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Will Rumsfeld and others be prosecuted for war crimes?
Posted: 26 February 2009 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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OK, Chris, I think we’re in general agreement. But FWIW Wiki distinguishes “pain” (that is, physical pain) from “suffering”, which may be classified as mental or physical.

Pain is defined as:  “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage”. Suffering is broader. At least as they treat it; and again, FWIW.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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Omnibus99, I was still composing my post when you posted your 09:28 post, so let me address that now. You are proposing that torture is an acceptable method of interrogation. You distinguish between torture as part of incarceration and torture as an interrogation strategy. So let’s discuss torture as an interrogation technique.

I will begin by noting that torture is an ancient technique, and was in many cases overtly sadistic—that is, part of a punishment. The Greeks and Romans used torture routinely during interrogations of slaves, in the belief that slaves could never be trusted to tell the truth unless they were in pain. However, any examination of classical judicial proceedings reveals that evidence played a minor role and the testimony of slaves was never given much credence in any case. The linkage between torture and obtaining the truth was very weak.

In Christian times, torture was used as an interrogation technique, and there is plenty of historical evidence that its evidentiary value was low. There were two broad kinds of torture:

1. self-incrimination. medieval law usually required a confession, and so they tortured the poor victim until that person concluded that death was preferable to continued torture.

2. identification of fellow conspirators. This was used when a coven of witches was suspected, or when a political conspiracy was suspect. The torturer wanted names, and the victim was made to understand that only the provision of names would end the torture, so victims spewed forth names. We now know that in many of those cases the information provided by the victims was wrong; they were just trying to end the torture.

The use of torture was officially terminated in most Western nations by the Enlightenment, but continued informally by many police departments during interrogations. The United States Constitution sought to put an end to it with its prohibition of “cruel and unusual” punishments—but by some truly convoluted logic, some people think that it’s OK to do to suspects what is forbidden for convicts.

The end result of this quickie survey is to demonstrate that torture is a tradition, not a technology. There’s lots of history for it, but not a shred of scientific evidence that this technique works. We have anecdotal evidence pointing in both directions, but nothing conclusive. So why do we persist in using a technique that has no logical support? There’s only one logical answer: sadism.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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Chris Crawford - 26 February 2009 09:42 AM

Ah, yes, Doug—I am thinking in terms of the psychologist’s definition of pain, which automatically includes emotional factors. You’re right, many people unfamiliar with psychology would define pain solely in terms of physical injury. Let me explain.

Psychologists define pain in terms of the mental experience, not the physical situation. That mental experience is modulated by a great many factors. For example, an adult’s perception of pain (in contrast to a child’s) is strongly influenced by the perception of threat to life. A child who bumps his head feels pain and bawls loudly; the parent examines the injury and declares, “Why, you’re not hurt!” But in the child’s perception, he IS hurt—he feels pain. The adult experiencing the same physical injury would dismiss the physical pain as insignificant. The most extreme example of this effect is the soldier in an extremely dangerous situation who suffers a minor injury that removes him permanently from combat. The effect of the wound is the reverse of its appearance: the threat to the soldier’s life is reduced, and so the soldier feels elation, not pain. There were lots of terms for this in various armies: “million-dollar wound” was one. And soldiers with such wounds would often refuse morphine because they really did not feel any pain.

Conversely, this factor is what makes waterboarding so painful. The subject is made to believe that he will die, and so the minor discomfort created by the experience is magnified into agony.

That’s the best argument against waterboarding, IMO—that it constitutes a mock execution.  I don’t think the argument is quite airtight, however, owing to the fact that we don’t entirely know the manner in which the technique is applied.

Also, a prisoner might think he’s going to die if he’s served a roast beef sandwich (is this thing poisoned?  why are they giving me such luxurious food?).  And, importantly, legal challenges might stem from attempts to avoid psychological pain.  The bad guys have lawyers, too—except their lawyers will assuredly recommend that our prisoners have us provide their attorneys.  No doubt we can work the expense in as part of an “economic stimulus” plan.

It ultimately is based on a lie so obvious that I cannot understand why people don’t get it:

“We want to inflict maximum pain on our victim, yet we want the outside world to believe that we are not inflicting pain, so we will use these special techniques that inflict huge amounts of pain but can be dismissed by our apologists as not painful.”

Looks like a straw man to me.  Let’s recall for a second that the world has not historically adhered to the Chris Crawford definition of torture.  It specifies “extreme pain” and provides examples.  As the Yoo memo notes (with relatively unassailable logic), the proscription on “severe” pain implicitly allows non-severe pain.  There has never been any need to argue that interrogation techniques are not painful in at least some respect.  Giving a prisoner a wedgie, for example, might be somewhat painful, and given sanity plus the traditional definitions of torture the person giving the prisoner the wedgie should not need to hesitate in admitting that he caused the prisoner pain.  And at the same time, there should be no question that wedgies, waterboarding and prolonged standing are not designed to inflict “huge amounts of pain” but rather to effectively break down resistance to interrogation with the least possible amount of pain.  Seriously, if waterboarding is so unpleasant and we’ve held that it isn’t torture then why not use it on all the prisoners?  After all, don’t we want them to suffer?  That’s nonsense.  Waterboarding was used on a select few who were resistant to less unpleasant techniques.

That’s the striking thing about all this: if waterboarding doesn’t inflict pain, then why do we even bother doing it? What’s the point of waterboarding if it *doesn’t* inflict pain? The fact is, everybody knows perfectly well what’s going on here: we waterboard people in order to inflict pain, and then apologists like omnibus99 try to play semantic games to argue that we are not inflicting pain. It’s a lie.

I’d like to see the statement from someone who matters who thereby supposedly plays the semantic game of arguing that we are not inflicting pain.  I find it unimaginable, frankly, and I strongly suspect that this is a blatant straw man by Mr. Crawford.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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Chris Crawford - 26 February 2009 10:11 AM

The end result of this quickie survey is to demonstrate that torture is a tradition, not a technology. There’s lots of history for it, but not a shred of scientific evidence that this technique works. We have anecdotal evidence pointing in both directions, but nothing conclusive. So why do we persist in using a technique that has no logical support? There’s only one logical answer: sadism.

Genetic fallacy (history of torture, particularly selective history, is of dubious relevance) and argumentum ad ignorantiam (the CIA and other groups who regularly observe the effects of interrogation have the means to scientifically assess its effectiveness—but they’re probably not going to publish in The Harvard Journal of Enhanced Interrogation).

Terrible argument, in short.

And why “self-incrimination” along with “incrimination of others” are identified as two distinct types of torture I have no idea.  Aims of torture, maybe, and the approach to torture historically (during the witch trials in particular) was to achieve a type of salvation for the victim and the community.  Confession of crimes was viewed in parallel to the practice of confession in church.  The society viewed the application of torture as an extreme method of effecting a rescue of the wayward soul.  You can certainly argue that the approach was wrongheaded, but it would be strikingly provincial to simply write it off as sadistic.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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Tell the French Resistance that being tortured by the Gestapo was ineffective in getting information about their cells…

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and gave up vital information. That he was waterboarded is not open to reasonable dispute, but how many times he was subjected to this treatment is debatable…some say once, some say 5 times, etc.

Torture, however you define it, has been successful in obtaining information. You may take the moral stance that no information is worth the degradation to a culture which uses torture to get knowledge from a prisoner, but it’s simple nonsense to say that it hasn’t or doesn’t work. It does. Not always, and not very well sometimes, but often enough to continue to be in use for thousands of years.

Torturers are not necessarily sadists, but can get to be sadists very quickly if they continue. Several pychological demonstrations have shown this to be the case.

My point is that some very harsh interrogation techniques are not torture. We drop into a very large hole if we use the prisoner’s own definition of what is psychologically painful to define interrogation techniques or their limits.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 11:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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Tell the French Resistance that being tortured by the Gestapo was ineffective in getting information about their cells…
Torture, however you define it, has been successful in obtaining information.

The problem here is that the torture led the Gestapo to go after plenty of innocent people. If your attitude is “better to execute 100 innocent people than to let one guilty person get away”, (as with the Gestapo) then torture works just great. It’s the reliability of information obtained by torture that is in question. Sure, you get lots of answers from your victims, but how many of those answers are right?

Moreover, we have zero data on the effectiveness of torture as used by the USA. You assert that the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed led to valuable information. And what is the source of this information? The people who tortured the man. Do you believe them to be an objective source of information? If their torture efforts yielded little of value, do you think that they would announce their failure to the world? Let me put it this way: I hypothesize that the people torturing Muslims are all sadists who do so solely from the desire to inflict pain. If that hypothesis were true, then would they announce to the world that their methods have failed, or would they announce that their methods have succeeded? Obviously, they would take the latter course of action. Which in turn means that the one datum we have—that torturers claim their methods to be effective—can be used to support the hypothesis that they are sadists. The only way to resolve this issue is to obtain information from a disinterested observer. We have no such information.

So here’s what we do know:

1. Torture inflicts pain upon people who may or may not be innocent of any crimes.
2. The American use of torture can be used to justify the use of torture by America’s enemies.
3. The American use of torture has seriously eroded America’s geopolitical clout.
4. We do not know whether torture has provided any benefits.

Given these facts, how can any reasonable person support the use of torture?

My point is that some very harsh interrogation techniques are not torture. We drop into a very large hole if we use the prisoner’s own definition of what is psychologically painful to define interrogation techniques or their limits.

Wait a minute: your use of the term “harsh” smacks of euphemism. Stripping a man naked and exposing him to angry dogs—is that the act of a sadist or the cool, calm act of a rational man seeking information?

You defend these techniques as efficacious, yet you do not understand the underlying psychology of pain. Clearly, your support of torture cannot be founded upon a rational analysis of the psychological factors. It must be due to some other factor. How do you know that this other factor is not sadism or the desire for revenge?

[ Edited: 26 February 2009 11:28 AM by Chris Crawford ]
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Posted: 26 February 2009 11:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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Points:

1. It’s not about crimes, per se, it’s about obtaining information. You can get information by torture.
2. America’s enemies never give a rat’s a** about justifying their torture. North Vietnam is happy as a clam. The Taliban laugh in your face.
3. You get geopolitical clout by military & commercial power and the uses thereof, not by being voted international prom queen. Check Russia and China.
4. The only benefit is information. The society using torture must decide if the information garnered is worth the coarsening of that society.

I don’t fully understand the terms ‘totrture’ and ‘harsh interrogation techniques’. I think that in certain circumstances torture is justified. I do understand the position of those who oppose that view, but I hope that they aren’t being hypocritical about it. If my family were going to be blown up and I felt that torture had a reasonable chance of preventing that, then torture away.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s a very dangerous and slippery slope.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 12:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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OK, let’s step through your four points:

1. It’s not about crimes, per se, it’s about obtaining information. You can get information by torture.

Again, the problem is the reliability of that information. I can give you information right now: bin Laden is hiding in the lady’s restroom of the Fifth Street subway station. Ta-da! Information! But of what use it it? How do you know if it’s of any value?

2. America’s enemies never give a rat’s a** about justifying their torture. North Vietnam is happy as a clam. The Taliban laugh in your face.

This is what leads me to think that you are motivated by the desire for revenge, not a rational desire to make the world a better or safer place. Who cares if North Vietnam is happy as a clam? Who cares if the Taliban laugh in our faces? Do we care what kind of clothes they wear? Do we care about what books they read? We shouldn’t. We should care about getting things done to make the world a better and safer place, but you seem to have an emotional involvement in this. Are you sure that you’re really being coldly rational about this? Are you sure that you are not motivated by anger?

3. You get geopolitical clout by military & commercial power and the uses thereof, not by being voted international prom queen. Check Russia and China..

On the contrary, geopolitical clout comes from a great many factors, and being respected is an important one. There are three sources of geopolitical power: military, economic, and esteem. Americans seem to think that esteem has no diplomatic power; they are very wrong. We wield vast power because the world looks up to us. They see in America a country that’s doing a lot of things right, and they want to emulate America. McDonald’s, Disney, Reebok, and Coke have probably done more for American geopolitical power than the US Army. In older times, military power was more important, but it is steadily declining in value. We really shot ourselves in the foot with the invasion of Iraq; it will take decades to earn back the prestige that was lost in that blunder. Throughout the Cold War the USSR simply couldn’t compete diplomatically with the USA because everybody could see that the Soviets were bad guys.

4. The only benefit is information. The society using torture must decide if the information garnered is worth the coarsening of that society.

Agreed, but I question that the information gained from torture is worth ANYTHING.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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Chris Crawford - 26 February 2009 12:28 PM

On the contrary, geopolitical clout comes from a great many factors, and being respected is an important one. There are three sources of geopolitical power: military, economic, and esteem. Americans seem to think that esteem has no diplomatic power; they are very wrong. We wield vast power because the world looks up to us. They see in America a country that’s doing a lot of things right, and they want to emulate America. McDonald’s, Disney, Reebok, and Coke have probably done more for American geopolitical power than the US Army. In older times, military power was more important, but it is steadily declining in value. We really shot ourselves in the foot with the invasion of Iraq; it will take decades to earn back the prestige that was lost in that blunder. Throughout the Cold War the USSR simply couldn’t compete diplomatically with the USA because everybody could see that the Soviets were bad guys.

Very important point. Much of US power is soft power. Indeed, much of political power generally is soft power. Sure, you can get people to do things by sticking guns to their ribs and forcing them to, but only at the cost of creating a sullen, revolt-prone pawn. Much more effective in the long term to get people to do things by making them want to do those things themselves. Part of convincing people is getting them to hold you in high regard.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 01:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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Meh.  I thought Reebok was a British company.

Chris isn’t addressing the issue of information received through torture and other harsh forms of interrogation except as a skeptic.  But he draws his conclusions as though he has somehow established the inefficacy of such methods through his skepticism.

I don’t suppose my skepticism of his approach could have a parallel (cancelling) effect.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 03:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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Doug—you sound a bit like a neo-con. My point is that I just don’t see how being oppressive and brutal is hurting the Chinese or Russians one bit. Check around in Tibet or Nepal or Georgia. Hamas continues to be ‘stubborn’ and blasts rockets into Isreal about every day. Taliban beats women and blows up kids.

The international community are a bunch of syncophantic, obseqious weasels. They kiss Russia’s butt when they need oil, and suck on China’s tit when they need plasma TVs.

So the brutality of those nations may not get Russia & China invited to the ‘Most Popular Nation’ contest, but I just don’t think they care.

The idea of ‘soft power’ only works on ‘soft nations’, i.e. those that cannot effectively defend themselves.

Czechoslovakia in 1938 is a prime example. Really great country-liked and repected by all. Nice cities, great universities, civilized and decent people. Prom Queen of Europe.

Lacked the brute power to stop the syncophants from disassembling them and giving them to Nazi Germany. Hasta la vista.

If I have a choice between being liked or respected, I will take respect every time. The choice between repected and feared can be problematical…

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Posted: 26 February 2009 04:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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omnibus09 - 26 February 2009 03:57 PM

Doug—you sound a bit like a neo-con.

Er, I think you have your politics backwards ...

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Posted: 26 February 2009 04:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]
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No…you’re a hard-core progressive no doubt.

What I mean is the kind of ‘pie-in-the sky’ way of looking at countries and people. People admire and respect the good, civilized countries. They listen attentively to them and consider what they say. They want to join them in a big kumbaya hug. The good, civilized countries have a lot of influence over their international fellows.

Total crap. Countries listen to other countries with POWER, mainly military power, but also economic power.

I used to lean toward the neo-con way of thinking: Oh, yes, folks have a burning desire for freedom and democracy. They will sacrifice everything to be free and control their own destiny!

Total crap. People want security, a place to live, some food, and a nice daily routine. They will tolerate rather extreme oppression if they do have enough of that. Revolutions and uprisings are almost always due to economic factors, not a yearning for some kind of vague ‘freedom’. Our own revolution included.

Call me a cynic if you must…well, you’d be right about that.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 05:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]
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omnibus99, the opinion you give voice to is not cynical, it’s naive. You think that raw power is the only thing that matters. But World War II was ultimately decided by the American entry into that war on the side of the UK and the USSR. Why did the Americans declare war on Germany? Germany didn’t attack Pearl Harbor. The reason for the American entry was that the American body politic was horrified by the brutal politics of the Nazi regime. The German invasion of Czechoslovakia didn’t provoke an immediate attack—and because the cause was not instantly followed by the effect, you refuse to recognize the effect. That’s not logical.

You mention the Taliban’s atrocities. When the USA decided to attack Afghanistan, its legal basis for doing so was paper-thin. The Taliban harbored Osama bin Laden, whom the US accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks. However, the US had no proof of its accusation. Strictly speaking, the US invasion of Afghanistan was illegal. However, there was little protest by the world community, because the Taliban were monsters and everybody knew it. Their misdeeds robbed them of any sympathy, which gave the USA a free hand to do with them as it wished.

Saddam Hussein faced a similar problem. Whereas the US invasion of Afghanistan was based on a paper-thin pretext, the US invasion of Iraq had absolutely no justification, legal or moral. Because of this, a great many nations voiced disapproval of that invasion, but again, Mr. Hussein was unable to command any real sympathy because his regime was so odious.

Contrast this with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. This triggered a storm of outrage. The UN General Assembly passed a number of resolutions condemning the invasion, the US imposed an embargo, the detente policies of Western Europe were abandoned, and a large number of countries participated in the US-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Perhaps you will dismiss these actions as feckless diplomacy because they failed to bring about a Soviet withdrawal. In fact, they DID bring about a Soviet withdrawal, but it took a while. Pakistan was convinced to provide safe havens to the mujahadeen and to permit US weapons support to them. That proved to be decisive. Unable to break the mujahadeen resistance, the Soviet position became untenable and the Soviets were eventually forced to withdraw. The significance of this must not be underestimated: a superpower with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons was forced to accept military defeat without recourse to those weapons. Yes, it took a decade; diplomacy can be slow. But it worked, and no cities had to be vaporized to pull it off.

I could go on and on. Time and again, soft power has proven decisive, and hard power has proven to be impotent. The reason for this should be obvious to the most casual observer: no single country has enough power to impose its will on the world. The modern world is multipolar, and so all decisions are ultimately group decisions. The USA cannot force anybody to do anything. Neither can Russia, neither can China. Ultimately, the only real power is the power to convince others to go along with your plans. All of our military power is useless against Russia, Germany, the UK, France, China, or a number of other countries, because they all know that we dare not use that power against them. Our economic power was important 50 years ago, when the US generated half the world’s GDP. But now our GDP is about 15% of the world’s total, and that percentage is falling fast as China, India, and other countries enjoy rapid growth. As with military power, when economic power is divided more evenly among the nations of the world, it becomes less significant. But moral power, the power to convince other countries to go along with your own proposals—that only gains importance in a world where you simply can’t throw your weight around anymore.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 05:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]
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It is quite obvious to me that some folks want to profess their willingness to advocate violence and military oppression to cover up certain insecurities located within their own psyche.These are the armchair pundits,the conservative blowhards,who wouldn’t know what hit them if anything vaguely resembling real pain or hardship actually hit them.
They gain a certain false tribal ascendancy by spouting off hawkish,security rhetoric time and time again.
This is why large portions of the world are waiting for the US to catch up with them.Because we have this stultifying dogma based on Comic books and Ole’Leatherneck ideologies.

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