Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The post I didn't write (4.23.09)

I've been mulling this over for days:  What does "shocks the conscience" mean?  (How would you demonstrate it?)

When I was in grad school, I learned that if you're going to do research, the first thing is to ask a good question.  Without a good question, you're never going to do valuable research.  Sometimes it takes a long time to get the right question.

This is a post about finding the right question
And about all the wrong questions - and what "wrong" might mean.

One thing they never "taught" me, I learned on my own.  I'm passing it along - in the interest of science and for your edification.  I sincerely recommend a question that is not only "good" but one you feel OK about answering when you're out to dinner and someone says:  "Oh, what are you doing your thesis on?"  I know from experience, it's not good to have to say:  "Bulimia."  Trust me.  Been there.   Done that.  So for my dissertation I picked a topic I could safely answer over dinner.  So should you.  So should the nation.

Ok.  Once you have your question, there's something else.  It has to be a question you can get past the ethics committee.  Because that committee is going to look at what you propose to research as if it were going to be published on the FRONT PAGE of the New York Times.  (They never tell you that - but I'm telling you:  That's what ethics means.)  They are going to consider:  How will this look if we have to do your research IN PUBLIC - so everyone can see exactly what's happening?

Why is that?  Because, research has to have repeatable results.  Fancy word is "replicable."  You have to do your research in such a way that if someone else does it, following exactly your same experimental conditions (that's why you write them down carefully, submit them to the ethics committee, and follow them exactly), they will get the same results as you did.

That's basically what science does.  Your work has to be open to scrutiny.  It has to be done in such a way that Public Scrutiny consistently finds the same result.

Even though we don't conduct most research on the White House lawn, your question, your methods, your means of analysis should always be ones you could feel proud to do on the White House lawn - in full view of the Nation.

So this is the Post I didn't write.

And here are some questions researchers really can't ask.
  • Does Crucifixion work?
  • Would it help the nation if we revive public crucifixions?
  • Would it save lives if we all turn out to watch someone die on a cross?
  • Would they reveal secrets to us during the ordeal?
  • Could we get MDs to agree to revive them if they tell us enough secrets to save many lives?
  • How would we measure our results?   Would we count the secrets told?  Or the lives saved?
  • Could the nation bear to watch?

Or how about this one?

  • Does cannibalism save lives?
  • If a bunch of people are in a cage and they have no food - would they resort to cannibalism to save the lives of some?
  • Or would they just waste away and die?
  • How many lives would be sufficient to answer the question?
  • Could the nation bear to watch?

What about this one?
Torture versus Murder
  • Which is worse:  Torture or Murder?
  • Do we torture some and murder some?  Or do both to the same person?
  • How many times should each be done to find the answer?
  • Who's going to watch?
  • How do we measure what's worse?  Do we ask the ones we murder and torture?  Or the ones who watch?
  • Could the nation bear to watch?

Now this one:
Cheney Likes Torture
  • Would torturing Cheney get us the info on who influenced energy policy?
  • Would we count the last 8 years as the control group?
  • What kind of torture would work?
  • How many times must we do it to answer the question?
  • How do we find out if his answers are true if he's a known liar?
  • Even if Cheney likes torture:  Could the nation bear to watch?

Could the nation bear to watch?  That question is very important.

THAT is the question we need to be asking.
When considering torture, too many people have been asking the wrong questions.  They've been asking:  Does torture work?  Does torture save lives?  But those are the wrong questions:  They would never get past the ethics committee.  It's not something you could answer over dinner if someone asks:  " So, what are you doing your thesis on?"  It's not good to have to say:  "Torture."  Not if you're doing experimental research.  Even though the ethics committee would never put it this way:  It's not something you would feel proud to have published on the front page of the New York Times.  It's not something you could do in public.  And it's not something we would broadcast to the nation from the White House lawn.

That's what "shocks the conscience" means.

I hope that settles the question.



I'm so glad you DID post this, thera! There's another question in the whole torture issue I don't know what to do with. The moral equivalence that is made (by Q, lulu, Broughton) between Bush era torture and the long-standing practice of keeping such activities (extra-judicial killing and maiming) up and running but at arms-length - outsourced, so to say. To me these differ by an order of magnitude on whatever scale of moral repugnance one is working with. Why is that? I don't know, though I could probably give a few different standards by which to make the case. But mainly I'm troubled by people who can't SEE the difference.
How do we "see" the difference? I think unless we consider making everything public we really can't "see" - and that's what I think is crucial here. What if everyone could see? Truth be told, and we all tell our white lies, unless we consider how it would appear if all could see the deeds in broad daylight, I don't see how the nation can really have a conversation about some things.
I see what you're asking. But you're probably asking the wrong person. I'm a pacifist. I could not condone secret murders. Any more than I can condone secret - or broad daylight - torture.
I intend to write the post eventually where I talk about "the terrible intimacy of torture" - I'm working up to it. It's that hard to write about. Because it's like shining daylight on a torture chamber.
I can't answer your question. I can't even ponder it. Maybe someone else can.
Thera, I have a post up, "It depends on what you mean by actionable," that tries to get at the "intimacy of torture" that you mention. I'd be curious to hear what you think, but please don't read it if you think it would trouble you. Tx.
My post will be entirely different from what you've done.
Obey, I may simply have failed to communicate this properly, or we may have very different readings of US foreign policy history over the past 60 years, or we MAY have fundamental moral differences. In an effort to clarify, let me try this:
Imagine we arm, fund and actively support a thug gaining power in country X. Imagine we help him set up a secret police or special military arm. We find it, help establish the prisons, TRAIN them, provide them with intel. Once up and operating - i.e. TORTURING - we then provide them with key names of people to be interrogated. We provide questions to be asked, information WE want to know. They arrest, torture, get info, send it to us.
Is this dramatically different, MORALLY, than sending in guys in our own uniforms to actually toss people against walls or waterboard? Not in my books. Not in the books of the people being tortured either, I suspect.
This IS the story of Iran/SAVAK, Chile, El Salvador, on and on. Not just "killing and maiming" but TORTURE, bigtime. Not dozens of people, but tens of thousands went through those hellholes. If you want to call this outsourcing, you can, but it strikes me as just adding an additional moral failure on top of torture - not even being willing to OWN it.
So. Communications failure? Foreign policy history difference? Or moral gap? Calling it an "order of magnitude" difference in moral repugnancy, or using the term "long-standing practice" or even "outsourcing" really doesn't work for me. I can't see it.
Can help clarify this for me?
oh dear, Q, I shouldn't be writing anything under the title 'Moral Clarity'... I'm seeing things. ;0/
A little bit of introspection here - why am I not shocked by the cold war stuff the way I am by the Bush era? Part of it is ignorance. I admit Latin America is a big hole in my history file. Part of my current shock is the willingness on the part of all the little cogs in the wheel of government precisely to 'own' the torture regime. This was *institutionalized* - with politicians of all colors, lawyers, bureaucrats, doctors, psychologists, soldiers all on board. Not to mention a good chunk of the population and the MSM. Part of it is the moral fog of the cold war - the usual excuse that has a palliative effect on the conscience: it's either our bastard in charge or 'their' bastard, either way its morally a zero-sum game.
Anyway, I'll go slink off and give my conscience a good talking to...
No slapdown here, Obey. I devoured a certain kind of history from 1977-'87, and after "getting" that, well... there's been no "shock" about this stuff since. Someone asked what changed me from being a Conservative, and I'd have to say the endless stories, facts, documents on what we were doing overseas - that was at its core. And I argued against it Obey, every step of the way. I could not believe it. But when you're faced with hundreds of thousands executed, in dozens of countries, worldwide, running for decades, and that same quantum TORTURED, and our guys are THERE, training, doing handbooks, and on-site... after a while, even white, male, Conservative, farming, Baptist kids have to concede. Facts is facts. When my friends started reporting & photographing from these places, Central America and such, telling me about their conversations with these gangs, and our guys mixed in, onsite - well, denial was over. And something else took its place.
I haven't bothered keeping up in any detail since then. But I know our torture is wrapped up in our wars and our assassinations. AA gets at that below - torture in a war context is easier. Assassination/murder is another part, often the last step in a torture process. Hersh's new hints, and potential book, are gonna be interesting on this - we'll see if he catches Cheney.
There're a million books on this. I find Chomsky brutal to read, but he's got loads. But hell, just Wiki up SAVAK from Iran; School of the Americas, Operation Condor, Pinochet, hell, Death of Che from Latin America; or Phoenix Program and Tiger Cages from Vietnam. It's endless.
There's a Greg Grandin piece from a while back that starts off, "The world is made up, as Captain Segura in Graham Greene's 1958 novel "Our Man in Havana" put it, of two classes: the torturable and the untorturable. "There are people," Segura explained, "who expect to be tortured and others who would be outraged by the idea." It's a short piece, on the Trinity of Terror - Death Squads, Disappearances & Torture. Worth a read.
Yes, there is no qualitative difference. The reason is strictly memory. We United Statesers have selective short term memory. What was done by proxy can be forgotten more easily and quickly than a recent release of memos that spell out the atrocity. Further, even though we trained these proxies and even managed them up to and including enemies' lists (think union leaders and liberation theologians), they are still "foreign countries" who don't equal into us. It is a shabby view of things, but that appears to me to be how the uS mind operates. Timor... no problem. SAVAK... no problem. The killing fields... make an Oscar winning film. But our own agents actually cracking the whip under the golden shield of legal counsel and Presidential dictate? UNACCEPTABLE. IT BREAKS THE FOURTH WALL BETWEEN SPECTATOR AND DRAMA.
I think this rending of the veil is what is prompting the outrage. What happens in another city is less impactful than what happens in our backyard. That is an order of magnitude. Dropping a bomb from a plane is inherently less of a burden on the conscience than door to door urban warfare, in spite of the vast difference in body count. That is an order of magnitude.
If we to truly have a moral compass in this nation, then we would adhere to our lofty rhetoric and not finance/train proxy dictators who help provide us with cheap resources. But this is a situation where our eyes can be opened because it has cut so close to the heart of what we believe ourselves to be as a nation. It is prompting outrage and soul-searching and potentially a reevaulation of how we do business.
Yes. If there is anything good that comes of all this (and I'm not saying it's even possible to use the word "good" in this context) it will likely be a wider-than-expected realization that outsourced immorality is immorality nonetheless.
Nothing like having your kid build a meth lab in the basement to illustrate the realities of the drug industry.
You might find some of what you seek to express here in his "documents" section:
where there are also some quantity of rational discussions going on regarding the recent developments if you need some more.
(You say you can't communicate what you mean well, but I read your "no one knows what it's like to be the bad man" post at Billy Glad's place and thought it very good. I suspect some of the stuff you note worrisome, i.e., "sicknesses, delusions, obsessive cleansing behaviors," is partly because you instinctively understand from your youthful preaching experiences, which you have also written about, when it's being honest with oneself and when it's not. And when it's more like Savonarola or a Salem witch trial situation, trying to cleanse something, they don't know what. I also saw something in the post by Lulu Strauss as you did, especially the part where police abuse is described, this seems to me some sort of crucial point. I think you are onto some good thoughts and should be brave and write on it when they all coalesce if you have the time. Just mho. On the other hand, I do suspect this furor is going to die down as it is going to be expertly handled by Barack Obama, and he will take a fall as immoral among diehards if necessary, but get it to where the majority is fine with it, so maybe it's not worth putting effort into debating and writing on and on? And you probably know I am a fan of no politician, but in this specific case, I think there is the right man in the right place at the right time, he is nothing if not a cool rational legal mind looking for the most justice realistically possible at any point in time or situation.)
Also, I just ran across this page I in a search of my hard drive, an old 2005 PBS Frontline page, "The Torture Question," might be of interest. This from an interview with a pre-9/11 FBI Al Qaeda specialist:
...But clearly you've made the decision that this is never going to go into a court of law. And maybe even under a military tribunal, you'd have some problems, because the conscience of the court would be shocked. But what has happened is that they've taken this, and they've put it into a purely military context. ... So we've taken it from the usual legal process that we are accustomed [to] under our laws, and we've put it into that framework, and that gives you much more flexibility. And it clearly was done by design, because we have declared a war, have we not? And that's the context in which all of that takes place. Now, how effective are these techniques? If you listen, if you go back and talk to the Soviets, who are really good at this stuff, and you talk to some of the Vietnam detainees, captives for a long, long time, they will tell you, of course you give up information.
The question is, what do you give up, the quality of it, and can you spin a tale? And you can. In Al Qaeda's training manual, there's a part on interrogation. And it says that any brother subjected to strong physical torture is only obligated to keep to the truth for 72 hours, because nobody can withstand physical torture after that, generally. So they took no revenge against you for being an apostate, for collaborating with the enemy. So I don't think you had to inflict a lot of pain on somebody to get information.
I think what they found themselves in was a conundrum, and it was timing. They had to get this right away. That's what I think led them to some of these more robust interrogation techniques. Generally speaking, it doesn't work. You will get some information, though. Listen, if somebody's going to sleep-deprive me, or if somebody's going to beat me in my midsection or suffocate me or make me do whatever, I think it would take 10 minutes, because I know that I can spin a pretty good story and probably give up some information that they would consider vital. But in point of fact, once I leave the group, everything that I have, everything that I know is obsolete. It's only got a shelf life for a very short period of time, and I go back to my prior statement: Consider the consequences.....
BTW, for those interested in research as to "who what when" of the Bush administration, there's lots of stuff on the 2005 Frontline site.
Hey AA. Yes, I agree there's a real risk that the furore dies down, in part BECAUSE it risks being (in my view) "narrowly focussed" on Bush/Cheney. For starters, the Right is going to throw up flak on this, already are - e.g. all the talk about "torture not working." If that issue gets established as a major argument, and is defeated, the whole thing could be lost.
But they've got another tool, and it's one the Dems will be paying attention to, bigtime. The roots of torture, as we start to trace them back, are going to be troubling. First off, Obama has ex-Cabinet members of Bush's. Then there's Democratic Congressional leaders. And then there's Clinton. Seems to me I heard "extraordinary rendition" started, officially, under Bill C. - relating to Egypt or somesuch. With stories of Gore knowing about it, approving it, etc. The GOP has a big gun here. THEY can release inside info, that shows this stuff got tied to lots of bigname Dems. That's a heck of a card.
Because the HISTORY of our links in the Middle East & Latin America that I'm poking at - and I'm no expert - is available to drag all sorts of people through the mud, and even the courts. e.g. Remember when we decided to go after Saddam? I might agree with that, but when there's pictures of Rumsfeld bringing cake to the dude, and invoices listing the equipment we supplied to him, it got trickier.
So Obama is going to be under HUGE pressure to dampen some of this. " Sure, there are questions about possibly "giving up" torture as a "tool" going forward. But another big hesitancy is who on our side was involved, who knew, should have known, etc.
As I say, I'm all for moving ahead, but if you knew you could convict Cheney, but you might also catch your own leaders, would you move?
Take a look here, AA, because it may be that some of the torture occurred partly because some consultants were looking for work - and therefore may have written reports in such a way as to make it seem the detainees would only give info if tortured and also assessed as if the torture would not harm them longterm. So take a look at what emptywheel is saying. And someone else. Haven't looked at that other link she's given. But her piece is here:
(I've written a couple of extensive comments on that thread, by the way. Which may pertain to what I've written in this comment.)
Obey, I think there is a difference, but to me it's only a superficial difference. Outsourced killing and in-house torture shock my conscience the same. I feel a general nausea, a knot in my stomach, and something like a sting throughout my body when considering either one. Torture in-house is just prolonged murder further away.
Lyrics from a song comes to mind, "I need to watch things die from a good safe distance. Vicariously I live while the whole the world dies."
I think, we are less likely to be shocked by something the further away it happens. But I don't think that means we can't atune our senses to register what uniformly underlies this process--dehumanization. It manifests in many forms, in many places, and throughout history. But the root is the same.
We can only push something further and further away before it comes back around and stands directly behind us.
Thanks for that MBH - yes, I'm getting thoroughly slapped down here, and probably rightly. Do you know that 'trolley argument' moral psychologists go on about? You present people with two scenarios - one where they have to push someone onto the rails (and killing him in the process) to stop a trolley from killing two people standing further down, and one where they just have to pull a lever redirecting the trolley away from the track leading to the two people towards the track leading to only one person. Either way you're sacrificing a life in order to save two. People tend overwhelmingly to balk more at the first. Is this an irrational tendency? A self-indulgent penchant for keeping one's hands clean? Or is there some moral value to having this disposition? I don't know if the answer is quite so clear-cut...
I don't think you're being slapped down. Your understanding puts you on equal footing--regardless of prior misperception.
The example is a perfect one. I agree, it's not black and white. We want to have a moral sensibility, not just a moral calculator. A predisposition towards the sensibility is probably more important than the calculation. Morality starts inside the flesh not in math.
The point of TheraP's post was that it is essential to get the question right. This theoretical example fails on a number of points:
One problem is that the formulation of the issue assumes that the outcome is known. Outcomes, particularly involving multiple people, cannot be known.
It assumes the other people involved are dumb blocks rather than sentient thinking human beings who can also take action. It assumes the situation is static, allowing no variables, which is not in accordance with reality.
It is no surprise then, that most people would choose the lever option, but IMO that has nothing to do with any of your surmised reasons. It has to do with the fact that personally pushing someone under a trolley will clearly lead to serious damage of that person and that can be immediately linked to the pusher, i.e. oneself. In the lever option, the outcome cannot really be known, which people will subconsciously take into account, even though the example is set up as though the outcome was known.
Interesting, but i don't think the interpretation works. The people in the scenario are tied to the rails, and the outcome is thus close enough to certain and their room for action close enough to nil. One common interpretation close to yours is that we are more morally sensitive to harm done as a means to an end (however good) than we are towards harm as a side-effect consequent upon some intentional action. I find that quite plausible and not irrational either. And probably a perspective on the past 'indirect' torture regimes that was quite common: it happened as a side-effect of the Cold War policies, so somehow less abhorrent...
I'd be happy to hear your other ideas, if you've got the time.
I think you're dodging the point.
But maybe you're thinking about the difference between a "sin of comission" vs. "sin of omission". That could be a matter of as little as a typo!

You say the outcome is "close enough to certain and their room for action close enough to nil."
Ah, but that makes all the difference. You admit, then, the possibility of another outcome, which you don't however take into account. What is that other possibility? These people don't live in a vaccuum. (And if they do, then they don't live in the world.) That possibility might make all the difference. So I personally find it a poorly crafted thought experiment.
Obviously we are 'more sensitive' to an intentional harm than an unintended one (which is the essence of the argument you quote) as the former carries much greater individual responsibility and culpability than the latter.
I don't see where the parallel is to the war crimes for any non-(direct) participant, as they weren't voted on/known at their initiation and thus did not involve personal choice. So the 'indirect torture regime' is not comparable to 'indirect death by lever pulling'. But as a matter of record, I don't find 'indirect' torture regimes, whether by 'side-effect' or not, any less abhorrent than any other - they're all equally abhorrent -, but I do find I have less personal culpability if I didn't know about them at the time and couldn't do anything about it.
In the current torture issue we have all become culpable since knowledge of it surfaced years ago if we failed to act, but not to the same degree as those that carried it out and those who enabled and authorized it (whether or not they thought they were 'legally' covered).
I like your thinking two cents! Thanks for joining in here!
Fascinating discussion, obey. But I agree with two cents that somehow this has gotten way off the track. Not that I'm complaining it's "off-topic" but you're coming from a moral dilemma perspective. And that's ok. But why pose new dilemmas when we already have some real situations, where, in my view, there doesn't have to be a dilemma?
okay - my pitches seem to be missing everyone's strike zone today. I'll quit while I'm behind and try again some other time. Thanks alot for this post Thera - a homerun! ;0)
I hope nothing I said was taken amiss. I didn't mean it that way. And I don't think you intended that either.
I loved your post, by the way.
This is a very special, important contribution. Thank you for making it.
Thank you, Mary. Your having read this means a lot to me. And your positive opinion. That is huge!
"Therefore, what you have said in darkness will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in private rooms will be shouted from the housetops."
Old wisdom still applies, doesn't it?
"They would not listen, they're not listening still. Perhaps they never will..."

My dear, dear OtherShoe, you have made the perfect comment to this post!
Damn you Thera, I am having to confront all sorts of demons with this post. I confess, a very large part of me wants Cheney tortured- does that make me evil?
I am pleased to accept the damnation.
No, it does not make you - or any of us - evil, that we have, and admit to, aggressive, even murderous fantasies and wishes. There is all the difference in the world between contemplation and action.
I love you for your honesty!
Thanks, Saladin. I could watch Cheney being tortured. I'm sure I could. If duly appointed government agents were going to torture Cheney and I could be there. I would go! To me, there is no greater evil in this country then Dick Cheney. He has no loyalty to his country, it's Constitution, or even his own daughter. I look forward to his next heart attack because there is no national interest in saving him. He does not have the immediacy of care he once did. I would watch. His behavior is deplorable and there is nothing about him that I would ever wish to emulate. He is a disgrace. I cringe whenever any national network gives him air time. He would be a great guest on Jerry Springer.
You think you could, Gregor. But at some point, maybe very early on, you might ask - how can anybody really participate in making this happen? So, even if you feel rage at Cheney, perhaps you would dismay at your fellow citizens willing to demean, degrade, humiliate, destroy another person? Because we would not be talking 5 minutes here. Could be 5 days, 5 weeks, 5 months.... It's an endless imprisonment.
Your right, TheraP. But I think it might take a couple of weeks, or maybe a month. Yes, it would take something out of me, but there are soldiers who gave all they had because of the lies this man promulgated. Cheney's deeds were not a one bright day episode of planes slamming into towers, it was years of sending our military half way around the world on a mission like the one he avoided when his generation had a war of their own.
There are few people for whom I have such bitter feelings, very, very few. I'm generally a forgiving kind of guy who knows my own sins and shortcomings, but he's pathological and unrepentent. He has never displayed any respect whatsoever for the law in his own business affairs, selling arms to Iran when there was an embargo, and pushing for the torture.
I hear you, my friend. I hear you. If it were just physical torture, you might stomach it. But the filth, the sleeplessness, the curing up in a ball after prolonged abuse... you'd see a broken man. And you'd see these captors who simply would not let go of abusing.
But we're on the same page. In the long run. I feel sure of that! You're a safe comrade to have!
No, just a perhaps-overdedicated believer in irony, especially since Cheney doesn't know a damned thing worth anybody knowing.
Take the cruxifiction question (does cruxifiction work?) and substitute "the death penalty." we've been arguing that question for ages.
And whether the "nation could bear to watch?" is a question we've pondered before. "Ordinary citizens" are invited to watch -- er, witness executions as are members of the media, who report the details. "The condemned man (or woman) was defiant until the end..." or "the convicted killer cried for his mama..." or "professed her innocence..."
The reporters provide details on the "last twitch" or "gasping for breath as the cyanide pellets dropped..." or "the sound of bullets hitting the body..."
We've watched. We've paid people to watch for us.
Does cannabalism saves lives? I suppose so, if you were a member of the Donner Party or a survivor of the plane crash in the Andes (or whereever it was.) But should we consider people a farmable commodity, a renewable source of protein is a whole different question.
So the questions of whether or not torture works is a valid question IF the rest of question is present. In other words, does torture work to inflict great bodily pain? Yes. Does torture work to break a person's spirit and resolve? Over time, yes. Does torture save lives? Yes, if you are not the one being tortured. But saved from what is the rest of the question. Saved from the pain and suffering inflicted the one being tortured? Yes. Saved from terror attacks? No.
The problem with torture -- and humans have a long, detailed historical record of torturing their fellow humans -- is that it's not "experimental" in its application. It's been done and refined and crafted in real time on real people. The laboratory for torture is life.
As always, TheraP, you stimulate the brain cells and agitate the senses... good work!

Jade, YOU stimulated this post. It is in response to that wonderful post of yours. It presents four scenarios for performance art on the White House lawn.
But I didn't realize that - till you commented.
Part of the "performance" - I now realize - would entail trying to get permission to have it performed on the White House lawn. Filming the cast, ready to perform, trying to gain entry, to seek a permit, to describe what they intend to do.
I think it might make a great video. It would certainly garner publicity. It would provoke discussion. It would make people think.
Yours, Jade, is the most marvelous comment! Lots to tease apart there. You might consider a blog on it. Or maybe we'll get a lot of discussion here.
If the reader has not read Jade's post, you can find it here:
You've reminded me of other questions:
Does lynching work? I have at the top of a pile of books near my desk a book about freedom and civil rights in the US. It contains several of the most graphic images of black Americans -- citizens -- being lynched. With an enthusiastic crowd cheering the lynchers on.
Does the nation have the stomach to watch? Could the nation bear to watch? They already did.
Some did. I grant you that. I really do not think I could have watched. Unless forced. Forced watching of it, for me, would have constituted torture. Yes, I understand people did such things. Did everyone? I doubt that.
But I'm still asking the question. I still think it's the crucial question. Because it asks an "up close and personal" type of thinking about this.
It's so easy to psychologically distance. But not when the person is right in front of you. And I've had people having flashbacks right in front of me. It can be horrifying. It can traumatizing. Just watching the flashback.
I'll tell what torture is . . .
An indigent young mother sitting in an emergency waiting room with a baby with whooping cough. And -- In the 21st century no less. Subtle, but torture just the same.
The "people" don't wish to see that picture.
So they look the other way!
Oh and uh ... Still Humping the Stone.
Thank you for your example and the link. Well done!
Does torture save lives? Yes, if you are not the one being tortured.
I think the answer to that question is 'No'. Where is your proof? And if you provide evidence, please also provide evidence that lives could not have been saved any other way.
Thanks, TheraP for a very useful reference point in the discussion. We need more of these and more answers like the one Shepard Smith gave today on FOX "I don't give a rat's ass if it helps. We are AMERICA! We do not fucking torture!!"

Thanks, too, quinn esq. I very much agree with you.
It's worth posting the link for that. Because only someone who contemplates watching can really make such a statement:***ing-torture!UPDATED-w-VIDEOS
Thanks for the reminder on this!
A few people are forced to live in a nether world of the shocked conscience, and here are the things that untether us from the "normal" world (from Whistle-blower narratives: the experience of choiceless choice by C. Fred Alford):

To know what he has already learned, the whistle-blower would have to give up what every right-thinking American believes in. To forsake this is particularly difficult for the largest group of whistle-blowers I listened to: conservative middle-aged men. "Hell, I wasn't against the system," said Bob Warren, a civil engineer and retired naval officer. "I was the system. I just didn't realize there were two systems."
What must the whistle-blower forsake in order to hear his own story? * That the individual matters.
* That law and justice can be relied upon.
* That the purpose of law is to remove the caprice of powerful individuals.
* That ours is a government of laws, not men.
* That the individual will not be sacrificed for the sake of the group.
* That loyalty is not equivalent to the heard (sic)instinct.
* That one's friends will remain loyal even if one's colleagues do not.
* That the organization is not fundamentally immoral.
* That it makes sense to stand up and do the right thing. (Take this literally: that it "makes sense" means that it is a comprehensible activity.)
* That someone, somewhere who is in charge knows, cares, and will do the right thing.
* That the truth matters, and someone will want to know it.
* That if one is right and persistent, things will turn out all right in the end.
* That even if they do not, other people will know and understand.
* That the family is a haven in a heartless world. Spouses and children will not abandon you in your hour of need.
* That the individual can know the truth about all this and not become merely cynical, cynical unto death.
Not only is it hard to come to come to terms with these truths, but when one finally does, it seems one is left with nothing.
Those are my truths and Taguba's truths and Tamm's truths, etc. Yet no one will even acknowledge them, let alone help.
All this to say that I don't think that asking shocking questions or watching enactments will make the reality of the horror any more real and concrete unless they are experienced. Only then will the abstract transform into the real. And I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
Very helpful comment. Much to contemplate in your remarks and in your list. Thank you so much for your contribution!
Are you familiar with the book, Some Do Care?
I bought it at a time when Mr. TheraP and I were battling retaliation from a mutual agreement that he whistleblow? We know of retaliation and much else. So I'm not sure what your background is, but our experience is that the pain of all of it is worth is in the long term. First of all, you can live with your conscience. Sometimes you see heads roll - when people "fall" from on high. Other times not. But I'd always choose, if possible, to be at peace with my conscience.
Your presence here is much appreciated. I hope we'll hear more from you.
I'm sorry that you and MrP have experienced it. For most of us, it never stops until we're dead. People who are in positions to intervene, choose not to do so, and to request help has been to receive amped up retaliation, terror and harm. You are so far, the sole person to have written about having a survivable life after doing it. Thanks for sharing that.
I so empathize with wherever you're coming from. And yes, it's true, almost no one will stand up with you. Nevertheless, it's easier to rest with a clear conscience.
And if yours relates to government, you may yet be vindicated. And if there's comfort you need, the TPM community can supply it. I'm sorry we no longer have private messaging here.
The people you mention, Tamm and Taguba and others, are certainly familiar to me. People I admire and others admire.
Peace be with you - in every sense of the word. And courage and strength.

The key differences in our experiences are in your words,"almost," and mine, "no one,"and in your, "rest with a clear conscience", and mine, "despite what I did, others were harmed and killed and there is no rest or comfort." The only utility I served was as an object of entertainment for "concerned" people. Or as Alford put it, I was made into a "nut and slut". The internet is a wonderful tool for doing that, by the way.
What people don't or won't understand is that when they sanction, ignore or participate in terrorism or torture, that they make all people terrorists and torturers. There are no more "good guys" or people by virtue of their professions who can be relied upon to help instead of to harm. But that's my reality and the reality of other wb'ers. It is dangerous to trust anyone for any reason, and to expose even the slightest vulnerability or need is to invite predation, retaliation and more harm.
Beyond that, no person is even willing to approach since the wb'er doesn't have any more professional life, any social capital or any societal value, as that has been intentionally stripped, stolen, sullied and intentionally and maliciously withheld so that the former person can no longer be apart of it. It is to be so completely ostracized that "personhood" is lost. To use your Erikson framework - all of the failed states across all of the stages are externally enforced, and then the former person just exists out of chronological time. There is no future, because there is no longer any ability to grow, interact and develop.
If I ever find a way to sustain myself, all I want to do is to be able to withdraw so that I don't have to ever interact with any person for any reason, whatsoever. If not, then death will find me sooner or later, hopefully sooner. That's what the above passage by Alford means in reality, and it explains why most end up prematurely dead, because there is no future when you are forced to live as though you already are.
I can't thank you enough for sharing that you and your husband found a way through. I'm sorry I rambled on so long and so nonsensically - I won't repeat the offense.
I enjoyed reading your posts and your perspectives here. Thank you.
There are so many people who have blown the whistle to no avail - why? The laws we have pay lip service to the ideals of fidelity and accountability. I have concluded that when the stakes are high, involving money, lives and health issues, that it is much less likely that a whistleblower will be heard. I think that the best resort in these circumstances is to take heart in that you have been honest. Your critics are dishonest and below you. Thin soup I know but there are those who go on to be successful even though whistleblowing is a life changing decision. I have found the best defense to be a strong offense. When criticized turn the argument around on the critic and point out the fact that their criticism is a form of complicity in crime. This either shuts them up or makes them shout - either way you have won. Keep pushing and shouting and writing. If you are silent they win.
You aren't confronting what the reality is. No one is interested. No one "interacts". All I can suggest is to re-read the above quoted passage and the article from which it's excerpted and try to apply it to yourself.
Thin soup you use as metaphor. I eat from rubbish bins and pick up half eaten food thrown away.
I struggle to simply be pushed under the water more slowly while you cheer lead false hope and empty promises from high and dry ground, holding, but not using, a rope. To me, you are no less a predator than the original perpetrators because the effect you have on me is the same.
I fear you. You terrorize me.
Okay, I posted 24 hours ago and I got 1 comment and 2 recommends - exactly what I was expecting. I may be talking to myself at this point but on the chance you ever come back here I'll keep going. If you have looked at the post and thought about what I said you will see that I shouted MURDER in a room crowded with socially active people who care deeply about a lot of issues. I was hardly noticed. What does that say about humanity? My point in commenting to you was to extend you some knowing sympathy and let you know that I, if no one else, cared and could sympathize with your plight. You are not alone. I am not trying to trivialize your suffering - I have been there. People still don't listen to me. Shout MURDER enough times and they will lock you up. But nonetheless I keep trying in the hope that somebody someday will truly listen to what I am saying and then care enough to help do something about it.
I apologize - I posted the comment below thinking it was replying to yours, and it posted elsewhere. Here it is again:
Thank you for what you did and continue to try to accomplish.
But yes, you are alone, and I am alone, and any person who dares to speak truth to power is alone. The commonality of attempted advocacy does not mitigate the forced ostracism. Multiple people who are ostracized do not form a group except for labeling. Each member is powerless to advocate effectively for any other ostracized person. That's what is unrecognized. It hurts that I can't help you, and that you can't, no matter how much you might wish it otherwise, to help me or anyone else in this situation.
Ostracism is externally applied and enforced, and only the ostracisers can mitigate, but never undo, what they have done and continue to do.
Yes I know, but I can't stop telling the truth - even when I know the consequences will potentially be bad. When I was at my lowest, I resolved to devote the rest of my life speaking out against abuse. I realized after I had lost everything, and almost my mind, that the only things I had that were really worth dying for were my mind and integrity. I refuse to give up. I know that we are all internal exiles but I hope one day to see vindication in my efforts to bring light onto the wrongs I have witnessed, and perhaps make things easier for anyone who would tell the truth. Thanks for writing back.
Add to above. I know it may sound rosy for me, but in reality I live in a very cold rage and harbor a lot of poisonous hatred. In a material sense I am okay, but I still carry these burdens. The only way I can delay it destroying me is to try to direct it at the evil. Fortunately I learned a lot in the experience I related on my blog entry, and I have learned to do two critical things - keep records of everything and record conversations with people I think have suspect motives. It is by using information I accumulated in other events that I hope to force some cracks in the wall of silence. Hopefully we may see soon.
You aren't confronting what the reality is. No one is interested. No one "interacts". All I can suggest is to re-read the above quoted passage and the article from which it's excerpted and try to apply it to yourself.
Thin soup you use as metaphor. I eat from rubbish bins and pick up half eaten food thrown away.
I struggle to simply be pushed under the water more slowly while you cheer lead false hope and empty promises from high and dry ground, holding, but not using, a rope. To me, you are no less a predator than the original perpetrators because the effect you have on me is the same.
I fear you. You (should have written) terrify me.
I continue to fight my battle. If there is victory you will see but I can not now give details. My journey has been 10 years and counting and I refuse to give up. It was 6 years before somebody who mattered listened and I still fear a negative outcome. But nonetheless I have held to my principles struggled with adversities of the type you describe and kept myself alive and rebuilt my life. Job loss, persecution, homelessness etc. You must not give up.
To avoid mis-directing the course of this discussion into a discussion on whistleblowing, I will put up a posting entitled "My experience in pharmaceutical whistleblowing". This is not the incident I am referring to above.
You do not need to apologize for rambling. Though I rarely speak up here, I will venture to say that you may find more understanding here than you expect. Hang around for a while. My brother-in-law was a whistleblower. I, also, fought back. Though our experiences may be very different (in both degree and kind), I do at least to some degree understand your isolation.
In case you didn't notice, TheraP, for one, is out of town today so any further words from her will come later.
I will venture one more experience. A stranger once told me of his situation in Vietnam where he was trapped in a certain job, his shame at the things he did to stay alive, his "don't care what happens to me anymore." Stories matter. People do care. Hang around. And ramble if you like, that's ok.
Caring is not intent nor is it kind, but empty words, expressed in a vacuum and in the safety of knowing that no commitment or interaction in real life is forthcoming. I think the reactions to what I've written here are evidence that in order to "shock the conscience", one unfortunately, must experience that first hand. Or at minimum, I've failed to convey any sense of the reality of it.
I'm sorry that you and your brother-in-law were exposed to any of it no matter to what degree.I'm glad for you both that you seem to have been able to find enough resources to move through it.
I can only write about or even superficially think about this rarely and only if I stand outside myself and look through a glass darkly. I'm already past what I can do by writing this much, so will sign off.
That's how being terrified of everyone affects me.
I hear you terrorIzd. And it sounds like what you're describing is the torment, the torture of the whistleblower. If you forgive me, it sounds like you feel traumatized by what you've been through. So tormented and traumatized, that it has destroyed trust for you and induced a sense of despair, difficulty relating, as you say... all the stages destroyed - psychic destruction. Trauma will do that. What is needed to heal from trauma is a sense of safety (even a safe place to rage - as you seem to need), in order to reestablish a sense of connection with others, and ultimately knit back together a sense of meaning. I'd say you definitely sound traumatized.
My heart goes out to you. I definitely hear the despair. I affirm that is what you are feeling. And even if it might be very hard for some to hear or affirm that, those are your current feelings and you have a right to them.
At the same time it does sound to me as if you have compassion for others. All may feel lost for you. But perhaps, if you stick around here, and share a bit about yourself and interact more, there may be some way we can assist you a bit.
Peace be with you. Thanks for your words. I'm concerned about you. And for what you've been through. For how you've been treated.
But perhaps, if you stick around here, and share a bit about yourself and interact more, there may be some way we can assist you a bit.
Thanks, TheraP. Your comments have been very generous and understanding.
I can't and you can't - I have no control over any aspect of my existence. Can't predict where I'll be or any ability to communicate. I'm all out of words, anyway, and usually I end up offending and then having more crap and terror rain down. I can't afford emotions any more than I can afford food or shelter. It would be a waste of your time and futile.
You haven't offended me. Sounds like you've internalized a negative identity. Makes me sad for you.
Well, come to us when you can. Remind us of your struggles. And we'll do our best to understand.
Peace be with you.
I have no identity. It was destroyed along with the rest of my former life. For all practical purposes I would be better off dead. Even euthanasia is denied as the ultimate intentional cruelty. The only reason I haven't tried to killed my body is that I am terrified of failing and being preyed upon without any ability to escape. And so I fail anyway. I'm just a batted about, chewed up cat's mouse that still has a pulse, but has lost its entertainment value. Paralyzed with fear, I can never escape, am exhausted and just want it over with already. Waiting is agonizing.
Would it help perhaps if you didn't let your identity be determined by others? To value your contribution to society highly, even though society doesn't seem to value yours to it? Because it is valuable even if it isn't recognized.
My contribution? I made none. Not only was I hurt, but others were as well, as a result of my idiotic action. I shouldn't have commented here at all.
This is from the NY Times in a story about public first impressions (it was written about Susan Boyle)
... those in low status register differently in the brain. “The part of the brain that normally activates when you are thinking about people is surprisingly silent when you’re looking at homeless people,” she said. “It’s kind of a neural dehumanization. Maybe we can’t bear the horrible situation they are in, or we don’t want to get involved, or we’re afraid we might get contaminated.”
But no one who was and is in a position to help has ever done so.
I'm not real or human to anyone here.I'm just passing entertainment, some abstract construct.In real life, in the few instances where I am briefly tolerated, when my homelessness or lack of professional affiliation or lack of social standing is exposed, I am instantly discarded, and without exception, people immediately turn and walk away at best or prey and assault, which is the norm. Without exception. My personhood is irretrievably gone. Only a fleetingly brief mirage occasionally fools a few people rarely. Don't think that you are any different and would in real life treat me and others like me any differently.
If you want to understand, you will have to read the first quote from Alford in my previous comment and actually put yourself into each and every one of the lies and then imagine existing where they are all lies. That is the eternal hell I was thrust into. I didn't voluntarily go there,and there is no escape from it. I used it here because without any graphic violence at all, it is a fundamental paradigm for shocking the conscience. Yet, no commenter is able to imagine how that would be real to them - and that denies me and others who are stuck here in hell, any help. Paradoxically, I'm glad that you can't or won't understand it because it is unbearable.
Your words of encouragement are actually cruel because they lure me to further expose myself to danger.
Go back to Alford's list of all of the societal lies and make it real to yourself. Then you might have some sense of it. It is brainstem constant fear, limbic waves of adrenaline fueled terror that never abates - it denies sleep, rest, feeling - it obliterates everything. It is calling only as a last resort for you and your loved ones (now all gone) when a large and organized band of people has surrounded, assaulted and threaten while well-armed and having the responders who you are relying on to rescue you arrive with guns drawn and pointing at you and then helping the terrorists. (And that is the only real life example I will use - but the organized mobbing occurred on a daily basis for years, and it was highly organized, deeply financed and community supported) It is knowing that there is no social contract, no society beyond predator and prey, and no way to protect or defend against all of the corrupt systems being used to intentionally harm you and which will continue until you die.
If after reading this, you are inclined to write about faith and hope and other fallacies, please do not - at least to me. I am ostracized - in real life you would not willingly approach me, initiate a conversation or even make eye contact. You would not hire me, you would not return phone calls or emails, nor would you acknowledge my needs and situation in any way - unless you were preying one me or using me as an object to use so that you feel virtuous or victorious. You may or may not consciously think it, but I am just something to ridicule, humiliate, hold in contempt or condemn. You may be any professional, a physician, an ethicist, a lawyer, a store clerk, a librarian, a professor,a clinical psychologist, a member of the clergy, a volunteer, a politician, a political activist, a political fundraiser, a former colleague, an elected official, a judge, a law enforcement officer, a fire fighter, a victims rights advocate, a passerby - there is no one who hasn't used me for their own ends.
The world you think you inhabit is one I from which I was expelled. I culled pertinent snippets of Alford's work which describes much better - favorite quotes on my blog profile is where I placed them.
I can't - I literally cannot - continue this. If your conscience isn't shocked by it, then it failed in its intent or perhaps it just isn't conscience shocking material.
TheraP thanks for this post.You do have a way of making one think! Shocking the conscience,is this like defibrillating the heart? In this case not meaning the thumper in our thorax but the one in which the seat of reason and love abides. That heart poets pen of,singers swoon of,and lovers carve in the Oak with their name in hope of never losing? If so then it is quivering in confusion and in danger of cessation, so immediately call Code Blue, rush the crash cart,we need a shock, a few megajoules at least. What quivering when you can crucify to death and offer a soaked sponge on a reed to ease the thirst.Is this compassion having a heart attack? What fibrillating when you can water board a man but are careful to use saline water lest he get pneumonia and suffer? Could this be a combination of a heart attack and a stroke all at once? I use question marks because I am really asking and not asserting here. Whatever it is TheraP ,keep the paddles charged,when you see us turning blue, just shout "CLEAR" and sock it to us baby!(no offense) We need you! On second thought, don't give the warning of CLEAR, the handlers could use a jolt too.
I mean to reply to this some time ago, Don. You're such a great addition here! Thanks for commenting! :-)
So now FOX has decided the meme is this: "torture is not the issue because no one is complaining about torture elsewhere in the world. this is about revenge."
Ugh. As if there is no distinction between torture carried out in our names, through our legal system, with our military VS. torture carried out by others.
The rebuttal should be clear: torture carried out by others is just as shocking to the conscience, but torture carried out by ourselves is something about which we can do directly, now. How are we to change what the Iranians do if we haven't resolved our own legal system?
I'm quite confident that there is an element of something like revenge at work here. I probably wouldn't choose 'revenge' as the pointer, 'retribution' or 'retaliation' strike me as closer pointers.
I say this because I notice in myself something like that, and because it fits with my ideas about human nature. It's easy to want to strike back at a bully who has been a long time oppressor.
The problem is finding the right way(s) to deal with this. Does one forgive, whether one forgets or remembers? Does one demand a semblance of justice in the form of holier-than-thou shaming? Does one insist on sham trials and kangaroo court verdicts?
What is the way forward for each of us, and for us in a collective if not uniform sense (might be more than one consensus mode, thus partisan politics even objectively speaking)?
The problem is finding the right way(s) to deal with this. Does one forgive, whether one forgets or remembers? Does one demand a semblance of justice in the form of holier-than-thou shaming? Does one insist on sham trials and kangaroo court verdicts?
Forgiveness is an act of self-preservation, and it exists outside of justice. Perhaps I should rephrase to write that it is independent of justice. Forgiveness is also not dependent on the regret or apology from the perpetrator. It is separate from history and remembering. Victims of torture and intentional trauma may find resilience only in being able to forgive, even in the absence of anyone asking for forgiveness or in ceasing their attacks. Not to forgive is soul-destroying, and it is also a factor that perpetrators use to further harm victims. To answer hate with forgiveness is to de-fang a terrorist and a torturer in that they don't hold power to any significant degree.
What is the way forward for each of us, and for us in a collective if not uniform sense (might be more than one consensus mode, thus partisan politics even objectively speaking)?
Blunt force truth after truth after truth - the whole truth and nothing but the truth - and consistent and adequate action to support those who demand it and those who tell it. Support which is safe shelter, safety from attacks and harm, food, water, clothing, healthcare and a means by which the truth tellers can sustain themselves - basic survival.
Amen. May we be able to provide some support here for you. Because it's more than the things you've named. Having avenues to feel affirmed, to be heard, to be understood - these things may help you over time.
You have a large heart. And you have great pain in that large heart.
Thank you for sharing both with us. And please, share more.
eds, I think payback is a by-product of justice, but not its end. I truly believe in my heart that the value of the torture issue is this: we're forced to become aware of dehumanization (in our backyard) and we're forced to put the blind-fold back over the eyes of justice.
I don't think this happens because we want to punish the people who have done evil things. I think this happens because the shocking of conscience (especially the shocking of collective conscience) pushes everyone towards critical thinking and acting.
May it be so...
When considering torture, too many people have been asking the wrong questions. They've been asking: Does torture work? Does torture save lives?
I hope that is sarcasm, the "too many people" part and the "wrong" part. It's probably your "humorous" way of pointing out the problems of those who would defend torture "because it worked".
Isn't it clear that in 2001-2003 too few people were asking the right question: Even if these techniques are legal, do they work at all well, do they save lives? That is, it's one thing to ask the question honestly, another thing to make the statement, "Torture worked so stop bugging us."
Pragmatism dictates that we consider the frame of "the lesser evil", even if we choose not to do evil ("first do no harm"). Value conflicts cannot always be resolved in a thoroughly "win-win" fashion, and forward trajectories often cannot be optimized fully (sometimes you have to make tough decisions absent desired info). Life is, in a sense, a series of gambles on the partially unknown. This of course does not justify recklessness etc. in general.
Framing it as "Is torture legal?" is itself a false frame instance. Torture IS illegal. The legit question, again, is, "If some interrogation is acceptable, what are the proper limits on the conduct of an interrogation?" 'proper' here could be a synonym for 'moral', or 'legal', 'expedient' etc., depending on context (just what kind of 'acceptable' is on the table).
So basically your point is built around a strawman notion, and it nicely demonstrates the principle of "the necessity of the strawman."
America may be a nation of laws, but isn't it also and perhaps first a nation of humans? When laws clash with human rights, how do we resolve the conflict?

What I find most disturbing by the use of Government standards like "shocks the conscience," is that they would use Dick Cheney's conscience for measurement.
Well, thankfully "shocks the conscience" comes from the international standards! So you can set cheney to the side here. And concentrate on these values the world holds dear.
I think the official revelations from the Levin report yesterday that the administration was using torture for to extract "confessions" for political ends (namely to justify their bungling neocon imperial adventures) and the time-line showing that legal justifications came months after the torture program began should end all questions about whether torture, at least in this instance, was right or wrong. The speculations and excusing of this torture program is moot in light of the motivations revealed.
On a lighter note-
If you invite guests for dinner, I wouldn't broach the subject of cannibalism (more steak tartar?).
"Cheney likes torture"- I suspected he was one of those S & M types (and Condi with those stiletto boots?)
"the administration was using torture for to extract "confessions" for political ends"
That's an easy projection to make. Can you prove that they were primarily trying to CYA rather than honestly if delusionally trying to build a further sound case to support what we could call the "Mylroie View" of Iraq?
There is no public evidence whatsoever that the CIA or Administration was trying to get KSM et al to make lying confessions to be used publicly as PR. A plausible contrary hypothesis at this point is that they foolishly tried to use techniques which sometimes produce "false confessions" for PR purposes (American POWs, etc.) in order to extract intelligence. This is not to say that intimidation and coercion never produce valuable intel, rather to highlight the backward thinking or disconnect as in having a handy shield and thinking you could use it as a spear. SERE was a defensive psych tool to 'harden' soldiers against possible abuses.
In fact, if the waterboarding were at all effective at generating false confessions it would have produced reams of false confessions no doubt tailored to the moment. Frankly, since I can usually hold my breath for 40 seconds, and waterboarding allows some airflow (not 100% restricted) I don't get it as a real torture technique. Plus, didn't they tell the subjects what they were going to do and how it would work? And wouldn't they know after the first couple of applications? It really doesn't add up. Does that make it empty sadism, ritualistic nonsense, or what?

I can tell you as someone who attended SERE that waterboarding is torture.
And there are reams of confessions. Just read the 9/11 report. Look at the key intelligence assets that provided us with the body of the report and compare them to who got waterboarded the most. You will find a link that is insuperable.
How does your personal experience speak to the law?
'torture' is used loosely in casual conversation. I'm interested in things like the Bybee memo to Rizzo which at least pretends, and to me appears, to review a relevant law on torture.
I'm not aware of any false confessions in the 9/11 commission report, which confessions were made public as a political move to get the public to go for an Iraq invasion. Can you cite some specifics please?
You didn't specify false confessions relating to the Al Qaeda/Iraq link.
What I am saying is that given that KSM was subject to torture, the entire 9/11 report, which was built on the foundation of his confessions (related the "mastermindind" of the attacks), is now suspect. Can I say that the 9/11 Report is a tissue of lies? Not with certainty. But when the inquisition extracted a confession, am I to believe that the convicted was a witch in league with Satan?
The method of obtaining KSM's information creates uncertainty where none should exist.
And my personal experience does matter because my testimony is relevant as it applies to existing national and international law. I volunteered for the course, and what was administered to myself and others is less than what is done in the field. Then you multiply that by performing it several times over a short period of time and it torture by an order of magnitude.
To imply that my personal experience does not mesh with legal theorizing is ridiculous because I am technically EVIDENCE.
"You didn't specify false confessions relating to the Al Qaeda/Iraq link."
Context: "namely to justify their bungling neocon imperial adventures"
"To imply that my personal experience does not mesh with legal theorizing is ridiculous because I am technically EVIDENCE."
No, you're giving testimony which is spurious, not even specious. Anyway, I did not dispute your testimony, I pointed out that whatever your experience at SERE was, it's irrelevant to the question of the law at isse.
The law exists because of decisions made by evidence. My personal anecdote may be spurious in relation to this blog, but if I were called to testify based on my experience, then I would potentially impact the law. Legal decisions aren't arrived at in a theoretical vacuum.
Essentially, the argument over torture is "is what we are doing that bad?" My answer is yes if they did anything remotely like what was done to me in the name of voluntary training.
If you want to remove context and continue to view things from the vantage point of abstraction, then by all means go ahead. That is how cost/benefit anaalyses are run.
"Essentially, the argument over torture is "is what we are doing that bad?" "
Not really, but if you want to abstract to fit your misguided personal agenda, it's a free country.
The legal question is not "was it bad?" but "was it clearly illegal?" That is why the question of the laws on terror is not affected by your personal experiences. If your personal experiences could ad hoc change the laws, then we wouldn't be a nation nominally of laws, you'd be the dictator of the USA.
What are you talking about? To my knowledge the 9/11 Commission Report doesn't mention waterboarding once. Or any confessions extracted by it.
And if you are talking about the recently released torture memos, I would refer you to this oped in NYT yesterday by Ali Soufan, an FBI special agent
One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first[...] grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working [...]
I questioned him [...] before the harsh techniques were introduced [...]. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence. We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives. There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions (highlight mine)
My question is: at what point was torture used on KSM and how much information present in the 9/11 Report was based on information derived from torture?
Of course the 9/11 Report doesn't mention waterboarding... but there is specific mention that KSM was subject to it, and the information released shows that then National Security Advisor Condi Rice authorized torture shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
There is a clear implication that KSM's testimony is built from torture.
This link is from the end of January that details how much of what was gleaned for the 9/11 report wsa a product of torture.
Thanks for posting that link. I see we're on the same page. I would like to know how strong the evidence was that was not obtained through torture and what the percentage was. Perhaps we haven't really caught anyone involved in 9/11. What evidence is there besides from torture that KSM was 'the mastermind' behind 9/11, for example?
Here are 3 quotes from the article you linked to that I believe are worth highlighting here:
In addition, officials of both the 9/11 Commission and CIA confirm the Commission specifically asked the agency to push the operatives on a new round of interrogations months after their first interrogations. The Commission, in fact, supplied specific questions for the operatives to the agency. This new round took place in early 2004, when the agency was still engaged in the full range of harsh techniques
The NBC News analysis shows that there were 30 separate interrogation sessions in early 2004 when the second round of questioning began. Based on the number of references attributed to each of the sessions, they appear to have been lengthy.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says he is "shocked" that the Commission never asked about extreme interrogation measures. "If you’re sitting at the 9/11 Commission, with all the high-powered lawyers on the Commission and on the staff, first you ask what happened rather than guess," said Ratner, whose center represents detainees at Guantanamo. "Most people look at the 9/11 Commission Report as a trusted historical document. If their conclusions were supported by information gained from torture, therefore their conclusions are suspect."
Amen. Suspect!
IMHO, it was empty sadism, oure and simple. They detailed the activity and even videotaped it. The tapes were not for public consumption. They were destroyed when they were revealed. Why? Because they has served their intended purpose, providing jollies to a few SICK men.
Well, that's an opinion, but there would have been other reasons to document leading edge interrogations besides to get a record of any confession made or monitor conduct of the interrogator.
Aren't you trying to make it worse than it was?
Are you trying to glorify a barbaric practice?
leading edge interrogations
You make it sound like they were developing a cell phone that could transmit the smell of a pizza. It could only be worse if the victims were killed...oh...wait a minute...there were some deaths, weren't there? Okay, it just got worse.
What I am doing is refraining from taking a softer, gentler way to describe torture, or making some sophosticated argument in favor of it. I don't care one bit how careful or methodical they were. It was completely unnecessary and wrong. It does not reflect my values as a compassionate human being, but as noted on another thread, I could see letting them torture Cheney.
"What I am doing is refraining from taking a softer, gentler way to describe torture,"
No, my point was that you are overstating the situation into a falsehood.
How is "leading edge" a glorification? Are all the interrogation techniques "barbaric" or only some of them?
As long as you continue to paint with a broad brush and otherwise exaggerate in uncomical ways, you're part of the problem.
Define leading edge. The techniques used are decades old and have been outlawed for at least as long.
I think you're missing the irony here. You exaggerated. I called you on it with, "Aren't you trying to make it worse than it was?" and I used "leading edge". You complained about that. But it's offered in re *your* problem.
Let me restate since you seem hung up on 'leading edge':
" ...there would have been other reasons to document [the] interrogations besides to get a record of any confession made or monitor conduct of the interrogator"
Does that point sink in?

I hear your suggestion, but I do not give the Bush Regime any credit for thoughtfulness. And I will not, either, unless you can provide mne of some example where they were thoughtful.
BTW, what kind of confession are we talking about here? When you reference confession, I'm thinking of the Spanish Inquisition, which is an excellent corolllary.
When you think about monitoring the interrogator, is there any evidence whaqtsoever they were concerned with the health and well-being of the interrogator, for which there is abundant info they cared not at all about the interrogator. There is also no evidence that they sought any actual self-restraint by the interrogator, but rather there was only the demand that the interrogator provide exquisite details as to how s/he carried out their tasks. Oh, and that video be provided to go with that.
From McClatchy (on the Senate Report): (on the Senate Report): A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.
I only mentioned water-boarding because there is a consensus (outside of apologists) that it is torture. “You better talk or we’re gonna make you hold your breath for half a minute (and if that doesn’t work, it’s time-out for you, young man!)” doesn’t quite sound like the equivalent of water-boarding.
That we've convicted enemy officers for using it on our soldiers would seem to indicate its illegality. In fact, the interrogations eventually became a whole regime of abuses designed to work synergistically over a period of time to break down a prisoner’s psyche. There are many other sources on the politicization of these measures and other intelligence activities.
Cheney and Rummy were pressing hard on the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. The CIA was not getting what they considered reliable intelligence from the interrogations and would not grossly misrepresent info to satisfy Cheney. IOW, if they thought that the “confessions” were bogus, they were reporting that. Instead of accepting that, Cheney pushed them harder and demanded harsher and harsher methods to get something he could point to linking Saddam to 9/11.
Does that mean there were no other, nobler, motivations at work? No. Does it conclusively prove that all of the administrations motivations were venal? No. Does any of the testimony or documents so far made public prove beyond a reasonable doubt that torture was carried out and who was responsible? No.
But the information that has been leaked or released, going back to 2002, is heavily weighted towards "yes" on all of those questions. As to overwhelming proof of anything, that probably should be left to independent investigations, congress and courts. But there is overwhelming evidence that crimes were likely committed and should be investigated and prosecuted.

Overwhelming proof? How about common sense?
It's good that facts are coming out to support the hypothesis that Cheney overdid the interrogations pressure just as he overdid other pressures on the CIA. It's clear that he had it in his head that there must be an AQ-Saddam link of significance. What's not clear is where he got this idea. It's too easy to say he made up it entirely. And just calling it paranoia is far too broad.
"there is a consensus (outside of apologists) that it is torture"
That doesn't jibe with your description, but your description jibes with the memos. There might be some kind of consensus about something about waterboarding, but there's something weird in this. There might be legal and illegal uses of waterboarding, so you can't just point to some illegal uses as proof that all uses are illegal.

The interrogations were not about breaking down a psyche, but about breaking down presumed resistance to making full disclosure of facts or plans.
It is certain that some torture occurred (homicide during interrogation, for instance), but it's not clear what the correct label is for each of the various techniques used. What defines the line between acceptable interrogation techniques and unacceptable torture?

After several conversations, eds, I have to wonder if you really just enjoy confusion. I know I'll regret this but...
I make the uncontroversial statement that overwhelming proof needs to be established and decided on by proper authorities in a proper venue and you come back with, “How about common sense?”
Well, I’ll ask you the same- how about some common sense. Cheney didn’t just overdo the interrogations; Cheney didn’t act alone (Scooter, that you?), and they overdid everything i order to stay in power.
It’s not a hypothesis, either, but while we’re playing that game: how can you say that “it’s clear” he really believed in an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection? Common sense would indicate otherwise. Why would he keep pressing the CIA to give him something they insisted wasn’t there, and with all the evidence he was privy to, still think that there was a connection?
Why is there something “weird” in a long-held consensus among unbiased experts that water-boarding is torture (when it’s being used to torture, of course)? It can be legal when used for training, say, as in SERE (see: Zipperupus). Hell, killing is legal in many circumstances, but I’d like to see a murderer convince a judge that, since it’s okay in some cases, it must be legal in his (we’ll have no discrimination now).
Water-boarding POWs or “enemy combatants” is torture, plain and simple. The regime of combimed authorized practices amount to torture, even without the water-boarding. It’s been considered torture for a century (longer when you consider that torture was acceptable in ye olde dark ages). The definition doesn’t change with a new administration or a “new” enemy.
Now, once agoin I’ve tried at length to explain my comments, and I’m sure there are at least a few juicy quotes to be pulled from this one, and after subjecting to to torture, subjected to a nonsequetur or question smelling of red herring, confusion can be restored. But I’ve said my piece- peace.
Don, you're the one dealing in confusion.
My brief remark was that there is no need to sit around waiting for some experts.
"the uncontroversial statement that overwhelming proof needs to be established and decided on by proper authorities in a proper venue"
Overwhelming proof? It's clearly not uncontroversial. You introduced that phrase ad hoc in a prior comment. In court the standard is not "overwhelming proof", it's either a preponderance of the evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt. Absent context on how else you might have meant it...
My apologies- my confusion, eds. I misunderstood the comment. Our last discussion went round and round, so I was leery of that. Again, sorry. I still think that Cheney was well aware of what he was doing (that is, I doubt he really believed there was an I-AQ connection but still insisted on "evidence" of one, my gut feeling).
Re: your reaction about ‘a consensus that water-boarding is torture’, again, I’m puzzled. Water-boarding just once would be, and has been defined as, torture, but a round-the-clock regime, 180 times in a month?
Water-boarding aside, I can’t see anyone reading the logs of the treatment of these guys, the high-value ones and the innocent “nobodies,” and having an iota of uncertainty that this was torture to get “confessions.” It was systematic, took place in Gitmo, Iraq, Afghanistan, black sites around the world and among our torture allies; it included military, CIA, FBI, and was often micromanaged from DC in real time.
I understand that we know very little of what has gone on under one the most secretive governments in our history, but what we do know is a “slam dunk.”
"Water-boarding just once would be, and has been defined as, torture"
We can't even agree on that. I'll give it one more shot then we'll have to let it go.
Do the Geneva Conventions (CAT) specifically define the exact methods actually described by Bybee and presumably used on detainees as being torture? Not some water-boarding, all water-boarding of any kind whatsoever? If so, then the SERE program itself was illegal. So, you have to start drawing lines somewhere. Bybee referenced the relevant definition and construed it to show how SOME water-boarding would probably not violate the relevant statute.
All I see is a lot of angry people engaging in mob rhetoric. As a general supporter of due process in law, I must challenge wild accusations and errant suppositions.
Got beef?
We can agree to disagree. I certainly can't make legal arguments. But I would add that, just from the CAT definition-
"...the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he..."
I would say that suffocation by water, where a prisoner believes he is drowning (and from what others who have undergone it have said, that is almost a reflexive reaction to it) does constitute severe mental suffering. Under international laws, it is forbidden to hold a gun to a prisoner's head; to threaten with death. This seems to fit the bill to me, but I'm not a lawyer like Bybee, Woo or Bradbury.
Okay. You might be interested to read my blog just published:
It might put some perspective on our discussion here.
TheraP - why aren't you posting the culled quotes on waterboarding in response to eds's misconceptions about what it is?
It's a busy day for me. I can't be everywhere! Sorry to disappoint.
Besides, in my view, the post always remains above, pristine and untouched - no matter how many in the comments section may try to side-track things.
Have at it yourself! Be my guest!
There's been some confusion here. I did try to post a long comment on it, but it was never published. It said something like 'awaiting approval' or similar. Anyway, will try to repost it, given that it obviously never arrived.
Well, I tried a third time and got the same response:
Thank you for commenting.
Your comment has been received and held for approval by the blog owner
Maybe you could look into it when you have time. Maybe there were too many links in one post? Too many quotes????
There have been a lot of good posts on this thread. Hopefully people will be here tomorrow, as I haven't been able to respond to a couple of things, but am way too tired now.

I think that happens either when there's a lot of traffic or you've sent more comments in a short while than the system can handle. ;)
Well, I just tried a fourth time and got the same response I posted above. That was my first comment today, so mystifying.
Yes, apparently if you do more than 2 links in a comment, it won't post. Break up your comment into more than one comment if you want it to show up. (This has been a recent change, which has caught many users in an endless loop of trying. I'd say "sorry" but we have no control over such things....)
Keep trying. But with only 2 links per comment.
What misconceptions do you entertain about my accurate understandings or my written expressions thereof, two_cents?
Thanks TheraP for the clarification. This is the first half of the comment I have been trying to post in response to this comment from eds.
Frankly, since I can usually hold my breath for 40 seconds, and waterboarding allows some airflow (not 100% restricted) I don't get it as a real torture technique
40 seconds? I recommend you read up on what waterboarding is and how long and how often it was done by us. Here are a few links and excerpts

According to the Bradbury May 30, 2005 memo they waterboarded
up to two hours, with up to six applications of water on five days over a 30 day period.
Although waterboarding may leave no lasting physical injury, if carried to an extreme, it can result in pneumonia from inhalation of water into the lungs, fractures and dislocations from writhing against the restraints, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, and death due to asphyxiation. Even when there are no lasting physical effects, waterboarding causes extreme and often prolonged mental distress.

This is the continuation:
Evan Wallach, a JAG in the Nevada National Guard, has this to say
The victim may be immersed in water, have water forced into the nose and mouth, or have water poured onto material placed over the face so that the liquid is inhaled or swallowed. The media usually characterize the practice as "simulated drowning." That's incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding's effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.
The article has this to say from the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, where we prosecuted people for waterboarding, about a prisoner in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies:
A towel was fixed under the chin and down over the face. Then many buckets of water were poured into the towel so that the water gradually reached the mouth and rising further eventually also the nostrils, which resulted in his becoming unconscious and collapsing like a person drowned. This procedure was sometimes repeated 5-6 times in succession.
Christopher Hitchens underwent a very light version of waterboarding in 2008 ("water is gently trickled onto Hitchens’ head in contrast to how it would gush down upon a “terror suspect” while they were screamed at and also brutally restrained by interrogators" and had this to say
Determined to resist...I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.

So - wanna try it? Send us the video.
Glad you finally made it! And thanks for your links.
Whatever waterboarding is, and we know it's torture, it's done in a climate of total helplessness, where no one grants you worth and dignity, where food and warmth and clothing are withheld, affection is non-existent, and you as human come to feel non-existent (somewhat as terrorIzd above seems to feel - for whatever reason, which sadly, we don't know). But it's not just the waterboarding, which by itself is terrible. It's that the near-drowning, done over and over, is part of the never-ending imprisonment, which feels more like an experiment to make your "life" a living hell in every possible way.
On the other hand, some people will persist in a belief that neither waterboarding, nor any of the rest of these integrated forms of person-abuse, constitutes cruel and unusual and torture. But that is where the value of the collective conscience comes in, I think. The: "Could the Nation bear to watch" concept which constitutes a collective wisdom.
Thanks for your persistence!
A late thank you for adding this, TheraP. My post was definitely incomplete.
done in a climate of total helplessness
That is what makes me cry.
We're seeing eye to eye on the collective consciousness. What do you think about the current laws on torture being an accurate indication/reflection of what 'shocks the conscience' then? I'm also thinking with regard to that argument being used as a potential defense to any attempts to legally re-define what 'shocks the conscience' in order to allow torture.
Thanks for the advice on the cannibalism. ;)
And thanks for your cogent comments. And just hanging in there. We need all hands on deck during these difficult times. :)
Crucifixion works in unexpected ways. I am sure the Roman Empire and the proxy Jewish leadership thought that they had stifled zealotry by crucifying a man who was called King of the Jews.
Look how that turned out. Amen.
Yes, there is no doubt that this chapter too may yet have a powerful effect. Just look at the number of blogs, the conversation going on in many parts of our nation. The international condemnation. The shame.
Something healing may come out of this. A few weeks back I heard a young woman from Cambodia discussing the trial of one of the people from the Killing Fields. Her parents were both killed as I recall. And she talked about the apology of the accused. She talked about how important this process is for "the heart and soul of our nation." And boy... could I understand!
The British were doing the equivalent of crucifying by hanging many people slowly, in the 1700s. They also liked to display hanged pirates, skeletons or still fleshed, at harbor entrances, like the Romans used the roads.
The main point is that coercion, of any sort, is inherently devaluing of the information collected. So we can dispense with utility.
Then we can ask, as did Lincoln, if we are on God's side.
If you're watching that public tv series on native Americans, they show how the head of some Chief was on a pole in a village - maybe for months. Not the same as what you describe. But same time frame.
There's so much here. We'll be talking about this for years. I'm hoping for more international pressure. That may be necessary for some people to understand the gravity of what's occurred here. And the imperative that it never occur again.
Thanks for weighing in, Tom.
Don't forget Romania's national hero, Prince Vlad, known as The Impaler, Dracula, for doing the same head thing.
Your fund of knowledge, Tom, is amazing. LOL!
Could the nation bear to watch a battle-field amputation?
There's a lot the nation can't bear to watch that has to get done anyway.
But we demonstrably don't need torture, because we defeated the Nazis without it, and although we knew they were trying to create nuclear weapons, we didn't start torturing prisoners to find out more about it, and we won, and we stood down the Soviet Empire with all its spies and missiles, and no President or Vice-President from Roosevelt to George H. W. Bush ever advocated torture, or practiced it in secret prisons.
But that was a different nation.
In the nation we live in now, the torture-photos from Abu Ghraib were published in April, 2004, and in November 2004, George W. Bush was re-elected, and almost all those millions of people who voted for George W. Bush has seen the photos from Abu Ghraib.
They knew what they were voting for.
Nancy Pelosi had already seen it up close and personal on her "virtual tour" of the CIA's secret prisons in 2002, and by April 2004 everybody in Congress knew what they were funding, when they funded the war in Iraq again and again and again and again.
Barack Obama knew what he was voting for.
Hillary Clinton knew what she was voting for.
We all knew, and now it's too late to ask... "Could the nation bear to watch torture?
That question was already asked and answered vote by vote and year by year, for this particular nation.
That's who we are.
Dude. What is this? "We stood down the Soviet Empire with all its spies and missiles, and no President or Vice-President from Roosevelt to George H. W. Bush ever advocated torture, or practiced it in secret prisons." Ok, maybe they never shouted their support from the treetops, or directly practiced it, but... are you kidding? Maybe I was tuned to a different channel from oh, about 1948-2001.
We've voted "hell yeah" on this shit for DECADES. Or are you just funnin' me?
And don't call me a turnip..
Some of my favourite neeps, errrr, PEEPS, are turnips.
I'm just getting at what I was mentioning in those long rants at the top of the post. That torture occurred in many many nations we supported during those long Cold War years. and that we had a fairly active role in supporting them, etc. Since we helped set these facilities & activities in place, fed them info & used info from them, attended torture sessions, etc. - surely some hint of this must've reached top levels don't you think? When we then moved to cover these activities up, that too strikes me as likely needing some sort of senior OK. It's pretty tough to imagine we did all that, and didn't know what was happening in Vietnam, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, etc. And I'm assuming that all these activities had something to do with the Soviet Union, since that was often the official rationale for us being there in the first place - the grand global Cold War.
If the difference between us doing that, and us taking it back in-house and doing it more directly is the difference you're after, then ok. I'm just saying the difference strikes me as less than a black./white one, and more of a continuum.
And don't call me Tube-Boy.
My opinion about the role of the United States in Latin America, for example, isn't quite as grim as most of the few other far-left vegetables in this little garden, and every time I consider the Contras ambushing nurses and teachers in Nicaragua, I also remember the War of the Triple Alliance from 1864 to 1870, in which Paraguay went to war with most of the rest of South America, and 60% of the citizens of Paraguay perished.
60% of the citizens of Paraguay perished in the War of the Triple Alliance between Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay from 1864 to 1870.
There was obviously a downside to political and military domination of South America by the United States, but nobody should ever underestimate the capacity of Latin America to get crazy without any outside interference whatsoever, and when Tio Sam goes home after 50 years of whatever, it isn't a sure thing that all will be sweetness and light from Juarez to Tierra del Fuego.
Ok, you get points for surprising answers, Root Veggie-man. But that one totally took me by surprise. Aren't you the guy who scorches political ass re: Afghanistan & Iraq, and supports Kuchinich's Peace Dept. and all?
But in Latin America?? The death squads & x hundred thousand dead are downgraded to "Contras ambushing nurses and doctors"? And the US role referred to as "a downside," but perhaps not too grim... because those Latin lads have a tendency to go loco, and once Paraguay lost a huge chunk of its people in a dumb war?
Will the real Rutabaga Ridgepole please stand up?
The "real" Rutabaga is Antônio de Souza Netto, who led an army of gauchos and indigenous spearmen against the Paraguayan invaders in 1866.
No comando em brigada ligeira fez a vanguarda de Osório na invasão do Paraguai, no Passo da Pátria, em 16 de abril de 1866. Na batalha de Tuiuti, foi importante na defesa do flanco da tropa brasileir, mas foi ferido a bala e mandado para um hospital em Corrientes, Argentina, onde morreu e foi inicialmente sepultado.
Later our earthly remains were transferred to a mausoleum in Bagé, where I hope you will offer an humble homage one fine day, if a labyrinth of the ethmoid like you can get a passport.
Dammit, I told the doc, "Make sure to put that frigging ethmoid back in, coz I'm gonna need that someday."
And now look. Brain running out my nose, and I'm totally screwed for a Brazilian passport. About the only thing that could make this worse would be to run into a talking Paraguayan turnip.
Could the nation bear to watch a battle-field amputation?
Probably a lot couldn't stand to watch, so perhaps the question needs qualifying and in thinking about that I've ended up thinking about TheraP's post more. I think TheraP meant 'Could the nation bear to watch and not intervene, because of the harm done to another. It would be excruciating to watch an amputation, but one would assume it was done for the good of that person.
These questions all revolve around speculating on the benefits to be had by harming another for the common good. They then further ask, how much good must be achieved to justify that. I think TheraP is implying that the very discussion of harming another for one's own benefit is abhorrent and the question 'Could the nation bear to watch' is also shorthand for 'can you look the issue of harming another for your own benefit squarely in the eye and live with yourself?'.
I would certainly agree with that without equivocation.
The specific question 'Torture vs. Murder' is however IMO a legitimate topic of discussion though, as there can be a distinct difference between the two.
There is, except for the purest pacifists, an agreed legitimate use of murder, which is in self-defense (not pre-emptive self-defense!), (For me, this is also why the death penalty is not legitimate. It is not necessary to kill the individual to protect society.)
The same cannot be said for torture. I think Oleeb defined it extremely well in saying
What shocks the conscience is when a human being, unable to do anything whatsoever to defend themselves, is physically and mentally brutalized.... It is criminal under all circumstances. Period.
This is what distinguishes torture from combat. I think TheraP, you could have also asked, what is the law? Because generally our laws have regulated what the majority want to see done, i.e. 'could bear to watch'. And the laws did regulate that in this case of torture. Therefore no one should have taken it upon themselves to act outside the law and that which was already defined by humanity (the nation and the world) over centuries as acceptable. The laws should and I think (up until recently) did reflect what 'the nation can bear to watch'.
Unfortunately, there are some who can bear to watch torture, so it can't be decided on an individual basis. (I think the reason the Cheney option got a few supporters was probably because it was prefaced by the truth that 'Cheney likes torture'. Though he probably doesn't like it for himself, his criminal use of it on others makes it seem more legitimate to use on him in return.)
The 'pre-emptive' war issues that got us into this horror do fit perfectly in your general template. It was a pure, calculated attempt to derive benefit by harming others who had done nothing to us. And the law recognized that this abhorrence is illegal and not a legitimate use of war as deemed by the collective of society over decades. (And I don't think we've got away from illegal war today - what are we doing sending drones in Pakistan and killing innocents unable to protect and defend themselves? And on Afghans? The only legitimate use of war is self-defense against attack - not presumed attack, not mere 'threat'.)
On a side note, I feel the cannabalism example is in a slightly different category than the others in that, in the given example of a small group in a cage, it might be a decision that was mutually reached by all involved (otherwise it would fall into the murder category). Maybe an older or sick person would agree to be sacrificed or commit suicide .... Someone added the 'farming of humans for food', which would obviously bring it back in line with the general topic.
I have just the barest bit of time at the moment - as I must be up at 4 am on Friday - to catch an early train - but I think you're pretty much getting at what I had in mind. In the sense of - could someone watch other harm another person (over and over and over) and not intervene? Or place them in harm's way? Which is the position of the starving people?
But it's not so much the situations, I had in mind. As.... it's all being filmed, broadcast. We're passive watchers... of horror. We're passive viewers... as others do harm. Place people in cages, for example. Torture.
But the real point is - public viewing. Not secret crimes. But public ones. These are not folks who've been adjudicated. We'd have to watch an absence of lawfulness.
But you're pretty close here.
And I'm sorry to have been absent so much today.
It's a series of thought experiments. Versus the secrecy of torture. Versus the closed torture chamber.
Thanks for such hard work here.
Good post (of course).
What shocks the conscience is when a human being, unable to do anything whatsoever to defend themselves, is physically and mentally brutalized. What shocks the conscience is any act which, if done for any reason, causes revulsion.
What people really, really need to understand is that physically and mentally brutalzing human beings is wrong under all circumstances. Period. It is criminal under all circumstances. Period. There is not a psychologically healthy human being on this planet that doesn't know instantly what torture is and that it shocks the conscience.
I took a look at a link posted on the TPM front page about a "war" over torture at FOX just for fun. I thought it would be amusing, but it was not. It was very instructive however. It was the first time I've ever agreed with a talking head at FOX.
I strongly urge everyone to follow this link and view the video. When you get to the page there are two vids. The first is with Charles Grodin and the reprehensible Hannity. That is not it. Keep scrolling down to the second video and go to the 3 minute mark and start watching from there. The guy in the middle and the judge are conservative people, FOX employees and listen to what they have to say. Listen to the deeply serious tone they take. At one point the fellow in the middle says "This is not about left and right. It's about right and wrong." I am profoundly encouraged that if these two men (who I would normally expect to be in strong opposition to) stand up for decency with the force they do on this tape, then there is hope. Here's the link:

As you know, we are on the exact same page as far as the illegality, the brutality, and the damage done via torture - to both victims and captors alike.
I think your link is the video I placed above.
Thanks for your comment and your untiring efforts to eradicate torture.
Yes, it's the same link. I saw yours just after I put it up. No matter. The more people that see it the better.
Our side must win the day on this. For me this is a nonnegotiable point. It's about a whole lot more than "just" torture. We simply cannot have a government that doesn't abide by the law.
The same elements in the government that have been twisting America's soul and distorting America's image and carrying out criminal acts on a widespread basis for decades are the same elements that made the torture program a reality and they need to be put down once and for all.
This is likely our last opportunity. If we don't stop them this time, when we have them red-handed (couldn't ask for more damning evidence) then the next time they regain power they will do far worse and may even complete their authoritarian assault on our liberties and our republic.
I cosign every bit of this! This is so important. It is a cause I've been troubled by for a very long time. Probably since I read Lives of the Saints as a kid. (not a pretty read... very troubling... searing)
(I watched the video about 4 times last night.)
Clarification. It's an "issue" I've been troubled by. And a cause dear to my heart.
Clarification. It's an "issue" I've been troubled by. And a cause dear to my heart.
not sure what happened there!
By the by, I am pretty sure there have been multiple theses on each of the topics.
I've been trying to find something to contribute to this post but it keeps escaping me. Shocks the conscience. Shocks the conscience. Shocks the conscience.
Above, I described a general nausea, a knotting of the stomach, and an overarching sting throughout the body. I thought that was a shock of the conscience. Now I see how I can contribute. That's a mistake. That's not a shocked conscience; that's messaging of the conscience. That's MOVEMENT of the conscience. Shock entails STILLNESS. Shock is to the conscience what jawdropping is to the face.
What does "shock the conscience" mean? It means to freeze it, to overwhelm it, to stop it. Nothing registers.
To ask 'how does a conscience in shock feel' is analogous to asking 'how does a lapse of time feel'. For these reasons, as you say Thera, there are some things we cannot talk about publicly. Not just because they are repulsive, but worse: because their sense cannot be absorbed. To speak meaningfully about something, one must meaningfully sense that something. Otherwise, the speech is nonsense or "the talk is cheap." How do you meaningfully ground the significance of a human being strapped to the ceiling?
I'm suggesting that once you're attuned to the significance, you cannot represent it in words. You cannot represent it at all. It's only something that's PRESENTED, and that's it. Representing evil is like trying to draw an outline of something with no shape.
Very good description. A conscience - in shock!
You are good, MBH!
Just trying to lend a hand in building what you started a while back.
Just a couple of thoughts on your good comments:
I think if you're 'attuned' to the significance this is also to say you have 'experienced' it, to 'know it viscerally'. This is true knowledge.
'thebalilama' points to the lack of empathy in our society, although we are all one. I agree. So, as the conscience of some is as hard as rock and never lets anything in, shocking that conscience will not be as swift as those more open and empathetic to others. For that reason, the question to be asked at any given point in time that would demonstrate what 'shocking the conscience' means, can only be answered collectively, not individually.
Two cents, thank you. You're right. To be attuned is to experience. The interesting thing though is that you don't really have to experience it directly. For instance if A hits B and B is in pain, you don't have to be A or B to feel empathic for B. You can be on the sidelines, so to speak, and yet your mirror neurons feed input as if B's pain was yours too.
Some people wrongly call that telepathy. That's silly. It's just registering someone else's experience directly. And the activity of mirror neurons explains how this is possible chemically. Besides, a mind is not distinct from a person's body. So, in a real sense, to "mind read" is just to read body language--which is communication of the mind!
I totally agree that conscience is a collective phenomena. Again, reference mirror neurons. I also think that closed minds are not closed in isolation. So the more opened minds that are shocked = exponentially more shocked opened minds. Exponentially more shocked opened minds = gradual prying open of closed minds. Gradual prying open of closed minds = exponentially more quickly prying open of closed minds.
'We are all one'. So true. I like to ground that proposition as 'we are all part of an interdependent system'. As such, none of these events occur in isolation. Which means that the process of awareness lifting is an exponentially growing unfolding. This is a beautiful time to be alive!

Thank you so much, MBH, for these important elaborations on the nature of experience, mind and conscience. Yes, "We are all part of an interdependent system". As the Dalai Lama put it "Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature"
I think in particular there is a lack of awareness that the mind goes beyond the brain and conceptualized thinking, and that therefore, in any given individual, acquiring understanding requires receptivity of the body. This in turn requires an unimpeded flow of input and output throughout the entire body.
When shock and trauma occur the flow is severely impeded - blocked -, or as you said earlier, frozen, still. It is this physical response that engenders the sense of separateness and ill-health. (It is obvious to all that trauma caused by blunt force causes physical damage, but the physical aspect of other terror is not generally recognized or understood in its totality, especially the causational mechanisms). So in order to restore health and well-being those physical blockages must re-open, both through the mind and the body - which are one.
As for beautiful times to live in - well, it should always be beautiful to be alive, but sometimes seeing that beauty requires accepting that 'my enemy is my best friend and teacher', a lesson most often difficult to receive without recourse to sarcasm!
I so agree, two cents. That's why I asked the question: Could the nation bear to watch? That's the collective conscience, right there.
Well done!
You know TPM should have the option of recommending a posts comments section separately.
As usual TheraP, brilliant. I am getting in here a bit late.
I so agree that there is a dearth of good questions. "The Google" has all the answers anyone could ever want, but very few good questions. I think perhaps, to paraphrase an old canard, "A good question is worth a thousand facts"
I heard another question that can't be asked on the radio a couple days ago. "If life-threatening medical research experiments on a severely retarded, bedridden person could save lives, would it be okay?"
I see a real deficit of empathy in our national conversation. A criterion for "shocking the conscience" might be "If this [waterboarding, etc] were done to your child, would your conscience be shocked?"
I am one [silly old beatnik] who doesn't believe we are all equal, I believe we are all one. I think the biblical quote, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." is less about Jesus and more about all of us and how we interact with each other. This is the way I hear it, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as I have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, I have done it unto myself."

You've said it well. You've said all that needs saying.
Much better: We are One.
These utilitarian questions are very scary. They suggest an absence of comprehension of what being human means. It means we treat life with dignity. And we treat death with dignity. We don't just "experiment" on people. That's what Hitler did.
For a thread to stay active after its "sell-by" date is rare here. This is a tribute to the importance of this issue. And the vitality of this community.
Thank you for what you did and continue to try to accomplish.
But yes, you are alone, and I am alone, and any person who dares to speak truth to power is alone. The commonality of attempted advocacy does not mitigate the forced ostracism. Multiple people who are ostracized do not form a group except for labeling. Each member is powerless to advocate effectively for any other ostracized person. That's what is unrecognized. It hurts that I can't help you, and that you can't, no matter how much you might wish it otherwise, to help me or anyone else in this situation.
Ostracism is externally applied and enforced, and only the ostracisers can mitigate, but never undo, what they have done and continue to do.
My conscious was sufficiently shocked when the former president's top legal adviser was unable to conclude that ordering the torturing of toddlers testicles was clearly out of the bounds of Presidential power.

Wow, TheraP! You're connecting with a lot of people. Good for them! Good for you! Good for us!
Posted by Faye Quam Heimerl
June 18, 2009 7:11 PM | Reply | Permalink

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