Thursday, September 21, 2006
A Response to the Good Germans of the Right on Torture
I care very much when that person occupies the office of the President of the United States. I care that we all know, and can respond accordingly.
Also, I would mention that a known/suspected terrorist would be under no obligation under the Geneva Conventions to confess. POW are only required to provide their name, rank, and serial number. With a high-value detainee like Khalid, who has critical information, he would probably never break under persuasive techniques even if there is plenty of time to prevent a terror attack or apprehend other terrorists.
Again, thanks for responding to my question.
This pretty much explodes the argument put forth by some that "torture" (if we want to call it that) does not produce usable intelligence. Clearly it does.
Ross also makes an interesting note about where the CIA is as an agency on the issue. He states that the CIA pretty much just wants these techniques, up to and including water boarding, to either be legal so that they can use them or illegal so that they won't use them at all.
This makes a lot of sense in that it isn't fair to hold our intelligence agents responsible for getting the information that will keep this country safe while not clearly defining the limits of what they can do to get that information.
Here’s a transcript of the interview with Brian Ross, if you want more detail. The source isn’t The Nation or Daily Kos. It’s an interview with the Devil’s righthand man – Bill O’Reilly. Still, read the transcript and see what you think. Ross is a respected investigative journalist with many sources at the CIA.
As I mentioned earlier, the "intelligence" gathered from that session was of questionable value and hasn't done anything to hinder Al-Qaeda's operations. In fact, it's made quasi-martyrs out of KSM and the others currently in US custody. Not a good way for the US to win friends and influence people, but a fabulous way to gin up recruits for Al-Qaeda by angering the people in the places where Al-Qaeda does its recruiting. (Besides, the KSM waterboarding was a post-9/11 event. The best way to stop Osama post-9/11 would have been to have gone into Afghanistan with the same force strength we used to invade Iraq. Then he wouldn't have got away at Tora Bora and we wouldn't be having this discussion. But Bush, Rumsfeld and the rest of the PNAC Platoon wanted to invade Iraq, so they essentially declared 'mission accomplished' in Afghanistan and then went on to start selling the American public on the bogus notion that Saddam and Osama were best buddies and worked together to create 9/11.)
As has also been mentioned earlier, it's much more likely to produce bogus results as the victim will say anything to make it stop, as in the al-Libbi case:
According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.
His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.
Certainly, coercive interrogation techniques can produce false positives. That's a problem with persuasive techniques as well. Lie detectors might be one answer, but as with anything, nothing is ever perfect (unless you're an extremist, then every thing is crystal clear, eh?)
1. Ross is a fine reporter. However, ultimately he is taking the Administration's word for it that attacks on the library tower were stopped using coerced intelligence.
a. Was the plot plausible or was it invented in response to interrogation? We are told that Al Qaida actively prepared for interrogation as part of its training. One angle of that preparation might have been the creation of a false story to reward interrogators. Until the story is crossexamined, we won't know these things.
b. Were there other means of intercepting the plot that do not involve breaking the Geneva Conventions and placing Americans at risk of prosecution for war crimes? Part of being a free nation is the willingness of each of us to assume a little bit of risk so that we can take the high road. The deaths of almost 3,000 people on 9/11 was and remains shocking-- but we are a nation 100,000 times that size.
Every death hurts. But it would be better to lose three million of our friends and family, or even our own lives, yet keep our liberties, than to save every life and lose our liberty.
c. That was a nice laugh that O'Reilly put in at the end about hearing what Human Rights Watch had to say. Since he never provides the other side of the story, we need to find it ourselves. But why go to Human Rights Watch? I had no trouble at all finding numerous examples of professional interrogators who contradict Ross. One is in that Applebaum article.
So: Ross's article doesn't explode much of anything. One reporter, having talked to several people who know about interrogations is persuaded that those interrogations produced useful information. Me, not having anything except one reporter's opinion, but plenty of reason to believe the opposite, is persuaded of nothing.
2. "President Bush's effort to clearly define what is or isn't acceptable" should be a line on The Daily Show. Bush could easily have asked any number of competent authorities to propose standards. JAG, the Senate Judiciary Committee, even the last surviving prosecutors of Nuremburg. Instead, he had Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo produce a CYA memo that claimed to justify techniques which plainly violated the Geneva accords.
3. That's a cute line about "I would not reward our soldiers on the frontline with a trial with a questionable outcome."
What kind of trial doesn't have a questionable outcome, Spectator?
What kind of political system employs such trials?
O'Reilly: So in all 14 cases, coerced interrogation methods being debated in the Senate right now were used and in all 14 cases according to your report they gave it up. Now, the opposition — you just heard it — Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, they say it’s garbage. They told them what they wanted to hear, it wasn’t truthful. Is that true?
R: That has happened in some cases, where the material that’s been given has not been accurate, has been essentially to stop the torture, in the case of KSM, the information was very valuable, particularly names and addresses of people who were involved with Al Qaeda in this country and in Europe, and one particular plot that would involve an airline attack on the tallest building in Los Angeles known as the library tower.
Again, PW...the truth is not simple. Not black and white. Not crystal clear.
If they learned that much from a person already in custody, then that person has already told them so much that he is likely to continue talking, to tell them where and when the attack is planned (assuming he has that information) so it can be prevented. So torture is unnecessary.
If they learned that much from other sources, it is highly unlikely that only the person in custody and not other sources can tell them where and when the attack will happen. So again, torturing the person in custody is unnecessary.
Either way, the situation where someone in custody must be forced to provide crucial details of a planned attack, because it's the only way to get the information to prevent the attack, is unlikely to exist in the real world, so the hypothetical situation does not justify real-world torture.
No, the word of CIA intelligence officers. Again, the same officers who either want coercive interrogation techniques to be clearly legal or illegal.
"b. Were there other means of intercepting the plot that do not involve breaking the Geneva Conventions and placing Americans at risk of prosecution for war crimes?"
With a determined guy like Khalid, probably not through interrogation. But yeah, listening to the phone conversations of suspected terrorists is one way to foil these plots and apprehend terrorists. But the left is against that too.
" it would be better to lose three million of our friends and family, or even our own lives, yet keep our liberties, than to save every life and lose our liberty."
Let's be sensible here. We're talking about a POS like Khalid. That's not to say we shouldn't be wary of the slippery slope, but I'm not willing to let three million Americans die when that could be prevented through reasonable interrogation techniques of foreign enemies.
"c. That was a nice laugh that O'Reilly put in at the end about hearing what Human Rights Watch had to say. Since he never provides the other side of the story, we need to find it ourselves."
You are wrong. He interviewed the director of HRW right after his interview with Brian Ross.
"Me, not having anything except one reporter's opinion, but plenty of reason to believe the opposite, is persuaded of nothing."
Plenty to believe? I would say that it's more reasonable to describe the situation as an information vacuum.
"2. "President Bush's effort to clearly define what is or isn't acceptable" should be a line on The Daily Show."
Yeah, I hear that Jon Stewart is all booked up right now with Hugo Chavez, Castro, and IWannaJihad.
"What kind of trial doesn't have a questionable outcome, Spectator?"
Simple. A trial would be unnecessary if the law were clear. If you're willing to sacrifice three million American lives, and I believe that you are and I believe that the Democrats are too, then we should prohibit the CIA from doing anything besides asking for the name, rank, and serial number of detainees.
It fascinates me how consistently people who want to torture prisoners (a) fabricate hypothetical situations and then proceed to argue as if those fabrications were reality and (b) present the situation as a choice between two extremes, even though both extremes are unreal. This is the real world we're talking about however, so the conclusions reached through fabrication and false choice are not valid.
These are CIA intelligence officers chosen by the Administration. Friendly leaking is almost always done by plan from the White House. Remember, this is classified material. If the White House doesn't want it leaked, it's the end of the leakers's careers.
Spectator says, "But yeah, listening to the phone conversations of suspected terrorists is one way to foil these plots and apprehend terrorists. But the left is against that too."
This is one of the sillier claims the right circulates. There is no opposition to listening to the calls of terrorists. There is opposition to listening to calls involving US persons (i.e., US citizens or persons inside the US) without court oversight as is absolutely required by the Fourth Amendment.
The situation is very simple: (a) if the conversation is not between US persons, there is no Fourth Amendment protection. Listen away. (b) if the conversation involves US persons, and there is probable cause, listening in is approved by the court. If (c) there is urgency, and no time to ask the court, listen in and retroactively get court authorization. The Bush Administration has arrogated to itself the right embodied in the Fourth Amendment, and is wiretapping American citizens on matters totally unrelated to terrorism.
Spectator says, "I'm not willing to let three million Americans die when that could be prevented through reasonable interrogation techniques of foreign enemies."
Are you willing for the US to become a nightmare state like the Soviet Union? They lost many more than three million innocent lives to their own government, because they failed to stop the terror when it began as very sensible-seeming measures against "bandits" and "Cossack remnants" (or whatever).
Spectator says, "You are wrong. He [O'Reilly] interviewed the director of HRW right after his interview with Brian Ross."
Although I searched for any evidence of the interview before I posted and couldn't find it, I believe you. I would sure like to see the transcript.
Spectator says, "I would say that it's more reasonable to describe the situation [regarding interrogation] as an information vacuum."
Then you aren't reading widely enough. Numerous interrogators have come forward and described their experiences, many because they were disgusted with what they were told to do. We've actually seen from Abu Ghraib photos and heard testimony of how interrogation is being done.
I asked, "What kind of trial doesn't have a questionable outcome, Spectator?"
Spectator said, "Simple. A trial would be unnecessary if the law were clear."
Wrong. The answer is "a trial in a kangaroo court."
Spectator says, "If you're willing to sacrifice three million American lives..."
That's a phony, strawman characterization of what I said. I'm willing to die for the cause of freedom. A free people has to be willing to do that.
But, yes, as MEC says, the situation is rarely that stark. Proponents of torture can't promise us security no matter how much freedom we surrender, and no number of American deaths, whether three or three million would justify surrendering our Constitution.
It's that-- caving in to fear and failing to defend the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution-- that would constitute victory by the terrorists.
W/r/t Terrorist Surveillance Program, I agree that FISA court should have oversight of electronic surveillance involving US citizens. Your claim that the NSA is "wiretapping American citizens on matters totally unrelated to terrorism" is yet another example of the paranoid thinking on this blog. Though, you, Charles, are a philosopher king compared to Phoenix Woman.
Seriously, the way this administration has acted the past 6 years I am a little paranoid. I don't trust a thing they say or a thing they do. I wouldn't put it past them to wiretap their political opponents (or enemies as they like to treat them) or misuse their power to in essence blackmail others to keep them carrying their water.
Ah, the strawmen are flying thick and fast.
I've said we don't know what the truth is on this story, because what Ross claims has not been crossexamined. There are numerous named, i.e., in principle crossexaminable sources claiming the opposite. It's not a question of taking anyone's word for it. It's a question of weighing the evidence.
Spectator says, "Your claim that the NSA is "wiretapping American citizens on matters totally unrelated to terrorism" is yet another example of the paranoid thinking on this blog. "
You haven't heard my reasons for believing this. You haven't presented any evidence to the contrary. Therefore, I am paranoid.
It was with keen analytical thinking like this by which Washington, DC was defended from the British in 1814.
Or, if you actually watched The Daily Show, you'd know that he was as hard on Chavez as anyone this week.
Please, enough of that sort of labeling. Being of German decent and Jewish, I was taken aback when I read it. Is it not time we stop this.
While the Shrub and his gang may want to draw parallels to WW2, that really don't exist, to his unending war on terror, I'd hate to see anyone inadvertantly encouraging the same talking hate points at this late date. It's time to let it go.
Even sarcastically they are not "Good Germans". Call them what they are; Terror mongering, frightened, small minded, power grasping, hate filled, lying, lying, lying.... oh, it's saturday and I'm going outside now.
A second point. Here in Germany in 2002 there a 'ticking bomb' case in the form of a kidnapping/murder. The kidnapper had admitted in police custody to kidnapping an eleven year old child, and had stated that he wouldn't survive much longer without food and water, but refused to reveal where he was. A police officer threatened to torture him if he didn't tell where the child was. He even noted the threat in the report. No torture was carried out. The kidnapper then revealed the location of the child, who he had already killed.
The police officer was convicted, but was let off with a warning and demoted. He probably would have served jail time if he had actually carried out any torture. There are no jury trials here. If there were, I suspect he would have been aquitted.
But there was evil before them, and they chose not to see it.
Anyone of us could do the same thing.
Indeed, Republicans nowadays are choosing not to see the torture, the wiretapping, the frightening accumulation of power into very ew hands, the adoption of war as our national reason to exist. They choose not to see the violence of their own spirit, of talking about using nuclear weapons against Iran, for example.
There's a saying that some people exist only to serve as a warning to others. The modern Republican Party fits that description.
Then start calling them the "Good Republicans" or the "Good Americans".
There is no longer any reason to taint the reputation of the German people. We've been living in the shadow of the holocaust for sixty years now, and nobody has noticed that that Germany does not exist in any form any longer.
Just stop it.
(Bitte entschuldig mich, mein Deutsch ist ja unheimlich schlecht.)
Die Benutzung des Wortes "Good German" hat in Amerika eine sondere Rezonanz, weil soviel 1940s Leute war mit der "Deutsches Bund" verbundet. Der "Bund" arbeitet, die Vereinegten Staaten neutral zu bleiben.
Also: Im Mittelalter hatte Deutschland eine echte Reputation for Toleranz der Juden. Es war der eigene Land, dass keine "pogroms" gegen Juden getan war. Aber ein böse, feindliche Gruppe, die Nazis, hat in fünf Jahre Deutschland zur eine anti-Semitische Land verwandelte.
Deutschland is eine Warnung. Ob der Land des Weimar, Goethe, Beethoven into barbarismus fallen kann, desto kann jeder Land. (Desto wie der USA mit Bush.)
Aber Deutschland is auch eine Hoffnung: Ein Land kann schnell ausser der Grube des Barbarismus/Anti-Semitismus aufstiegen. Ob Deutschland kann dieser Aufstieg machen, kann der USA dieser Aufstieg machen.
Genocide is not a uniquely German thing. It happened in Armenia in Ukraine before Hitler's rise to power. It has happened in Cambodia, in Indonesia/East Timor, in Guatemala, and in China since Hitler's fall.
It happened in the United States, with the Native Americans.
In that sense, to single out the Holocaust may seem unfair to the German people.
But the Holocaust was the first time that the world became conscious of mass violence against the innocent. For that reason, the term will not and should not go away.
"Anonymous, I'm sorry, but the Holocaust cannot be forgotten."
I never said it should be.
"Genocide is not a uniquely German thing."
But it seems like it. People act as if Germany invented it. You yourself admit that isn't so.
"It has happened in Cambodia, in Indonesia/East Timor, in Guatemala . . . "
Glad you brought these up. Who was the major power behind these? The United States spent over a decade decimating Vietnam, and when there is real genocide happening they turn a blind eye, and label the Vietnamese 'agressors' when they finally put a stop to it. Then years later try to re-install Pol Pot.
The Indonesian invasion of East Timor happened the day after the U.S. Secretary of State visited in Jakarta, and was armed and financed by the United States. Want to guess what they talked about? And I know I don't have to tell you about Guatemala, or Honduras, or Nicaragua, or El Salvador.
How many "Good Americans" stood by watched? How many cheered?
"It happened in the United States, with the Native Americans. "
Again, a case for the 'Good Americans.'
"In that sense, to single out the Holocaust may seem unfair to the German people."
Not 'seem'. It is. None of the people I know had anything to do with the Holocaust.
"But the Holocaust was the first time that the world became conscious of mass violence against the innocent."
Unless you read de las Casas, from the fifteenth century. Granted, not as many people read back then, but there have always been 'people conscious of mass violence against the innocent.'
Maybe we're just tired of being the scapegoat of the whole world. My wife gets accosted and called a Nazi in New York. She was born in 1958. Her grandfather died in a concentration camp where he was sent because he was working against Hitler in 1937. But she's called a Nazi.
A guy I know spent a month in an American school and is consistently addressed as 'Hitler'. By a teacher, for God's sake. (The students were not so disrespectful.)
Maybe it's time for the Americans to take up the mantle they have been so desperately working for since, ironically, the end of World War II.
Sorry, I don't mean to get mad, and especially not at you guys. You really are the Good Americans, who are trying to do the right thing, who are fighting to bring some compassion and rationality back to your country. It's a difficult thing to do.
But maybe what you don't realize is that today's Germans feel an incredible amount of shame because of what the Nazis did. And that shame is undeserved. Most of these people were not even born then, but everytime they hear something about "Good Germans" or "Hitler's Willing Executioners" they feel ashamed that they happened to have been born in a land that happened to have hosted a monster. Do you know any Russians or Chinese (since you mentioned these) that have this same sense of shame, just for having been born? I'd bet not. Why not? Because the world doesn't care about those Holocausts. Nobody says Hussein was another Mao, or another Stalin.
No, the term Holocaust will not and should not go away. (At least not until that time in the far future when war itself is but a memory.) But perhaps the term should be expanded or qualified. Maybe we shouldn't anchor it so firmly in the past, and so firmly in one nation. When anyone mentions 'Holocaust' people immediately thing 'Germany'. Maybe we should qualify it. It should be the Armenian Holocaust, or the Serbian Holocaust, or the American Holocaust (arguably the longest and most complete in history, having spanned four hundred years and successfully extinguished dozens of cultures, and continuing explicitly into the 1950's.)
Let each nation feel their own shame, rather than having one nation carry the shame of the whole world. Because that really is what it feels like. And that much shame makes nation very, very tired.
Chavez was right, Bush is the devil. Or at least, he listens to the devil in his head and has confused that with Christ.
Messianic complex and personally, he should be committed to an insane assylum.
Anonymous, the real lesson of Germany and the Holocaust is this:
As I mentioned earlier (in very bad German), for centuries, Germany had a strong and well-deserved reputation as a safe haven for Jews, particularly of the Azhkenazic strain, which in turn was well represented among Jewish immigrants to America. (Most of the names Americans think of as Jewish -- "Rosenbaum", "Morgenstern", etc. -- are in fact German, but were adopted by Jews settling in Germany in the Middle Ages.) It was the one place in Europe where Jews were not routinely hunted down during the Dark Ages, Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Everywhere else -- Poland, Russia, France, England -- Jews were periodically hunted down in pogroms. (Moorish Spain once was a haven, but that ended, bloodily, when the Christians took all of Spain in 1492.)
But (as I also mentioned) in a few short years, an Austrian named Schicklegruber and his buddies, capitalizing on (justified) German feelings of scapegoating post-World-War-I and a worldwide economic depression that struck Germany with particular fury (worsened by the post-Versailles economic scapegoating), managed to undo all of the long Germanic history of tolerance.
And make no mistake: Hitler was very, very efficient at killing Jews. In four short years, he and his associates killed at least two-thirds of all European Jews, and did it with the willing help of most of Germany's people and social structures:
It was not the largest mass killing of the twentieth century -- both Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong probably killed more people than Adolf Hitler. But "in ferocity, hate, sadism and horror, the Nazi genocide of the Jews of Europe has no peer." (Cathal Nolan, The Longman Guide to World Affairs [Longman, 1995], p. 159.) The element of sadism has attracted considerable recent notice: "The Germans debased and inflicted pain upon Jews with a regularity calculated not just to cripple their bodies but also to plunge them into a state of perpetual terror. The ideal guiding the Germans' treatment of the [Jews] ... was that it ought to be a world of unremitting suffering which would end in their deaths. A Jew's life ought to be a worldly hell, always in torment, always in physical pain, with no comfort available." (Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners, pp. 320, 457).
Who was responsible?
Primary responsibility has long been assigned to Adolf Hitler, one of the most psychotic and sanguinary leaders in history, who consigned tens of millions of people to furnaces and firing squads. Debate still rages over whether and when Hitler personally gave the order to exterminate the Jews. But there is no doubt that he provided the venomous ideological framework for the genocide, headed the state and military apparatus that implemented it, and frequently proclaimed his approval of the perpetrators' actions.
The Nazi Party that Hitler headed rapidly became indistinguishable from the German state. All party institutions and members -- especially Hitler's elite guard, the SS ("Death's Head" units, commanded by Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich), and the Einsatzkommanda (genocidal "action squads" in the East) -- shared responsibility for the Holocaust against Jews, Poles, Soviet prisoners-of-war, and Roma, among other groups. At lower levels of the bureaucracy of mass death, "Amorality was encouraged by specialization; each department and individual was accountable for only one small segment of the program, diffusing personal responsibility." (Donald Niewyk in Totten et al., Century of Genocide, pp. 141-42.)
In the last several years, debate has raged around the "Goldhagen thesis" (see Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners) -- namely, that "ordinary Germans" in their multitudes participated willingly, and usually enthusiastically, in the merciless tortures and annihilations that the Nazis inflicted upon the subject peoples of Europe. Ron Rosenbaum includes a chapter on the controversy in Explaining Hitler.
Recent research on the holocaust in the occupied territories has also emphasized the role of the German army in facilitating the genocides against Jews and Soviet POWs in particular. The long-held view that the "proud" German military somehow held itself aloof from the Nazis' genocide has been decisively debunked (see Bartov, The German Army and Genocide). The relationship between the regular army and the SS or paramilitary killers was intimate and mutually supportive -- as in the Serbs' genocidal and gendercidal campaigns in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, but on a massively greater scale.
The lesson: Any nation, no matter how highly cultured -- and Germany gave us Goethe and the Weimar culture -- can sink into barbarism, given the right conditions. It took the combined might of Europe, Russia and America to pull Germany out of its barbarism.
The US could have gone that way in the 1930s, but we were lucky in that our local Fascists weren't as well-organized as yours (though not for lack of trying or for funds: Google "Smedley Butler 1934" sometime to find out about the US right-wingers' coup attempt that year). We got Franklin D. Roosevelt, who kept us from going down a Fascist path.
But take heart: If Bush, whose Middle Eastern actions would not be possible without the right-wing's playing on racist fears of "Islamofascists", invades Iran -- an action which will lead to bloody chaos on an unimaginable scale -- he has a shot at superseding Hitler's infamy, and then the pressure may be taken off the Germans.
It will happen, Anonymous. As one who has worked for peace and against genocide for more years than I care to remember, it's painful to me to realize that America's good name has been permanently tarnished by George W. Bush.
We can no longer take refuge in claiming ignorance about racial equality. Science has proven we are all brothers and sisters.
We can not credibly claim that our deeds are done in self-defense, as happened during the Cold War. Even by 1980 that excuse was wearing thin. We are properly seen as acting with cold, indifferent greed to seize Lebens-oil.
History will judge us harshly. And, despite my personal efforts to prevent this insanity, I will be judged with everyone else.
I should add one point about why this title is so appropriate.
The American Right incorporated the techniques and some of the personnel of the old Nazi regime. The Bush family earned some of their wealth from assisting in the Holocaust.
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