Thursday, March 20, 2008

...And Just A Pinch More On Torture

...Once again, I avoid the heavy lifting: The Discontented Cookie offers pointed analysis.

Neanderpundit Og disagrees. (N.B.: blogs can easily become we're-so-kewl-and-right-fests. Those are fun but you don't learn nuthin'. When I find differing notions based on more than mere emotion, I'm gonna link to them).

Me, I remain of the opinion that no matter how noble the cause or how vile the opponent, treatin' other folks like piñatas will rot your soul. It happens to many sexworkers, it happens to strongarm criminals...and it happens to torturers. It's a fundamental change on attitude and behavior that makes the individual possessed of 'em a danger to everyone with whom he or she comes into contact. An institution suffused with such programming is little more than a malignant cancer.

In wartime or extreme situations, individuals will do dreadful things, uncivilized things; it's the nature of things. It happens. It's what happens next that's the issue -- is such behavior rewarded, made a part of official doctrine, or is it brought to light and dealt with according to civilized principles?

The practical man will call such analysis navel-gazing (in fact, he has!) and guess what, he's right. I'm not there, I have not seen that particular elephant and I'm unlikely to ever be the Great Mahout. I'm still not gonna stand here cheering while we teach 'em it's fun to stomp on whoever's in the way. Abusing the inconvenient to smooth one's own path is a behavior that tends to spread.

(Sidebar: if waterboarding is not torture, there are a fair number of Japanese military officers we're our Federal government is going to have to disinter, reanimate, an' apologize to for having charged with, tried for, convicted of and hanged for waterboarding prisoners. If it's a crime when they do it to us our citizens, it's a crime when we do our government does it to others).

Update: At least one individual contacted me to point out the extreme contentiousness of this topic on one hand and the difficulties of addressing it on the other. While I think it's an important issue of which to be aware, I have far more questions than answers. Absent any chance of resolution, I'm dropping the subject. I shall continue to refrain from torture; the rest of you, you're on your own.


Less said...

Much appreciated! I owe you a beer.

og said...

Nobody ever said waterboarding was not torture. I have yet to hear an explanation about how letting thousands or hundreds of thousands of people die is morally superior to torturing (but not killing) one person to obtain information that prevents their death. When I hear that discussion, I will change my opinion immediately.

Making the assumption that the people who torture have jobs dissimilar to soldiers in combat is dangerous.

And Roberta: I can disagree without being disagreeable. The security of my country is more importan than the warm and fuzzy feelings of people who are afraid to look at the naked lunch: Torture is sometimes necesary.

Anonymous said...

While my heart agrees with your sentiment, my mind and a sense of history tends to label such notions as misplaced idealism.

It ignores the history of the plains Indians in this country as well as the events of 1835 in our own state of Indiana;i.e. The Trail Of Tears.

I don't dispute the corrosive effect of brutality on individuals and groups in general, but let's face it Bad Things happen to Good People and often They Are Caused by Other, Normally, Good People.

I don't condone torture, nor do I advocate it, nor do I even agree with brutality, but sometimes 'we' as the collective must do things that are quite distasteful simply to survive as individuals, a nation or a simple collective known as 'society'.

No one will convince me that if somehow the 9-11 terrorist had been arrested before the loss of 3,000 lives, advising them of their Miranda rights and guaranteeing their rights were protected under all the aspects of the Constitution would have made us better as a society or a tad bit safer, let alone prevented the loss of 3,000 lives.

The Pottawatomi, the Miami, and the Kickapoo of 18th and 19th Century Indiana were peaceful, non-war-like tribes of Native Americans. Yet, they were treated in a dreadful manner. However, no one to my knowledge almost 200 years later is stepping forward and signing the deeds to their homes and farms back over to these innocent Native Americans.

As a nation, Americans have made Bad decisions and Hard decisions. More often than not, there is NO right answer, just the expedient one.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

og said...

Frank, I like your comment very much.

Sometimes you have to doi distasteful things, because sometimes "acting civilized" ends in the distruction of civilization.

I don't ever want to see any mother's son or daughter hurt, ever- and that includes torture.

When an animal becomes sick or is wounded you often have no choice but to put it down. Does the vet that handles the spike- or the farmer with the Kerner Humane Cattle Killer- do they lose their soul because they kill? No. They do a humane thing. Do the IPW boys become monsters for what they do? No. It grates on them to do their jobs. And they don't like it. But their brothers in arms live because of what they do.

At one time, snipers were looked down upon, as well.

Roberta X said...

Og, in fact, the Federal Government of the United States maintains waterboarding is not torture. I've got a quarter on the next Administration quietly continuing to do so.

--People keep makin' the assumption my heart bleeds for the victims. I do not, in fact, give even a single rat's ass for what happens to non-uniformed combatants and the Other Side in general. It's the torturers about whom I am worried, especially after they've justified their actions to themselves. And it is the institutions that use and condone torture. Once they've been to the Big City, how you gonna keep 'em down on the farm?

The widely-held belief that the West can only triumph by such means, coupled with the desire to Nerf everything for the po' hapless folks back t'home strikes me as a bit, well, bleeding-heart-y. Life's not fair and the only person responsible for you is you. It may feel nice to be Daddy or Baby Dear but it's no basis upon which to relate to one's fellow citizens.

...If passengers had been ready and willing to shoot hijackers back when "Fly this plane to Cuba" started to get popular, there'd've been no 9-11. Fat and happy might be fun and nice but it's no way to live.

"Mispaced idealism?" If you've nothing higher to aspire to, you're an animal. Probably a mad dog.

HTRN said...

Roberta is correct, legally waterboarding isn't torture -Congress defined torture in 1994. See US code Title 18, section 2340.

I'd like to hear Roberta's opinion on other coercion techniques that can be unpleasant, but don't fit the traditional/popular definition of torture, like using drugs, diet restriction, Sleep deprivation/modification, etc. I know that Sleep deprivation has been used at Gitmo, with varying results.

Roberta X said...

HTRN, I dunno. Stil seems to me that such activities cause soul-rot. Lock 'em up, shoot 'em, hang 'em, and don't play games about it. Do it in the light. Haling baddies off to difficult-to-get-to-spots and Doin' Mean Stuff to them, wasn't that something we used to chide the Soviets for? --I'm pretty sure "Mess with us, we take your head," is something your foaming-at-the-mouth Jihadiin can comprehend.

Whatever happens, those torturers are gonna come home, find jobs, live next door to ya. Don't get between them and what they want.

I would point out that in this so-called "war" on "terrorism" (of only one specific flavor), there are at this point no uniformed combatants on the other side. There is no nation-state and there is no real leader, the imperialistic dreams of Osama bin Loopy to the contrary. So there's nobody to surrender for the group and no actual soldiers to fight. Just ass-brained stubborn "partisans" in the hottest spots and covert operatives elsewhere, with multiple and loose chains of command and control. 'Tain't really a war as war is known. Small wonder soldiers find it frustrating and their bosses become creative. We keep rammin' the same old wall and our heads are getting harder. Hostages and torture are old, old news to the Muslims.

Might be time to find a less-expected direction from which to attack. --I suppose saturation-bombing with ham sandwiches, Playboy pictorals, translations of Tom Paine (et al), along with Liberator pistols for the wimmenfolk (and so on and so forth), might be a bit too frivolous. Fook 'em. They think their culture's bein' undermined? I'd show 'em undermined! Have we got Radio Free Arabia on the air yet? Why not?

Turk Turon said...

I don't think that waterboarding is torture, per se, but it is, without question, abuse. I wouldn't want to have our prisoners treated that way, so we shouldn't do it to them. Imagine how different our feelings about John McCain would be if there were pictures of him in the Hanoi Hilton, similar to the photos at Abu Graib?
Most of the Al Queda swine could be tried by a military commission, lined up against a wall, and shot, all within 12 hours. That's what happens if you wage war without uniforms and with hidden weapons: you're considered a spy and you may be summarily executed. The U.S. did a lot of that to Nazi spies and saboteurs in WWII, icluding a dozen here in the continental U.S. I've got NO problem with summary executions.
And I have no illusions about getting better treatment for our prisoners as a quid pro quo; ever since WWII the enemy has delighted in torturing Americans and they're gonna keep right on doing it. But we shouldn't adopt their tactics. We can beat them without it.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think General Pershing had the right idea 100 years ago in the Philippines when he had his military tribunals execute Muslim terrorists. It was public and every member of the firing squad dipped their bullets in bacon fat prior to loading their rifles. Afterwards, the Muslim bodies were buried in green pig hides.

I personally think that was a far better approach than the one Roberta is objecting to for the reason it would have a greater effect, but then today torture is more politically correct than a headgame messing with someone's idea of the after-life.

The point I was getting to earlier and I admit I did a poor job is we have always been a nation of style over substance. We talk a good talk, but in reality we walk a far different walk and always have.

The style is we espouse beautiful social concepts and ideas while practicing some damn brutal governmental policies. (Hitler got the idea of concentration camps from the American invention of Indian Reservations.) Pure and simple in today's terms our Indian policies have always been, until recently, genocide.

But then we, as a nation, are a brutal, hard people.

How else can you explain why the writers of the Declaration of Independence speak of the inalienable rights of mankind while owning other humans as common slaves? What was the thought process when they wrote those words? Did they truly think of black slaves as sub-humans?

But further more how else can you explain our policies and practices in terms of brutality and cruelity when we fought each other as white person versus white person during the Civil War?

Judged in the context of history, Guantanimo and the prison debacle previously seen in Iraq is a pale shade of what we really are underneath all our platitudes about peace, love and equal protection under the law.

A tiger can't change his stripes. We are what we are and sentiment aside we always will be. It's part of our national character.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Roberta X said...

Frank, we are in closer agreement than you might think.

I have, for instance, very little use for "peace, love and universal brotherhood;" none of them is a normal state of affairs and I know my fellow citizens to be, at their best, tough as nails, ready to react to initiated force and wary of strangers.

...But we are not rabid. Abusing prisoners as a matter of policy is diseased. Rewarding such activities is deranged.

Will prisoners be abused in wars? You bet, all the more so if they're not good Scouts, in proper uniform and such 19th-Century bla-de-bla. It happens and there may -- I'm not there, I cannot say -- indeed be justification for it; it's still a chargeable offense and those abusing prisoners will have to face up to it, unless they manage not to be found out.

We make rules for ourselves. Behavioral norms. Operating by them is what makes a culture. --Quite often, they are better rules than we are people. The only reason a lot of people are still walking around alive is 'cos it is too damn much trouble for whoever offs them.

US treatment of Indians? All the principals are dead. Unfixable. My Cherokee ancestors snuck away (to Ohio!) and "passed." A pity more didn't.

Slavery at the time of our Revolution? Widespread during the period and impossible to get out of for most slave-owners. Jefferson seems to have struggled with it. Washington managed, for some human chattal, to sneak out from under at least once. Outside the US, technology and the general PITA nature of mass slave-owning put an end to it most places. Yep, it was two-faced of the slave-owning Founders and Framers and the non-slave-owning ones who went along and they knew it. Debate was set aside for a significant length of time, in fact, in order to keep the shaky union together. It worked. It sucked, but it worked for while; come the 1860s, the bill came due and it was very large. (Yeah, yeah, Civil War not about slavery -- no, Civil War about Congress sniping around with goopy, underhanded half-measures to salve the North's icky feeeeelings about slavery, resulting in the South's reaction to same; war ensued and Fed's grip upon the States was strengthened).

Might does not make right and bowing to the inevitable does not justify it. I do not think one can reasonably cite inevitability in re officially-endorsed abuse of POWs, even "partisans."

Just kill 'em. Keep on killin' 'em. Think of it as evolution in action.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem for both of us is the fact that Guantinamo proved to be the lesser of the challenges facing those in charge of this 'war on terrorism'.

Obviously, abuse of prisoners defeats both the prisoner and the jailor; both morally and emotionally in a metaphysical sense and of that we are in agreement.

I still believe Pershing's proven response from ages ago would have been both productive and avoided the objections raised in this ongoing discussion, but that brought with it the problem of dealing with those in Saudia Arabia and other Muslim countries who would have thrown a literal fit over procedures and practices that played a headgame with the Muslim faith.....and they provide the oil.

That's the bottom line...OIL and how our economy's need for Oil determines the rules of the game.

I am a terrible cynic and for every generation of Americans, I believe examples can be found where our leaders have sold our values cheap and prostituted themselves on the sofa of political expediency.

(When you become a cynic of my level you accept certain things are a given from government and leaders because you expect so little to start with.)

This is no different and I'm not disagreeing with your concept of moral objections, but I believe this decision vis-a-vis waterboarding was made because it was the easier of those presented. Either that or our present leaders and leader-wanna-bes are softer, less courageous than those from ages past. (I agree with you little will change after the elections.)

In my view, it's a question of expectations;i.e. cynicism vs. idealism...

Or maybe our previous leaders were just SMARTER HARD men with an abundant amount of intestinal fortitude.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Less said...

"When an animal becomes sick or is wounded you often have no choice but to put it down. Does the vet that handles the spike- or the farmer with the Kerner Humane Cattle Killer- do they lose their soul because they kill?"

That is different, there is such as thing as "compassion", but the definition of torutre is markedly different. Killing is one thing, torture and agony is another!

Apples and oranges.

I think that what Roberta says, "Just kill 'em. Keep on killin' 'em. Think of it as evolution in action." is spot on... You don't need torture if you just adopt a policy of "kick ass and take names". But then again, with the 5th column of liberals at home, that policy has a harder time coming to the place where it needs to be.

HTRN said...

Roberta, I think you may find a particular book interesting: "On Killing" by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. I think you'll find it both interesting and eyeopening. One of the things Grossman mentions a coupla times are "Social Psychopaths" Normal everyday men, who because they're wired a wee bit different in the head, readily pick up the rifle and kill their fellow man with gusto, and suffer no adverse psych trauma. Even more interestingly, these same individuals return to civilian life, and go on to lead normal lives, with not psychological aftereffects. They're "natural killers". Grossman refers to them as "2 percenters", because they seem to make up about 2 percent of the male population.

As for Waterboarding, I would point out that they'res only been 4 reported cases, and only a handful of interogaters trained in it. It was only used when the information the subject held was considered vital, time sensitive, and that there was no other way to get it within a reasonable period.