Bob Barr on Torture

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Libertarian ex-congressman and ex-U.S. Attorney Bob Barr participates in a monster Washington Monthly essay package about torture. Everyone they tapped, from Gary Hart to John Kerry to Barr, is against torture, no exceptions. Writes Barr:

No less an upholder of the law than the attorney general of the United States, Michael Mukasey, sets almost as low a standard for the concept of the rule of law as do Messrs. Cheney and McConnell. For the attorney general, the answer to the question of whether waterboarding (and, by clear implication, other techniques inflicting pain as a tool with which to elicit information from a detainee) constitutes torture and would therefore be unlawful lies neither in clear definitions nor in definite standards. For Mukasey, it all depends on the "situation's circumstances." Mukasey refused to answer questions about waterboarding during his 2007 confirmation hearings, but has since determined that the CIA does not engage in the practice. And that, for the nation's top law enforcement officer, is the end of the matter. Everything beyond that is simply speculative and hypothetical.

This administration has gone beyond even the Bizarro World standard of declaring up to be down or left to be right. Not only is torture not torture, but there exists insufficient clarity even to know what is torture so we can determine whether an interrogation technique is torture or not. While the extreme sophistry and word gamesmanship practiced to a fine art by this administration might make a high school debating coach proud, it does great disservice to the notion that we exist in a society in which there are rules and norms of behavior with clarity and definitiveness and in which government agents as well as the citizenry are held to standards of behavior. This is not something of which we as Americans should be proud, and the use of torture will come back to haunt us in ways this administration apparently either doesn't realize or simply doesn't care about.

Not the first time this argument's been rolled out, but I like how it's put. I'm less impressed by the offering of William Taft IV.

When the subject is torture, opera fans like me think of Puccini's Tosca, in which the hero, Cavaradossi, is tortured for refusing to reveal the hiding place of a colleague.

At least I understand why the mag rejected my essay, which began: "When the subject is torture, Motown fans like me think of the opening of the Jacksons' Victory, in which the heroes, Michael and Jermaine, are tortured for losing the loves of their lives."

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  1. I oppose torture. Even almost torture. And even if I didn’t, I think it isn’t necessary in fighting terrorists, other nations, drug lords, other criminals, or even the politically unsound. We have many, many, many other ways to get information. Pretty much all of which are better and more reliable than torture.

  2. I’d be OK with torturing Dave for posting that video.

  3. Well, Episiarch, there is a difference between using torture to acquire information and using torture as punishment.

  4. Torture does not work. Torture does not provide the results that (some might say) justify it’s use. Torture diminishes your country.

  5. so is Bob Barr gonna run for the LP presidential nomination or not? time is running out, isn’t it?

  6. I think it’s more cost effective to shoot the enemy than drag them half way across the world to be tortured, fed, jailed, porta-pottied, and then tortured some more.

    Everyone they tapped…… is against torture, no exceptions.

    Any of them still beat the wife?

  7. So as soon as Dondero reads this, that’ll be the last time he ever says anything nice about Barr. If you can’t out-Bauer Bauer, you’re no friend of his.

  8. Let’s waterboard Michael Mukasey and see if he’ll say “Waterboarding is torture in all circumstanses”.

  9. is ‘sophistry’ the word of the day or something?

    regarding the post:
    anyone who is ‘for’ torture is a sick fuck. I don’t care what logic or nuance they are using to justify their stance.

  10. While I am a fan of Bob Barr, I don’t think he is completely accurate when he writes:

    Waterboarding causes excruciating physical pain as the immobilized victim’s lungs fill with water. At the same time, the process inflicts profound psychological pain by creating the very real impression in the victim’s mind that he faces imminent death by drowning.

    From what I have read, three detainees in the GWOT have been subjected to waterboarding, the most famous of who was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Their faces were covered by a plastic sheet, and water was poured over the plastic sheet. Thus no water actually entered the lungs. So the first part of Bob Barr’s description is not correct. However, the second part – the sensation of drowning and associated panic and terror is correct.

  11. I think that the signature of a failed presidency is the one that Mr. Bush put on his veto of the torture-prohibition bill. But he’ll probably consider himself successful, in that the gutless Congress could not muster up enough votes to override the veto.

    How can you NOT muster up a 2/3 majority to oppose torture? How can those who voted against the prohibition, or who voted to sustain the veto, stand to look at themselves in the mirror, much less be re-elected?

    We might as well just drop all pretenses of being the good guy in bringing Democracy to the world (by force of arms, if need be). We are now, inarguably, on record as retaining torture in our bag of tricks, official denunciations or denials notwithstanding. This dishonors the lives and memories of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice to establish this nation, and to ensure “liberty, and justice for all” throughout the ensuing centuries. The pride I feel in my nation and its ideals struggles to survive under the onslaught of the disgust I feel at the actions of those who have hijacked the nation’s institutions. I wonder how many Germans felt similarly in the 1930s?

  12. These discussions always break apart into arguments about (i) if torture “works” and (ii) if it is morally permissible.

    Obviously, if torture never works, there’s no reason to ever use it. If that’s really one’s position, one has a scientific case to make first: namely, “there (virtually) never exists a time when torture would provide timely information when no other method would.” One can then add for just emphasis in that case that torturing people makes us look like jerks.

    But I doubt one can really make even a rough probabilistic argument of that sort really stick because there are so many hypotheticals. And I don’t think it matters, because most opponents of torture would still be opposed even if it could be proved to work some of the time. I think to most opponents, torture is always morally unacceptable.

    It’s a corollary that these folks are willing to accept the risk that, at some point in the future, not torturing a particular terrorist may lead to the deaths of a very large number of innocent people.

    Now I assume some would say, “well, the risk is so small, it’s not worth mentioning.” Again, what if that isn’t true? Maybe the actual position is “no matter what the risk, no matter what the potential loss of life, torture is unacceptable, even if it works.”

    If that’s the case, make that argument. A lot of people aren’t going to agree however. And that most likely includes all three potential candidates for President, whatever they say.

  13. From what I have read, three detainees in the GWOT have been subjected to waterboarding, the most famous of who was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Their faces were covered by a plastic sheet, and water was poured over the plastic sheet. Thus no water actually entered the lungs. So the first part of Bob Barr’s description is not correct. However, the second part – the sensation of drowning and associated panic and terror is correct.

    The videotapes of those interrogations were destroyed. Why would I believe the Bush administration about what occured after they desroyed the evidence?

    Oh, that’s right. I don’t.

  14. Maybe the actual position is “no matter what the risk, no matter what the potential loss of life, torture is unacceptable, even if it works.”

    I’ll say that. I also say that rape is always unacceptable.

  15. “Ronald Reagan”:

    You don’t have to accept that torture never works to distrust torture. I’m as skeptical of this as I am most “never” or “always” claims, though I’ve yet to see any evidence of it working beyond the ability to force confessions. Torture supporters should be willing to provide evidence of this if they’re so sure of its effectiveness; they should bring forward the evidence from the regimes that have tortured in the past, showing that they got worthwhile intelligence. If they’re truly dedicated to what works, with no real moral boundaries other than some vague utilitarianism of number of lives saved, they shouldn’t have any difficulty in whose company they’d find themselves. You don’t even that it is always morally wrong to torture (I do accept this) to doubt that any government is a trustworthy enough institution to place the power to torture in their hands.

    We don’t feel that our government is trustworthy enough to allow them to outlaw all private arms. (At least I don’t; I’m guessing that you don’t either.) Why should we think their reasonableness and restraint is so much greater when deciding who should say, be waterboarded, have bamboo shoots shoved under their fingernails, have their testicles crushed in vices, their children dismembered, or whatever lengths we decide are acceptable in our utilitarian quest to minimize total deaths?

    Grant only those powers to government you’d want in the hands of your worst enemies … because soon enough that’s exactly whose hands they’ll be in.

  16. Thank you J sub D, I admire your honesty.

    But what if raping one person could save the lives of thousands?

  17. Why does Bob Barr hate freedom?

  18. But what if raping one person could save the lives of thousands?

    I feel like I jerk for laughing at anything that involves rape. I just couldn’t possibly imagine the scenario you just laid out actually happening.
    Perhaps you meant to be absurd or coy, sir.

  19. *feel like *a* jerk.

    Man, what’s wrong with me?

  20. Someone:

    I suspect “supporters” would say that virtually every modern intelligence agency uses (and has always used) what opponents would deem “torture” to some degree.

    And that most modern armed forces have used it in the field to extract time sensitive information.

    Moreover, this has been done even when the political cost is known to be high.

    I’m willing to accept that all of these government agencies all over the world may have done this just because they are composed of evil idiots who can’t compute a basic cost-benefit ratio even when it’s in their own favor.

    If this is true, it should be an easy argument to make.

  21. We are now, inarguably, on record as retaining torture in our bag of tricks

    I know this, but the CIA and friends have been using torture as far back as anyone can remember. Or so it is assumed.

    Course if I were king, I’d abolish the CIA, but the elections aren’t until later this year.

  22. “This is not something of which we as Americans should be proud, and the use of torture will come back to haunt us in ways this administration apparently either doesn’t realize or simply doesn’t care about”

    I think future administrations may come to care. Notwithstanding any pardon or sovereign immunity Bush might try to claim for himself or his cronies, the rest of the world has none of the moral ambiguity his government has, nor do its jurists share your Attorney General’s uncertainty about what constitutes torture. Its not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see former members of your current administration or some sap who was ‘only following orders’ low-down the food chain arrested abroad and facing a chain of extradition cases and criminal charges in a few years time, on torture related charges.

  23. Their faces were covered by a plastic sheet, and water was poured over the plastic sheet

    That would be more likely to induce suffocation or a sensation of suffocation than to induce a sense of drowning. Wouldn’t it?

    You know who was really good at torture? The Chinese.

  24. Ok Art-POG, here’s your scenario – maybe you’ll feel better?

    Suppose we catch a female suicide truck bomber with a ticking nuclear bomb in her vehicle. After we disarm the bomb and search the truck, we find information that gives us reason to suspect that she knows the location of additional bombers.

    She is unwilling to speak and obviously totally willing to die. Can we threaten to have her raped (perhaps while strongly suggesting all of the potential religious ramifications to her) to make her talk?

    Can we actually carry it out if we think rape with additional “physical pressure” will compel her to tell us where the other bombers are?

    Keep in mind we might only need to know what cities they are in to have a good chance to catch them.

  25. I suspect “supporters” would say that virtually every modern intelligence agency uses (and has always used) what opponents would deem “torture” to some degree.

    And that most modern armed forces have used it in the field to extract time sensitive information.

    Then evidence that it works should be easily obtainable, shouldn’t it?

    I’m willing to accept that all of these government agencies all over the world may have done this just because they are composed of evil idiots who can’t compute a basic cost-benefit ratio even when it’s in their own favor.

    I’m certain the use of torture is beneficial to some of the people that use it. I’m just not sure that gaining actionable intelligence is the benefit they’re getting.

  26. Can we actually carry it out if we think rape with additional “physical pressure” will compel her to tell us where the other bombers are?

    Gosh, no. I don’t want anybody playing by those rules.

  27. the rest of the world has none of the moral ambiguity his government has

    I would have to say that a goodly share of the rest of the world is just fine with torture so long is it is practiced on someone besides themselves. They may rear their collective heads in outrage but none of them will cast the first stone cuz that would involve calling the kettle black (I know, mixed metaphors–is that the right word?).

    Now if you mean relatively civilized countries, well, we haven’t actually tortured any Swiss or Australian citizens, so they aren’t likely to prosecute anybody in the manner you describe. Not saying you’re scenario is entirely far-fetched, I could faintly see it happening (Iran grabs Cheney and drags him off a plane in Cairo, tosses him on the floor of a cab, and zip to a waiting corporate jet owned by Soros for a short ride to Tehran International).

  28. Ronnie Rayguns (Zap)

    Don’t we have drugs that can make people tell the truth?

  29. “Ronald Reagan”,

    Suppose we catch your female (or male) truck bomber but the rape threat is not quite enough. Perhaps some threat of torture of her child would make her more likely to give up her information. Maybe she (or he) has multiple children so one can be eliminated in the process just as proof that we’re serious.

    Is there any limit to how far we should go on a string of maybes?

  30. Is there any limit to how far we should go on a string of maybes?

    Maybe.

  31. The problem with torture is the following:

    1. The chances of the typical Jack Bauer 24 scenerio happening in the real world are so small as to approach zero. For this to work, we must know that there is a nuke going to go off somewhere soon (or the equilvalent), have already captured a guy who knows where it is and how to stop it, and we know he knows where it is and how to stop it. In the real world, this combination of events in not going to happen.

    2. A lot of times, a tortured guy will spout off random bullshit to get the torture to stop, even if he knows nothing. So, not only do we have to know that a nuke is going to go off soon, and we have to have captured a guy who knows where it is and how to stop it, and we need to know that the guy we have captured knows where it is and how to stop it, and we have to have enough to time to run down any bullshit leads the guy gives to us (especially if we just think we know he knows where it is and how to stop it, but we are actually wrong and he really doesn’t know where it is or how to stop it).

  32. Someone:

    I really don’t know if there’s a limit. And I’m not really suggesting an answer, other than to say this is pretty difficult issue in a lot of ways. I don’t think what Bob Barr says (or what John Kerry might say for Chrissakes!) really gets into this. All they do is bash Bush, which is so easy it’s not even sporting any more.

    But really, step back and suppose I know where there terrorists are in advance. Am I allowed to order an air strike on a “known” nuclear-suicide bomber safe house under time-constraints even if it’s impossible to do so unless I kill and/or permanently injure a bunch of children nearby?

    Being wounded by an air strike sure seems torture-like to me …..

    Maybe I’m only allowed to attack the house if I can get troops there to use non-lethal weapons in time? Is there any limit here?

  33. Torture does work. You just have to understand that its purpose is not the extraction of information from terror suspects, but rather the intimidation of the legitimate, peaceful opposition.

    Aren’t you all just a little bit more fearful of crossing the Bush-Cheney Overlordship, knowing that they can arrest you without a warrant and torture you without a trial?

    Then as far as they’re concerned, it’s accomplishing its intended purpose.

  34. The Wine Commonsewer: have you asked the rest of the world? I think you will find you are right in places like Uzbekistan, Morocco and Egypt, but not in Europe. There is genuine anger in the EU at governmental levels about what has been going on and embarrassment that the USA has a government which has stooped so low.

    AS for the mechanics of it, Pinochet wasn’t arrested specifically for torturing anyone British, he was held initially on a Spanish warrant. The world has moved on further since then: a European arrest warrant can now be issued in Spain or Belgium and enforced in another part of the EU with far fewer formalities than Pinochet hid behind.

    I know there are outstanding allegations regarding the torture of British Citizens in Guantanamo, and I would not be surprised if there are not others stacking up as we speak regarding the citizens or permanent residents of other ‘civilized’ countries.

    I don’t see it happening now- or during the life of the next administration, possibly, while we are still all fighting happily as allies in Afghanistan, but things change… More likely it would be some low level torturer who’d get caught on a holiday somewhere.

    Its not an anti-American thing – its just that Europeans don’t much like torturers and there are legal careers which would be enhanced by forcing the application of the laws we have against it. (Don’t stop over in Belgium is my tip to Rumsfeldt) I’ve been told there are already Israeli officers and politicians having to pretend they aren’t on flights that stop to refuel in Europe, for the same reason, by the way.

  35. zzzzt:

    If you’re actually afraid, why would you risk making that post?

  36. But what if raping one person could save the lives of thousands?

    How?

  37. technomist:

    Speaking as one American, I’m very pleased to see that Europeans have finally repudiated the last 500 years of murder and plunder that they spread all over the globe. And I congratulate Europeans for (sort of) managing to not whole-scale slit each others’ throats for the past 60.

    I don’t even mind the moralizing sermons I hear from European politicians and pundits, because it gives me hope that you’ll stay peaceful even as we and the Russians fade into the background. It’s very important to me that you stay peaceful, because all of our wars for the past century have been against or because of you.

    I sometimes fear though, that you may yet turn out to be secret Spitzers of a sort, especially when I see how some European countries behave in their “former” colonies …..

  38. Ronald Reagan –
    OK, I read your how. No. Thousands die and I don’t get re-elected.

  39. All they do is bash Bush, which is so easy it’s not even sporting any more.

    This issue is one of the reasons he’s easy to bash.

    But really, step back and suppose I know where there terrorists are in advance. Am I allowed to order an air strike on a “known” nuclear-suicide bomber safe house under time-constraints even if it’s impossible to do so unless I kill and/or permanently injure a bunch of children nearby?

    I’m having a hard time figuring where the haste requirement is in this one. A “known” nuclear-suicide bomber safe house is a bit vague and I expect, subject to change. I assume that these bombers haven’t yet suicide-bombed, so they must be still in the planning stages to one extent or another. It also seems as though the bomb isn’t about to go off, and that we aren’t getting any information out of them if we’re bombing them from above. Why are we to believe that they have to be taken out by air? Why immediately, if we know where they are? How certain are we in this knowledge?

    Unless there are further hidden reasons to take this action immediately, I’d say no on this. (Note that I’m not definitely saying I’ll say yes under other circumstances.)

    Being wounded by an air strike sure seems torture-like to me …..

    It certainly does.

    Maybe I’m only allowed to attack the house if I can get troops there to use non-lethal weapons in time? Is there any limit here?

    Again, in time for what? Where’s the doomsday scenario here that’s awaiting in minutes?

    I’m not a pacifist. I don’t believe non-lethal weapons are necessary to deal with every threat. However, it is important to try to deal with actual threats, not every single being that you think might be near a threat.

    Any answer on why we can’t be provided evidence of torture’s effectiveness in getting good intelligence?

  40. Any answer on why we can’t be provided evidence of torture’s effectiveness in getting good intelligence

    best question I’ve heard all day.

  41. Well J sub D,

    You have my respect that’s for sure.

    Very few people I’ve met have the guts to stand there and say “no, no matter what.” It’s a brave position and I admire it.

    Especially if US city is nuked after you as president gave a no-torture order …. if it ever became public, you’d have to resign and go into hiding for the rest of your life.

  42. Ronald Regan,

    I tend to agree with you about hypocrisy: I have no great confidence that the French aren’t up to their old tricks in Chad or the C.A.R. as we speak. On the other hand, they aren’t pretending what I suspect their small force of legionnaires may get up to is legal. Nor,as far as I know re-organizing their internal security apparatus on the basis that this is a primary instrument of state policy and its adherents in government should have immunity from prosecution.

  43. TWC:

    It would be useful to expand that question: why not look at all of the various means to get “good” intelligence (good is probably harder to define that you might guess too).

    What are they?

    I’m not a spook, so I really don’t know.

  44. “Ronald Reagan”:

    The anti-torture side needs one of two things to be true: either that torture is ineffective in meeting the goals we set for it, or that it is so morally reprehensible that it is never acceptable regardless of its effectiveness. The pro-torture side needs both of these things to be false. It seems that you are willing to admit that, at least in some situations, such as those in which there is no possible gain, torture may be morally wrong. Also, you seem to be unable to provide any evidence that it is effective in achieving any of the goals you are setting for it. (So far these goals seem to be entirely about nuclear suicide bombers, but even if we allow the expansion of the goals to include “good” actionable intelligence against would-be mass murderers, you have yet to provide any evidence of torture’s effectiveness.)

    In this case, where’s the argument to keep using torture? Whatever the arguments against are, the case for it falls apart if it doesn’t work (get “good” intelligence). If even its supporters have no evidence to show that it does work, why should one propose its use? This is an especially serious question, since at least when used incorrectly (against innocents for example, and with no net gain of lives) its supporters could be reasonably expected to admit that torture is morally wrong, even reprehensible.

    Why should the burden of proof rest solely on the anti-torture side, especially for a method whose own supporters, or devil’s advocates, or whatever, are willing to admit is mostly wrong? One whose supporters can’t provide any scientific evidence of its usefulness?

  45. Someone:

    Actually I don’t see the argument quite as you do, but:

    First, I absolutely believe there are many cases where torture is unacceptable … including many cases where there is possible gain!

    Second, I don’t think there is any possibility of ever proving torture “does” or “does not” work. I would submit that when combined with other means, it will work on some individuals, and not on others. We will not know in advance what methods will or will not work on a particular terrorist.

    Third, I’ve made a point to bring up nuclear terror for the following reason: if there was no possibility of attack using a nuclear device, I would oppose torture under any circumstance I can imagine. But a nuclear weapon has the easy potential to kill more Americans in an instant than died in all of the 20th century’s wars combined.

    So I believe in the nuclear terror case, a larger share of the burden of proof does rest on the anti-terror side, because the potential for loss of life is so staggering. In such a situation, anything that has a chance of working probably needs to be tried.

    The nuclear issue is the main unspoken weapon the administration really has to defend itself. Nuclear terror is very scary to people and there is a moral argument to make that one terrorist’s comfort is not worth 500,000 lives.

    I would submit that to face that argument squarely would make it much easier and effective to oppose extension of torture to other situations.

  46. The reason you cannot get any evidence of torture’s effectiveness is that NONE EXISTS. That was easy. Anyone know how they get the caramel inside the Caramilk bar?

  47. Interesting that evidence was important to you here:

    Obviously, if torture never works, there’s no reason to ever use it. If that’s really one’s position, one has a scientific case to make first: namely, “there (virtually) never exists a time when torture would provide timely information when no other method would.”

    But no longer so important here:

    Second, I don’t think there is any possibility of ever proving torture “does” or “does not” work. I would submit that when combined with other means, it will work on some individuals, and not on others. We will not know in advance what methods will or will not work on a particular terrorist.

    But, for the sake of argument, let’s lower the bar for the “scientific case” for your side again. Give me a single example where torture has worked, since you seem to view it as necessary that its opponents prove that it never works, can you just show that it has once? I am looking for an actual specific example where some specific positive outcome was directly attributable to torture. That would be the negation of the proof that you want for those who state that torture should never be legally acceptable.

    And let me sum up your position:
    1. You accept that there are cases in which torture is unacceptable. In fact, I’d guess you would admit, as you seem to only be interested now in one very limited case, that in almost every single other case, it’s unacceptable.
    2. You lack a single example of it ever “working”. Here, I have even left what “works” for you to define. Feel free to give me an example and explain what your bar for having it “work” is.
    3. The reason that you feel torture may be a necessary tactic is due to a hypothetical case that has never happened.

    How do these three points give us a reason to justify torture’s past, current, and further use, none of which apply to your single “thought experiment” justification?

    If the burden of proof is always on the other side and your side never has to answer any questions about evidence or the likelihood of your justifications ever coming to pass, it seems like you’re doing your side a disservice with a poor argument.

    The nuclear issue is the main unspoken weapon the administration really has to defend itself. Nuclear terror is very scary to people and there is a moral argument to make that one terrorist’s comfort is not worth 500,000 lives.

    If this is their main “unspoken weapon”, let them speak it. Let them use nuclear terror to justify the use of torture in non-nuclear terror cases (as every single case in which it has been used thus far has been).

    Lots of things are scary; fear is a powerful motivator and a good thing to rely on when avoiding giving evidence.

    I would submit that to face that argument squarely would make it much easier and effective to oppose extension of torture to other situations.

    If they ever state that these are the only cases in which they would use torture, then perhaps it would. So far, they seem uninterested in waiting until the nuclear case ever arises. By the way, when a government power ever quits being extended to other situations than whatever was its initial justification, please let me know.

  48. Ronnie, I don’t think there is ever very much really good intelligence. Maybe, on occasion, in limited circumstances there is (Mossad may disagree).

    Except in the movies, the intelligence community in the USA has been profoundly wrong on most of the really important stuff that we need to know about. Or at least we think we do.

    For instance, I don’t find the need to sneak into my neighbors homes to see what kind of an arsenal they might have. I don’t find it useful to try to determine who means me harm and who can be trusted. I keep my doors locked, my dogs seem as mean as junk yard dogs, I keep my defense mechanisms operational and nearby.

    Sure the terrorists mean us harm, but we can’t find them, even after spending billions and billions over at Langley. Sure we can end up having problems like the ME. And we’ll need to handle those problems but they will be after-the-fact because no matter how much you spend you can’t stop a crazed bomber from detonating a hidden grenade as a movie theater empties into the night air.

  49. I meant the last two paragraphs as an argument as to why we may not even need an intelligence community at all.

  50. Winter, I think there may be some evidence that torture works sometimes. It almost always was effective in all those Ian Fleming novels.

    Seriously though, I’d like the feds to trot out some specific examples of when it has worked and why and what the bottom line benefit was. I think that is a most excellent question to ask of them.

  51. TWC: I’m not even asking that. “RR” can use an example from another country, even one whose records are now open. As long as it meets his requirement for “working”, and the result is directly attributable to the torture, that will be the example I’ve asked for. He should feel free to find a case in which Pol Pot got actionable intelligence based on his torture if he wants. Of course if he wanted, he could lower his bar to “causes the tortured to sign confessions” as well. That would probably do it just fine, if that’s what he decides he’s interested in. (Though it does drop the bottom out of his “nuclear terror” justification as confessions don’t find bombs.)

    I’ve lowered the bar for what I’m expecting of him several times now (far below what is actually necessary), so I’m hoping he’ll step up this time. It’s really easy to never stop asserting your correctness when your argument is that the other side has to prove the universal claim that you ask of them beyond any doubt and yours doesn’t need any evidence, not even a single example to the contrary, because of the danger of some thought-experiment come true whose likelihood you can’t even estimate.

  52. What the heck is going on in that video? Jermaine surrounded by giant, gooey eyeballs. Michael strapped to a giant spiderweb while chainmail-wearing girls crack whips at him. I think this is MKUltra-style torture involving a massive overdose of LSD.

  53. CSI: Yeah, that video’s 51 seconds of my life I won’t get back.

  54. Doesn’t Barr still fervently support the drug war, which tortures and kills Americans every day?

  55. Nutter: Certainly he used to be. He seems to have reversed his position on the WoD since he left the Republican party, though.

  56. I’ll freely admit that I’m an amoral sonofabitch who would have, back when I was a young paratrooper, picked up some razor blades and a propane torch and gotten after it if some JAG officer told me it was legal. I also freely admit I’m an outlier. I don’t necessarily get the moral case against torture. What, it’s okay to shot/bomb/stab/immolate terrorists but not beat the fuck out of them? On the spectrum of acceptable violence against their persons we go from minimal to kill with no intervening steps? Huh? How’s that make sense?

    However, I’m fundamentally opposed to torture as an instrument of state policy for several reasons. One, I don’t trust the government to competently handle the issue. I barely trust them with the death penalty, and my support for that keeps waning as Radley posts more. Two, I’d like to think all the high-minded poetry in the Declaration and the Constitution means something. We as a country should be better than that, even if I’m not. Finally, I don’t want to turn 20 year olds who volunteered to defend the country into torturers. It ain’t gonna do them any good, I think that’s a shitty thing to do to them, and that’s how it would end up.

  57. Does not waterboarding constitute assault and battery?

    Why can’t local authorities who have jurisdiction where the waterboarding takes place prosecute under existing laws against assault and battery?

  58. I’ve read many times the explanation that waterboarding involves placing plastic over the face of the target/victim/suspect and pouring water on the plastic, thereby inducing the sensation of drowning. I just don’t understand how that can cause a drowning sensation, if no water is entering the lungs.

    Can anyone explain this?

  59. David, why the opera-bashing? Having just seen a really good performance of Tosca at the Seattle Opera, I can tell you it’s a lyrical celebration of love, art, and freedom in the face of religious tyranny. Plus great music.

    I realize it’s always “cool” to mock classical music, but isn’t this post a little beneath you?

  60. TF: I’m not sure. I’d heard that, but I’ve also heard that it’s done with normal cloth so water can actually enter the nose. Not being too into that kind of kink myself, I can’t say what the proper procedure is.

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