Friday, April 24, 2009

Torture II

President Obama’s recent moves in relation to the torture memos are perhaps the first slips he may have made in his presidency, which otherwise has been extraordinary. No one’s perfect. The man is a human being. That said, whether this fiasco spirals into a Nuremberg-ish set of trials and people being shot by firing squad (less likely) or into some legal wrangling that ultimately punishes no one (more likely), the situation has become problematic for the president, and the one sure result is that no matter what he does, he is going to be criticized. There is no WIN here.

Addressing the moral obligation to get the bottom of this and whether it would be a distraction, Paul Krugman correctly notes that the investigation, however organized, requires no time from Obama’s economic team, health care team, a lot of his cabinet, or the president himself.

In the stillness of the eye of the hurricane, one fundamental question sparks the whole set of dominoes and determines their direction.

DOES IT WORK? Even more pertinent is the context of the question: Does it work to do what? The illuminating distinction is that between the desire to obtain intelligence and the desire to coerce a predetermined confession, true or false.

Literature exists regarding interrogation techniques that work. They involve a lot of psychology, take time, and include a blend of various ways to both befriend and at the same time disorient, confuse, and perhaps frighten an individual into being authentic, providing information that is accurate. Note that a messed up individual may provide lousy information even when trying to be truthful. Not surprisingly, doing it right involves time, effort, and expertise regarding game theory and notions like the the prisoner's dilemma.

Anyone familiar with communist China (or the Soviet Union, or Nazi Germany) knows that sometimes truth has little to do with an interrogation. Consider the plight of captured POW’s "interrogated" into "confessions" denouncing their missions. The methods in the memos are those used to extract false confessions. Truth is not relevant, and the hand fits the glove too well to ignore. Occam’s Razor. Desperate to justify its treasonous invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration needed the confessions it wanted to hear. The FBI has the legitimate methods down, but the operative word is "legitimate" so the White House commanded the Cheney infested CIA to adopt the methods understood by the US military, not because the military commits these acts, but because its training includes preparation for such torture in case of capture.

In a grotesque display of unbridled arrogance, the Bush administration thought it could pull all of this off without a hitch. Incompetent to the core, even when it descended to torture to force false testimony, it couldn’t get the lies it wanted.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Atlantic article you link to is outstanding.

4/24/2009 3:06 PM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

That's quite the understatement, Anon.

That article is the best I have ever read on the subject. Anyone else here should click to that Atlantic article. I won't repeat what it says. It's all there.

Thanks for that link, x4mr.

4/24/2009 6:56 PM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

What I meant to say is that anyone interested in an intelligent and thorough discussion of torture at the scholarly level should take a look.

4/24/2009 6:58 PM  
Anonymous Mariana said...

“The civilian sensibility prizes above all else the rule of law. Whatever the difficulties posed by a particular situation (…) it sees abusive government power as a greater danger to society. Allowing an exception in one case (…) would open the door to a greater evil.”
I am the civilian. I lived in a communist country. I grew up in fear, I raised my children in fear. I am afraid of fear. Let’s not open the door to a greater evil, whatever the circumstances might be.

4/24/2009 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the article says, the threat of torture is usually more persuasive than torture itself. Once it is applied, its effectiveness drops rapidly with repetition.

In light of that, consider the incompetence of waterboarding KSM 183 times in a month.


4/24/2009 10:15 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

I haven't clicked on the link yet, so perhaps the Atlantic article also mentions it ... but a piece in the NYTimes a couple days ago discussed how Cheney and (I believe) Rumsfeld were pushing torture in 2002 frantically trying to find (or "find") links between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

Obama is clearly wrong on this issue, and I am hoping the populist wave continues to build until his hand (or, more correctly, Holder's hand) is forced on this matter.

Senator John Ensign, R-NV, had a comment recently: "This was not torture. This is the thing we have to get away from, that this is somehow accepted that it was torture. The United States does not engage in torture. This was 'advanced interrogation techniques.'"

Fair enough ... when someone (lets start with Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury) gets prosecuted and convicted for those 'advanced interrogation techniques' we won't lock them up for life, we will place them in a "secure, gated community where all their needs can be taken care of".

See how much nicer a good euphimism makes everything?

4/25/2009 6:35 AM  
Anonymous Observer said...

Sirocco, you should read the article.

Can someone PLEASE get Cheney to shut the f**k up and go back into his lair? Can't he just entertain himself pulling wings off flies and tossing them to spiders?

Cheney's face on television is an act of torture.

The same thing for Rove.

4/25/2009 9:09 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Mariana, I had no idea you grew up in a communist country. That must give you quite a perspective on things. Did you "escape" before or after the "fall"?

Observer, my sentiments exactly regarding Rove and Cheney. It is painful to see or hear them. I think they are malignant tumors for the GOP, but no leadership is willing to stand up and call for surgery, save Meghan McCain. Who woulda thunk it? A 24 year old kid is showing more vision and courage than anyone else in the party.

I also recommend Sirocco's links above. He has some intelligent remarks, and exactly who and how we hold people accountable is quite the conundrum. This is a prelude to a cluster.

4/25/2009 10:51 AM  
Anonymous Mariana said...

After. Did not trust the new guys.

4/25/2009 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Readers here might be interested in this April 26 story at the Washington Post. Today is the 25th, so that story is hot off the press.

It's consistent with this post and the Atlantic article. I don't know how long it will take for everyone to get it, but for me it's beyond doubt that the Bushies wanted confessions saying what they wanted to hear to justify Iraq. They tried to get the terrorists to implicate Saddam Hussein.

4/25/2009 8:18 PM  

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