Re: Go Do It

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If these choices had been made in, say, Sept/Oct/Nov 2001, and then quickly reconsidered and rescinded, maybe I'd feel better. But this was going on in late 2002/early 03, long after it was clear there weren't any imminent follow-on attacks.

So fnck them, they should be in prison.


Posted by: Ugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:17 AM
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Not what they did, that's for sure.

Say, that was easy!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:23 AM
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What's with this new reactionary phase, anyhow, ogged?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:23 AM
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I agree with Ugh.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:25 AM
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what you would have done in their place

I think you have to consider more than one counterfactual: not just the lives that might have been lost had the United States not sanctioned illegal interrogation and torture, and not just the cost of having some legitimate al Qaeda operatives loose. You have to also question whether the same information might never have been obtained through legal and proven interrogation methods. It seems that most anyone but Mark Bowden will tell you that force is not necessarily the only or even the best way to coax information from a captive. There is also the extraordinary costs, real and opportunity-wise, associated with chasing down bad intelligence leads obtained through torture.

There is also the extraordinary conceptual cost of having sacrificed continuity of government in the United States for security.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:26 AM
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Yeah, but I don't see why Ugh Google-proofed "fuck."


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:26 AM
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5: Shorter everything over the last three years that you have read, considered, and acknowledged to be true, Ogged. Why troll us on war crimes of all things?


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:27 AM
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What 'Smasher said. One could perhaps imagine seriously contemplating torture if there were solid reasons to believe it is actually an effective means of obtaining credible information. Short of that, it's just shallowly rationalized sadism.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:30 AM
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I said stipulate that what they did was evil. I just think it's good to put ourselves in their shoes, you know, for understanding.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:30 AM
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The top villains actually have secret meetings to discuss details of their villainy? It's just getting easier and easier to tell the story of this administration in comic book form.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:31 AM
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I have said what I would have done. I would mobilize/militarize the entire fucking country. Go all WWII. A long list.

1) Raise taxes, initiate rationing, Manhattan-style energy program
2) Military Draft & civilian volunteer defense monitoring orgs
3) Massive educational initiatives in Arabic & Islam (an Farsi & Urdu). Try to get an American Muslim talking and improving relations in every hamlet.
4) Immediately send a million Americans overseas to every Arabic/Islamic nation(not a million to each, a million total. Or more). As tourists, as hostages, as observers, as good will ambassadors.

Whatever. There are plenty of options, but they needed to be big, drastic, revolutionary, consciousness-raising ideas...distractions. Everything didn't change on 9/11...it changed back in the 70s. We still haven't changed enough to catch up. We may not before it is too late.

We got anything on the WTC site yet?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:31 AM
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I think it's still worth thinking about what you would have done in their place, if you had limited information, a belief that we'd be attacked again, and personal responsibility for the lives of your fellow citizens.

Well, shit! When you put it that way, it totally makes sense! After all, there's no other way to find that ticking (hypothetical) bomb!

...other than using the same proven, non-torture-based methods of interrogation the FBI has been using for decades. The same non-torture-based methods that extracted the only useful and reliable information from Zubaydah, before torture got him to make up lots of crazy shit in order to stop getting tortured, the way it does to everyone.

Troll, pout, swim. Troll, pout, swim.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:32 AM
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I said stipulate that what they did was evil. I just think it's good to put ourselves in their shoes, you know, for understanding

So we can imaginatively confirm what you stipulated at the beginning?


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:32 AM
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I think it's still worth thinking about what you would have done in their place, if you had limited information, a belief that we'd be attacked again, and personal responsibility for the lives of your fellow citizens.

Balls. 1 and 2 are right.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:34 AM
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I said stipulate that what they did was evil. I just think it's good to put ourselves in their shoes, you know, for understanding.

I get on board with this principle when discussing things like why the average German citizen did not speak up and steadfastly maintained ignorance of the Holocaust as it happened. It really doesn't do much for me when the context shifts to "picture yourself in the shoes of the actual architects and executioners of raw sadistic evil."

Or, what Sifu said more succinctly in 2.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:34 AM
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"All right, guys, let's concede that killing millions of Jews is pretty bad. But still, put yourself in Hitler's shoes, and think to yourself: Jews. Don't you wanna just kill 'em? Even just a little bit? That's all I'm askin'."


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:36 AM
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Putting myself in their shoes, particularly at that late date? Would I hold secretive meetings to discuss & approve applying interrogation methods that are not only proven ineffective but illegal? You've got to be kidding. Would this be around about the same time I discussed throwing most of the available military resources into invading a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorist attacks? No wait, I would have started discussing that in 2000 or earlier, nevermind.

I can maybe, maybe see things getting out of hand early on as ugh suggested.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:38 AM
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Tenet comes across as really wormy. He knows that what's going on is wrong and illegal but he comes and doublechecks each time that he has cover for buck-passing. "It was legal, according to the Attorney General of the United States."


Posted by: Toadmonster | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:38 AM
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Being convinced of your own virtue is a character flaw, people. Not to mention that you're going to bore me to death with your self-righteousness. Do you want that on your exquisite consciences?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:38 AM
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I don't read that bit on Ashcroft as anything resembling what I would call 'conscience'. He's not "more concerned about being involved than in what's being done", that's his only concern.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:40 AM
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ogged is inviting us to engage in a variation on the standard sophomore's debate: Could you imagine a set of circumstances in which you would be a slaveholder in the antebellum South ?

And, predictably, everyone here has come up with the standard sophomore's answer: No way !


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:40 AM
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I wonder what would have happened if they had done nothing? Nothing at all? No new wars, no new laws, no flying assassin droids, no new Heimatsschutzamt, no torture, no rendition - just carried on as before?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:41 AM
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I mean, I think this is in large part due to them being deeply stupid, rather than purely evil. If they didn't have a view of the world formed primarily from crappy movies and frat-boy bullshitting I'm sure they would have come up with a way to be more deviously evil.

So there's that, in their defense.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:41 AM
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21 pwned by 19.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:41 AM
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Eh, I don't think you're being fair to ogged's question. Clinton signed off on extraordinary rendition, IIRC, and Gore argued for what he recognized as a violation of international law (again, IIRC). Not everyone on the Blue side likes them, but an awful lot do. I'm much more comfortable with people at the highest level signing off on specific instances than a general sign off on various techniques. My comfort varies with the likelihood of some form or even some potential for holding such people accountable. And, obviously, with the risk context.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:42 AM
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19: For fuck's sake, ogged, can't you come up with another line of pouting than "you people are boring me"? Don't troll your readers if you can't handle being treated like a troll.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:43 AM
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I just think it's good to put ourselves in their shoes, you know, for understanding.

I would rather put myself in the shoes of one of those rulers who had 800 wives, for example, or maybe in Randy Moss's shoes. Ashcroft's shoes have little or no fantasy upside.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:43 AM
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re: 19

Give people some credit. I suspect it's perfectly true of most of us that we wouldn't condone or sanction torture. There's nothing self-deceiving about it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:43 AM
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19: Oh give me a break, ogged. It's claiming some sort of pompous moral superiority to assert that one does not feel, and cannot imagine feeling, the slightest temptation to gratuitously inflict physical and psychological torment on another human being? In your world, "virtue" requires nothing more than "refraining from torture"?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:44 AM
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Not to mention that you're going to bore me to death

This is starting to get old.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:45 AM
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It's really the acting out of the various scenarios that gets me.

Sure, maybe I would have agreed that we must take extreme, and unpleasant measures to stop things (taken as a given that we're talking about october '01, rather than way later than that, so counterfactual, ho!) but for christ sakes I like to think I'd have been smart enough to encourage people not to tell me every single gory detail so I can micromanage it. I would have said "look, you do what you have to do, and we'll give you cover," like every TV President except the one in No Way Out has taught me to do since ever. Hopefully, this would lead to the interrogators doing the same ol' shit that worked before.

What really gets me is that these guys were dumb enough to think they were smarter than all the people working for them, and all the people who came before. It's not the evil -- though that stings -- it's the hubris.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:46 AM
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25: Clinton was and is a shitheel, and Gore's best character traits only rose to the surface once he was out of office. Lefties who hate Clinton-era torturers are right to do so. All of these people are war criminals; it's a question of degree, not of kind.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:46 AM
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19: bullshit. what they did was both stupid and evil if taken at face value. Which probably means you shouldn't take it at face value, and presume they have less stupid reasons they don't want to own up to. Could be wrong.

Asserting you wouldn't make the same sort of obvious fuckup is hardly the same as asserting you'd be a paragon of virtue. The main problem with this lot is (time has told) that clearly their actual goals and their stated goals are wildly divergent. Either that or they are so collectively and mind numbingly incompetent that it beggars reason.

Most people would have been in line with many, if not most, of the stated goals. Starting from there gives you absolutely no reason to presume you'd end up following their path.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:47 AM
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ogged is Orrin Hatch.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:47 AM
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31, in addition to being well shed of several commas, also should have mentioned that -- had I done those things -- I would have irreperably blackened my soul in the process.

I mean, what profit is it to get inside the heads of mediocre half-wits who were absolutely corrupted by the absolute power they sought for themselves? Oh, the poor dears. I can certainly understand how they felt.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:48 AM
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re: 29

I suspect many of us can imagine wanting to inflect pain on another person: insert some narrative in which an evildoer has, to your certain knowledge, committed some heinous act of violence against someone you love. Most of us actually wouldn't in these circumstances, but it's probably a possibility we can conceive of.

That's not the same thing as Ogged's claim that those of us who deny we'd advocate and condone torture as public policy are being self-righteous. Ogged's claim is self-evident absurd.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:49 AM
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in 33 "if not most" sb "if not all" whups.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:49 AM
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Not to mention that you're going to bore me to death.

We wish. Nut we've learned never to trust your promises.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:49 AM
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This is starting to get old.

You're telling me, brother. Any minor deviation from self-congratulatory liberalism is now "trolling." People comment here as if they're presidential candidates whose every word is being mined by oppo researchers, instead of people who are willing to kick around a contrary thought now and again. In this particular instance, it's supposed to be obvious to me that if my CIA agents are coming to me and asking for permission to do something, and if one of the risks I have to deal with is that people I'm supposed to protect will die if I say "no," that I'll definitely say "no" without a second thought? I just don't buy it. Too many people in positions of power say "yes" in that situation for such a glib response to be credible.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:49 AM
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How can you complain about a thread that produced:

All right, guys, let's concede that killing millions of Jews is pretty bad. But still, put yourself in Hitler's shoes, and think to yourself: Jews. Don't you wanna just kill 'em? Even just a little bit? That's all I'm askin'."

I think that may be the only joke about the Holocaust I've ever heard that made me laugh.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:51 AM
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21: Exactly right. Slavery in the antebellum south was carried on in near total secrecy, authorized by only a few people in the highest levels of power, carried out in undisclosed locations by people taking orders in a strictly hierarchical system, contrary to existing laws, and widely believed to be wrong.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:52 AM
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I said stipulate that what they did was evil. I just think it's good to put ourselves in their shoes, you know, for understanding.

But I'm not a fascist! I'd have to change some first-order principals in order to put myself in Dick Cheney's shoes. Probably I'd ensure that every suspected terrorist were given full citizens' rights and warm, moist towelettes, and I'd be run right out of office.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:54 AM
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Too many people in positions of power say "yes" in that situation for such a glib response to be credible.

For a start of, most of us aren't people in positions of power. You ought to be open to the possibility that people in positions of power may not be like the rest of us.

And, for what it's worth, there are any number of people in positions of power who have explicitly affirmed that torture is not something they'd condone. This includes high-ranking military officers and intelligence officials.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:54 AM
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Thanks very much, bastard.

I think it's still worth thinking about what you would have done in their place, if you had limited information, a belief that we'd be attacked again, and personal responsibility for the lives of your fellow citizens

I just spent ten minutes thinking about that and now I've got the horn.

Now moving on, I think it's worth thinking about what you would do if you were a big burly prisoner serving a life sentence, you hadn't had sex in ten years and they put you in with a new cellmate whose smooth buttocks reminded you of a girl's. Anyone else daydreaming today?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:54 AM
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ogged is inviting us to engage in a variation on the standard sophomore's debate: Could you imagine a set of circumstances in which you would be a slaveholder in the antebellum South ?

No. That, in fact, is a very different problem. Can I imagine myself, born into a particular cultural era, failing to resist, going along with, even accepting the advantages of a broadly accepted injustice? Well, yeah, I can. I mean, I'd like to think I'd one day jump up and say, "Hey, these slaves are human beings, too, this is wrong!" and then set free whoever was in my power to set free. But I can perfectly well imagine myself feeling conflicted between the inherent recognition of the slave's humanity and an upbringing and culture that denies it. I can perfectly well imagine that, even recognizing the wrongness, I would be too much the coward to make waves.

I cannot imagine, having been raised in a culture that has made me perfectly well aware of the fact that torture is wrong, and being sufficiently aware of the wrongness that I knew any such impulse should be kept secret, I cannot imagine in those circumstances condoning and ordering the torture of human beings where the science seems pretty clear it's not going to elicit useful information anyway.

The distinction seems pretty obvious to me.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:55 AM
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19 to 39.

Any minor deviation from self-congratulatory liberalism is now 'trolling.'

Minor deviation? Sweet geez.

Look, this exactly is the silliest kind of college sophomore game. Can I imagine having moral failing which would lead to untold horrors and which I would profoundly regret for the rest of my life? Yes, obviously. Can I imagine the pressures that a head of state must be under in a time of crisis? Not really. Can I imagine doing the specific things they did? Certainly not. Do I have complete information on what was going on? No. Do I ever want to feel like that behavior is something that can be treated with anything other than utter scorn and disgust? No.

They should have said no because that should have been a bright line that they -- as keepers of American ideals -- would never cross. That it wasn't represents a failure on many levels, not least of which theirs.

They're war criminals; they should go to jail. If I want to understand them better, maybe I'll read Eichmann in Jerusalem again. Mostly I just want them in jail.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:55 AM
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Clinton was and is a shitheel, and Gore's best character traits only rose to the surface once he was out of office. Lefties who hate Clinton-era torturers are right to do so. All of these people are war criminals; it's a question of degree, not of kind.

Well, sure, that's how you feel. But what about people who don't register on the Emerson-Jones scale?

Too many people in positions of power say "yes" in that situation for such a glib response to be credible.

That seems right. But there are so many important differences between the set of people here and the set that actually signed off--the way each measures the nature and extent of the threat, for example--that it's hard to do that imagining.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:56 AM
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instead of people who are willing to kick around a contrary thought now and again. In this particular instance, it's supposed to be obvious to me that if my CIA agents are coming to me and asking for permission to do something, and if one of the risks I have to deal with is that people I'm supposed to protect will die if I say "no," that I'll definitely say "no" without a second thought?

I think it's mostly a matter of attitude, Ogged. Or maybe just the pitch. But I sympathize with a charitable reading of the question, though: I've studied organizational fuck-ups which directly resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. And yeah, it's absolutely required to ask stuff like, What was the situation faced by the decision-makers at the time? How did they understand their position? What sort of information were they getting and how was it being framed by their subordinates?, and so on. In this case I think what's decisive -- as other people have already said -- is the length of time between the true moment of crisis and their little meetings about "enhanced techniques". The initial question sounded like it already contained a "Well who can blame them?" absolution.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:59 AM
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it's supposed to be obvious to me that if my CIA agents are coming to me and asking for permission to do something, and if one of the risks I have to deal with is that people I'm supposed to protect will die if I say "no," that I'll definitely say "no" without a second thought? I just don't buy it.

Stipulating the best possible set of facts for your point (that it's occuring in September or October of 2001, that the CIA has specifically sought out authorization, rather than the executive branch proactively seeking out ways to be "forward leaning", in Mr. Yoo's immortal words), I would do the following.

1. send everyone out of the room except for the CIA official
2. tell the CIA official: "What you are proposing is against the law. If your actions are ever uncovered, you will be prosecuted. If you can proved to me and the world that your actions prevented an attack and saved lives, I give you my word that I will pardon you. If you cannot, you will face legal consequences. Now go and exercise your best judgement as to how to accomplish your mission."


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:59 AM
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See? Knecht has seen Clear and Present Danger.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:00 AM
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48 is exactly the kind of thing I'm getting at. If the initial post sounded like it was aiming at absolution, my apologies; I figured that stipulating that it was evil was sufficient, but ok, my fault.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:01 AM
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To make a fair test of this, I'd have to imagine the five people in the White House as being, not the waterboarders, but the potential waterboardees.

Would I waterboard Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Cheney and Ashcroft? As a gentleman I wouldn't waterboard Rice, but would have her waterboarding done by others of the fair sex. The others, probably. I'd also send out for Rove, DeLay, David Brooks, and George Will, at the least.

No questions were asked about impaling anyone and feeding them to hogs, so I'll say nothing about that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:03 AM
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46 is right, again.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:06 AM
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Well, sure, that's how you feel. But what about people who don't register on the Emerson-Jones scale?

I imagine that most partisan Democrats who are nonetheless solidly liberal and anti-torture don't spend a lot of time thinking about torture ordered by Democratic party leaders. This doesn't mean that political tribalism is strictly trumping ideology, but it does suggest that political tribalism often filters the data we process to make sure it doesn't clash too badly with our ideology.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:07 AM
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it's supposed to be obvious to me that if my CIA agents are coming to me and asking for permission to do something

Given the way these accounts seem to change as more information comes out, I wonder if this is the way it happened. Kiriakou has said that Abu Zubaydah provided valuable information, but his account has been challenged.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:07 AM
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Any minor deviation from self-congratulatory liberalism is now "trolling."

But you run the risk of normalizing incredibly bad behavior on the part of top administration officials in order to preserve a fiction that Bush's reaction to 9/11 constitutes a path of action that was plausibly dictated to them by events.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:07 AM
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49 seems like a shitty position in which to put the CIA official. Accept some damn responsibility for the decision yourself, Mr. President!


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:09 AM
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And note that the end of the piece has Rice authorizing another interrogation on a suspect in 2004 after Abu Ghraib came out.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:12 AM
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41: In fact, eb, torture authorization took place in its own cultural milieu every bit as provincial and perhaps even more isolated from conflicting moral arguments than the antebellum south.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:13 AM
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I don't get why those of us who claim we'd oppose torture are supposed to be arguing in 'sophomoric' bad-faith. Except that 'sophomoric' is often used as an insult against those arguing for some moral or ideological principle by those who think of themselves as 'tough-minded pragmatists'.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:14 AM
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59: Did not. There's really nothing more I can say. Not an argument worth pursuing.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:15 AM
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55: Kiriakou's account is totally bizarre, and is contested by both Suskind and the FBI. I don't see any reason to privilege his narrative, especially when he has an incentive to cover his organization's ass.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:15 AM
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ttaM - "Sophomoric" was a charge levelled at Ogged, not the no-torture side.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:15 AM
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seems like a shitty position in which to put the CIA official.

It damn well ought to be! He's talking about torturing another human being, who might or might not be innocent, who might or might not have useful information, which he might or might not divulge under torture, which might or might not be obtained by means other than torture. The weight of the facts militates against indemnifying the "easy" path of illegality. I want him to be damn, damn sure of himself--sure enough that he would put his own life and liberty on the line.

Accept some damn responsibility for the decision yourself, Mr. President!

I already have. (1) I have pledged to exercise the power of the pardon over a grave crime, given certain mitigating circumstances. (2) I have accepted the responsibility for potentially having failed to prevent an attack that would have been prevented if I gave the agent a carte blanche to torture.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:16 AM
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In fact, eb, torture authorization took place in its own cultural milieu every bit as provincial and perhaps even more isolated from conflicting moral arguments than the antebellum south.

Really, pf? So they say to themselves, "Hey selves, this torture thing is so widely and uncontroversially accepted that we should discuss it in secret. So as to not bore the public with the utter non-controversialness of it and all."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:16 AM
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I said stipulate that what they did was evil. I just think it's good to put ourselves in their shoes, you know, for understanding.
Being convinced of your own virtue is a character flaw, people.

Virtue has nothing to do with it. At that point, in their shoes, one looks around and see that the country is in a recession, you have no effective security, your supposed ally is the country that's at war with you, and generally speaking you are up shit creek sans paddle. And I'm supposed to be understanding about a bunch of clueless limpdicks obsessing about trvia like to trying to invent the most fetishy B&D&S&M treatment for a bunch of unimportant goat fuckers whom I already have in jail, when I missed bagging the head of the asshole I want dead?

Not sensible. Not clueful. DOES NOT SMELL LIKE VICTORY.

Not to mention that you're going to bore me to death with your self-righteousness. Do you want that on your exquisite consciences?

What? Like straight out of Monty Python? "Suddenly, the blog proprietor fell over dead from a heart attack?"

max
['That'd be hilarious.']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:20 AM
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50: See? Knecht has seen Clear and Present Danger.

I resemble that remark. CPD is a good solid liberal book about the dangerous temptation of saying "break the law if you have to, but get the bad guys". There's a torture scene (actually a fake execution), but it's made clear that it was both unnecessary (because they didn't need the evidence it extracted ) and stupid, because it jeopardised the prosecution. There's a dopey president who says Bush-like things like "the gloves are off" and "you have your hunting licence and there's no bag limit", but, in the end, the illegal operations he orders end up not achieving very much and getting a lot of troops and innocent civilians killed, and it's honest police and intelligence work that nails the bad guys.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:21 AM
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63 meet 21.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:21 AM
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64: bullshit. You've put the onus squarely on Mr. CIA official, and are taking no risk yourself. You'll pardon him if he can "prove" his methods saved lives? That's very brave of you, Mr. President. And if there's another attack? "I privately authorized the CIA to take any actions necessary to prevent this tragedy, including overstepping the boundaries of the law if necessary." You've left the fate of the country in the hands of the CIA official. You're supposed to be The Decider.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:22 AM
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I have pledged to exercise the power of the pardon over a grave crime, given certain mitigating circumstances.

What could those mitigating circumstances possibly be? Suppose CIA Guy tortures the guy, and he confesses to the existence of some terrorist plot, which leads to the busting of some terrorist cell that might have planned some attack at some point. You've no idea whether or not the CIA actually needed to torture someone to prevent the attack that never happened; you've no idea whether or not some other method of interrogation would have gotten the information (as all evidence on the reliability of torture seems to indicate). And it's stupid, and the height of irresponsibility, to send someone off with a wink and a nod and say "Don't worry about the legality of torture - I've got your back!"


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:23 AM
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I feel bad for being so grumpy earlier.

Fascinating question, ogged! Maybe if I were a semi-literate twit with no empathy I would have decided it's a good idea to torture people!

More seriously, I think there are lots of situations where examining the motivations of the perpetrators of bad acts can give us insight into the way any of us -- given the right circumstances -- could do horrible things. I just think this really, really isn't one of those situations, given everything else we know about the situation and the actors involved.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:27 AM
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And ogged, this seems to me to be just another case where you're just actually wildly out of touch with your readership. You seem to think that the "natural" thing to do in the case of Cheney, Rice, et al is to authorize torture, and to insist otherwise is just high-minded puffery. But to us, you sound clueless at best and crazy at worst, because anyone reading about this stuff for the last seven years should know what an absolute moral and strategic clusterfuck America's torture regime has become. See also that time years ago when you insisted that everyone secretly wants a set-up like the one in Iran where you can torture criminals to death, and that claiming otherwise was just a gaudy display of liberal self-righteousness.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:31 AM
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I do agree with tim in 25 that it seems much better that they signed off on each individual instance. Even if their reasons for doing so were in each nidividual instance bad, I'm appreciate that they at least took it seriously enough to talk through each time rather than just sending out a blank check approval. (Is that what happened? I haven't actually clicked through the link.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:31 AM
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FTR, I have not seen Clear and Present Danger, but Ajay's summary sounds persuasive.

What annoys me to no end about "ticking time bomb" scenarios is the assumption that, if you can wheedle a concession out of torture opponents (under a contrived set of implausible facts) that torture might sometimes be excusable, then it must somehow logically follow that it should be permissible. There's a world of difference between the two.

My fictional president was allowing for the possibility that certain actions might be excusable under extremely narrow circumstances, but they would never be permissible no matter what the circumstances.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:33 AM
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I think that there are serious questions about the initiation of various of Bush's semi-legal, illegal, and extra-legal initiatives in the GWOT. I haven't studied the question, but everything I remember seeing makes me think that everything came from Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, and their close personal advisers. As far as I know, this group cherry-picked input from the military, legal services, and intelligence services to fit their decisions. The rest (including Rice, Powell, and Ashcroft) were bit players, accomplices, and enablers, though the ones like Yoo who owed their importance mostly to their willingness to play along have to be held especially responsible.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:34 AM
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You seem to think that the "natural" thing to do in the case of Cheney, Rice, et al is to authorize torture

Not at all. I just don't think it would be an easy call for any given person, even if, at a remove, the correct decision were totally obvious, as it is here. Since the article wasn't about the torture regime so much as the actions of the major players, it seemed like a relevant point.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:35 AM
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68 - I read 21, and I took it as calling Ogged sophomoric. But I am a semi-literate twit. Fuck it, Sifu, I'm having you tortured. You better learn how to say "mujahideen" if you want the pain to stop.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:35 AM
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if you can wheedle a concession out of torture opponents (under a contrived set of implausible facts) that torture might sometimes be excusable, then it must somehow logically follow that it should be permissible, recommended, and necessary.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:36 AM
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But why don't you think it is an easy call, Ogged? Regimes that use torture use it to coerce confessions, not gain intelligence. That's what it's for. Pain produces more lies than truths.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:36 AM
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So they say to themselves, "Hey selves, this torture thing is so widely and uncontroversially accepted that we should discuss it in secret.

Torture was widely and uncontroversially accepted within the Bush administration at the decision-making level, and is pretty widely accepted in public even now when, in retrospect, it looks pretty dumb in addition to being evil.

If you'd been, say, Condoleeza Rice spending your entire life working toward his position of responsibility, would you have thrown it away over torture? Maybe so. It's true that people did. I hope I would have - I even think I would have, and can point to evidence in my own life to back that assertion up.

But I find Gonerill's 48 worth pondering at length.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:37 AM
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instead of people who are willing to kick around a contrary thought now and again

I can imagine breaking the law in a crisis to gather information, say by wiretapping, but this scenario, where torture is a given and the question is just how exactly and how many times, nope. And I'm not even virtuous.

Seems like a good time to dredge this up again:

Washington did not countenance this kind of warfare. All wars beget atrocities, but as Fischer emphasizes, Washington 'often reminded his men that they were an army of liberty and freedom, and the rights for which they were fighting should extend even to their enemies.' He did his best to see to it that his prisoners of war were treated more humanely than the Americans, who suffered starvation and disease in British prison ships. To the officer he placed in charge of 211 prisoners taken at Princeton he gave orders to 'treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren.' After the war, over three thousand Hessian soldiers elected to remain in a country where they enjoyed rights denied them at home.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:39 AM
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But why don't you think it is an easy call, Ogged?

Because I don't think that any decision where the stakes are "or lots of people might die" is an easy call, and because I don't know what they were told or believe about something like waterboarding, which they might have rationalized as "sounds bad, but the dude is fine the next morning" and been told was necessary to get information. Look, I'm opposed to torture and have been consistently and loudly during the life of this blog; that's not the issue. I'm just trying to think about what it would have been like to be in their shoes. I'm not trying to slide the thin edge of the wedge into the anti-torture arguments.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:40 AM
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I do agree with tim in 25 that it seems much better that they signed off on each individual instance. Even if their reasons for doing so were in each nidividual instance bad, I'm appreciate that they at least took it seriously enough to talk through each time rather than just sending out a blank check approval.

Clearly we have a difference of opinion on this one. The moment the President and his deputies sign off, the torture becomes permissible. And once you've permitted it in one circumstance, each incremental expansion of the circumstances becomes that much easier. And who is to say that the President or Condi Rice is in a better position than the CIA to say whether this is one of those one-in-a-gazillion cases where torture is excusable?

Keep in mind, Bush and his principals were claiming the authority to order the torture and immunity for their actions. My hypothetical CIA agent knows that he has no such authority and no such immunity. Which scenario is more likely to minimize the actual incidence of torture?


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:40 AM
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Walt's 79 is a good point. Didn't everybody know that torture is not a particularly good way of getting a confession well before 9/11? I sure did. Shit I probably learned that in elementary school.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:41 AM
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and is pretty widely accepted in public even now when

A poll:

Asked whether they think waterboarding is a form of torture, more than two-thirds of respondents, or 69 percent, said yes; 29 percent said no.

Asked whether they think the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, 58 percent said no; 40 percent said yes.

Meanwhile, isn't the admin position still that "we don't torture"?


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:41 AM
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Being convinced of your own virtue is a character flaw, people. Not to mention that you're going to bore me to death with your self-righteousness. Do you want that on your exquisite consciences?

What is the point of this exercise, ogged? Are we supposed to forgive them, after realizing that we, too, are frail? That we, too, are torturers in our dispositions of dispositions, saved from making that potential actual by the moral luck that has also saved us from making all the other bad decisions that we'd have made in Cheney's place?

Your blithe assumption that the arbitrary unfogged commenter would feel real temptation to torture is just as unjustified as, or more than, the arbitrary unfogged commenter's assumption that s/he wouldn't be tempted. Some people just aren't tempted by the same things others are. You are convinced of the lack of virtue, and congratulating yourself for it, but this is a tendency against which to guard: the self-satisfaction of the bleak worldview. (People who read german at least as well as I can can generate this self-satisfaction quickly by reading this article.)

You've also misdescribed the situation as one in which
you had limited information, a belief that we'd be attacked again, and personal responsibility for the lives of your fellow citizens
. That's certainly not all you have: if you're at all responsible, and aware of the gravity of torture, you should really also read up on its, you know, efficacy in getting information. Assuming that you've decided that the only concerns that matter are those of efficiency.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:42 AM
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82: Note also that it's possible that there is a secret internal Executive history of OK'ing torture in select cases.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:42 AM
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I read the post to be asking questions like those in 48 and thought this thread was needlessly adversarial, though Sifu's "I don't want to understand them better" is a reasonable response as well. But not one that motivates an attack on the post, it's just an answer to it.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:42 AM
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72: stras, when you are mischaracterizing other peoples' arguments, you have the unfortunate tendency to use quotation marks. ogged never used the word "natural," and if you must offer that false characterization of his argument, it would be marginally less annoying if you eschewed the direct false quote.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:44 AM
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One can be interested in Ogged's question without identifying with the administration and their desire to do immoral things or poking gratuitous fun at the powerless moral vanity of liberals, who have been kicked so low that they're pretty close to proclaiming themselves the unacknowledged legislators of the world.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:46 AM
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Look, I'm opposed to torture and have been consistently and loudly during the life of this blog

Unless it turns out to be the best way to manage the bloodlust we all have, of course.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:48 AM
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To really put ourselves in the shoes of the people who signed off on torture, we also have to imagine that we are very very stupid and incredibly arrogant. I mean, more stupid and arrogant than we are now. Also deeply committed to the idea that manhood is proven through violent tests of strength.

Given these things, I can imagine green lighting torture.

So ogged, why didn't you ask us to imagine these things.?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:48 AM
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Unless it turns out to be the best way

I think we went around for weeks about whether that was "torture" or "punishment." Thanks for bringing that up again as if it were a settled issue. Remind you to impale you the next time I see you.

Anyway, off to swim.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:49 AM
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Shit I probably learned that in elementary school.

I suspect much of America's pathology today goes back to what those neocon twits learned at the hands of elementary school bullies.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:50 AM
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12.last is more eerily accurate all the time.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:51 AM
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Also deeply committed to the idea that manhood is proven through violent tests of strength.

No, one's manhood is proven through making others perform violent tests of strength while one types on a keyboard.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:52 AM
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I think we went around for weeks about whether that was "torture" or "punishment." Thanks for bringing that up again as if it were a settled issue.

You've got to be fucking kidding me. I realize I wasn't around for that then, but: you do realize that there have been, and are, plenty of nasty governments in the world that punish their victims by torturing them?

But of course, you're swimming now.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:57 AM
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ooooooooooooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeeoooooooooooo.

That was the sound of me sympathising with how difficult it is to make these decisions on which so many lives turn, and thinking about what it would be like to bear such a grave responsibility, albeit in the context of a question where the actual answer is unbelievably obvious and cut and dried.

Now, on to my own difficult question; consider the plight of a really really randy prisoner serving life for murder, faced with the tantalising prospect of a sexually attractive cellmate. Should he knock the kid unconscious and brutally sodomise him? I want to make it clear that I am absolutely sure that the answer is "no". But really, come on you people, stop being such self-congratulatory liberals and pretending that abstention from prison rape is an easy decision, just because you'd never be in that difficult situation yourself.

you're boring me now.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:58 AM
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Now dsquared that analogy's not fair. What if the really, really randy inmate was also schizophrenic, and had been informed by the voices in his head that knocking hiss cellmate unconscious and sodomizing him -- in addition to being a welcome release -- would also save millions of lives? You could hardly blame him then, could you?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:01 PM
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98-99: You're ignoring the most important factor: what if you had a legal memo from a tenured law professor saying that sodomizing your cellmate was A-OK, as long as your bollocks were really aching with desire?


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:05 PM
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Well that would certainly add to the difficulty and moral seriousness of the question, but I would have to say that the answer is still "no". By which I mean "yes, of course yes, you pinko liberal do-gooding pervert", while retaining the right to get really angry with anyone who interprets that as meaning anything other than "no".

I'm off for a wankswim now.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:05 PM
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To really put ourselves in the shoes of the people who signed off on torture, we also have to imagine that we are very very stupid and incredibly arrogant. I mean, more stupid and arrogant than we are now.

Sarcasm, I know, but also a correct characterization of part of my argument. Ambition and vanity play huge roles, too, and a crucial, crucial part is the individual's the decision to surround his or her self with the ambitious and vain.

I dunno. I find it somewhat edifying to try to identify the common humanity in people who are, after all, demonstrably human, at least genetically speaking.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:05 PM
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OT:

David Brooks will be speaking in my city soon.

The audience can submit questions to him.

Any suggestions?


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:06 PM
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we also have to imagine that we are very very stupid and incredibly arrogant. I mean, more stupid and arrogant than we are now. Also deeply committed to the idea that manhood is proven through violent tests of strength.

rrrrrrrraaaaaAAAARRRGGGGGHHHHHH

If I were a senior official charged with protecting the homeland and CIA officials came to me in 2002 and asked for permission to torture they would not be able to find me, because I would already be out in the field torturing people

whoever I could get my bloodsoaked hands and teeth on

on a freelance basis if necessary

i would be stopping ticking timebombs on a daily basis, like Jack Bauer, only more so

that's how manly I am in my fantasy life


Posted by: every warblogger ever | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:07 PM
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103: Beginning in 2000, you defended George W. Bush as the right man for the job in the Oval Office, saying [insert sycophantic quote here]. Around 2006, you changed your mind and characterized Bush's performance in office as [insert harsh quote here]. More recently, you have expressed the view that John McCain is the best man for the Presidency, saying [insert sycophantic quote here]. Why should anyone trust your judgement today when you got it so spectacularly wrong the last two times?


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:12 PM
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Don't you ever read a book/watch a movie/watch a TV, in which a character does something which seems to you to be very evil and then wonder, "How does that character understand themselves in making the decision to do that?" Is that the same thing as thinking what they did wasn't evil?


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:13 PM
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That's an odd question to ask David Brooks.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:14 PM
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Topical.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:15 PM
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103: "Why don't you go and fuck yourself?"


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:16 PM
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I think we are in agreement here, PF. I know what it takes for a human to authorize torture, but in order to imagine that *I* am that human, I have to change a lot of things about myself that I value highly.

Putting yourself in that position is a worthwhile exercise, but mostly as a way of warning yourself against acquiring the flaws of others.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:17 PM
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You need to end the sentence with a question mark, heebie.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:17 PM
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28

"Give people some credit. I suspect it's perfectly true of most of us that we wouldn't condone or sanction torture. There's nothing self-deceiving about it."

Not true for me and I suspect it is not true for most of you either except insofar as you have redefined torture so as not to include anything you support. For example I think spanking a child and imprisoning someone for life are both forms of torture but traditionally accepted forms. Torture has become defined as an unacceptable form of physical coercion which is not very helpful as what is acceptable to one person won't be to another.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:18 PM
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A mark that questions, you say? Interesting.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:20 PM
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the Iraqis would call me The Great White Beast Of The Desert, and would tell stories about my torturing prowess as they gathered around their campfires or in their caves or huts or whatever it is they have over there

they would fear me, but respect my strength and my willingness to Do What Must Be Done

hell, I'd have had the war over with long before spring 2002, there would be no need for torturing by that point except to stay in practice for the next war


Posted by: every warblogger ever | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:21 PM
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Here is a video (scroll down) where Ogged makes the same point he point he made in the main post. I think the other band members are Labs and w-lfs-n.

Representative quote: "Men like Dick, they need more love."


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:21 PM
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90
One can be interested in Ogged's question without identifying with the administration and their desire to do immoral things

It's pretty damn hard, because Ogged's version of events is misleading. Or to put it more charitably, his question might be interesting and thought-provoking if applied to leadership in a time of crisis from terrorism in a general, hypothetical sense, but in the real world there were too many details different. The administration wanted war with Iraq within days of 9/11. The warrantless wiretapping program began months before 9/11. (Maybe even under Clinton, although that article makes it sound like it didn't actually start until Bush got into office.) These weren't wrong-in-hindsight decisions made in stressful circumstances which they couldn't foresee the consequences of. You can torture a hypothetical question to come to any conclusion you want, but no, I honestly can't imagine myself doing what the Bush administration actually did.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:22 PM
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Sure, but that's not the same question as "what would I have done in their place?"


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:22 PM
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117 to 106.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:22 PM
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49

"2. tell the CIA official: "What you are proposing is against the law. If your actions are ever uncovered, you will be prosecuted. If you can proved to me and the world that your actions prevented an attack and saved lives, I give you my word that I will pardon you. If you cannot, you will face legal consequences. Now go and exercise your best judgement as to how to accomplish your mission.""

I agree with those saying this is an evasion of responsibility.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:27 PM
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Knecht's CIA guy is in the classic position of asking for forgiveness instead of permission. Basically, Ogged's question is a form of the old saying "if you have to ask, you can't afford it". If one has to ask if a particular procedure is ok, just this once, the answer is no. I wonder though, if Bush couldn't have let it be known, sotto voce, that torturers, if caught would receive a pardon, because, you know, war expediency and all that.

Same net effect, or no.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:36 PM
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I agree with those saying this is an evasion of responsibility.

I would add that the minute you realize you would be unwilling to step up and accept responsibility for making a particular decision it ought to be clear to you that the decision is Wrong.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:36 PM
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The meetings described in the story strike me as nothing so much as the third-grader murder mob all over again. No one described (seemingly) likes what's being done or wants to admit to liking it - CIA agents are worried, Tenet wants approval every five minutes, Ashcroft fears history, Powell and Rice are worried about our image abroad but Rice approves continued use of torture as someone else's baby when asked for a decision - but they're all doing it already and they all said they'd do it so they're going to keep on doing it. This is the absolute worst outcome of an attempt at consensus: rule by committee. A committee of powerful people got together and agreed not to use their power to stop what was happening because no one wanted to be voted down in front of the others by the others.

Would I have done differently? I'd like to think so. I have been in a position professionally to tell some fairly frightening organizations and entities that, no, they or I or we or someone will not be doing what they/I/we/whoever have been asked because it is not a good idea. I've never had anyone's life or death on my hands, though, so I can't really say. That isn't the point; I'm not the one hired to make that decision and I never will be so asking me to empathize with their indecisiveness and frightened head-bobbing around a conference table doesn't fix our government or guarantee anything about our future.

You know what does? Holding them responsible so that the next crop of likely candidates is given some pause, some reason to consider their job responsibilities and their various oaths of office or the oaths of those for whom they directly work. They will have the fates of countless persons, American and otherwise, in their hands; they will also set the tone, force and direction of government and leave behind them the shadow of precedents others will cite. If they don't consider both then they have failed at their job.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:47 PM
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I think we can close this thread now, because RMcMP has said in 122 exactly everything that needs to be said. Perfectly.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:52 PM
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McManly for President!

I was also going to say, when w-lfs-n himself descends to the material plane to argue substantively with your position? You know you've gone beyond the pale.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:55 PM
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I would add that the minute you realize you would be unwilling to step up and accept responsibility for making a particular decision it ought to be clear to you that the decision is Wrong.

It's clear to me that the particular decision is wrong, and I can never endorse it. I would rather take responsibility for the consequences of that decision, i.e. that another 9/11 might happen and the CIA would leak that they could have gotten the warning out of the guy if I hadn't been such a legalistic wimp. That's the responsibility I accept. If the CIA guy wants to accept the responsibility for torture, I might, under extremely unlikely circumstances, give him a post facto get out of jail card. I don't see how this is evading responsibility.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:55 PM
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consider their job responsibilities and their various oaths of office

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.[9]

Please note that the oath is to defend the Constitution, not to protect citizens from harm.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:56 PM
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No one described (seemingly) likes what's being done or wants to admit to liking it - CIA agents are worried, Tenet wants approval every five minutes, Ashcroft fears history, Powell and Rice are worried about our image abroad but Rice approves continued use of torture as someone else's baby when asked for a decision - but they're all doing it already and they all said they'd do it so they're going to keep on doing it.

The unworried ones are the principals: Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the man behind the curtain. They gambled, planning to win and attain immortality as the founders of the American World Empire.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:58 PM
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The CIA and the military are supposed to be willing to lay down their lives to protect our country.

Accepting the consequences of torturing is less than laying down your life.

If you save the world, you get a pardon.

If you tortured someone for no good reason, you go to jail. After you get out of jail, you become a right wing talk show host and make lots of money.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 12:59 PM
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re: 112

Not true for me and I suspect it is not true for most of you either except insofar as you have redefined torture so as not to include anything you support. For example I think spanking a child and imprisoning someone for life are both forms of torture but traditionally accepted forms.

Any kind of slippery slope argument of that type is just not going to fly, for reasons that are so trivially obvious as to be boring. And, for what it's worth, I don't condone spanking children, either.

Furthermore, we're pretty clear in this instance what sorts of things we are calling torture. So, to repeat, I suspect it's perfectly true of most of us that we wouldn't condone or sanction torture [where torture in this instance is taken to mean the things that were actually done to these people by this government and its representatives]. There's nothing self-deceiving about it.

None of that is to say that there might not be difficult borderline cases where some (or all of us) might not be persuaded that we ought to allow some morally questionable act to take place in the service of what we sincerely believe to be the greater good. I presume that even the best politicians are sometimes placed in that position.

What it is to say is that this is clearly not one of those cases.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:01 PM
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Bah, another boring ticking-bomb thread. Perhaps I misunderstood the question:if ogged was just asking what we would have done if we were sitting at the table with the others, it is either boring as hell, as demonstrated by most of the commenters, or possibly quite interesting:

If you were sitting at that table, how would you have talked the assholes outa torture? Impossible is not an answer, and it is stipulated that Bush & Cheney are irrational scum. The game is to actually come up with an effective strategy, gven the monsters you have to work with. It's like:"How could we have stopped Hitler from invading Russia?"

Finally, the key to understanding Republicans and most other people is not stupidity or evil; but laziness, selfishness and parsimony.

They tortured because it was cheap & easy.

When the powerful have to beg for political and other resources is when they start becoming accountable. The more resources they need, the more accountable they become.

I know this has been an expensive war, but it has also been off-the-books and so low-cost in terms of political capital. Very low political costs, especially early on. The only way to make the war political was to make it big, expensive, and involve as many Americans as possible.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:31 PM
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Re-reading the thread, most of it seems like a non-sequitur, at least if it's in response to the post. If you had a novelist friend who came to you and said, "I'd like to write the story of how these people saw the world and how they talked themselves into doing these horrible things," apparently most of you would respond, "They did horrible things." Thanks, nice talking to you.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:36 PM
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131 is the non sequitur. From the post: I think it's still worth thinking about what you would have done in their place. That's not what your novelist friend is asking.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:41 PM
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apparently most of you would respond, "They did horrible things."

I think I read that book.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:42 PM
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That's not what your novelist friend is asking.

You see some clear distinction, I think the question in the post is one way of getting at the same thing.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:44 PM
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So to extend the ever so banned analogy, if your novelist friend came to you and suggested dsquared's scenario, you would respond "Well, I'd probably rape the guy: think about that sweet, unblemished ass -- it's not like I can get in any more trouble, right? And oh, man would I love to blow a load right deep in the rectum of a man I'd just beaten bloody. I mean, I've been thinking about that for years."?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:48 PM
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I'd be surprised if a friend and I hadn't discussed what we'd do if we were sentenced to life in prison. Hey, maybe y'all just don't think about questions like this. Fine.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:50 PM
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125

"It's clear to me that the particular decision is wrong, and I can never endorse it. I would rather take responsibility for the consequences of that decision, i.e. that another 9/11 might happen and the CIA would leak that they could have gotten the warning out of the guy if I hadn't been such a legalistic wimp. That's the responsibility I accept. If the CIA guy wants to accept the responsibility for torture, I might, under extremely unlikely circumstances, give him a post facto get out of jail card. I don't see how this is evading responsibility."

If you don't want the CIA guy to use torture you tell him that period. You don't add a bunch of stuff about possible pardons.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:50 PM
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135: No, but you might say, "I've done really stupid and even mean things for sex in the past, and I can't swear that the only reason I never did anything criminal is because I knew it was criminal or at least likely to get me hated. In the absence of any law or even significant social opprobrium, I really don't know. I like to think I wouldn't."


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:52 PM
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132: Yes, if one takes "you" in the post literally to mean someone who has almost all of your relevant characteristics but happens to be in their place. No, if one takes "you" in the post idiomatically to mean something like "a person whose motivations you have some insight on who is otherwise in the position of the actors in the linked article." The question "What would you do in" some situation is commonly used various more or less narrow specifications of "you."


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:52 PM
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136: well, no, I mean, sure I've thought about these questions. And the answer is "nope, I wouldn't rape the guy" and "nope, I wouldn't authorize torture". But I said that, and you got all grumpy!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:53 PM
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129

"Furthermore, we're pretty clear in this instance what sorts of things we are calling torture. ..."

Not really, you had a preexisting list of approved methods of coercion to which in special instances a few more were added. This is just, as Churchill said in another context, haggling over the price.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:54 PM
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I'd be surprised if a friend and I hadn't discussed what we'd do if we were sentenced to life in prison.

Troll, troll, pillow-talk, troll.

Thanks, nice talking to you.

To restate w-lfs-n's brushed-aside objection, "what would you do" and "why did they do what they did" are not the same question. You asked what we would do and many people replied that they would have behaved differently and explained why. If this isn't an answer to your question then - oh, wait, you're still just trolling. Nevermind.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:56 PM
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122 is still the correct answer.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 1:58 PM
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nope, I wouldn't rape the guy

Not really on-topic, but I watched a documentary on HBO last night about the rape/mutilation epidemic in Congo, and god but it was horrifying. Excellent documentary, but holy cow, the depth and breadth of psychotic behavior going on in that conflict is just staggering.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:04 PM
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This documentary.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:05 PM
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Shorter ogged: Troll, cry, masturbate, troll.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:05 PM
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140

"... I mean, sure I've thought about these questions. And the answer is "nope, I wouldn't rape the guy ..."

Consider a variation, you are a soldier in a bloody war against a remorseless enemy which you do not expect to survive. You come across an attractive enemy women. In such situations your fellow soldiers commonly rape the woman and you could do so with little risk. It is easy to say you wouldn't but statistically speaking there is good chance you would.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:05 PM
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140: Sifu, you're not playing the game right. The game is called "Think About These Questions, And Then Answer Them In The Exact Way Ogged Would, Or Else He Will Be Awfully Upset."


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:08 PM
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144: look it wasn't me, okay? That dude just looks kind of like me.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:10 PM
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None of the guys in the video looked much like you, Tweety. You'd probably stand out a bit in a Congolese militia.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:12 PM
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It is easy to say you wouldn't but statistically speaking there is good chance you would.

For some definition of "you" entirely unrelated to what I understand "you" to mean, sure.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:13 PM
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150: racist.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:14 PM
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.. overprivileged suburban white kid decides to join a Congolese militia because he just wants to dammit (stamps foot) and becomes an unlikely hero to his misfit group of raping, pillaging desperately hungry comrades? I smell a Wes Anderson movie!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:16 PM
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152: rapist.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:16 PM
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After you get out of jail, you become a right wing talk show host and make lots of money.

That is a brilliant G Gordon Liddy reference.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:19 PM
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153: I would watch that movie. Moreover, I would purchase its whimsical, Mark Mothersbaugh-scored, British Invasion-riddled soundtrack.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:20 PM
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Mark Mothersbaugh-scored

Would it be Mothersbaugh or Elfman?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:22 PM
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Ogged, if you wanted us to imagine how someone could do what the administration did, you should have asked that question. Instead, you asked us what we would do in that situation, the question we all answered. And in fact, it's an easy question, because given that torture is not an effective means of intelligence gathering, the question of "what about all of the lives in danger" doesn't arise.

I'm going to go have a beer now. Why, you ask? How can I not, with so many lives in danger?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:22 PM
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157: Anderson always uses Mothersbaugh. And I'm not kidding about 156 - if you're lurking, Wes, you should totally make that one next. Fuck The Fantastic Mister Fox. If Owen Wilson's too coked up to co-write, you know where to reach me.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:29 PM
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How does Wes Anderson know how to reach you when none of us do? Are you Jason Schwartzman?


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:31 PM
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158

"... And in fact, it's an easy question, because given that torture is not an effective means of intelligence gathering, the question of "what about all of the lives in danger" doesn't arise."

For many people this is not a given. And people under pressure do irrational things out of fear and panic. It is easier to dismiss quack cancer remedies as ineffective when you don't have cancer.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:31 PM
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159: oh dude just the thought of that Phantom Planet dickhead shooting an AK-47 while 8 emaciated Congolese guys stand around staring at him while wearing matching velour outfits: that's the thought of money, right there.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:31 PM
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Stras if you are Jason Schwartzmwan I didn't mean to call you a dickhead.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:32 PM
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I can never stay mad at you, Sifu.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:37 PM
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re: 141

You're not understanding me. What I am saying is, the things approved, those are the things I'm calling torture. They're also things most people and most courts of law across the world also call torture.

And I can't be fucked arsed arguing with you about what constitutes torture.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:47 PM
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Most of the people in this thread act like the problem is talking Jack Balkin, Scott Horton, or Carpenter out of torturin. "It's ineffective & it's wrong!"

October 1 2001 Bush says:"But I really wanna. I wanna torture. And I'm the Decider-in-Chief." You're at the table, what do you say? What do you do? I throw coffee in his face;I hit him with an ashtray;I go to the press like Berrigan. Harman & Pelosi obeyed the law.

This goes, incidentally, to the essential irresponsibilty of procedural liberalism. "If Clinton breaks the rules and becomes President, I'll pout and not like her anymore. But I won't break the rules."

"If Bush bombs Iran and suspends the election, I'll write a letter to my congressperson and do a really angry blogpost."

Ghandi walked to the sea and made salt. MLK defied demonstration bans over & over. Fuck the law.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:49 PM
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165

"... What I am saying is, the things approved, those are the things I'm calling torture. ..."

Which things, the preexisting list or the enhancements?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:51 PM
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Everything McManlyPants said. Also what General Chiesa said when Italy's Prime Minister was kidnapped and someone suggested torturing prisoners to find out where he was: "Italy can survive the loss of Aldo Moro, but it cannot survive the introduction of torture."

And for chrissake, this is a guy who claimed he was powerless to act as a hurricane destroyed huge swaths of an American city because of the separation of powers clause. Suddenly we're supposed to imagine a whacked-out hypothetical in which this guy sincerely believed something much worse would happen if he failed to set aside the most important, most fundamental laws that protect citizens from their own government? Please. This sick fuck thought it made him a badass to torture people, so he did it. Also served a great political purpose--when them libruls complained Osama bin Laden was still on the loose, he could wink and others would say: "but look! He's doing EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to find him, because he's totally willing to torture innocent people! Would you do that?"

And this line made me laugh: I'm appreciate that they at least took it seriously enough to talk through each time rather than just sending out a blank check approval.

The Bushies didn't send a blank check only because they couldn't get away with it. Turns out CIA staffers aren't as dumb as a bunch of privates posted to Abu Ghraib, and Tenet made damn sure that when the music stopped, he wouldn't be the guy holding the potato. He--and others below him--were smart enough not to accept the wink, and instead they said: "Uh, you want me to do exactly WHAT, boss? Really? Yeah, so, you're gonna have to put that in an email and send it to me. kbyethx."


Posted by: theorajones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:52 PM
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OK, McManus, suppose you had Bush, Cheney, and a compliant Congressional Democrat all locked in your basement. You just *knew* that they were conspiring together to continue our crappy system of government. If you understood the conspiracy, you could more effectively oppose it.

How would you get the information out of them? The clock is ticking....don't tell me the temptation wouldn't be overwhelming...

That's all Ogged was trying to say.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 2:54 PM
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Fuck the law.

Yeah, that's what Letter from Birmingham jail said. Oh, wait.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:02 PM
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re: 167

What part of I can't be fucked arsed arguing with you about what constitutes torture are you having difficulty understanding?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:02 PM
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What do you want, ogged, a grand, sorrowful admission that we are all the beneficiaries of moral luck?

It's true! Were it not for all sorts of random things that I'm not really responsible for, I, too, would be a war criminal. Statistically speaking, I could have been a soldier who commits rape or a president who authorizes torture. Fortunately, I have never been in a war zone.
I am not surrounded by yes men and lunatics. My parents did not raise me to have an overwhelming sense of entitlement. These things are all not by doing, and I don't deserve any praise for them.

There, that is moral luck in a nutshell.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:03 PM
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169:Texans, or at least Dallasites, don't have basements. Slab construction isn't a matter of cheapness. The calichi clay soil so radically expands and contracts with moisture that the slabs become gravel in a few decades.

You know what I would do if I had those people in my house, with power over them. I knew what was gonna happen by September 12. Hell, I knew in 2000 that the election of Bush meant a great net increase in suffering and death. Does one just say:"C'est la vie?"

Incidentally, I only ever posted one comment over at Krugman's, and they wouldn't post it. Krugman was all a-worried about the asshole-in-chief, and how he would fuck up the economy, and I said remove the fucker by any means available. Bad Bob. Better war & depression than breaking the rules. Better millions dead than one moral principle bent even a little.

Does this mean I am the same as them? No.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:13 PM
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What do you want, ogged, a grand, sorrowful admission that we are all the beneficiaries of moral luck?

I'm not intending a moral question or moral discussion. Just, "what would it be like?" What would you think in that situation? I still think that the people in this thread are way, way underrating the pressure that being responsible for other people's lives would bring to do something, even maybe precisely something that feels "extreme," and also underrating the power of apparent consensus. That's not to excuse the people at all, even if it mitigates our loathing for them. I could give a few reasons why this kind of exercise is necessary, but to be honest, I just think it's interesting. But folks are reluctant to say anything about real human motivations because it might be construed as a moral pass for bad actors. But again, fine, I'm not going to keep arguing about it.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:16 PM
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139: I'm not sure I've come across "what would you have done?" questions where "you" did not mean "you, the person/people I'm asking" absent some kind of signaling that "you" in this case actually meant something like "a person whose motivations you have some insight on who is otherwise in the position of the actors in the linked article." If that's the common idiom, it seems to be uncommon among many on this thread.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:17 PM
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After the war, over three thousand Hessian soldiers elected to remain in a country where they enjoyed rights denied them at home.

Also a propaganda campaign. Some dude in my German for reading class years ago was studying the Hessian troops, and he had discovered this archive of leaflets in German (he had to learn how to read the Fraktur script) that said, basically, we have a lot of fine farmland and many young beautiful German women who could conceivably use husbands, should you be interested.

Two years past 9/11, I believe most people not drunk on power would not order torture. But under certain circumstances (9/11, the prospect of actually having your revolution, whatever gets the juices going), I think most people's brave stand is probably at best 'Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?' This doesn't excuse it, it just means we're all bastards, but playing the odds, most people don't do well with power.

(We used to say 'absolute power corrupts absolutely', but the the Generalizing Board got to us.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:17 PM
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Ogged just wants to have a nice friendly conversation about, you know, whether we'd have people tortured or not, but doesn't want to bring morality into it. Why is that so hard to understand?


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:19 PM
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But folks are reluctant to say anything about real human motivations because it might be construed as a moral pass for bad actors.

Greed, a sense of entitlement, and a desire to prove masculinity aren't real human motivations?

Do we fail to recognize someone's humanity when we say they fall into groupthink, or don't want to be one at the table who raises an objection first, or can't see the consequences of their actions?

I think we have all be talking about real human motivations all along.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:21 PM
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Anyway, I actually did run into this kind of question in a history class as an undergrad, phrased as "given the information available in 1938, make a case either for or against appeasement at Munich." Most people, including me, stretched to make a case that Britain and France should not have made concessions to Germany. And then the professor accused us of being a bunch of warmongers.

I suppose "What would you have done at Munich?" would have been an equivalent question, although that doesn't sound like an exam question stylistically.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:22 PM
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But anyway, that is just my usual crazy talk. Whatever ogged had in mind, the question has arisen:"How could we have stopped the torture?"

And oh yeah, Katherine and Carpenter are working really hard, still working six years later. Has the torture been stopped? Has whatever has been meant to be preserved & protected by their methods really been preserved & protected? Will President McCain be deterred after the next 9/11?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:23 PM
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There are a lot of bad things that I could imagine myself doing--particularly if I were starving or felt myself to be in real danger in the moment.

I can not imagine planning, cold-bloodedly to authorize torture. It's a cheesy line, but I honestly feel that if you torture--even to protect lives--then the terrorists have won. I think I'd rather die than make that choice.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:24 PM
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Greed, a sense of entitlement, and a desire to prove masculinity aren't real human motivations?

Fair point, I put it poorly; by "real human motivations" I mean something like an account that doesn't build moral deficiency on the part of the actors into their motivations.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:24 PM
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174

"... But folks are reluctant to say anything about real human motivations because it might be construed as a moral pass for bad actors. ..."

Re real human motivations I have sometimes wondered to what extent being black made it harder for Powell to object to some of this stuff.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:26 PM
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Rather than trying to imagine how decent human motivations can drive people to torture, we'd be better off examining how the bad human motivations which actually led people to commit torture are present in our real lives.

Please do not post the results of such self-examination to this blog, however. We have had enough nasty confessions.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:26 PM
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It's just not a very interesting conversation to have.

We can probably all -- absent a few people who take an absolute line -- generate hyperbolic hypotheticals in which we would sanction torture ('the entire fabric of space and time will be rent asunder unless you poke this bloke in the eye with a blunt stick' or whatever). However, most of us, it seems, feel strongly that we would not sanction torture under the circumstances that actually held or under circumstances relevantly similar to those that actually held.

So, there doesn't seem much to be gained except a false sense of empathy with people who have shown no evidence that they deserve it. It's not like there haven't been enough ticking bomb cases presented over the past few years, and it's not as if we haven't either thought about or discussed what we'd do. We aren't all reflexively proclaiming we wouldn't sanction torture completely 'tabula rasa'.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:27 PM
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184.1 is very important.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:28 PM
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Well, I find the first way of looking at it much more interesting than the second.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:28 PM
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re: 187

Why are we asking 'how could decent people have sanctioned this?' when we have overwhelming evidence we aren't talking about decent people?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:31 PM
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181

"I can not imagine planning, cold-bloodedly to authorize torture. ..."

What does cold-bloodedly mean here? Suppose your child had been kidnapped and you had in your power someone who you thought knew where your child was?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:31 PM
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Re-reading the thread, most of it seems like a non-sequitur, at least if it's in response to the post

I have recently been through this with Ari. The fact that you can't write clearly is not our fault.

Look, all of us know what it's like to really want to do something, but not to be able to because it's morally wrong to do so, and then to fucking learn to live with not doing it, and the consequences of not doing it, even if they're really bad. The experience that you're asking us to have the imagination and courage to face up to is one of the most ubiquitous things in moral psychology.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:31 PM
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We can probably all -- absent a few people who take an absolute line -- generate hyperbolic hypotheticals in which we would sanction torture

I'm more curious about how someone like Rice, for example, who was an academic and university administrator just a few years prior, made herself think about waterboarding that it seemed like something she could sign off on. That's genuinely interesting to me, but maybe other people find it boring, or see a simple answer.

doesn't seem much to be gained except a false sense of empathy

I'm not sure. Again, I don't really want to defend the post on prudential grounds because that's not what motivated it, but thinking about how even people who are (arguendo) decent can sit around and authorize torture seems like the place to start when wondering what systems and procedures are required to keep it from happening again.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:33 PM
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Does anyone else find it strange that in 173 Bob makes it clear that he believes he'd either torture (or, more charitably, kill) the members of the National Security Counsel if he could and then goes on to talk about how procedural liberalism (in its tricky guise as two human rights lawyers) sucks because it's still fighting against torturers with only some limited victories and many defeats to show for it?


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:34 PM
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Further to the above, what's it like to make the decision whether or not to falsify Enron's accounts? Rather like making the decision whether or not to steal ten quid from dad's desk drawer, only more expensive. Not committing prison rape is pretty similar to not pinching the tea lady's bum as she walks past. Not giving orders to torture people is more or less the same process as not ganging up to bully the new kid. And conversely, in all cases. There's nothing to discuss here; there's an unbelievably obvious right and wrong, and we all know what it feels like to do the right thing, and we all know what it feels like to do the wrong thing, and we all know what it feels like to choose between the two.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:35 PM
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Why assume that someone's having been an academic and university administrator implies anything, much less anything interesting, about their stance towards waterboarding?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:35 PM
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dd, some people understood the post as I intended it, so I'm not convinced that it was unclear. I'm more inclined to think that people love to accuse me of trolling.

As for the ubiquity of the situation, that's just silly. One thing that makes the situation different and interesting is that these people were responsible for our lives. It's not a matter of deciding whether to break into the ice-cream shop after it's closed.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:36 PM
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Why assume that someone's having been an academic and university administrator implies anything, much less anything interesting, about their stance towards waterboarding?

Because most academics don't have to make decisions about torture, and, prior to the recent taking-of-sides, I imagine almost 100% of them would have said they oppose it.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:37 PM
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Rather than trying to imagine how decent human motivations can drive people to torture, we'd be better off examining how the bad human motivations which actually led people to commit torture are present in our real lives.

I thought this is what the post (upon clarification) was trying to do. Decency doesn't hold up well. Plenty of perfectly decent people can be motivated to do bad things. It's too easy to believe that all the people in that photobook eating their blueberries on the fence at the SS resort are people you'd recognize as morally evil if you chatted with them, like it would just radiate out.

(One place where adhering to systems and procedures might be valuable, of course.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:38 PM
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what's it like to make the decision whether or not to falsify Enron's accounts?

That's a good question, and a chunk of Smartest Guys In The Room was devoted to understanding the motivations of the people who made that decision. You can do that separately from judging how bad their actions were.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:39 PM
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I sent tips to the FBI once, after I found out some guys in Abu Sayyaf had been staying in a neighborhood where I'd lived; I'd met the Yemeni who ran the madrassa nearby just a few days before 9/11, along with some other people whose names I don't remember. The information was probably useless. Reporting it was a stupid idea, as it may have endangered a friend of mine there who was a refugee and in a vulnerable position there. I know they started deporting people about that time. His old email account is closed now, and I have no idea where he is. Scares me to think that something might have happened to him.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:40 PM
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175: I suppose I just think "you" has to be taken in that kind of way to make these questions at all interesting, and lacking contrary indicators am interpreting the post to be interesting. I'm not sure what the relevant contexts are to examine for whether or not "you" is regularly used in the fashion I suggested.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:40 PM
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What does cold-bloodedly mean here? Suppose your child had been kidnapped and you had in your power someone who you thought knew where your child was?

I wouldn't describe anything done under those circumstances as cold-bloodedly done. I pray to God that I wouldn't torture, but I can imagien being tempted to because of the urgency of the situation and the strong, almost wild attachment to one's own child.

I can not imagine sitting in a room with a group of other people calmly making a decision to authorize obsecne acts. Acting out in rage, without the counsel of others, I can understand.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:41 PM
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Further to the above, what's it like to make the decision whether or not to falsify Enron's accounts? Rather like making the decision whether or not to steal ten quid from dad's desk drawer, only more expensive. Not committing prison rape is pretty similar to not pinching the tea lady's bum as she walks past. Not giving orders to torture people is more or less the same process as not ganging up to bully the new kid.

It's pretty hard to believe any of that's true.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:41 PM
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What group of people does usually make decisions about torture? Governors? Missouri Senators?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:41 PM
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thinking about how even people who are (arguendo) decent can sit around and authorize torture seems like the place to start when wondering what systems and procedures are required to keep it from happening again.

I'm inclined to think that's entirely the wrong place to go. We've already, collectively, had this sort of debate. There are any number of international treaties and conventions, and national laws that forbid torture and inhuman punishment. There are also any number of books that have been written about the social and psychological processes that lead people to behave in inhuman or morally unforgivable ways. We've all read innumerable accounts of the caring family doctor who ends up carrying out 'experiments' in Auschwitz, or the dentist working for the Argentinian junta, or whatever.

As dsquared says, this is commonplace stuff.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:42 PM
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191

"I'm more curious about how someone like Rice, for example, who was an academic and university administrator just a few years prior, made herself think about waterboarding that it seemed like something she could sign off on. That's genuinely interesting to me, but maybe other people find it boring, or see a simple answer."

What's so surprising about this? Unfogged commenters to the contrary there simply is no concensus that torture is always irredeemably wrong. There are any number of books and movies prior to 2000 which depict torture at least somewhat sympathetically in the lesser evil sense. And some form of waterboarding has long been used in troop training which provides a convenient rationalization.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:42 PM
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192:What is so strange about it?

What would one do in 1940 Germany, file petitions in Nazi Courts or plan an assassination? It's about goals versus roles.

I happen to believe that the Bush administration has proven the law, courts, opinion of mankind ultimate, are at the margins irrelevant to US policy.
Blatant war criminals got re-elected. That precedent cannot be erased or overturned.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:43 PM
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Fair point, I put it poorly; by "real human motivations" I mean something like an account that doesn't build moral deficiency on the part of the actors into their motivations.

Uh... OK. Fine. Let's take all the rancor and condemnation out of it. Unless there's something I've missed, that requires - and your question implies - that they really believed they were going to stop attacks on Americans by doing this. If so, I still go back to the need for them to balance their duties and TLL's quote of the oath of office is awfully pressing. Ignoring even that direct quote, however, what we're left with are a group of very powerful people elected to balance protection of the citizenry against protection of the government's standards for its own behavior; more accurately, hired to prioritize those things. If they prioritized prevention of imagined deaths over prevention of real abrogation of the law then they have prioritized in a way of which I do not approve and which I hope I would not use myself.

This - an account that doesn't build moral deficiency on the part of the actors into their motivations - is a stupid precondition, anyway. You're asking people who largely consider torture a morally deficient act to come up with a reason to torture that isn't morally deficient. What do you want, "Gosh darn those all-kayderists, they forced our hands?" "Gosh darn these terrible circumstances?" "Gosh darn this 1 I got on my Willpower save?"


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:44 PM
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I still think that the people in this thread are way, way underrating the pressure that being responsible for other people's lives would bring to do something, even maybe precisely something that feels "extreme," and also underrating the power of apparent consensus.

Well, maybe we are underestimating that pressure. But frankly, there's zero evidence it informed the President's decision. Bush didn't seem to feel a need to take any action--certainly not an extreme action of any kind--when it was New Orleans being drowned. If he didn't act to prevent the actual loss of lives for which he was responsible, why would we assume he'd act because he was worried about a potential loss of lives for which he was responsible?

And if you're the President, "I got caught up in the hysteria" is an excuse that no one should sympathize with. It's your freaking job to know what groupthink is, and to make sure that on a decision as huge as overturning the fundamentals of democracy and the rule of law, you're not succumbing to it. Or being swept up in a "grand, romantic geeesture!" like torturing people, where doing something extreme and easy is an emotional response that serves as a substitute for doing many, many things that are genuinely difficult but also effective.

But to get back to your point, I don't think that people who say "in 2003 I totally would not have bought this 'ticking time bomb' hysteria and I would not have thought the way to protect Americans was by devoting a huge effort to torturing people," say it because they fail to understand what it means to have lives on the line.

I expect these same people, if asked in 2003 if invading Russia was the solution for terrorism would think it's not the best way to protect American lives for the exact same reason that torturing people isn't. Because, macho bullshit aside, it's a waste of fucking time and energy with huge downside in the actual fight against terrorists and it puts in danger those very lives you're supposed to protect.


Posted by: theorajones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:44 PM
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Come now, ttaM, if the new standard for Unfogged discourse is to be 'never been talked about before', it gonna be a quiet blog.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:44 PM
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What group of people does usually make decisions about torture?

CIA officers, mid-level military officers, mid-level DOD officials. What's your point?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:44 PM
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207 and 208 are good.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:46 PM
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re: 209

By 'collectively had this discussion' I meant more in the context of, say, the Nuremberg trials, 'banality of evil', 'Eichmann in Jerusalem' etc. right through any number of other subsequent cases. I wasn't referring to Unfogged.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:47 PM
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Gosh darn this 1 I got on my Willpower save?"

If Cheney had only brushed his teeth with his nondominant hand more frequently!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:49 PM
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196

"Because most academics don't have to make decisions about torture, and, prior to the recent taking-of-sides, I imagine almost 100% of them would have said they oppose it."

Only in the abstract, because like racism and sexism it is something decent people oppose.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:50 PM
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192: There's a similar phenonmenon on my old immigration forum, where any link to a heinous crime is meant with:

"Awful."
"Life without parole. (This can be for anything from yelling at a child to dogfighting, except the Iraq war.)
"Omg."

If it's a sex crime, however, there's a twist.
"God I hope that guy gets ass-raped."
"If it were my wife I'd take care of that azzhole and he wouldn't walk for weeks."
"It's so disgusting that fucker would do that to a child I'd like to rip his skull off and fuck it."
And then it's a race to the bottom.

I started parodying it with 'ave! the magical cock of justice!' This went over about as well as you might expect.

And it's the same thing going on here. But we'd only torchur the bad people, who deserve it.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:51 PM
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I would agree with ogged's otherwise stupid, per 207, precondition, if the reasoning were something like "these people approved torture, which is morally appalling; therefore their motivations must have been those of morally appalling persons." But actually we have independent reason to think that the people involved are disposed to be moved in morally appalling ways.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:51 PM
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210: it doesn't sound like it was such a routine decision for those groups either. Are you saying that they'd made these decisions before, when the account is all about how this was an unprecedented situation requiring extraordinary measures? And the military is bound by a code that bars torture, so that takes that decision away.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:52 PM
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this is commonplace stuff

I don't think so. Again, I think the weight of being responsible for people's lives isn't all that well understood; this isn't just a matter of how people end up doing evil, but specifically about how being responsible affects (distorts?) the way people perceive situations and options.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:52 PM
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212: I got what you meant. I am ribbing you. You can find the conversation dull, but 'that it has not been done to death in the popular press" is an unlikely standard, say the feminism threads.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:54 PM
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Oh, and Rice was in the HW administration before going to Stanford.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:54 PM
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CIA officers, mid-level military officers, mid-level DOD officials. What's your point?

That, unless they are morally repugnant, they should decide not to torture people.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:55 PM
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But actually we have independent reason to think that the people involved are disposed to be moved in morally appalling ways.

Right, but the question isn't about whether Cheney et. al. are bad people. Like you say, we already know the answer to that. Cheney, for one, seems like he would have ordered torture on flimsy pretexts and without compunction. I don't believe that every single person in that room was the same way, and I wonder how they thought about it (which is to say, that I wonder how I, in their place, would have thought about it, thank you very much).


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:55 PM
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WWII comparisons are verboten, but in understanding Bushco in winter 2001/2202 it might be useful to look at what FDR did after Pearl Harbor, and why.

FDR spread the responsibility, and power, as widely as he possibly could. He got tens of millions directly involved in deciding what should be done.

George Marshall, and hundreds under George Marshall, said we're not invading Europe without a separate occupation force.

The key to the last few years is the Bush does not play well with others. This fear, this inadequacy has infected the entire country.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:55 PM
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201

"... Acting out in rage, without the counsel of others, I can understand."

Ok, a neighbor's child has been killed, you have in your power the person responsible, good reason to believe other children are at risk and your neighbors all want to torture. Cold-blooded?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:56 PM
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For the record, Rice interests me a hell of a lot less than Ashcroft, who I would agree is an interesting case not just comparatively, given his stance on warrantless wiretapping and other Bush policies.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:57 PM
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There are two ways to understand someone's motivations: from the inside, where you imagine why you would act the same way, and from the outside, where you think of the other person as a black box, and simply try to figure out the rules that govern that person's actions. We rely on a mixture of these, but the mixture changes from person to person.

To me, the principals of the Bush administration have to be understood from the outside. Every time I tried to step inside them, and imagine why I would act the way they do, I always get it wrong. This is exactly why I fell for it when they claimed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- I thought that if I were them, there is no way I would lie about something like that. It's not even that I can try to put myself in their shoes by imagine myself but stupider and eviler. I find their psychology as alien as a bat's. (For example, if I were so worried about al Queda that I was willing to order torture to forestall another attack, there's no way I would invade Iraq.)

Also, while thinking that your exquisite conscience would prevent you from doing the wrong thing is a universal vice, thinking that to understand someone you have to understand them from the inside is uniquely a product of the exquisite liberal conscience. After 9/11, it took conservatives about 15 seconds before they decided that they hate us for our good looks and our enormous dicks. It was liberals who kept trying to put themselves in the terrorists shoes, and coming up with answers like "they hate us because we didn't sign Kyoto." Without lots and lots of information we don't have, and may never have, you have as much chance imagining what it's actually like to be Dick Cheney as you do Charles Manson.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:57 PM
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There was a tangentially related Fresh Air (Terry Gross, my Paglia) the other night: Gross interviewed a Human Rights Watch employee who had previously been the Chief of High Value Targets for the Iraq War. I found the whole thing pretty interesting, but most interesting, in a friendly interview, was the tension between Gross and the HRW person over the unaddressed issue of how bad (not immoral) he should feel about civilian casualties he had a part in. I really had the sense of watching two people from closely related, but definitely different, tribes. Unaddressed and unaddressable, it felt like.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:57 PM
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. It was liberals who kept trying to put themselves in the terrorists shoes

Because liberals are ugly and have small dicks; the correct explanation wasn't available to them.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:59 PM
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when the account is all about how this was an unprecedented situation requiring extraordinary measures?

When it wasn't and it didn't, you mean?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 3:59 PM
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I suppose I would imagine some otherwise morally decent people in this situation continuing to use extraordinary rendition but not crossing the line into authorizing agents of the U.S. state to carry out what another state would. Not a very interesting conclusion, I don't think.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:00 PM
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Again, I think the weight of being responsible for people's lives isn't all that well understood; this isn't just a matter of how people end up doing evil, but specifically about how being responsible affects (distorts?) the way people perceive situations and options.

Here, I think the important lesson is that a propensity to make morally bad decisions should be a factor in determining who should be responsible for people's lives. Character counts, and all that. I think it's not controversial to say that a different group of people in that room would have come to a different decision.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:00 PM
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And if you're the President, "I got caught up in the hysteria" is an excuse that no one should sympathize with.

This, yes. A million times over.

Again, I think the weight of being responsible for people's lives isn't all that well understood

And yet every four years, we go through an elaborate bit of kabuki involving two people assuring us repeatedly that they - and by extension their agents - know best how to keep a cool head and make the hard decisions. There's certainly a value in figuring out how that happens so it can be prevented in future; I simply believe the explanation is that they lied about their capacity for level-headedness and that the best way to prevent this in future is to make the next administration come into office aware that we, the people, pay attention to the little things like torture and law-breaking.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:02 PM
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229: I meant that if you took the account at face value, you're left with a bunch of people who have never had to make a decision to torture or not torture before, whether they were academics or not.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:02 PM
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Character counts, and all that.

If only Weiner were still alive.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:03 PM
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Character counts, and all that.

Agree entirely. To take one example, I think Cheney's "1% Doctrine" is an understandable position for someone in a position of power after a huge attack. But someone who goes into that position already believing a 1% Doctrine is going to be a disaster. Again that kind of thing is interesting to me, but perhaps not to everyone in this thread.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:03 PM
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If this thread goes to 1000 I will be forced to ass rape you all.


Posted by: The Magical Cock Of Justice | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:03 PM
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I don't know why this is all happening, but anyway.

Ogged is completely wrong about the people in the room. They were not under pressure because of the need to protect American lives; the real players (Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the absent Bush and Rove) were trying to figure out how much they could get away with, and the others (except possibly Ashcroft) were pure lackeys and sycophants who knew what the boss wanted from them. Perhaps the pressures Ogged imagined were a factor for the junior group, but the more important pressure on them stemmed from careerism.

The dream of a unitary executive, monopolar world, and an American empire were all there before 9/11, and 9/11 was a blessing to the dreamers.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:04 PM
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226

"... This is exactly why I fell for it when they claimed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- I thought that if I were them, there is no way I would lie about something like that. ..."

Most of them at least weren't lying anymore than most religious people are lying when they say they believe any number of absurd things. Group think is powerful.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:06 PM
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you're left with a bunch of people who have never had to make a decision to torture or not torture before

Tenet was part of the NSA under Clinton, so he might have, and so might Cheney and Rumsfeld, who had been mid-high level official under Ford. Don't know about Powell, but he did serve in Vietnam, so who knows?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:06 PM
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To take one example, I think Cheney's "1% Doctrine" is an understandable position for someone in a position of power after a huge attack.

Understandable, or correct?

And, the question you pose in 235 is sort of interesting to us, we just think the answer is dead simple: those kind of people, the kind likely to be a disaster, are going to make bad decisions. And, hey, they did!


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:08 PM
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Understandable, or correct?

Understandable.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:09 PM
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re: 233

Yeah, but it wasn't their job to take it at face value.

There's an edifice of concessions being built up.

"Yeah, so imagine these people you know to be morally bankrupt weren't... and imagine this situation was totally unprecedented, when it wasn't... and imagine we had good evidence that torture works, when we don't... and, now, how would you feel if you were in that situation when you were asked, two years after the event, whether to torture these guys we had in our custody?'


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:10 PM
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what's it like to make the decision whether or not to falsify Enron's accounts?

I don't know about Enron, but having read business correspondence from some fledgling railroad barons in the 19th century, the decision to mess with some numbers went along the lines of "Oh shit! We're fucked if we can't borrow any more money." I think when they became more secure in their fortunes, they may have messed with the numbers for other reasons - I never read the later correspondence - but there was a period where they really could have been completely destroyed financially had they not taken some questionable measures. It's also possible that they wouldn't have become corrupt had they not worked on railroads.

Some reformer, I think Charles Francis Adams, got into a huge mess of his own when he took over a railroad some years later and tried to reform it.

It now occurs to me that my primary objection really is to the "what would you have done in that situation" formulation and that some of these questions - though I'd approach them differently - can be interesting. So I'm going to stop commenting in this thread.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:11 PM
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about Powell, but he did serve in Vietnam, so who knows

Some people claim that his associate Armitage was tangentially part of the Phoenix Program.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:12 PM
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There's an edifice of concessions being built up.

But not to let anyone off the hook; I think of it as akin to the principle that a charitable reading will reveal more interesting things in a text than an uncharitable one. "They did evil stuff because they're evil" is probably true for at least some of the people in the room, but it doesn't tell us much about what making these decisions must be like.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:15 PM
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239: Ok, one more comment.

I will concede the might haves, but given the lack of a torture program under Ford or Clinton (but acknowledging extraordinary rendition) I'm going to continue to believe, absent more evidence, that decisions they were involved in concerning torture were most likely decisions to continue to abide by existing torture policies of not torturing.

If this means that there was, built up among a number of the principals, a desire to be able to use torture at last, now that they were in a position to authorize that, ok, but that drops them from the category of morally decent people.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:22 PM
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Well, smarter people have chosen to not torture in far more justifiable circumstances (the kidnap of the prime minister Mori and the authorities had associates of the kidnappers in custody), so in terms of "how do you make this decision properly," it would be much more illuminating to explore why they didn't torture in a ticking time bomb situation, as opposed to trying to speculate about a contrary universe in which Bushco were excellent public servants and came up with this plan. Because such a world doens't exist.

As for how we keep this from happening again, we put scalps on the wall. Clearly, this was the concern of CIA and military officers when they demanded specific orders and authorization for their actions. They knew this was bullshit, an they didn't want to be the scalps that ended up on the wall when this inevitably got into the open.

We're in a good situation where the paper trail is clear, and it's time to start putting some people in jail. Because this is simply not something you're allowed to be wrong on.


Posted by: theorajones | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:30 PM
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most likely decisions to continue to abide by existing torture policies of not torturing

One complicating factor is that I'm pretty sure the US has been torturing, or training torturers, for decades now. Of course, as Ashcroft noted, that wasn't a result of explicit top-level authorization.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:30 PM
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This is probably the point where people call me naive because I'm not pretty sure of that. I think much of it has been contracted out, so complicit, but not state-sponsored directly.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 4:38 PM
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249: You might want to have a look at this and many other links for School of the Americas.

From the CNN report: "The SOA controversy intensified when a 1992 report declassified by the Pentagon in 1996 revealed the details of a manual used at SOA in the 1980s that advocated tactics such as beatings, false imprisonment, execution and bounty payments for enemy dead."


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 5:48 PM
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That falls under "contracted out." Yes, this may be a distinction without a difference.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 5:52 PM
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I'm confused about what the argument is (or was, since as usual I may be weighing in post-comity) here. Everything about this scenario fits with the stated ideologies of the people involved. They believe the US is exceptional, and that bourgeois democracy and unfettered capitalism are the highest goals to which a society may aspire. They (correctly) see radical Islam as the only serious threat to the hegemony of their ideals, and feel that no price is too high to ensure their victory and radical Islam's defeat. If they have any squeamishness about the particular actions they take, they console themselves by asserting that they few must make unpleasant decisions so that the majority can sleep soundly, untroubled by the messy realities of global statesmanship.

And if we want to take an ever so slightly more cynical view, we can surmise that they say all of the above, and the promise of future profits and notoriety smooths over any last bumps of conscience that impede their progress.

And I hardly think that setting ourselves apart from Cheney's ilk is so sanctimonious. Presumably most of the people here, if we so chose, could adopt these same views and prosper in our wickedness. But we haven't yet, and hopefully most of us won't.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 6:08 PM
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Ok, a neighbor's child has been killed, you have in your power the person responsible, good reason to believe other children are at risk and your neighbors all want to torture. Cold-blooded?

You call the police and take the guy in for civilized questioning. Someone needs to say, NO. It's a lynch mob, so it's not cold-blooded in the way that I meant.

Having the police set up plans (in advance) to help the lynch mob torture a suspect would be cold-blooded.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 6:52 PM
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Ogged, I don't know of any evidence that Bush and Cheney became evil after or because of 9/11. They had PNAC et al behind them, and PNAC is / was authoritarian and imperialist.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 7:05 PM
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Whatever else, I'm pretty confident that everyone in that room used the term "enhanced interrogation techniques," if only to reassure themselves that they were being scientific, measured, prudent.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 7:24 PM
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255

Which shows condemning torture without an agreed definition is not particulary effective as (as with racism or sexism) people will just choose a definition which excludes whatever it is they are doing.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 7:29 PM
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The reference in 250 to the School of the Americas is apposite.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 7:46 PM
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To answer Ogged's original question, if I were in the president's chair (or that of any of the president's senior staff), facing a disaster none of us foresaw or didn't take seriously if we did, I would like to think that my first reaction would be a simple one:

"Get me the folks with successes."

I'd know that lots of different agencies have taken prisoners and questioned them. Who got the goods? Get me those people in here to tell us what worked and what didn't. Dump all the rest, or at least keep them out of this loop.

I'd know that terrorist groups are numerically small and rely on popular support, and that some agencies and governments have done better than others at isolating them so that they can be dealt with more readily. Get me the people who've done it before. Same deal.

And so on down the road. It turns out that when it comes to responding to terrorism, what works is almost always both legal and more or less moral, if you take "works" to refer to the big picture - getting your country safe and not under attack anymore, and removing or reducing the terrorists' ability to keep doing it.

What makes this administration contemptible...well, among many others...is not just that they didn't ask the question, "What works, and how does it apply here?" They went out of their way to cut out expertise and experience.

Bob's spot on with his comparison to how FDR handled it. There's much bad to say about FDR, but he went about war fighting right, and any administration now interested in success would probably start with that example. Bob's also right on when he says that people who did care about success could and should have gone very public with their information, to be shaping the debate in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, rather than years after the juggernaut was rolling.



Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 7:46 PM
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Also, contra James Shearer and other apparent fans of pain and misery, people who are seeking what works best don't have to play games about what is or isn't "torture" rather than some euphemistic crap. If you care about success, you know that pain and misery aren't actually effective at generating information and will seek to minimize them. It's only when you stop caring about success that you need to pay attention to margins of categories within the overall heading "known to not to generate reliable intelligence".


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 7:49 PM
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Luckily, I've got some academic training, so if I had been in their position I'd have known that the research shows that torture doesn't work. So even if I'd been tempted to approve torture because of my Awesome Responsibilities, I'd have reminded myself that doing so was impractical, as well as immoral.

Then again, most of those guys supposedly have graduate or professional degrees too, don't they?

So I guess it's because I've got some academic training and a sense of integrity.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:25 PM
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I've got some academic training, so if I had been in their position I'd have known that the research shows that torture doesn't work.

Sounds like the curriculum for English majors is a lot broader these days.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:28 PM
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Being convinced of your own virtue is a character flaw

Absolutely true. It's possible, however, to feel pretty certain that there are some kinds of difficult decisions you are capable of making without being convinced that you're some kind of moral exemplar.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:30 PM
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Thanks for bringing that up again as if it were a settled issue. Remind you to impale you the next time I see you.

Actually, if you recall, w-lfs-n defended you at the time from my implication that you were a monster, so you should give him a break.

Regardless, look. I'm willing to believe that under the right circumstances I could become a Lyndie Englund or however her name was spelled. I hope I wouldn't, but hey, Stanford Prison Experiment, blah blah. I'm pretty sure, though, that in a position of high responsibility, with regular family contact and a sense of the importance of that responsibility, I would be inclined to consult experts and do a little bit of research, and that my sense of the weight and consequences of my decisions would incline me to the more conservative position--don't violate international law, don't torture--rather than the more radical one of approving torture. Especially knowing that my decisions would require other people to implement them.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:38 PM
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@263: And part of what goes with that is precisely knowing that anyone can screw up, and being willing to listen when people say "no, that won't work" or "no, it would work but it would have these other bad effects" and the like. Part of being a good person, or trying seriously to be one, is knowing that one won't always be good and having in place a willingness to take correction and people to provide it. The destruction of feedback mechanisms is part of how we know Bush, Cheney, and their crew are bad people.

This is a "yes, and" comment, not a "no, rather" one.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:42 PM
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I think the weight of being responsible for people's lives isn't all that well understood

In all seriousness: have a child.

Also, my husband's been responsible for people's lives. And he's pretty definitively appalled by the torture bullshit, and has been all along--precisely *because* he's had that responsibility.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:43 PM
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259

"... If you care about success, you know that pain and misery aren't actually effective at generating information and will seek to minimize them. ..."

This seems to be an article of faith among unfogged commenters but I haven't seen any convincing evidence that torture is never effective. And if you are President, who are you going to believe B with her academic training or your CIA director with his real world experience?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:45 PM
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or your CIA director with his real world experience?

Or the FBI, with 80 years of successful, torture-free intelligence gathering, or the American officers and agents who beat the fucking Nazis without resorting to torture?

The point isn't that "torture is never effective" - that's a stupid strawman. What's known, and evidenced by the above and others, is that non-torture methods are more effective. Some of us, James, would prefer the more effective method. You and your party seem to prefer the less effective, but also inhumane, method.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:49 PM
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There are a number of real-world examples like this one, of people with interrogation experience choosing not to adopt harsh techniques.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:49 PM
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Further: What "real-world experience" does your CIA director have? Has he been torturing people? Because, if so, then he's already an international criminal. That does sound like a good advice-giver.

More realistically, he's been party to quasi-torture, and knows that it gets people to "talk." He doesn't know if what they say is useful, but he knows that it's more useful to him to have a talkative prisoner than a silent one.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:52 PM
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I'm more curious about how someone like Rice, for example, who was an academic and university administrator just a few years prior, made herself think about waterboarding that it seemed like something she could sign off on. That's genuinely interesting to me

This is interesting. But it's not what the post was saying. There's a big difference between "think what you would have done in their place" and "how do you think they justified it?" I can imagine ways of justifying such a thing; I can even allow that being able to do so doesn't make one a monster--though it is a monstrous thing to do, and they should indeed go to jail for it.

But "what would you have done in their place" leads me to think, sure, I can imagine how to justify this shit; and then I also imagine myself, based on hard situations I've been in in the past, balancing the justifications against the other concerns and concluding no, we cannot allow this.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:54 PM
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268: Yes, but tough guys like Shearer and Bush and Cheney know that roughing up Saddam a bit would've produced useful, real-world information - like the location of his WMD. If only that FBI pussy had smacked him around a bit, we'd finally know where Saddam's secret nuke program is....

Torture is useful for acquiring false confessions. That has been its primary use for thousands of years. Any information gained from it is incidental.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:55 PM
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I'm also fairly sure that the people in the room who convinced themselves to approve "enhanced interrogation procedures" were also convinced that the Israelis really understood this whole terrorism thing, and hey, let's do whatever they've been doing. If I recall correctly, this would have happened right before the Israeli Supreme Court smacked down on IDF interrogation procedures.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:56 PM
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As I said in an earlier comment, there are conflicting accounts of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation (the first one the "principals" signed off on). But I forgot this detail:

Retired FBI agent Daniel Coleman, "who led an examination of documents after Abu Zubaida's capture in early 2002 and worked on the case," responded that Zubaydah was talking before he was waterboarded, but the CIA agents couldn't believe that he knew so little.

Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 8:58 PM
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Sounds like the curriculum for English majors is a lot broader these days.

It involves such things as "intellectual curiosity" and "reading about the current issues of the day."


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:01 PM
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And further to 273, ABC's report leaves that out entirely and relies on the seemingly not so reliable Kiriakou for the whole Zubaydah account.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:02 PM
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were also convinced that the Israelis really understood this whole terrorism thing, and hey, let's do whatever they've been doing.

I think that this is absolutely true, and that it's very much based in racism. (As Bruce said upthread, this is "yes, and," not "no, but.")

your CIA director with his real world experience?

See, the thing is, James, that you can, in fact, find people with "real world experience" in these matters who *think what the Bush administration did was appalling." So, you know, nice try at a strawman, but my IQ is high enough to figure out that this is bullshit.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:05 PM
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Not high enough, however, to be consistent about the use of asterisks. Ah well.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:06 PM
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277: consistency, hobgoblins, etc.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:08 PM
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An unpaired asterisk is an opportunity. Present the footnote later. In some other thread, even. Whenever the spirit moves you.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:14 PM
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In all seriousness: have a child.

Yea, I've been floating in and out of this thread today and was each time surprised to see this hadn't yet come up.

I suppose the point being made is that being responsible for many more and largely anonymous lives (the latter being hte more important part of the thing in my mind) is distinctly different. It's the tomb of the unknown soldier thing, where we can only get the idea of the nation writ large when it is populated by more or less blank faces. But I do think that most parents can grip the idea of distortion of perception/ethics/integrity in the face of looming, if ill-defined, danger.


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:16 PM
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267: I'm willing to believe that under the right circumstances I could become a Lyndie Englund or however her name was spelled

I am hoping and assuming that everyone agrees with B on this point. I view the proscription on torture as protecting me (or my friends and family) from torturing as much as it protects me from being tortured.

Now this is not that germane to Ogged's poorly setup hypothetical, but much of the thread was bordering on a not very pleasant Moral Exceptionalism.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:26 PM
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much of the thread was bordering on a not very pleasant Moral Exceptionalism.

Kind of, but not really. After all, what these people did was to tear down the proscription on torture. Obviously, most people are capable of not doing that, since the proscription lasted a long time, and even some of those involved recognized that they were engaged in monstrous behavior.

It's one thing to acknowledge that, under the right circumstances, one might commit/perform torture. It in no way follows that we're all just a fleeting temptation away from breaking out the thumbscrews.

I would compare it, on some level, to adultery: very few of us could resist all possible temptations, but most of us probably resist all actual temptations. The latter isn't Unpleasant Moral Exceptionalism; it's just being able to do a decent job of living up to one's principles. Most moral principles aren't unattainable, or else are openly treated as unattainable (no one actually expects people never to lie or covet; we all generally expect our neighbors to neither kill nor steal from us).

Failing to torture: attainable.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:37 PM
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281 was me.

I will add that I feel no need to try to get into the heads of the principals in order to judge them, and I would not expect anyone to do the same for me if I behaved in that manner. Deep psychological analysis not needed, aside from recognizing the demon within us all and shoring up our defenses against same. (I really, really hated, hated, hated Silence of the Lambs and the ridiculous adulation Anthony Hopkins got for the playing the part. Being a monster is easy (ask Hillary), being a human is hard.)

282: I was on board with the direct opposition to Ogged's scenario, but ... nevermind, Cala said it better than I could.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:41 PM
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In addition to the points JRoth makes, it's usually much easier to refrain from starting something than to stop it once it's policy. Hence prison rape and torture are very hard problems in the US. It will be very hard anytime in the future to get the US away from the habit of abusing detainees. But it wouldn't have been hard to set up a detention system run in accordance with best practice.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:48 PM
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I think 282 is wrong. The difference is that Lynnie Englund was in a situation where torture was, in fact, approved by her superiors, where her own personal life could reasonably be assumed to be in some danger (and certainly her own physical safety could be), including from her coworkers if she'd bucked the trend, where the day-to-day physical realities of her job already involved seeing the prisoners as subhuman, etc. Bush & co were not in such a situation; they were in a situation where torture was *not* approved, and it was their (self-appointed, let's remember) job to decide if they were going to change that.

The discussion as folks here have characterized it (I haven't read the link yet) suggests that they were, in fact, rather uncomfortable with what they were doing. I think Emerson has it more right than Ogged: the real pressure was careerism, rather than Responsibility for American Lives, even though I'm pretty damn sure that Responsibility for American Lives was the rationalization that was used to excuse doing something that they were uncomfortable about for careerist reasons.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:52 PM
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267

"... What's known, and evidenced by the above and others, is that non-torture methods are more effective. ..."

I don't believe this is in fact established.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:54 PM
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most parents can grip the idea of distortion of perception/ethics/integrity in the face of looming, if ill-defined, danger.

Right. And *this* is interesting: as a culture, we are very very unwilling to empathize with or accept parental rationalizations for socially destructive decisions in the name of "safety"; we seem much more willing to empathize with/excuse rationalizations from Important Authority Figures, though--or at least to believe that it's important to take such rationalizations seriously.

I don't know if the contrast I'm perceiving between "overprotective mommies" (bad) and "National Defense" (masculine, good) is overdetermined or valid, though, at least not without further thought.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:56 PM
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268

"There are a number of real-world examples like this one, of people with interrogation experience choosing not to adopt harsh techniques."

And there are plenty of examples the other way too.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:58 PM
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285 to 284.

286: Well, it is, James. But if you're asking us to prove it to you, you can go whistle.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 9:59 PM
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269

"Further: What "real-world experience" does your CIA director have? Has he been torturing people? Because, if so, then he's already an international criminal. That does sound like a good advice-giver."

Well for one thing he is probably familiar with places like Israel where torture is (or was) used routinely.

And some CIA types have been subjected to a form of waterboarding in training.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:02 PM
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Professional interrogators are as against torture as professional lawyers are against the Yoo memo's omission of Youngstown and lying abou Quirin. There have been cites in this thread. There have been cites in the past. There simply is no significant number of experienced interrogators being honest about what they've seen and done who support torture. All its major support comes from people who have no history of successfully extracting useful information.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:04 PM
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Oh good, we've reached the "does not" "does too" portion of the discussion.

On one of the extras to the reissue of The Battle of Algiers, which is a film that implies that torture works (tactically, if not strategically), a few former American national security officials - I can't remember their names, but they are recognizable - concede that torture is not 100% ineffective. But they also all agreed that its effectiveness is outweighed by both the problem of unreliability and the problem of alienating those you're trying to win over, whether they be allied countries or people from the same population the tortured prisoners are being drawn from whose support you hope to gain. There's also a pretty clear trend of countries - like Israel - who allowed these kinds of interrogations backing away from those authorizations.

But yes, it is not a 100% unassailable bullet-proof unstoppable irrefutable fact that sometimes some useful information can be gained from torture. Therefore, we can't know either way and must throw our hands up in puzzlement.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:06 PM
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271

"268: Yes, but tough guys like Shearer and Bush and Cheney know that roughing up Saddam a bit would've produced useful, real-world information - like the location of his WMD. If only that FBI pussy had smacked him around a bit, we'd finally know where Saddam's secret nuke program is...."

Nonsense, I don't believe Saddam had an active WMD program or that torturing him was a good idea. And given the Bush administration's apparent view that the purpose of intelligence agencies is to come up with evidence for decisions already made I don't think allowing them to torture was likely to generate accurate information.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:07 PM
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Eb, thank you for the salmon of correction in Oh good, we've reached the "does not" "does too" portion of the discussion. You're right.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:16 PM
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Google does not provide much help in understanding the phrase "salmon of correction."


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:24 PM
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Bruce, it's driving me nuts too. What is the salmon of correction?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:34 PM
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Oh, sorry, it's a wet fish in the face of one's target to give emphasis to the observation "you should stop that now". I think it may be a vestige of my FidoNet days.

I think there are times when it's a useful service.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:35 PM
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Yeah, I apologize. Mostly I try to ignore Shearer, but sometimes I fail.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:37 PM
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I will remember that useful phrase forever. Thank you.

I lean more toward the mackerel of correction, or maybe the carp, because the salmon are so expensive. But if it's a standard phrase I guess I'll stick with it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:38 PM
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Salmon are overfished, too, and really ought not be used for such prosaic (and frequent) needs. Perhaps the tilapia of correction.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:40 PM
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There's an Irish legend about the Salmon of Knowledge, which was a bit like the Tree of Knowledge only, you know, a fish.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:41 PM
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I think that any reasonably substantial fish will do. I naturally think of salmon because of living in a part of North America where good fresh salmon is relatively obtainable. Carp would be good if one had ceremonial ponds at hand. Sturgeon would be nice for the extra spines. And so on. "Of correction" is more traditional than species, I believe.

(Now I'm genuinely curious, and sent e-mail to a couple of folks who might know.)


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:41 PM
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Carp are not overfished -- in fact they're taking over the world, or the Mississippi drainage at least. And as Heebie has testified, if you're carp-smacked just once you'll never forget it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:43 PM
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297: Thanks. Yahoo, which seems to do better with indexing messageboards, indicates that the usage grew out of some inside joke, but I wasn't able to find an explanation of the origin.

Jimmy Stewart uses the phrase "stopped me flatter than a mackerel" somewhere in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:45 PM
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In fact, individuals have been fatally carp-smacked -- sometimes 30+ pound carp jump three feet out of the water right in front of boats moving faster than 20mph.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:46 PM
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Bingo. It was in Kay Shapero's list of acronyms for a science fiction fandom forum on FidoNet. The link is to a 1996 post archived at some point in Russia, but the post itself is in English.

Kay's inclusion of it on her list means that it comes out of print-based science fiction fandom, and was used in print fanzines and amateur press associations running back maybe as far as the 1930s. Kay and her husband Nicolai have been active in that community for a really long time, and Kay is one of those people who likes to talk to people and learn their stories and customs, so she's kind of a walking museum of fandom.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:51 PM
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Plus carp is easier to say that tilapia.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 10:58 PM
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Carp also sounds less like a skin condition than tilapia.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:08 PM
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"Carp" totally sounds like a skin condition. It's probably akin to eczema.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:14 PM
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The sort of woman who uses detilapiatory cream.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:15 PM
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"Carping" in the sense of "grumbling" used have a more substantial meaning, "smacking someone in the face with a smelly, scaly, 10-lb.+ fish." A return to the traditional, more severe forms of carping would certainly have a salutary effect on our habitual behaviors.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-10-08 11:19 PM
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General conclusion of the unfogged commetariat: torture is bad, but hitting people with endangered fish species: a-okay.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 04-11-08 4:14 AM
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No, no, no! Carp are flourishing wonderfully!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04-11-08 5:49 AM
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No relation, I take it, to the Salmon of Doubt.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-11-08 7:24 AM
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There's an Irish legend about the Salmon of Knowledge, which was a bit like the Tree of Knowledge only, you know, a fish

Also forbidden, although in a different way. I always felt sorry for the oul fella who'd spent so long trying to catch it only for that little fecker Fionn to get the benefit. His thumb became the equivalent of Apo's back pocket.


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 04-11-08 11:01 AM
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My favorite bit about the Salmon of Knowledge is that it got that way from eating the Acorns of Knowledge (maybe filberts? Can't remember) from trees that overhung the lake where it lived. One of those "turtles all the way down" explanations.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04-11-08 6:07 PM
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