A chill comin’ on

August 25, 2009

iciclesI heard a snippet of an interview today about the new investigations of the CIA by the Department of Justice.   The reporter asked some guy what he thought the effect might be on counter-terrorism operations abroad.

There will be a chilling effect, definitely.  These people [being investigated for abuse of prisoners, torture, etc.] thought they were following the policy, orders…

Not his exact words, but close.  Let’s hope there’s a chilling effect!  We need it!  Yes, do your job without torturing people, imprisoning them on flimsy suspicions, and stop “rendering” them to foreign countries willing to beat them to death to do us a favor of keeping our hands clean.

Let’s demand that our gallant defenders of our liberty stop and think a bit about what they are doing in secret rooms, and not feel free to run amok because they can use the old excuse, “I was just following orders…”

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The fruits of torture

July 4, 2009

From the NYTimes today, an article about Iran:

Top Reformers Admitted Plot, Iran Declares

The government has made it a practice to publicize confessions from political prisoners held without charge or legal representation, often subjected to pressure tactics like sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and torture, according to human rights groups and former political prisoners. Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of people have been detained.

Confessions!  What a surprise!  Yes, torture is a very effective instrument for uncovering the truth.  Ask Dick Cheney.

Happy 4th!  flagwave


Dick Cheney: Truthteller

April 23, 2009

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Vice-president Dick Cheney spent eight years acting as a black hole for information the public might want – stuff went in, but nothing ever came out.  Now, apparently without irony, he is calling for classified documents to be released to the public so we can have a “more honest debate” on the merits of his torture policies.  

Perhaps we should classify him, so we wouldn’t have to listen to his drivel any longer.  At least we can hope that Scooter Libbey, unable to earn a living by lawyering anymore, might seek a hefty advance for a mother-of-all tell-all memoirs about his life with Dick.

And you know, I would really like to ask Dick this:  “Just when did you stop beating your wife?”


Mukasey Gets a Pass

November 7, 2007

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I’m trying to figure out, without recourse to dark conspiracy theories, why Senators Schumer and Feinstein decided to give Mukasey a pass in his confirmation hearings for the post of U.S. Attorney General. Let’s see; waterboarding is an interrogation measure developed by the Spanish inquisitors; it’s deemed a war-crime in today’s laws; it is illegal under may agreements and laws that the U.S. has or agrees to; but our would-be chief law enforcement officer won’t say it’s illegal. He is repelled by it, says the Prez must obey the law (well, sort of…) and he is against it, but…

I imagine the logic goes something like this: Bush and his hack former G-man, Gonzalez, authorized torture; torture is illegal; if the new AG agrees it’s illegal, they are vulnerable to civil actions for redress. Bush is not going to nominate or appoint anyone who would agree to this position, so Mukasey, an intelligent and professionally qualified person, is the best we are going to get. The alternative is to leave the post open until the new president is elected.

This amounts to letting the Prez have his way, and I’m not clear on why the two senators have concluded that this is the right way to resolve the situation. That’s politics…


We Three,Torturers Be

September 21, 2006

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Now we have an uplifting national debate going on about whether or not the USA should allow its officials to torture people. Wonderful. It’s not even as though it works. Any student of the witch trials and the Stalinist purges can tell you that people under torture will confess to anything, and that their information is completely unreliable. Not a problem if you have a quota of bourgois wreckers to shoot, or if you are a fanatical zealot out to cleanse the population of Satan’s minions, but supposedly, we care a bit more about the truth. Bush, Gonzalez, Cheney, they want a free hand to imprison and torture so that they can continue to minister to our newly minted Republic of Fear. Yes, there are bad people out there who want to do us harm, but are we such cowards that we will throw all notions of civilized behavior out the window in order to try and make ourselves feel safe? What sort of life is that? What ever happened to “Live free, or die?”

The Canadian government just released the results of a massive investigation into the case of a naturalized Syrian citizen who was for some unknown reason classified as a terrorist. (His wife and six year old daughter were put on the watch list too.) The info was passed onto the USA, and when we got our hands on him, we put him on a private jet to Jordan, who kindly sent him to Syria where he was put in a tiny underground cell for a year, and tortured now and then. That’s known as extraordinary ‘rendition.’

The Canadians have now cleared his name, admitted their mistake, and recommended that he receive reparations. It’s the least they can do, and quite proper. Meanwhile, the fellow, who was returned to Canada a few years ago when the Syrians realized he was innocent of everything, has been suing the USA to get an apology, to clear his name, and so on. Asked about his case yesterday, Roberto Gonzalez, our attorney general, responded that he “was deported in accordance with our laws,” and he remarked that he “was not aware that he had been tortured…I have not read the [Canadian] report.”

I imagine that Gonzalez, subject to a lawsuit in this high-profile case, is very aware of all the relevant facts. He is simply a liar. He is also a complete toady to the power of GWB, whose prerogatives, like any court-sycophant-lawyer would do, he seeks to enhance at all costs.


Talk, you…individual!

January 2, 2006

We’ve all heard the question: Wouldn’t you be in favor of torture if the police had captured a guy who had the information needed to stop a gigantic bomb from going off and killing thousands of people? Yes, well, it sounds oddly like those improbable examination questions that are common in undergraduate philosophy of ethics classes: There is a burning building with an old lady, your wife, and a baby inside – you can only save one person. Apply the ideas of Utilitarianism to the situation and decide whom you would rescue. Not very realistic. In fact, the people in custody may or may not have useful information, but the value of their information is not likely to be as timely and critical as the old bromide implies. More likely, they are, at best, useful for background data, and even more likely is that they will tell their torturers all sorts of things that they believe they want to hear, like that Iraq is hiding huge caches of WMDs. The Israeli security forces, considered among the best, do not use torture because they know that a committed terrorist will die before telling anything, while the rest will say anything to stop the pain. So, it’s not a very productive method of inquiry.

Why in the world GWB feels that we must not have a law prohibiting torture is beyond me. I guess he feels that the US government must not have its hands tied in the event that the textbook example actually comes about. In such a case, I doubt that anyone would be against breaking the rules. The perpetrators would be excused if they could show that the facts were as they say, however, the actual consequence of permitting torture will be that the officials will begin to use torture as a regular tool, innocent people will be destroyed, and much bad information will be gathered that will have negative consequences.

The same people who think torture is okay are the ones who rail against “legal technicalities” in protection of individual rights in criminal cases. They fear letting off criminals because of such judicial niceties, but they are unconcerned by the many documented cases of innocents being jailed or executed due to judicial or police misconduct. In the real case, they come down against individual rights; in the case of the unreal hypothetical abstraction, they justify the abrogation of individual rights. It’s enough to make you a libertarian.


The Grand Inquisitor

March 9, 2005


Excerpt from “The Grand Inquisitor,” a story taken from The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The Inquisitor of Seville explains to Jesus, who has come again to earth, why his mission is futile:

They will regard us as gods, and feel grateful to those who have consented to lead the masses and bear their burden of freedom by ruling over them–so terrible will that freedom at last appear to men! Then we will tell them that it is in obedience to Thy will and in Thy name that we rule over them. We will deceive them once more and lie to them once again–for never, never more will we allow Thee to come among us. In this deception we will find our suffering, for we must needs lie eternally, and never cease to lie!


Jesus with his torturers, by Heironymous Bosch. Is that Alberto Gonzalez there in the crowd?