Monday, December 15, 2014

The pro-torture political party of America

It's disgusting that we have one party in this country that seems to be in favor of torture, despite our constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments and our commitment to the Geneva Convention. Well, it's hard to say how committed some conservatives are to the Geneva Convention since it's obviously foreign.

We also have one party that's against torture, which is the Democratic Party.

This is ridiculous. I can't believe that we have people who are gung-ho on torture. I guess it's been too long since World War II and the horror of the Nazi and Japanese death camps. Someone needs to remind the Republicans of what torture is and why it's immoral.

The stranger part is that there's a partisan divide. It seems as though most people just follow their party's line. Do devout religious people who are Republicans support torture? I suppose some do, if Sarah Palin is to be believed.

Jonathan Bernstein, one of my favorite bloggers, is deeply worried about this partisan divide. He's afraid the GOP will permanently become the 'torture' party. Whenever a GOP president is in the White House, he'll issue an executive order allowing torture just like all GOP presidents have issued changes on birth control and abortion in US-funded foreign aid programs. So a change of party will bring back the torture protocols or suspend them, just like changing the curtains in a house.

I hope JB is wrong, and that the next GOP president doesn't do that. After all, we've managed without torture for 6 years now, so maybe we won't need to torture under the next president either. But I'm worried. Very few Republicans have joined John McCain in denouncing torture. Instead, they've lined up to denounce Democrats for being unAmerican in talking about it. Their argument seems to be:
  1. It's not torture. It's perfectly legal 'enhanced interrogation.'
  2. Talking about it exposes the US to unfair and untrue charges that hurt our reputation.
  3. How dare you care about terrorists more than our soldiers and citizens who might be targeted by foreigners who are angry about this. 
  4. We have to do this, but we also have to keep it quiet. 
  5. Correction. Republicans can talk about it proudly, but dissenters have to keep quiet.
I remember a simple rule of thumb for whether something is torture: if you don't want it done to American POWs, it's torture. If you can countenance our enemies (Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Un, Stalin) doing it to our guys (including you or your adult children in military service), then it's not torture. Somehow, I don't think these GOP supporters would be volunteering for being chained to a ceiling or a nice long session of waterboarding . . .  minus the safe word, of course.


Extras. So many. Background article on the torture report by the Senate committee headed by Dianne Feinstein. The irony of Dick Cheney saying that the torture report is deeply flawed because the committee didn't interview CIA operatives. The irony is that the architect of this repugnant policy would claim a report is deeply flawed.

Jonathan Chait (excellent writer, generally good arguments) reams the GOP for their hypocrisy on evil. An examination of a flaw in the report--of course the president knew about the torture. The strategy of torture-defenders. John Brennan, current head of the CIA, not denying pretty much everything in the report--watch the whole video. Yep, the CIA tortured interrogated with enhanced methods that they aren't using anymore.

WaPo on the importance of keeping a taboo on torture. Oops, this wasn't an anomaly: our history of being torture instructors to Latin America. A convincing article against torture in The Economist that I read years ago but still remember. An even better quote from another article:
"The most relevant case is Israel, where the ticking-bomb rationale has been used to justify the 'physical coercion'...  This practice has never been explicitly legalised, but received something close to legal sanction after a commission headed by a former [Israeli] Supreme Court justice recommended in 1987 that 'moderate physical pressure' in interrogations should be allowed after psychological pressure had failed. For years after that, the Israeli Supreme Court declined to take torture cases. But the abuse of Palestinian prisoners became so widespread, and so routine, that in 1999 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the coercive methods employed by Shin Bet, the security service, were illegal. Nevertheless, according to human-rights groups, the regular torture of Palestinian detainees has continued."
When you start to torture, it spreads beyond the limited cases where it might be justified. This is true among the British questioning IRA suspects, among the Israelis, and among the US intelligence services. Where hasn't this happened? This was the most compelling argument I found against torture, no matter how awful the prisoner is. It seems to be a guaranteed slippery slope to practices that any moral person would find repugnant.

Update 12/20/14. Here are some conservatives who care about torture. They are also very religiously-minded. I'm glad to find them.

Update 1/29/15. The CIA knew it was going to be breaking laws against torture, and asked for immunity from prosecution. This was before the weasly torture memos.


Dangerous said...


Anson Burlingame said...


I oppose torture, simple as that. Now please define it. While you are at it, please define pornography.

Had Lincoln lived, should we have tried to impeach him and courts martial General Sherman for his "March to the Sea" in 1864? Rape, buring countless homes, private homes, killing anyone inclined to object to their homes being burned, etc all took place under the sanctions of war by the Union.

Had this report been a large majority report I would remain silent. But when such matters become partisan, well I object strongly. It becomes a political issue, not one of the morals required of fighting men and women.

What is similar to Ferguson, NYC and the "report on EIT". It is allegations of overuse of force by members of the CIA, military and cops, on a very broad scale. But only Dems get to define "overuse of force"!!!

OK, let's put body cameras on all cops, interrogators, every soldier on a battlefield, etc. and let the people decide based only on a video if they conducted themselves as "gentlemen"???

I heard essentially the whole country, in 2001, saying "don't let it happen again" and "go get the bastards that did it to us". I have yet to hear anyone that said to anybody, "Don't go to far".

I have also yet to hear anyone that was briefed in 2002 that said STOP THAT, don't do THAT, etc. Had waterboarding been considered torture in 2002 then "someone" should have violated release of classified material in a House of Senat Intelligence briefing and raised unmitigated hell about "waterboarding". The failure to do so then does not allow them to now say King's X.

Here is some "truth" if you will. There is no doubt, now, in my mind the all members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were briefed many times on "enhanced techniques". NO ONE said NO, that I have heard. Should each of those members of Congress now be held accountable as "torturers"?

One other note. Enhances interrogation is NOT punishment. It is enhanced interrogation to hopefully gain the "truth". As well enhanced interrogation during a war is NOT the same as questioning a suspected criminal under American Law. All we have during war are calls for humane treatment.

I can make a very long list of possible inhumane treatments, duting war. But I am really pressed to make a judgment of inhumanity during war in some cases.

Had I been briefed, back then, the details of how waterboarding was conducted I MIGHT have said "go ahead". Such an explanation would have included strict medical supervision to prevent inadvertent death, an accident. It would also show that no lasting physical harm took place. Sure great psychological trauma would occur because a man THOUGHT he would drown. But drown, nope that was not the goal nor was it punishment as such. It was certainly brutal interrogation but "torture", well I'm still not sure about that one.

By today's standards I was "tortured" during plebe year, a whole and miserable year. I was slapped, kicked in the butt, placed in very painful positions until I collapsed in pain, etc. on countless occassions. I sure got "sleepy" as well after being ...... for days on end.

Try running a mile with an M-1 rifle held over your head, or at least as far as you can run until you collapse. Do we "torture" SEALS during training?

Let me try to phrase it this way. What is the difference between brutality and torture? Where do you draw that line, during war?

But keep in mind, I strongly oppose torture. Now go find a bipartisan definition of same. Hold a vote nationally today and for sure waterboarding would be deemed torture, today. How about in 2001???


ModeratePoli said...


I have to mark you down as pro-torture. You are making the typical kind of excuses. You also have not bothered to say that you think is beyond the pale.

When I read about the 'enhanced interrogation' techniques, I compared them in my mind to some other well known torture techniques. Waterboarding is actually more dangerous than pulling out someone's fingernails or zapping them with a cattle prod. The cattle prod may cause less pain and that pain may last a shorter time--I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised. I'm basing this on my experiences (with shocks/choking in water) filtered through my medical background.

Waterboarding was practiced on service members to get them prepared for the kind of torture that they might endure if captured. Does this somehow make it not torture?

The argument that you willingly put up with stress positions is hardly means that these couldn't possibly be considered torture. Intercourse can be willing, or it can be rape and/or torture. That is sometimes is used as a hazing or initiation rite doesn't remove it from the torture category.

Then there's the argument that the people of the US approve, as though drawing and quartering would be OK 'if the people approved.' Cruel and unusual punishments are wrong whether the people approve or not. That includes people such as the president, the attorney general, and the House and Senate intelligence committees. That they didn't peep before isn't a sign that it was right. Their briefings were probably cleansed--were they told of people who had died while waterboarded? From what I know of lung anatomy, I wouldn't be surprised if people died from waterboarding or subsequently due to lung damage. Could we trust in the honesty of the CIA or military services to tell the truth on that? My answer is no, I wouldn't trust them.

As for holding people accountable as torturers, I don't want to do that. I just want to discredit torture and not use it anymore. That's why I support the investigation and reporting of findings. We should expose this shame so that we don't commit it again. Do you support doing it more and doing it again? Maybe you're glad it's over, and that should tell you something.

We can use conventional military interrogation methods that we've had for quite a while. They may take longer, but that's better than turning into a torture regime (as Israel had or has done).

I could consider some short-term brutality that was carefully monitored and very limited, but only if it remained very limited. Heat/cold/stress positions/sleep deprivations, but under very clear and limited protocols. Hopefully we wouldn't have to use them much, or at all, and never as a first response.

One last point--I want us to be much better than the terrorists--not killing when we don't need to, not torturing when we don't need to, not depriving people of the freedoms they deserve. I want to be a million times more respectable than the terrorists are--if we can do that and still maintain good margins of safety. If we're using the same tactics, what does separate us from them?

Anson Burlingame said...


I am not pro-torture. But again, one must define torture.

Such practices cause permanent harm to bodies.

Now let's check the scenes in the movie 0 Dark thirty, showing a captive hanging from a ceilling, sweat running down his body, dirty, maybe even bloody. Was that torture? My only question would have been "where did the blood come from?"

So I assume the specifics that concern you so much is the waterboarding. Well if we had wholesale done that as a matter of routine to all captives in a guerilla war, then that would have been torture and for no good reason.

But if the CIA is to be believed, then we only waterboarded three men, very "high value" captives it seems. Other "enhanced techniques" were facial slapping, sleep deprivation and uncomfortable positions and nothing else.

Here is my challenge to people, well-meaning people like you, that abhor torture, as do I abhor it. Define it in law. No one will ......, at any time, under any circumstances while questioning any prisoners of war, enemy combatants in any conflict or captured intelligence agents from other countries.

Finally, I am glad the report is out. We the people need to hold this discussion, openly. Now one side says we unnecessarily tortured prisoners and the other side says we used "EIT" (harsh methods) to question a very limited number of high value captives during a time of national crisis.

In war we the people must trust someone and constitutionally that is the President.

Having said all of that, do you now call for prosecution of President Bush for authorizing EIT? If you do not call for such now then does that make you "pro-torture" for actions taken in the past?

As for the future, well go write the law I request and I will consider it at least. But without such specificity, it seems a lot of people are just angrily waving their arms in the air.

Oh, one other question. If we "do it" to trainees in the military to prepare them for how to survive capture, is that torture as well or just brutal training? Just like my plebe year, I was treated brutally, no question about it, but tortured, no way. Should I have been subjected to such training? You bet your bippy I should have been so trained, in my view.


ModeratePoli said...

@anson, I'm afraid you still seem pro-torture to me. You seem only to rule out torture that results in permanent disability. Here are some things that I consider torture that don't meet your standard: rape as coercion, waterboarding, prolonged and/or repeated choking, electric shock, breaking bones and using the broken bone to inflict further pain (but then treating the break), sexual humiliation, forcing people to eat shit or drink urine, prolonged beatings (which sometimes result in permanent disability, but not always), prolonged stress positions (ditto), pulling out fingernails. Also this, the Japanese used to put people upside down into vats of excrement, bringing them up before they drowned. Torture?

As for a definition of torture, Google gives this: "the action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or to force them to do or say something, or for the pleasure of the person inflicting the pain." That's incomplete because it doesn't include acting on third parties (which to torture to both victims). Also, I wouldn't include momentarily severe pain as torture.

Here's a link about waterboarding as torture:

Here's an article about torture at a N. Korean prison, including stress positions: (Is it torture when N. Koreans do it?)

As for using these techniques on our own military personnel, do they consent? Can they withdraw consent and end it when they need to? That's a huge difference, isn't it? When you know you have to endure something for just a short time, you can often tough through it.

I'd like to hold torturers to account, but the water are very muddy now since 'interrogators' can claim that they were following orders, were told that this is only harsh interrogation, but not torture, so the lines are blurred. What is more important to me to preventing future torture no matter which party is in the WH. That's one of the points I made--I don't want to use this to bash a party or faction. I want it to be over and not used again.

You, on the other hand, seem to have bought into the excuse/cover story of "enhanced interrogation." Well, why not? That's why the story was created. You can claim you're against torture, but you don't seem that way to me.