Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fruit of the Poison Tree

See, here's the thing.

Torture corrupts.

Call it what you want; "enhanced interrogation", "extraordinary measures", "psikhushka". The systematic infliction of suffering is inherently corrupting to the people who administer it and the organizations that employ it.

Because torture is not interrogation.

Interrogation is intended to gain information.

Torture is intended to gain confessions. Confessions that the torturers want to hear.

A person that uses torture to gain confessions becomes useless as an interrogator and deaf to information. The agonized babble of a person suffering beyond coherence quickly becomes meaningless noise. If you are tortured you will say anything, everything, to make the torture stop. If you are the torturer you lose the ability to find the truth amid the pain and fear.

An organization that employs torture and torturers quickly becomes a servant of the propaganda that the torture is meant to support and the presumptions that the torture is designed to confirm.

Armies that use torture begin to become instruments of that propaganda rather than instruments of policy. Intelligence agencies that use torture begin to become guardians of the secrets of and defenders of the barbarities of torture rather than cold instruments of state. Nations that use torture quickly find how useful it is in generating results that they want in the short term. And the spiral of torture, and lying to hide the torture, and lying to excuse the torture, and lying to hide and excuse the lies, works deeper and deeper into the culture of the army, and the intelligence agency, and the nation.

Until first the torturers end up running the intelligence agency.

And then the torturers become the generals.

And, finally, the torturers become the presidents and prime ministers.

The toxic "war on terror" has been the ground that has nursed this poison tree, and has given it the night and fog it needed to grow. To our shame We the People have never insisted on throwing open the doors, letting in the light that would have killed this noxious weed, never dug deep and uprooted and thrown it and the torturers on the fire. In our fear and hate we have let it grow.

If shame were still a permissible public emotion we should be ashamed of ourselves.

But we will not.

And, instead, we will nurture the fruit of that poison tree in our hands and our hearts.
Update 3/16: Here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about, little Richie Lowry from the National Review, with my annotations:
"The enhanced interrogations were brutal. Zubaydah was struck, placed in stress positions, confined in small boxes and repeatedly waterboarded. During one session, he became unresponsive. By any standard, this was extreme and right up to the legal line." ("Up to the legal line? Seriously? "Unresponsive" means "barely functioning, i.e. close to death" If that's your "legal line" you're working in fucking Lublyanka Prison, not for the supposedly-rule-of-law U.S. government.)

"The CIA didn’t learn of any planned attack in the U.S."(No shit. Because Zubaydah didn't know anything to begin with.); it did become confident that Zubaydah wasn’t holding back anything about one (Why? Because he refused to scream out some lie that matched the torturer's hypothesis to stop the torture? That's the problem with torture - you can't be sure if the screamer is telling something he actually know,s or just something you want to hear, or whether the pain has simply driven him mad and he's screaming anything to make the pain stop.). "From his capture to his transfer to the Department of Defense on September 5, 2006, information from him produced 766 intelligence reports."(That's nice. I can fill more than 700 "intelligence reports" with all sorts of stuff, from trivia to genuine intelligence to complete nonsense. The sheer volume that came from this poor bastard's piehole means exactly nothing other than if you torture someone he or she will scream lots of stuff.)

"In the cold light of day, we would have handled all of this differently. The Bush administration shouldn’t have been as aggressive in its legal interpretations. We should have realized that we had more time to play with, and that the program itself would become a black mark on our reputation overseas and such a domestic flashpoint that we would basically lose all ability to interrogate detainees (droning became the preferred alternative)." (This is to suggest that the "problem" with this was purely political, or organizational, and not moral. This is the language of the corporate torturers of the KGB or the Gestapo and now the CIA; the problem isn't that we're monsters, the problem is that being monsters hampers our messaging. That, in itself, is monstrous. If your problem with atrocity isn't the atrocity itself but how you think it's perceived you ARE a monster.)
There it is. Lowry, comfortably ensconced in his office at NR, can blithely complain that the problem wasn't that agents of his government used pain, fear, and suffering to torment some poor random schulb, but that the torment has bad optics and that we shouldn't cold-shoulder the torturers just because torture looks bad on its' face.

If Lowry were to be snatched up and taken to some nameless place in Central Asia and tortured mercilessly he would be the first to scream out any and everything his tormentors asked of him. So would you. So would I. And yet, he finds that perfectly okay...so long as the person being tortured is NOT him.

There's a place for that sort of person.

And it's labeled: "Here be monsters".

Update 3/16 pm: So now we learn that Ms. Haspel was not in charge of the dungeon where Mr. Zubaydah was tortured when he was tortured by other Americans. No. She was, instead, in charge of the dungeon during the time other people were tortured. And then, like any good little torturer, she beavered away hiding and destroying the evidence of the crimes she and her minions committed.

Here's the important thing to remember about all this.

Every American intelligence official of the War on Terror Generation; Ms. Haspel, every field officer, every first-line supervisor in the CIA (and, presumably, the DIA, and many of the other related intelligence agencies) is tarred with torture. If they didn't torture they knew those who did. Or they received "intelligence" derived from torture. Or they suspected the torture, or should have, and kept silent and thus complicit in the torture.

There are no clean hands here. Not all the way up to the Oval Office, where the Commander-in-Chief, like any other commander, may delegate authority but not responsibility. We the People are responsible, and worse, in that now knowing we have most of us chosen to remain silent and imply our consent.

We are none us innocent of this.

Now we have the choice, whether we sit idly by and let the Orange Fool place a torturer at the head of one of our "intelligence" agencies, or whether we choose to let the punishment for these crimes begin here.

We are either torturers, or we are not.

We are either citizens of a free nation.

Or we are monsters.


  1. Or the torturers are wannabee Congressmen:

    Yet over 110,000 Pennsylvanians voted for this skag, go figure?

    BTW, when you pointed out generals, why did you leave out LtGen Sanchez who "authorized interrogation techniques that were in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and the army's own standards."

    You also seem to have given Bush Junior a pass. Are you of the school that claims Rummy and Deadeye Dick Chainie made him do it? Why focus on a tin-pot dictator 5000 miles from our own Casa Blanca?

    1. I didn't know about Sanchez. I thought his problem was just incompetence, not criminality.

      And Bush wasn't a torturer when he became President in the way Pinochet was.

      We the People are just starting down this dark and bloody road. We will soon have a torturer as head of the CIA. The rest? We'll just have to see, won't we..?

  2. You may be right about Sanchez. At least he did not try to cover up the story. But then he probably never would have been able to with all those pics in the hands of congress and the press.

    Bush signed the torture memo. He is just as responsible as the ones with the pliers and the wet towels, and a hell of a lot more culpable than Pfc Lynndie.

    And don't forget Trump's campaign promise to bring back waterboarding - and worse! Thanks to Mattis and some other cooler heads, he was talked out of it.

    As far as Gina Haspel goes I do not know what to think. ProPublica has apologized for their Feb 2017 article that condemned her. They have issued a correction. True??? Or did someone get to them??? I don't have a clue.


    1. No question of Bush's guilt; "You can delegate authority but not responsibility". But he wasn't a torturer when he was elected, as the caudillos were when they took power.

      I think the bigger issue is that the whole of Haspel's generation of field officers and first-line leaders are saturated with and corrupted by the torture. Even if they weren't involved, they knew, or suspected, and approved. Or kept silent. And thus became complicit.

      That's what I mean here; that once you begin to torture you're forced to align every other aspect of your work and your outlook around torture. Denying, or hiding, or justifying it. You can't be a professional intelligence officer M-F 9-5 and only torture on the weekend. You're a torturer, and that becomes the heart of you, as it has our country. No matter what else we are, or what good we may do. We are torturers.

  3. Let's blame Obama for him not firing all torturers and their bosses.
    Let's also blame Obama and Holder for not prosecuting thsoe criminals.

    Same as with white collar crimes of Wall Street - Obama's worst legacies are the missed opportunities/duties against domestic white collar crimes, the assassination campaign with lots of innocents dead (and a U.S. citizen assassinated for speech) and the Afghanistan surge.
    Those are legacies where the most of the time Republican-dominated houses of Congress did not keep him from doing the right thing - he chose to do the wrong thing.

    1. Rec'd10000x. I think we will look back and assess Obama's worst failures as his unwillingness to prosecute1) the torturers, and 2) the criminal bankers. It would have been awful - sorry, Sven, but the GOP would have gone full-wingnut and torn the country apart - but it was the last chance I think we had. Now, as Mike pointed out, torture and fraud are embedded in our national ethic. The Right is committed to them, and the Left is unwilling to die on those hills. Obama had a tiny window to try and burn them out...and refused to open it.

    2. I doubt the Republicans would have been much more hostile if Obama had purged all those low- and mid-level torturers.
      They'd have gone nuts if GWB, Cheney, Rumsfeld, that puppet of an AG etc. would have been prosecuted - but not over a bunch of no name bureaucrats.

    3. I think it would have been more difficult than you think. Some statistical percent would have made a fuss; "It was legal! We were authorized! We were protecting you!" and the GOP - who, let's recall, met within days of Obama's inauguration to swear undying hatred and resistance to anything he propoased - would have gleefully used them as weapons. "Soft on terror!" "Dhimmicrat!" "He hates our heroic terror-warriors!"

      I don't think they would have been MORE hostile. I think they were ALREADY hostile, and that they would have used the torturers as one more club to beat down the nation with.

    4. Mind you - "difficult" doesn't mean "he shouldn't have done it". Like I said; that was a huge failure of Obama. Like Lincoln in 1860, some issues are worth breaking a nation over. The choice to me was pretty simple; either We the People stand by our promise of "Liberty and Justice for All", or we don't. There's no gray area there; either we're torturers, or we're not.

      But, like so many of the "promises" of the United States, it's easier to just SAY the thing than do it. And because We, and our elected representatives like Obama, refused to be willing to walk our supposed ideals over the line, now we ARE torturers.

  4. Frankly, he had eight years time to kill a few hundred careers of almost exclusively no-names in a secrecy-shrouded intelligence service. The Republicans wouldn't have noticed.
    In fact, he could have fired and replaced those people during the zenith of the Obamacare battles - the media wouldn't have noticed.

    1. You're talking about the same people who ginned up thousands and thousands of hours shrieking over a single petty incident in a crappy city in Libya. Don't kid yourself. There is no such thing as "too obscure" for the U.S. wingnut Right.

  5. Thankful that Robert Mueller banned the use of torture by FBI agents when he was FBI Director during that time when Bush and the CIA turned Torquemada.

  6. Gina Haspel is not the only torturer or cheerleader for torture that Trump has appointed to high office:

    Mike Pompeo - When campaigning to be a member of congress from Kansas's 4th district in 2010, Pompeo made statements in support of waterboarding.

    Steven Bradbury - Appointed by Trump to be General Counsel of the Department of Transportation. In 2007 he was author of the 2005 "Bradbury Memo" that claimed 13 so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" did not constitute torture, including waterboarding, nudity, walling, stress positions, slapping or striking a prisoner, exposure to extreme temperatures, dousing with cold water, and forced sleep deprivation.

    Steven Engel - Appointed by Trump to be in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel within the Justice Department. Engel was also involved in Bradbury's "torture memo".

    Howard Nielson - Nominated by Trump for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. When working at the Justice Department, Nielson argued that the Geneva Convention devoted to the protection of civilians in enemy custody or detention only applies to civilians held on U.S. territory. Thus whitewashing the CIA black torture sites overseas.

    Several others.


  7. No question; Haspel is just one of many - this whole generation is tainted, or many of them are, enough so that almost any appointment may be questionable.

    The real issue is what, if anything, will We the People do about that? And the answer so far as I can see is "nothing".

  8. FDC -

    Yes, there are monsters among us. But IMHO the torturers themselves were (and are) a dime a dozen. You can find them anywhere, probably there is one in my town, and yours, and anywhere else in the world that would jump at the chance to provide pain to someone they think is a bad dude. I even found myself fantasizing one day about using my fists and feet on the face and ribs of torture cheerleaders like Michael "Put-dynamite-in-their-orifice" Savage and Rush "No-different-than-frathouse-initiation" Limbaugh.

    We should be going after the lawyers that made it all possible. John Yoo was the architect of torture, although he never did the actual beatdowns, or waterboarding, or tormented prisoners mentally, or bound them in stress positions, or deprived them of sleep. He said it was OK when he was a Deputy Attorney General. He now has tenure as a law professor at UC Berkeley. Whatever happened to that so-called bastion of the left? Or Jay Bybee, who was Yoo's boss who agreed with and signed off on the torture memos. Bybee is now sitting as a judge with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That is a lifetime appointment, unless of course Trump decides to put him on the Supreme Court.

    But there are dragon-slayers amongst us also: Sergeant Joe Darby who blew the whistle to CID about abu Ghraib. He and his family were shunned for it, and he received death threats. Jack Goldsmith at OLC who retracted the torture memos and advised DOD to ignore them. He was forced to resign. FBI Director at the time Robert Mueller who barred the use of torture by FBI agents. These are just a few among many.