catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The VP for torture vs Washington

with 21 comments

“[Y]esterday, Vice President Dick Cheney argued that choking someone in water to gather needed intelligence is a ‘no brainer’. Torture begats torture, Slate

Washington “conduct[ed] the war as what it was declared to be, a defense of human rights. The enemy displayed the same contempt for those rights that the British ministry had. The ‘ministerial troops,’ as Washington called them, were often encouraged by their British and Hessian officers to take no prisoners. After the Battle of Long Island an English officer observed that ‘the Hessians and our brave Highlanders gave no quarters, and it was a fine sight to see with what alacrity they despatched the rebels with their Bayonets, after we had surrounded them so that the could not resist.’ At the Battle of Princeton ‘wounded Americans were denied quarter and murdered by British infantry, with their officers looking on.”

“Washington did not countenance this kind of warfare” but “‘often reminded his men that they were an army of liberty and freedom, and the rights for which they were fighting should extend even to their enemies.’ He did his best to see to it that his prisoners of war were treated more humanely than the Americans, who suffered starvation and disease in British prison ships. To the officer he placed in charge of 211 prisoners taken at Princeton he gave orders to ‘treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren.’ After the war, over three thousand Hessian soldiers elected to remain in a country where they enjoyed rights denied them at home.” Edmund S. Morgan, A New Kind of War, New York Review of Books, 51 (9) May 27, 2004. Quotes from, Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer

And Washington remained far from alone among Americans in taking this view:

“Use of torture and other illegal methods is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.” US Army Field Manual as quoted by Amnesty International

The FBI on torture at Guantánamo: “These tactics have produced no intelligence of a threat neutralization nature to date and CITF believes that techniques have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee.” as quoted by ACLU

No, it’s not a pretty road we’ve headed down:

“In Brazil, the day came when the combatant-torturers refused to accept the orders of the bureaucrats and regarded with contempt their peers who were committed to army discipline. The generals eventually concluded that ‘[t]he torturers were going to have to be isolated, marginalized and eliminated, so as to save the Army.'” Torture begats torture, Slate

“Two-track interrogation systems have similar corrupting influences in domestic policing, particularly as former interrogators and MPs seek jobs as police officers after being decommissioned. The military tortures in the Franco-Algerian War soon seeped into French policing in the 1960s. And in the United States, this kind of slippage has happened twice: initially, as the water tortures of the Spanish-American War began appearing in police stations in the 1920s, and again as electrical techniques used during the Vietnam War appeared in Chicago policing in the 1970s. These torturers-turned-policemen-turned-torturers were especially attracted to techniques that were clean, and there is every reason to believe that the clean techniques now approved in the Iraq war will, sooner or later, appear in a neighborhood near you.

“The nasty thing about ‘clean’ torture techniques—and especially the six reportedly approved CIA techniques: the attention grab, the attention slap, the belly slap, the cold room, forced standing, and waterboarding—is that no one can tell how much pain the subject is in as the torture is done…

“Clean tortures are unlike other tortures because they are calculated to prevent any kind of public expression of outrage or sympathy. They are also exceedingly hard to monitor and track, so their corrupting influence is pernicious.

“Forced standing was regular fare in Stalinist prisons and German concentration camps, where there were, sometimes, specialized ‘standing cells.’ The CIA’s own study of this technique showed that ankles and feet swell to twice their normal size within 24 hours. Moving becomes agony, and large blisters develop. The heart rate increases, and some prisoners faint.

“Japan’s fascist military police, the Kempeitai, routinely used hard slapping in the interrogation and punishment of Allied prisoners of war. ‘There can be few Allied prisoners of war,’ wrote Lord Russell of Liverpool, ‘who were not at some time slapped,’ adding that ‘a Japanese slap was something to remember.’ The pain and humiliation, he said, were intense…

“Which brings us to the most notorious torture: waterboarding, or choking someone in water. In 1968, a soldier in the 1st Cavalry Division was court-martialed for waterboarding a prisoner in Vietnam. In fact, the practice was identified as a crime as early as 1901, when the Army judge advocate general court-martialed Maj. Edwin Glenn of the 5th U.S. Infantry for waterboarding, a technique he did not hesitate to call torture.

“That military judge went further, anticipating (and then dismissing) a key justification President Bush and his allies use for torture today. The judge said that the defense of needing to obtain information through torture ‘falls completely,’ even when at war with ‘a savage or semi-civilized enemy’ who conducts ‘his operations in violation of the rules of civilized war. This no modern State will admit for an instant.'”
Torture begats torture, Slate

I remain proud to be an American, to come from a country that expressed & lived by such ideals, from Washington, in its courts in 1901, to the present date in the voice of informed dissent. Despite the protestations of petty men like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales, torture is not an American value.

Written by Admin

October 29, 2006 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

21 Responses

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  1. We would want to see the extended quote of what the VP actually said.

    I mean if there is a terrorist attack in the works and you captured one of the terrorists it does seem like a no-brainer.

    None of these former guys were talking about terrorist attacks here.

    There were talking about military vs military.


    October 29, 2006 at 2:21 pm

  2. Great post Kodjo. You just can’t go there; ‘that way madness lies’ as some great bloke whose name I’ve forgotten once said.


    October 29, 2006 at 2:35 pm

  3. Birdy, the ‘ticking-time bomb’ argument has as much to do with whether torture is legitimate, as stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving family has to do with the law of larceny.

    We might all like to think that Jack Bauer is saving us from hundreds of imminent terrorist threats, but the reality of the situation is that wherever these techniques have been used (Guantanamo, Iraq), the intellligence value has been next to zero. As the FBI report stated, there’s been nothing good to come out of these techniques.


    October 29, 2006 at 2:47 pm

  4. torture rarely works.

    The people merely spout out what they think you want them to spout out.

    More importantly the more you torture then the more your captured people get tortured.

    Very silly actually.
    No wonder Cheney likes it

    Bring Back EP at LP

    October 29, 2006 at 3:05 pm

  5. Rendition was inaugurated by the Clinton administration, which put it to use with bloody abandon; extraordinary rendition had few more enthusiastic supporters than Al Gore. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton are on record supporting torture for “ticking timb-bomb” scenarios.

    The idea that “Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales” foisted these rough-house tactics on American jurisprudential culture is an urban myth. Interestingly, when asked during an Oval Office conference whether he thought it was licit to ignore international law and “snatch” an alleged terrorist from overseas, Vice-President Gore replied: “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.” (Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies, pp. 143-144).

    I don’t approve of torture either. Nevertheless, attempts to historically link the phenomenon to TEH NEOCONS suggest that the promoters of such a distortion are more actuated by partisanship than concern for human rights. Finally, quite apart from whether the United States uses such methods as waterboarding and other forms of “torture” (playing Red Hot Chilli Peppers really loud etc), captured Americans will be tortured by terrorists. They are not rational players who will alter their tactics out of chivalrous respect for – or legal fear of – what American lawmakers decide.


    October 29, 2006 at 3:55 pm

  6. so we have to do it because they will always do it despite the case it rarely works.

    Makes a lot of sense CL.

    Meanwhile stop bludging and write something anything on your blog!

    Bring Back EP at LP

    October 29, 2006 at 4:23 pm

  7. Let me second Homer, CL. That comment you just made would have made a great post on your own blog (with a link back here of course).


    October 29, 2006 at 4:39 pm

  8. It seems that Cheney may have been less than careful with what he said;

    The conservative radio host, Scott Hennen, asked Cheney if he agreed that “a dunk in water is a no-brainer” if it would unearth information of pending attacks and save lives.

    Cheney replied: “Well, it’s a no-brainer for me.” He went on to say that he was not condoning torture but said you can have a robust interrogation programme without torture.


    October 29, 2006 at 4:50 pm

  9. Reading the transcript, Cheney was very clumsy


    October 29, 2006 at 4:54 pm

  10. Two examples of “torture” to consider:

    For the former scroll down to “motivation”.

    Hoss’s beating by his captors was deserved but counter-productive. Lt Col West did the right thing. “Torture” has to be viewed in context.


    October 29, 2006 at 6:23 pm

  11. “Birdy, the ‘ticking-time bomb’ argument has as much to do with whether torture is legitimate, as stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving family has to do with the law of larceny.”

    No thats not right. I wasn’t talking about legalities. I expect that these guys have their legal ass covered for this waterboarding.

    This wasn’t a legal discussion. It was a moral one. And the ticking time bomb argument is most relevant.


    October 29, 2006 at 6:51 pm

  12. I don’t think that Cheney was clumsy. I think the link that Slate made wasn’t the whole story.

    Cheney and the interviewer barely brushed over the topic. So one would have to go back to the original controversy. This is just Slate taking a cheap shot.


    October 29, 2006 at 6:53 pm

  13. I agree, they leapt in on the space between one . and another. and made a mountain of ….

    Must have been orgasmic to find an error of such magnitude, Tim Lambert’s resources will be stretched.

    But that is the world we live in, people spend all day and night watching for you to make a punctuational error (is there ‘anal’ in punctuation? – should be)

    In the mean time the ungrammatical are free to murder without correction.


    October 29, 2006 at 7:18 pm

  14. Does anyone know if the courts will be notified that the “admission” was obtained under physical coercion?

    After the war, over three thousand Hessian soldiers elected to remain in a country where they enjoyed rights denied them at home

    Reminds me of one of the guys, Zacarias Moussaoui, they were trying for the 911 stuff, he was all sticking it to the Americans and going on about how he was happy about the attacks when he expected to die. In the end the jury refused to give him the death penalty because they thought he was a bit cuckoo and didn’t have much of a role to play anyway (because he had pleaded guilty, they couldn’t actually say anything about the charges). At first he was all like “ha ha I won you lost” but then it actually dawned on him that the jury weren’t corrupt and weren’t pawns of the government. I think it really shook up all his preconceived ideas, his whole demeanor changed and he stated this:

    Because I now see that it is possible that I can receive a fair trial even with Americans as jurors and that I can have the opportunity to prove that I did not have any knowledge of and was not a member of the plot to hijack planes and crash them into buildings on September 11, 2001, I wish to withdraw my guilty plea and ask the Court for a new trial to prove my innocence of the September 11 plot.

    If only the Americans had shown more cases of fair trials and due procedure rather than Gitmos and Abu Ghraibs, I doubt so many people would have joined the terrorist cause. If you use torture and loopholes to commit attrocities, how can you then take any moral highground? How can you inspire anyone to come over to your side? All you do is act as your enemy’s best recruiter because you create something concrete to be incensed about. 


    October 30, 2006 at 11:45 am

  15. as Saint says at his blog,
    Torture only gains a confession not the truth.

    Bring Back EP at LP

    October 30, 2006 at 11:54 am

  16. C.L.

    I think your comments are largely off the mark.

    There is an important, if not honourable distinction between advocating torture in a public arena, and a private one.

    There is an even sharper distinction between extraordinary rendition (a lovely phrase that one) and torture.

    I would have been equally horrified if any of Bill Clinton’s administration openly advocated torture.

    It strikes me as odd that I would have to apologise for being more concerned about my current government is doing with respect to torture than a past one. I could also have mention folk on the left and right who advocated or engaged in torture, but it hardly seems relevant.

    It is wrong to say that people gave Bill Clinton a free ride. For example, even Hollywood (it now turns out quite incorrectly) gave him a hard time for his justified, if not entirely sensible, attacks on al Qaeda (Wag the Dog, is one example).

    The point is not to influence an actor who will torture whatever you do (& you are mistaken to think most of these guys are irrational). The point is that when you create an environment where even the good guys say torture is OK, there will be less good guys, even bad guys, who otherwise would not have engaged in torture who now will. That is bad even if it never happens to our own people, but the odds are it will happen to our own people too.


    October 30, 2006 at 10:05 pm

  17. There is an important, if not honourable distinction between advocating torture in a public arena, and a private one.

    I respect your take on this, Kodjo, but Clinton ran a rendition policy out of Egypt that dealt with tens of detainees. Clinton/Gore weren’t advocating it. They did it. And I actually think Cheney’s public expression of a pragmatic attitude to waterboarding (however blameworthy that attitude is per se) is more honourable and less disturbing than Gore’s privately expressed willingness to ignore the rule of law for black kidnapping ops.

    What we have to insist on for the sake of historical truth is that rendition, extraordinary rendition and unilaterally ignoring so-called international law are not fruits of neo-conservative foreign policy. They were inherited by the Bush administration.

    I agree that if ticking timebomb scenarios are needed to “prove” the utility of torture, that could indicate the proffered justification has more application to the finale of a James Bond movie than it does to the real world. That has always been my attitude.

    However, Richard Clarke does suggest that Clinton’s rendition policy broke the influence of Al Qaeda in Bosnia. Either he’s simplifying the record to lionise his and Clinton’s efficacy OR torture does indeed work as a method for organisational decimation.

    I think the truth, as they say in the classics, is somewhere in between. In relation to the application of rendition as a weapon of war, a generic organisational threat is not the same thing as a ticking timebomb (except metaphorically) so we’re actually talking about time-consuming attrition of the Clarke/Clinton kind. It could be argued that as an attritional policy, torture* sometimes works but is definitely subject to a law of diminishing utility because it bolsters the resolve, brutality and propaganda of the enemy.

    Finally, I think it’s an unconvincing argument to say that captured Americans will be placed in more danger of being tortured themselves if the US employs, say, waterboarding. This notion of asymmetrical enemies (terrorists) or sympathetic states (Syria, Iran etc) being open to moral suasion is nonsense. These players will torture their enemies anyway. If they do somehow become less inclined to torture Americans, that would result not from a developing respect for law – in deference to American leadership – but a developing fear of being regimechanged.

    * Also deservedly rendered in some debate as “torture” (with scare quotes, in other words) – remembering that the UN now wants to define forced feeding of hunger-strikers as torture.


    October 31, 2006 at 12:22 am

  18. C.L.

    From what I have read, extraordinary renditions were not conducted to ultimately torture the captured party—perhaps my ignorance.

    Be that as it may, capturing someone to torture them, or the delivery of someone to a third party to be tortured is no less horribly wrong than torture. If Bill Clinton did that, & you seem to know more than me, it was still wrong. It’s that simple. This is not the playground. Some other guy did it first is no defence. (It has been my understanding that extraordinary renditions have occured under past presidents, including prior to Clinton, but with far fewer cases than under the present administration. I also have not heard of any cases that seemed to involve totally innocent individuals, let alone of cases of seemingly innocent individuals who were tortured.)

    You ignored my point that engaging in torture brings more people to the torture game. This point stands independent of the fact that there are some people out there who will torture no matter what we do.


    October 31, 2006 at 7:01 am

  19. Some other guy did it first is no defence.

    Yes I know but critics of the Bush administration almost invariably proceed from a base argument about the tragic loss of US credibility, decency, traditional values etc orchestrated by the neocons, Dick Cheney, BusHitler etc. (You do this in your post). Unfortunately for them, this theory is historical nonsense.

    You ignored my point that engaging in torture brings more people to the torture game.

    I haven’t ignored it. I’ve dismissed it. What evidence supports this theory?


    October 31, 2006 at 10:51 am

  20. C.L. evidence cited directly in my original posting. As to US credibility, you must ahve been living under a rock. Sorry, but clearly your views are not subject to empirical evidence.


    October 31, 2006 at 2:00 pm

  21. Your post includes no evidence that our terrorist enemies or rogue states will be more inclined to use torture if America does. The thesis is absurd. They’ll use it – they do use it – anyway. Clinton and Gore relied on that fact when they ran their ruthless – and empirically undeniable – torture policy.

    I haven’t said anything about how much or how little “credibility” America has in the world so I’m not sure what you’re on about there.


    October 31, 2006 at 3:55 pm

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