Let’s Hear It

The argument of the week is over the alleged effectiveness of torture. Our former Veep said,

“I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was, as well as to see this debate over the legal opinions.”

… and by all means, let’s take him up on this. Show us exactly what our national disgrace bought us.

BTW, there were reports that Dick didn’t really make this request, but it turns out he made it through the National Archives, which then requested the information from the CIA.

See also: Unresolved debate in DOJ memos: Does torture work? and Banned Techniques Yielded ‘High Value Information,’ Memo Says

22 thoughts on “Let’s Hear It

  1. Mr. Cheney’s argument seems quite irrelevant to me. It’s not the end that justifies the means, period.

  2. …it’s hard to shake the deep dark suspicion that this is just another part of the game, with Big Dick laying down his Grand Challenge knowing full well that his request will end up in the CIA’s daily burn basket. The best we’ll get are teaser stories about unverifiable ‘intelligence’ that led to alleged takedowns of unverifiable shadowy ‘terrorist cells’. While Big Dick is at it, he should level the playing field by asking the CIA to reveal all the torture-rendered ‘intelligence’ that led it and other agencies on wild goose chases because the guy was just saying stuff to make the torture stop…

  3. Proving something didn’t happen because of whatever is impossible. It’s like proving you don’t possess something or you didn’t do something, and in a sense somewhat the reason why the state has to prove an accused person’s guilt rather than he having to prove his innocence – however, even that seems to have gone out of fashion these days.

    AND I know for a fact that my house hasn’t burned down because I’ve had fire insurance the whole time I’ve owned it.

  4. Please recall the Bushian official (probably Rove) who said “We’re an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality.” You may have wondered just how empires go about making their own realities. What is the secret of such god-like power? Well, now we know one of the secrets: torture.

    The function of torture is not to acquire correct information; its real purpose is to imposed desired illusions. A false confession isn’t false to Big Brother, if it’s the false confession that Big Brother wanted. That, to Big Brother, is reality control; proof of Big Brother’s divinity.

    This explains why torture becomes an end in itself. Godhood is habit-forming.

    Of course, you could also read “we’re an empire now, we make our own realities” as saying, “we’re a gang of thugs, and self-deluded too.”

  5. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the line of attack that goes, “we shouldn’t use torture because torture doesn’t work”.

    In my view, it really doesn’t matter one little bit whether or not torture “works”. It could work 100% of the time and I’d still be againt it.

    The question is not whether or not torture works, the question is, are we a country that uses torture? The answer to that should be an emphatic NO, on moral and ethical grounds alone. The efficacy of any given torture technique should not even be a part of the discussion.


  6. First off, our torture techniques were kept secret so would-be terrorists couldn’t be taught how to withstand them if caught. Then it was decided that no, they should be made public so would-be terrorists would know what lay in store for them should they be caught – in other words, threat of torture prevented terrorism. Of course the ‘second’ policy makes the ‘first’ possible and the ‘first’ makes the ‘second’ impossible so what is it really all about Alfie.

    Seems pretty clear that, finally, torturing captives was actually retaliation for 9/11 not to mention a means of giving vent to sadistic tendencies well known to exist in the Bush hierarchy.

  7. Ian: torture works fine, if what you want is false confessions. That’s part of why it’s evil.

  8. Methinks the Dick doth protest because… what else can he do? I’m reminded of this quote from the 1989 movie Scandal, about the Profumo Affair that shocked and titillated Britain in the early 1960s:

    Prosecutor: Are you aware that Lord Astor has denied impropriety in his relationship with you?

    Mandy Rice-Davies: [smiles] Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

  9. On this topic, I always come back to the same story:


    For six decades, they held their silence.

    The group of World War II veterans kept a military code and the decorum of their generation, telling virtually no one of their top-secret work interrogating Nazi prisoners of war at Fort Hunt.

    “We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess.

    “During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone,” said George Frenkel, 87, of Kensington. “We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”..


    But the key point in the last paragraph is that thre was a ‘battle of wits’, which the Bush administration seemed unwilling to engage in, possibly because they felt that they were at a disadvantage. I’m not snarking; Obama seems confident that in a discussion, negotiation or debate he can win on the merits or gracefully conceed if the other side has the stronger case.

  10. According to Mark Benjamin’s summary in Salon of the Senate Armed Services Report that was just released, the administration started planning for torture immediately after 9/11, and started torturing before starting the Iraq war. The point of the early torture? Find a link between al-Qaida and Iraq to justify the war. As paradoctor notes above, if what you want is false information, torture works beautifully.

    Btw, they were torturing well before the OLC gave them cover, per the SASR. What a shock.

  11. They tortured to extract the disinformation they needed to justify military aggression. And all of this was premeditated and systematic.

  12. I haven’t looked at the report Bigus Dickus is alluding to, but I suspect it contains some instances where (ostensibly) torture yielded valuable info, otherwise he wouldn’t offer it. It’s a game of chess for Big Dick – move the pawn forward to advance his cause’s position. No wasted motion. There’s an annoying troll on Robert Reich’s blog who’s been bleating loudly recently about some torture cases that supposedly yielded high quality info, and so I suspect this report is the source for that.

    Whether these cases are valid or not, whether torture really worked or not – I’m not going to judge. At the very least, I’m willing to concede that there may be some ambiguity in the evidence as to torture’s utility.

    And so it comes down to what kind of people are we, and whether a policy of torture is good or bad for us in the long run. I am heartened by the report cited by Doug Hughes upstream, that getting a captive on your side is the best way to gain information, and I’d like to think that we’re smart enough and good enough to prefer this path, over the dark one favored by sadists like Cheney.

    Cheney was all about installing an authoritarian state in America. It’s only a few short steps or rationalizations to bring torture home to these shores, and to apply it to American citizens. Wingnuts can never see that the type of things they advocate could possibly happen to them, or that this is what the Constitution and Bill of Rights was all about preventing.

    paradoctor, I like your thinking: The function of torture is not to acquire correct information; its real purpose is to imposed desired illusions. A false confession isn’t false to Big Brother, if it’s the false confession that Big Brother wanted. That, to Big Brother, is reality control; proof of Big Brother’s divinity.

  13. I’m speechless by all of this. Where do we live again? All I can say is it isn’t a particularly compassionate or civilized place. Can I emigrate to Ireland now?

    Oh – the answer is if your grandparents had Irish passports or were Irish citizens (i.e. born there) then you can apply for re-admission – sadly my family was a potato famine immigrant.

  14. Cheney is framing the argument. If we accept that, we lose. He wants to debate that the “value’ of data obtained in torture justifies its use. And we are having the ‘value’ discussion. At some point in time, we are going to notice the flavor of athelete’s foot. The release of classified documents established as FACT what we knew all along. The US was engaged in torture. Torture is a violation of intn’l law.

    This is not difficult. Murder is not legal – even if the victim is a jerk. Rape is illegal, even if the victim is attractive. The relative value of information obtained through torture is NOT the point. It’s immoral- which is subjective, and it’s illegal, which in this case is not. The VEEP could be tried for war crimes. That needs to be the argument.

  15. moonbat said

    There’s an annoying troll on Robert Reich’s blog who’s been bleating loudly recently about some torture cases that supposedly yielded high quality info, and so I suspect this report is the source for that.

    I’m certain that torture produces good information on rare occasion. Marching into every appartment in New York City and demanding all the residents’ financial records would find some tax cheating and gain a few prosecutions for the IRS. Arresting the entire population of Cleveland and tossing them in jail would take a number of bad guys off the street.

    Maybe we should start arresting and torturing people on the basis of anonymous calls to the police! We’d get a lot of convictions that way, just like the Stalin did.

    Question to the troll: Is this the world you want to live in? In prescribing this for the world, do you also submit to this treatment?

    I understand that Jane Harmon is outraged that the NSA would catch her in an approved FISA wiretap, after arguing forcefully that the NSA should be able to wiretap anyone as they saw fit, without warrant. Same deal: if you advocate, then you must also submit.

    These people need to spend some time studying Immanuel Kant.

  16. I’m not actually speechless. I think what this all speaks to is the inadequacy of or government “intelligence” operations broadly. The way those World War II intelligence people got so close to Germans was by speaking in German for extended periods of time. I am pretty sure our intelligence agencies still are generally reliant on satellites and recon photos for way too much information. In this respect there is no substitute for boots on the ground and people who know Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Urdu and other regional dialects in Central Asia. We need people who can blend in and understand these complex cultures. Without these types of skills our intelligence people are stuck with nothing but bribes, torture, and bombing buildings.
    If I were President or CIA Director I would give young people scholarships or other incentives to learn Arabic. I would also try to encourage young people to go live, work, and study in the Arab world with further scholarships or financial incentives.
    When I think about these intelligence agencies and imagine the people who work within them I get a picture of Condi Rice. They are all smart, ambitious, and (probably) mean well – but they are still learning how to speak European Centric Languages that were important in the 20th Century (German, Russian, French). Today we need an entire new strategy because Europe is just not as important.

  17. I can’t understand why the argument is over the effectiveness of torture. Let’s grant that it can be effective which may or may not be the case, but the argument should be whether torture should be used.

  18. Cheney is framing the argument. If we accept that, we lose. He wants to debate that the “value’ of data obtained in torture justifies its use. And we are having the ‘value’ discussion.

    Exactly, Doug.. For me there is no discussion. I see torture for what it is and what it does to the human spirit. It goes in a category similar to slavery where on its face it can be seen that no discussion is necessary to understand how wrong and damaging it is.

    Cheney wants to justify his embrace of evil, so naturally, he offers justification. It’s a shame to see people engage in a value argument regarding torture because justification is the key component of that argument.

    I’m reminded of what Thomas Paine once wrote…to paraphrase.. “Once the threshold of justification is crossed there is no crime that cannot be committed.”

  19. Have a look at Chris Floyd’s site (my emphasis in bold):

    With the release of the U.S. Senate’s report on the Bush Administration torture program, it is now incontrovertibly clear – and officially established by the highest, most respectable Establishment institutions – that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and a host of other top officials deliberately, willingly, and with malice aforethought, established a system of interrogation using brutal techniques that they knew were against the law…

    What’s more, it is now undeniable that they began this program long before they had captured even one “high-profile al Qaeda detainee,” and that they were using these heinous techniques not in a desperate bid to save the nation from further attacks – which has long been their preening, self-serving claim – but instead to produce spurious data about the non-existent link between Iraq and al Qaeda…

    You cannot disentangle the torture program from the war of aggression in Iraq – nor from the illegal wiretapping program, the corrupt war profiteering, and all the other degradations of liberty and law that have been so accelerated in the past eight years. They are all of a piece, part and parcel of a plan to expand and entrench America’s “unipolar domination” of world affairs with a thoroughly militarized state led by an unaccountable, authoritarian “Unitary Executive.”

    This is one reason why Barack Obama is so obviously reluctant to tug on the torture thread too hard. If you tear it out, with full-scale prosecutions and top officials locked up behind bars, the whole rotten skein would fall apart. Once you start genuinely subjecting government officials – including security apparatchiks and military brass – to the full extent of the law, there would be no end to the unraveling: senators, contractors, representatives, bureaucrats, generals, lobbyists, judges, corporate chiefs – the whole edifice of Establishment power would be shaken to the core as its leading lights went down, one after the other.

    Thus the mere act of applying the ordinary, bourgeois laws of the land as they stand right now would constitute a world-shaking revolution, an overthrow of the existing order every bit as radical as any ideologue’s dream of mass uprising. It would be, in effect, a re-founding of the Republic – and the end of the empire, which cannot survive without continual war, lawless rule and endless corruption.

    And that’s why we will not see Barack Obama follow such a course. He might, in the end, have to pull much harder on the torture thread than he wants to; as we noted yesterday, a few upper-level middlemen might have to be offered up as scapegoats to quell the PR tempest. But he has already demonstrated, over and over, that he has no intention or desire to unravel the skein of imperial power…

    Ironically, the torture issue that he is so desperately trying to shake off his hands is in fact the one opportunity for the historical greatness that Obama – and his ardent fans – obviously yearn for. It holds forth the best chance – the last chance? – for dismantling the imperial machine of brutality and corruption, and starting anew…

  20. Subject: Help hold the architects of torture accountable

    Hi, fellow Mahabloggers

    I just signed a petition to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for an investigation into the architects of the Bush administration’s torture program.

    Check out this powerful video about the campaign, and sign the petition, at this link: http://pol.moveon.org/investigate

    MoveOn.org is going to deliver the petition to Holder on Thursday, so make sure to sign today — and pass along to your friends, too.


    Thanks! Your true all American patriotic friend, Swami.

  21. I don’t understand how all of you can say that torture doesn’t produce good intelligence. Back in 1692, it was thanks to waterboarding that numerous witches hiding among the populace in Salem, Massachusatts, were revealed. Surely this served as a model for the Bush administration’s fully justified and entirely successful witch hunt for terrorists.

    You bleeding heart liberals need to get a clue.

  22. From ThinkProgress:

    Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the White House that harsh interrogations of detainees produced “valuable” information but it is impossible to tell if the same information could have been gleaned “through other means.” “The bottom line,” he said, is “the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security.”

    . . . but it is impossible to tell if the same information could have been gleaned “through other mean.” This statement just boggles my mind and shows there is NO justification for torture.

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