Tropical Abu Ghraib

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More prisoner abuse:

FBI agents witnessed "highly aggressive" interrogations and mistreatment of terror suspects at the US prison camp in Cuba starting in 2002—more than a year before the prison abuse scandal broke in Iraq—according to a letter a senior US Justice Department official sent to the US army's top criminal investigator.

In the letter obtained by The Associated Press, the FBI official suggested the Pentagon didn't act on FBI complaints about the incidents, including a female interrogator grabbing a detainee's genitals and bending back his thumbs, another where a prisoner was gagged with duct tape and a third where a dog was used to intimidate a detainee who later was thrown into isolation and showed signs of "extreme psychological trauma."

[Via Tex.]

NEXT: Conjunction Function

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  1. Female authority figure grabbing my balls? That’s what I call a memorable Friday night!!

  2. Maybe they should just lay back and enjoy it?

  3. As some of the recent posters on this board will, no doubt, point out, terms like “highly aggressive” and “mistreatment” can’t be objectively defined. Hence, there’s nothing wrong with, “grabbing a detainee’s genitals and bending back his thumbs”, gagging a prisoner with duct tape or inflicting “extreme psychological trauma” on a detainee with dogs and isolation.

    …Besides, there’s nothing in the Constitution that says specifically that you can’t grab a detainee by the balls and bend back his thumbs.

  4. Ken, I’m sure you’re aware of this and were making the pseudo-argument as a form of reductio… but we ought to note to the boneheads making such absurd claims that the whole point of the Constitution is that the only things the state is permitted to do are the things the Constitution explicitly enumerates as being within their purview.
    Therefore, if the Constitution does not explicitly permit ball-grabbing and thumb-bending, those acts are forbidden to the government.
    (Not that the SCOTUS or politically power-mad have ever paid particular attention to this, but it needs to be raised until it sinks in.)

    cheers,
    Shirley Knott

  5. You’re right, of course, Shirley.

    I’m parodying the comments of people made in another thread; you’d be suprised how close the parody is to their comments.

    https://www.reason.com/hitandrun/2004/12/latest_from_dow.shtml

  6. Dude this is so cool it’s gonna be like the ’60’s again…first, start an endless guerilla war that undermines the credibility of the government, then, discredit the military by exposing them as brutal, third, economic instability leads to big riots in the homeland and military forces being deployed against citizens, finally, the REVOLUTION! Now where’s some of that free love?

  7. I’d watch out if I were you, trainwreck. Today’s free love is 10 to 20 times stronger than what you remember from the 60’s.

  8. Don’t you know there is a war going on?? These people are terrorists and anything that happens to them is just what these filhty moose-lims deserve! REMEMBER 9/11!!

  9. c, my office will bill you for one nose-coffee-destroyed keyboard.

  10. …Besides, there’s nothing in the Constitution that says…

    This is a military operation. The Constitution doesn’t apply to this situation.

    The Constitution is not this overwhelmingly important document some of you make it out to be.

    terms like “highly aggressive” and “mistreatment” can’t be objectively defined.

    They can be sufficiently defined, however their sufficient definition does not elicit a credible comparison to the “horrors” of torture. Perhaps to you, but you’re sensitive.

    The U.N. Convention against torture (article 1, part 1) uses the qualifier “severe”. Can anyone in here credibly call bending back somebody’s thumbs “severe”? I bent back somebody’s thumbs once, and I did it solely to drive home a point. Am I a war criminal now? Call me back when it’s “smashed thumbs with hammer” or “ripped thumbnails from nailbed.” That’s severe.

  11. The Constitution doesn’t apply to this situation.

    it never applies when its inconvenient.

    Can anyone in here credibly call bending back somebody’s thumbs “severe”?

    i just have to laugh at the psychopathology of the war party. i’m fully convinced that, if a report of gang sodomy and cutting off fingers and pulling out toenails came down, we’d be arguing about the “severity” of such things.

    let’s face it, mr rst: there’s no one you wouldn’t dump gasoline on and light up down in gitmo, is there?

  12. it never applies when its inconvenient.

    Of course not, that’s the nature of government. If you think the Americans invented the concept of hypocrisy in the face of a perceived threat to one’s continued power you need to climb out of that bubble.

    let’s face it, mr rst: there’s no one you wouldn’t dump gasoline on and light up down in gitmo, is there?

    An interesting response, confusing my lack of participation in this crusade for support of the entire Gitmo operation. But send that “if you’re not with us you’re against us” noise somewhere else. I have made it clear that 1) I do not support Gitmo detainment and 2) I do not support tossing every charge I can possibly contrive at something I do not like simply because I do not want it to exist. I know this is perhaps unfathomable to ideologues. I’m sorry.

    You’re laughing at “psychopathology” but you failed to address the question. You and I would both see gangrapes and finger amputations as severe. I saw a large subset of the Abu Ghraib charges as valid indictments. But more to the point, you don’t view the bending back of thumbs as severe, either.

  13. The Constitution is not this overwhelmingly important document some of you make it out to be.

    Heh heh, thats what the TSA likes to say!

  14. The Constitution is not this overwhelmingly important document some of you make it out to be.

    And when President Hillary drags you off to the gulag for owning too many guns, we’ll just remind you that the Constitution isn’t all that important.

    OK, enough hyperbole, what do you think of gun control? How about the FCC crusade against Howard Stern?

    Still think the Constitution isn’t important?

  15. If these accusations are true, then the government workers at Gitmo who are responsible are criminals and should be prosecuted and imprisoned if found guilty. Their actions bring shame on us for letting our government so divorce itself from the values that our republic was founded upon.

  16. But more to the point, you don’t view the bending back of thumbs as severe, either.

    Possibly, but that ass kicking you would receive after doing that to me would be!

    But seriously, bending back my thumbs and threatening to break them if I don’t talk is definitely severe.

  17. “The Constitution is not this overwhelmingly important document some of you make it out to be.”

    WTF??

  18. But more to the point, you don’t view the bending back of thumbs as severe, either.

    au contraire — but what i see as *far* more severe than the act is the widespread acceptance of it and the rationalization that accompanies it.

    I bent back somebody’s thumbs once, and I did it solely to drive home a point. Am I a war criminal now?

    no, but you should be ashamed of that, mr rst. and if you’re not, i’d argue that you’ve lost what moral center most people would call civility.

    arguing for these kinds of tactics to be used shamelessly is to argue for the abandonment of western/christian ethics. arguing over the constitutionality of 2nd degree torture pretends to adhere to the letter of the law while pissing all over the spirit — not to mention how it assaults the christian philosophy that informed the creation of that law. it is an abandonment of any moral aspiration. can you live like that?

    no decent person can argue that we better ourselves by doing these things. it serves only to degrade us and, ultimately, to incriminate us in the eyes of all decent people. that so many work (consciously or not) to ennoble “torture lite” as necessary or even desirable is, imo, concrete evidence of a nihilistic society in decay.

    likewise,

    If you think the Americans invented the concept of hypocrisy in the face of a perceived threat to one’s continued power you need to climb out of that bubble.

    it isn’t hypocrisy but the ongoing campaign to rationalize it and accept it that is the most insidious aspect of this onslaught of barbarity. that there is no OUTRAGE and CONDEMNATION anywhere in the comments of not only you, mr rst, but so many millions of americans is leaves me aghast. it is truly symptomatic, i think, of the completeness of our loss of high western civilization.

  19. Finally the calvary shows up! I’ve been banging on the drum with these guys for more than a week.

    …better late than never.

  20. Look, if you’re a sexually repressed religious fanatic, and some women starts fondling your balls against your will, there’s nothing you can do about it. You might as well just lay back and enjoy it. I mean, most guys would kill to have a chick fondle their balls. In fact, the Islamofascists in Gitmo did kill to get there, so what are they complaining about?

    And in some of those blue states there are men who pay handsomely to have objects shoved up their asses. The guys in Abu Ghraib got that treatment for free!

    What’s that? Some of the guys in Gitmo were innocents who were turned over to the US after they got on the wrong side of the local warlord? Well, that’s just a few isolated incidents. And they still got some free sexual jollies. Besides, most of the inmates in Gitmo are bad guys, and we can’t let “due process” get in the way. We need to start working them over ASAP when they arrive!

    And what’s really sad is that once upon a time I would have thought that this post is so far out there that it can’t even count as parody. Now I think it’s just a slightly hyped-up version of what you can find on this allegedly libertarian forum.

  21. I posted this in a different thread, but this thread is more relevant. Read the article in full it is more disturbing than bending thumbs and grabing genitals.

    “Troops’ Murder Cases in Iraq Detailed”

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/la-fg-shooting7dec07,0,5176587.story?coll=la-home-headlines

    exceprts:

    “U.S. military prosecutors alleged Monday that American soldiers shot to death two unarmed Iraqi men in their homes, then tried to cover up their crimes by claiming that the Iraqis had reached for guns.”

    “Williams cut off the man’s plastic handcuffs, laid the rifle near the Iraqi and said aloud to other soldiers in the room, “I feel my life has been threatened.””

  22. “Williams cut off the man’s plastic handcuffs, laid the rifle near the Iraqi and said aloud to other soldiers in the room, “I feel my life has been threatened.””

    and sy hersh, mr a, is guarding a military source with yet more appalling revelations.

    these atrocities are dominant aspects of any war, horrible as they are. they are why war cannot be the mystical march of ideal good that some hysterical ideologues on the american right seem to believe they are manifesting. (indeed, maniacal ideologues too are a feature of many wars.)

    but what i find singularly disturbing is the inability or outright refusal of vast numbers (particularly of ostensibly christian conservatives, mind you) to condemn these and other atrocities committed in the our name.

  23. And when President Hillary…

    What optimism. We are yet some time removed from that historical First. Regardless, the Constitution was written in full recognition of the fact that governments suck, and will invariably try to seize power wherever they can get it, legal or otherwise. Nothing they (or we) could write on a piece of paper was going to prevent it. And neither President Bush II nor President Clinton II would be any different.

    OK, enough hyperbole, what do you think of gun control? How about the FCC crusade against Howard Stern?

    They suck, but a piece of paper that a vast few in government actually believe in isn’t going to protect me from either.

    Still think the Constitution isn’t important?

    The Constitution is a referent, trumped largely by 230 years of case law. Its importance is a matter of semantics, not practicality. Kind of like the bible.

  24. Can anyone in here credibly call bending back somebody’s thumbs “severe”?

    One Marine told an FBI observer that some interrogations led to prisoners “curling into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain,” according to the letter dated July 14, 2004. yahoo

    As I wrote a week ago… If the article had said: “The Muslims were forced to stand on one leg for an hour, eat raw pork, and undergo electric shock to the genitals”, some people would go on and on about how having to stand on one leg is not torture.

    Some people… Well…

    Am I a war criminal now?

    I don’t know. Have you yourself been torturing? Or is your participation limited to the (vigourous) defence of such practises?

  25. Kind of like the bible.

    perhaps, mr rst, you can find for me the passage of the gospels where christ tells us it’s ok to mangle people’s fingers to get information out of them?

    oh wait, i got it!

    Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

    … oh. wait a minute. how about

    Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.

    … hmm. well, wait.

    Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    ugh. that’s no good for our side, is it?

  26. Their actions bring shame on us for letting our government so divorce itself from the values that our republic was founded upon.

    Which value? That all white land-owning men were created equal? That we are all free to worship Divine Providence in the manner we see fit? Or that at census time 3/5ths of your niggers will help determine representation in the house?

    it is truly symptomatic, i think, of the completeness of our loss of high western civilization.

    See above. All this Constitutional Romanticism is giving me a chubby.

    it is an abandonment of any moral aspiration. can you live like that?

    I formulate my own moral aspirations, as do you. Personally, I felt justified, via the defense of others argument, in bending the guy’s thumbs back. I made my point and did no permanent harm.

    that there is no OUTRAGE and CONDEMNATION anywhere in the comments of not only you, mr rst, but so many millions of americans is leaves me aghast.

    How unimaginable it is that our opinions differ, and that our perspectives vary.

    no decent person can argue that we better ourselves by doing these things.

    I argue that we better ourselves by having a certain tiny percentage of the population that does these things.

    perhaps, mr rst, you can find for me the passage…

    “like the bible” in that its importance is semantics and not practicality. The comparison had nothing to do with content.

  27. I formulate my own moral aspirations, as do you. Personally, I felt justified, via the defense of others argument, in bending the guy’s thumbs back. I made my point and did no permanent harm. …How unimaginable it is that our opinions differ, and that our perspectives vary.

    yes, mr rst, i’m familiar with relativistic amorality. you needn’t explain yourself further than you have. at least you don’t imagine yourself something other than a nihilist.

    my greater concern is with the vast numbers of people who, despite believing themselves christian in some sense, agree with you — and the immense retarding effect their cumulative views have on our society.

  28. yes, mr rst, i’m familiar with relativistic amorality.

    That is an oxymoron. Amorality is a lack of morality. Moral relativism, as you call it, is the recognition that morality does not exist outside of the individual’s evaluation thereof. You generally cannot hold someone else to your standard, but because you hold me and the rest of the world to your standard and the standard of those with which you associate, you would call me “immoral,” not “amoral,” unless of course you contend that I personally act without thought of consequence, which you cannot reasonably do. Anyway, we have consented to a statutory authority that holds us to some standard which varies over time and geography. Those standards are called laws, not morals.

  29. Moral relativism, as you call it, is the recognition that morality does not exist outside of the individual’s evaluation thereof.

    oh, if it only stopped there. i beg you to more deeply consider the ramifications of relativism.

  30. RST-
    If there’s no practical use for the Constitution, do you think we should just do away with it once and for all?

  31. Jennifer, if there were no Constitution what would the Dear Leader use as toilet paper?

  32. If there’s no practical use for the Constitution, do you think we should just do away with it once and for all?

    The use of symbols is by definition not practical. But no, the U.S. Government could no more do away with the Constitution than christian churches could do away with their crucifixes, even though they haven’t any practical use either.

  33. oh, if it only stopped there. i beg you to more deeply consider the ramifications of relativism.

    I beg you to more deeply consider the possibility that somebody who makes his own moral evaluations is less dangerous than a person who takes his cues from OBL, Bush, or long-winded religious documents from well before the dark ages.

  34. You know, rst, you’ve said some outrageous things, and some stupid ones, but I think this one takes the cake:
    “The use of symbols is by definition not practical. ”
    So written text, which is inherently symbolic, is not practical? In your case perhaps so, but I do have to wonder where you got your definition of ‘the use of symbols’ and how it could possibly claim that said use is ‘not practical’.

    Shirley Knott

  35. “The use of symbols is by definition not practical. But no, the U.S. Government could no more do away with the Constitution than Christian churches could do away with their crucifixes, even though they haven’t any practical use either.”

    So called “symbols” such as “…all men are created equal” and “equal protection” and “due process” offered the leverage by which abolitionists and civil rights leaders rid us of slavery and Jim Crow–what could be more practical?

    P.S. The cross communicates the transcendence of the barrier between God and us so effectively that we understand its meaning without even realizing it.

  36. Concerning the Constitution, rst is writing nonsense. He is either ignorant in this matter or he is just putting us on. The Constitution is the framework of our Republic. Most importantly, it establishes limits on government power. Also, when judges consider the constitutionality of a law, they often try to determine the original intent of the constitution’s authors.

  37. long-winded religious documents from well before the dark ages

    rst, you frequently lambast Islam as a primitive religion that worships a “desert god”. What do you think of Christianity?

  38. I beg you to more deeply consider the possibility that somebody who makes his own moral evaluations is less dangerous than a person who takes his cues from OBL, Bush, or long-winded religious documents from well before the dark ages.

    and now who’s the ideologue, mr rst? reject history and the considerations of others for your personal evaluations?

    before you condemn christianity, note that it held the western world together until quite recently. it’s more than the idle ramblings of desert shamans, however it started. it’s a philosophical system of society. i don’t think it matters a jot whether or not it’s theologically right (in fact, i’m certain it isn’t); what matters is that it emerged from the devastating fall of the roman empire and defined a time-tested way to live together in something like peace in a time of unhinged disorder.

    all i am saying is that the implications of relativism are antithetical to society. it is the philosophy of a man who rejects his neighbor for his own gratification. it looses the restraints on individuals to each other (that which we would call responsibility) at the expense of a cooperative whole. each individual’s judgement is as good as any others; no there is no need to compromise any of them. there can be no valid consensus.

    i submit to you that, in isolated cases, such hyperindividualism can be good; en masse, it is chaos and debasement — largely because people in the main are maladroit animals and not rational, sensible machines. every relativist, of course, believes it to be good in his own case (there are no humble relativists, in my experience) and probably gives not a shit about anyone else’s case.

    as such, i can understand your devaluation of the constitution — i doubt you care much for any law that stands the remotest chance of affecting you personally in some way in some way not to your shallowly perceived benefit.

  39. “Its importance is a matter of semantics, not practicality. Kind of like the bible.”

    Importance is a function of perspective to rst, but rst wants his perspective to dominate personal ethics universally. That’s the contradiction. What isn’t important to rst, the Constitution and the Bible for instance, shouldn’t be important to anyone–that’s what he seems to be saying.

    …If that’s indeed what he’s saying, and what he’s saying is true, then what makes his perspective so God-like important?

  40. Thoreau-
    He could use international treaties like the Geneva Conventions. Paper’s way more absorbent than parchment, anyway.

  41. So written text, which is inherently symbolic, is not practical?

    Extricate your cranium from your alimentary canal for a moment and riddle me this: what is the practical value of a word written on a piece of paper?

    so effectively that we understand its meaning without even realizing it.

    We are pattern-matching creatures. You were taught that relationship and the simplicity of the pattern of the cross reinforces that relationship every time you see it. It’s as natural to you as breathing, because you’re fulfilling one of the fundamental functions of your brain: fit a pattern to a concept. Were it Andrew’s X-shaped cross, or Peter’s upside-down cross, the effect would be exactly the same: you look at a plain crucifix and you see all at once what is there, and what isn’t there.

    The Constitution is the framework of our Republic.

    Hallow-ed be its name…thy kingdom come, thy will be done…a Constitution is the framework for lots of republics. Are you convinced that ours is special?

    it establishes limits on government power.

    …which continue to fade with the passage of time and “evolution” of society.

    when judges consider the constitutionality of a law, they often try to determine the original intent of the constitution’s authors.

    Via channeling? Or conjecture? Do they consult the Federalist papers? The private journals of the Constitution’s signatories? On what basis do they determine that original intent, what is its measure of accuracy, and why should I trust them to do it in good faith?

  42. rst-
    If symbols are as useless as you say, then Why O Why are you wasting your life typing whole paragraphs of useless symbols onto a blog?

    Or could it be that you’re referring to the value of symbolism, as opposed to its meaning? As an atheist, I disagree with Christians about all of the meanings and values attached to the crucifix, but we both agree that the following symbols…

    SOFA

    . . .refer to one and only one piece of furniture in my living room. Likewise, we can all agree that the sounds shown by the symbols “Here, take $100 out of my wallet” have a very different meaning from “Hey! That $100 is mine! Give it back!” Granted, a mugger probably won’t give those words the same VALUE bas I would, but he still knows EXACTLY what I mean. Don’t try to argue otherwise, in defense of him. At the very least, don’t try to use that argument to prove that theft is supposed to be legal in this country.

    By the way, if the Constitution is meaningless, then what procedures do you think should be used to determine the laws of this country, and what its citizens and government shall or shall not be allowed to do without penalty?

    Christ, sophistry is irritating.

  43. Whoops, I misused a word there: when I said I disagree with Christians about ALL of the crucifx’s values and meanings, I meant to say MOST. Please replace the first set of symbols with the second:

    all
    most

    Thank you.

  44. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/07/politics/07cnd-abus.html?hp&ex=1102482000&en=423be6557d198090&ei=5094&partner=homepage

    Fun quote I just found in the New York Times, which will hopefully lead to an explanation of why burn marks and beating don’t prove actual totrure:

    Prisoners arriving at a detention center in Baghdad had “burn marks on their backs” as well as bruises and some complained of kidney pain, according to the June 25, 2004 memo. . . .The U.S. military says prisoners are treated according to the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit violence, torture and humiliating treatment. Still, at least 10 incidents of abuse have been substantiated at Guantanamo, all but one from 2003 or this year.

    Many detainees at Guantanamo have been held without charge and without access to attorneys since the camp opened in January 2002. The United States has imprisoned some 550 men accused of links to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime or al-Qaida; only four have been charged.

  45. rst,

    Yes, in too many cases the constitutional limits on government power have been eroded, in some cases they have been reinforced. The point is that the *constitutionality* of a government power is the salient question as to its validity. This fact shows the falsehood of the idea that the Constitution is “of little practical value”.

    The Federalist papers (the Anti-Federalist papers as well) and the private journals of the Constitution’s signatories have both been among the types of documents that have been consulted to try to determine original intent.

  46. In all fairness to rst, I think it’s ridiculous to take him too literally and argue that he thinks letters are “useless symbols.” Some symbols clearly do serve useful purposes (e.g. letters), and others (e.g. Prince Charles) clearly don’t.

    I disagree vehemently with rst when he says that the Constitution is in the category of useless symbols, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t think all symbols are useless. He seems to like letters and numerals just fine. Deliberately choosing the most absurd and literal interpretation of his statement and then going after him for it is the sort of behavior that most people on this forum refrain from.

  47. Thoreau-
    You’d think most people on this forum would also refrain from justifying torture from the American government, too. Disappointment sucks.

  48. “You’d think most people on this forum would also refrain from justifying torture from the American government, too.”

    I know. No one should ever accuse anyone of preaching to the choir in this forum–not that anyone has.

  49. What do you think of Christianity?

    Much the same, but more technologically advanced. I try to be careful not to confuse faith with religion. I view the distinction somewhat similar to the way in which I view morals and laws, respectively.

    his perspective to dominate personal ethics universally.

    God no, are you crazy? Why would I want to take anything from you?

    reject history and the considerations of others for your personal evaluations?

    Ideology is systemic; there is nothing ideological about rejecting the considerations of others.

    And history is opinion.

    it looses the restraints on individuals to each other (that which we would call responsibility) at the expense of a cooperative whole.

    And you believe that lacking those restraints people would violate each others’ “rights”. Because simply loosening restraints does not in any way burden a cooperative whole. Especially if they’re already cooperative.

    i doubt you care much for any law…

    Inaccurate. I don’t care much for federal law. As far as law itself, if no one but myself is harmed in the breaking thereof, then I feel under no obligation to follow it. I place the burden upon the state to stop me from doing it if they really care that much.

    sophistry is irritating.

    It wasn’t me that took the “symbolism” thing into sophistry. I said the Constitution is not an overwhelmingly important document. We got into that when I said the use of symbols was by definition not practical. Then somebody (not I) expanded the term symbol to the phenomenon of language, and here we are. Technically, Shirley Knott was correct; I probably should not have responded in order to retain any lingering clarity in my own point.

    If symbols are as useless as you say, then Why O Why are you wasting your life typing whole paragraphs of useless symbols onto a blog?

    It’s better than working.

    The person who cares that words are also symbols is not me. For the record I mean “symbol” in the way that a sofa is not a symbol. But I like where you’re going. What can we agree on with this symbol:

    CROSS

    Am I referring to a person? A thing? Am I a Christian? Am I upset? Am I telling someone to cross the street? Cross their heart? Do you like my new pen?

    By the way, to pick some nits, SOFA is one symbol; S, O, F, and A are four. You may think they’re related, but for purposes of our vacuous debate they are not.

    Back to my point: the Constitution isn’t that important a document, because the term is completely divorced from the document it allegedly describes. And nowhere in there does it say our military cannot aggressively interrogate prisoners. When we’re talking about eminent domain abuse, CFR, etc., complaining about the Constitution is at least pertinent because the document made strides to at least lay claims on those subjects. But the relationship between suspect and judicial system is NOT the same as the relationship between detainee and the military.

    You’d think most people on this forum would also refrain from justifying torture from the American government, too.

    That depends on whether you think it’s torture.

  50. before you condemn christianity, note that it held the western world together until quite recently.

    Hahahaha. Yes, unless one ignores the various sects within Christianity warring with, prosecuting, slaughtering and burning one another over a period of oh, say, a thousand years or so.

    Christianity was prepared to destroy society in order to save it. The Enlightenment spared them the trouble.

  51. The point is that the *constitutionality* of a government power is the salient question as to its validity. This fact shows the falsehood of the idea that the Constitution is “of little practical value”.

    Yes, and the determination of Constitutionality has less and less to do with the actual document as time and society wear on. Thus the practical importance of the document itself varies inversely with time. Said validity is not a function of a characteristic that has a reliable metric; this Constitution you praise was used to justify segregation and laws against miscegenation. One day they will claim that only the military is the “well-regulated militia” and be done with the gun rights issue for good. Fifty years later these overblown lawyers in black robes will view that as the original intent of the framers.

    I disagree vehemently with rst when he says that the Constitution is in the category of useless symbols

    When did I say this? I never said it was useless symbol, I said it was a symbol whose use was largely semantic and not practical. Necessary as social glue, but don’t go looking for objective truth or even practical guidance therein. We’re not going to find anything in the Constitution that says or can even be construed to say the military cannot bend back the thumbs of detainees.

    We *may* find it can be construed to say that we cannot detain them there at all (which is my interpretation), but again that depends on how much of a parallel you can draw between military detainment and the criminal justice system.

  52. “God no, are you crazy? Why would I want to take anything from you?”

    How can you confuse an emphatic refusal to watch someone else tortured with a desire to impose my perspective on others? Refusing to force other people to do what I want them to do by way of torture isn’t evidence that I want to force my will on others. Follow?

    And I certainly wouldn’t impose my perspective on anyone by way of government policy. I will cop to a belief in an objective reality, but I believe that unique perspective is God’s alone. From his perspective, he prescribed freedom for all creation, not torture. Who am I to question his wisdom?

  53. rst:

    “Back to my point: the Constitution isn’t that important a document, because the term is completely divorced from the document it allegedly describes”

    “Yes, and the determination of Constitutionality has less and less to do with the actual document as time and society wear on.”

    These statements are just not true. Actual decisions are rendered with justification derived from the words and inferred intent. Victories for liberty are often won by the upholding of the words of the Constitution.

    “Thus the practical importance of the document itself varies inversely with time.”

    This just repeats the sentiment of your last sentence, and with an implication of unwarranted rigor.

    “I said it (the Constitution) was a symbol whose use was largely semantic and not practical.”

    By some of your other statements, you’ve made it clear that you don’t really believe this.

    “As far as law itself, if no one but myself is harmed in the breaking thereof, then I feel under no obligation to follow it. I place the burden upon the state to stop me from doing it if they really care that much.”

    Very good! rst, you’ve said some silly things about the Constitution, but many of its authors would appreciate and agree with your attitude toward the law and the state. In fact, one of the central ideas of the founders was that there should be no laws against activity that does no harm!

  54. There’s a terrifying story at Salon regarding the military’s response to reports of torture.

    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/12/08/coverup/index.html

    You have to sit through a very brief ad, but it’s worth it.

  55. Isn’t rst just pointing out that there are many laws on the books that the founders would have considered unconstitutional, and that, over time, case law has drifted far from the original meaning of the constitution? The US Constitution is not useless, but it is rather frayed.

    Rick,

    If our lovely government officials spend so much time referring to the original intent of the constitution, how did the majority approve of McCain-Feingold? Is it that the letter of the law has no meaning, but it’s the drifting case law that matters? Wouldn’t you think that if ANY kind of speech was protected, political speech would be? Isn’t that the point? Please help me here because I’m not a lawyer. I just can’t fathom why so many federal laws seem unconstitutional to me! Is it me? Or are they mostly all corrupted in one way or another?

  56. omg. i feel so… dirty.

    I agree with much of what rst has written here.

    In my opinion, “truth” is what works for us. It’s what we assent to until something manifestly better comes along.

    I have assented to the notion that all men are equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that governments are instituted to secure these rights…

    I’ve assented to this notion because it pleases me, and because it seems to me to be the most effective way of avoiding pain. IF I manage to convince others to assent to it.

    I’ve got this life to live, and I’d like to get through it as happy as possible. And, as unashamed.

    Other people do not assent to this notion. I call them “wrong”. Or, in some cases, “evil”.

    Their world view can be a threat to what I perceive my well-being to be, so I try to limit their influence. To contain them.

    rst has assented to other notions. His notions are as “true” as mine.

    However. The implications of those notions bode ill for me. For people who hold those notions will not hesitate to hurt me and those I love. They seek to undermine the net of human rights which is the only thing which protects me.

    So. rst is right. Symbolism.

    But oh Lord don’t let his notions win!

  57. rst is either trolling or not. If he is, ignoring him is the best response. If not, I don’t think I can even find common ground enough to even argue with him.

  58. I know, and the sad thing is that the Supremes upheld that travesty.

  59. After staying away from reason.com for a while (I was wasting waaaay too much time reading here), I am back. And it’s good to see that the defenders of torture have grown few in number.

    There is some small hope for humanity.

  60. RST,
    Let me answer your question “riddle me this: what is the practical value of a word written on a piece of paper” thusly —
    what is the practical value of a regular 8-sided shape posted at the intersection of two roads and upon which the word ‘stop’ appears?

    And let me respond to the surrounding remarks with the singularly appropriate, practical, and entirely conveyed by means of symbols remark —
    blow it out your ass, fuckwit.

    with all due respect,
    Shirley Knott

  61. Ideology is systemic; there is nothing ideological about rejecting the considerations of others.

    oh yes there is. it’s called objectivism, and it is a religion of sorts, in which the logos is the self.

    And history is opinion.

    some narrower interpretations of history are purely opinion — such as phil’s simplistic belief (arrived at by selectively remembering only the decayed renaissance papacy, i suspect) that christianity was some sort of burden of which “reason” liberated us, instead of the social order that preserved a social europe from total chaos following the end of roman administration. (though at least phil seems to respect western history in this way — it’s an opinion that nietzsche held.)

    the existence of past events is, however, not opinion. that you so easily reject the validity or meaning of history — even if it is only your cultural viewpoint of it — is completely typical of both our postmodern era and periods of past civilizational decline. you can read something like your ancient analogue in tacitus. i’d refer you to the concept of the ‘terror of history’ articulated by eliade.

    it looses the restraints on individuals to each other (that which we would call responsibility) at the expense of a cooperative whole.

    And you believe that lacking those restraints people would violate each others’ “rights”. Because simply loosening restraints does not in any way burden a cooperative whole. Especially if they’re already cooperative.

    perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the power politics of city-states prior to and during the italian renaissance? lacking moral and social restraint, the human animal WILL trample anything that could be considered a sovereign ‘right’. i think you vastly underestimate the slippery slope you’re (and we all are) on.

    I don’t care much for federal law. As far as law itself, if no one but myself is harmed in the breaking thereof, then I feel under no obligation to follow it. I place the burden upon the state to stop me from doing it if they really care that much.

    as antisocial a comment as i’m likely to read on this or any message board. you think because you’ve chosen to make a distinction between federal law and your law that you haven’t abandoned society? you are an anarchist of degrees, mr rst, whether you know it or not; you’ve repeatedly showed it in your comments here. the population of people like you are why western civilization is at an end.

  62. Western civilization is at an end? Could you elaborate on that claim?

    Also, while I disagree with rst’s shoulder shrugging attitude towards the abuse of prisoners (he strangely trusts the government to only incarcerate the guilty), I agree with him entirely that laws designed to protect me from myself deserve to be ignored.

    No less a Christian than Martin Luthor King said, “…it is the duty of all men to disobey unjust laws.”

  63. Les,

    I finally got around to reading that article at Salon you linked–holy moly!

    You would think something like that would get a lot more attention, but I haven’t seen anything else anywhere else about it. However, big media seems to be about a week behind the blogosphere, so maybe the story will still get the coverage it deserves.

  64. Nice quote fresh off the AP:

    WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. military panels reviewing the detention of foreigners as enemy combatants are allowed to use evidence gained by torture in deciding whether to keep them imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the government conceded in court Thursday.

    In other words, THE GOVERNMENT ITSELF concedes that it is torturing people.

  65. Jennifer, they didn’t actually say that they’re using torture, just that if, hypothetically, they did use torture the evidence gained by torture could be used in trials conducted with much lower standards of evidence than used in the regular courts.

    Don’t you see the difference, you wimpy liberal terrorist sympathizer?

  66. andrew sullivan sums it up quite nicely.

    Western civilization is at an end? Could you elaborate on that claim?

    fwiw, i’m spending most of my intellectual free time doing just that, but the articulated case was best made, imo, by jaques barzun.

  67. No less a Christian than Martin Luthor King said, “…it is the duty of all men to disobey unjust laws.”

    i would say, mr les, that the deterioration in the cohesive power of society is much older than 1963. as such, dr. king was almost as much a product of an individualist antisociety as we are, however noble his cause.

  68. the existence of past events is, however, not opinion. that you so easily reject the validity or meaning of history

    You’re saying two different things. Yes, it can be held without proof that past events have occurred. However, that grants neither validity nor meaning to specific events, nor the auxiliary observations that accompany them. Your Italian Rennaissance occurred against the backdrop of waning European feudalism and a desperate Roman Catholic Church, two systems which arguably trample rights more effectively than any in that time period. It seems odd to think that the still prevailing moral philosophies du jour did not influence that behavior more than the mere lack of some rigid system. The eurotrash simply did not know any better.

    as antisocial a comment as i’m likely to read on this or any message board

    Hardly. I’d wager more people than you know share somewhat my point of view with respect to both federal law and laws that are designed, as Les states, to protect me from myself. My “agreement” with society is not a book of laws I did not write, rather it is the striking of a morally upright and sober balance between competition and cooperation. At best laws are “agreements” between myself and the state, which would require me to agree with them for me to feel particularly bound by them.

    you think because you’ve chosen to make a distinction between federal law and your law that you haven’t abandoned society?

    Is society ensconced in federal law?

    you are an anarchist of degrees, mr rst, whether you know it or not; you’ve repeatedly showed it in your comments here.

    The sum of my comments here demonstrate otherwise. Having no faith in a centralized government, nor in the concept that the level civilization is directly proportional to the number of laws that restrict its citizens, falls far short of anarchy.

    the population of people like you are why western civilization is at an end.

    Good, it’s about time we laid that oxymoron to rest.

    he strangely trusts the government to only incarcerate the guilty

    No. I am making a distinction between the Gitmo incarceration, which in my opinion violates the Constitution, and the military bending back thumbs and causing mild psychological trauma in the course of interrogation, which in my opinion does not.

    I didn’t want to go after Clinton over Monica, I wanted to go after him over China. Likewise, I think we’re getting distracted from the actual crime by some tepid nonsense.

  69. I argue that we better ourselves by having a certain tiny percentage of the population that does these things.

    I truly do not understand that. Aren’t we responsible for what our agents do in our name?

    Below – once again – is the definition of “torture” as it appears in the United States Code. It seemed like a good idea to have it handy.

    ————–

    Title 18, 2340

    (1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
    (2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from –

    (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
    (B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
    (C) the threat of imminent death; or
    (D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
    (3) “United States” includes all areas under the jurisdiction of the United States including any of the places described in sections 5 and 7 of this title and section 46501 (2) of title 49.

    Title 28,1350, sec. 3. DEFINITIONS.

    (b) Torture. – For the purposes of this Act –
    “(1) the term “torture” means any act, directed against an individual in the offender’s custody or physical control, by which severe pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering arising only from or inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions), whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on that individual for such purposes as obtaining from that individual or a third person information or a confession, punishing that individual for an act that individual or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, intimidating or coercing that individual or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind; and
    “(2) mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from –

    “(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
    “(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
    “(C) the threat of imminent death; or
    “(D) the threat that another individual will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.”

    ————–

    Sorry to keep repeating stuff, but:

    In a letter obtained by AP, a senior Justice Department official suggested the Pentagon didn’t act on FBI complaints about four incidents at Guantanamo, including a female interrogator grabbing a detainee’s genitals and bending back his thumbs, another where a prisoner was gagged with duct tape and a third where a dog was used to intimidate a detainee who later was thrown into isolation and showed signs of “extreme psychological trauma.”

    One Marine told an FBI observer that some interrogations led to prisoners “curling into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain,” according to the letter dated July 14, 2004.

    Sounds pretty probable that these people have been tortured.

    But let me set aside for now the jesuitical discussion on what the meaning of “is” is. What I am really curious to know, rst, is why you are so intent on minimising/defending these practises.

  70. What I am really curious to know, rst, is why you are so intent on minimising/defending these practises.

    I will repeat for your edification, in the hopes that it will sink in this time: I do not defend torture, and I do not define these acts to be torture. Neither you nor anyone here has demonstrated that these practices:

    1. are severe
    2. will lead to prolonged mental harm
    3. have the threat of imminent death
    4. involve mind-altering substances

    I will not argue the semantics of Constitutionality, especially as it pertains to military detention and interrogation, from the platform of warm, fuzzy feelings.

  71. 1. You haven’t told me why you are defending the practises. So. Why are you defending “these acts” which are “not torture”? Why so adamant in that defence?

    2. You have misunderstood the definitions of torture from the US Code. In both, “(2)” is the explanation of the terms “mental pain or suffering”, not of “torture”. The latter is “severe pain or suffering…, whether physical or mental“.

    So. While (2) is included in the definition of “torture” and is sufficient, it is not necessary.

    3. goto 1.

  72. 1. Because I consider them to be rigorous interrogation. I consider the fear of severe physical or mental suffering to be the most appropriate motivator in this activity. I support the introduction of fear in any non-debilitating manifestation, for instance, playing on the seemingly natural (and allegedly genetic) human fear of dogs. I do not find to be credible the assertions that the actions described in these reports lead to long-term and/or debilitating conditions, only temporary. Thus I do not support the assertion that the actions are severe.

    2. I understand, thanks. In order for your assertion that it is torture to be true, it must satisfy either condition. If it satisfies neither condition, then it is not torture. To spell it out for you, in my previous post, 1. refers to the lack of severity in the assertions in toto, which is fundamental to the definition of torture; 2-4 refer to the strictly mental effects, which as opposed to physical effects has the benefit of further qualifications which these acts do not meet. I am taking for granted that you are a reasonable person and as such do not view grabbing balls or bending back thumbs (the notable physical aspects of the interrogation) to be “severe”.

  73. I am taking for granted that you are a reasonable person and as such do not view grabbing balls or bending back thumbs (the notable physical aspects of the interrogation) to be “severe”.

    The statement seems to be saying: “If you are reasonable, then you agree with me.”

    I must not be a reasonable person, then, for I would certainly qualify any pain which left me “curl[ed] into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain” as “severe”.

    And anyone who has ever had his foot slip on his bicycle pedal knows the true meaning of “severe pain”. The very idea of someone grabbing my genitals and squeezing…

    …long-term and/or debilitating conditions, only temporary

    That is not a necessary element in the definition of “torture”.

    It’s interesting watching someone try so hard to defend the indefensible.

    Many years ago Sartre, in an interview in Newsweek, defended the use of terrorism to bring about “beneficial change” and to right wrongs. Today’s terrorists and insurgents (they are not the same) – as well as the US government! – use the same kind of argument: “Violence is acceptable if the desired outcome is just.” “Whatever it takes.” “The end justifies the means.”

    It is my contention that those who seek to defend or minimise the use of what you call “rigorous interrogation” pose as great a threat to me and to those I love as any bomb-thrower. Maybe even more so, because the influence of the (pseudo-)philosophical wares they are peddling is not limited in time or place.

    Sartre is dead. His justification of the use of violence lives on.

  74. That is not a necessary element in the definition of “torture”.

    It is a necessary element for the mental aspect of it. The only qualifier for the physical aspect is that it must be severe. It hinges on our disagreement over “severe”. We will not see eye to eye on this.

    It’s interesting watching someone try so hard to defend the indefensible.

    Were I to agree with you that the abuse was severe, you’d have a point. Alas, your statement is only pertinent within the circle of persons who agree with you.

    Many years ago Sartre

    We don’t need Sartre to tell us what we already know.

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