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January 07, 2005

Torture

Greg Djerejian writes:

THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH: Torture, Again: I am a pragmatist. I know and feel Gonzalez is going to get the nod. To pillory him and make his hearings an anti-torture crusade, spearheaded by everyone from the ACLU to a few rogue Republican senators--and then still have him confirmed, well, it will accomplish little. What is needed is a dispassionate hearing that neverthless delves deeply into the issues raised by, for instance, the August '02 memo. But this torture story is so much bigger than Alberto Gonzalez. Trust me. Let's not make his (non)confirmation a referendum on whether organ failure has to occur for something to be called torture. Gonzalez should never have lent the White House Counsel's office to such morally defunct and, too boot, poor legal advice. But there aren't any Dean Achesons around, alas. And trying to Bork Gonzalez in some Washington firestorm simply isn't the best way to get to the bottom of the torture scandals that look to grow and grow. Put differently, and if you were really looking to go for the jugular, this just ain't the right time for an attempted TKO. Keep (at least some) of the powder dry--or risk a setback in getting to the real bottom of how widespread torture has been during the post 9/11 era through Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan and likely points beyond.

OK, Greg. But when? I'll wait for you to give the word.

Posted by DeLong at January 7, 2005 08:33 AM

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Tracked on January 11, 2005 07:46 AM

Comments

Well, at least he admits it is a scandal. For conservatives, that's progress.

Posted by: Billmon at January 7, 2005 08:54 AM


I say fuck all this mealy-mouthed holding back crap. He makes some valid points, but these blazing assholes from hell are driving everyone insane. We have to stomp on the cockroaches we can reach.

The other side is out to hang our entrails on the fence. There may never BE another time to do the "sensible" thing. Bork the bastard if you can, bork 'em ALL, pull out all the stops. It's not going to get better if we wait.

Posted by: John H. Farr at January 7, 2005 09:41 AM


If torture isn't enough for you to stand up and say, "Hold it right there, we've gone far enough", how about the imperial presidency. According to Gonzalez, all Bush needed to do to protect those prosecuted for torture was to issue an executive order allowing the torture. At the confirmation hearings he refused to acknowledge that the pres. is bound by the law. This is somebody who should be the govt's head law ENFORCEMENT officer? This isn't worth opposing? If Congress and the people assent to this guy being AG, then I was obviously wrong about thinking that all the comments about George's upcoming "coronation" were sarcasm

Posted by: Dick(no, not that one) at January 7, 2005 10:01 AM


During WWII Chiang Kai-shek successively abandoned position after position, until he finally ended up taking refuge in China's smallest and most isolated province, Taiwan. Strategic withdrawal can be the right thing to do, but it can't be the only move you have.

We're now fighting bravely to protect Social Security, a 70-year-old program, and asking ourselves how many Democrats will jump ship even on this.

Posted by: John Emerson at January 7, 2005 10:01 AM


To quote JFK - 'If not us, who? If not now, when?'

Not to mention that if Congress ever decides to investigate the hows, whats and who knew of US 'non-organ failure' camps and operations, guess who will be in charge of gathering evidence, testimonies and designating the possible (as if) special prosecutor?

Posted by: linnen at January 7, 2005 10:41 AM


I think his point is not so much "not now" not "not here".

Hijacking confirmation hearings to be about something else is seen (90% correctly) as weaselly and passive-aggressive. When the subtext becomes the text, you're more likely to get the (negative) response from the general public on the issue that Greg and Glenn are warning about.

There needs to be a debate on torture and what is and is not acceptable, but it needs to be done in congress proper, and it needs to be done now, aside from the Gonzalez hearing. But as Greg points out, the question should be brought up, but specifically and in the context of the proceeding, not as a general "torture be bad and so are you" spectacle.

Posted by: Brian W. Doss at January 7, 2005 11:00 AM


To pillory him and make his hearings an anti-torture crusade, spearheaded by everyone from the ACLU to a few rogue Republican senators--and then still have him confirmed, well, it will accomplish little.

Yeah, really, what is the point in fighting against evil and injustice? Keep the powder dry.

Posted by: a at January 7, 2005 11:03 AM


"trying to Bork Gonzalez in some Washington firestorm simply isn't the best way to get to the bottom of the torture scandals that look to grow and grow"

Gack, this is such a Democratic thing to say -- "let's wait for the right time to make a stink". Oh come on, admit it, Democrats just don't know how to be attack dogs the same way that Republicans do. If this were the other way around the Republicans would be attacking on all fronts at the same time -- big, little and nothing at all -- not waiting around for the "right time".

Over and over again Democrats get their a--es whupped because they're too polite to be on message all the time.

Time to draw a line in the sand, and EVERYTHING that crosses the line gets the same treatment -- attack, attack, attack.

Posted by: Frank Leahy at January 7, 2005 11:10 AM


This is how America ends.

Posted by: stevem at January 7, 2005 11:46 AM


He's wrong. The right time was ages ago.

During our training and support of torturers in Central America during the 80s would have been on opportunity among many, many others.

The time is now. And there is no volume loud enough. The GOP has become the party of torture and deficits. And they are making the USA into a rogue nation.

Posted by: Tim B. at January 7, 2005 11:54 AM


The fundamental question here is: "How many American lives are to be risked so that no terrorist is ever forced to disclose intelligence pertaining to plans to kill said Americans?"

If you're totally against any force or coercion to make terrorists talk, then have the balls to say how many American lives you are willing to forfeit for not obtaining information when it might be readily available.

Any takers? (You may round off your submissions to the nearest 100 American lives.)

Posted by: Lawrence at January 7, 2005 12:19 PM


Hey Lawrence, you know, maybe that's not the fundamental question. Maybe the fundamental question is "How many American lives are to be risked by unreliable information elicited through torture?"

Or maybe the fundamental question is "How many American lives are to be risked by the increased anti-American sentiment generated by the use of torture?"

Or maybe the fundamental question is "How many potentially innocent or ignorant subjects do we want to torture in the off chance that we might torture one who actually has some useful information?"

Or...

So many fundamental questions.

Posted by: Strange Doctrines at January 7, 2005 12:30 PM


"This is how America ends."

This is very true and will happen sooner rather than later, unless Americans step forward and clearly voice their opposition to the nation's slow drift toward accepting torture as an acceptable means to solve our problems. The use of torture to deal with unruly students, exact confessions from those arrested, etc. has progressed much further than ordinary people realize. At the heart of the "Great Experiment" is the core idea that reason can be substituted for brute force as a means for improving the human condition. That Mr.Gonzles is willing to accept, if not personally, use torture speeds up the demise of the "Great Experiment" in my opinion.

Posted by: bncthor at January 7, 2005 12:30 PM


Hijacking confirmation hearings to be about something else is seen (90% correctly) as weaselly and passive-aggressive. When the subtext becomes the text, you're more likely to get the (negative) response from the general public on the issue that Greg and Glenn are warning about.

This is BS. First, why is asking Gonzales about torture "hijacking" the hearings? He's being considered for the job of Attorney General; questions about legal matters he has been intimately involved in are the main thing he should be questioned about.

Second, it's BS because the only reason it will get a negative response is because the Republicans and their media allies will do their best to make the Democrats look bad. It has nothing to do with substance or merit, and if you try to wait for an issue when they won't do that, you might as well just go home.

I heard otherwise intelligent people say that the one good thing about Bush's reelection is that now he'll have to deal with the consequences of all his screwups. The only way that'll happen is if Democrats make it happen. If he wants to be in-your-face and nominate the architect of much of his appalling (and mostly unconstitutional) legal reasoning to be AG, at least make them sit there and try to defend it.

Posted by: Redshift at January 7, 2005 12:47 PM


(Sorry, that first paragraph should have been in quotes. I forgot that the comments here don't handle formatting.)

Posted by: Redshift at January 7, 2005 12:56 PM


I honestly never thought that the pros and cons of torture would be subject to debate; then again, I never thought I'd hear several times a day "if an erection lasts more than 4 hours...."

Posted by: Brian Boru at January 7, 2005 02:24 PM


"There needs to be a debate on torture and what is and is not acceptable, but it needs to be done in congress proper, and it needs to be done now, aside from the Gonzalez hearing. "

In view of the fact that Republicans control both the house and the senate, maybe that's never.

Posted by: Emma Anne at January 7, 2005 02:46 PM


Greg Djerejian loses me right out of the starting block with "I am a pragmatist". The Dems are going to pragmatize themselves right out of any validity for the future (2006) if they don't start acting like the opposition party and standing for something that will give people a reason to favor them over the Repugs. Rejecting torture is not a nuanced position.

Posted by: Dubblblind at January 7, 2005 02:48 PM


Lawrence asked for a number. OK, 100. I'm willing to forfeit 100 American lives by not obtaining actual real, usable information by torture. Maybe more. We'll honor their sacrifice, but sometimes we'll have to lose lives defending of our country by keeping us from becoming torturing thugs. Many have died, and are dying, to keep America free from such horror.

Come back to me when you've got proof we've lost even one, though. We'll talk again.

Oh, and by the way, are you sure they'll stop with just torturing "terrorists"? The reports from Iraq, including Taguba's, suggest otherwise. Prove that the torturers can handle the responsibility of that power before you ask us to give it to them. Prove we're not torturing guys who happen to live next door to a guy who "someone" said 'might' be a terrorist, but wasn't home when they busted down his door (so the troops brought in the neighbor instead), and we can revisit this concept.

Posted by: biggerbox at January 7, 2005 03:33 PM


Wasn't the lesson of nominating Kerik that it's NOT better to pick your battles? (which some advocated at first, saying it was better to let Kerik pass and oppose someone else.) I say go for momentum. If Gonzales isn't the next lowest hanging fruit after Kerik, who is?

Posted by: ArC at January 7, 2005 05:20 PM


It is always right to fight for what's right. If the Democrats don't vote against Gonzales now, they are encouraging torture. It doesn't matter that Gonzales will win confirmation anyway. By standing up for their principle, Democrats will be gaining political capital. Sure, the Republicans will whine and complain, but they are defending torture.

If there's any lesson from this last election, it's that the public will vote for "strong and wrong." Democrats need only to explain their principles - that they support the Constitution. Kerry had his biggest problems when he had to explain why he voted for this thing, than against it.

To me, standing up for what's right is the real "moral values." Holding back on something as important as our disgraceful conduct at Abu Ghraib and Guatanamo is morally wrong.

Posted by: Unstable Isotope at January 7, 2005 07:02 PM


Someone probably said this up-thread, but...


How are we supposed to get to the bottom of the issue, when the guy who'd be in charge of it would be ready, willing, and able to block any such investigations?

Greg is basically saying that we need to conduct a full study of carnivore predation of poultry, and not worry about keeping the fox out of the henhouse.

Posted by: Jon H at January 7, 2005 07:13 PM


Lawrence, you got the wrong question.

It isn't american *lives* at risk, it's american *careers*.

If you're a US interrogator and you believe that a suspect is withholding info that puts american lives at risk, and you believe that you can torture that info out of him, then the right thing for you to do is go ahead. Ideally you'll have the resources available to videotape the interrogation.

Get whatever results you get. Present them to your boss, with the tape. Then start preparing your defense for your hearing, trial, tribunal, etc. If you have results that saved american lives that's a big point in your favor. If you had strong reason to think it would save US lives that's at least some kind of point in your favor.

Maybe you'll get a demotion and a pay cut, or evel lose your job. Maybe you'll go to jail. You sacrificed your career to save american lives. You did the right thing. It's sad when an american makes sacrifices to save lives, and it's a good thing it happens.

Maybe the court or tribunal will decide you did the right thing. If it's a civilian court you'll first have a police investigation; the police may choose not to make a report. Then you'll have a grand jury investigation that may choose to drop it there. Then a trial you might win. And even if you lose at all steps the governor or the president might choose to pardon you.

Your chances are much better if it turned out you were right -- if the suspect did have info, if you succeeded in torturing the info out of him, and if american lives were saved as a result.

So, at a guess how many such cases do you think there should be each year? How often do you think we'll have suspects that have time-critical info about attacks on americans, who can be tortured into spoiling the plots? I think we could handle around two a year. The trial comes, late enough that the info is all aged. The video is shown to the court and then released to the public. We argue about it for a month or two and then move on to something else. We could handle that. If it's 20 a year the arguments would run together and it would take too long for the president to review the cases and hand out pardons.

Do you think it would happen more than twice a year? If so, what do you think we're doing wrong that results in so many plots discovered at the absolute last minute?

Posted by: J Thomas at January 7, 2005 10:36 PM


Hey Lawrence.
The question is complicated, but my short answer is about 1,000.
One to five thousand.

Anything above that and we'd be talking about a "ticking time bomb" scenario which is unrealistic, and should not be the justification for policy.

Posted by: luci phyrr at January 9, 2005 12:31 AM


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