The Democrats Cave-in, Again

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Europe (and Salem, Massachusetts) was struck by a wave of witches and warlocks. Thousands and thousands of witches were discovered and executed. The discovery of these evil-doers did pose a certain problem, however, since few would admit to being witches. But with the use of aggressive interrogation techniques, people could be persuaded to admit their dark and nefarious deeds. Thanks to the efforts of the heroic inquisitors, Europe and Salem were saved from the axis of evil.

Of course, some would suggest that perhaps there were not nearly so many witches as the interrogators found. Some would say that the aggressive interrogation techniques were overly persuasive. They suggest that the torture didn't stop when the interviewee told the truth, but only when he or she told the “truth” that the interrogator wanted to hear. The inquisitor wanted to hear a very simple truth: that the victim was in fact a witch. In eliciting a confession, his version of the truth was confirmed. And herein lies the dilemma of using torture as a forensic technique. For in general, torture does not stop when the victim tells the truth, but only when he tells the “truth” that the torturer is inclined to believe. And it gets worse. For the torturer is a member of an organization that might have an erroneous version of the truth, which it becomes the torturers job to confirm. Or there might be different versions of the truth contending with each other in the same organization, in which case the victims become painful pawns of various internal factions, changing the “truth” with the identity of the torturer.

For all of these reasons, torture is a very poor forensic technique. On the one hand, the torturer is confirmed in his “truth,” on the other, his “truth” may have no relation to reality. The “24” version is torture simply does not conform to reality; Jack Bauer is as likely to discover the accurate location of witches and warlocks as he is to discover the location of the bomb.

All of this would seem obvious, but it is not obvious to the Mssrs. Cheney and Bush. It did not seem obvious to their last attorney general, and it would appear that their current nominee, Mukasey, doesn't seem to understand these rather obvious distinctions, and seems to be unwilling to make a clear statement on an obvious issue. It is one thing when rogue elements of an intelligence agency go off the rails, or when one of the many “contractors” exceeds his instructions, but it is quite another thing when such policies are defended at the highest levels of the American Government.

The Democrats in the Senate are in a position to put a stop to this, once and for all. But they have caved-in—as they always do—to an administration that knows no moral limits to power. Elected on a wave of anti-war fervor, they have done nothing, and less than nothing. And they have already signed a blank check for Cheney and Bush to begin yet one more war before they leave office. If they can't get the simple issues like torture right, what can we expect of them?

Finally, there is the issue of hypocrisy. Nine low-level soldiers have been prosecuted for Abu Gharaib; none are above the rank of staff sergeant. Yet nothing that any of these soldiers did is as bad as what Mukasey proposes to do. The ranks go to jail and have their lives ruined for what are (by comparison) minor infractions, while the generals (and the attorney general) escape all blame while making torture the official policy of the United States.


Anonymous,  Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 7:48:00 PM CDT  

This is a wonderful blog. I found it advertised at YouTube (via your video) of all places. My only complaint is the counters on the left that distract the eyes from reading along the right.


Patrick Buchanan wrote a defense of torture in 2003:

"The morality of any act depends not only on its character, but on the circumstances and motive. Stealing is wrong and illegal, but stealing food for one’s starving family is a moral act. Even killing is not always wrong. If a U.S. soldier had shot Mohammed to save 50 hostages, he would be an American hero."

That's probably the best defense of torture I've read.


My own humble stance is the state cannot be entrusted with such a power, a policy of torture weakens America’s image, and such a policy justifies the torture of captured American soldiers.

Torture might be justifiable, but the state cannot be entrusted with such a power.

John Médaille Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 9:10:00 PM CDT  

Shame on Patrick Buchanan, since as an educated Catholic he should know that under Catholic moral teaching, an act evil in itself can never be made good by circumstance. Stealing bread for a starving family is not stealing, for as St. Thomas says, "necessity makes all things common."

Killing is not wrong, murder is, and is always wrong. I have served two tours in Vietnam, but I did no murder.

You are certainly right that we cannot entrust the state with such an awesome right; nor can we trust anyone else. I wouldn't even trust myself with such power.

Anonymous,  Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 9:28:00 PM CDT  

I'm no expert on such a thing, which perhaps places me out of the discussion, but Buchanan makes a pretty good case.

If it is known that a bomb is going to go off and it is known that the man behind it is in your custody, isn't it moral to torture him to learn of the bomb's location and thus save the innocents?

This seems akin to shooting a man to prevent him from killing another.

The original article is found here (in case you didn't see it on the linked page): The Case For Torture by P Buchanan. March 2003.

Anonymous,  Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 9:31:00 PM CDT  

I should have written: "This seems akin to killing a man to prevent his murdering of another."

Kevin Carson Monday, November 5, 2007 at 12:56:00 AM CST  

I suspect in their secret heart of hearts, Cheney and the people staffing his torture state don't really care about torture's efficacy in eliciting the truth. The main benefit of torture, from the perspective of such wicked and power-crazed people, was identified by Naomi Klein: terrorizing subject populations. They need for the Empire's subject populations to know that opposing the U.S. armed forces or its puppet dictators will get people tortured, murdered, and "disappeared" by the tens of thousands. Torture, like all other forms of state terror, is intended to demoralize and weaken the will to resist.

John Médaille Wednesday, November 7, 2007 at 1:37:00 PM CST  

Kevin, I certainly agree that it is the need to terrorize subject populations. However, the next "subject population" to be so terrorized may be our own. It is not Osama bin Laden's fingernails that Cheney wishes to pull out, but yours and mine should we become too troublesome, which, God-willing, we will. The ultimate use of these techniques is not for foreign populations, but domestic ones.

Kevin Carson Wednesday, November 7, 2007 at 9:32:00 PM CST  

I agree, John. Richard Moore, in his brilliant article "Escaping the Matrix," refers to it as the Empire importing the technologies of population control, traditionally used in the imperial periphery, to its core. The reason is the prospect of an increasingly disgruntled population as the First World economy of the New Deal and postwar era is remodelled into a Third World banana republic.

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