Sunday, July 18, 2010

Torture as Stalking Horse

It never seems to go away. Just when you think the whole "issue" or "debate" has been resolved, you realize that, no, it hasn't, and we are still at square one . . . that is attempting to figure out whether torture "works". Or rather we are confronted yet once again with that same threadbare stalking horse of "torture as US state policy", since supposedly we as Americans are only driven by fear of the "existential threat" we are told exists.

The stalking horse of torture doesn't go away since the actual goal remains. If the American people are willing to allow people to be tortured, maybe to death, as a matter of state policy, then the establishment of a police state cannot be far behind imo. Thus torture - which is not a means of intelligence collection, but a method of brutal domination - is a stalking horse for a police state.

In fact that is why police states use torture. It is all about domination - not "Tell me what you know", but rather "Tell me what I want to hear".

Barry Gewen, an editor for the New York Times Book Review, penned this article for World Affairs Journal's May-June issue. Gewen claims to be presenting a "balanced" argument, but his conclusion, (surprise! surprise!) is that "torture works" and that we need to establish some mechanism for "harsh interrogations" when the situation arises, as it will given the existential threat we face. This of course, the realistic view as opposed to "anti-torture absolutists".

While reading the piece, you come to realize, that Gewen is actually from a different planet, let's call it "planet Cheney", since the things that he claims as fact are simply laughably false and crude falsehoods, at least on this planet Earth.

For instance, he writes:

Eventually, every discussion of torture arrives at the question of the ticking bomb. We are all familiar with this scenario. Law enforcement or military officials capture a terrorist who knows that a nuclear bomb is about to go off in a major American city. Isn’t the president morally obligated to use torture against such a person in an effort to prevent mass murder?

The anti-torture camp hates the ticking bomb scenario. One law professor, Stephen Holmes, calls it “a utopian fantasy.” Another, David Luban, says it’s “an intellectual fraud.” But in truth it’s not that hard to imagine a situation in which the head of Homeland Security rushes into the Oval Office and tells the president that police are “pretty certain” a bomb is set to explode, and they’re “fairly confident” they have a man who knows where it is. And it’s probably the case that any president—whether George W. Bush or Barack Obama—confronted with such a choice would approve the use of torture rather than risk a catastrophe. And almost certainly a majority of Americans would support the decision.

People can imagine a lot of things, especially when they are told they are dealing with an existential threat, although how exactly Al Qaida's "crotch bomber" is an existential threat is never explained. In fact four of the most serious terrorist attacks - 9/11, London, Madrid and Mombai - all happened with no ticking bombs at all, but with the case of 9/11 intelligence reports which were ignored by the same people who later instituted state torture . . . In fact there are no ticking bomb instances in history of the type that Gewen imagines.

It is here that we get to the actual contradiction to Gewen's whole ticking bomb argument. If we ever do have a ticking bomb situation chances are it will be the result of someone on the inside volunteering the information to US authorities, that is just another of what historically has been our best source of human intelligence information: a "walk in". Here we see the conflict with torture, since if we torture our detainees, who is going to come in and take the risk of being tortured for their troubles?

The ticking bomb is only one of Gewen's dubious arguments. He also cites examples of Gestapo and French Algerian "successes" with torture without considering that both those sides lost the conflict they were involved in, and that in the case of the Gestapo the US executed Gestapo officers after the war who had been involved in torture. Gewen, with his planet Cheney perspective, furthermore has no problem with throwing in US successes in regards to torture in the very next paragraph:

Mark Bowden’s 2003 Atlantic Monthly article, “The Dark Art of Interrogation,” puts forth a veritable catalogue of examples of effective torture, provided by people Bowden interviewed personally. A Marine captain who had served in Vietnam told him of attaching electrical wires to the testicles of a Vietcong soldier to make him reveal possible ambush sites. “The minute the crank started to turn,” the captain said, “he was ready to talk.” After the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the CIA used torture to track down the perpetrators; an agent Bowden spoke to had no doubts about its effectiveness. And the former chief interrogator for Israel’s General Security Services told Bowden that with “sufficient duress” even the hard cases will likely break.

The first case is the infamous Vietcong testicles attached to a TA-1 field telephone story, which I heard as a young Marine Corps officer back in the early 1980s. First, this involves tactical interrogation of enemy/believed enemy troops before they have been turned over to any POW collection point. Second, these were the isolated and illegal actions of Marine Corps infantry in the field doing their own adhoc interrogation, not strategic interrogation where most of the horrendous instances have taken place. Was it effective in revealing possible ambush sites. Possibly, but it was a loser as in actual intelligence collection. Orrin DeForest, who ran a JIC in Vietnam and was probably our most successful Humint collection officer in Vietnam, not to mention recruiting and running our most successful spies, rejected torture as an option and reported any incidents he came across.

The argument that the CIA was successful in "tracking down the perpetrators" of the embassy and Marine barracks bombings due to their use of torture is unproven, at the least. If we consider the example of Ayatollah Fadlallah, the recently deceased Lebanese cleric, the CIA claimed he was connected with Hezbollah, but many experts think that his connection was complex and that his responsibility for Hezbollah's actions non-existent. Perhaps Gewen considers the CIA's reported involvement with a carbomb aimed to assassinate Fadlallah in 1985 that killed 80 people a torture "success". As to Israeli "success" with torture, I'll leave that particular rock unturned.

Gewen doesn't stop there in his pro-torture argument though, and goes back even further in American history to argue that we've a long history of turning the thumbscrews:

Ideals are one thing, the reality of American history quite another. There is, in fact, a well-established American tradition of torture. The definitive text on it is Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali, himself an opponent of torture. He sees “a long, unbroken, though largely forgotten history of torture in democracies at home and abroad.” What the torture techniques of democracies have in common is that they leave no lasting marks on the victims, no proof. Rejali calls this “clean torture.”

Electroshock began in democracies, and it was in the United States that interrogators first used rubber hoses to administer beatings that left no bruises. Sleep deprivation and stress positions (the “third degree”) were once common practices of American police.

It’s not only the police who have tortured or used other harsh methods. The U.S. military has, too. During the war in the Philippines at the beginning of the twentieth century, American troops employed the “water cure,” a forerunner of waterboarding. During the Vietnam War, torture was probably even more extensive. Whatever its professed ideals, the United States has tortured in the past. It has tortured in the near-present. And should needs arise and circumstances dictate, it will probably torture in the future.

One could argue I suppose that lynching is an American national pastime, but that would be absurd, wouldn't it? As to police brutality, using attack dogs and high-pressure water hoses against civil rights demonstrators and the films showing it have been part of our national shame since the early 1960s and those images did much to end segregation in the South. Torture, when exposed has always been rejected and seen for what it is, brutal domination of the strong over the weak. The same holds for the instances of the Philippine War of 1899-1902, when the torture became known, the government attempted at least to hold the perpetrators accountable. Theodore Roosevelt rejected torture and promised to hold those who had implemented it accountable. In fact, "the US" has never "tortured in the past", rather prior to Bush, the incidents of torture were considered crimes or the actions of allies who didn't understand actual US interrogation methods. Actions of individuals do not make for national policy.

How did this all come about? According to Gewen:

The sense of panic that gripped the country after September 11 may have been even greater inside the White House. Threats of additional attacks were flooding in. No one knew anything. And because anything seemed possible, Bush administration officials promised to do whatever was necessary.

Their language became extreme, reflecting the extremity of the situation. All that mattered, as Attorney General John Ashcroft told Robert Mueller III, the head of the FBI, was stopping the next attack. In a meeting of intelligence officials in March 2002, George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, declared: “There’s nothing we won’t do, nothing we won’t try.” The president himself told Bob Woodward: “Whatever it takes.”

This crisis attitude continues to echo in Dick Cheney’s many comments in the current torture debate, and in the statements of other pro-torture absolutists. Where national security is concerned, all is permitted. Public safety trumps any other consideration.

Dick Cheney was hysterical! Planet Cheney was in horrible danger! Perhaps, but if he is referring to this planet, how does Gewen explain some simple facts:

1. If the source of all this danger was Al Qaida, how come more was not done to deal with Al Qaida? The Taliban government was overthrown, but bin Laden got away because we failed to close off his escape route at Tora bora, not to mention allowing the Pakistani ISI to fly out hundreds of their and Al Qaida's operatives from Kunduz before we captured the city.

2. After Afghanistan, the focus switched to Iraq which had no connection with 9/11 at all. Iraq was the main focus throughout the rest of the Bush administration.

3. Our policies only increased Al Qaida's appeal among certain Muslims.

4. Much of the panic in Washington in the fall of 2001 was the result of the Anthrax attacks which the administration attempted to pin on Iraq, not Al Qaida, but was actually the work of at least one American with access to US biowarfare labs.

Rather than hysteria, we have cold calculation and manipulation by Cheney/Bush.

Still, what's all this handwringing about waterboarding all about? Where not there limits in place? According to Gewen:

In fact, the Bush administration, even as it pushed for total freedom of action, did prescribe limits on interrogations. The CIA had precise—even punctilious—rules on how long a prisoner could be doused with water, how loud the noise could be that was piped into a prisoner’s cell, and exactly how long a detainee could be kept in a box. Waterboarding, although it has become central to the torture debate and rouses the strongest passions, was used on only three prisoners, and not at all after 2003.

Here Gewen implies that there were only three cases of torture. In fact government reports list at least 100 people died while being interrogated by us, some of them tortured to death, which would not include any of the three high-profile prisoners. From an intelligence perspective, the top four Al Qaida prisoners who were tortured all came up as a bust. As to the CIA's "rules" . . .

Doctors, psychologists and other professionals assigned to monitor the C.I.A.’s use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques gathered and collected data on the impact of the interrogations on the detainees in order to refine those techniques and ensure that they stayed within the limits established by the Bush Administration’s lawyers, the report found. But, by doing so, the medical professionals turned the detainees into research subjects, according to the report, which is scheduled to be published on Monday by Physicians for Human Rights.

The data collected by medical professionals from the interrogations of detainees allowed the C.I.A. to judge the emotional and physical impact of the techniques, helping the agency to “calibrate the level of pain experienced by detainees during interrogation, ostensibly to keep it from crossing the administration’s legal threshold of what it claimed constituted torture,” the report said. That meant that the medical professionals crossed the line from treating the detainees as patients to treating them as research subjects, the report asserted.

Medical personal were there to make the torture more effective, not really to implement "limits" which were seen as illegal in any case since the Bush administration revoked all the memos covering these actions before they left office.

What about Abu Ghraib?

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that the abuses of Abu Ghraib were not “the tip of the iceberg” (as Human Rights Watch has called them). No one approved of them; they had nothing to do with official American policy. The Pentagon lawyer who first promulgated the rules for harsh interrogations, which included nudity, stress positions, and the use of dogs—the very things we saw in the photographs—was horrified when she learned about Abu Ghraib and called it “anarchy.” No one defended what happened at Abu Ghraib then and no one defends it now—which is why it has no place in the torture debate, except as an illustration of how incompetent leaders can let matters get out of hand.

Conditions were different at Guantánamo Bay military prison, where oversight was firmer and rules closely followed. If the reports of government investigators can be believed, interrogators there adhered almost completely to the authorized guidelines. Of twenty-four thousand interrogations conducted there over a three-year period, only three cases of substantiated abuse were uncovered, and they involved only high-value detainees. In all three cases, the interrogators were disciplined for excesses. We have to be clear: Guantánamo is not Abu Ghraib.

The US Senate disagrees:

The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

In all Gewen makes the Dick Cheney argument, stretching the truth here and avoiding unpleasant details there, putting the torture argument in as favorable a light as possible. The most important point though that Gewen misses is the intelligence perspective. He fails to quote even one intelligence officer on the record as statig that this is the way to go, that torture can save us from the ticking bomb. The reason for that is simple, no Humint intelligence collection officer I have ever met or heard or read has ever thought that torture worked.


I admit that in this post I failed to explain why torture has been used as a stalking horse and who or what is behind it. In the comments section I introduced three quotes: two from William Pfaff's recent The Irony of Manifest Destiny, and the final one from Carl Schmitt's The Concept of the Political.

These quotes introduce three elements which have come together since 2000 to bring us to this point in time in our nation's history. My intention here is not to provide a total picture of our current political reality, that would be beyond whas it humanly (at least for me) possible. The nature of our political reality, as part of the larger social reality, in the US is simply too complex to describe. Rather, as is my approach I present an ideal type consisting of three major trends/tendencies that for me adequately explain our situation. This does not mean that some ideal type could not explain it better.

My intention here is to provide readers with this ideal type and allow them to answer for themselves whether mine, or the "nothing really has changed" view better describes what we see going on around us. Ideal types are not expected to exist in reality, rather they are deliberately constructed to have sharp contrasts. The question then comes for the reader as to how well the ideal type corresponds to what they observe, using at least a couple of opposing ideal type provides the analyst with this ability, with one ideal explaining one situation better, while the other better explains something else.

If one of the ideal types that a group of "openminded" analysts are using is increasingly seen as far from the observed reality, then a radical change has in fact taken place.

It is my view that a radical change has taken place. It dates back to the 2000 election. To understand this change one can think of it in terms of three associated socio-political groups.

The first is a narrow foreign policy elite that has given up on internal democracy as expressing traditional American values and sees it as a impediment to the achievement of their policy goals. Public opinion is fickle and the people tired quickly of wars and expensive schemes. The American public is kept in place by a highly refined "total propaganda" system (in Ellul's terms) which transmits and reinforces the accepted narrative, but attacks or dismisses any competing narrative. This in spite of the fact that a competing radical right narrative is promoted to keep the public divided.

The second is the economic element, or rather what the economic element has become. I called this the "MBA view of the world" to emphasize the fact that all questions come down to that of efficiency. Torture, too, becomes basically a question of whether it "works", not one of ideals or values or cynically betraying both. What we have is the conquest of capitalism by finance. All questions come down to efficiency and the laws of the market which dominate life. Any action that does not break down to ends-means rationality, is by definition, irrational. This affects how we look at our wars - fighting against "democracy" and "the fruits of the market" are simply the actions of madmen, fanatics, "people who wish to change our way of life". Also, the US, like Goldman Sacs is simply too big to fail, no matter how many parasites it has to carry. Essentially we have this group seeing war as economic opportunity with the duration of the war influencing the ever growing ranks of interested economic parties feeding at the government trough.

What first comes to mind regarding these two groups is that they have been in development for some time. They date back to the Vietnam war in the first case and to the 1950s in the second (if the "MBA" film clip is any indication). Both would have remained containable but for the emergence of the last group which has been the radical catalyst.

The third group consists of two somewhat like-minded elements which share certain radical attitudes. The first is the elite associated with Cheney/Rumsfeld and other former Bush I, Reagan and Nixon/Ford officials. They saw Nixon's resignation as a personal defeat, supported Reagan's Iran-contra machinations and the 1992 Defence Planning Guidance initiatives. The second is the neo-conservative movement which equates Israeli interests as being unquestionably also US interests and sees the US as the best guarantee of Israeli security/ambitions. I used a Carl Schmitt quote to describe their view of the political. What we have are three very divergent groups who remain in unstable alliance due to a complexus of interests that are at the same time both contradictory and ambiguous. The confusion of their war aims is reflected by the confusion of their wars . . .

We have lost the ability to act strategically.

In strategic theory terms, wars are waged by states in line with policies/interests/political tensions of opposed political communities. While the total overthrow of an enemy state, the remaking of his political identity is theoretically possible, in reality very few such wars would be waged due to the resources (material, moral, time) necessary to achieve such radical goals. Prior to 2000, the only war of this type initiated by the US was our involvement in the First World War and we lacked the interest and resources to see it through to the achievement of its stated goals. The 1919 peace which followed became a continuation of the war by other means resulting in a fragile political realignment which lasted barely 20 years and plunged the world into an even bloodier conflict.

Schmitt, writing in 1932, defined the political as being able to make the friend/enemy distinction. Wars of this type would be by definition include the radical policy goals mentioned above. Schmitt was of course not only a political theorist, but also a lawyer with political ambitions, who served the Nazi government for a time after their coming to power. He is an unsavory character, but a very interesting theorist who accurately read the politics of his time. In fact his description of the political covers the ideological conflicts of the 20th Century to a large extent, explaining their unrelenting and violent nature.

So Cheney and the neocons reserve for themselves to right to designate who the enemy is. This is the source of their concept of sovereignty, what gives their political view meaning. There will be no compromise with this enemy. Since he is the negation of what they see themselves as, he will have to be either neutered or eradicated. Liberal democracies - following both Schmitt and Leo Strauss - are poorly equipped to deal with such an enemy, since "they are always too ready to compromise".

Obama wishes to see himself as "the great uniter", who was able to bring Cheney and the neocons "back into the fold", thus the constant whitewashing and legitimizing of the actions of 2000-2008. There is no chance of this of course, since Cheney and the rest know exactly who their friends are and who their enemy is . . .

Torture is simply the stalking horse for what is indeed our most profound political question . . .


  1. Where do these cockroaches like Gewen keep coming from?? This guy writes book reviews?? Remind me not to read anything in the NY Times Book Review. He is a hack taking payola from both the Cheneyites for this article and for the publishing industry for his day job.

    But Seydlitz, I am not sure I agree with the stalking horse. Perhaps, but I think that it is cowardice both moral and physical that drives Cheney and his cohorts.

  2. Seydlitz,
    I agree with mike.
    This was a fine piece, and i'd like to add a few little points.
    Do we even have any definitive proof that the crotch bomber was in fact a AQ operative?? As you point out the linkages are often weak, and as i say ,i do not believe anything that we are told by the govt agencies or MSM.
    Hearsay and conjecture are not proof, but yet in todays world this serves as justification to torture people.
    I do believe that people that advocate torture should be given the opportunity to twist some ones nuts, just for the experience.
    I for one, a person with severe bi- lateral tinnitis find the sound blasting technique to be a nasty form of softening up.This would destroy what's left of my sanity.
    Tinnitis is a life long condition, and can't be repaired, so imo is the very definition of torture.
    But hey, what do i know, i never worked in the White House.
    Fine article.

  3. Seydlitz,
    As an after thought.
    The Japanese after the Doolittle raid had every right to torture the captured Raiders because the following raids were a ticking bomb.
    Isn't that the logic of the pro torture tough guys that never shit between combat boots???

  4. seydlitz: Depends on what you mean by "works".

    Torture works fine if what you're looking for is the sort of testimony that you can present at a show trial or auto de fe'.

    Which is what I suspect that the Cheneyites were looking for all along.

    The torturous practices at Baghram, AG, Gitmo, and elsewhere seem to fit well with what we know these people did with the REAL intel they got their hands on.

    IMO it was never about the "ticking bomb" - that was just the stalking horse they used to sneak up on the U.S. public - it was always about fixing the intel andthe confessions around the policy.

  5. Another way to look at this is the very real possibility that Dick Cheney is a profoundly timid, foolish man, and that this sudden descent into criminality resulted - and his subsequent defense of it continues to stem - from moron-grade fear rather than evil-genius level cunning.

    I'm not saying it's one or the other - I have no idea what lurks inside the man's head and really would rather not know - just that I can see how the results would be similar in either case.

  6. And as a final observation, I would suggest that we are now saddled with this loathsome creature Gewen and his ilk for the forseeable future. This never WILL "go away".

    We had the opportunity as a nation to end this entire revolting business by investigating, indicting, prosecuting, and convicting the highest-level authors of abduction, torture, and secret murder. We didn't, and it's obvious to me now that we never will.

    If, as you suggest, seydlitz, this is part of some larger enterprise by totalitarian types in the U.S. to push the nation towards a sort of authoritarian/Court of Star Chamber system, then we the People have taken a big step towards foring our own chains.

  7. I don't get the stalking horse analogy, btu this is related:

  8. mike-

    Any comment on the TA-1 story?


    I left out the effect it has had on US intelligence interrogators . . . as in dysfunction, depression and even suicide, and yes I would be more than happy to allow someone like Gewen to twist some neocon's nuts . . .


    I agree gentlemen, I haven't made the torture as stalking horse for police state argument, yet . . . and you'll see the connection here with what Chief and I were discussing on his thread before.

    Consider three quotes, Here's the first:

    "It is not popular ambition that drives American policy [essentially Empire], which has a particular sense of an American international mission to use the nation's power to establish a new international order, congenial to their notions of international as well as national destiny. This will assure America's permanent access to oil and natural gas, reinforce the place of the US in world history, and identify the elite as the responsible figures for this achievement. Andrew Bacevich has described American foreign policy as 'having long been the province of a small, self-perpetuating, self-anointed group of specialists . . . dedicated to the proposition of excluding democratic influences from the making of national security policy. To the extent that members of the national security apparatus have taken public opinion into consideration, they have viewed it as something to manipulate'".

    William Pfaff, The Irony of Manifest Destiny, pp 156-7

    First point or element: a narrow foreign policy elite that has given up on democracy as expressing traditional American values, but rather as a means of manipulation and labeling . . .

  9. Add this bit of Greenwald to what Sven linked to:

    I suspect that this is all of a piece. As Greenwald concludes: "So we'll continue to fixate on the trappings and theater of government while The Real Government churns blissfully in the dark -- bombing and detaining and abducting and spying and even assassinating -- without much bother from anyone."

    And torturing, as well.

  10. Sven: What I suspect that seydlitz is suggesting is that the people who are working on the New American Century oriject - his "narrow foreign policy elite" - are using this issue to test how far they can push their agenda. I mean, if you can't be against - as in, violently, disruptively, legal-action-and-political-outrage against - torture, what can you object to?

    So this issue becomes a blind, a way of seeing how inert and stupid the U.S. public is. And also a way of blinding and distracting same public; if their spokesweasels can keep hammering on this, if their pet journos can keep blinding and distracting, using obvious bullshit like "ticking bombs" and mealymouthed euphemisms like "extreme interrogation", and not get called on it, then where is the stopping point?

  11. And if you don't believe me, Stephen Holmes wrote an entire book about this bizarre "torturing (kidnapping, assassinating, spying on) people makes us safer" meme in "The Matador's Cape".

    Holmes explains the idea that the need for secrecy to do all these things, and the lack of oversight and review that typically produces spur-of-the-moment decisions usually doesn't produce effective security.

    In practice these deeds done in darkness produce 1) slipshod analysis, 2) incompetent intel weenies, and 3) policy mistakes of an unusually high order.

    And for the polity, the civil-rights erosions needed to make these secret crimes happen usually linger into subsequent administrations, giving power to the people who like autocracy long after we forget about the terror-panic-fear-emergency-response logic that justified them.

  12. FDChief-

    Couldn't have explained it better myself.

    "The Matador's Cape" = stalking horse.

  13. "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

    Fear causes people to do stupid things.
    Torture, obviously, is stupid.
    And often times, those things which are horrendously stupid beyond belief often become national policy.
    Not because we're cold, evil, and looking to prove how bad ass we can, but because someone, somewhere in the bowels of foggy bottom got all bent out of shape with fear, said we gots to do somethings, anythings and so voila...stupid action.
    Patriot Act, very stupid, but now it's forever part of our national domestic policy.
    Torture, same level as stupid as the Patriot Act, but like a lobster in a pot of slow boiling water, we kind of dig the pay back of "what now bitch!"
    And really, I'm tired, so I'm not going to list out the even dumber things that are occurring in this country.

    What it comes down to is this...yes, we're heading towards a police state. More specifically, a Fascist state, and as far as I can see both political parties are on board with the end result...the dispute is who is going to be in charge.
    But nations never start out with "oh hey, got a great idea, lets be a police state!"
    No, the police state, like the boiling water, is slow on the rise, and then when when we see the bubbling and the thin warning in the back of our brain that we have been ignoring finally sends us into "omg, we need to do something quick to stop this!" is, in truth by then, really too late do anything.

    I would say that we have been heading to being a police state since 2002.
    The time to have stopped our slide into perdition was is now to late.
    The system is in place, albeit, a jumbled pile of "trying to get it right." but give them some time...they should have it up and running within a decade.

  14. Seydlitz:

    re the TA-1 story. Lots of stories like that, some true I am afraid. And probably lots worse than that. But it was illegal. Anyone who did the crime had to think about doing the time. And some ended up in the brig (monkey house or stockade to you Army guys).

    I do not remember the TA-1 back in the 60s and early 70s, the standard land line field phone was the EE-8, bigger I think. They had a hand crank generator. But that was not used out in the field despite the name of 'field phone'. We relied on radio in the bush and I never saw or heard of the handsets used in the way you mention. I only recall seeing field phones back at more permanent locations like firebases, semi-permanent LZs, or basecamps.

    So the bottom line of this long story is that when EE-8s were used unlawfully to try to tickle an answer out of a POW then it was probably in the rear by someone who should have known better. Or if it was in the bush then it was premeditated and someone carried a EE-8 or something similar along in their alice pack for that specific purpose. I doubt that happened in the leg infantry where every extra ounce seemed like a ton. Perhaps the Cav carried them for fun and games. But any angry infantryman would not need a field phone or any other device when an arm twist or a threat with a bayonet might serve him just as well. But the great majority kept hands off. If there was any rough stuff going on it was probably done by an ARVN interpreter or perhaps by a Kit Carson scout (a former VC). In the case I am familiar with the platoon commander was found at fault also even though the deed was done was done by a Cholon Chinese SGT attached as an interpreter.

  15. If there is one constant theme in all of this, it is FEAR. What other value does the "Ticking Bomb" hypothesis offer? No effort is ever expended to communicate the logistical difficulties involved in deliver that bomb, and they are indeed significant. Just throw out the threat of the ticking bomb and it is assumed to be there, ticking away.

    Fear so permeates the message of the right wing that is is almost frightening in itself. Fear does not lend itself to solutions, but rather "flee or fight". Yet, stirring fear, or sharing it, does give rise to power, and that is exactly what is sought in American culture. The opposition to health care reform used fear to build support in opposing the idea. Fear of "big government" is stoked - to actually make government bigger. Not in a benevolent sense, but a physically protective sense. The astounding growth in "intelligence operations" since 9/11 is but one example.

  16. mike-

    Thanks, I thought you'd have an interesting take on that.


    Agree, fear, but then much of the "big government" they are actually promoting is the costs of big government, much of which goes into well-connected corporate coffers . . . We'll see what the response to the Washpost series is . . .

  17. Second quote:

    "The prevailing ethical norms of American business [up to circa the 1960s] came to an end partially under the influence of academic and professional innovations that declared ethical values to be exogenous obstacles to policies essential to maximum economic efficiency, and that made the elevation of return on capital the determinant of business and industrial success, excluding as inefficiencies earlier norms of duty to community, workforce, and public interest. It is difficult to say to what extent American policy makers really did, or do, believe that a global democratic order is advanced by the nation's current policies, as American policy has avowed, or even believe that it is possible. If you dispassionately state the policy's goals, which are 'defeat' or suppression of an aggressively anti-Westtern fundamentalist religious movement throughout a considerable part of the approximately billion members of the Islamic religion, and winning such people over to political values and institutions (and necessarily to an outlook on the political role of religion) resembling those of Americans or Europeans, the policy possesses no credibility."

    Ibid, pp 169-170.

    The second element is the economic element, or what has become the economic element, essentially the "MBA view of the world", which measures all in terms of "efficiency". Anything that is not open to their yardsticks is discarded. Torture, as Gewen argues, is simply a question as to whether it works or not, that is cost efficient. Morality doesn't come into it at all. American "values"? How quaint!

    Notice that the medical staff overseeing the torture where seemingly there to measure efficiency as well, to "improve" the system and approach, to make it even more cost efficient. One can institute and retain anything as long as one as the proper graphs and figures to prove that it is "effficient", and who feeding at the government trough today is unable to do that?

    This carries over in to how the elite, not just the big corporate handlers, approach any problem: Why do those Muslims resist us? What could they possibly want that the market will not be able to provide them? How is it in "their interest" to fight? That is they do not operate according to our "ends-means" rationality, they are then by definition "irrational", "fanatical", "an existential threat" . . .

  18. To all,
    I believe the ticking bomb scenario to be a load of hogwash.
    We have layers upon layers of intel agencies and functions, AND IF we get to a ticking scenario, then we should take the whole bunch out and shoot/torture them.!

  19. sheer-

    I agree that there is a high degree of stupidity, but I don't buy the argument (which is Gewen's as well) that they acted out of fear post-9/11. If there is any stupidity involved in their calculations, it is primarily in their take on the American people.

    As in most things, they act out of narrow self-interest. What about the real things that they should be afraid of - China's growing economic clout, enviromental degradation, the state of America's infrastructure, a possible nuclear-armed and radical Pakistan, . . . - but are not? And they actually see Al Qaida - in comparison - as an existential threat as they maintain?

    Al Qaida is an opportunity, not a threat.

    In line with the economic element mentioned above their assumption is - in line with their view of the real corporate players in general - that America is simply "too big to fail" . . .

  20. Jim - Yes, the ticking bomb scenario is a load of hogwash. It came out of the pens of Hollywood scriptwriters back long before 9/11. It was a dramatic hook used by both movies and tv shows. The 'entertainment' industry is just as guilty as Cheney and company. They paved the way. Almost laughable to think that Deadeye Dick and his supporters think they can be saved by make-believe and fantasy.

    Seydlitz - perhaps you are right in a roundabout way regarding a stalking horse. Who said: "Nations sometimes attempt to deliver themselves from the oppression of force, but never from a slavery into which they have been led gently, by degrees..." ?

  21. mike-

    I think you're coming around . . . and you haven't even read the third quote yet . . . ;

  22. jim-

    I agree.

    Unfortunately the "ticking bomb" is necessary to keep the subject of state-sponsored torture unresolved in the "public mind" . . . get it all down to fear among the "masses", would that explain it?

  23. Imagine my surprise when I got an email today with a book review titled: "The Ticking Is the Bomb", a memoir by Nick Flynn. For a moment I thought one of you rascally blog contributors was playing pranks on me. But no, it was legit, the review was from a a bookstore that I subscribe to. Flynn was one of a group that traveled to Istanbul record testimony from torture victims who had been detained at Abu G. I wonder if Barry Gewen review it - probably not - they will get a different hack to trash it.

    I have not read Rejali's recent book "Torture and Democracy". His earlier work on torture in Iran under the Shah was well written. And he wrote some damn fine articles on torture recently but I do not recall where they were posted - Harper's perhaps? He teaches poli-sci at Reed college in FDChief's fair city of Portland and only a few hours from me. It would be intriguing to me to monitor one or two of his classes.

    Seydlitz - I do not believe I have come around - yet anyway. As I tried to say earlier you may have a point but only in a roundabout way. Perhaps a 'tortuous' way was the synonym I should have used.

  24. The "Ticking Bomb" scenario is one of many themes arising from a pure and simple fear of death, or the denial of man's mortality. It's a central tenet of the Neo-con politics of fear. It is the fertile soil upon which not only political fortunes are made, but where religious practitioners bring in millions and millions selling the "prosperity gospel" - the delivery of the "Heaven on Earth" mantra.

    A cleric friend in the UK wrote the following:

    The story of Frankenstein touches something deep inside us. The longing for immortality so cruelly expressed in this enlivened cadaver and in all the other failed human resurrections from Tutankhamen to Lenin persists. The tragic aspect concerns what we know of all such human attempts at immortality from cryogenic freezing to elixirs of life, from transhuman cyborgs to Frankenstein zombies: they are all doomed to fail. Yet humans still strive to make themselves immortal and each fatal setback does not seem to put them off. What they and we resist is the notion that THIS life does not bear within it any seed of immortality, either accessible by science or religious experience. This life always has limits from life spans to the distant but nonetheless finite trajectory of the universe. All turns to dust in the end. We still of course labor and exult in the wonder of this creation for all that, and rightly so. A creation with limits still has inestimable value and our place and calling within it reflects that. If then we attempt to build a human centered utopia from the raw materials of this world we shall only see corruption. This is the inexorable logic of the Frankenstein myth. Eternal life cannot be molded from the stench of human corruption. Immortality is from God or it is from nowhere.

    I'm not promoting sectarian religion by sharing Father Gregory's writing, but I am sharing his insight as it addresses the politics of fear, especially the fear and or denial of mortality. If decisions are made solely in an attempt to fool ourselves into thinking that we can bypass our inevitable mortality, those decisions are bound to be failures. Accepting the "limits of our creation", as Fr Gregory writes, does have value, and is the only rational route. Hypothesizing a bomb, then hypothesizing that is is ticking and then hypothesizing that cruel and inhuman acts are the only answer is the very corruption of which he writes.

  25. Exactly Al! Which is why I like the title of Flynn's memoir: "the ticking 'IS' the bomb".

  26. Third quote:

    "A definition of the political can be obtained only by discovering and defining the specifically political catagories. In contrast to the various relatively independent endeavors of human thought and action, particularly the moral, aesthetic, and economic, the political has its own criteria which express themselves in a characteristic way. The political must therefore rest on its own ultimate distinction, to which all action with a specifically political meaning can be traced. Let us assume that in the realm of morality the final distinctions are between good and evil, in aesthetics beautiful and ugly, in economics profitable and unprofitable. The question this is whether there is also a special distinction which can serve as a simple criterion of the political and of what it consists. The nature of such a political distinction is surely different from that of those others. It is independent of them and as such can speak clearly for itself.

    The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy. This provides a definition in the sense of a criterion and not as an exhaustive definition or one indicative of substantial content. Insofar as it is not derived from other criteria, the antithesis of friend and enemy corresponds to the relatively independent criteria of other antitheses: good and evil in the moral sphere, beautiful and ugly in the aesthetic sphere, and so on. . . The distinction of friend and enemy denotes the utmost degree of intensity of a union or separation, of an association or dissociation. It can exist theoretically and practically, without having simultaneously to draw upon all those moral, aesthetic, economic or other distinctions. The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specifically intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible. These can neither be decided by a previously determined general norm nor by the judgment of a disinterested and therefore neutral party.

    Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict. Each participant is in a position to judge whether the adversary intends to negate his opponent's way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one's own form of existence. Emotionally the enemy is easily treated as being evil and ugly, because every distinction, most of all the political, as the strongest and most intense of the distinctions and categorizations, draws upon other distinctions for support."

    Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 1932, pp 25-27

  27. Al & mike-



    I'll introduce the third element - introduced by the third quote - and attempt to tie the whole thing together in a postscript.

  28. Gents,

    Thanks for this great post and ensuing discussion. I guess I come down on the side that believes there are a small number of malign elites who are deliberately exploiting fear to expand their power and ability to coerce the rest of us. Why? Well 1) because they can, 2) because they believe they must (we're all so stupid dontcha know?), 3) because they fear the citizen (a recurring theme in our history).

    Maybe they think they can become immortal through the success of their project? No doubt they believe they are the natural rulers of the world, ignoring the historical evidence that "rulers" (and their ideologies) come and go but the human condition, in general, remains unchanged. They must be quite frustrated that there are peoples and cultures who resist (to the death!) the "end of history" these elites have come to believe.

    What is clear to me is that the past decade has mainstreamed some profoundly un-American ideals which are now proudly displayed and deployed - often against our own citizens. How long will this condition persist? Is it the new normal? Will it become worse? These are the questions that bother me and leave me pessimistic about out collective future.


  29. SP-

    Thanks for your comment. Agree as to the pessimism and I too worry about the future, the type of country my grandchildren, nieces and nephews will have . . .

    Btw, I've added the postscript . . . hope it makes sense.