Honesty in Torture

Among the many topics that I regret having had insufficient time in my schedule to address appropriately is torture (and I’m not claiming this post to constitute all that I’d like to say about it). Frankly, I’ve been torn, and I view with suspicion anybody who believes that the debate, as it’s been cast, is an obvious call. Torture is wrong, clearly, but the very question at issue is what constitutes torture.
There are extremes about which we can agree. Scourging, torture; refusing to provide arugula (whatever that is), not torture. The line, though, is inherently subjective, and if we’re to discuss it, we’ve got to be honest about the specific act about which we’re talking.
For my part, superficial as it may seem, when I think of torture, I think of the scene in Lethal Weapon that begins at 13:20 of this video. The famous quotation sums up the dividing line: “Endo, here, has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you and I will ever know.” (I’ve always thought that to be a dumb way to phrase a threat, by the way. If the measure is what Endo has forgotten, then it’s quite possible that he’s forgotten enough to be just about harmless.) The idea is that mounting pain will bring the torture to an end, even if that end is a quick, painless death.
On the other side of the line, my subjective take is colored by having been a fraternity pledge. Sleep deprivation. Subjection to disagreeable, repeated, and very loud music. Being made to swallow live goldfish whole. Unless we’re to define torture to absurdity, these practices do not suffice. (Indeed, all but the last are as readily applicable to parenthood.)
If we attribute even a minimal sincerity to the sides on this issue, it’s clear that waterboarding resides somewhere very near the natural line of torture/non-torture for our society. In contrast to the electroshocks and salt rubbed in wounds in the Lethal Weapon scene, waterboarding as performed by American agents was not a means of inflicting pain, but of triggering a reflex. Implemented as approved, it leveraged discomfort and instinctive fear in a controlled environment.
The topic comes up, now, because the Left is delighted to have video of conservative shock jock Erich “Mancow” Mullen succumbing within seconds to waterboarding and declaring it to have been torture. If we’re to be specific, however, it’s debatable whether this was the version of waterboarding used during U.S. interrogations; the “interrogator” covered Mancow’s nose with a wet cloth and then proceeded to pour water into his open mouth. Large amounts of water, therefore, likely filled his nasal cavity, which resulted in the quick cave.
This video better captures the procedure, as I understand it. Do your best to put aside circumstances; Mancow was in a brightly lit office building surrounded by friends during his popular radio show, while Kaj Larsen subjected himself to the broader experience of hostile interrogation, including the jumpsuit, the dark basement, the masked perpetrators, and the isolation from other people.
Mr. Larsen’s experience does look, as he says with a laugh toward the end of the video, as if it “sucked.” The wet cloth covered his nose and mouth, for a slower build-up of moisture. A second “interrogator” put pressure on his abdomen, and the scene was performed with a much more hostile, desperate tenor, with banging canteens and such. It’s certainly not a pleasant experience, but it probably wasn’t only his comparative softness that led Mancow to surrender more quickly. In Larsen’s video, one gains better context for the actuality of being waterboarded 183 times, if (as I understand to have been the case) each application of the towel, even if only for a second, counts as one.
So, is this torture? Is it a sin that cries out to God? I can’t say that I think it is. It’s immoral, surely, at least inasmuch as it objectifies the subject. I would not perform it, and I would not ask that somebody else do it on my behalf. But does this specific procedure surpass the line across which we must forbid it even among those who believe it to be necessary? Those who have the burden of security for millions of their countrymen? I’m not so sure. Does it so clearly cross that line as to justify retroactive prosecution of those who approved it? No.
Let’s be honest, too, about the impetus for the continuing outrage, even as the technique — this worst of the batch — has ceased to be used. It’s a political cudgel and opportunity to express an unhealthy hostility toward a hated President and loathed cultural class. Consider this comment on RI Future from Matt D, in response to a conservative commenter’s offer to be waterboarded:

Hopefully it’s either Carcieri, Watson or Trillo all right wing whackjobs. Even DePetro or Yorke would do also, maybe we’ll get lucky and whoever it is will drown and we’ll have one less of these idiots. Sign me up for front row……

There’s a contingent, in this country, for whom it is a far greater affront to hold conflicting political beliefs (well within the republican democratic mold) than to threaten and pursue genocide against their fellow Americans.

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joe bernstein
joe bernstein
12 years ago

The idea of shock jocks or other attention-getters “trying out” waterboarding to see if they can take it is pointless and infantile.
We use all kinds of fragmentation weapons and “canister” bombs in warfare.Should someone volunteer to satnd near an exploding grenade to see if they can “take it”?
When someone is really shooting ordnance at you,it’s different from any possible simulation.
I attended a class at the DEA Academy in 1988 during a narcotics investigators course I was taking,and a DEA agent,formerly with INS was describing what was done to him by renegade Mexican police who kidnapped him:he was tied up and his mouth was taped and one nostril was plugged.The Mexican cops shook up a bottle of Pepsi and shot it up his other nostril.He began drowning on the Pepsi.They did this to him a few times before he was eventually rescued by American agents working with Mexican “federales”.
No one suggested the class should try to recreate the experience for themselves.
Waterboarding was used on three individuals whose guilt was never in doubt.They were believed to have “smoking gun”information on coming attacks.Apparently the use of this procedure resulted in preventing massive loss of life.
When the police shoot and kill a person rampaging with a weapon,very few people complain.They are taking a life to protect the innocent.
If waterboarding were used randomly on Gitmo detainees it would indeed be a war crime because although I think they should be held,mistreatment of a physical nature isn’t accceptable.
The exception made for these three key terrorists apparently was worth it.It’s a hard question,but if we can kill thousands of draftees on the battlefield,abusing a few terrorist masterminds doesn’t seem wrong.

Damien Baldino
12 years ago

I agree Joe. It seems like critics seem to ignore the information obtained after waterboarding, along with the lives saved. Since just three terrorists were waterboarded, it appeared that it was used as a last resort.

rhody
rhody
12 years ago

Mancow thought support for waterboarding was a way to prove his masculinity. Methinks Cheney feels likewise.
Maybe Hannity watched and learned, leaving Keith Olbermann with thousands of dollars burning his pocket.

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

Plain question for Justin whose sensibilities are very delicate regarding use of stem cells for research and outrageously blunted regarding torure – Do you think that Jesus would waterboard anybody under any circumstance?
I don’t.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!

OldTimeLefty

Monique
Editor
12 years ago

Mancow, radio wimp though he might be, was waterboarded and called it torture.
Christopher Hitchens has been a passionate and articulate proponent of the war on terrorism and (in my opinion anyway) is not a wimp. He was waterboarded and has termed it torture.
Wasn’t it Sean Hannity who recently offered to be waterboarded because he doesn’t believe it is torture? He may regret it – not for the experience itself but because he may have to change his characterization of it.
I’m deferring to those who have been waterboarded – it’s torture.
Having said that, Justin is correct:
“Does it so clearly cross that line as to justify retroactive prosecution of those who approved it? No.”
There have been attempts to justify retroactive prosecution because “during the enhanced interrogations, the Bush admin was looking for evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda”.
If that was so, it was completely secondary to the goal of keeping us safe. And this primary goal seems to have considerable acceptance as justification, not for the action itself, but for not prosecuting those who wrote legal opinions that enabled its use.
We can and should discuss whether waterboarding or any other torture is acceptable under any circumstance, including specifically the ticking-bomb scenario. If Democrats stuck to that issue (and, of course, wishing away the contemporaneous authorization that Congressional Democrats conveyed for the use of this technique), they’d have considerable moral leverage and the basis for a case for retroactive prosecution. The introduction of the Bush-was-looking-to-justify-his-invasion motif (“damn, protecting our country is not a good reason to put Republicans in the dock”) makes it clear, however, that moral issues are secondary to political ones.

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Plain answer for OTL:
I don’t believe this country should be a theocracy.

Tim
Tim
12 years ago

Justin I would disagree with your contention that there is “continued outrage” over waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation techniques used by the Bush admininstration after 9/11. Polls have shown most Americans not only are not outraged by these tactics but support their government doing what it needs to do in keeping the homeland safe. All this noise coming from certain quarters is merely the meaningless and irrelevant masturbation of the hard left…as Nancy Pelosi hides under her desk after her lying smears of the CIA, as Dick Cheney sees his approval numbers rising as he defends his record of homeland defense and as Barack forget what I say watch what I do Obama adopts more and more Bush adm. strategies in dealing with these terrorists. Obama has NOT taken the use of these “enhanced interrogation techniques” including waterboarding off the table for his administration. Has NOT!!!!!
When dealing with imprisoned animals seeking to murder our citizens and destroy our nation anything short of murder/dismemberment/disfigurement is A-OK with me. I’ll be more than happy to deal with my God in explainimg my views on this. I think he’ll understand and accept my human thoughts, human intentions and human motivations for such views on “enhanced interrogations”.

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

Plain response to Justin,
Neither do I believe that we should be a theocracy. However, I believe that Christians, and you profess to be one, should try to keep the figure of Jesus before them as an exemplar. So, I ask you again, leaving questions of god and country aside, “Do you think that Jesus would waterboard anybody under any circumstance?” Nowhere in my original question was there a hint or suggestion of turning the US into a theocracy. Your reply is astoundingly off subject.
It is either the farblondzhet convolution of your mind that turned the question. or a deliberate attempt at dodge ball.
OldTimeLefty

Tim
Tim
12 years ago

Hurry up Justin!! OldTiredLiberal is dying to know if you think Jesus approves of the Navy Seal training manual. lol
Btw is there anything funnier than old tired libs suddenly concerning themselves with Jesus?? Even Jesus laughs at that notion.

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Your question was clearly rhetorical, OTL. Jesus would not waterboard, but neither would he kill in battle.

michael
12 years ago

Put my balls in a vice and I’m caving. You don’t even have to turn the handle.

brassband
brassband
12 years ago

OTL —
Do you think that Jesus would need to waterboard anybody?

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Justin, You wrote “waterboarding as performed by American agents was not a means of inflicting pain, but of triggering a reflex. Implemented as approved, it leveraged discomfort and instinctive fear in a controlled environment.” I am almost certain that pain manifests itself via the trigger of a reflex. For example: I swing a hammer, miss the nail and hit my thumb. I have just “triggered a reflex”, as I scream out in “pain”, shaking my throbbing thumb in “discomfort”. My point? It seems you are parsing words when it comes to pain and torture. Waterboarding or any other physical act designed to dirupt one’s ability to breath freely is torture. Not worth debating. As a means of protecting Americans, I point to Michael’s comment, who essentially said he would admit to the assasinations & murders of JFK, Martin Luther King and Nicole Brown Simpson the moment you put his precious balls into a vice. That is similar to what former Navy SEAL Jesse Ventura told us when he said, if given 1 hour to waterboard Dick Cheney, he’d have Chenney admitting to the Sharon Tate murders. And when the Bush administration tells us they saved lives with this nonsense, keep in mind they also told us the knew where the WMDs were. With respect to the often referred to “ticking bomb” scenario, I’d say that’s hypothetical nonsense. I struggle to understand how on the one hand you’d know there is a ticking bomb, but not know any more than that. Very simply, we live in a society whose values are clear that the ends don’t justify the means. If it gets to the point that we have to have such a divisive debate on whether or not some procedure is torture, then I’d suggest it is best to err on… Read more »

Justin Katz
12 years ago

George E., You miss the mark on several points: I am almost certain that pain manifests itself via the trigger of a reflex. A doctor taps your knee and you kick. A boy fakes a punch and his pal flinches. A prankster strokes your ear lightly with a feather and you swat. And a material through which you’d been breathing is suddenly airtight, and you panic. Pain has to have some meaning, no? That is similar to what former Navy SEAL Jesse Ventura told us when he said, if given 1 hour to waterboard Dick Cheney, he’d have Chenney admitting to the Sharon Tate murders. But the agents weren’t seeking to extract a confession. They were collecting intelligence, probably in a sophisticated strategy of questioning (i.e., such that they didn’t require direct answers to questions that the subject knew himself to be addressing). And when the Bush administration tells us they saved lives with this nonsense, keep in mind they also told us the knew where the WMDs were. Well, if the argument is that the administration was evil, then the yes or no on torture is moot. Very simply, we live in a society whose values are clear that the ends don’t justify the means. Clearly, some ends justify some means. More accurately, our culture holds that no ends justify any means (with the possible exception of affirmative action). Which brings us back to the question about the particular means of waterboarding. If it gets to the point that we have to have such a divisive debate on whether or not some procedure is torture, then I’d suggest it is best to err on the side of caution so that we can ALWAYS say confidently that we DON’T Torture and that we expect our POWs to be treated similarly.… Read more »

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
12 years ago

OTL-I believe it’s”farblundget”.If you’re going to lift Yiddish expressions try to spell them phonetically-sometimes you sound “farshimmelt”.

Steve
Steve
12 years ago

Old Time Lefty ?
Bishop Tobin,the Pope,and the the Bible,condem torture,
But
Joe B. Justin Katz,Monique, Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney
say torture is OK
What side are YOU on ?

David
David
12 years ago

I don’t think that torture works. Our global opponents will fight to the death with no hope of terms. It will push extremism. American soldiers fighting Comanche warriors fought with a desperate passion because they did not want to be captured alive- having heard the stories of Comanche torture.
As George Elbow argues, no meaningful information comes from the use of torture exclusively that could not be obtained through other methods.
I don’t think it would be good for us as a society if we were to codify torture methods and begin employing torture by means of the military bureaucracy.
United States took the high ground after WW11 on torture and on the victor’s spoils. We were in a different place then, as emerging world leader. Do we really want to slide this far down the ladder?

Paul Kelly
Paul Kelly
12 years ago

The left strutting around,proclaiming that Mancows stunt is proof of anything resembling torture is a joke.You could of held that guys head in the toilet and got the same effect

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Justin, Thanks for the follow-up. Two points come to mind: 1) My comment on the Bush Administration regarding them telling us they knew where the WMDs were was not to suggest the Bush Administration was evil. Rather, it was to point out that they (as other Administrations have in the past) made claims and assertions that have not always proven true. Hence, when they defend waterboarding with claims that it resulted in obtaining information that saved lives, I, as someone who believes Torture (or Torture like activities) provides little useful info, would take their unsubstantiated claims with a grain of salt. 2) As neither you nor I were in attendance when waterboarding was employed, I don’t think we are in a position to comment on the manner in which it was administered. But this much I know …we are not fish and we were not designed to be able to breath with water filling our air-waves. I agree that the Left is taking advantage of this issue and using it for Political gain (i.e. they are disingenous). Regardless, I’m of the view that we should not be employing techniques that are either Torture (assuming there is a clear definition of Torture) or that are so close to Torture that reasonable people can so strongly debate whether or not it is torture. I never want our country to be in a position where-by it can not unequivically denounce Torture (or Torture-like techniques) being used on our POWs. If it so gray, then we should avoid it. We owe it to our service members who someday may be on the receiving end of “enhanced techniques”. And by the way, that is why so many people get such a hard-on over Dick Cheney. He’s all for war and all for “enhanced techniques”, but… Read more »

Will
12 years ago

I don’t think that anyone here approves of “torture.” I presume that if those of us who don’t now consider waterboarding to be true torture, actually did consider it to be torture, that we probably wouldn’t be for using it in even limited circumstances. It’s a question of semantics. I think reasonable people can disagree, because it is not a black and white issue. Would I prefer we not have to do that, if there was an equally effective means of extracting information? Actually, yes. However, I’m not convinced that there is an equally effective means.
As for the “continued outrage,” I think that the point is that certain politicians are expressing that, not necessarily the American people. Politicians like Sheldon Whitehouse seem to be using the issue mainly for self-promotion, and motivated laregly by some irrational hatred of George W. Bush, not because their objective is the safety of the American people. I wonder if Sheldon could bring himself to comprehend what the CIA during the time his father was in it, very likely did in the name of the American people. Do you think Whitehouse is trying to make up for some guilt about that?
I think most Americans would want us to do what is necessary to protect them, nothing more, nothing less. That means we have to leave a lot of options on the table, especially those which have been shown to achieve the objective of keeping us safe from future harm.

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

joe,
Mi amigo.
The word is spelled farblondzhet in Feins, Brief Yiddish-English Glossary. Incidentally, farshimmelt does not appear in the dictionary, so you may be the one who is mixed up! If you insist on playing the critic, you’ll have to cite your sources or be humbly quiet.
OTL
Tim,
you have Jesus laughing at a person who says that he, Jesus, would not waterboard anyone for any reason. And you think it’s funny that someone whom you call a liberal can cite Jesus as a model??? Wheh, what Chutzpeh! Do you really believe that a universal message is intended only for narrow minded conservative Republicans?
I know that in your tiny world there are only Liberals and Conservatives, but try to understand that I never have been a conservative and I am most decidedly not a liberal, I’m a bit farther left than what passes for liberal today. I am an OldTimeLefty.
I’m pretty sure that I’m a few years older than you, but it is your world that is dying, while in mine the buds of a new Spring are beginning to blossom.
OldTimeLefty

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

Brassband,
Wow, mention the name, Jesus, and the nuts drop off the trees and find their way onto the internet. You asked a completely irrelevant question, “Do you think that Jesus would need to waterboard anybody?.
The point is, would he condone its use? The answer is obvious to anyone who knows or cares anything about Jesus’ life and mission.
OTL

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

George Elbow,
I am just as shocked as you that we agree on something. Maybe there is hope for the world. As to Justin’s response to what you wrote, the best I can say is that he uses tortured logic.
OTL

brassband
brassband
12 years ago

OTL —
You were the one who asked:

“Do you think that Jesus would waterboard anybody under any circumstance?”

If that wasn’t the question that you intended to ask . . . why did you ask it?
Obviously, Jesus wouldn’t have any need to waterboard anyone in order to find out what he or she was thinking, or planning.
So your question was pretty silly.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
12 years ago

OTL-I’ve never seen “farblundget”spelled to be honest-it was my best guess at phonetics.
Now,as for “farshimmelt”,I will cite an impeccable source for anyone in our age group-Mad comics circa 1954.
Actually,I think there is a book around by Leo Rosten that covers all this.I got the pronunciations from my grandmother.
I have a good idea for non-lethal torture-making the detainees watch non-stop LOUD tapes of Barney Frank and Chuck Schumer.It would be like the 2-minute hate in “1984”except it would go on 24/7.

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

Brassband,
Your ignorance is beyond comment, but in an attempt to throw pearls before swine, it was Justin who brought up the god issue in the first place. I was responding to it. Take the tuba out of your head.
OTL

Monique
Editor
12 years ago

(Joe – B. Frank, yes. C. Schumer doesn’t cut it. You need to substitute speeches from the former junior senator from his state: H.R. Clinton.)
Michael M. and George E. raise a good point. It is known that torture has generated false information. This is one of the more pragmatic objections to its use.
Stipulating for a moment that waterboarding is not torture, nevertheless, we seem to have agreed that it is not pleasant and the detainee would want it to stop as soon as possible. [One of the three who were waterboarded in US custody in 2002 lasted thirty seconds; this was considered a remarkably long time to hold out.]
There have been calls for the Obama admin to release all info pertaining to the enhanced interrogations. In particular, what has been sought is intelligence gathered in this manner that may have saved the country. It is correct that this happens (if the AG goes forward with retroactive prosecution).
The operative word, however, is “all”. As a function of both retroactive prosecution and the larger discussion of waterboarding, all information and memos must be put on the table, including any false intelligence provided during those enhanced interrogations.

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

joe,
I bow and am humbled before your impeccable source. Mad Magazine rules.
OTL

EMT
EMT
12 years ago

We owe it to our service members who someday may be on the receiving end of “enhanced techniques”.
Anybody who thinks terrorists will decline to torture captive US citizens and soldiers because we don’t do it is a grad A moron.
We don’t cut off people’s heads with a knife but that didn’t save Daniel Pearl now did it.

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

[Deleted. Just way too much aggression on a day off. — JK]

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

EMT, Do you always struggle with the English language? Nobody wrote that our enemies would automatically refrain from Torture if we ourselves refrain from Torture. First, two wrongs don’t make a right. But I would expect such a Grade-A moronic argument from EMT. After all, EMT used the two-wrongs make a right argument when he defended his hero, Lazy Ass Pauly “No Show” Doughty, not showing up to work for 3+ years while receiving a paycheck from the hardworking taxpayers. EMT and his Union Comrades defended Doughty’s actions by arguing that it was OK since other Union presidents had previously taken paid time off to conduct Union-hack business. Sorry, EMT. As was the case back when you were defending your hero, two wrongs DON’T make a right. Second, the more important issue is that if we (America) want to be leaders, who lead by example and who set high standards to which we expect the rest of the world to aspires to, then we must NOT set our values based on what the lowest common denominator does. Now, given that you are Union-man, I don’t expect you to follow this line of reasoning. After all, Union members don’t contain any “leadership” or independent genes in their DNA. Rather, Union members are “followers” and dependents by nature, better suited for thoughtless, mob-rule. Lastly, check with most active duty service members to see if they want us to be at all ambiguous regarding our position on Torture. Cheers. PS – put Michael’s balls in a vice and he’ll tell you who cut Daniel Pearl’s head off …or anything else he thinks you want to hear in order to save the family jewels. This EMT, is the most important reason why “Torture” should be off the table. PSS – we invaded Iraq and… Read more »

EMT
EMT
12 years ago

Second, the more important issue is that if we (America) want to be leaders, who lead by example and who set high standards to which we expect the rest of the world to aspires to, then we must NOT set our values based on what the lowest common denominator does.
To liberal idiots like Elbow, a few thousand dead civilians is morally superior to dumping some water on one terrorist’s head.
Now, given that you are Union-man, I don’t expect you to follow this line of reasoning.
I don’t belong to any union, so you can take your reasoning and shove it in that dark, smelly place where your head spends most of its time.

Justin Katz
12 years ago

BREEEEPPP!!!!
There was a worthwhile argument in here somewhere. Let’s get back to that. Personal ire gets boring and might incline an administrator toward closing down the comment thread.

EMT
EMT
12 years ago

My apologies Justin. I promised myself previously that I wasn’t going to even acknowledge any more of George Elbow’s posts let alone reply, and I broke that rule. I’ll try to do better.

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