Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Torture Mentality, Part 3

Still trying to keep up with the messages I receive from torture apologists. Recently I received one from a gentleman named James R. Hostert on my Amazon blog. Mr. Hostert's opinions in favor of torture are depressingly common and therefore worth addressing in spite of his equally common refusal or inability to support any of these opinions with facts. In addition to the absence of evidence for any of these pro-torture assertions, note as ever the refusal to address the glaringly obvious point that *torture is illegal.*

Mr. Hostert's points in quotes below; my thoughts interpolated.

"Well, Barry, I don't think we'll ever see eye to eye on this."

James, that's the first accurate thing you've said in this thread.

"I don't understand how you can oppose torture to save lives."

Perhaps you don't understand my point because you're misconstruing it.

First, torture doesn't save lives. Torture costs lives, and indeed has cost thousands of American lives. I'm not asking you to accept my opinion on this point as a substitute for facts (note that your own opinions might be more persuasive to others if you would bolster them with evidence). Matthew Alexander, an Air Force interrogator in Iraq, himself claims that:

"What I saw in Iraq still rattles me -- both because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn't work... I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

And Alexander isn't the only one:

"Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are taught to expect Americans to abuse them. They are recruited based on false propaganda that says the United States is out to destroy Islam. Treating detainees harshly only reinforces that distorted view, increases resistance to cooperation, and creates new enemies. In fact, the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States" cited "pervasive anti U.S. sentiment among most Muslims" as an underlying factor fueling the spread of the global jihadist movement. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that "there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.""

And here's a Washington Post article from March this year. Headline: "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots."

Are you starting to understand now? Why don't you do me and anyone else who's reading this a favor: read the articles linked above, and rebut Alexander's, Mora's, and the Washington Post authors' points based on your own experience with torture and interrogation. I'm not asking you to repeat your opinions. I'm asking you for a refutation based on facts (this is Question #1).

While you're at it, please answer this question: is saving lives the only, or even the highest value?" (Question #2) Was Patrick Henry wrong when he said, "Give me liberty or give me death?" (Question #3)

"Obviously, we don't begin by torturing someone."

Not that it matters whether we torture someone in the morning or later in the day, but in fact, like all the other unsupported opinions you've been offering up here, this one is wrong as a matter of fact. Torture was ordered and was used not just during interrogations, but to "soften up" prisoners before interrogations. Such softening up is the whole point of sleep deprivation, stress positions, manacling prisoners to the ceiling for days at a time, etc.

"We attempt to get the required information by other means."

Again, not that it matters, but so what if we also use other means? Are you saying torture is legal as long as we ask nicely first? (Question #4)

"However, I believe that if it comes down to it, torture is a viable tool to get information that can save lives."

Why do you keep repeating what you believe without offering any evidence at all for that belief? Do you expect to persuade people by repeating your opinions and without any evidence to bolster those opinions? (Question #5)

Here's a quote from General David Petraeus from May 2007:

"What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight… is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings."

Please explain why Petraeus is wrong. (Question #6)

"So, you're telling me that you wouldn't allow a "bad guy" to be tortured to save your wife/child? Really? You'd actually allow them to die. I find THAT depressing."

Not as depressing as I find our failure to teach basic civics in high school, I'm sure.

Anyway, probably in extremis I'd resort to extremes. But James, wouldn't it be more productive -- and polite -- to answer the questions I've already asked you, before repeating ones I've already answered? (Question #7)

I have to say, it is continually fascinating to encounter people who are confident in their opinions despite a complete absence of any supporting evidence and in the presence of so much contradictory evidence. May I ask: since you are formulating and repeating these opinions without any regard at all to facts, what do you think is actually motivating you? (Question #8)

If you want me to respond to you again, please first do me the courtesy of answering each of the questions above. For your convenience, I've numbered them for you -- #1 - #8.



Joshua James said...

Once again, great post Barry, nothing to add except that ... and I'll link.

Unknown said...

Barry...100% concur with your breakdown. I have just found it impossibly hard to believe that America doesn't contemplate how things will bear out when the 'shoe is on the other foot' & we fail to set the example. Imagine how Al-Qaida torturing one of our own would play out in the U.S. media...or if a U.S. citizen was imprisoned without trial for 7-years...

The emotional methods of the 'Chicago Way (ala the Untouchables)' might provide a temporary sense of 'satisfaction' through brutal revenge, but bilateral blood oaths made in the shadow of religion or when trying to desperately recover a sense of honor does nothing to assuage the deaths of those already gone. Taking 'unarmed life' to 'save life' is so remarkably counter-intuitive & completely misguided...especially when coming from those who purport to be the 'honor bound faithful.'

Torture is just wrong (full-stop)...even when accompanied by the greatest of good intentions...& I just wish the 'fear club' would stop the madness.

Barry Eisler said...

From a response on my MySpace blog. Amazing.

Q, you've (unintentionally) proven my point by offering nothing but unsupported opinions -- none of them relevant to my post, many of them repeats of James's unsupported opinions -- and by failing to engage even a single point in my post. I asked eight questions; why haven't you answered a single one of them? Here, watch how I respond not just to your thoughts, but to your exact words. Please do the same in response.

"I'm no fan of torture Barry."

Of course you are. Listen to the way you talk about it. And why wouldn't you be a fan of something that you believe saved multiple domestic and foreign cities? (Question A1)

"What you may not fully understand or apprreciate is ....1 We are at war with ghosts... terrorists who once they have captured one of the men or women of the allied forces don't bat an eye at beheading them."

Why is it a war? (Question A2) What do you mean, "ghosts?" (Question A3) Why is the behavior of terrorists (watch out for cliches like "don't bat an eye;" they tend to be substitutes for thought) relevant? (Question A4) Are you saying we should base our behavior on al Qaeda's values, rather than on American values?(Question A5)

"2. We are not at war with a nation that is protected under the Geneva Convention to begin with."

Again, why is it a war? (Question A2) Does the Geneva Convention protect nations? (Question A6) (Hint: the answer is no. You know, Google is a pretty easy way to check some of your ideas... please give it a try and see what you find). Regardless, why are bringing up the Geneva Conventions but not, for example, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment? (Question A7)

"The fact that out of 200+ terrorists held at Gitmo (the best place for them) only 3 were waterboarded."

Why is Gitmo the best place? (Question A8) Why haven't you mentioned the 500 who were held there, but who have since been quietly released because we had no evidence that they had done anything wrong? (Question A9) And given that we were wrong about those 500, on what do you base your confidence that the remaining 200 are terrorists? (Question A10)

Barry Eisler said...


"Those three who were waterboarded provided information that saved American CITIES of civillians as well as Cities abroad."

There is no evidence for this claim at all other than the predictably self-serving claims of Dick Cheney. And there is plentiful evidence to the contrary. Of course, to be familiar with all that contrary evidence, you would have had to click on some of the links in my post. Obviously, you haven't done so. Why are you so reluctant to be even remotely familiar with evidence relevant to your opinion, an opinion which might under the circumstances better be termed a species of faith? (Question A11)

"Now you can provide all the milk and cookies you want to them, but I will give some measure of trust to those in the Military and Intelligence to do what they have to in order for us who do not wear uniforms and carry guns into battle to be kept safe."

Torture or milk and cookies, there are no other choices? (Question A12)

Who in the military and intelligence communities are you putting your trust in? Please provide their names, which I assume you know because after all you're putting your trust in them. (Question A13) And why do you refuse to put your trust in those in the military and intelligence communities, several of whom I name and link to in my post, who claim based on their experience that torture doesn't work and in fact has cost thousands of American lives? (Question A14)

"Either that we can just unleash our own ghosts in the form of Seal and Delta Force teams to take no prisoners at all."

I don't see the relevance of this aside, other than as some sort of rightwing self-pleasuring fantasy fugue.

"Bush did a great job of taking the fight to them and drawing them to us over there rather than have them inflicting terror here.."

Imagine how much more persuasive these declarations of faith would be if they were bolstered with any -- any --evidence at all. And if you bothered to address all the evidence -- already discussed -- that refutes your opinion.

"Obama is sending them an invitation to come pay us a visit here. Engraved!"

An invitation? How so? (Question A15) Engraved? In what way? (Question A15) What -- specifically -- is Obama doing that could be characterized as an invitation for terrorists to attack America? (Question A16)

"A little common sense goes a long long way."

Forgive me, Q, but how would you know? (Question A17) You've demonstrated no familiarity with common sense at all. Common sense would suggest at a minimum an acquaintance with facts in support of opinions. Common sense would suggest that you read a post, including its links, before responding to it. Common sense would suggest responding to the points in that post rather than repeating opinions the post has already dismissed with facts.

If you want me to respond to you again, please answer each of the questions (17, numbered for your convenience) in this comment along with the eight in my original post. I know, I know, you don't have time... just enough time to maintain a collection of fact-free, self-contradictory, profoundly un-American, dangerous beliefs, but not enough time to actually examine them. I'm not sure I understand your priorities.


Anonymous said...

The most disgusting and fallacious tactic used by the apologists is the old "What if it were YOUR wife and child?"

This is a deliberate attempt to blur reason with emotion. As if it's any better or worse to torture to save someone ELSE's wife and child, or for that matter to TORTURE someone else's child.

I still don't see how "intelligent" people like the apologists can't see the conflict in sending our soldiers to kill and die for our "values" and then throwing those values right out the window (via torture) to "save lives".

There's an arrogance here in thinking that some lives (MY wife, MY kid, MINE) are of more value than others (the enemy, the soldiers).

Put another way, you'll torture and/or kill "the enemy" for "freedom". You'll ask 18 year old kids to get killed and mutilated for "freedom". You'll strip every American of privacy and Constitutional rights for "freedom".

But you won't sacrifice your wife and child for "freedom"? Who's the coward now?