John McCain

Torture Betrays America

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At the end of last week the White House and dissident Republican Senators apparently worked out a compromise setting limits on trying and torturing detainees in the War on Terror. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tells the Washington Post that he thinks that the new legislation will rein in the "alternative interrogation procedures" used on detainees somewhat. That's all to the good, but the mere fact that we actually have to have such legislation is disheartening.

In the Sunday Washington Post, Chilean-American writer Ariel Dorfman eloquently decries the use of torture and how it betrays the values that America stands for:

Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America?

Whole Dorfman op/ed here.

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  1. “Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this?”

    Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand that taxation is torture too, is actually slavery, and slavery is undoubtly torture ?

    Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand that eminetd domain takings are torture too ?

    And global warming ? Won’t that result in our being burned and fried, and isn’t that torture too ?

  2. And it’s so easy to obtain moral purity. Just be a cynic and you’ll never compromise your principles.

    What’s needed is somebody to show how to proceed in a democracy in spite of doing what is necessary.

    Which is more or less what happened.

  3. eminetd = eminent

  4. Even if you accept the necessity of torture, you probably realize that since no system is perfect, we’ll eventually torture some innocent people. How many innocents do you guys think we can torture before we officially lose our status as the good guys?

  5. Is torture rooted in evil? That’s the basic question.

    If you become evil to fight evil, then the war is between two evil powers and not between good and evil.

    If one was to write a list on the actions of evil empires would torture be on it?

  6. During the Cold War, conservatives were always pointing to the Gulag Archipelago in their denunciations of the Soviets. We cheered when Rambo killed the prison camp guards, because they director spent so much time depicting their abuse of the prisoners, in order to make us hate them. I used to think that, for all the hostility between the left and the right, at least opposition to torture was a core value that they had in common.

    I guess not.

  7. What with the sitting President and his minions looking for every “clarification” they can to allow use of torture without having to use the name, and the ex-President admitting on national network television that he ordered a hit on OBL, years before 911, what have we become? Or is it only that the masks and gloves are now finally off, for everyone to see because a “good guy” facade no longer matters? Can we all just cut the crap and admit that the occupant of the Oval Office is, and for years or decades, certainly, always has been, the “Gangster in Chief”?

    By the way, kudos to TrickyVic for saying what needed to be said: the “War” is swiftly becoming one between two Evil Powers. Whose side does God take, in such a war? The GOP is fond of saying that it is engaged in a “War for the soul of America.” Too late, that soul has been pre-empted (in the original sense of that term).

  8. To be fair, I should say that I realize that there are many millions of conservatives across America who are just as outraged by this as I am.

  9. What’s wrong with ordering a hit on Osama bin Laden?

    Under his leadership, Al Qaeda had delcared war on us, and was actively involved in operations to kill Americans. We were well within our rights to use the tools of war against those we were at war with, including their commanders.

    James, was it a crime for the flight of P-38s to target Yamamoto’s plane during WW2? Do you think any American soldier would have hesitated to shoot at the Kaiser if he came into range? What’s the problem?

  10. ‘During the Cold War, conservatives were always pointing to the Gulag Archipelago in their denunciations of the Soviets. We cheered when Rambo killed the prison camp guards, because they director spent so much time depicting their abuse of the prisoners, in order to make us hate them. I used to think that, for all the hostility between the left and the right, at least opposition to torture was a core value that they had in common.” – joe

    When torture is re-defined to include waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of temperature the Marine Corps Drill Instructor will cease to have any tools to make his charges miserable and enforce physical and mental discipline. So will every other branch of military service.

    (I know, because I’ve served in 2 different branches and been through basic and OT for each.)

    It might be unpleasant, but it’s not torture. Whining about things that aren’t torture trivializes actual torture, in my opinion.

  11. rob,

    John McCain still can’t raise his arms over his shoulders because of a “stress position.”

    If you want to complain about extremes of sleep deprivation, stress positions, suffocation, and freezing being “redefined” as torture, then you should take it up with Solzhenietzin, because he documented and decried every single one of them as torture in “The Gulag Archipelago.” I don’t recall hearing a single American deny that they were torture when performed on Soviet dissidents – although I’m sure the KGB/NKVD types made arguments quite similar to yours.

  12. joe,
    That’s the point. “EXTREMES of sleep deprivation, stress positions, suffocation, and freezing”suffocation, and freezing” are torture.

    Anything can be torture if taken to an extreme. Even a hot tub filled with Halle Berry and Salma Hayek can be torture if the water is too hot or the chafing sets in.

    Stress positions are not torture – unless they are carried FAR beyond anything remotely resembling sanity.

    Just as “extremes of temperature” is not the same as “freezing.” You think turning the A/C up at Gitmo is the same as the Soviets exposing people to sub-zero weather? Obviously not.

    For example, suffocation for you is not the the same as waterboarding.

    True, suffocation is defined in a variety of ways:

    “1. To kill or destroy by preventing access of air or oxygen.
    2. To impair the respiration of; asphyxiate.
    3. To cause discomfort to by or as if by cutting off the supply of fresh air.
    4. To suppress the development, imagination, or creativity of; stifle: ‘The rigid formality of the place suffocated her’ (Thackeray).”

    But not all of the definitions of suffocation are torture.

    Suffocating someone, in #1, is torture. Suffocating someone in #’s 2-4, is not, unless ou actually asphixiate them.

  13. “Anything can be torture if taken to an extreme. Even a hot tub filled with Halle Berry and Salma Hayek can be torture if the water is too hot or the chafing sets in.”

    Ha!

    “Stress positions are not torture – unless they are carried FAR beyond anything remotely resembling sanity…You think turning the A/C up at Gitmo is the same as the Soviets exposing people to sub-zero weather?”

    OK, a fair enough point. I’ll just add that one of the factors that counts as “taking it too far” is time. Standing at attention for 24 hours is physical torture. Sleep deprivation for 48 or more hours is physical torture.

    But beyond that, torture has a way of creeping. If you need something from a prisoners that justifies X, why isn’t X+1 justified? We’re trying save Marines’ lives here, Captain. Marines’ lives!

    I don’t even want to start down that road.

  14. Yeah, it’s pretty apparent that you wouldn’t want to go down a road that might save Marines lives, joe.

    Sorry, I couldn’t help taking the cheap shot. Seriously, while I understand your point I simply disagree with you. It’s pretty obvious that there have been illegal actions – which have been prosecuted – the bottom line is that harsh interrogation is simply not torture.

  15. “”””When torture is re-defined to include waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of temperature the Marine Corps Drill Instructor will cease to have any tools to make his charges miserable and enforce physical and mental discipline. So will every other branch of military service””””

    What year did you go to Marine Corp boot camp Rob?

  16. Joe said, “What’s wrong with ordering a hit on Osama bin Laden?

    “Under his leadership, Al Qaeda had delcared war on us, and was actively involved in operations to kill Americans. We were well within our rights to use the tools of war against those we were at war with, including their commanders.

    “James, was it a crime for the flight of P-38s to target Yamamoto’s plane during WW2? Do you think any American soldier would have hesitated to shoot at the Kaiser if he came into range? What’s the problem?”

    Regarding Yamamoto: We were at war — the last one to be constitutionally declared by the US. This wasn’t a “hit,” it was a military objective.

    Would you have any problems with John F. Kennedy ordering a “hit” on Carlos Marcello? I think a great many people would have, back in the 1960s, despite Marcello being one of the more odious mafia dons of the era.

    As far as “well within our rights to use the tools of war” — bullshit. OBL was not a head of state or a foreign military leader. He was an international gangster. We have laws for dealing with gangsters, and our President was duty bound to follow them.

    I don’t think you got my point. It’s not about how deserving of death OBL was. It’s about the image of our President sitting in his office and ordering hits like any mafia Capo eating dinner at an Italian restaurant. The rules are different in (declared) wartime — and they are so hateful that we are loath to declare war and most people are in a hurry to conclude it and “get back to normal.” To invoke those rules in a time of NO declared war is not a good thing. Whether the President can get away with that kind of thing is exactly our concern today. I guess I know which side of the line you stand on.

  17. Mr. Merritt,

    The President has Commander in Chief powers even outside formally-declared wars.

    The very first war this nation fought was against the Barbary Pirates, who were also a stateless band of outlaws. Acts of war were considered approprite against them, and their leadership was certainly treated like enemy military leaders.

    Events such as the Cole bombing, the embassy bombings, and the 9/11 attacks make it clear that Al Qaeda is a military/national security threat in a manner that the mafia simply is not.

    While there is a strong case to be made that intelligence and law enforcement tactics are the smart way to go in fighting Al Qaeda – the cruise missiles missed, after all – that is a tactical decision.

    And I’m certainly not going to be bullied out of my beliefs because you’ve rhetorically lumped me in with people with whom I disagree 9 out of 10 times.

  18. “And I’m certainly not going to be bullied out of my beliefs because you’ve rhetorically lumped me in with people with whom I disagree 9 out of 10 times.” – joe

    It’s kind of irritating, isn’t it? Reminds me of when you refer to me as a Republican…Of course, compared to J. A. “go ahead and kill as many of us as you’d like” Merritt, it’s nice to see that at least you recognized that terrorism is something that often requires a military solution.

    TrickyVic – I was never a Marine and I didn’t intend to imply that I was. Instead, I went through Navy boot in ’88 and Air Force OT in 2000.

    Based on my conversations with Marines I’ve served with, I figured out that Marine Corps boot is considerably worse than what I went through.

    If they did that stuff to me in the two “less intense” (it didn’t seem that way to me!) versions of basic training then I can only imagine that it makes up most of Marine boot camp. A good friend of mine had stories about the Corps that made me think that they were practically Spartans.

  19. Even a hot tub filled with Halle Berry and Salma Hayek can be torture if the water is too hot or the chafing sets in.

    That’s just a risk I’m going to have to take. Tell you what. Toss Scarlett Johansson in there with us, and when she starts turning a bit too pink we’ll know it’s time to get out.

    BTW, the meme of “Al-Qaeda as pirates” is a perfectly cromulent one. Chasing, catching and, when necessary, killing pirates is the traditional bailiwick of the Navy Dept.

    Kevin

  20. BTW, joe, you are wrong about the Barbary pirates being stateless. Both the Dey of Algiers and the Pasha of Tripoli harbored and encouraged the pirates, who were in many cases their privateers. They also demanded tribute from foreigners to operate in the Med. The Barbary States acted as if they were independent, while being nominal satrapies of the Ottoman Sultan.

    Siccing privateers on ships of a nation you haven’t declared war on is pretty piratical, though.

    Kevin

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