Waterboarding is Torture... Period (Links Updated # 9)

I'd like to digress from my usual analysis of insurgent strategy and tactics to speak out on an issue of grave importance to Small Wars Journal readers. We, as a nation, are having a crisis of honor.

Last week the Attorney General nominee Judge Michael Mukasey refused to define waterboarding terror suspects as torture. On the same day MSNBC television pundit and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough quickly spoke out in its favor. On his morning television broadcast, he asserted, without any basis in fact, that the efficacy of the waterboard a viable tool to be used on Al Qaeda suspects.

Scarborough said, "For those who don't know, waterboarding is what we did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is the Al Qaeda number two guy that planned 9/11. And he talked ..." He then speculated that "If you ask Americans whether they think it's okay for us to waterboard in a controlled environment ... 90% of Americans will say 'yes.'" Sensing that what he was saying sounded extreme, he then claimed he did not support torture but that waterboarding was debatable as a technique: "You know, that's the debate. Is waterboarding torture? ... I don't want the United States to engage in the type of torture that [Senator] John McCain had to endure."

In fact, waterboarding is just the type of torture then Lt. Commander John McCain had to endure at the hands of the North Vietnamese. As a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California I know the waterboard personally and intimately. SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school's interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques used by the US army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What was not mentioned in most articles was that SERE was designed to show how an evil totalitarian, enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique.

The carnival-like he-said, she-said of the legality of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques has become a form of doublespeak worthy of Catch-22. Having been subjected to them all, I know these techniques, if in fact they are actually being used, are not dangerous when applied in training for short periods. However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner -- it is torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only "shock the conscience" as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American.

We live at a time where Americans, completely uninformed by an incurious media and enthralled by vengeance-based fantasy television shows like "24", are actually cheering and encouraging such torture as justifiable revenge for the September 11 attacks. Having been a rescuer in one of those incidents and personally affected by both attacks, I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor. Who we have become? Because at this juncture, after Abu Ghraieb and other undignified exposed incidents of murder and torture, we appear to have become no better than our opponents.

With regards to the waterboard, I want to set the record straight so the apologists can finally embrace the fact that they condone and encourage torture.

History's Lessons Ignored

Before arriving for my assignment at SERE, I traveled to Cambodia to visit the torture camps of the Khmer Rouge. The country had just opened for tourism and the effect of the genocide was still heavy in the air. I wanted to know how real torturers and terror camp guards would behave and learn how to resist them from survivors of such horrors. I had previously visited the Nazi death camps Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I had met and interviewed survivors of Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Magdeburg when I visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. However, it was in the S-21 death camp known as Tuol Sleng, in downtown Phnom Penh, where I found a perfectly intact inclined waterboard. Next to it was the painting on how it was used. It was cruder than ours mainly because they used metal shackles to strap the victim down, and a tin flower pot sprinkler to regulate the water flow rate, but it was the same device I would be subjected to a few weeks later.

On a Mekong River trip, I met a 60-year-old man, happy to be alive and a cheerful travel companion, who survived the genocide and torture ... he spoke openly about it and gave me a valuable lesson: "If you want to survive, you must learn that 'walking through a low door means you have to be able to bow.'" He told his interrogators everything they wanted to know including the truth. They rarely stopped. In torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia. He was actually just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French. He remembered "the Barrel" version of waterboarding quite well. Head first until the water filled the lungs, then you talk.

Once at SERE and tasked to rewrite the Navy SERE program for the first time since the Vietnam War, we incorporated interrogation and torture techniques from the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia into the curriculum. In the process, I studied hundreds of classified written reports, dozens of personal memoirs of American captives from the French-Indian Wars and the American Revolution to the Argentinean 'Dirty War' and Bosnia. There were endless hours of videotaped debriefings from World War Two, Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War POWs and interrogators. I devoured the hundreds of pages of debriefs and video reports including those of then Commander John McCain, Colonel Nick Rowe, Lt. Dieter Dengler and Admiral James Stockdale, the former Senior Ranking Officer of the Hanoi Hilton. All of them had been tortured by the Vietnamese, Pathet Lao or Cambodians. The minutiae of North Vietnamese torture techniques was discussed with our staff advisor and former Hanoi Hilton POW Doug Hegdahl as well as discussions with Admiral Stockdale himself. The waterboard was clearly one of the tools dictators and totalitarian regimes preferred.

There is No Debate Except for Torture Apologists

1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one's duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim's face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration --usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.

Call it "Chinese Water Torture," "the Barrel," or "the Waterfall," it is all the same. Whether the victim is allowed to comply or not is usually left up to the interrogator. Many waterboard team members, even in training, enjoy the sadistic power of making the victim suffer and often ask questions as an after thought. These people are dangerous and predictable and when left unshackled, unsupervised or undetected they bring us the murderous abuses seen at Abu Ghraieb, Baghram and Guantanamo. No doubt, to avoid human factors like fear and guilt someone has created a one-button version that probably looks like an MRI machine with high intensity waterjets.

3. If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives. The Small Wars Council had a spirited discussion about this earlier in the year, especially when former Marine Generals Krulak and Hoar rejected all arguments for torture.

Evan Wallach wrote a brilliant history of the use of waterboarding as a war crime and the open acceptance of it by the administration in an article for Columbia Journal for Transnational Law. In it he describes how the ideological Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo validated the current dilemma we find ourselves in by asserting that the President had powers above and beyond the Constitution and the Congress:

"Congress doesn't have the power to tie the President's hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique....It's the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can't prevent the President from ordering torture."

That is an astounding assertion. It reflects a basic disregard for the law of the United States, the Constitution and basic moral decency.

Another MSNBC commentator defended the administration and stated that waterboarding is "not a new phenomenon" and that it had "been pinned on President Bush ... but this has been part of interrogation for years and years and years." He is correct, but only partially. The Washington Post reported in 2006 that it was mainly America's enemies that used it as a principal interrogation method. After World War 2, Japanese waterboard team members were tried for war crimes. In Vietnam, service members were placed under investigation when a photo of a field-expedient waterboarding became publicly known.

Torture in captivity simulation training reveals there are ways an enemy can inflict punishment which will render the subject wholly helpless and which will generally overcome his willpower. The torturer will trigger within the subject a survival instinct, in this case the ability to breathe, which makes the victim instantly pliable and ready to comply. It is purely and simply a tool by which to deprive a human being of his ability to resist through physical humiliation. The very concept of an American Torturer is an anathema to our values.

I concur strongly with the opinions of professional interrogators like Colonel Stewart Herrington, and victims of torture like Senator John McCain. If you want consistent, accurate and reliable intelligence, be inquisitive, analytical, patient but most of all professional, amiable and compassionate.

Who will complain about the new world-wide embrace of torture? America has justified it legally at the highest levels of government. Even worse, the administration has selectively leaked supposed successes of the water board such as the alleged Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessions. However, in the same breath the CIA sources for the Washington Post noted that in Mohammed's case they got information but "not all of it reliable." Of course, when you waterboard you get all the magic answers you want -because remember, the subject will talk. They all talk! Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work.

According to the President, this is not a torture, so future torturers in other countries now have an American legal basis to perform the acts. Every hostile intelligence agency and terrorist in the world will consider it a viable tool, which can be used with impunity. It has been turned into perfectly acceptable behavior for information finding.

A torture victim can be made to say anything by an evil nation that does not abide by humanity, morality, treaties or rule of law. Today we are on the verge of becoming that nation. Is it possible that September 11 hurt us so much that we have decided to gladly adopt the tools of KGB, the Khmer Rouge, the Nazi Gestapo, the North Vietnamese, the North Koreans and the Burmese Junta?

What next if the waterboarding on a critical the captive doesn't work and you have a timetable to stop the "ticking bomb" scenario? Electric shock to the genitals? Taking a pregnant woman and electrocuting the fetus inside her? Executing a captive's children in front of him? Dropping live people from an airplane over the ocean? It has all been done by governments seeking information. All claimed the same need to stop the ticking bomb. It is not a far leap from torture to murder, especially if the subject is defiant. Are we —to trade our nation's soul for tactical intelligence?

Is There a Place for the Waterboard?

Yes. The waterboard must go back to the realm of SERE training our operators, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. We must now double our efforts to prepare for its inevitable and uncontrolled use of by our future enemies.

Until recently, only a few countries considered it effective. Now American use of the waterboard as an interrogation tool has assuredly guaranteed that our service members and agents who are captured or detained by future enemies will be subject to it as part of the most routine interrogations. Forget threats, poor food, the occasional face slap and sexual assaults. This was not a dignified 'taking off the gloves'; this was descending to the level of our opposition in an equally brutish and ugly way. Waterboarding will be one our future enemy's go-to techniques because we took the gloves off to brutal interrogation. Now our enemies will take the gloves off and thank us for it.

There may never again be a chance that Americans will benefit from the shield of outrage and public opinion when our future enemy uses of torture. Brutal interrogation, flash murder and extreme humiliation of American citizens, agents and members of the armed forces may now be guaranteed because we have mindlessly, but happily, broken the seal on the Pandora's box of indignity, cruelty and hatred in the name of protecting America. To defeat Bin Laden many in this administration have openly embraced the methods of by Hitler, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Galtieri and Saddam Hussein.

Not A Fair Trade for America's Honor

I have stated publicly and repeatedly that I would personally cut Bin Laden's heart out with a plastic MRE spoon if we per chance meet on the battlefield. Yet, once captive I believe that the better angels of our nature and our nation's core values would eventually convince any terrorist that they indeed have erred in their murderous ways. Once convicted in a fair, public tribunal, they would have the rest of their lives, however short the law makes it, to come to terms with their God and their acts.

This is not enough for our President. He apparently secretly ordered the core American values of fairness and justice to be thrown away in the name of security from terrorists. He somehow determined that the honor the military, the CIA and the nation itself was an acceptable trade for the superficial knowledge of the machinations of approximately 2,000 terrorists, most of whom are being decimated in Iraq or martyring themselves in Afghanistan. It is a short sighted and politically motivated trade that is simply disgraceful. There is no honor here.

It is outrageous that American officials, including the Attorney General and a legion of minions of lower rank have not only embraced this torture but have actually justified it, redefined it to a misdemeanor, brought it down to the level of a college prank and then bragged about it. The echo chamber that is the American media now views torture as a heroic and macho.

Torture advocates hide behind the argument that an open discussion about specific American interrogation techniques will aid the enemy. Yet, convicted Al Qaeda members and innocent captives who were released to their host nations have already debriefed the world through hundreds of interviews, movies and documentaries on exactly what methods they were subjected to and how they endured. In essence, our own missteps have created a cadre of highly experienced lecturers for Al Qaeda's own virtual SERE school for terrorists.

Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle need to stand up for American values and clearly specify that coercive interrogation using the waterboard is torture and, except for limited examples of training our service members and intelligence officers, it should be stopped completely and finally --oh, and this time without a Presidential signing statement reinterpreting the law.

-----

Updates by SWJ Editors

Links

Drowning in Questions - Newsweek Magazine

Voice of Experience: It's Torture - Military.com

Waterboarding Not Deemed Torture by US - Australian News

'Waterboarding' Not Deemed Torture - AFP

Expert Sheds Light on Waterboarding - Audio of NPR Interview with Malcolm Nance

Is Waterboarding Torture? - Audio of WNYC Interview with Malcolm Nance

I Know Waterboarding is Torture - Because I did it Myself - New York Daily News

Waterboarding is Torture - I Did It Myself - The Independent

Regarding Media - Los Angeles Times

On Torture, 2 Messages and a High Political Cost - New York Times

The Mukasey Test - Washington Times

A Crisis of Honor - The Daily Dish (The Atlantic)

Ace Interrogator: "Waterboarding is Torture... Period." - Passport (Foreign Policy)

Tortured Logic - New York Daily News

The Mukasey Test -- Washington Times

Target Mukasey - New York Post

Mukasey's Confirmation: A Vote about Torture -- Los Angeles Times

There's No Avoiding the Waterboarding Issue - Kansas City Star

Links with Comments

Malcolm Nance - Díºnedain of the Week - Stonekettle Station

Ex-Navy Instructor Promises to Hit Back If Attacked on Torture - TPM Muckraker

Waterboarding is Torture - Abu Muqawama

Waterboarding is Torture... Period - MountainRunner

Waterboarding is Torture... Period -- The Belmont Club

Politics - Tip-Toeing Around Torture - The AG (Time)

Tortured Answer - Slate

Target: Jamal al-Badawi - The Captain's Journal

We Legitimized Waterboarding - Swampland (Time)

On the Virtue of Waterboarding and Secret Prisons -- Blackfive

Waterboarding is Torture... Period - Mother Jones

Former Navy SEAL Instructor Offers Waterboarding Primer - TPM Muckraker

SERE Instructor: Waterboarding is Torture - Captain's Quarters

My Opinion is Fact, Period: On Rhetoric, Waterboarding, and Torture - tdaxp

10 Questions on Torture - tdaxp

Waterboarding is Torture - Outside the Beltway

Troubled Waters - Wizbang

Slow Motion Suffocation - Headline Junky

A Bluf that Needs to be Called, Part Two - Power Line

Waterboarding is Torture - Interact

Waterboarding the Senate - PrairiePundit

Defending Democracy Using of Khmer Rouge Techniques - The American Prospect

Barbaric - Total Information Awareness

SEAL on Waterboarding - Winds of Change

If You Read One Post About Waterboarding - The Plank (The New Republic)

McCain on Rudy on Torture. (Updated) - Comonweal

Waterboarding is Torture - The Raw Story

Waterboarding - Obsidian Wings

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World - Catholic and Enjoying It

Come for the Beaches, Stay for the Waterboarding -- MetaFilter

The Water Cooler - Inside Indiana Message Boards

Impressive Article on Waterboarding - Gun Broker Discussion Board

Waterboarding is Torture - Space Battles Discussion Board

Discuss

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Comments

Malcolm Nance has advanced a useful post, and useful argument. Right up until this point, which is provable... well, foolishness is the kind interpretation, "lie" is the unkind one:

"Until recently, only a few countries considered it effective. Now American use of the waterboard as an interrogation tool has assuredly guaranteed that our service members and agents who are captured or detained by future enemies will be subject to it as part of the most routine interrogations. Forget threats, poor food, the occasional face slap and sexual assaults. This was not a dignified 'taking off the gloves; this was descending to the level of our opposition in an equally brutish and ugly way. Waterboarding will be one our future enemys go-to techniques because we took the gloves off to brutal interrogation. Now our enemies will take the gloves off and thank us for it."

Quick quiz: when was the last war in which Americans were treated per the Geneva Convention.

The answer? HALF of World War TWO.

The USA's treatment of enemy prisoners has not affected enemy treatment of Americans one jot, and it is hard to imagine that Mr. Nance, as a claimed expert in this field, is not aware of these facts. Yet he chooses to make an emotional argument that, if one accepts him as an expert, can only be called a deliberate lie since one finds it very difficult to ascribe to ignorance.

That's a problem with the article, which becomes a serious problem because it calls Mr. Nance's entire credibility into question. If he'll... I'll be kind... If he'll tell me something blatantly untrue on this subject, I must conclude either that his expertise may not be up to the level he presents it as, or that he is willing to lie to me about other things as well. Neither is reassuring.

Nuzzolillo advances what is, I think, a sensible and civil counter-argument and set of questions. If we are prepared to grant to a government certain levels of coercion to protect the innocent, why not others?

In answer, I respond by recommending Hayek's "Road to Serfdom," especially the parts that talk about the kind of people one must then recruit for certain jobs, and the effect this has when played out over institutional time.

I guess I fall into the category of people who will grant the argument that torture may be effective, and see circumstances under which one might legitimately consider the question of authorizing it... but have a level of concern about it over the long term, because the effects of authorizing it are different than the effects of authorizing guns and/or incarceration.

I'm also honest enough to realize that this will have consequences - one of which is that the response to a doctrine of total warfare (terrorism) is more likely to be one of total warfare, as the technology curve continues to fall. If that means we end up firebombing enemy cities, I'm Ok with that, because we can do that and not affect the powers considered proper for a government. Or the people we become. We've proven that to my satisfaction.

I don't kind myself that I can have my cake and eat it too on this one. I hope Mr. Nance doesn't, either.
---

AX - you realize that your language mirrors quite closely the sort of language used by real torturers in civil wars and totalitarian governments, which begins by dehumanizing their fellow citizens. I mean, you get that, right?

Being a brownshirt wannabe who belongs to the leftist movement, Democratic Party, Republican Party, or what have you... still makes you a brownshirt at the end of the day.

Think about it.

Hi Ax,
*
Thanks for the warm welcome!
*
You Wrote:
"USN_RET, in typical Republican fashion you have casually levelled ridiculous accusations of helping the enemy, against a patriotic American for telling the truth about an issue of grave concern to decent Americans"
*
1) I am a conservative not nessesarily a Republican.
2) Nothing was casual about my statment(s) I am just expressing my concern.
3) I am a Decent and Patriotic American. I am sure that You and Malcolm are Decent and Patriotic Americans also.
*
You Wrote:
"Former SERE Instructor Nance is a hero to me, while you are not and never will be anything more than another Bush-loving Torture-Advocate. I am infuriated with torture-apologists who have stained America's virtues and I call on you to repent. "
*
1) Senior Chief Nance is a stranger to me an thus cannot be a Hero to me. LT Michael P. Murhpy and SFC Paul R. Smith on the other hand I have great respect and admiration for. Thier actions were selfless and heroic.
2) I WAS a SERE Instructor. Were YOU?
3) G. W. Bush was not my first Presidental choice a former POW was. Oh Well.
4) NO SERE Instructor advocates the use of torture. They do provide thier students with the tools to resist torture however.
5) I Feel Senior Chief Nance made an error in judgement that MAY have a detrimental effect.
6) Navy SERE Instructors pretty much go back to the fleet after thier tours and DO NOT talk about SERE as a rule. SCPO Nance is the exception.
*
Repent? Only to God.
*
Don't grind that Ax too long.....Ax
*
Warmest Wishes, USN_RET

USN_RET, in typical Republican fashion you have casually levelled ridiculous accusations of helping the enemy, against a patriotic American for telling the truth about an issue of grave concern to decent Americans.

Former SERE Instructor Nance is a hero to me, while you are not and never will be anything more than another Bush-loving Torture-Advocate. I am infuriated with torture-apologists who have stained America's virtues and I call on you to repent.

SCPO Nance,
*
As a former U.S. Navy SERE Instructor 1983-1986 at the East Cost Training Facility I am deeply disturbed at your discussion of possible SERE training techniques used to train our high risk of capture Sailors and Marines.
*
Upon your Transfer from FASOTRAGRUPAC SERE I'm sure that you signed a non disclosure statement stating that you would not discussed the training techniques used during the SERE Training process.
*
I'm sure you know the saying: What I DO here, What I SAY here, What I SEE here, It REMAINS here, When I LEAVE here..... Don't You??
*
The question of whether a certain interrogation or torture technique is being used or not used by the United States Government is not the point I'm making.
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My point is that you may have put our Sailors and Marines at risk if they become Prisoners of War.
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Your disclosures made under the guise as a "Subject Matter Expert" ARE Unsatisfactory.
*
R/ USN_RET (SERE Instructor)

Mr Nance:

Thank you for an insightful article. While I cannot agree with your black and white analysis of what seem to be moral issues that are grey areas, I appreciate your point of view. There was one passage, however, that seemed beneath you...

"This is not enough for our President. He apparently secretly ordered the core American values of fairness and justice to be thrown away in the name of security from terrorists. He somehow determined that the honor the military, the CIA and the nation itself was an acceptable trade for the superficial knowledge of the machinations of approximately 2,000 terrorists, most of whom are being decimated in Iraq or martyring themselves in Afghanistan. It is a short sighted and politically motivated trade that is simply disgraceful. There is no honor here."

Please consider the possibility that the President was weighing national security against the legal and moral implications and that - just maybe - he did not begin from all of the same assumptions that you begin with.

What immediately jumped to my eye in Mr. Nuzzolillo's first post was that notion that 'our servicemen' suffer undeserved torture, and that this cannot be compared to torture applied to the subhuman enemy who beheads Nick Bergs as a pastime. So what follows is that for being so evil the enemy deserves this treatment.

Any system trying to achieve a degree of justice where torture is applied is being perverted by the simple fact that torture turns on it's head the presumption of innocence to the presumption of guilt.

Mr. Nuzzolillo fundamental fallacy is that he confuses intelligence gathering and interrogation with punishment.

What is justified (on a he-deserves-it basis) to get, say, a paedophile to reveal the whereabouts of a probably still living victim? Whatever it is, an interrogator applying torture on someone he suspects to be a paedophile able to reveal the whereabouts of a potential victim will hold likely him to the same standard. When the object of the interrogator's interest has nothing to tell, is the wrong guy, there will be an increased interest in trying to crack that particularly hard nut. The torture will likely be more severe.

What Mr. Nuzzolillo also overlooks is that when a policy of torture is adopted, inevitably suspect evildoers will be subjected to it, for good measure because there will always be an expedient justification in the tactical situation for it. Proliferation of torture down wards is inevitable. As this increases, the instances where 'bystanders' get subjected to torture and the instances of accidental deaths will increase accordingly.

There is ample time for punishment later. I don't share a view that holds that it is justified to punish 99 innocents to get 1 guilty man. But that is exactly what we see here.

What is particularly disgusting to me is that in the US dispute the administration has mostly succeeded in pushing the dispute away from the immorality of torture, including waterboarding, to more practical aspects of avoiding later prosecution and question over the extent of executive power. The fate of the innocent 'tormentees' is beside the point. The dispute itself has degenerated to semantics games.

I suggest to read the novel, the "Der Streit um den Sergeanten Grischa", by Arnold Zweig, in English the title would be 'Dispute over Sergeant Grisha'. I don't know if there is a translation available.

We can agree to disagree (that moral realism is useless in practice, especially relative to modal realism!).

Thank you for all of your interesting comments.

:-)

Well, that's the problem Jared, really. You admit that you're "probably not willing to here make the more general case for my moral philosophy. It would be a long, weary and likely fruitless task", and that somehow this theory is supposed to be applied in a concrete way in the real world, even for merely assigning moral opprobrium? I mean, should everyone just study the history of moral philosophy for years until they develop the acumen to even approach the ability to discern true moral truth?

I'm afraid that moral realism is akin to its relative, modal realism. While philosophers may approve of it as a theory due to its philosophical utility, it has no practical application in the real world due to the natural human defect of fallibility.

So the firmer moral ground is that certain things are universal evils, like torture.

I wish to suggest to all the readers of this blog to connect to Dean L. Velvels comment (in his blog) the the SWJs Editors decided to move leaving the link to it as it is indeed a very long text. As Editors they cannot make comments, yet as reader I am free to do so and I thank Dean Velvel for this posting and the importance of his analysis of "Jack Goldsmiths new book, The Terror Presidency ("TP"), which deals mainly with Goldsmiths work as head of the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice. That is the office which opines for the government on whether actions it wishes to take are legal or not." It is connected to the discussion about torture and waterboarding Malcolm Nance wrote about in his post.

I will copy here a couple of paragraphs to give an idea of the value Dean Velvels analysis adds to the whole discussion that at times here seems to be splitting hairs rather than going to the core of the problem.

"Goldsmith left the government and joined Harvard at a time when two generally separate streams of events were occurring and, because of Goldsmith, were joined together to some extent at the Harvard Law School. One stream was that, even though the mainstream medias performance from 9/11 onward has generally been incompetent and dangerous to the nation, in 2004 a few reporters had discovered and were writing about horrible government misconduct including torture and renditions. From these reporters, and from cases filed by the ACLU, it became known that Americans were beating prisoners, sometimes unto death, were forcing them to kneel or squat for hours (these are "stress positions"), were administering and threatening electric shocks to the testicles, were threatening detainees with death and the murder of their families, were hanging them by their arms, were forcing them to lie on blistering hot surfaces, were keeping them naked in frigid cells, were denying them needed medical treatment, were threatening them with vicious dogs, were kidnapping people off the street in Europe and sending them to countries like Syria or Egypt to be tortured by authorities there, were operating secret prisons for interrogation and torture in places like Afghanistan, Thailand and eastern Europe, and were engaging in waterboarding, an ultimate torture used by the French in Algeria, the Argentines, and the Uruguayans. (A Uruguayan interrogator had said of waterboarding that '"there is something more terrifying than pain, and that is the inability to breathe.")

As all this became known, it also became clear -- from common sense, from the writing of a (now famous) CIA guy named Michael Scheuer, and from logical deductions -- that George Bush and others were blatantly lying when they denied that America was torturing people, and that the orders to commit torture came from the very top -- from Bush and Cheney -- notwithstanding denials. As well, though the media flatly refused to write about it, the torture ordered by the highest -- and culpable -- levels of our government constituted grave war crimes under international law, were felonious violations of two domestic statutes, and could be punished by up to life imprisonment and even by execution of the immediate perpetrators. As I say, the media flatly refused to write about that.
... ... ... ... ... .

From early on people in the CIA had been worried that the techniques they were using on prisoners might constitute crimes under international law and felonies punishable by up to life imprisonment or death under two domestic statues, the War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Act; (The New York Times, October 4, 2007, p. 42 (hereafter NYT Oct. 4).) The CIA, and other government officials were not motivated by respect for law, as Goldsmith sometimes tries to say in his book (TP, p. 131), and as he seems to have said in recent testimony before Congress. Rather, they were worried about grand juries, lawyers fees, prosecutions, jail. (TP, pp. 12, 68, NYT, Oct. 4, p. 22.) They were seeking - they were demanding -- protection against these possibilities which arose under international and domestic laws which were created to protect against repetition of abuses which had occurred in the past. (TP, pp. 90-91, 162, see 98, NYT, Oct. 4.) The CIAs lawyers wanted from OLC, and John Yoo gave them, opinions that provided protection. These opinions were called "a golden shield," a '"free get out of jail card," '"an advance pardon" because the OLC authoritatively, bindingly, opines for the federal government and, if the OLC says something is legal, then in future it will not be possible, or at least it will be very difficult, to successfully prosecute for the act. (TP, p. 149, NYT, Oct. 4, pp. 42-43.) While Goldsmith doesnt say so, and gives no sign of even having comprehended it although one is hard pressed to understand how such a smart guy could miss it, the hidden idea here is that the Nuremberg defense, which didnt work for the Germans, can be used by Americans, so that we have reneged on what we maintained at Nuremberg. In other words, if the OLC says we can lawfully waterboard someone, then government officials given the task can rely on this and not be prosecuted for waterboarding even though the entire rest of the world knows damn well that by waterboarding people we have tortured them. Goodbye Nuremberg."

Nuzzolillo:

Very briefly, no! I would never say that unethical action can be morally justified by circumstance. Instead, I am saying that most (all?) physical acts are amoral per se

Ah, my mistake. You dont believe there are sordid actions, just sordid intentions.

and that judging their ethical status requires one to understand a greater context beyond the physical act itself, including, but not limited to the intent of the actor, the actor's willingness to subjugate his moral judgment to reason and conscience, the prudence of the actor in taking actions that include the application of force, the ability of the actor to meet the preceding criteria, and so on. Note that these criteria do not change based on cultural, social, historical or personal circumstances, and it is those criteria that determine whether an act is moral or not.

The point I was making regarding all your numerous contingencies is that there is no objective moral mathematical equation to calculate all your variables at play, many of these variables being impossible to know unless you can somehow read minds or intimately know a persons life history. If there is a correlation between how evil the person being tortured and the level of torture allowed, as you assert, then how do you quantify this? How do you know the CIA torturers intentions are pure and that he does not get off on his sadism but is just good at hiding it. What if 50% of his intention is to get information, 20% is to get approval from his superior, and 30% is sadistic glee? How moral is the torture then? How do you possibly quantify how evil a person is? What if the person being tortured has saved many innocent lives in the past? Donated to charity? Does that count toward his goodness and subtract how much torture is allowed against him? Finally, do you really think torturers, American or otherwise, think in moral terms? Isnt the amount of torture allowed usually the amount of torture that gets something out of the prisoner? Isnt that really what youre supporting here, not people expressing careful prudence and conscience? With every post its becoming clearer that you cant answer my questions.

"Jared, the Nuremberg trials were not an exercise in moral relativism at all, quite the reverse."

Oh man. How can you possibly have reached that interpretation from my comments?

Oh well.

Jared, the Nuremberg trials were not an exercise in moral relativism at all, quite the reverse. Your entire argument is built on sand.

They were based upon the concept that certain things are absolutely evil, anywhere, anytime done by anyone, and specifically addressed the issue of legality, saying that legality - "just following orders" is NOT a defence.

This "gold standard" was subsequently enshrined in the international declaration of human rights. The USA was the prime mover in both the trials and the creation of the UN and the creation of the concept of human rights.

Torture is wrong, anyplace, anytime, no matter who does it, for whatever reason, and there is no way you can dress this up to make it smell morally sweeter.

Furthermore, as has been stated elsewhere, it fails in any utilitarian argument. It doesn't produce useful information and the threat of its application is well known to be generally perverted, as in at least one case currently before the courts, to manufacture false evidence to suit the investigators.

For people like me, who believed that the United States of America was beyond compare, the decent into detention in secret without trial, rendition and torture under the Bush Administration is simply shocking. It's exactly the same as discovering that your village priest is in fact a pederast.

Edited by SWJ Editors
Original comment was full text of this very long link, with no additional comment.

CurrentTV did a 10 minute segment on waterboarding, where correspondent Kaj Larsen gets himself waterboarded. I posted it on my site here.

Folks, how's the air up in the clouds?

Any plans to ever come back down to Earth????

Maimonedes,

Again, thank you for taking the time to write an interesting reply.

I defined my use of "moral relativism" above. I apologize if I have used the term incorrectly, though I think it's not far from the common vernacular usage, eg, as presented in wikipedia "In philosophy, moral relativism is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances.". Perhaps I misinterpreted his argument, but to paraphrase my understanding of it: torture is morally wrong because it is illegal -- just look at Nuremberg and you will see. To me, this is moral relativism, because it implies that torture is evil in the event that one's society has passed laws forbidding its use. So, as laws can differ across culture, time and place, there is no universal or absolute fact of the matter. He probably doesn't believe that that is the case, but one can deploy an argument without accepting or realizing its implications.

In any case, I admit that there are problems with this moral system and that my entire argument rests upon its truth. I do not, however, believe that any of problems of which I am aware render the system inconsistent or untrue.

zvelf,

Very briefly, no! I would never say that unethical action can be morally justified by circumstance. Instead, I am saying that most (all?) physical acts are amoral per se, and that judging their ethical status requires one to understand a greater context beyond the physical act itself, including, but not limited to the intent of the actor, the actor's willingness to subjugate his moral judgment to reason and conscience, the prudence of the actor in taking actions that include the application of force, the ability of the actor to meet the preceding criteria, and so on. Note that these _criteria_ do not change based on cultural, social, historical or personal circumstances, and it is those criteria that determine whether an act is moral or not.

All,

One of the (many) problems with this thread is that so many different arguments are developing simultaneously, and on very different subjects. There is the argument as to whether torture is an amoral act, whether any government -- or the US government in particular -- should be empowered to torture, whether moral realism is reasonable, whether one can discern moral truth, etc, etc. It is becoming difficult to determine which argument each person is making, and whether that is changing from thread to thread. I am especially guilty of this, tho at least in part because so many people have responded with diverse objections.

I also wanted to say that none of my comments were meant to offend. I am sorry if my manner is indeed what led some of the readers to believe that I was "trolling".

In any case, I am probably not willing to here make the more general case for my moral philosophy. It would be a long, weary and likely fruitless task.

I hope everyone enjoys their upcoming weekend.

Actually Jared, I think I understood you perfectly, at least based on what you wrote, which was:

"While the articles of the Nuremburg tribunal are certainly of historical and/or legal interest, it escapes me how they could change whether an act can morally justified (and to think otherwise would be to accept actual moral relativism; eg, that the law of a land can render an otherwise moral act immoral)."

Without getting into Searle-esque discussion of the valid meaning of a written or spoken statement, it was clear that you implied the acceptance of the proposition that legal disposition implies moral judgment is representative of moral relativism. That is not the definition of moral relativism; moral relativism is the belief that differing moral systems can arrive at equally valid moral conclusions based on the same circumstances.

What you did was graft the interlocutor's contention that similar acts committed by the Nazis were considered war crimes and punishable by death to your insistence on sticking to the morality of it to create two conclusions which are not valid based on what he said: 1. that the judgments at Nuremberg represented a moral rather than legal judgments and 2. that legal judgments are dispositive of moral findings. While he may have believed both of them, I see no evidence in his posting that he does. Or as lawyers are prone to say, 'assumes facts not in evidence'.

More important though, it appears you are a moral realist, at least based on this statement:

"My claim (with regards to objective/relative morality) is that there is a universal, timeless and firm fact of the matter as to whether any particular act is moral or not. But that fact can only be discerned by taking into consideration the motivation behind the act; that, generally speaking, a description of an act that omits the mental state of the actor is not sufficient to determine whether an act is justified morally."

That's certainly a reasonably defensible opinion, and it's been believed by many for thousands of years. That doesn't mean that it's not without its problems, and isn't in some ways inferior to other belief systems such as moral relativism, moral skepticism etc.

For example, there is the problem of discernability, which involves the belief that though there may exist immutable moral truths, the ability of humans to determine what they are is highly questionable. This is what ultimately turned people away from situational ethics. The judgment of the actor is dependent upon the consideration of all implications of an action. Since everyone admits there are unintended consequences to just about every action, many have come to doubt the ability of people to discern objective moral truths with regard to any dilemma. Because while reasonableness demands that we understand people can't always see the consequences of their actions, moral objectivism can brook no doubt; it lays claim to moral *truth*, after all.

Moreover, while I agree that the mental state of the actor is a necessary component of determining morality, it is not sufficient. In your example, suppose there are small kids running all around the gun range. Would not the reasonably determined level of risk outweigh the lack of intention on his part to shoot the child? What if in the past kids had used the place to play hide and seek?

You also have an implicit infinite regression problem with moral realism. That is, for every act that intends a good, G, one might plausibly have to commit a bad, B. This must be true because you imply that there is a *right* answer for the actor in every moral dilemma - that is, the ends justify the means. Setting aside the inherent problem of explaining how you determine what is good and what is bad, your system necessitates a greatest good, G, or worst bad, B, such that there is at least one B which is so bad that nothing can justify it, and some G which is so good that anything can be justified in its pursuit. So you will need to set the very boundaries that you seem loathe to accept from those who say torture is always wrong. They are saying it explicitly; torture is always wrong.

I could go on, but I think that the essential problem is one of human fallibility. And the further afield one is from the *generally accepted* fifty-yard-line of moral behavior, the more difficult it is for the great mass in the middle of the field to distinguish just what is going on down by the end zone. The safest course, therefore, is to set some boundary, say the twenty yard line, beyond which we won't stray, even if it means making a hundred-to-one touchdown saving tackle.

Nuzzolillo digging the hole deeper:

You said "I think that most evil people don't believe they're evil, just 'doing what needs to be done for the greater good'". This is the crucial place where we differ, at least in part. The denizens of jihad should know better, and that they don't (or more correctly, that they refuse to admit that they do know better) is indicative of supreme and vile moral weakness. They are unwilling to follow their conscience, most likely due to a lack of courage, or perhaps at times as an excuse to seek revenge unfettered by moral constraints. Each time they raise their hand in violence, I suspect that deep, deep inside them, their conscience screams and they willingly deafen their ears to it. They fear being outcast from their community, disowned, and in many cases, killed for apostasy.

There are so many erroneous or unprovable assumptions going on in this paragraph that I dont know where to begin.

Instead, I am arguing that the use of ever-escalating levels of force can be justified if and only if one has been rationally convinced that their opponent is evil

This statement is the clearest example of the absurdity of your argument. Youre saying if good people do sordid acts, its okay, but if bad people do it, then its not. Hmm, what determines whether someone is good or bad? Could it be whether they perform sordid acts? Youve decided to remove morality from the action being performed to who is doing it, which is totally at odds with the moral absolutism you claim to embrace.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this position, is that it is very similar to what most people believe in practice. People like to say that lying is wrong, but when they learn that the liar was lying to save his family from a murderer, they decide that his lying was morally justified. People are quick to say that killing is wrong, but almost without fail make exceptions for accidental killing or self-defense. The common man will decry stealing, but hails as hero the courageous soldier who captures a supply depot. And so and so on. The common arch here is that one cannot accurately discern the moral status of an act without knowing the intent of the actor.

Nuzzolillo, you are assuming what you are trying to prove. Contrary to what you say, I think moral absolutists would claim that lying is wrong but its less wrong than letting your family be murdered. Another poster already made this point with your argument. Frankly, this appeal to "what most people believe in practice" is hypocritical when youre also making claims that appeals to legality are irrelevant since what is legal in a democracy is usually what most people believe in practice.

Forget about your extremely unrealistic "what if a child stepped in front of a target-range shooter who would have to be ludicrously negligent" example. Ill point out the absurdity of your argument with a simple one based on something that really happened. KSM was captured. According to you torture is okay depending on the circumstances and the intentions of the people involved. As you say, "I am arguing that the use of ever-escalating levels of force can be justified if and only if one has been rationally convinced that their opponent is evil." Just how evil is KSM? Do you know precisely? What level of "ever escalating" force is allowed to correspond to this level of KSMs evil? Waterboarding is okay to you. What about putting out his eyes? Cutting out his tongue? What about dismembering all his fingers and toes? Genital mutiliation? Peeling off his skin? According to you, the moral agent will know precisely how evil the subject of his torture is and know exactly the level of "ever escalating" force that can be applied accordingly. Since your morality is objective, not subjective, there must be rules written somewhere for this, right? Or is it really just each persons judgment call and youre putting your faith in the torturer because hes one of us and not one of them?

"For those of among the readership who might take something away from what I have written, take only this: before you condemn the men and women in the difficult position of deciding when or when not to escalate force; before you decide once and for all that some category of action is always immoral and off limits; before you tie the hands of the government that is ostensibly here to protect us, be sure you have given this subject grave and careful thought, for it is of the utmost importance."

Thank you for advisory about giving the subject careful thought...I have, and I don't see how anyone who has issues with waterboarding as torture is condemning anyone.

Waterboarding is torture, and thus wrong.

I could easily torture a pedophile who confessed to the whereabouts of my missing daughter. I could bring myself to end his life after I extracted that information, in fact. I would fully expect that I would be jailed, tried, and perhaps sentenced, b/c what I did was against the law.

A professional staff non-commissioned officer I know frames life pretty easily. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. Sometimes it is that black and white, whether we want to spend hours defining morality.

Mr. Protevi, thank you for your excellent breakdown of the "intellectual" internet troll. It very clearly explains the debate techniques employed by someone who very clearly "gets under my skin."

And just to head off the claim that the essential commonality among my examples is instead that the actors are engaged in battle, consider instead for a moment the hypothetical example of a man who fires a gun at a target while at the gun range. Just as he fires, a child steps out in front of the gun, is struck by the bullet and dies. Is the shooter guilty of an evil act? Of course not, and it is only knowledge of his intent (shooting a target at a gun range) that leads to understanding the moral status of his act. This scenario doesn't need to be likely for it to support my claim; instead, it need only be logically possible that the scenario could occur.

Maimonedes,

Thank you for contributing an interesting comment.

I am pretty sure you've misunderstood me. I said "and to think otherwise would be to accept actual moral relativism; eg, that the law of a land can render an otherwise moral act immoral". In other words, the legality of an act has literally no bearing on whether the act is immoral. I was giving an example of moral relativism that I outright reject.

My claim (with regards to objective/relative morality) is that there is a universal, timeless and firm fact of the matter as to whether any particular act is moral or not. But that fact can only be discerned by taking into consideration the motivation behind the act; that, generally speaking, a description of an act that omits the mental state of the actor is not sufficient to determine whether an act is justified morally.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this position, is that it is very similar to what most people believe in practice. People like to say that lying is wrong, but when they learn that the liar was lying to save his family from a murderer, they decide that his lying was morally justified. People are quick to say that killing is wrong, but almost without fail make exceptions for accidental killing or self-defense. The common man will decry stealing, but hails as hero the courageous soldier who captures a supply depot. And so and so on. The common arch here is that one cannot accurately discern the moral status of an act without knowing the intent of the actor.

This does not, as far as I can tell, imply that there is not a fact of the matter as to whether any specific act is evil or good; instead, it suggests that that fact is in large part determined by intent (but I would stress that proper moral action requires not just 'good intention' but also: the responsibility to be prudent in moral judgments, especially those bearing on the application of force; the necessity that one be entirely willing to accept what reason and conscience dictate; etc...).

There are some problems with this approach to moral "philosophy", but I have yet to encounter an approach that better explains proper moral reasoning.

While all of this might seem like it is dreadfully off topic, it is crucial to understanding my argument that the act of torture per se is amoral (provided one does not define "torture" in a manner similar to "_sadistically_ inflicting great pain upon another").

As always, best wishes.

Null

The Arab street views us with the same level of hypocrisy that the US street views them. I am however a tad concerned about taking moral pointers from people who view stoning as a solution to adultery and tipping a rock wall on a person as a definitive cure for homosexuality. Hmmm that's it! Iran and the UAE sent all their queers to the Taliban.

The arguments for an against torture quickly turn into intellectual masturbation. American prisoners in the present conflicts will be treated just as badly pre,post or present water boarding. To say other wise ignores the facts on the ground.

To say that American Jurisprudence will collapse because KSM got a boo boo or some other dirtball got an attitude adjustment from the Egyptians is just plain silly. Go to your local VFW or RSL and buy a shot and a beer for some of the greatest generation and then sit back and listen to the loving and patient way they treated captured Germans and Japanese. We survived WWII, the Civil War and other challenges this too will pass.

Torture is an ugly business, a bit of both parties souls are taken, much like killing. However there are times when we as a society or a tribe must say that the rules are now a bit different or we will no longer have any rules at all.

Aleph Null,

"I'm asking that if someone says that it can be moral to 'do whatever it takes to win' sometimes, then what differentiates us from 'the bad guys' if we both will resort to torture or worse, and call it moral."

I don't know if others are saying that, but I know I am not. Instead, I am arguing that the use of ever-escalating levels of force can be justified if and only if one has been rationally convinced that their opponent is evil and that he is extremely likely to be withholding information that could be used to protect innocents.

This is why one could arguably be justified in torturing, say, KSM, but not in torturing, say, a Pashtun who has never left his valley and knows only that someone has come to attack him in his home. That Pashtun is not necessarily evil, and accordingly must be treated with all of the courtesies afforded to a traditional prisoner of war.

This criterion is also what rules out al Qaeda's capture and justified torture of one of our soldiers. They must have a high degree of certainty that our soldier's intent in fighting them is evil before they could contemplate escalating force. Then they'd need to be able to justify that the reason that they seek to torture him is just -- ie, that their goal in torturing him is noble. And al Qaeda would never be able to justify that they are noble given their goals and methods (including attacking and torturing those that are not evil!).

I should also say that taking the minimum action needed to defend oneself, when it is not reasonably clear whether an attacker is acting morally, could be justified. But once the threat has been removed, one could not justify further escalation of force without possessing a high degree of certainty that the attacker had evil intentions and that the attacker is withholding information that could be used in the defense of oneself or others.

This line of reasoning assumes that the actors in question do not have an anomalous condition that prevents them from differentiating between right and wrong, should they be willing to do so. If humans do not have such an ability, than I don't think one can justify violence in any case -- even self-defense -- because one would not know if self-defense is moral.

I am tired, so please forgive me the sorry state of this comment.

I think there are a number of problems with Jared Nuzolillo's argument.

The most glaring one, to me, is made stark by his misunderstanding of moral relativism, as evidenced by his implication that "the law of a land can render an otherwise moral act immoral", a potential he decries when admonishing another poster against using the Nuremberg rules as a moral yardstick. This is incorrect. The law of a land is immaterial in considerations of morality. That is, laws may be moral, but not necessarily. The question is how the determination of whether a particular act is moral or not, not whether it is legal.

This is in one sense consistent because Mr. Nuzolillo attempts to confine the discussion to what is moral, not what is legal, but it is also odd because Mr. Nuzolillo seems to be making an argument of moral permissibility (or perhaps moral compulsion) to torture, based, as he says, on the circumstances. This is in fact the definition of moral relativism. Whereas moral absolutism says that particular acts are always immoral, moral relativism says that the answer to whether a given act is moral or not is 'it depends on the circumstances'.

I think the more useful distinction here would be one of deontological vs. consequential ethics. Deontological ethics, which have a strong tradition in religions such as Catholicism, hold that certain acts are immoral in and of themselves (in the example of Catholicism, usually because they offend God).

Consequentialism, on the other hand, holds that the morality or immorality of an act is determined by weighing the outcomes, good and bad, of performing that particular act. It is therefore compatible with the matching of means and ends which Mr. Nuzolillo attempts here.

Personally, I think Mr. Nuzolillo is correct in his method of separating law and morality but wrong in the conclusions he draws.

Because the law is designed to protect our rights and to determine explicitly what powers may be exercised and when by the government, it is dangerous to give the ability to torture the imprimatur of legal sanction. In fact, if one wishes to make the case that, morally, there are circumstances which torture is justified, the law should provide no safe harbor whatsoever. This would serve to make the moral profundity of the potential torturer's action even clearer: despite the risk to himself and his freedom, he did what he must do, and will suffer the consequences of the law, come what may. If we ask our people in uniform to die to protect us and our rights, why is it unreasonable to ask them to risk potential prosecution for stepping over the line?

I personally find the possibility that this could ever realistically be a plausible scenario (as others have pointed out elsewhere, the possibility of the ticking time bomb, we KNOW we have the right person, etc. all coming to pass are negligible), but I suppose one could construct some extreme scenario whereby it could be argued that that is the duty of the interrogator, but extremely unlikely hypotheticals make bad law.

Speaking strictly morally, the admonition to never torture is actually more defensible, because it is a more consistent position e.g. no moral relativism or situational ethics required to explain - it's just a bedrock principle of human rights, moral absolute etc. This just begs a whole larger discussion of why it's a bedrock principle, how do you determine what are good underpinnings to your ethics, Divine Command Theory etc. There is a lot more to say here, for which I don't have the time...

Just my $.02 for now.

@ Dbltap:

I don't think you caught the gist of my argument. I'm not talking about how things are, I'm talking about how the Muslim world views us.

I'm not sure if Japan is targeted by radical Muslims in the same way, as there is also no history between them. (Well, there is a history between Japan and some eastern countries that are now muslim, I think, but there have never been religious wars between them. Maybe that makes a difference.)

Radical Muslims see the Americas and Europe as the source of these evils. Muslim countries may have porn, but is is not accepted and flaunted as it is here, and muslims would say it's because we tainted the world. Doesn't have to be reality, but it is how they see it.

I'm asking that if someone says that it can be moral to "do whatever it takes to win" sometimes, then what differentiates us from "the bad guys" if we both will resort to torture or worse, and call it moral.

Or something like that. I'm all pissed out now, and low on vinegar.

he majority of the world's wealth is held by us, without sharing with the poor, as we should, if we followed Christ's example. "Christian" society produces most of the world's pornography, violent and "offensive" media, etc. Because there is no separation of faith and day-to-day life in the East, they think the same of Western countries, and view "Christians" as hypocrites.

The quality of Arab porn is actually quite high, not nearly as widely distributed as western porn, but there is a very enthusiastic audience. In terms of violent and offensive porn and media, that decidedly unchristian Japan leaves everyone else in the dust. Religious hypocrites should actually just be run together like a big German word as I tend to use them in that fashion.

SWJED - thanks - I've been the biggest violator of civility. Military folks like to be civil and polite even when it isn't easy. I have nothing civil to add to this discussion because I am so angry about this topic. I'll lurk quietly - I really appreciate this opportunity to comment on this dreadful topic.

"victims of torture like Senator John McCain. If you want consistent, accurate and reliable intelligence, be inquisitive, analytical, patient but most of all professional, amiable and compassionate."

Would Sen. McCain have betrayed his country more if the interrogators had been inquisitive, analytical, patient, professional, amiable and compassionate? Would he then have taken that early release he was offered? As he has already said he broke under torture and revealed information that he should not have, it seems that he is trying to have this argument both ways. Torture does not work, except when it does.

I think this entire discussion also leaves out the purpose of torture. While it is possible to get information, both accurately and timely, from torture, it is not very reliable. However releasing human zombies into the society from which they came, broken tortured men, you do achieve a certain,powerful, level of control. This is rarely addressed, and is by far the most effective use of torture. The information is trivial in the big picture, the cold deep fear that it instills in anyone who dares cross them, is to quote Master Card,priceless.

Jared:
I can't say what I would believe if I were born into Afghanistan or Iraq, but I've talked to people who lived and worked within muslim countries for years, and many (I won't say most, as I'm not sure of the numbers) see that the reason for the world's inequality of wealth, suffering, etc. is due to the hypocrisy of the "Christian" west. The majority of the world's wealth is held by us, without sharing with the poor, as we should, if we followed Christ's example. "Christian" society produces most of the world's pornography, violent and "offensive" media, etc. Because there is no separation of faith and day-to-day life in the East, they think the same of Western countries, and view "Christians" as hypocrites. I can then see how some people, already with very little if anything to lose, can become entrenched in "Jihad" idealism, trying to overthrow the shackles that they see the West has put on the Muslim world. I feel that many suicide bombers are probably uneducated, and brainwashed by someone with authority that this is for the greater good of mankind, and not someone who does it because they "hate freedom".

Anyways, I'd still like to hear an argument on how we can torture, and not sink down to a level where we can "prove" that we are the good guys, even to someone of a different perspective (convince that they're on the wrong side, like some Germans who realized that their beliefs were wrong).

I really don't have the time to do clean-ups in aisles 1, 2, 3 and 4. Keep it civil - last warning. I've done some clean-up, will do some more and probably missed several. Bottom-line - clean-up means delete.

Thanks for understanding folks.

Aleph,

Thanks again.

You said "I think that most evil people don't believe they're evil, just 'doing what needs to be done for the greater good'". This is the crucial place where we differ, at least in part. The denizens of jihad _should_ know better, and that they don't (or more correctly, that they refuse to admit that they do know better) is indicative of supreme and vile moral weakness. They are unwilling to follow their conscience, most likely due to a lack of courage, or perhaps at times as an excuse to seek revenge unfettered by moral constraints. Each time they raise their hand in violence, I suspect that deep, deep inside them, their conscience screams and they willingly deafen their ears to it. They fear being outcast from their community, disowned, and in many cases, killed for apostasy.

If one doubts the worthiness of their cause, they _should_ suspend violent action until such time as that doubt can be eliminated.

I suspect some of the men I have in mind have conditioned themselves to not respond to their souls own prodding. Having done this, they have accepted moral culpability for all of the future acts that this most grave and terrible decision enables.

One of my favorite phrases from the Bible is "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, *who suppress the truth in unrighteousness*". Whether or not one believes that the Bible is true, or that this verse is factual in the context that it was intended, is wholly immaterial to my reason for mentioning it. That phrase, "men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness", most powerfully, succinctly and artfully communicates my stance on this subject.

Best wishes, always.

Thanks for answering, Anna.

1. Perhaps I wasnt clear enough with my first question. I apologize.

Using your example, a broken clock might be exactly right twice a day, but it is NOT an effective predictor of time. A sun dial might be more than 50% useless (at night and during cloudy days) and never be exactly right, however, under certain conditions, it is very effective predictor of time. These conditions are easy to identify (sun is shining) before a prediction is made so that the predictor can have confidence in the prediction.

In fact, studying seasonal response to the sun dial would increase its efficacy. Therefore, earlier users (before seasonal studies were performed) of the sun dial wouldnt have the accuracy benefit of the seasonal knowledge.

You had stated,

"we have a VERY GOOD idea of how torture works, and when it is effective"

and you stated,

"in the rarest cases will torture provide reliable information."

So I assumed that you were implying that there are conditions under which torture was considered effective (much like my sun dial example). However, according to your description of your answer, it sounds as if you did not mean to imply this (despite your, "Yes" answer. I wasnt trying to catch you on the scientific definition of efficacy.

2. Thank you for providing those sources. It is very greatly appreciated. I will certainly attempt to reference them and study their scientific approaches. Until then, I dont feel comfortable making any assertions regarding the effectiveness of torture. However, I will still feel comfortable commenting on the credibility of assertions of others.

Corkie,

1. Yes, I am saying that, in the sense that 'even a broken watch is right twice a day'. Even ineffective techniques will on rare occasions turn up information. This is not an argument for using them as a matter of policy, and it is not a point in favor of using torture techniques. In the vast majority of cases, interrogators will waste time, money, and effort on torturing when other methods of interrogation or information gathering would have been more efficacious. But it would be dishonest to deny that torture *ever* works. Almost never works? Yes. But never (full stop) is a very long time.

2. I was referring to Mr. Nance specifically when I said 'experts like these', as he makes reference in his essay to having made a study of torture techniques and their efficacy through various recent wars. But if you want other experts, or references to surveys of torture techniques through various historical periods, I would point you in the direction of Edward Peters' book "Torture", which, though a little dated now, is nonetheless an excellent survey of early torture methods, continuing up through Vietnam and Korea. More recently, look to reports from Amnesty International (start with the pamphlet "Torture in the Eighties", and move up to the yearly reports which have been published for the last two decades) for good, broad overviews. AI generally attempts to document the types and frequency of torture techniques in use by various nations. To get deeper into the topic, it helps to have a letter from a university or the government (or both), which would open doors to foriegn government archives for the reports I mentioned above.

I'm late to this, but what a great post -- factual, logical and devastating. Thank you for your service to our country, both in the military and with this post.

Stay on topic. I've had several requests to close comments because of flippant remarks.

Moreover, I'm not going to allow any attacking the messenger posts. We pride ourselves at SWJ on professional discourse - maintain that standard here and we will keep this discussion open. For those that saw fit to launch a personal attack - I'm deleting your posts.

Do you believe it is necessary to actually have a genocide in order to compare the methods embraced by this administration which are similar and/or equal to those "of by Hitler, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Galtieri and Saddam Hussein."?

Yes, as anything else only displays either a weak command of English or a shocking lack of historical perspective. Since the author is also responsible for gems like " Now our enemies will take the gloves off and thank us for it" it is difficult to determine if the problem lies in lack of education or willful ignorance.

@Jared N:
I still look forward to an example where killing in self-defence would be immoral (and I don't think I'll accept "what if you're -insert monster who isn't Hitler or Pol Pot here-?" as that's too easy, and I think that most evil people don't believe they're evil, just "doing what needs to be done for the greater good". I'm looking for arguments that prove that we are good, or at least better than the side we are fighting/torturing/killing, outside of the us vs. them perspective that we all have. I want an argument (dammit, I always spell argument with an extra e) that, if the situation was reversed, and the Muslims were the west and the Christians the East (that's how they see us, anyways), that I would see that torture of Americans was sometimes/always/never justified, or the same with terror tactics, ICBMs. I'm looking for a TOE for morality here, people!

Also, I went to monsieur Protevi's blog, and whereas I didn't defend your viewpoint, I did defend your civility and attacked his lack of arguement. Dammit, I say that philosopher's are only good for conversation, so make an argument. Otherwise, what good are you at a party? "What is reality? You wouldn't know, so get me a drink!"

As far as where I'm coming from, most of the time I ask "what would Jesus do?", but sometimes I say "who would I kick the crap out of?", or "what wouldn't the church do?" (this one is, unfortunately, the same as the WWJD? answer...) Leaders must sometimes make unsavoury (I'm canadian, so excuse the spelling) decisions, but they also have to live with these sins (I'm sure someone said something about this, so I'll wrongly attribute it to Churchill, as he was a great source of quotes).

Also, I also don't think too much before I post (ADD does have a couple of drawbacks), but I'm humble, and have no problem admitting when I said something stupid ;) So if I say something stupid, let me know, people! I'm here to serve.

I found the article persuasive, but was troubled by a lingering thought, and found courage in what Mr. Nuzzolillo wrote.

To summarize: Nothing is evil of itself, but the spirit in which it is done.

In a natural world, if my wife or daughter were taken from me, I would stop at nothing to get her back. I would beg, steal, torture, maim, kill. In that order, until my objective were attained. And I would be at peace with God in doing so.

Anna,

1. You stated,

"only in the rarest cases will torture provide reliable information that was inattainable (sic) by other, less violent means"

Are you saying that torture IS effective in rare cases?

2. You also stated,

"So when experts like this say 'It doesn't work', they aren't just relaying anecdotes based on personal experience. They're talking about the collective experience of thousands of people, in thousands of different situations."

I doubt that everyone who states "it doesnt work" is an expert and basing it on the collective experience of thousands of people. So, who are these experts that ARE basing their statements on the collective experience of thousands of people? Also, is there any way you can share or at least convey their research methods?

"To defeat Bin Laden many in this administration have openly embraced the methods of by Hitler, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Galtieri and Saddam Hussein."

For the love of God can we PLEASE ban the Pol Pot and Hitler comparisons until we actually have a genocide in place? Or does that take all the fun out of it?

Eddie, who is currently behind the Great Navy Firewall, has 10 questions on torture.

NAd again, i put to the military people here, as a NATO ally: Do you really want a independent torture unit? Its all very very early Stalin, and we know how it went with the Red Army generals in 1920. What will you do when the tsjeka comes for you?

Anna S: Well put, I second you.

For another twenty-year veteran leaving in disgust, see http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15783244

Dan, I wish'd I'd said what you just said,
here these Authoritarian Scholars are accusing anyone who's against torture of endangering national security.

"America has to torture, because otherwise the terrorists are going to blow up Los Angeles"

"Now, I'm not saying don't tell the truth - just think about it and be careful - because if you tell the truth you're helping the terrorists"

"Don't oppose torture, because I don't care how much you've served your country, if you oppose torture you're attacking our troops".

And we all know these kinds of arguments, we've heard them over and over and over again, from these kinds of people - many of them in high office.

Those who would rather see LA hit by a nuclear weapon and send Jack Bauer to prison for trying to get information to stop it have made their moral choice and if they are not in LA at the time the bomb goes off will have to live with their feelings of moral superiority.

If LA is blown up by a nuclear weapon it will be because some Jack Bauer-wannabe is wasting time torturing a suspect instead of doing something that would actually be effective in stopping such a plot from succeeding.

If that happens I just hope you'll be able to live with knowing that your sadistic thrills came at the cost of the lives of millions of American citizens.

I just want to say thank you for saying this. I wrote a doctoral dissertation on the history of torture recently, and although the dissertation was begun before the release of the Bush Torture Memos, I suddenly found myself embroiled in a very of-the-moment topic. The most frustrating thing about watching our country lose its honor has been that I know better than what the politicians have told us. It's written in every interview of former torturers or interrogation personnel, in every textbook and scholarly investigation of the subject, in every worldwide survey of technique use and effectiveness: torture is NOT a reliable source of information. It is impossible to get accurate information quickly with torture techniques; all it accomplishes is to open our own personnel to torture in retaliation. It's been painful to see our country make this mistake, and I thank you, as someone to whom people will listen, for speaking out to try and correct some of the gross misapprehensions that have crept into this 'debate' that should never have been.

I wish that posters on this thread would take the time to inform themselves before offering opinions. Several times, I've seen people mention 'How do we *know* that torture/waterboarding is ineffective? They *say* it works, so we should use it, it save lives.' The answer to the question there is simple. There is a LOT of documentation about torture techniques, going all the way back to the pre-medieval period. Torturers have written about their craft, victims have written about their circumstances, prisoners have written letters to families and interrogators have written reports for judicial bodies (yes, for a long time torture was a legitimate part of the judicial process for most of Europe. This was beofre forensics was invented. When forensics did come about, every country that had been using torture dropped it from their judicial slate. Why? Because they found that it was producing inaccurate evidence.). From the French judicial torturers alone, there are over 10,000 pages of manuscripts discussing various techniques, their efficacy, and the length of time it takes to gain 'good' information from them. More recently, governments and NGOs have made extensive efforts to document torture in both war and peace times, from the perspective of victims, torturers, and the bureaucrats that act on information produced. Vietnam alone produced thousands of anecdotes and hundreds of written reports from interrogators. Korea was similarly well-documented, thousands of interviews and written records. The Japanese government kept meticulous records of their interrogations during WWII. There is a beautifully and chillingly clear written record of the Armenian torture regimes under French colonization. Egypt, France, China, Cuba, various African and South American countries: all of these have (within the last 70 years) been involved in extensive torture operations, and kept written records. The victim's perspective in all of this have been filled in by interviews conducted by the UN, various governments (often in preparation for trials about recompense to victims), and human rights organizations like Amnesty Intl and the Red Cross. Lest you be laboring under the mistaken idea that torture techniques are secret and not well understood, let me make this clear: we have a VERY GOOD idea of how torture works, and when it is effective. So when experts like this say 'It doesn't work', they aren't just relaying anecdotes based on personal experience. They're talking about the collective experience of thousands of people, in thousands of different situations. Despite this, the conclusion doesn't change: only in the rarest cases will torture provide reliable information that was inattainable by other, less violent means. Over and over, people say, "We got it wrong, and we lost a little of our humanity in the process."

It. Doesn't. Work.

President Bush has stated that "America does not torture." I'm prepared to accept that.

Mr Nance states that "Waterboarding is torture." I'm prepared to accept that.

Mr Nance states "Is There a Place for the Waterboard? Yes. The waterboard must go back to the realm of SERE training our operators, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines." I can accept that. I'd call this "limited waterboarding".

The difference between "waterboarding" and "limited waterboarding" should be subject to careful definition. Perhaps Mr Nance can provide a suitable legally enforceable definition.

These considerations may influence Mr Mukasey's reluctance to be drawn on the details of the subject, particularly given Congress's inability to provide clear legislated guidelines.

Waterboarding Instruction Video on Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GcXl1y_mQw

This is a video that good people will not want to watch. If you enjoy this video it's a good bet that you're psychotic.

Careful, now don't ever tell anybody the truth about this video, because if you do, you're helping Al Qaida.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/05/AR200710...

Money quote:

"We did it with a certain amount of respect and justice," said John Gunther Dean, 81, who became a career Foreign Service officer and ambassador to Denmark.

The interrogators had standards that remain a source of pride and honor.

"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."

If we didn't stoop to the level of the Nazis, why should we stoop to that of a bunch of criminals?

Nuzzo, No Americans accept Al Qaida's propaganda, or any version of it. Rejecting the Authoritarian Conservative pro-torture pro-waterboarding propagand of You, Bush, Cheney, Thompson, Giuliani, Romney, and other Republicans, IS NOT equivalent to accepting Al Qaida's propaganda in any way. Besides, your comments were addressed to a SERE instructor, who certainly does not embrace ANY VERSION of Al Qaida propaganda whatsoever.