Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The administration and those photos

Note: This appeared as an op-ed in the weekend edition of the Valley City Times-Record.

"There were young knights among them who had never been present at a stricken field. Some could not look upon it and some could not speak and they held themselves apart from the others who were cutting down the prisoners at My Lord's orders, for the prisoners were a body too numerous to be guarded by those of us who were left. Then Jean de Rye, an aged knight of Burgundy who had been sore wounded in the battle, rode up to the group of young knights and said: 'Are ye maidens with your downcast eyes? Look well upon it. See all of it. Close your eyes to nothing. For a battle is fought to be won. And it is this that happens if you lose."
Froissart’s Chronicles, 14th century

President Obama, announced he would authorize release of photos showing prisoners undergoing “enhanced interrogation.” Right-wingers announced the imminent downfall of the American republic.

Then he changed position and said he wouldn't. Left-wingers announced the imminent downfall of the American republic.

Reportedly, top US commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan personally told the President they opposed release, arguing it would make the US mission more difficult.

Most of the controversy concerns “waterboarding,” a technique used on three terrorists a total of six-and-a-half minutes. It's also routinely used on U.S. military personnel training to resist interrogation.

One of the terrorists the CIA is known to have waterboarded is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

The 9/11 Commission claims Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was “the principle architect of the 9/11 attacks.” Under questioning he boasted, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl, in the City of Karachi, Pakistan.”

Pearl's body was found cut into ten pieces in a shallow grave in the outskirts of Karachi in 2002. A video of Pearl's last minutes was posted on the Internet, and featured on snuff-DVDs sold as light entertainment in parts of the Middle East where they don't like us much.

The arguments about “enhanced interrogation” concern whether the techniques used are, or are not torture. And given they are, is torture ever justified?

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the CIA didn't tell her they would actually go out and do what they described in the briefings she attended. The minutes of the meetings show, to put it bluntly, that she's lying her head off.

Anyone who says they'd never use torture under any circumstances is lying their head off. Tell anyone that someone they love more than their own life is in the hands of Khalid's buddies, and watch them join the “waterboarding is for sissies” camp in two seconds.

The question is, how far can we go before what we do destroys us and the ideals that define us as a civilization? Is there too high a price to pay for survival?

Maybe – but you have to survive to have that discussion.

We are justifiably proud of the progress we've made since the not-so-long-gone days torture was acceptable legal practice, and executions and bear baiting were public entertainment. What we too-often fail to realize is, that progress has not been evenly distributed across the globe.

Our enemies come from a culture which holds public beheadings - and parents bring their children and let them kick the head around like a soccer ball. Where to murder someone who insults you, your clan, or your religion is praiseworthy. Where mothers teach sons if their wife, daughter, or sister is raped, their duty is to murder her.

Our enemies think we are soft, and their ruthlessness will overcome our power. Whether they are right or not, is a still-open question.

So Mr. President, I'd say go ahead and release those photos. If we allow these things in our name, we ought to be willing to look at them.

But if we do, let's look at that Danny Pearl video too.


  • At 7:02 PM, Blogger Steph in Colorado said…

    Amen! I've always been astonished at how some people call panties on the head--or waterboarding--"torture" but refuse to look at genuine horrors and real torture like the Pearl video and thousands of others. What is the metric here? Waterboarding is torture--compared to what? It's only torture if considered in a vacuum. Comparing it to any genuine torture immediately disproves the Narrative.

    I wish Those Who Occupy the Moral High Ground would just once be made to clean up a room where real torture took place. Not even have to watch it, just have to clean up the blood and pieces of human flesh and urine and feces left behind. Scrub it clean and get rid of the smells. And have to write an account of what could have caused a human being to leave behind such bits of refuse. Then tell me with a straight face that panties are torture, waterboarding is torture.

  • At 8:53 AM, Blogger dchamil said…

    We are discussing only the release of pictures, not videotapes. Why are there no videos of the interrogations? After all, many Highway Patrol encounters with traffic offenders are videotaped. In some jurisdictions, it is routine for interviews between detectives and suspects to be taped. Do we fear to hear the groans of those being questioned? Are we "maidens, with downcast eyes?"

  • At 1:50 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Excellent point. Among other things, I'd like our people to see that, 1) the level of distress suffered by Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his ilk is nothing like Danny Pearl gurgling his life away as his throat is cut, and 2) the defiant threats uttered by these s.o.b.s ("Soon you will know!")

    Videotaping interrogations has been a boon to justice - especially in those bogus "mass child abuse" cases, where subsequent examination plainly revealed the interrogators were coaching the children on what to say.

  • At 7:51 PM, Blogger Ted, a/k/a Galt-in-Da-Box said…

    Dread thou naught...
    They're not releasing the photos and other info, because they're going to do with the proceedures like they have done with fiscal responsibility.
    The 2008 Bush budget was declared "unsustainable" by the leftist Congress that approved it. That was several trillion dollars ago.
    I just hope those with the ability to rationalize anything and everything, who really have no guiding principles, moral compass, commitment to the Constitution or the Founding Fathers - in short, "Conservative" authoritarian pragmatists - remember the valuelessness of their pragmatism that coming day when it's THEIR nuts being wired to a car battery or generator. I want to see their worthless recriminations (not unlike the faux-handwringing of the Rockefeller Repugnant-can'ts after their deserved ass-kicking last November) when the blow-torch is being put to their naked ass. Since it IS such a primitive and backward lot in the middle east, perhaps getting out of bed with "our friends, the Saudis" is an idea that has long passed come of age - you know, like an Israel weened from the AIPAC teet?
    Until that wonderful day when we stop fighting battles not our own and do away with "Pax America" we should remember that "What goes around, comes around" usually with fangs. Or nukes, as the case may be. Paid for by "our friends, the Saudis."
    Every slippery slope has its bottom, and the bottom of meddling with strife not one's own is in hell!

  • At 8:14 AM, Blogger Libertarian_Libertine said…

    The anti-torture politicians anger not because they are anti-torture, but rather they were pro-torture until they got called out on it. It shows a lack of moral resolve.

    The point of opposing torture is because things like torture pollute liberal democracies and after a little bit of torture here and a little bit over there and our civilization looks a little more like theirs.

    Also, yes, Navy SEALs and Green Berets are waterboarded as part of their training, but despite claims, it isn't to resist torture, such a thing isn't really possible. Sticking an ice pick into a man's testicles isn't going to make him more resistant to sticking an ice pick into his balls. It's rather to drive home the importance of evading capture. It tells them, "You are a member of the SEALS/Delta Force/Green Berets/SAS/whatever and you are considered to be among the best fighting men on the planet, yet despite that, you still cracked after a few minutes of supervised torture that was selected because it will not lead to permanent damage. Just imagine what the enemy can do to you."

  • At 6:46 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    I believe I mentioned the question of what torture might do to us and our civilization. It's a legitimate worry - but I assure you, if your children were in the hands of Al Queda, you'd wield that ice pick and sleep like a baby afterwards - if you suceeded in getting your children back.

    Most of us are not going to have close contact with Al Queda members for sure. But if you had ever, hypothetically speaking, been stalked by a psychopath with a fascination with your family who had to be... discouraged from pursuing his obsession, you'd know for sure what I say is true.

    Your point about training is a good one. Another purpose is solidarity building.

    Us anthropologists noted a while back there are certain techniques for bonding men into "Bands of Brothers."

    One is ritual torture. Many societies us circumcision (or harsher variations that make me pale to even think of...), scarification, feeding kids a powerful hallucinogen and scaring the shit out of them...

    Another is ritual taboo breaking, of varying degrees of severity.

    For the mild end, think of college fraternity hazing and vandalistic pranks.

  • At 7:56 AM, Blogger Libertarian_Libertine said…

    I assure that if my family was ever threatened, I would do whatever it takes to protect them. I've met men who are passive to the point of submissiveness who would become meaner than a junkyard dog if anyone messed with their family. Be it a psychopath or a terrorist group.

    But I don't think the law should be based around what we would do in the worst case scenario with no-holds barred. You're talking with a guy who would cut the fingers off of someone who stole from him if he could get away with it. The law probably shouldn't be based on what I would do.

    Now, that being said, I think if there truly were a "ticking time bomb" situation, I don't think the police officer should be fired or charged if he (or she) were to resort to beating the living shit out of a known terrorist if it results in the correct information.

    In an extreme situation like that, I can't really blame people for turning a blind eye. I don't care if the information is useless in court (as it should be), but the fact that lives are saved is more important to me.

    My problems are that torture is rarely useful and it shouldn't be used in civilized circumstances. Unless you want some very specific information that you know that individual knows, torture can do more harm than good. Anyone who is honest themselves, knows that if they were tortured long enough, they would admit to any number of misdeeds to order to get the torture to stop. How many exaggerated and blatantly false confessions were extracted from the hands of the Cheka/NKVD/KGB, Gestapo, or any secret police thugs from torture?

  • At 11:43 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Different situation you're referring to. "Confessions" for political crimes have nothing to do with obtaining information important to the safety of a nation - or an individual. They're purely for political propaganda, a warning to enemies, and to indulge the sadistic impulses of the totalitarian ideologues.

    "Rarely" does not mean "never." There was important intelligence obtained during those six-and-a-half minutes of waterboarding.

    And I suspect strongly the effectiveness of the techniques used comes from the fact that the questioners are not sadists, nor ideologues.

    The "McCain answer" that enhanced interrogation should be forever illegal, "but you should do it anyway if the circumstances are dire" is a way of not dealing with it.

    Which is not to say it might not be the optimum answer.

    So what about the guy who has to make the decision? Cashier him anyway? Forgive him and make the law meaningless?

    And what about the guy who let the ticking bomb keep ticking when he should have sweated it out of a terrorist?

    "Hey man, it's not my fault, the law's the law."

    Do you want to cashier him for obeying the law, even if a city died for it?

    Understand, I don't know the answer. Nor do I think anyone else does. Most likely because we haven't been dealing with it, we've been sweeping the issue under the rug until we have to deal with it.

    Allan defender-of-the-rich-and-guilty Dershowitz's idea of a "torture warrant" sends chills down my spine, but at least he's dealing with the issue.

  • At 4:42 PM, Blogger Ted, a/k/a Galt-in-Da-Box said…

    Maybe we should hire Don Rumsfeld to "take Douche-owitz waterboarding" til he gives us the answer?


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