Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Josh Marshall, April 2009:

Being bold means taking responsibility for being bold. As I've argued before, I think the answer to the ticking time bomb rationale for torture is this: that in the extremely unlikely circumstance that government officials ever found themselves in that position of having a ticking time bomb ticking away, they might have to make the decision to break the law. Not fudge it or keep their actions hidden, but take the decision on their own responsibility that it was the best thing to do in the situation -- despite it being wrong as a general matter -- and then bring their decision to attention of the people and law enforcement authorities and throw themselves on the mercy of the public. Thomas Jefferson explored a similar question and argument for the position a president could find himself in when faced with extra-constitutional or even unconstitutional actions.

In any case, if your patriotism is such that in an extreme situation you'd risk your own liberty to defend the lives of Americans, that's courage. But nothing else really cuts it.

Me, December 2005:

If you really believe in some higher law, then you should be willing to pay a temporal price for your willingness to torture in its service. Then when the time comes, perhaps you can explain to your higher authority why you think making it safe for heathens like me to torture with impunity makes ours a better world.

I feel there is a strong categorical imperative against torture. I am also in at least some contexts a utilitarian. I honestly don't know what I would do if faced with this situation. But I do know that if I honestly believed that by doing something I considered wrong I would certainly prevent the suffering of millions, the illegality of my actions would not be a major factor in my decision. I would much prefer that my government declare torture illegal and risk jail in your hypothetical situation than sleep in my own bed in a country that condones such barbarity.

Moral decisions involve costs. What personal price would you pay to prevent the Holocaust? I would like to believe I am strong and noble enough not just to commit a personal wrong, but to pay the price for that transgression, to benefit the many. And I would hope that, when compared to the millions of deaths and countless other horrors prevented, my own punishment for murder would have only trifling weight in my personal calculus.

Doing the right thing often means paying a price. Ask Joseph Wilson. Ask Sibel Edmonds. Ask Bunnatine Greenhouse. Torture is, at the very least, almost always the wrong thing. I want my country to make sure that torturers pay a price, and I’d rather punish the one-in-a-million person whose actions are justified than encourage others with motives less pure to sin with impunity.

And that's a big part of why I don't post so much nowadays.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


A simple answer to a simple question:

It has been known for years that torture is useless as a technique for intelligence gathering. Subjects will say anything to make it stop. All it is good for is extracting false confessions. So why would the Bush Administration engage in torture?

Because false confessions were not just an unfortunate side effect of the torture; they were the point of the torture.

Update: Frank Rich goes there:

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Obama released the memos.

I have quickly skimmed the first one, available here. It is notable for the casual, detached manner with which it treats unequivocal torture techniques. (It is also notable for the obscene way in which Bybee blindered himself in order to reach the desired outcome. (You handed me carefully selected and misleading "facts;" I will accept each of them as gospel and make no effort to put them in the context the rest of the world takes for granted in order to bless what you do).

My first, naive thought was that now, at long last, the dead-enders will finally have to admit how wrong they have been. That lasted about ten seconds. I quickly remembered that the Bush crowd remains as immune to facts as they were before; these memos will change nothing. Bush was part of their "us;" he shared with the wingnuts their hatred of the same "them;" and no revelation, no matter how horrible, will change that.

My next, less naive thought was about the recent brouhaha about the Homeland Security report warning us against right-wing extremists, and how the Malkins and Boehners are asking, in their best faux outrage voices, if we mean them.

Well, Michelle, if you read these memos and continue to stand with the thuggery of the Bush Administration... then yes, we mean you. If you can look upon such unequivocoal, grotesque criminality and still defend those who enabled and perpetrated it... then yes, we mean you. If, now that the power to eavesdrop without warrant, detain without evidence, and imprison without trial is held by those with whom you disagree, you would still justify the widespread abuse of those very powers... then you should not be heard to complain if the bell tolls for thee.

Update: Sully nails it:

This is what Hannah Arendt wrote of when she talked of the banality of evil.


No mention of the torture memos appears right now on the Drudge Report (which provides news of a prank at Dominos pizza), Instapundit (which mentions the new DVD for the Lord of The Rings trilogy), Pajamas Media, or Michelle Malkin. They are reacting to the evidence of war crimes committed by the president of the United States the way they did at the time the crimes were committed.
No surprise.

Update #2: I don't always agree with Sully, but the man can write. This is just dead on, at least until he gets to this part:

But my view is also that the president has acted wisely in ... (declining prosecution). As president in wartime, he knows how wounding it would be to engage in this kind of activity right now.

The "wartime" dodge is a familiar one, especially to Sully. But even if you buy into that paradigm, ours is not a war for territory or resources. You may believe, as Victor Davis Hanson nonsensically argued, that they hate us for who we are, or you may be capable of grasping that they hate us for what we do. Here the distinction is without a difference. Both paradigms are reinforced by letting the perps walk. Both are undercut if they are punished. Indeed, our enemies bomb us in order to punish them, because they know we won't. The way to stop fueling the fires is to stop acting like beasts, and to punish our own monsters.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Remember when the Republican machine was an overwhelming juggernaut, dominating news cycles, playing public sentiment like a fiddle, and utterly dominating our national discourse?

What the hell happened? Now they can't tie their shoes without tying left and right together and triggering domino-like pratfalls among their colleagues. They still get attention from the press, of course, but that only seems to drive them further off into the deep brush as they lurch from gaffe to embarrassment.

I know they were never as good even we gave them credit for. But the fall is still remarkable.

At the rate they are going they will lose still more seats in Congress in 2010, which will make it 3 in a row. Has that ever been done before?

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