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« Coming to Grips With Appendix M | Main | The Argument Torture Apologists Refuse To Make »

This Week In Tyranny

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

I’ve overlooked this for a couple weeks now but Manfred Nowak, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture has explicitly said that the US is violating its obligations under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).  As I wrote on Thursday, the question really should be whether to prosecute or withdraw from the CAT.  Happily, on Tuesday Congressmen John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler demonstrated that they understood that.

Daniel Larison is one of my favorite conservatives because he writes things like this:

Or more precisely, why is the belief that the torture of captured combatants is wrong compatible with anything other than some form of pacifism? I mean this an actual question, not as a passive-aggressive assertion. ~Jim Manzi

One of the things that has kept me from saying much over the last week or so is my sheer amazement that there are people who seriously pose such questions and expect to be answered with something other than expressions of bafflement and moral horror. Something else that has kept me from writing much on this recently is the profoundly dispiriting realization (really, it is just a reminder) that it is torture and aggressive war that today’s mainstream right will go to the wall to defend, while any and every other view can be negotiated, debated, compromised or abandoned. I have started doubting whether people who are openly pro-torture or engaged in the sophistry of Manzi’s post are part of the same moral universe as I am, and I have wondered whether there is even a point in contesting such torture apologia as if they were reasonable arguments deserving of real consideration. Such fundamental assumptions at the core of our civilization should not have to be re-stated or justified anew, and the fact that they have to be is evidence of how deeply corrupted our political life has become, but if such basic norms are not reinforced it seems clear that they will be leeched away over time.


Larison seems to usually argue from the principles he claims to champion.  This might not be a novelty in other times - may in fact be the kind of thing one might expect in opinion wholesalers if not politicians - but in the modern conservative movement it is a fabulous curiosity.  However, I suspect it is folks like him who will be the intellectual foundation of the new conservative movement once the current one completes its self-immolation.

Spencer Ackerman (emphasis in original):

if SERE instructors and officials reverse-engineered their program to keep someone awake for extended periods, either they didn’t understand that sleep deprivation is bad for acquiring information or they were interested in extracting false confessions

I hate to argue about torture from a practical standpoint - that we shouldn’t do it since it produces desperate pleadings and false confessions along with/instead of any scraps of actual useful information, and you’ll burn up disproportionately huge resources trying to find the needle in the haystack, or whether a needle is even there.  Once you go there the torture apologists then get to engage in lots of sober reflection and chin stroking over just how much cruelty one may inflict in the pursuit of just how much public good, and down that rabbit hole I refuse to chase.  Having said that, the deeply ignorant or dishonest nature of the torture program architects is a remarkable sight to behold.

So Prairie Weather tipped me off to this, which struck me as really great news, then Avedon brought me back down to earth.  Will he actually do anything about executive power grabs or will he live up to his nickname?  (Quick history lesson:  He was nicknamed Scottish Law because of his “not proven” vote during the Clinton impeachment, which Marcy then downgraded to Scottish Haggis out of her “frustration with his increasing cowardice” during the Bush administration.)  If the past is any guide he either is reluctant to confront the president at all or won’t do so when his party controls the White House.  In other words, it’s probably wise to not hold your breath.

Mark Danner:

torture is at its heart a political scandal and why its resolution lies in destroying the thing done, not the people who did it. It is this idea of torture that must be destroyed: torture as a badge worn proudly to prove oneself willing to “do anything” to protect the country. That leads to the second paradox of torture: Even after all we know, the political task at hand — the first task, without which none of the others, including prosecutions, can follow — remains one of full and patient and relentless revelation of what was done and what it cost the country, authoritative revelation undertaken by respected people of both parties whose words will be heard and believed.

May he publish frequently and prominently in the coming months and years.

I’ve started to think of all financial industry and Wall Street malfeasance under the umbrella term of “bailout.”  It’s a short, useful term, so I’ll use it in the context above and not just for the $700 billion approved by Congress last year.  That said - two bailout items:  How to stack the deck in your favor and how to play a stacked deck.

I feel obliged to note politically motivated murders, so: noted.

UNPACKING JANE:  In light of recent events this from page 156 is as current as the front page of today’s paper.  Abu Zubayda is being interrogated by the FBI using standard interrogation techniques (side note - the scumbag behavior attributed to George Tenet in these pages is nauseating as well):

“AZ,” an informed source said of Zubayda, “was talking a lot.” The FBI agents believed they were getting “phenomenal” information. In a matter of days, a CIA team arrived and took over, freezing out the FBI. The apparent leader of the CIA team was a former military psychologist named James Mitchell, whom the intelligence agency had hired on a contract. Oddly, given the agency’s own dearth of experience in the area of interrogating Islamic extremists, he had no background in the Middle East or in Islamic terrorism. He spoke no Arabic and knew next to nothing about the Muslim religion. He was himself a devout Mormon. But others present said he seemed to think he had all the answers about how to deal with Zubayda. Mitchell announced that the suspect had to be treated “like a dog in a cage,” informed sources said. “He said it was like an experiment, when you apply electric shocks to a caged dog, after a while, he’s so diminished, he can’t resist.”

Sincere question: Aside from the price tag of around $1000 a day what did ABC add to the story?  This stuff had been out there for years.  Why is the media deciding it’s worth reporting on now?  Why wasn’t it then?  Pack mentality, laziness and corruption in the form of catering to elites in exchange for access are my best guesses.

Reader Comments (2)

Sometimes I think MCMers* are so stresed out by the 24/7, gotta be a pundit and a reporter think, that they seldom do even minimal research on stories they're reporting or commenting on. One, it takes time they either don't have or don't want to spend, or two, they don't want to confuse the issue with previously known facts.

Perhaps another reason the MCM is covering the torture details, as if they were new btw, is to embarrass Obama. Well, not necessarily embarrass Obama per se; it's just that the MCM can never waste an opportunity to at least lay the groundwork for diminishing a Dem prez. They still have their corporate masters to please first and foremost.

*MCMers--Members of the Mainstream Corporate Media

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjawbone

I definitely think part of the reason is that they were bullied by Bush and feel less intimidated by Obama, but it's a fairly scathing indictment of them that the quality of their reporting is driven by how the current president feels about them.

May 3, 2009 | Registered CommenterDan

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