Your Lying Eyes

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15 May 2009

Will the Torture Never Cease?

The endless talking about torture, that is. Now the big talk is over what Madame Speaker knew and when she knew it. Republicans are of course charging her with hypocrisy since she was apparently aware 7 years ago about a practice that she now contends was heinous and said nothing about it then. She claims, not very convincingly, that the CIA didn't tell her they actually did waterboard anyone. But to be fair, imagine the howls if she had said anything back then - those calling her a hypocrite now would have called her a traitor. Still, wouldn't it have been incumbent on her to have spoken out about it then even if it risked her career? Her argument, that she thought about revealing it then, but decided to win back the congress instead as a more effective approach, is too silly to consider.

But far more important, and therefore generally ignored in the press, is the question of what the point of the torture was. Former Powell aide Lawrence Wilkerson is charging that the point of the torture was not to "protect American lives" but to elicit evidence to justify the Iraq war. I sadly admit that this is all too believable - and if true would surely justify prosecution of the former Vice President and anyone else behind it. Torturing a few jihadi thugs in the wake of 9/11 is nothing to lose sleep over, but torturing them because they're not telling you what you want to hear about a conspiracy that didn't exist - well that's another whole ballgame.

And this would be a good opportunity for Republicans to start weaning themselves from the poisonous Bush foreign-policy teat. The Bush administration was one big mistake, and the Republican party will continue to whither away unless it takes steps to disconnect itself from those sorry years. So they need to take these opportunities when they can. There's much else they need to do, of course, but that's a subject for a different post.

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Blogger Figgy said...

Given that torturing is not the most honorable of things that a nation could have attached to it, I wonder how other countries' governments really view this situation. Are they truly horrified or is their attitude more like, "those poor bastards, catching all this grief over torturing scumbags." Okay, maybe no one would put us in the 'poor bastard' category but "disorientation" has been a commonly used part of interrogation techniques going way back.

On a separate note, has any president ever been given more house money than Barack Obama received from George W Bush? He'll be able to use his special Dubya get-out-of-jail-free card for the forseeable future. And you can't even fault him for it; all you can do is wonder - "George, what were you thinking?"

May 17, 2009 10:57 AM  
Blogger gcochran said...

You can learn a bit from the use of torture in WWII. The Japanese routinely tortured: for example, they picked up some shot-down American fliers in the battle of Midway and squeezed out accurate info on our fleet dispositions, followed immediately by decapitation and throwing the bodies overboard. European resistance organizations used cell structures (in which the typical member knows the identities of very few others) because they had to - the Germans would catch members and torture them, almost always breaking them. Now the Soviets were known to endlessly beat the crap out of political prisoners as well, but unlike the Nazis and Japanese, they were typically after confessions rather than information - typically, confessions to elaborate plots that never existed. You know, about participation in international Trotskyism, about how the chief engineers of new industrial plants suffering teething troubles were "wreckers" and agents of British Intelligence. etc. I remember how one such Soviet torturer mentioned Lev Landau (great theoretical physicist) with respect - said they had to break three ribs before he admitted to being a German agent. Much better than the _typical_ theoretical physicist under torture..

Oddly enough, the US, back, in the day, seems to have been torture wimps.

From what I can see, we were much interested in getting info on connections between Saddam and Osama that did not exist: later, in establishing that Sunnis fighting American occupation were
part of some vast foreign-sponsored organization (also largely untrue). We had the Egyptians spend a lot of effort torturing Osama's chauffeur, so that he spat out details of endless imaginary plots (against the Golden Gate bridge, for example, and everything else his captors suggested), generated many many useless color alerts.

Torture can work, although it is of course evil and makes most of the uninvolved people on Earth think you're an asshole - which has costs, believe me.

But it won't work if you're looking to confirm your prior ideas rather than just gather information. This is a classic intelligence error, sometimes called "making a picture" - you cherry-pick to find the data that agrees with your hypothesis, discarding all the rest. And in torture, it's easy to get the guy to tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear - rather than the truth. Smart torturers would have understood that, but no is ever going to say that the Bush Administration was smart.

If Dick Cheney is the true inner soul of the modern Republican party, we need to burn it at the stake. He's a damn fool, and an asshole to boot.
"with malice towards all" is not a winning political program - and I for one would not support it if it were.

May 22, 2009 10:48 PM  
Blogger Figgy said...

Which is why I loathed Cheney as the choice for VP, but no one listened to me back in 2000. And that makes 2000 identical to every other year of my existence.

May 23, 2009 12:07 AM  

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