a sustained policy of tolerating or promoting the use of techniques which, if the police used them on my wife, I would have no trouble recognizing as torture. I doubt anyone else on this thread would have any more trouble than I would, despite the quibbling. The real fact of the matter is that many people have decided that torture is okay.

I keep quoting Winston Churchill on the first World War:

"When all was over, Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves: and they were of doubtful utility."

So much for moral progress.
12.23.2004 4:20pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Um, folks, the issue of the applicability of the Geneva Conventions (the favorite conservative talking point in defense of the mistreatment of prisoners) has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of torture, because torture is prohibited by the Convention Against Torture, and that treaty-- which was signed and ratified by the United States-- applies universally without regard to whether the prisoner is an unlawful combatant. (By the way, the term of art you folks are looking for is "unlawful combatant", not "enemy combatant". "Enemy combatant" includes lawful combatants who are clearly protected by the Geneva Conventions as well as the Torture Convention.)

The Gonzeles "torture memo" attempts to answer the question of when coercive interrogation tactics constitute "torture" under the Torture Convention, and whether the President has the inherent power to torture prisoners anyway despite the treaty. (In my opinion, it gives gravely wrong and disingenuous answers to both questions.) But the "these folks didn't follow the rules of war and therefore aren't protected by the Geneva Convention" argument is a complete nonstarter when it comes to torture.
12.23.2004 5:11pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
jjasper,

I don't believe that torture doesn't work. (But I do believe it is wrong and won't countenance it.) I don't believe that faked executions don't work. I believe that people will lie, not just in those cases, but also to stop ordinary interrogations, to win their freedom and for many other reasons. So should we just let everyone go?

There are ways to detect lies under severe (but not tortuous) interrogation and there are ways to discourage lying under severe (but not tortuous) interrogation. They don't always work. Neither do they always work under normal interrogation.

People lie. Doesn't mean you stop asking them questions.

Yours,
Wince
12.23.2004 5:12pm
SupremacyClaus (mail):
How come all postings are not open to comment? Open the window for fresh air in the scholarly corpse scene.

I am being civil, attacking no one, and trying to be pleasant. This is an understatement.
12.23.2004 5:33pm
BDS (mail):
1) Outrage among war/occupation supporters exists, but it seems to generally be expressed privately and quietly. The public positions of supporters/opponents seem to be "not one step backward". When opponents are more openly supportive of efforts to move forward with stabilization efforts in Iraq, perhaps supporters will be more openly critical of their own fellow travellers.

2) Irrespective of whether the exceptional privileges of the Geneva Conventions apply to detainees, there are other minimum standards which are supposed to be applied universally.

For example, from "Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, G.A. res. 43/173, annex, 43 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 298, U.N. Doc. A/43/49 (1988)" (courtesy U of Minnesota Human Rights Library online):

"Principle 6. No person under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. No circumstance whatever may be invoked as a justification for torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

I don't know what the status of the document (eg. ratification, if applicable) is, but if it is universally applicable to UN member states I really don't see any wiggle room there.
12.23.2004 5:58pm
ld:
If you call not letting someone go to the bathroom torture, what do you call lashing someone's feet until they bleed and cannot stand for days? That is what happened to Canadian William Sampson in a Saudi prison. You lose the concept of torture when you apply it to taking naked pictures of prisoners. Humiliation is completely different from torture, as I'm sure Mr. Sampson could attest to.

Americans, overall, are a very humane and fair people, although there are always bad apples in any group. How can you be outraged by perceived torture when the soldiers that committed these acts are being prosecuted and sent to jail? You learn best from your mistakes.
12.23.2004 5:59pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
jjasper,

Oh, and before you retort that I am not an expert (and I am not) and the gentleman you are quoting is, I will reply thus: We don't have an expert here. We have you interpreting an expert. Later, if you dig up the quotes, we may have you quoting the expert. We still won't have an expert. In the absense of an expert to interrogate, err, cross-examine, we have to do the analysys ourselves. You are quite correct that people will sometimes lie to stop torture, avoid a threatened execution, avoid humiliation, get out of the stress positions, turn off the loud music and get some sleep. But people will also sometimes tell the truth. So these things have a success rate and a failure rate. People also lie and tell the truth in tesponse to polling. So should we stop polling people?

In all cases we must work to increase our success rate and eliminate what false information we can even when we can't get the truth. There are ways to do this. Were we able to cross-examine your expert, I have no doubt we would find that what I am saying is true.

That means we will have to go to a deeper level of analysys. Got an deeper level of expert analysys? Good. Link it and we'll discuss that.

Yours,
Wince
12.23.2004 6:38pm
James W.:
To Anderson:

The questions appear to boil down to what torture is and why the Geneva Convention was created.

The Geneva Convention's definition is narrow; but are uncomfortable positions, faked executions, sensory deprivation torture in a moral sense? No. It's difficult to explain what is or is not torture (outside of drawing blood, beatings, electrocution, extreme pain, etc.; is threatening a suspect with an increased sentence if they don't testify against co-defendants torture?) and the essence of the issue is whether a narrow or broad definition is used. This isn't a squishy "who's to judge?" argument. The narrow definition of torture is far more acceptable when asking why the U.S. is using these tactics against enemy combatants and not against your wife (your example, not mine).

We don't value the lives of enemy combatants as much as we value the life of even the most vile American criminal. We value their lives enough not to kill them or sanction truly painful tactics, but if lesser torture (for lack of a better term) works, then, balanced against our disregard for their lives, we use it. Your wife gets much better treatment in a police station because (1) she's not obsessed with blowing up soldiers and civilians, men, women, and children alike in a fanatical crusade; and (2) the information she would possess (where she hid the bodies, when's the next drug shipment coming in?) is not nearly as important as obtaining information to stop the insurgency and foiling the next mass murder. By their actions, their absolute disregard for any basic rules of combat and absolute disregard for any humanity, their own humanity is degraded in our eyes. To us (whether we say it out loud or not), they are barely human beings because of what they do (or plotted to do, or attempted to do) to other human beings. The Geneva Convention was the incentive for warring states to treat each other with a minimal amount of regard (wearing uniforms, no torture, no attacks on civilians, etc.). The refusal of the enemy combatants to adhere to these basic rules is why the military is on a longer leash (no pun intended) in the public's eyes. The information is too important. Regard for their humanity is not important enough.

It feels nice (and even quasi-logical) to claim that we should treat the detainees with the utmost respect in order to encourage the insurgents to stop killing civilians, using civilians as human shields, murder relatives of Iraqi officials, etc. But they simply won't stop. Ever. Fanatics do not think like us, value like us, grieve like us, or value the lives of innocents like us. They will give no quarter and only exploit our self-imposed handicaps.
12.23.2004 7:26pm
Cecil Turner (mail):
"But the "these folks didn't follow the rules of war and therefore aren't protected by the Geneva Convention" argument is a complete nonstarter when it comes to torture."

Actually, it's quite pertinent, depending on how you define "torture." If the standard is Geneva Convention POW protections, it's perfectly hands-off:
"Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."
The reported DOD guidelines (e.g., manipulating temperature, mild sleep deprivation, stress positions) would clearly violate the Geneva Convention if Gitmo detainees were entitled to POW status. If not, their only protection is the Convention Against Torture (and related statute), which forbids inflicting "severe pain or suffering." And it's hard to see how any of those guidelines would qualify (which was the main point of the infamous Bybee "torture memo").
12.23.2004 7:30pm
jjasper (mail):
The bit with quotation marks around it was a direct quote. "torture does not wor". So you've got me quoting an expert.

But I agree, what you *should* be looking for is the US army's own manual on interrogation. Here's a quote:

"The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor. condoned by the US Government. Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear. However, the use of force is not to be confused with psychological ploys, verbal trickery, or other nonviolent and noncoercive ruses used by the interrogator in questioning hesitant or uncooperative sources."

FM 34-52 Interrogation Manual, US Army.

I'll say it again: Torture. Does. Not. Work.
12.23.2004 8:01pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
jjasper,

"However, the use of force is not to be confused with psychological ploys, verbal trickery, or other nonviolent and noncoercive ruses used by the interrogator in questioning hesitant or uncooperative sources."

You mean like a fake execution?

I'm not convinced that fake execution doesn't work. (I am leaving aside true torture as well as the other methods which may or may not be torture, since I think we have established that fake executions are not torture, and I do not condone torture.) You haven't added much information to our discussion, because you haven't provided the analysys which led to the content in the interrogation manual. How unreliable is a fake execution? Are there any means available for increasing that reliability? How often does it damage subsequent collection efforts? Are there any means available for decreasing that damage? Is it a faster method, when time is essential? To me, a fake execution is just an extreme example of good cop/bad cop. Are you going to tell me that good cop (I'm your friend) / bad cop (I want to kill this piece of blankety-blank) doesn't work?

I do believe that methods which are designed to win the cooperation of the prisoner are better when time pressure is absent.

After all, we are arguing about what should be in the manual, so the manual itself can hardly be a definitive source.

And while putting periods in the middle of your sentence and using all-caps shows passion, it isn't convincing. I've tried that, and cursing too. Never works for me either.

Yours,
Wince
12.23.2004 8:30pm
BReed (mail) (www):
jjasper-
Fair enough, but that policy was written pre-9/11, just like the quaint Geneva Conventions, the Bill of Rights and that terrorist-coddling Magna Carta ;-)

In all seriousness, though, I think we have to address new security threats in a post-9/11 world (i.e., pre-emptive strikes to prevent nuclear terrorism are obviously justified and shouldn't require any kind of U.N. approval) without falling into a moral black hole.

My problem with the Bushies is that they don't want to publicly debate the question: how should we treat alleged "unlawful combatants" after 9/11? Gonzales' memo seemed to be saying, "However the President sees fit." The rule of law should not be entrusted to one man.

-Brad Reed
12.23.2004 8:30pm
BReed (mail) (www):
Wince-
You'll notice the first sentence say the use of "threats" is forbidden. I'm fairly certain a fake execution qualifies as a threat (although it seems kind of odd to prohibit the use of all threats- I mean, can't the interrogator at least "threaten" to keep the person in jail until they give information? This is far too vague...)
12.23.2004 8:42pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Hey "A Blogger" - to answer your question, I was 100% against the impeachment of Clinton. I thought it was a waste of time.

I don't remember what I said exactly because my comment was deleted. I guess if you don't see this so-called "torture" as evil you aren't welcome to comment here. Ashcroft is evil, Rumsfeld is a war criminal. (I figure if I put that in my answer to you won't be deleted)
12.23.2004 9:27pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Most of what we know about the abuse of prisoners comes from US government investigations of the abuse of prisoners. How is it that these activities are being investigated if they are authorized? This reduces the outrage because observers feel it they are being taken care of.

One can (BTW) defeat an insurgency militarily. If you kill enough people they eventually get tired of dying. Their attitude changes as did the attitude of the other death cults we've fought (Aztecs, Japanese, Nazis).

Since the opposition doesn't take (and keep) our troops prisoners our treatment of prisoners doesn't improve their treatment of prisoners.

Perhaps most conservatives aren't concerned because they know that the lefties who are complaining about our actions don't want us to win anyway (as they didn't want us to defeat the commies). One rarely takes advice from those who are on the side of the enemy.

Or perhaps conservatives are not interested in taking advice from those who think that we invaded Iraq in 2003 (we've occupied Iraqi territory since 1991), who think that we went to war with Iraq in 2003 (we resumed an existing war with them then), or who (like John Forbes Kerry) wanted the NLF to win the Vietnam war. Not to mention those who are not aware that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to everyone, everywhere. Note that we are no longer the "occupying power" in Iraq (since June). This means that the insurgency has become a civil war and civil wars can be much more brutally repressed under customary international law.

And finally conservatives might not want to take advice on the requirements for handling prisoners from those who didn't notice that our current enemies don't believe in surrender and must either be killed or chained. In Afghanistan there were three major prisoner revolts that killed guards and others (the hospital, the hill fort, and the Pakistan army escort incident).
12.23.2004 9:59pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
BReed,

I saw that. Forbidden by what and when applied to whom? The Geneva Convention forbids it being applied to lawful combatants. Threats certainly aren't forbidden in police interrogations. And again, since we are (to some extent) arguing what the rules should be, I'm not convinced that the manual, or even the Geneva Convention, for that matter, are to be considered holy writ.

Off topic: The advice on civil posts and understatement given in the comment rules is excellent. I'm tempted to steal it for my comments, but I doubt I could convince the Supreme Court it was a parody.

Yours,
Wince
12.23.2004 10:26pm
Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
Anderson,

Actually, I've seen probably 2 hours of FOX news in my life.

About 10 years ago I was involved in a minor local news story. When I watched all of the news channels and saw every one of them get the facts wrong, I decided that TV news is somewhere between worthless and bad for society (granted, I was never exactly impressed with it to begin with).

Even apart from bias, I tend to view all news reports (from newspapers, etc.) with a fair amount of skepticism simply because I I gather that most journalists are not very intelligent people. This is many times worse when it comes to any field which could concievable require more mathematical knowledge than counting (e.g. science, business, economics, etc.). There are of course at least a few good reporters, but to make decisions based on what the media reports requires, to my mind, a great deal of evidence, since the media can be relied upon to get most of it wrong (in some subjects more than others).

And I generally use the rule that if it comes from an anonymous source I ignore it, no matter how "senior" the source is.

Incidentally, plenty of conservatives express outrage over abu ghraib and plenty figured that it went without saying. What's at issue here is not Abu Ghraib, but whether to call for the resignation of Rumsfeld (or impeach Bush, or whatever) because they're responsible for it. Thus bringing up what happened at abu ghraib is immaterial.
12.23.2004 11:54pm
Crime & Federalism (mail) (www):
First, I'm not sure how anyone can claim that the "tortue" includes only those acts that cause extreme physical pain in the interrogee. Like the fellow who requested that those making this argument read the U.S. Army's manual on interrogation, I'll also recommend a book: Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing. I also can understand why some people might be getting uncivil. Just as it's not possible to debate proximate cause with somoene who won't read Pfaltzgraff (or some analog), it's also impossible to discuss tortue with those who come to the table with a priori "knowledge" about what bends and disfigures people. Tortue as such is a fasinating topic, so fascinating, in fact, that it covers conduct well beyond what we might see in the London Dungeon.

Second, most of my friends in the Bible Belt think that people who receive torture deserve it. Just as people make jokes about prison rape, so too are they unmoved by our enemies' suffering. I think there is no outrage because we Americans, with our personal responsibilty ethic, are usually indifferenct to people receiving their just desserts.

Third, I am outraged that we are tortuing people, not because it's bad as such, but because it serves no legitimate military interest.

Let me quote from Sun Tzu and his colleagues(I hope we can agree that they understood such things):

Zhang Yu
"Captured soldiers should be well treated, to get them to work for you."

Master Sun
"This is called overcoming the opponent and increasing your strength to boot."

***

Mei Yaochen
"When you capture soldiers, give them responbilities according to their strengths, take care of them kindly, and they will work for you."
Ho Yanxi
"If you use the enemy to defeat the enemy, you will be strong wherever you go."
Sun Tzu, The Art of War at 63-64, translated by Thomas Cleary, (Shambhala, 1988).

Von Clausewitz also taught against generals treating military acts as being ends in themselves (Clausewitz and others recognize that every military act that does not bring the army further to vicory is wasted), writing in On War: "If prisoners and captured guns are those things by which the victory principally gains substance, its true crystallisations, then the plan of the battle should have those things specially in view; the destruction of the enemy by death and wounds appears here merely as a means to an end." The POWs are being tortured as an end in itself. As others have artfully demonstrated (and as our Supreme Court recognized in Miranda), coerced confessions are inherently unreliable.

Thus, I think that we should be outraged, since the only thing we accomplish through tortue is to inspire future people to kill us.
12.24.2004 12:31am
jjasper (mail):
Wince: Actual statistical research on this is hard to come by, not the sort of thing that can be replicated in the academic world without serious moral problems.

Here's a CFAP report on the use of torture to get information: link and an op.ed by a professional interrogator: link

Everything I can find that's been written by professional interrogators seems to indicate that your suggestions (fake executions, etc...) are a poor choice of action.

The apropriate question you need to ask is: is there any indication that torture is more effective than what the army manual suggests. My research and reading indicates that there is no indication of that. The more effective reliable methods are not torture.

To take the counterpoint, can you show me any studies or commentary that show that torture is an effective way of producing useful intelligence?
12.24.2004 12:53am
Anand:
Having spoken with people on the left. There are a few questions I'd like answered:

1) What is the specific definition of torture?

From what I have heard, by the application of the Convention on Torture, anything where the prisoner is not happy to be interacting with a questioner can be construed as torture. It also means that any intimdation can be construed as torture.

That is not a situation that I can appreciate as legitimate or useful. It probably also means that everyone has been tortured.

If intimidation (causing mental anguish) is torture, please tell me what techniques are allowable. Is there a line of acceptable intimdation? Because without a line drawn, it is all torture. And if it is all torture, then there is very little difference in how far over the line you go.

The Bush Administration has drawn some lines. They specifically allow stress positions and sleep deprivation among their techniques which they do not considered torture. Disagreement is allowed, but they did draw a line. If you want it moved, lobby or sue to have it moved.

2) What level of proof is required to detain people on the battlefield and hold them in custody?

I've heard people advocating that the army must present enough evidence to pass the criminal conviction test. If they cannot find witnesses and proof that the prisoner was found on the battlefield and with a weapon then he should be let go.

The cost in American soilders lives is irrelevant because these are wars of choice. This generally means that I think American soilders should take no prisoners and eliminate any witnesses in order to avoid a revolving door of American civil judicial oversight for insurgents, partisans, and terrorists.

It looks like American soilders are to be held to American civil standards. If this is the case, I look forward to seeing the ACLU and other lawyers/NGOs working with the poor victims of American aggression to secure them their rights in an American court of law. And I hope they are treated as non-uniformed enemy combatants.

Simply put, I utterly disagree that American civil law standards should be applied to American soilders on a battlefield. I think it will reduce the efficiacy of the military to an irresponsible degree.

3) What does it mean when the enemy does not follow the Geneva Convention? What are our obligations?

The enemy has used religious structures as basing. The enemy has abused flags of truce and surrender. The enemy does not extend Geneva Convention priviledges to American soilders. The enemy is not in uniform, and the enemy does not abide by any of the restrictions that would make them legal combatants (killing and torturing civilians is generally a bad thing).

American soilders are within their Geneva Convention rights to not accept any surrender, to bomb and destroy mosques and hospitals. But I've only heard condemnation of American troops for inflicting damage on mosques. So obviously America is held to a higher standard than the Geneva Convention. What is it?

Our enemies are held to no standard at all.

4) If it is the case that the enemy can do anything they want to American soilders, and there will be no condemnation, how do you expect soilders to abide by any treaty restrictions at all?

Where is the benefit to US soilders in abiding by treaty restrictions? American moral high ground? Apparently America has no moral high ground, in which case what is there to lose? From what I can see, America is a lot more open and transparent about what is going on, to the extent of internal investigations and prosecutions. Of course, there is no credit for actually abiding by our treaty obligations as we undertand them.

Better treatment from our foes? That would be nice, I don't see it happening any time soon. Where were the prosections of Vietnamese who tortured Americans? How about Somalia?

Credit for being better than countries whose soilders open fire on an unarmed civilian crowd when peace keeping? Isn't happening. Credit for performing less torture and sex trade of civilians in places like Somalia and Bosnia? Don't see that either.

5) Yes torture is bad. When it occurs I would like those who participated in it to be tried. I would like agreement that if prosecutions for torture are taking place that the defendants deserve at least a right to a fair trial.

It looks like some of the incidents are taking place in the gray area where the Convention on Torture has not been deemed to apply by the US government (from quite a while ago). If deaths took place, then it might merit a count of willful manslaughter, unless you can prove intent to kill. I want to know if this is acceptable. From what I have read, that wouldn't be enough.

Where torture did take place, I do want to see prosecutions.

Of course, given that the Convention on Torture seems far too vague, I'm dubious as to the value of it except for China, Saudi Arabia, and other countries to sign it and yell at the US. NGOs of course will have a field day applying it to the US.

If it turns out that officially mandated techniques are in the gray area/not covered by the Convention on Torture, would you be disappointed if Bush isn't impeached/convicted? If you would be disappointed, why should I accept you as an honest broker?

-- Anand
12.24.2004 2:16am
KGHahn (mail):
I oppose the use of torture because of it's effects on the torturer. Even when I cannot sympathize with the victim, I think the use of real pain of excessive stress is immoral. Torture always diminishes the torturer.
I don't know how much of the treatment here is torture and how much is necessary inconvenience in holding dangerous and uncooperative prisoners. Whatever is unnecessary should be stopped. But holding a person against his will is not torture.
We could have a serious and civil discussion and might even make some progress toward ending mistreatment. But instead we get the usual sneering tone from Publius. We get the usual leftist ground rules which state that they'll lower themselves to listen to conservatives or Republicans if we'll concede that they have the moral high ground and are in possession of all the facts. Instead of "what is torture and how can it be eliminated?", we get "where is the OUTRAGE?"
Okay, where is the liberal outrage over Bill Clinton's bombing of civilians in Serbia? Where was the outrage over the massive pollution of the Danube? Where was the outrage over the UN's systematic rape and torture in Congo, Rwanda and a hundred other places around the globe?
I'm sorry if I seem less than pleasant, but no one likes being talked down to. If the left wants to persuade anyone on the right of their point of view, then I respectfully suggest that you start by dropping the self-righteous tone. I am more than willing to try to find common ground. I am even willing to be outraged. Publius might try to convince rather than lecture.
The argument against torture is neither liberal or conservative, neither left nor right, neither Republican or Democrat. It is human. If we can start with respect for our common humanity, then we might get somewhere.
12.24.2004 9:50am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Checking in after a day away, I see no changed minds, and I'm sure my own rhetoric and logic are insufficient to the task.

I've gotta say, though, that I'm just astonished to see ostensibly reasonable, moral people trotting out this "our enemies are monsters, so we've got to become monsters" line. That makes sense only from people who have no sense of Right or Wrong, only of Winning or Losing.

Suppose that sociologists demonstrate, to a fair degree of persuasion, that having one's female relative raped is the worst humiliation to a male in the insurgents' culture, one that will leave him a psychological wreck. (This is a hypo, not a truth about Arab/Islamic culture.) Is it then okay for us to kidnap insurgents' female relatives, videotape their being raped by U.S. soldiers, and then broadcast the tapes on our own Iraq-based porn network?

I mean, why the heck not? These people are animals; all they understand is force; anything to stop another 9/11; etc., etc., ad nauseam.

That's it for me on this thread; thanks to Prof. Kerr, and I close with the wisdom of Fafblog:

"What will the next leap forward in American human rights be? Equal rights for gay Americans? Universal health care? Or maybe it'll be the casual acceptance of torture as a tool of the state! The possibilities are endless."
12.24.2004 10:24am
SupremacyClaus (mail):
Anderson: We have a duty to survive. This a lesson that has been taught by history. If an enemy does not see us as human, attacks innocent civilians, self-restraint is treason. Suicide bombing is a good technology of war. We have an affirmative duty to reply to it by killing all intellectuals, financiers, and religious leaders who so much say a single word adverse to our side, all 1 million. This is in loving, persuasive correction. It is for their own good. Bombing hapless peasant weddings should stop, as ineffective. It took 7 megadeaths in Germany, and 6 in Japan to help those better educated and more intelligent peoples to see our point of view, in 1945. They thanked us later.

The answer to your question is, maybe, if it works, but first smear pork fat all over them. That is a fact question to be answered by trying it.

Once the Taliban rule here, the lawyer will be among the first to be shot in a soccer stadium (football and baseball will have been eliminated), second in line only to members of a certain ethnic group that should have learned by now to stop advocating accomodation.
12.24.2004 12:56pm
Cecil Turner (mail):
"I'm just astonished to see ostensibly reasonable, moral people trotting out this "our enemies are monsters, so we've got to become monsters" line."

I'm astonished to see otherwise reasonable people unable to distinguish between thumbscrews and iron maidens on the one hand, and "stress positions" on the other. It's also a bit disconcerting to hear arguments that unlawful combatants should receive hearings to determine if they should be held (something no POW in uniform is entitled to), essentially rewarding them for failing to abide by the Geneva Conventions. It's hard to see why any group of combatants would follow the laws of war if we consistently provide incentives to flout them.

The other point missed by most is Anand's para 4 above. Combatants who fail to abide by the Geneva requirement to distinguish themselves from civilians cause more inadvertent deaths among those civilians as soldiers act to protect themselves. Also, it's a lot easier for a soldier to simply shoot an enemy combatant rather than take prisoners. Foisting an unrealistic set of rules on them is likely to cause more abuse as soldiers faced with judgment calls decide the risks of capturing enemies (or perceived enemies) aren't worth it.

Finally, it's not "monstrous" to discourage unlawful combatants, and the only way to do that is by providing a stark disincentive. The traditional law of war is very definite on the subject (from the Lieber code):
"Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers - such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates." [emphasis added]
Contrasting that with "stress positions," tends to diminish the outrage felt over the latter.
12.24.2004 2:13pm
J. Peden (mail):
I started out trying to prove that torture is justified in the case of our current war against Islamofascists, but am styimed by being unable to prove or know that torture can produce valid information which will further that war. If the latter is not a realistic possibility, for whatever reason, we can't torture prisoners, but we cannot either let them go. Anyway, here is the argument. It presumes we do not all have a glorified death wish, in which we would allow ourselves to be slaughtered as the highest expression of our principles, thus somehow proving their and our Good. Our death does not further prove our principles unless this is the principle, proof only by death, which raises death to some kind of Ultimate, making the sacrifice noble in a way with which I disagree:

We are justified in using torture in the case of sadomasochists who want to kill us. Some of these sadomasochists have declared war upon us and have acted in an unprovoked, humanly unreasonable way. That is, they are sadomasochists.

Not many will condone torture for torture's sake. Some who do condone such torture are those people we are fighting, the sadomasochists.

The fact of the Islamofascists' sadomasochism has to be accepted. They give no other reason for their acts, though they do have excuses, which are not valid, so far as I can tell.

It's too bad for them, and us, if they believe their own excuses, choosing war as opposed to arguing their excuses. They have had the choice and still do, to quit and make their case, though I have heard nothing which verges on a reason for them to go forth with war as a first step, nor to convince me they are not sadomasochists.

But the prisoners we take are taken for a reason other than torture. We are not sadists.

Other than taking them off the battlefield, the reason is to get information. Maltreatment of prisoners merely to inhibit nonprisoners would seem to me to be non-productive in a net sense.

The principles of War have nothing to do with the principles upon which the warring societies operate, in the sense that winning is the goal of war, not the enactment of other principles. Winning is certainly the goal in itself when one of the societies is bent upon total destruction of the other involving its populace and its principles. This justifies a fight to the death, therefore including torture, where and if appropriate.

Islamofascism is not even a society, unless it is a "society" of Islamofascists desiring to create a society of Islamofascists, a society of sadomasochists, except for the few who will try to exclude themselves from the masochist end of it - the "Leaders", who might be hypocritical, or not, regarding their belief that it is good to do the will of Allah, necessarily demonstrated by killing themselves in order to kill Infidels.

No government conscripted any of them. If some among the Islamofascists were coapted while not being really Islamofascists, they will have a chance to be uncoapted if we capture them. Otherwise, it's up to them. Again they have choices. They should have been thinking about this all along. If any are not capable of such thought, tough shit.

If all suspected Islamofascist prisoners claim to be "non-combatants", then we can find out by applying graded pressure, leading on to torture, if they are really masochists or not by applying the torture and assessing the response, particularly regarding each's credibility and the credibility of their information. Each prisoner can choose what to do to be involved in this process, given that some process will occur.

Those who are either really non-combatants, or not as masochistic as they thought, will acceed to the torture, at some point or other. Possibly some will be actually saved in this process, even in spite of their failure to take advantage of their previous choices, which are many, if they are not sadomasochists, not Islamofascists.

Those who are masochists may end up dead, as they should be, also since they are in addition probably Islamofascist sadists who will want to kill us if given any chance. They have no other reason to fight, no other societal principles to defend or fight for.

That's how I see it, and how I would proceed, if I were to have a reasonable expectation that torture can produce useful information.

Our principles have no application to those who want to destroy us and our principles. Through torture, if necessary, we can find out who they are, and they will be rewarded in one way or another.

We are in a war to save our principles and ourselves, not to enact our principles in war for the benefit of sadomasochists.

Again, our principles do not transcend our ability to preserve them. Those who disagree or have another principle which asserts that their own deaths are the ultimate way to prove or justify their principles are free to do so. But I think they are confused and am not going to follow them.

The only question regarding the use of torture is is it effective in furthering our war against sadomasochists.
12.24.2004 6:40pm
jjasper (mail):
I started out trying to prove that torture is justified in the case of our current war against Islamofascists, but am styimed by being unable to prove or know that torture can produce valid information

And of course, being presented with information that shows that torture reliably produces *invalid* information.

I'm disheartened by the conservative rush to classify torture as a reliable means of gaining information with absolutley no valid research, or even annecdotal infomation to back up the idea that torture is a valid way of getting information.

I'm also dissapointed in the lack of academic research skills shown here in support of the pro-torture concept. I expected better points from blog readers of an academic blog.
12.24.2004 8:09pm
Jim Hu:
I just posted my thoughts on Publius' question on my blog. The whole thing is way too long for this comments section, but the shorter version would be:

1) I (and I suspect many others) condemn the torture and hope that the prosecution of abusers reflects seriousness about stamping it out.
2) I think that inexperience and lack of training are a more plausible explanation for the abuses than an administration mandate...and I'm not ready to join Publius and others in thinking that the case has been made for the abuse being directed from the highest levels.
3) I think there's reluctance to pile onto the lower ranking abusers because it's hard to not have some empathy for the difficulty of their situation. This doesn't excuse them at all, but it means that being punished within the system is enough. They don't need to be publicly pilloried by a bunch of bloggers.
12.24.2004 10:19pm
J. Peden (mail):
jjasper, good reading!
12.24.2004 11:48pm
Bruce Hayden (mail):
I think that one problem with this discussion here, and, in particular, in the MSM, is the failure to distinguish between Abu Ghraib and Gitmo.

Abu Ghraib was portrayed as systemic of the approach of the U.S. military in Iraq. But that belies the evidence. Contrary to the liberal assumptions of the times, no other similar events have surfaced. We are thus forced I think to admit the obvious - it was an isolated instance.

The reason that I never got overly incensed about Abu Ghraib was that, in perspective, it is de minimis. Why? Because it involved a very small number of inadequately trained and supervised troops. By all indications, less than 0.01% (or as Eugene would probably say, 1%%) of the troops then in Iraq were involved. If you include all of our troops rotated through the country during the war, the percentage is even lower.

I compare this to the widespread hazing still going on in fraternities on American campuses today, much of which is probably worse. Yet, the participants in the hazing and in Abu Ghraib are approximately the same age, etc. I just marvel that it is not much more widespread in Iraq than it has shown itself to be, given the age of those fighting there.

Add to this that the incidents were reported, investigated, and prosecuted. Soldiers are in prison right now for doing to Iraqis what would be laughed off if done here during a fraternity initiation.

It should also be remembered that war crimes (and I don't think that Abu Ghraib ever rose to that level) occur during every war. In WWII, lead units of Patton's Third Army apparently executed some prisoners in order to not be slowed down. Similarly, the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge executed Allied POWs. The Japanese ended up brutally killing a large percentage of the Americans captured at Manila killed a number of American POWs in Korea, and the VC and NVA did the same in Vietnam. Indeed, torture was routine by the other side during that war, as evidenced, for example, by what John McCain experienced and witnessed at the Honoi Hilton. I don't believe that Gen. Patton ever condoned those actions by his troops, nor did the president.

In other words, War is Hell, and the people involved often do things that they wouldn't consider doing in more peaceful times.

Gitmo, by its very nature, is more systemic. It was intentionally set up offshore on U.S. held territory, but not in the U.S. in order to bypass some potential legal problems that may have cropped up if the prisoners had been brought to the U.S. proper.

But that doesn't mean that it is wrong. By most indications, the U.S. is keeping within both the Geneva Convention and the above mentioned treaty on torture. And a lot of valuable information has come out.

Commentators above have suggested that torture is unreliable. The U.S. military is well aware of that. That is why corraboration is important. If one sleep deprived prisoner states that, for example, OBL is in, say, London, he would not be believed. But if five do independantly, then the intelligence is probably considered more credible.

But am I overly concerned with what is going on there? No. Many formerly held there have been released, some to fight us again. Presumably because they didn't have much usable information. And, by and large, those who have been and those that are held there bore arms against our troops.

So, what should we do with captured illegal combatants who try to kill our troops? Summarily kill them? Try to get as much information from them as humanely as possible? Or just treat them as if they were POWs under the Geneva Convention?
12.29.2004 8:25pm