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The Authoritarian Tautology

[ 43 ] May 3, 2011 |

If there is an isolated terrorist attack, then there needs to be an expansion of the national security state. If a terrorist leader is killed, then there needs to be an expansion of the national security state.

Related, obviously, is the hand-waving about torture being essential to the Bin Laden operation despite a complete absence of evidence. Among other things, this reveals that the ticking-time-bomb justification isn’t just bad on its face — apparently, the fuse lasts for a decade.

…noted radical civil libertarian Don Rumsfeld didn’t get the memo about torture being crucial to the OBL operation.

Comments (43)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    OT: more football

  2. Xenocrates says:

    There already seems to be quite a bit of pushback against this particular lie, but it’s a zombie. Can’t really kill it off altogether…

  3. Xenocrates says:

    Didn’t like my link…

  4. Norman Thomas says:

    Officials say CIA interrogators in secret overseas prisons developed the first strands of information that ultimately led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

    • Jay B. says:

      Yeah. That makes sense. I’m sure it has nothing to do with spin and ass covering about all the people we tortured for whatever fucking reason. No, it’s about the 431st time we managed to waterboard KSM that he suddenly remembered where Osama said he’d be shacking up and with whom.

      A koan: Is there anything that would be so stupid to believe that a stupid person would laugh at it?

    • …and even in the most favorable story you can dig up, you still can’t find a single word of evidence that torture was involved.

    • GeoX says:

      You might want to think about the question of just why you’re so emotionally invested in the idea of torture being a good thing. Because from my perspective–and, really, the perspective of all non-moral-cripples–it’s quite disturbing.

  5. hv says:

    I used to work for Lockheed Martin a while back. We had a program manager who was pretty much useless, except for one critical skill… no matter what changes the customer made to the statement of work, he was ready with a powerpoint presentation about how that would increase the costs.

    – Added more lines of code? Costs go up because the task expanded.

    – Removed lines of code? Costs go up because past efforts must be reworked and future efforts must be managed for more efficiency.

    – Hiring subcontractors? Costs go up to manage and verify results. Etc.

    The team used to jokingly admire his skills after hours.

    =======

    I mention this as anecdotal evidence that the authoritarian tautology is not just an ironic happenstance… there are people throughout the MIC that are tasked with ratcheting one direction only. (Heck, probably every industry.)

  6. croghan27 says:

    OBL captured dead? Where is the picture – the story has changed three times so far.

    Howcome I believe he is in some black site (Poland, perhaps) learning how gargle with his septum.

    • Warren Terra says:

      Ok. You think that 80 or so commandos, however many support personnel, some number of intelligence officers, and whatever group of people in Poland or wherever know this and are going to keep mum, do you? You think Obama went on national television to say he’s dead because he didn’t want to admit our troops are so badass they managed to find him and take him alive? That’s really what you think?

      Good to know. Please, as a favor to me, stick with the pseudonym.

    • Howcome I believe

      Professional ethics prevent me from offering a diagnosis without a full examination.

      • DrDick says:

        Not being a medical doctor, I am not bound by such considerations and will venture that he is dumb as a stump and batshit crazy as a likely explanation.

      • herr doktor bimler says:

        “Professional ethics” means “no-one is paying me”.

    • Because you’re nuts?

    • hv says:

      Howcome I believe he is in some black site

      Gotta find out if he knows that the gov’t did 9/11, eh?

  7. Dave says:

    Oh, no, torture’s cool now. See Josh Marshall. Heck, I’m prepared to develop a whole epistemology using the pain of torture as a ground. We haven’t yet begun to test the limits of the knowable!

    • brenda says:

      That statement from JM may be the thing that’s shocked me most in the time since Sunday night. He starts off noting that the fact that people are claiming torture got us here even though that’s not the case and then bizarrely adds:

      “As a more general matter it’s important to recognize that torture could easily have produced the key information. It just seems not to have in this case.”

      What? I don’t even know how to respond to that without devolving into incoherent sputtering. It’s important why? It could have but didn’t, over the course of ten years and god knows how many people? It “just seems not to” have worked, purely by coincidence, nothing to see here. And then I start wanting to punch things and can’t go any further.

      • Furious Jorge says:

        Yeah, with that single statement, JM has managed to get me to stop reading TPM.

        Even his persistent habit of linking approvingly to The Bull Moose (remember that guy?) back in the day didn’t manage to accomplish that …

      • Malaclypse says:

        “As a more general matter it’s important to recognize that torture could easily have produced the key information. It just seems not to have in this case.”

        Alternatively:

        “As a more general matter it’s important to recognize that torture ouija boards could easily have produced the key information. It just seems not to have in this case.”

        “As a more general matter it’s important to recognize that torture the entrails of a goat, sacrificed to Mickey Kaus, could easily have produced the key information. It just seems not to have in this case.”

    • Murc says:

      Oh, for fucks sake.

      I already had this argument over at Balloon Juice, and now I guess it’s over here as well.

      Josh Marshall was in no way, shape, or form endorsing torture. He was, in fact, trying to give what he felt, and I agree, is good rhetorical advice for people trying to argue that torture is never acceptable.

      Statistically speaking, you are sometimes going to get accurate, even key and vital, information by torturing people. You’re sometimes going to pick up people who know important shit, and when you break them under torture (and everyone can be broken under torture) they are going to tell you that important shit. And sometimes, you are even going to be good enough to separate that wheat from the vast amount of chaff you will ALSO generate and then act on it.

      And that means that the practical ‘torture doesn’t work’ argument has a flaw in it, because sometimes through sheer luck torture WILL work if you just do it enough to enough people, and the fucked up d-bags who get their jollies off on it only need a handful of examples to cram back down your throat.

      What you WANT is the moral argument, the doctrinaire argument, the one that says torture is wrong, always, period, full stop. THAT argument is a fortress. It can’t be overcome or weakened by improving the practical efficiency of torture. If somebody invented a brain-coring machine tomorrow that could reliably and without error extract all information in a persons head by impaling them with an electrified titanium spike with no anesthesia, the practical argument falls apart, but the moral one still stands strong.

      In summary; Josh wasn’t saying what a lot of people think he was saying, and it wasn’t because he has poor communication skills, either.

      • jeer9 says:

        It would still be “reassuring” to see evidence/examples in which torture, as a practical matter and performed routinely, if secretly, as a procedural policy, actually provided more benefits than harms to a democratic state, given that the people engaged in such conduct tend not to be the brightest bulbs and would have difficulty making the types of distinctions you believe are possible. And since the “proof” is inevitably going to be provided by the people who acted inhumanely, I’m not sure, as a practical matter, that they are going to be terribly convincing to the skeptic. I agree that the moral argument holds the most weight but, even in a backhanded manner, suggestions that torture is occasionally practical seem similar to a man advising his irresponsible brother that his weekly paycheck is best spread across a roulette table.

      • Pithlord says:

        This is right. Marshall was saying that torture would be wrong, even if it worked. That its wrongness does not depend on its ineffectiveness.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          And, moreover, he’s implicitly making the same point as jeer9; even if it could be shown to have “worked” in some specific instance, that’s not evidence that it “works” in a broader sense.

        • Bobby Thomson says:

          That isn’t what Marshall is saying. He’s not posing a hypothetical construct. He’s making an empirical claim that sometimes torture works, and it’s an empirical claim that is wrong.

          • djw says:

            He’s making an empirical claim that sometimes torture works, and it’s an empirical claim that is wrong.

            But this is absurd. He’s not claiming that torture “works” at a rate that compares favorably to other interrogation techniques. He is claiming that torture might occasionally produce useful or actionable intelligence, which seems perfectly obvious and utterly banal. That doesn’t make it a good strategy, because it’s going to pruduce useful information at a lower rate than conventional, non-immoral interrogation techniques.

            If a basketball player decided to take all his shots, including outside jump shots, as sky-hooks, we could all agree that that’s a pretty stupid strategy that’s going to have less success than other sensible approaches. But he also might score a few points over the long season.

      • Bobby Thomson says:

        Statistically speaking, you are sometimes going to get accurate, even key and vital, information by torturing people. You’re sometimes going to pick up people who know important shit, and when you break them under torture (and everyone can be broken under torture) they are going to tell you that important shit. And sometimes, you are even going to be good enough to separate that wheat from the vast amount of chaff you will ALSO generate and then act on it.

        No, you aren’t. You’re wrong, and Marshall is wrong.

        • Murc says:

          Explain to me the logic chain that leads to me being wrong, which you obviously feel strongly enough about to make two very forceful comments to that effect.

          I mean, I’m wrong a lot. But my own logic seems pretty sound to me, and I don’t think its crazy enough that you can simply make a blanket ‘You are wrong’ statement without backing it up the way you could if I had claimed, for example, that the sky was purple.

          • DocAmazing says:

            If you don’t already know what the tortured informant is going to tell you, then you don’t know enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. You’re going to get a few nuggets of useful information firmly embedded in a matrix of pain-inspired bullshit, and you won’t be able to separate truth from falsehood.

            It’s not like there’s no history of this; it’s not like this hasn’t gone on before.

            • Anonymous says:

              But this is a sense in which (again, empirically not morally) torture differs from other, more effective forms of interrogation in a quantitative rather than qualitative way. Other, more successful interrogation techniques will also produce a mix of truth and fiction that can’t be immediately and confidently sorted out. Torture produces a worse ratio, but the general problem you identify here isn’t limited to torture.

              • hv says:

                The problem is that torture throws away other information at the same time in a qualitative way.

                I consider this to be obvious, but here’s the tiniest example to help your imagination along if you’re missing it… e.g. it is much harder to read the facial expression and non-verbal posture of someone undergoing torture.

            • Murc says:

              That’s true, Doc, and I don’t disagree with any of it, but we aren’t arguing over whether or not torture is morally outrageous and grossly ineffective. We’re arguing over whether it is 100% ineffective, that you’re NEVER going to hit a perfect storm. And that just seems silly to me, and I’m not alone in that.

              • hv says:

                I also assume you have embraced Christianity, because Pascal’s wager follows the same “perfect storm” fact pattern.

      • brenda says:

        I see a lot of people saying this, so I’m willing to concede that it can certainly be read differently. That said, I think that to take that from what Marshall actually said requires reading a lot of context into the post that isn’t actually there.

        That aside, some of my frustration comes from how incredibly fucking unhelpful a statement like that is at this time. We’ve had a good ten years of people saying “sure, torture is wrong but we really, really need it this time!” So now, one of the biggest target priorities in the so-called GWoT has been achieved, and to all appearances *without* the use of torture.

        So instead of taking this moment to stand up and say “look, good old fashioned intelligence work got us what we needed”, we have liberal pundits feeling they need to remind us that hey, those pro-torture folks could have got us here too. Why? They want to make that argument, let them.

  8. Holden Pattern says:

    I in no way said this yesterday. Absolutely not.

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  9. “Statistically speaking, you are sometimes going to get accurate, even key and vital, information by torturing people.”

    But, by the same metric, statistically speaking, you have the same chance of getting the same information by employing ‘the soft cushion’ or the ‘comfy chair.’

    • Murc says:

      Absolutely true, but my larger point was that JM wasn’t endorsing torture or saying we should do it sometimes. I mean, I’d be happy to talk about the nuances of the point all day long, but I’ve been seeing lots of ‘Oh my god, TPM is now endorsing torture’ freak-outs from people who really oughta know better.

      • Bobby Thomson says:

        Maybe not endorsing, but implicitly legitimizing by making the empirically false claim that sometimes it works.

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