When I was younger, and more limber (in my dreams) I’ve been at parties where, after enough alcohol had been imbibed, they bring out the limbo stick and start playing The Limbo song. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google it, but I suspect most of you do. In the song the singer at some point sings “How low can you go”, in an effort to get people to contort their bodies in ways the human spine was not meant to be contorted.
That little refrain came to mind when I read this on TPM. Republicans, in an effort to spin what little they could out of the demise of Osama bin Laden by the Democratic, Obama administration, have not only contorted themselves beneath the lowest point the logic of Republican thinking could go, but have started digging a hole beneath that lowest point, in an effort to go even lower. It’s really kind of sickening when you stop and think about it.
The morning after President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan, conservatives started crowing that credit should be given to President George W. Bush — specifically, for having the foresight and courage to torture the people who provided the initial scraps of intel that ultimately led the CIA to a giant compound just north of Islamabad.
Let me repeat that:
…credit should be given to President George W. Bush — specifically, for having the foresight and courage to torture … people …
Wow! Just. Fucking. Wow.
Let’s assume that it’s true. One of the pieces of intelligence we obtained that actually started the process that helped us get Osama bin Laden, after tireless follow-up, luck, pluck and hard work, we obtained through torture. Do we want to live in a country that sets torture up as something to emulate, to admire, to laud, something that should be a part of our arsenal of intelligence? I don’t.
It’s times like this that I seriously think about changing the name of this blog. I used to think it was a humorous, tongue-in-cheek reference to a Monty Python skit, with all the negative religious overtones that implied, but apparently there are still people out there that admire the actual Spanish Inquisition, with all of the horror and, yes, torture, that entailed.
But let’s get back to those Rethuglicans. You know, those people who will spin facts to suit their money grubbing, pathological need to lie, cheat and steal their way to the top of electoral politics. Not only are they grasping at straws, because like most of us, they have absolutely no idea exactly how we came to know what we know that led to the shoot-out at the Abbottabad Corral, but they are using this to create a little revisionist history, in an effort to wipe some of the stain of the Bush years off their slimy, feces covered faces.
Torture is not what Americans do. I’m sure Supreme Court Justice Scalia couldn’t find any authorization for torture in the Constitution, as hard as he may look, and I know I was raised and educated to believe that American ideals and values do not include torture. We certainly don’t do it as a part of official policy of the government.
But, putting aside this torturous use of logic to defend torture, it turns out that it’s not true.
Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.
So, as usual, the Republicans concoct something out of thin air, because it feels good, and supports the fantasy world they live in where torture is a good thing, because it helps to get them elected and keep them in office.
I hate hate, if you understand what I mean. I hate the emotion, the feeling I have when I see the hypocrisy that is used to justify the personal agenda of power hungry politicians, and I hate having these feelings of hate myself. But I really hate Republicans. It’s burns me up that they evoke this emotion in me, because I have always prided myself on being able to suppress and ignore the emotion of hate, and I blame them for bringing out this dark side in me. They force me to use the expletive “fuck” far more than polite company allows. I can’t tell whether they are truly evil, no better than bin Laden himself, or whether they are simply so misguided and stupid that they are able to convince themselves that up is down, black is white, and torture is good.
I just don’t know anymore.
Ha! Called it. “I’ll wager they cook up how this was due to something W set in place…”
Philly, I’ll be the first to say you never get the credit you deserve. 8)
The most common scenario touted by proponents of torture is the ticking time bomb scenario. We know a bomb is ready to go off somewhere that will kill lots of people and we know a particular person in custody knows the exact location of the bomb. Therefore, if he refuses to talk, then torture him until he tells you where the bomb is. But the real life scenario that ultimately led to the location of bin Laden had its genesis many years earlier. Of course, as you pointed out, no one can actually point to a specific moment where KSM or some other captive was waterboarded or tortured in some other way and then gave a name that set the process in motion.
Interestingly, in an article I read earlier today, it mentioned that the capture in Iraq of an al-Qaida operative named Hassan Ghul in 2004, who confirmed the existence of a courier, and then took another six years to find out who and where he was. I can see Iraq war supporters as presenting this as strong evidence that the invasion of Iraq was an important component in the war against al-Qaida and ultimately finding bin Laden, though Ghul appears to have entered Iraq after we invaded. Other proponents of the Iraq invasion argued that our presence in Iraq turned the country into a “terrorist fly-paper”. Again, while true in the sense that our soldiers in Iraq made useful targets for those who wanted to fight us, it strikes me as deeply cynical, not only in viewing our soldiers in such a way, but also for the disregard to the loss of civilian lives and the damage to the country’s infrastructure.
Because it took so many painstaking years of putting together bits of information from multiple sources that led to the events of this past weekend, it will be sometime before we get a definitive account (assuming we ever do) of the steps that led to the tracking and killing of bin Laden, and what role, if any, that torture or “enhanced interrogation” played in getting that valuable information.
For instance, while the article you cite states that KSM gave up his information under standard interrogation months after being waterboarded, there is the possibility that the earlier waterboarding had “softened him up” to the degree that he was willing to talk more later on. I only say that because I know that is an argument that proponents of torture will make, with neither side having the definitive proof, that is KSM’s testimony, to support their case.
I am in total agreement with you. If it becomes the accepted method of “interrogation”, torture will eventually filter unabated into incidents other than national security. It will be a logical progression to allow this to enter the civilian sector “in the persuit of justice.”
This scares the living sh*t out of me. An alarmist, some may say, but who is willing to allow this to unfold without concern?
Thanks, Pádraic. I agree.
And you can say “shit” around here any time you like. 8)
I would disagree with your statement “…Torture is not what Americans do…” based on my experiences in school, life in general, and listening to my fellow ‘murkins. Oh, they raise their hands in horror, and then say, “Yes, but…”
They sighed with relief when Bybee and Yoo got Bushco to do what has been done. Bybee and Yoo who are making big bucks on the speaking circuit when they should be sitting in jail cells, And if you can pay enough to hear them, you aren’t Joe Sixpack, so one wonders about this.
Padraic is right. What was going on overseas is just the out-if-town try-outs. I have never talked to a cop who didn’t think that Heydrich, Muller, Dzerzynski, and Beria was on the right track. I saw some of what was done during the economic thing in Pittsburgh. My wife saw what happened in New Orleans, post Katrina.
And soon, they’ll get their way.
And if things fall out the way they usually do, you won’t have to be a crook to wind up under their gaze and under their hand.
“conservatives started crowing that credit should be given to President George W. Bush — specifically, for having the foresight and courage to torture the people who provided the initial scraps of intel that ultimately led the CIA to a giant compound just north of Islamabad.”
On Tuesday morning on my drive to work, I tuned into my local talk radio program to see what they were saying. They basically did Obama credit … but every caller was asked, “Because it was waterboarding that was used to gain this key piece of intelligence, Do you think we should continue waterboarding?”. 95% of the callers said “YES”.
I was thinking about this and could not come to the same conclusion. In my book two wrongs do not make a right. The “ends” do NOT justify the “means”.
Additionally, let’s assume that waterboarding the detainees at GITMO did give us the KEY PIECE OF INFORMATION as to where bin Laden was. In that case Republicans should do everything EXCEPT give the Bush administration credit, because that would mean that the Bush Administration is at best inempt and at worse conspiratorial. Think about it … Bush Admin had this info when they were waterboarding. Waterboarding took place … what 2005ish ? So 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 they sat on this KEY PIECE OF INFORMATION and did nothing … or did do something and hid it from the general population, because it failed miserably. Either way, Republicans should not use this as political fodder to gain an advantage.
That Americans could ever support torture shows how we are slipping morally. The ends do not justify the means…ever.
Do you support capital punishment? Incarceration? The rights of police officers to remove contraband from violent criminals? If yes to any of those, then it seems you do believe the ends can justify the means.
Perhaps it is poor reading comprehension on my part, but I interpreted Mr. Whitsett’s remarks as applying to torture, as in when it comes to torture, the ends never justify the means.
I try to make as few assumptions as possible, so when I hear “ever,” I interpret that as “ever,” not “only in the case of torture.” That aside, let’s say you’re right, and I read Mr. Whitsett too literally. Speaking for myself, I can think of situations where torture seems justifiable. Can’t you? Or, do you take it to be absolutely the case that torture can never be justified?
I try to make as few assumptions as possible, so when I hear “ever,” I interpret that as “ever,” not “only in the case of torture.”
By interpreting it more broadly than me, you seem to be making a greater assumption than I.
do you take it to be absolutely the case that torture can never be justified?
Are you talking about torture to obtain valuable information or just because you want to inflict pain and agony on someone because you believe the person committed terrible crimes and you are looking for some kind of catharsis?
If it’s the former, then you have to ask if it is effective in getting what you want. If the person you are torturing for information honestly does not have the information, how long do you keep torturing that person until you are satisfied that he does not know?
To revisit the ticking time bomb scenario I mentioned at the top of the thread. Let’s say that I know where the bomb is. I also have a fake bomb at a second location. I make a show of enduring the torture as long as possible until I make you think you have broken me and then I tell you the location of the fake bomb. Your bomb team goes there and spends their time trying to disarm the fake bomb and KABOOM! the real one goes off. Your torturing me accomplished nothing.
If torture is to be considered official policy, then by doing so, you are implicitly saying it is okay for the other side to torture your people that they hold captive or may capture in the future. Granted, they may do it anyway, but if you do it too, then you don’t get to use their torture against them in a war crimes trial if your side wins the conflict.
Are there scenarios where torture may be justified? I don’t know. Feel free to give me a few and I will think about it.
What’s your scale for quantification? It seems we both made (1) and exactly (1) assumption. Either way, I suppose I should have asked, so if you’re looking for a quick point, I’ll give ya one.
For any reason. Can torture be justified for any reason, or is it absolutely the case that it can never be justified for any reason?
Is it justified if it is effective? If yes, we can stop there, as you clearly believe the end can justify the means when it comes to torture.
Is it justified if it is effective? If yes, we can stop there, as you clearly believe the end can justify the means when it comes to torture.
No, that was merely my opening question. I asked you for scenarios where you believe torture is justified and I said I would consider them. So have at it. I am an open-minded person after all.
As regards torture, you answered the question. If you want to discuss the more general question of whether the ends ever justify the means, let me know what you mean by “justify” and we can go from there.
And that’s a conversation stopper. I asked you in good faith for scenarios you felt torture would be justified and I would consider it. Unless and until you do so, I can’t say whether or not I can agree with you.
And, I answered you in good faith. You said “no,” torture is not justified, even if effective. There’s no scenario for me to present, because you rejected the one already presented.
That’s because you view our interaction as a debate to be won whereas I view it as a conversation where the only end is an exchange of ideas.
The ticking time bomb scenario presents an intellectual challenge. How do I find this bomb and disarm it? When no good solution is readily available, that’s when the temptation to do anything grows, so ultimately it’s an intellectual failing; unable to figure out the right answer, one cheats. Depending upon the character of that person, the guilt and shame of having cheated may be too much to bear, which is when one rationalizes the action to make it palatable to themselves as right. Of course there are those who are simply immoral, who fail to see certain actions as wrong, so they rationalize the action not to make it more palatable for themselves, but for others.
I will go as far as saying the ends never justify the means. At times it may appear there’s no choice but to do what’s otherwise considered wrong in order to achieve a necessary end, but that doesn’t make it right. Perhaps that’s the key in the argument, whether actions are right or not, or if they can become right. Perhaps some can see an action as justified, while also admitting that it’s not right. They may do such things in a given situation, yet still recognize such actions are wrong and carry guilt and/or shame for doing them. I can understand that, however I think most can’t distinguish between justified and right, therefore if justified = right, then the ends never justify the means.
Religion seems, at least in the West, to promote an ends justify the means mindset. If you’re starting with what you believe is an infallible, unquestionable truth, then anything which supports or promotes that truth must be right. Now I’m not saying this is exclusive to religions, but the indulgence of faith encourages other indulgences such as this. If you subscribe to faith in a god and his antics, then you’re more inclined to rely on faith for other things. If you already rationalize certain actions that you and/or many others see as wrong (ie – indulging in faith, denying equal rights, indulging in drugs, alcohol, overeating, etc), then you’re more inclined to rationalize new actions. Religion is one of those indulgences, like drugs or alcohol, that if not properly controlled, allow for and encourage other questionable actions.
That’s fucking priceless.
Well, then what is Hell but institutionalized torture, divinely sanctioned?
I’ve changed my mind. If torture is good enough for god, it’s got to be good enough for me.
Buy the hype! Don’t question! Who cares!
Exactly. Just like every other theist. Turn off the brain, accept dogma.
Talk about priceless! So, are you saying it is morally wrong to incarcerate people? To take their weed? To enact capital punishment? All those things are morally wrong on your view?
I have no idea what you’re talking about when you say “right,” and I suspect that’s just a handy euphemism for “that which chief approves of.” You appear to be just as much of a moral crusader as the theists you mock, but, what besides faith in your own convictions sustains them?
Is there an objective morality? Well, that depends upon your definition of objective. There are secular moralists who argue for an objective morality, but their definition for it reminds me of Jesse Helms’ definition of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” They’ll claim that there are answers, or at least optimum practices which we’re slowly figuring out, but how do you define optimum? How do we define best? Those are subjective decisions. Humanity may agree on certain absolutes, and those absolutes may indeed appear to be what’s best for humanity, but that’s still a subjective assessment.
I feel the motivation, at least in part, for secular moralists arguing for objective morality is to establish a position of authority in the way religions assert moral authority. I think they feel without that, they can’t justify their moral code. I don’t see it that way. Lacking an objective morality makes selling your morality harder, but not impossible. It requires you to make two sales instead of one, first selling what you define as best for humanity and then selling your morality as the optimum set of practices to realize that goal. (Truth is, religions are in the same boat but they’ve generally escaped the pressure of the first sale through childhood indoctrination and preventing competing products.) When arguing morality, I think often people are talking past one another because they’re working from a different set of what’s best. If two people differ there, then arguing practices is futile.
I don’t see anything wrong with starting from the ethic of reciprocity and working outwards. Unlike the Christian Golden Rule, there has to be consideration for the sentiments of others. For instance, suicide or killing someone may seem reprehensible to you but what of the ill who face nothing but pain and suffering for the rest of their existence who want to die? Would you deny them what they want? If they lacked the means to commit suicide, would you refuse to assist them? What about denying others from assisting them?
Too many laws in this country are made lacking consideration of others. Suicide is illegal? Assisting suicide is illegal? Smoking pot is illegal? In some states sodomy is illegal. I can say these things are ridiculous by first arguing for the ethic of reciprocity and how what’s best for humanity is the pursuit of happiness on individual levels insofar as that pursuit doesn’t impose on others. (Anti-pot people will cite cartels and funding terrorists as the harms imposed on others from buying pot, but such harms are ONLY harms because it’s illegal in the first place.) You can disagree and assert this isn’t what’s best for humanity, but you have to demonstrate why and offer what you think is best and if that involves citing a so-called holy book or a deity, that sales pitch isn’t fairing too well these days.
Finally, to suggest that because theists make moral arguments then anyone making moral arguments is comparable to a theist is about as idiotic as saying anyone who eats meat is comparable to a cannibal.
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Great post – although an endlessly depressing topic.
IOW, it was sheer torture! 🙂
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Oh please. I didn’t view it as a debate at all. I was honestly wondering how a person like yourself can think it’s morally wrong to torture terrorists for information when the national security is at stake, but morally permissible for a woman to kill her unborn child simply because the father possesses unsavory characteristics, or because she thinks she might have a tough time coping with the burdens of parenthood. Your morality seems pretty mixed up to me.
Now you’re trying to shift it by throwing a separate and unrelated discussion we were having on my own blog into the mix. I repeatedly asked you for situations you felt where torture was justified and that I would be open minded and see what I thought about it. In other words, you might be able to convince me if you actually tried. But instead you keep playing stupid games with me for some reason. Reminds me of why I decided to stop interacting with you previously.
I’m reminded every time he shows up here.
Gee, a snide remark instead of any reason or logic. What a surprise! Keep ’em cookin’ SI!
Why don’t you try actually engaging a point I make instead of just acting like a teenage girl all the time?
Been there, done that, have the t-shirt, gave it to Goodwill.
Which T-shirt would that be? The one that says, “I hypocritically attack ALL THEISTS as delusional while I myself am just as delusional?” Lest you be tempted to deny this claim, consider:
“Simply put, it’s a false belief in something that has no validating evidence.”
Where’s the validating evidence for your claim that ALL THEIST BELIEFS are delusional?
And, as I said, I’m suggesting THE TYPE OF TORTURE WE’RE ALREADY DISCUSSING can be justified. You’ve already stated your thoughts on that, yet–unless I missed it–you failed to cite the principle at work.
I’m not trying to convince you. I want you to convince me: why is it wrong to merely inflict pain on a presumably complicit terrorist for the greater good, but right to kill an innocent life?
Stupid games? See what you want to see. I’m asking you to explain yourself. If you can’t, or don’t want to, then don’t. But don’t blame me for your own inability and/or refusal.
No, the one that says “I used to engage in discussion with CL, but gave up when I discovered he wasn’t interested in anything but scoring points.”
I’m presently marketing it around the blogs and have quite a bit of interest. I might get rich.