Saturday, April 07, 2007

Fiction versus Non-Fiction

One thing about the torture issue that I guess should make me feel a bit less despair- most military men agree with me. Some of the loudest anti-torture voices have come from senior military men, while the "whatever it takes" people have generally been pussy draft dodgers like Dick Cheney or Rush Limbaugh. This article talks about the efforts of U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and military interrogator Tony Lagouranis to discredit torture in the public eye. Their main point is that it just doesn't work. Best quote:

“In Iraq, I never saw pain produce intelligence,” Lagouranis told me. “I worked with someone who used waterboarding”—an interrogation method involving the repeated near-drowning of a suspect. “I used severe hypothermia, dogs, and sleep deprivation. I saw suspects after soldiers had gone into their homes and broken their bones, or made them sit on a Humvee’s hot exhaust pipes until they got third-degree burns. Nothing happened.” Some people, he said, “gave confessions. But they just told us what we already knew. It never opened up a stream of new information.” If anything, he said, “physical pain can strengthen the resolve to clam up.”

It's sort of a strange article. They're basically arguing against those people who believe that "24" is real life. Again, this returns to my idea that people can't make distinctions of value anymore- here men who have spent their lives doing military interrogations are treated as having opinions just about equal to those of peurile Hollywood television fiction writers who have never served a day in their lives. Look, "24" is a great show- but it's fiction. Okay?


The Pagan Temple said...

I just don't believe it happens that much. More accurately, I just think it's highly exaggerated, with some exceptions. Take the Qu'rans and the halal meals away from the prisoners at Gitmo, make them eat pork, surround them with feces in their living quarters and put Lindy England in charge of them, and I will say they have taken the first tentative steps toward torture.

Until then, I want to see some real proof of some real torture, not some vaque reports of some supposed prison in the Ukraine or whatever where problem prisoners are supposedly sent.

It's all politics until I see proof that it's otherwise. It's going to take more to convince me than Code Pink or World Can't Wait, MoveOn, or Amnesty International and the likes of them to get me all worked up about this.

Rufus said...

What are you talking about!? Do you have any idea how insulting that is? Seriously. I cite the dean of West Point and a US Army interrogator and you give me some bullshit about "Code Pink"! I cite someone talking about third degree burns! I site the fucking Department of Defense report on homicides during interrogation for Christ's sake! And you give me this "tentative steps toward torture" shit! I go way beyond "making people eat pork"! And if you had even the slightest amount of respect for me, you would at least acknowledge that I've done that! But, instead, you revert to some AM radio bullshit about "halal meals at Gitmo"! Look, if you want to be an apparatchik, fine. But, don't pretend to be some kind of "skeptic" and put it on me to end your willful ignorance on this subject.

The fact of the matter is, that I'm totally willing to have an open discussion on this subject, and I've tried any number of times now, but if I'm going to cite things and you're going to keep folding your arms and saying "Oh, well that doesn't count because I don't like those people," then what's the fucking point? The stupidest part of this is that I haven't cited one of the groups you mentioned. Not one. To be honest, I don't even know what Code Pink or World Can't Wait are. Nor have I cited anything even remotely vague. In fact, generally I've gotten all of my information from the DoD or the FBI. I mean, honestly, either you haven't read what I've posted, or you're simply lying to yourself.

And honestly I'm not sure why it's my responsibility to correct your willful ignorance on this subject. You prove yourself to be incredibly close minded and then you want me to offer you "some real proof" yet again, as if this time you'll suddenly stop accusing everyone who disagrees with you of being part of the vast left-wing conspiracy.

I mean, fine! Let's start with the American Journal of Bioethics:

Now, you can explain why they're just trying to "get Bush", right? Or, for once, you could stop changing the subject, and making ad hominem attacks on someone who's been more than gracious towards you.

cee c said...

want to read a great critique of Rush and the war go here

The author seems to have some real insight and now I guess foresight.

Check it out

Rufus said...

Okay, how about this one? An interview with Sgt. Frank "Greg" Ford, a counterintelligence agent in the California National Guard's 223rd Military Intelligence (M.I.), who was shipped out of Iraq after reporting on five incidents of torture. I'm guessing the counter-argument is that either:
a. Sticking a lit cigarette into a bound person's ear and pulling their arms out of the sockets doesn't count as torture, or
b. He was interviewed by Salon, and everyone knows that they're part of the anti-Bush conspiracy.

Look, I don't want you to change the subject to some fake argument about "the far left". Just read the article and explain why you don't think what he's claiming happened is a cause for concern. Secondly, explain why the official response was, in your mind, completely appropriate.

The Pagan Temple said...

Rufus, I'm not saying that it never happens,or that it's fine if it does. I'm also not saying it shouldn't be dealt with if it does happen, if it's proven to have happened,they should punish the offenders. I'm just saying I don't think it's systemic, if that clears it up for you.

And there have been incidents where atrocities have been prosecuted, there are soldiers now that are facing the rest of their lives in prison. For rape, for murder, etc.

Yes, of course third degree burns and murders are crossing the line, and they should be punished, but do they happen that often,and when it does happen is it a matter of policy? That's what I'm skeptical about.

Some of those groups I cited have a pretty low bar to what constitutes torture, and they are the main noise makers in this debate. I wasn't trying to lump you in with them, or anybody with any kind of legitimate standing or authority. But to them it seems like the slightest inconvenience is tantamount to torture, so yeah, maybe I've gotten a little desensitized to the subject.

And yes, I'll say again, for the most part our prisoners so far as I know are generally well treated. You can't have it both ways, there are only one of two possible explanations.

1. We treat our prisoners very well, though there are incidents of torture and abuse that do happen sometimes, involving soldiers with the possible complicity and encouragement of higher ups.

2. We treat our prisoners like shit, all the reports of how they are generally well treated are just staged to fool the press and the public.

Until I have proof otherwise, I choose to believe the first option. But I do agree that incidents that seem to be legitimate examples of torture should be investigated and if proven to be true the offending parties should be punished appropriately. That's about the best I can do.

Rufus said...

"1. We treat our prisoners very well, though there are incidents of torture and abuse that do happen sometimes, involving soldiers with the possible complicity and encouragement of higher ups."

Yes, exactly! Look, I'm not saying that every US military prison is like something out of the Marquis de Sade. The majority of US servicemen are good and decent people who have been trained not to commit war crimes or even to violate the Geneva Conventions.

However, it's also well-documented that high ranking officials sent out directives arguing that the Geneva Conventions do not apply in this war, that more "vigorous" interrogation methods should be used, and that soldiers should do whatever it takes to get information from prisoners. Is this a massive official policy shift? No. But, we could call it a vaguely green light. Okay?

Now, in such a situation, most soldiers know enough not to commit a war crime that could be prosecuted if President Obama gets elected. But, the ones who have committed these crimes have all said that they were under the impression that they were following the new protocol. Moreover, the administration has been lobbying very hard to make this the new protocol.

So your choice here is a fake choice. Because I can indeed say that there has been a widespread pattern of war crimes that were directly spurred by directives from high officials, and still argue that the majority of soldiers and guards are not committing war crimes.

So, fine, we should prosecute the soldiers who commit attrocities, which we really haven't been for the most part. But, we should also be willing at some future date to prosecute people like John Yoo or Ricardo S. Sanchez who have, up until this point, been more than willing to throw US servicemen under the bus.

One of two things is going to happen:
1. The administration will cover their own asses by enshrining torture in US law, or
2. They won't be able to and, in the future, they will be prosecuted.

My point is that it's better for the United States if they fail.

The Pagan Temple said...

The Administration can't just arbitrarily make law that negates any other kind of law covering this, it would have to be passed like any other law-by the Congress, then signed by the President (who could well veto it), whoever that might be at any given time. Then the courts can always take it up.

But this is one of those things that can't be decided by some sudden arcane executive order. I might be wrong, but I'm pretty damn sure about all this. The only question that is relevant is, are these enemy combatants covered by the Geneva Conventions, since they aren't a uniformed military representing a recognized nation.

That's the true essence of the debate, as far as the Geneva Conventions are concerned. That and what rights do they have despite their legitimate status or lack thereof.

I just don't want the bar lowered to such a ridiculous extent that they aren't even allowed to interrogate these people. After all, according to the Geneva Conventions, you're not supposed to press a prisoner for any kind of information outside of name, rank, and serial number.

Well, if somebody has some kind of information on a nuke that's about to explode ten miles from where I live, or some kind of chemical or biological agent, I'm sorry, but being satisfied with name, rank, and serial number isn't going to cut it.

And I'm sorry if that strikes you as something out of 24, but the fact is, that is not totally farfetched. Sure, it's unlikely, but if the situation were to arise, the only thing that remains to be answered is, how far should you go to extract that information.

I mean, the fact that this theoretical person has this knowledge puts him on a par with the worse war criminals in history. Should I be willing to sacrifice my families safety for the sake of a concept? Not in this lifetime.

But I'm talking about an extreme example here. I by no means condone torture of prisoners, or rape, or murder, and anybody that engages in that should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. The higher ups especially should be punished. I don't even see that as debatable.

I just think there should be some kind of method of interrogating these people in a way that we aren't forced to treat them with kid gloves in those instances when there is valid reason to believe they have concrete information that is necessary to extract in order to save lives.

And I'm not talking about third degree burns or mutilation or anything like that, I'm just talking about reasonable interrogation techniques. I mean, if I have to go along with making somebody sit naked for three days without sleep in a room just below freezing with lights comstantly shining in his eyes, is that too much?

How about truth serum? Sodium pentathol? I've even heard people argue that THAT is torture, or against their civil rights, or some kind of bullshit like that.It's gotten to the point where it's beyond ridiculous, and these were actually civil rights attorneys talking this crap, I heard it with my own ears.

The last I heard, sodium pentathol doesn't even make you tell the truth if you don't want to, but it does relax you to where you can be more comfortable telling if you want to, or something like that. Hell, they can always cut him some slack after the fact, if it works.

Anyway, that's the kind of thing I'm talking about. In some situations, you just have to do what you have to do. Or, you can be content with dying for a cause. That's fine for me, but I'm not so sure I feel comfortable making that decision for potentially millions of other people that might want to live a few years longer.

Rufus said...

The problem with the ticking time bomb scenario isn't that it's completely far fetched, although it's pretty exaggerated. The problem is that the one scenario doesn't justify the general rule that it's supposed to.

For the record, yes, I would torture the theoretical mad bomber, but that doesn't mean I would want the laws of the country to change, or that I suddenly understand the deep noblility of torture. I can imagine how you're going to respond to this, but I would still expect to do some jail time for torturing him.

Since we're talking theoreticals here, imagine that the terrorist has hidden a nuclear bomb under a school, and he says he will tell you which school it's under if you rape your mother. I mean, hell, we are talking theoreticals after all! Yes, in that situation you might rape your mother. But, not a lot of us are going to go from that to saying "Jeez, now I see that raping my mother can be a deeply moral thing to do," or "So why is rape illegal then?" which is what people seem to expect us to say about torture.

As for the Geneva Conventions, no the Bush administration doesn't think they apply to captured terrorists. Generally "unlawful combatants" have been treated like civilians in jail, but they're pressing to have no standards of treatment whatsoever.

As for the name, rank, and serial number thing, as I understand it, a POW is required by the Geneva Conventions to give name, rank, and serial number to their captors. However, the captor can absolutely question them beyond that.

And the civilian in jail situation isn't theoretical at all, because if you get arrested under mistaken suspicion of terrorism, you aren't a soldier in the pay of any army. You, or me, or anyone else, would, in that situation, be considered an "unlawful combatant".

As for what the administration wants, the best book on the subject is "The Torture Papers", which is largely just their own internal documents on the issue. I highly recommend it. It's absolutely mind-blowing.

Where all this really matters though, again, is in the case of a nation like Iran. I believe that we should nail Iran to the wall over how they treated those sailors, which was abso-fucking-lutely in violation of the Geneva Conventions. And maybe we still can, but we can't do it without looking like hypocrites, and that sucks. People act like "soft power" is for wimps, but hard power doesn't win wars without it.

The Pagan Temple said...

You make me cringe when you say things like "I can imagine how you're going to respond to this". Actually, I agree with you, that's just the point. There should be some kind of reasonable standards that would apply to extreme circumstances that would not apply in general circumstances. It shouldn't be that hard to do.

Torture to me is something that would contain the likelihood of inflicting serious and potentially permanent bodily harm. I don't think there's any need to go that far in any circumstances, because the chances are that with people like this the idea you may have permanently disabled them in some way is just going to piss them off at you that much more.

Whereas wearing them down through sleep deprivation, sensory manipulation, etc., might work and would not constitute torture in the sense that you are going to leave the person mangled, crippled in some way, and physically scarred for life. That's why I mentioned the sodium pentathol, and the lawyers I heard discussing it.

They approach this from the same angle as they would a criminal defendant, say an armed robber or car thief, that they have the same right against self-incrimination.

Actually, this is another example of two extremes locking horns and common sense getting thrown out the window. You would think if any issue would warrant some kind of reasonable debate and search for common ground, for the greater good of all concerned and concern for any potential abuse, this would be it, but evidently not.

For the record, if I was put in the position that you hypothesized, it would amount to a hell of a lot of kids dying. For that matter, it wouldn't have to be my mother when it comes to rape, it could be anybody's mother and I couldn't do it. So if the terrorists want to have some fun with those kinds of shenanigans, they would be better off trying that little game with Bush or Cheney than with me.

Rufus said...

Sorry for making you cringe. But, you have two personas really- the over-the-top angry but funny persona and the more thoughtful persona. It's sometimes hard to know which one to expect. To be honest, I prefer a large meal of the thoughtful persona with a bit of seasoning from the over-the-top persona. But that might just be me!

Anyway, yes, I think we probably agree more than disagree. I'm more reluctant to allow freezing temperatures because it reminds me of the Soviets, but I also realize that that's a question that we can agree to disagree on. Thanks for the lively discussion!

The Pagan Temple said...

You're welcome. I should clarify something, because I kind of contradicted myself. Freezing temperatures would pose the risk of causing permanent bodily harm, especially if a person was stripped to his underwear. I should have said uncomfortably cold temperatures, which could probably be just as effective on a psychological level anyway.

Sorry if I came off as being overly snarky and especially disrespectful with you, as it wasn't intentional. I really do value and respect your opinion, regardless of whether I agree with you on any given topic.