28 February 2008

I can't say it better than this

The difference between FDR's America and GWB's America.

From Andrew Sullivan.


  1. Putting someone in handcuffs is torture now too? Sheesh.

  2. It is when you suspend them from the ceiling by the wrists:

    Strappado is a form of torture in which a victim is suspended in the air by means of a rope attached to his hands which are tied behind his back, in which the arms are most likely dislocated. Weights may be added to the body. Other names for strappado include reverse hanging and Palestinian hanging. It is best known for its use in the Medieval Inquisition and has since been used by the governments of Turkey, Nazi Germany and the United States of America.

    America needs to be better than that.

  3. Ouch. Minutes after posting the below, I inadvertently performed a hemi-strappado on my three-year old while trying to help him off the potty. I feel so bad.

  4. If you read the real Wikipedia entry, it says this:

    Strappado is a form of torture in which a victim is suspended in the air by means of a rope attached to his hands which are tied behind his back, in which the arms are most likely dislocated. Weights may be added to the body. Other names for strappado include "reverse hanging" and "Palestinian hanging". It is best known for its use in the Medieval Inquisition and has since been used by the governments of Turkey[1] and Nazi Germany[2].
    It then goes on to mention that this was "allegedly" used on a single prisoner in Abu Gharaib. I'm not sure how George Bush has anything to do with this. Come on now.

  5. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

    I don't pretend to know how many times strappado was used, but the Church report documented at least two. It doesn't matter -- I'm not quibbling over one or two isolated events or techniques. I am interested in the larger stain on America. When George Bush gets up and insists "America does not torture," the world knows that he is lying, that for six years America has routinely engaged in practices that the rest of the civilized world, and most American citizens, considers torture.

    Bush is responsible. Respondeat Superior. Even if were only passive neglect, Bush would still be responsible, but it has been more. His deputies, John Yoo, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Gonzalesm, Mukasey and the rest, actively promoted these policies, and when they came to light, Bush first denied the accusations, then later defended the practices.

    "Torture-but-we-don't-call-it-Torture" is official US policy under George Bush.

    And that brings shame on America.

  6. Sorry, I'm getting pissed now.

    You see, I'm a big fan of proportional outrage.

    Maybe I'm crayzee, but I'm outraged when woman after woman comes through the ER after being tortured by their boyfriends and husbands. I had one the other day whose face/nose was fractured in multiple places. She told me eventually that her husband took her to the concrete garage and smashed her head into the floor multiple times and left her out there in the cold.

    Another had choke-hold marks around her neck and gooseggs on her head from him simultaneously choking and beating her skull into a wall.

    "I wasn't sure if I was going to live or die, but then he dropped me and left."

    Your average American female is tortured far more frequently and more brutally than a terrorist prisoner. Is George Bush to blame for this too?

    How about the girl who was taken to a park by a group of guys and gang-raped as a gang initiation and left there like a piece of meat?

    There are the countless children raped and molested each year, causing real and true psychological harm on them for their entire lives which far outweighs the "torture" felt by a couple of mass-murdering psychopaths subjected to waterboarding.

    If someone suspended a prisoner from the ceiling and the prisoner died because of it, that's a crime and should be punished as such, but let's make our reaction proportional to the real and daily torture of Americans inflicted on them by other Americans.

  7. K,

    You are making a false comparison.

    If it were US policy to gang-rape women, or abuse spouses, or molest children, that would be a shame on America, too. But that conduct is not endorsed and promoted by our government, and in fact our government aggressively punishes such behavior. The guilt that lies in such acts is upon the heads of the criminals responsible.

    But when it is policy to torture the people in our custody, and when no accountability or punishment is meted out to the executors of torture, the guilt in that lies on those in the government who are responsible.

    You are right -- outrage should be proportionate. And I am outraged that America's standing as the moral exemplar for the rest of the world has been trashed by the reckless, irresponsible and amoral crew running the executive branch.

    If you're not outraged by that, if you acquiesce to it, then that saddens me.

  8. I get more outraged when Americans try to compare America to Nazi Germany and Palestine...like now for instance.

    George Bush is not all-knowing. If an individual in government committed a crime such as murder, he should be punished for it. End of story.

    It makes about as much sense to blame Bush for "alleged" torture at Abu Gharaib as it does to blame him for the poor girl who stumbled to the neighbor's house for help after getting her face smashed on the garage floor.

    Blame Bush is just an ignorant way to view the world. If you think a war can be fought with no rogue idiots doing crayzee stuff to prisoners, you're going to be disappointed. When you have 250,000 troops involved, there are bound to be a couple of bad eggs in the bunch. Oddly, there are more soldiers that abuse their wives than prisoners.

  9. I am always amazed by the fluidity with which Bush apologists will shift between various rationalizations.

    First, it's "No torture ever took place," then, "well, maybe there was torture, but it wasn't as bad as some other stuff," and now it's "there was torture, but it was a few bad eggs and not Bush who authorized it."

    That's a load. If Bush really disapproved of this practice, he would have moved to stop it, he would have help high-up officials responsible for the behavior of their subordinates like the military traditionally does, and he would have denounced the actions he found so reprehensible.

    Instead, he hired a counsel (and promoted to AG) a man who found the provisions of the Geneva conventions "quaint" and "obsolete." He refuses to deny that we torture (other than his repeated blanket denials which finesse his definition of torture).

    Face it: our president knowingly and willfully has authorized our government to torture.

  10. "I'm not sure how George Bush has anything to do with this."

    This is in his job description: he is the Commander in Chief,he is supposed to know and anything that happens during his watch makes him responsible.
    If he can't take the responsibility, then maybe he should not have applied for the job.
    Same type of reasoning and responsibility dodging happened with the Enron executives...

  11. Sheesh yourself.

    Nurse K, I am put in the mind of Andy Dufresne asking the warden, "how can you be so obtuse?... is it deliberate?" --

    1) The man in the poster is not merely handcuffed, he's been beaten/whipped, leaving deep, long welts across his back (follow the link to the larger image in which this is easier to see). It should take you not more than a few minutes to find examples of language from Bush administration officials and offices which would make this sort of coersion acceptable if performed by US interrogators under various circumstances. Also, it has been well documented that actions of at least this severity have been carried out by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and (I believe, though I may misremember) Gitmo.

    2) The poster is, as noted, not a modern depiction of current American action, but a contemporary US propoganda poster against what America's enemies were practicing during WWII. The poster evokes in my mind, though I can not say if this was intended, the image of beaten slaves or flogged sailors -- a corporal punishment that has long since been deemed beneath any civilized nation. This poster was a statement of principle by a nation under the direst threat imaginable, in a time when it was entirely possible that the entire world might fall under the control of, quite literally, evil men.

    3) So, you seem to have fundamentally missed the premise of the argument -- in one period of immense peril and fear, the United States made it a particular point to hold itself to an absolute standard of principle on the subject of torture. In the current period of peril and fear we have aquiesced to accept a relative standard, perhaps best stated as "hey, it's not as bad as the evil doers."

    In WWII, Nurse K, would you have been an apologist for the internment of Japanese and German Americans under the standard that, "hey, it's not like we put em in gas chambers"?

  12. In WWII, Nurse K, would you have been an apologist for the internment of Japanese and German Americans ...

    Er … james … that internment was carried out and kept from the American people pursuant to the orders the self same FDR to whom Shadowfax compares Bush in this silly and historically illiterate post.

    If you and Shadowfax are absolutely bent on being a sanctimonious poseurs, at least take the time to do the reading.

  13. Catron,

    james' point is dead on. It can be expedient to violate a core principle -- be it torture or internment -- but it's still wrong, and not justified because our enemy is worse than we are.

    Which is the whole point of the poster: we should not let the heinousness of our enemy distract us to the point that we lower ourselves to our level. We are, and need to continue to be better than they are.

  14. Two points:

    1) The typos in my previous comment remind me of why I try not to write anything when I'm pissed off. Emotionalism muddles the intellect.

    2) Which is precisely what is wrong with your argument. You and James allow your emotional response to (alleged) American torture to overwhelm your good sense. Thus, you produce an argument that is tantamount to saying we should come to a gunfight armed only with a knife.

  15. What we're really talking about here is waterboarding, right? Right.

    Based on everything I've read about waterboarding, I would specifically choose it to be done to me if the alternative was "what would typically happened after my ex-husband came home from the bar drunk and angry on a Saturday night." I'd also choose it over a 2-minute fist fight vs. an 8th-grade girl (I've seen that Khalid Shiek-Mohammed was waterboarded for less than 5 minutes but I'm not digging around for a source).

    Water on my face for a couple of minutes? Yawn. If that's what all this is about, spare me. I've been REALLY choked before and this "psychological" "sensation" of choking business is totally worth it to get information to stop the enemy.

    You, a terrorist extremist who has beheaded, raped, and unambiguously tortured, get water in your face for 14 seconds or a couple minutes, and we find out secrets. I'm not an "apologist", I really don't think it sounds that bad as long as reasonable steps are taken to protect the airways.

  16. Nurse K -- No, I'm not specifically talking about waterboarding, though it is an element of the topic. I, at least, am specifically talking about denying the applicability of the Geneva Conventions, or (for example) this (quoted from a washington post article quoting administration papers on interrogation): "Distributed under the signature of Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, the opinion also narrowed the definition of "torture" to mean only suffering "equivalent in intensity" to the pain of "organ failure ..... or even death." This is a standard which would easily allow for the type of beating shown in the WWII poster, and which has probably contributed to mistreatments and deaths of prisoners in US custody.

    You have been very articulate and clear, and I do not dispute that there are plenty of other evils that equally, if not more, heinous, and you are perfectly justified in placing your priorities on redressing those wrongs. However, to my knowledge, none of the disturbing events that you cite have been performed in my name. The argument you are having is simply and completely off the topic of the concern that shadowfax initially presented.

    You, a terrorist extremist who has beheaded, raped, and unambiguously tortured

    This comment, unfortunately, brings up a whole new barrel of worry for me. Who can guess why?...

  17. catron - shadowfax may or may not feel that FDR's america was a categorically better one than GWB's, but I have not made that statement at all. I am merely comparing the professed policy of the nation at two points in history on the specific subject of torture.

    I think my comment makes it clear that I would have found the internment of American citizens another irreconcilable perversion of our nation's purported values had I been around at the time, just as I find it so now. As for its being carried out and kept from the American people, I am baffled by what that means. No specific grounds for an individual's imprisonment were given, no trial required, etc. (which echoes much we face today), but I would hardly classify any of it as a "secret."

  18. I am baffled by what that means.

    It’s clear from your comments that, despite your evident self-complacency, you are baffled by many things connected with the real world. There is a cure for this: Devote less time to moral posturing and more time to learning about actual history.

    If you can bestir yourself to do the reading, a good place to start learning about the internments would be By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.

  19. It is accepted in all circles except Bush-haters with other agendas that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to terrorist groups because they don't fight in uniform and are, thus, not easily identified as an enemy in the war by the soldiers.

    Since we're talking about FDR, when German saboteurs were caught trying to do naughty stuff for the enemy on US soil during WWII (a parallel could be drawn for al-Quaida on US soil), FDR had them tried in a single trial without appeal and executed because, essentially, they were working for the enemy out of uniform and could be tried as war criminals.

    In fact, Bush supposedly followed FDR's example with this tribunal system which get liberals' undies in a bunch.

    By the Geneva Conventions, you may be killed by firing squad if you are captured out of uniform. If you're in a mosque firing at American troops and we capture you in your street clothes, then we may kill you by firing squad per Geneva Conventions. Sorry.

    It's a dicey situation when you try to figure out who in a village in Afghanistan is just there because that's where they live and who is fighting for the enemy out of uniform since terrorists/insurgents don't have uniforms nor any way to readily identify them.

  20. Hi, Dr Shadowfax. I'm an avid reader of your blog, and I may have a little to contribute to this discussion. I tried submitting a comment earlier, but I think I screwed it up. If this is a (sort of) a duplicate, I apologize.

    I'm a former member of the US military. Uncle Sam thought I was one of those folks with a "high risk of capture" so he sent me to a very uncomfortable school in Maine called SERE (Level C, as a matter of fact). As such, I have a passing familiarity with the Geneva Conventions and the Laws of War.

    Please note - this is not a statement of morals or values, just a quick clarification of terms for those of you who are citing the Geneva Conventions.

    Here it is, folks - the GCs do not apply to most of the people we capture.

    The The 3rd GC Article 4 details who can be a prisoner of war. The 4th GC details the treatment of civilians. Go ahead and look it up - I won't bore you by re-typing them here.

    The biggest reason is that the folks we capture DO NOT FOLLOW the Laws of Armed conflict (LOAC). The LOAC is applicable to every person in the Theater of Operations, whether civilian or military. I highly encourage you to look up the LOAC from an objective source and do some reading.

    At the end of almost every Article in the GCs, it states something to the effect of these people are protected, provided their conduct has been according to the LOAC. I assure you - many insurgents that are captured were not abiding by these strictures.

    Also, it is important to remember that these people have been CAPTURED, not arrested. The two concepts are very different. Combat operations are not the same thing as police cruising the block. In many ways, criminals in the US have many more rights and priviledges than someone captured on a battlefield. I think this is counter-intuitive to people who are used to authority telling them, "You have the right to remain silent." In fact, even legally recognized POW/EPWs do not have the right to remain silent.

    The Geneva Conventions are badly in need of revision. They are not modern enough to deal with the 4th Generation Warfare environment. While they are noble in principle, there are things that occur in 4GW that the authors could not have predicted. In my humble opinion, the GCs are not very good tools to use in an argument about people who fight in ways they don't cover.

    I hope my original comment shows up out of the blue, as it was much more detailed.

  21. Savage Henry,

    Isn't torture prohibited by any contracting state in any circumstances? I thought torture was one of the very few things that applies all of the time.

  22. jimii -

    The way it was explained to me in SERE was that I had to abide by all of the ROE and Geneva Conventions to expect the protections set forth in them. If I did not, I could expect to be treated like a criminal under the laws of whatever nation caught me, which basically means having my head cut off and the video posted on You Tube.

    "Look mom! No head!"

    When you use the term "illegal", what set of laws are you referring to? If something is not prohibited under the GC but is against the law of a country it can still be considered illegal, no?

    My point was that there seem to be better laws to argue the relative illegality of torture than the Geneva Conventions. The GC needs to be updated, badly.

    I'm not an attorney. I'm just a beat up old grunt who traded in his rifle for an X-Ray machine.

  23. Savage henry,

    Thanks for a thoughtful response. Just to be clear, I never claimed that the GC was controlling legal authority, just that an administration which derided the GC as "quaint" (an addition to other actions) created an atmosphere in which torture was somewhere between tacitly permitted to actively promoted (we may never know which).

    For that matter, it seems as if much of the objectionable techniques were carried out by "OGAs" which presumably refer to the CIA and the like. I have no clue whatsoever what the legal authority is for those operations, and what legal restraints there are on their behavior.

    There was an effort recently to make the US Army Field Manual the standard for US personnel performing interrogations. I believe it was obstructed by the republicans, with McCain absent (correct me if I misremember). Pity, if true.

  24. Durn! I skimmed the relevant conventions this morning and I was beaten to the punch, as I was just about to cite GC III, Article IV, myself, and with much the same commentary regarding the LOAC. Thanks Savage Henry for the insights, and especially for the measured tone.

    I was going to add that it is the inapplicability of the definition of "belligerents" in the GCs to the majority of enemy combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan that probably leads Gonzales to call the GCs "quaint."

    SH, I think I understand your point that they are a poor standard to apply to modern conditions. But, I'm hard pressed to imagine any updating of the conventions or an equivalent international moral standard that would repudiate the strictures against abuse/torture of prisoners (whether to elicit information or otherwise), even those members of a combatant force that did not observe those standards themselves. I think the GCs are relevant in their expressions of established and hallowed moral limits to the actions of "civilized" nations, and I think that one of those hard limits is torture.

    Savage Henry, if you don't mind, a couple questions? --

    these people have been CAPTURED, not arrested

    How do you relate these terms to those prisoners taken, for example, based on testimony provided for a bounty? Or those taken when patroling/raiding a residence or other location, not necessarily in response to an actual attack or firefight. How does/should policy regarding prisoners differentiate between "suspected" and "known" enemies?

    the GCs do not apply to most of the people we capture

    Perhaps you are merely being circumspect, but how many would you say are "most"? My reading of Art. IV makes it seem plausible that members of various militias, the Taliban, and other "official" enemy forces when targeting coalition forces as opposed to bombing markets, might be recognized combatants.

    even legally recognized POW/EPWs do not have the right to remain silent

    I certainly wouldn't compare the arrest of a civilian domestic suspect in a normal crime to a POW. Miranda rights and the like are clearly a different subject. Does _not_ having the "right to remain silent" equate to the right of the interrogators to elicit information by any means desired? I mean, doesn't a legally recognized POW supposedly have the "right" to only provide the ole "name rank and serial number"?


    nurse, catron, anyone else - without diverging into tangential threads, to what standard should the United States hold itself with regards to physical abuse/torture/treatment of prisoners? I believe that the administration has made it clear in principle that extremes of physical and psychological abuse are acceptable and that these statements have led directly and indirectly to occassions of such abuses being put into practice. I make no claims as to how common this is, how greater or lesser it is than other evils, how it does or does not impugn the character of good men and women of conscience who have not participated in such abuses. That, I believe, was the instigating concern of this thread, and the one that I am curious to resolve.

  25. Dr. Shadowfax -

    Perhaps "quaint" is a word that has too many negative connotations for you to accept it. I don't think anyone can deny that the GCs are woefully out of date, though. Most of the laws don't take into account many of the gray areas that appeared when armed conflict evolved from 3GW to 4GW. They work fairly well for most types of asymmetric warfare, but not what's going on these days. It is in our interest to define and codify these gray areas, at the very least to deny our enemies whatever advantage they gain from appearing to be victims of the Great Satan.

    Regarding another point you made - I won't talk about current intelligence gathering techniques in an open internet forum.

    Also, I'm sure you will recognize there are many reasons organizations resist Standard Operating Procedures thrust upon them by outside organizations, and not all of them are political. JHACO, anyone?

    James and Nurse K:

    You are both correct in citing Article IV, but it's also the fact that none of the groups we operated against after March of 2004 abided by the LOAC. IEDs in a marketplace make you a criminal, not a belligerent. Minimizing civilian casualties is a fundamental tenet of the LOAC.


    You are correct with the name, rank, and sevice number comment. It's a small difference, but the easiest one I could think of to differentiate between civilian and military prisoners.

    As far as "known" vs. "suspected" informants HUMINT and SIGINT and probably some other things I don't know about work hand in hand to verify and provide context for information. Once again, I'm not going to say more. I wasn't some kind of Special Forces Operator - I don't want to make anyone think that, but I do have buddies still over there and I don't want to make their jobs any harder.

    When you say "I'm hard pressed to imagine any updating of the conventions or an equivalent international moral standard ...etc" you are touching on the issue that makes the current conflict so difficult. No one has had to prosecute a campaign like the one we are pursuing. 4GW is so new, so dynamic, that we are being forced to figure it out as we go along. The military, National Intelligence Services, NGOs, US AID, and so many other agencies are having to work in very close coordination these days.

    Warfare and the projection of power is more complex today than it ever has been, and no one has all the answers. By the time we do figure it out, it will be obsolete.

    I wish we would institute an Apollo scale project to develop alternate energy sources, get off oil, and leave the Middle East to rot. If we did that, the Middle East would soon have the strategic signifigance of West Africa, i.e. none.

    Fighting in the desert sucks.

  26. To what standard should the United States hold itself with regards to physical abuse/torture/treatment of prisoners?

    All "standards" would be arbitrary and open to interpretation.

    The level of interrogation should be proportional to the value of the person as an intelligence source.

    Any form of assault that would be considered a felony in the US should be avoided. Assaults that result in fracture of bones, burns to the skin, poisonings, cigarette burns, amputations, dislocated shoulders are felonies, for example, but a slap across the face wouldn't be. Other injuries that have the potential to cause serious harm, such as kneeing someone in the gut or smashing someone's head into a wall as hard as they can, should be avoided.

    Things like humiliation might be very valuable when used against chauvenistic terrorists, and should be permitted. I'm not saying they should have to run naked through the prison, but maybe put on a ladies' dress every day until they talk. Psychological "abuse" should be reviewed prior to be administered and should be considered effective at gaining intelligence, not just used to humiliate for its own sake.

    Anyone who is captured should receive basic health care.

    People should not be denied food/water for long periods of time. The food does not have to be halal nor tasty.

  27. So what you're saying Nurse K is that its ok for the military acting on behalf of the government to inflict pain and suffering (and humiliation, i could list more effects)on people SUSPECTED of a crime, but its not ok for individuals to perform the same acts on each other as private citizens?

    I'm also under the impression that torture is not an effective means of gathering information - after all if you are in that much pain, fear and distress you will say anything to make it stop.

    As for waterboading, its far far from just having a little water put on your face....


  28. Anonymous from 4:18,

    The purpose of the military is to project political power overseas.

    That means gaining actionable intelligence, hurting people, and breaking things.

    "Suspected of a crime" as you put it has absolutely nothing to do with projecting political power. Your point about individual vs. organizational violence is meaningless. I have done things as a servicemember that would get me the death penalty as a private citizen.

    So what?

    You need to change how you think about the military before you can fully understand these issues. Nothing the military does to the enemy has anything to do with fairness, sunshine and light. The military wants to inflict as pain, death, and discontent on the enemy as possible.

    "Suspected of a crime" has no place in the arguement.

    I realize you asked Nurse K, not me, but I couldn't keep my piehole shut about that. Nurse K - I'm not trying to speak for you - I read your blog too and I know you don't need any help speaking your mind!

  29. Great thread--I'm learning a lot about both sides of the argument.

    A couple of points from the "anti-coercion" argument that haven't really been addressed yet:

    1) Torture, coercion, etc--either physical or psychological--are ethically distateful. While there _may_ be situations in which such actions are unavoidable (but that's a different argument) any civilized entity _will_ be ashamed to stoop to such levels, and will endeavor to avoid doing so. If you can't agree with this point, I don't see any possibility of rational discussion.

    2) Torture (or whatever you want to call it) is a notoriously unreliable way to get information. Yes, a skilled interrogator will eventually learn everything a subject has to reveal, but that intelligence will be couched in a web of lies, tales, and anything that the subject thinks will make the pain stop, from which the truth will be difficult to separate. Torture (or whatever you want to call it) is therefore an ineffective method of intelligence gathering.

    The combination of these two factors is the basis of the anti-torture (or whatever you want to call it) argument. This sort of interrogation stains our national conscience without providing reliable returns, and should therefore be avoided. The current administration does not appear to be either anti-torture (or whatever you want to call it) or appropriately disconcerted by the need for it; that makes many Americans uneasy.


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