Comments: Torture: It works, all right.

The way they used torture (at all) had me confused from the first time I heard about it.

In the military, you are taught that torture is not very smart. Really, it should never be an issue because the reasons not to use torture are straight forward and common sense.

So unless these people were so numb to reality, felt so immune to any physical repurcussions on their part that they would do anything to anyone; there simply must be another explanation. My only answer is they were trying to create a political image, a contrast for Obama to use to his advantage.

I also find it highly ironic that according to their own supposed religious beliefs, these people are going to burn in hell.

Posted by tim at March 31, 2009 12:09 PM
The Principals knew by mid-2002 that the vast majority of prisoners they were holding in Guantanamo and elsewhere had no meaningful connection to terror attacks against the U.S., past or planned. But they had a global "war on terror" to pump up. That "war" was vital not only for promoting the long-planned assault on Iraq, but for expanding executive power, cowing political opposition, and maintaining enough of a threat level in the public mind to make voters reluctant to change parties in the next several rounds of elections.

So the torture regime was set in motion and migrated to all the prisons in the dirty war: not just the dozens of CIA secret prisons, but Bagram, Guantanamo, and the many military and secret prisons in Iraq.

Meh. You miss the point that there's a lucrative industry associated with all this torture. People making rank in the military. Mercenaries getting paid in black funds, all their high tech toys, and cattle prods, etc.

I view it as the bullet-heads turn at the trough; their turn to wheel some money out of the treasury; their turns to buy some McMansions and put their kids in private schools, and feel good about being proactive men and gals of action.

The enablement from the top was necessary but no great shakes knowing that the morality of those atop is constantly compromised. The industry of it carries it out though.

It's almost classist to conclude that bottomfeeders, and jackbooted thugs shouldn't get their slice of the treasury; as if only the well educated deserve it.

I know you didn't specifically say that but to bemoan on account of "The Principals" is IMO flawed. The structure is there, and it's the structure that carries out and pays for it that needs modifying.

Posted by Angryman@24:10 at March 31, 2009 12:11 PM

But what if torture did "work?" Would it then be justified? That's the real moral question.

Posted by Rosemary Molloy at March 31, 2009 12:20 PM

I should point out that in addition to feeling immune to physical repercussions themselves, they also created a real physical danger for our soldiers and marines. The simple reason they that torture is wrong is the 'golden rule'. If we torture them they'll torture us. It's basic military doctrine, and a Sunday school lesson for toddlers.

I think we need to go back to electing a Commander in Chief and not these fucking CEO mentality dirt-bags; some try to act tough, some have never shot a rifle. None of them have any respect for the military, other than as a policy tool.

Posted by tim at March 31, 2009 12:24 PM
The simple reason they that torture is wrong is the 'golden rule'.

To be concerned about the golden rule, you have to look at the other as an equal capable of treating you similarly. If you can't do that, then you are free to ignore the golden rule in their cases.

Posted by Angryman@24:10 at March 31, 2009 12:29 PM
But what if torture did "work?" Would it then be justified? That's the real moral question.

Moral? What's moral? Don't we need some metric less prone to emotion? Math is morality free, no?

Suppose we tortured 50 people, but only one has the information we seek. They each told us lots of lies and some told some truth. Would we be justified in tracking down 500 false leads to find the one truth that saves? Keep in mind that what they're looking for is "actionable" intelligence; they don't know where to look so even non-productive tracking down of false leads generates employment and fulfills the need to carry out process and associated mechanisms.

Hasn't this been covered in Brazil before?

Posted by Angryman@24:10 at March 31, 2009 12:40 PM

I always figured when Bush would announce a "foiled" terror plot of some sort that was b.s. extracted via torture. Keep the boogiemen alive, keep the public cowed.

Posted by maezeppa at March 31, 2009 01:03 PM

Torturers need to be ARRESTED&JURY TRIED.

Posted by Mike Meyer at March 31, 2009 01:08 PM

@Angryman: I "miss the part that there's a lucrative industry"? Only if you assume that I don't understand any of the war-making made possible by "intelligence" extracted via torture as a self-perpetuating, highly lucrative industry. Please re-read the bold-faced passages.

@Rosemary Molloy: Do you seriously understand my point to be that "torture works", in the sense in which people usually discuss that? If so, please re-read this post. My first guest post at ATR should also answer the question in your comment, in the event this one somehow does not.

@Mike Meyer: Got that right. (If by 'torturers' you include those setting the policy and not only those carrying it out.)

The Robert Jackson Steering Committee, which drafted the letter to Atty. Gen. Holder published in late February from several dozen national organizations asking him to name a special counsel to prosecute those responsible, will file a formal criminal complaint this spring. You can add your organization to the several hundred who've joined the call since. You may also want to sign as an individual at the ACLU site.

Posted by Nell at March 31, 2009 01:49 PM

To be concerned about the golden rule, you have to look at the other as an equal capable of treating you similarly. If you can't do that, then you are free to ignore the golden rule in their cases.

Hmm. yeah moral relativism never worked for me.

Posted by tim at March 31, 2009 01:51 PM
I "miss the part that there's a lucrative industry"? Only if you assume that I don't understand any of the war-making made possible by "intelligence" extracted via torture as a self-perpetuating, highly lucrative industry. Please re-read the bold-faced passages.

I didn't mean to imply that you don't understand that aspect, only that (to me) you didn't present it as an economic issue.

I got the to justify the operations of the dirty war within which torture takes place, but I wasn't sure why you indicated that it was happening - for the personal economics of the executioners and stockholders of the cattle-prods-r-us or for power. Some people do things for no other reason than money (to buy crap, put kids in school, retire), others for power (to bend other ideologies to their will, to impact global change).

Posted by Angryman@24:10 at March 31, 2009 03:42 PM
Hmm. yeah moral relativism never worked for me.

I wouldn't second guess "you", but I find a web of relationships and subordination exists. Relationship between a general and a private. Relationship between a president and a soldier. Relationship between a CEO and an employee. Relationship between an American taxpayer and an Palestinian child. Etc, many relationships down the line, intentionally stratified -- those that do, and those that have it done to them.

I don't see much of that golden rule thing except in highly idealized interpretations that bear little resemblance to actual actions.

Basic military doctrine is to do unto them before they do unto you. That's why NVGs are considered a weapon, because it's intended to be one sided and unequal.

Posted by Angryman@24:30 at March 31, 2009 03:51 PM

Nell: Oh yes, EVERYBODY who has put their hand to it, paid for, and ORDERED it. I am willing to let JUDGES&JURIES to decide the matter, one charge at a time, and EVEN IF they ALL walk like OJ, I'll at least know what I'm looking at for the next time around.

Posted by Mike Meyer at March 31, 2009 04:11 PM

Do you think this is conscious? Is it "Let's torture us up some phoney-baloney confessions as a way of keeping our phoney-baloney war going," or is it, "Let's take the gloves off and get tough with these bastards," which then produces phoney-baloney confessions, which has the effect of keeping the phoney-baloney war going?

Excellent post, by the way. Welcome to ATR!

Posted by SteveB at March 31, 2009 06:43 PM

Thank you Nell. You have expressed the case against torture and what it's really about superbly.

I would add one other point, though. It seems inconceivable to me that the CIA is not continuing with its long history in mind control experiments at these secret and not so secret prisons.

Posted by james at March 31, 2009 06:49 PM

Thank you.

Not that I think I have great some sort of great insights into human events, but - it must be frustrating to go around thinking: torture doesn’t work, why did Bush/Cheney do that?

Of course, no American has any difficulty understanding that people are not tortured in, say, Burma to get that really important information from them. But they have no problem believing this in the case of the US.

Anyhow, simple thoughts.

Posted by Erik at March 31, 2009 07:16 PM

Angryman, one of the other first things you learn in the military is that if you execute an unlawful order, you are responsible for committing the crime. They drill it in your head that one of the most important things you can do is refuse an unlawful order. Not only that, but not realizing an order is unlawful isn't even a defense.
And golden rule aside and morality aside-- torture, eg waterboarding et al is illegal.

And I don't see why you must put "you" in quotes like that. I'm a people too, even if I rarely act the part.

Posted by tim at March 31, 2009 07:49 PM

I guess my comment wasn't clear, as it seems to have elicited an angry rebuke. I meant that torture is often opposed because it doesn't "work," in the sense of producing useful information for the torturers. But what if it did? Would it still be opposed by the righteous? I believe it should be, because it's just inherently wrong, no matter what the result. That old adage that the ends don't justify the means is pertinent.

Posted by Rosemary Molloy at March 31, 2009 07:59 PM

I agree completely. My personal beliefs go one step further, actually - I believe the main purpose of the criminal justice system as a whole is to produce criminals. People get tricked so, so, so badly by people in power wielding offensive morality, they always have, and they apparently always will. Just like 8-year-olds, we get fooled into thinking there's such a thing as "good guys" and "bad guys", and absolutely anything goes against the bad guys.

Posted by Guest at March 31, 2009 08:12 PM
Angryman, one of the other first things you learn in the military is that if you execute an unlawful order, you are responsible for committing the crime. They drill it in your head that one of the most important things you can do is refuse an unlawful order. Not only that, but not realizing an order is unlawful isn't even a defense. And golden rule aside and morality aside-- torture, eg waterboarding et al is illegal.

And I don't see why you must put "you" in quotes like that. I'm a people too, even if I rarely act the part.

I put quotes around stuff pretty much at random. It's my way of being more Mike Meyer-ish.

So that's one of the first things you learn in the military? How many have been prosecuted for torturing? It being so evidently wrong and apparently without organizational support.

Posted by Angryman@24:30 at March 31, 2009 08:14 PM

SteveB: Do you think this is conscious? ... as a way of keeping [the] phoney-baloney war going ... or ... [having] the effect of keeping the war going?

The former. They came into office determined to invade and occupy Iraq, among other objectives. The Sept. 2001 attacks were pure opportunity for them. Almost nothing about their response was smart, strategic, or focused on the actual goal of preventing further terror attacks in the U.S.

They knew they were running a government that had had a long relationship with torture in both the CIA and the military, particularly among Special Forces.

The decision to respond to the September attacks with a "war on terror", and the very early-on public balloon-floating about torture (in the form of a Walter Pincus story in the Washington Post on Sunday, October 21, 2001) were intended to legitimize it as an option, to normalize discussion of it. It did so, with the help of craven "liberal" tools like Jonathan Alter (whose Newsweek column advocated torture in the first week of November 2001).

This none-too-subtle signaling brought the right people out of the bureaucratic woodwork: SERE staff volunteered in December 2001 to "reverse-engineer" the techniques used to train troops to withstand torture for use on prisoners. At that point thousands of prisoners were already held in Afghanistan. Resources and logistics began to be shifted in that same period to preparations for the invasion of Iraq.

Rumsfeld publicly declared as soon as Guantanamo was opened in January 2002 that none of the prisoners taken in the "war on terror" had any rights under the Geneva Conventions. Hundreds were sent there without any screening of what threat they might pose. When GTMO commanders complained to their counterparts in Afghanistan about this, they were met with helpless shrugs: they were under orders to send anyone who might conceivably have any intelligence value to the prison that was, by design, in a legal no-man's-land.

Sure looked purposeful, even at the time. In retrospect, even more so.

Posted by Nell at March 31, 2009 09:01 PM

Torture and rape are the perks of absolute power. After a while, most torturers need no utilitarian justification. Nell is right that they're assholes, but many of them are sadists. Perhaps she's being too kind.

Rosemary asks a valid question. I agree with her answer but I don't know a simple argument to justify it. Maybe someone has one.


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at March 31, 2009 09:02 PM

OK if torture works then everyone nominated for a federal cabinet position needs to make themselves available to the guys & gals in the leather hoods. Then, at least, people would know that any nonsense they may spout as policy saviours could be true in their minds once they have finished the ordeal. Also it would likely reap massive revenues for the federal treasury as the first question put to any of, and this seems unfortunate, Obama's picks for his "best & brightest" friends should be have you paid your taxes. Since most haven't massive windfalls. Incidentially has Obama and the wife and the first mother-in-law paid their taxes? Just wondering if the changinator is really serious, eh.


Posted by geoff at March 31, 2009 09:47 PM

@Rosemary: I apologize for snarling at you; it was wrong of me. But it was frustrating -- especially so since I've appreciated your comments at ATR -- to read a comment that made it seem as if you'd read no further than the first paragraph of the post.

The most fundamental truth about torture is that is morally wrong. My first guest post here (and my discussion in the comments section of that post) was largely about that.

The point of this post is that many of the "pragmatic" arguments against torture miss a crucial point: they assume that the torturers are sincere interrogators who've made the mistake of going too far.

But torture is not interrogation, it's an exercise in creating the desired reality of the torturers (while destroying the dignity and sanity of the prisoner).

Posted by Nell at March 31, 2009 09:50 PM

Thanks especially Nell and Rosemary, and the rest of the commenters on this thread as well. Important work making this heinous craft plain and clear.
And it can't be repeated enough that the cliche of "It doesn't work" shouldn't have standing, shouldn't even be heard anymore.
I wonder if there isn't another equally dark aspect, though. That among the tortured are likely subjects for Manchurian Candidate style reprogramming. Along those lines. It does seem most likely the main drive is as Nell says so firmly - sadism.
Spiritual degradation and evil catharsis right up the line.
But the force, and the forces, at work there, are wielded by complex creatures, with no moral center but their own existence.
I don't know much about behavior modification but it seems likely someone who'd been thoroughly broken would be a lot easier to rebuild as a pawn in their game. Or maybe they're just practicing, perfecting techniques.
The mind reels, the heart recoils.

Posted by roy belmont at April 1, 2009 12:39 AM


Rosemary's question was - “But what if torture did "work?" Would it then be justified? That's the real moral question. “

And Bernard wrote - “Rosemary asks a valid question. I agree with her answer but I don't know a simple argument to justify it. Maybe someone has one.”

What is wrong with it is that it severely damages EVERYONE connected with it, whether they realise it or not. To explain, I need to tell a story.
I was on a tram a few years ago that went by the university. I was on my way to see my psychiatrist who was treating me for the effects from some years of torture (so this is a view from the inside). I was standing and looking over the shoulder of a woman reading a large reference type book when I happened to spy these words, “torture is an attempt to replace God in the life of the tortured with the torturer”. Needless to say, I was astonished but I instantly knew the truth of that statement. In the years that have followed I have pondered much on this and I have now come to the conclusion that all dominance is an attempt to do the same thing.

We can readily see what is wrong with torture for the immediate victim and Nell has elequently outined what is wrong about it for the witnesses in the larger population but what is wrong with it for the torturer? First of all he is indulging in delusion. He is most certainly not a superior being. He will exhibit grandiosity and, in time, meglomania. He believes he can control the mind of his victim and the further consequnces that inevitably flow from his actions. He is detached from reality. Whenever reality breaks through his delusion of power over consequences, he becomes threatened and aggitated and indulges in more acts of violence and torture. He has now entered an additive cycle with all its pathologies. The same pathology will infect the immediate torturer's superiors, too, the ones ordering the torture. If these superiors, these madmen, happen to be in charge of our governments (which they are), they will embark on equally deluded and self destructive courses for the nation? Of course they will (and have) because they will not be able to see the adverse consequences that flow from their actions in the same manner an alcoholic or junkie can't.

In the end, everyones suffers from torture and that is why it should be avoided like the plague that it is. Torture is not a question of morality. It is question of survival for us all.

Posted by james at April 1, 2009 12:45 AM

@roy, Bernard, others:

I'd like to clarify that I am not saying that those who set torture policies in motion do so because of sadism.

They do so for political reasons: to maintain and increase power, and/or wealth, and instill fear. To solidify and make irreversible projects like wars of choice that give them increased powers, money to channel to cronies, and "glory". They may or may not be personally sadistic -- the pain inflicted is necessary to get what they want; it's not necessary that they enjoy that the pain is inflicted.

In any system where torture is permitted -- prisons, mental hospitals, wars of occupation -- sadists will quickly find their way into the positions where they can inflict it. But the people at the top who encourage it (or turn a blind eye, or prevent any serious consequences for those accused of it) are not necessarily sadists at all.

Posted by Nell at April 1, 2009 02:07 PM

James, thanks very much for that powerful insight.

Posted by Nell at April 1, 2009 02:13 PM

Nell: Not so sure. You say that

>> the pain inflicted is necessary to get what they want

That's doubtful. I don't see that false confessions have played a big role in helping the warmongers achieve their objectives. They lied whenever it suited them. Why do you need to extract false confessions when you can just manufacture them? Curveball was never tortured. You don't torture in order to get power. You torture because you have power. The justification you give is not irrelevant. I don't deny it. Intimidation is a useful tool of power. But to reduce it to a utilitarian function misses the other part of the story, which is that torture is a pathology of power.

Did you see that Miss Universe was being dispatched to Gitmo to give the torturers a little R&R? Porn and torture. Same old story.

And yes I do believe Cheney is a sadist. He clearly enjoyed the misery he inflicted on millions. He's a textbook example of a sadist. (Any blind pursuit of power contains a seed of sadism. In Cheney's case, it's in full bloom.) Bush is a sadist. When he was talking about that woman in Texas about to be executed, he couldn't contain his glee. So I do agree with your last point.

>> sadists will quickly find their way into the positions where they can inflict it.

Indeed, positions such as VP of the United States.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at April 1, 2009 03:27 PM

I am sorry not to be more constructive. (I have to catch a plane in a couple of hours, which doesn't help.) But I wonder if Nell means to imply that Cheney would have put an end to torture if someone could have proven to him that it was ineffective (in the sense she defined in her post). I don't quite see how else to interpret her utilitarian argument.

I'll add that I view sadism not as a peripheral, anomalous phenomenon but as something central to power. Why do people want absolute power? Either to implement their vision of a "better" world (rare!) or to derive pleasure from the exercise of power. And the latter easily veers into sadism. And so you see sadism at all levels, from the CIA operatives at Bagram to the canyons of Wall Street to the halls of power in DC. I think people's definition of sadism is much too narrow to be useful.

Finally, I hope someone will take a crack at Rosemary's question. That is the central question about torture.

Cheers,

Bernard

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at April 1, 2009 04:40 PM

"Finally, I hope someone will take a crack at Rosemary's question. That is the central question about torture."

Bernard, I already have @12:45.
To state it more clearly, torture is not a moral question. Because something is destructive does not make it immoral. Just as jumping off the roof and breaking your leg is not immoral. It is destructive, painful and unnessesary and you could say it is wrong for that reason or perhaps many others.

Morals are what people with power talk about when giving reasons for invoking behaviour that they don't want to justify with specific reasons. Why is something moral? The answer is always something else (of course) which must stand or fall on its own merits. In either case it ceases to be a "moral" question.

So I say Rosemary is asking a question that cannot be answered in its own terms. I presume the sentiment behind it is, "why shouldn't we do it even if there were benefits?" The answer I gave is that there are no benefits to anybody save a short term thrill for those that would play God with it. But even these suffer in the end as they destroy their sanity and their own humanity (and with it the capacity to feel joy, which I didn't include in my answer).

The concept of morality for its own sake does not stand up to logical investigation. It is always a cover for some other reason. So, again, Rosemary's question cannot be answered from within its own terms. It's a non question and so cannot be the "central question about torture" either, as you say, Bernard.

I'm saddened by this turn of the discussion because it leads away from Nell's argument (and mine) that everything we are told about torture by those that would practice it is a lie and that torture destroys everybody involved, including the general public.
I am also saddened as a past victim of torture at reading what sounds to me as people trying to turn an extraordinarily offensive behaviour into a disembodied intellectual question; understandable though this may be.

Posted by james at April 1, 2009 05:21 PM

That should read-
"what sounds to me as people trying to turn a discussion and exposition of an extraordinarily destructive and offensive behaviour into a disembodied intellectual question; understandable though this may be."

And pardon the typos.

Posted by james at April 1, 2009 05:38 PM

Torture IS a CRIME, torturers ARE CRIMINALS. Crime benefits no one in the long run. Whether one THINKS it works or not, WORLD WIDE IT IS A CRIME.

Posted by Mike Meyer at April 1, 2009 06:42 PM

Its kinda like armed robbery, sure it works, sure it benefits the robbers for a short time, BUT society still seems to see it as a CRIME, and the perps as CRIMINALS.

Posted by Mike Meyer at April 1, 2009 07:05 PM

If torture worked hell yes it would be justified.

Posted by tim at April 1, 2009 07:22 PM

It would be justified by all the psychos who would want to do it, anyway. Happy April ya fools.

Posted by tim at April 1, 2009 07:26 PM

@Bernard: Have a safe trip.

James has responded much more effectively than I could hope to.

Your characterization of my post as a 'utilitarian' argument against torture is odd. The post was written to respond to the many, many liberal commentaries on torture who make the utilitarian argument, as if it were a definitive anti-torture rejoinder, that torture is ineffective as legitimate interrogation.

Of course it doesn't, because it isn't intended to be; the torture promoters only pretend that it is to justify it and prevent accountability. The more often the "ineffective at obtaining real intelligence" argument is made, the better-masked is the reality of what torture is about.

I don't mean to imply, nor does anything in the post actually imply, that Cheney would have put an end to torture if someone could have proved to him that it was ineffective [at eliciting whatever information the torturers wanted to justify and expand the "war on terror"]. For one thing, they couldn't have proved such a thing to him, because that's what torture is about; it's intrinsic and essential to the nature of torture.

You're apparently wedded to the idea that it springs from sadism. I think that analysis has much weaker explanatory power than my take, which is more political/structural. (Either that, or you're stretching "sadist" well beyond the sense in which it's normally used.)

Like James, I don't think and write about this as an intellectual exercise. I do it in order to stop torture, and hold torturers to account. That's what got me into political work, and it's what keeps me going.

As the U.S. system of detention and torture moves under the control of people liked and respected by liberals, not cartoonish figures of evil like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, it's important for liberals who oppose torture to understand why it isn't just going to go away.

This administration, for political reasons and to maintain the permanent war apparatus, is sustaining many crucial lies about the human beings still in U.S. military and CIA prisons. They are determined not to prosecute those responsible for recent torture, which would threaten that edifice of lies.

You may persuade yourself that this is occurring because Barack Obama is a sadist (in the broad Chazelle sense: because he too wants power and is reluctant to limit executive power). I expect to have more success with Obama fans by explaining the dynamics in political terms.

Posted by Nell at April 1, 2009 08:07 PM

Erik: Of course, no American has any difficulty understand that people are not tortured in, say, Burma to get that really important piece of information from them. But they have no problem believing this in the case of the U.S.

Shorter Nell! Something badly needed... ;>

Posted by Nell at April 1, 2009 09:17 PM

warning: i am about to address the "what if torture got good information" question. i DO want to declare first being in thorough agreement with the post. torture is terrorism, torture is propaganda, torture is virulent.

rosemary's question i think deserves a closer look, because for torture to be a reliable means of intelligence gathering, in other words, for social bonds to break under enemy duress, homo sapiens would have to be really different. there might not even be countries or tribes, or interest in torture.

Posted by hapa at April 1, 2009 10:50 PM

this whole argument is moot. Everyone, I have one thing to say to you-- torture is human nature. Sorry if you can't look into that dirty part of your soul, but it's there. The only thing keeping you animals from each other's throats is as little thing called "law".

Bernard, don't fool yourself about those guys. They did it for nothing more than cash money.

Social deviance is social deviance. Doesn't matter who violates social norms, only who enforces them.

RS, has it been a hundred days yet?

Posted by tim at April 1, 2009 11:14 PM

A little too short. :) What I meant to say was:

Thank you for writing this.

It is indeed a great thing to point to when (liberal) people ask: why did we torture, when it is proven that torture "doesn't work." That is to say, that it "doesn't work" for a limited definition of "doesn't work". The key is expanding, as you do, the definition of "work."

Now, if only we can get people interested in torture carried out by American proxies, not simply by American soldiers themselves.

Posted by Erik at April 2, 2009 01:04 AM

IF YOU TORTURE YOU ARE NOT THE GOOD GUY. YOU are the kind of people the earth is trying to get rid of. Should YOU get the "right" answer from YOUR VICTIM, YOU comitted a CRIME to get it. That makes YOU a CRIMINAL. The PRINCIPLE OF THE 5 ADMENDMENT is one cannot be FORCED to testify against ones self.
Burma is a CRIMINAL STATE because they torture. PROSECUTERS are waiting in line.

Posted by Mike Meyer at April 2, 2009 01:26 AM

"(Either that, or you're stretching "sadist" well beyond the sense in which it's normally used.)"

I think you're right, Nell, but I think that Bernard isn't the only one who's using inflationary rhetoric here. James's "torture destroys everybody involved, including the general public." If only it were so! If that were so, then it could be fairly said that torture doesn't work, because it results in the destruction of the torturers and (wow!) the entire country in which it occurs. I say "in which" because, of course, torture has long been practiced in the US on US citizens -- the fond belief that "America didn't torture" before Bush is of a piece with the idea that "torture doesn't work."

It's interesting that so many people here are missing your point, Nell. I wouldn't have thought it was that complicated.

Posted by Duncan at April 2, 2009 09:44 AM

I think Bernard on the one hand and James and Nell on the other are talking past each other. If I plunge in I'll probably make things worse. Here goes--

Yes, Nell, I think Bernard is taking the word "sadism" to mean something slightly broader than the way it is usually used. He means, if I understand him correctly, that people who seek power, whether financial or political, often want it for its own sake. They enjoy being able to tell people what to do. They aren't necessarily sadists in the clinical sense--maybe they'd take no sexual pleasure in watching someone being tortured, but they revel in the power they have over others.

I drive Gary F over at Obsidian Wings crazy when I imply this, but I often feel Thomas Friedman is a sadist in this extended sense--he sometimes fantasizes about being a President or someone who can lay down the law and say "Do this or I will bomb you back to the Middle Ages."

As for how one talks to mainstream liberals about this, probably one tones it down. In Obama's case I don't think I fully understand him yet anyway.

Posted by Donald Johnson at April 2, 2009 11:22 AM

Duncan (@ 09:44),
My language is “inflationary” in the sense that not everybody in America is dead, yet. Many are, of course and as a direct and indirect consequence of US governments' historical (as you correctly point out) embrace of torture. But everyone is most definitely suffering from it. The fact that you don't see it does not diminish the truth of my statement. It is very hard to see the truth of any abusive situation from within it. Ask any battered woman. Ask any adult who has recovered and faced his or her abusive childhood. Ask any fish to describe water. “What water?”, says the fish!

That you don't see it is not entirely you fault. Here are two (of perhaps many) reasons. Firstly, you live in a culture predicated on violence; a culture that says, very erroneously, that there is “good” violence” and “bad violence”. (It's “good” when we, the authorities, do it and “bad” when anyone else does it. To be clear, there is only “bad” violence). Notions such as these shape your thinking and perception and literally create your internal reality. This is what a culture is. Because your perceptions are based on false ideas, you will suffer because you will not be able to see where you are going and where you are being led.

Secondly, I have not fleshed out, chapter and verse, statements such as “torture destroys the whole society” with the causal steps and links. But this commentary section is ad hoc and there isn't the space. I come from the land of torture and I am attempting to challenge the notions shaping your perceptions. I bring a gift but to accept it, you need to first accept that all may not be right in your world and to ask questions of those that come with experience outside your understanding. So ask.

I can also point you in the direction of a book that contains many lives worth of experience and wisdom. It is an e-book and is available for free. It is called “Power-Under” by Steven Wineman. I doubt you will find a better book on this anywhere.

Posted by james at April 2, 2009 04:22 PM

"not everybody in America is dead, yet."

In the long run we are all dead. As I said, inflationary rhetoric.

"Firstly, you live in a culture predicated on violence; a culture that says, very erroneously, that there is “good” violence” and “bad violence”. ... Notions such as these shape your thinking and perception and literally create your internal reality."

Is there a culture that isn't "predicated on violence" in just this way? The notions also shape your thinking and perception, and New-Agey culture of therapy tracts aren't going to change that. Nor will misusing the word "literally."

Incidentally, I agree that there's no "good" violence. My culture doesn't literally create my
internal reality as effectively as you think.

Posted by Duncan at April 3, 2009 11:38 AM

One way to summarize your conclusion is that torture is really a method that enables a Ponzi scheme for creating a terrorist "menace".

Each tortured "terrorist" provides false evidence against still further "terrorists". The "menance" grows in size, demonstrating to the public the supposed reality of the threat. And, like a Ponzi scheme, the viability of the entire enterprise hangs on imposing absolute secrecy on the process. The books of evidence have to be cooked, otherwise all fails.

Madoff himself couldn't have done a more masterful job.

Posted by frankly0 at April 4, 2009 01:31 PM

Ok, my 59 cent question: Exactly what proof have you seen that the torture tapes were destroyed? When do the spooks destroy anything? Like the FBI supposedly destroyed all those files on all those opponents to the Vietnam War? Dream on...

Posted by Curt at April 4, 2009 03:13 PM