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Torture and Bad Faith

[ 330 ] December 13, 2012 |

The first thing to note about Freddie deBoer’s response to my point about his ridiculous generalizations about liberals and torture is that he cites Alan Dershowitz as representing the typical liberal position. (And he accuses other people of bad faith!)  And does so as if eventheliberal Alan Dershowitz’s feeble defense of torture is news to me. To state the obvious, since I am a fairly typical left-liberal it would be impossible to understate the influence Dershowitz has had on my thinking, on this issue or any other.

Once things have started on such a farcical level further rebuttal is probably superfluous. But I do think it’s worth quoting what deBoer actually argued:

It’s not that I think liberals support torture. No, I think liberals want to be forced to support torture. What liberals want is ultimately to do what conservative hawks want to do, but only after experts and leaders assure them that they have no choice. They want extreme events to make the choice for them. That’s why every discussion of torture always descends into some absurd hypothetical where you know that there’s a ticking time bomb and you know that a terrorist in your custody has info and you know that you can get that info and stop that bomb if you torture him. They devise these incredibly complex scenarios because they need them to take away their personal choice. That’s why writers like Spencer Ackerman exist, to present the proper level of squeamishness and showy moral grappling– to say that these scenes “can make a viewer ashamed to be American, in the context of a movie whose ending scene makes viewers very, very proud to be American”– before the torture happens anyway. The key is to go through the moral indigestion but to eventually get to the all-American pride. There’s a whole cottage industry, like that, for fretting liberals who want to get to the tough guy routine in the end.

If Zero Dark Thirty shows torture as the key to killing bin Laden, that’s what it’s for, and I’m sure performing that service will prove very profitable. It will inevitably be folded into a narrative used to perpetuate violence in the Muslim world. That narrative will come wrapped in the flag and shouting about freedom. That’s what it means to be an American today, to talk about defending principles you swiftly abandon in the process of defending them. And that’s the message of American liberals today, like the film critics showing their profound sophistication as they snark at Greenwald: do the bad thing. Just make us feel that we have no choice.

As you can see, deBoer did not make an argument about some specific liberals, which would not only be fair game but something I (like most liberal bloggers) have done multiple times.  He was making an argument about liberals as a class. To cite isolated examples of unrepresentative liberals (or politicians who lead majority coalitions in the United States and are not, in fact, “favorites” of liberals) defending torture (or, in some cases, defending bad things that are not torture) does not even come close to a defense of his claim, which involved citing one person who defended Zero Dark Thirty because he read at as opposing torture. Comments from Eric Holder that discuss the legal status of detainees but say nothing about torture are also not evidence that liberals as a class support support torture — excuse me, “want to be forced” to support torture. And, in fact an overwhelming majority of liberals do not support torture under any circumstances.

deBoer also cites a comment from Corey Robin, which cites a book edited by Sandy Levinson that I wasn’t familiar with. As it happens, the college library has it in e-book form, so I perused it after getting to work. Levinson, at least, is a liberal who I admire, and Robin is dismayingly right — Levinson’s introduction does express support for the idea that torture might be a lesser evil in some circumstances, based on worthless hypotheticals.  Having said this, the existence of this volume is pretty weak tea in terms of an argument that liberals generally support torture and see value in the ticking time bomb scenario. As Robin concedes, two of the most prominent liberals in the book unequivocally oppose torture. I’m not familiar with a majority of the other contributors, but of the ones I do know, two (Richard Posner and Jean Belke Elshtain) are people of the right. And Michael Walzer made his reputation is a “communitarian” critic of liberalism — if we’re going to use deBoer’s (abjectly useless, IMHO) framework of distinguishing between left-liberals and Real Democratic Leftists, based on his assumptions I believe Walzer proves that deBoer wants to be forced to defend torture, not that I do. It seems rather more accurate to say that Walzer’s idiosyncratic views are not representative of any branch of left political thought.

And finally, there’s this:

Liberal crush object Barack Obama is in charge of, among other things, our intelligence services. Our intelligence services have repeatedly been alleged to have committed torture. Obama is also Commander in Chief to those in the military. And the military tortured Bradley Manning, during Obama’s administration, and certainly with Obama’s full knowledge and support. If Obama wanted the torture of Bradley Manning to stop, he would have stopped it. That’s not intellectual or moral support for torture, it’s direct complicity in torture.

First of all, as I said in comments the “crush object” bit is a rather pathetic bit of projection. In fact, “vastly better than Mitt Romney” and “better than most American presidents” are very low bars to climb, and leaves a considerable distance between Obama and left-liberals, particularly on civil liberties issues.  At any rate, while the treatment of Bradley Manning has been reprehensible is (contrary to some initial reports) does not constitute torture as the term is usually understood. And it seems relevant here that Obama ended the official sanction of torture given by the previous administration. This is one of the many issues — such as gender equity, access to health care, gay and lesbian rights, environmental regulation, voting rights, and so on — that deBoer, being a Real Principled Leftist of Principle rather than a mere liberal, believed should be given no weight whatsoever in determining who was worthy of support in the most recent presidential election (despite the fact that the only other person who could become president was substantially worse than Obama not only on the life-or-death issues deBoer arbitrarily ignored but on the life-or-death issues he focused on.) How this makes people who supported Obama rather than people who were indifferent about the possibility of Mitt “Double Gitmo” Romney becoming president secret advocates of torture is…not clear.

Comments (330)

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  1. 1. You said “cite some.” I cited some. You are now furiously changing the subject and moving the goalposts, because you picked a fight you couldn’t win, lost, and can’t admit to it. Man up, dude.

    2. No True Scotsman is an elementary and juvenile fallacy. You should abandon it.

    3. I cited many people, including Barack Obama– who was actually complicit in torture– and Bill Clinton (and Fred Kaplan and Jonathan Alter and Alter’s citation of left-wing friends and others). You’re highlighting Dershowitz because you’re trying to avoid looking at the rest of the evidence. That’s weakmanning, another elementary fallacy, and a juvenile one too. You should abandon it.

    4. In 2003, the Virginia Law Review published an article that specifically was intended to combat liberal arguments for torture. The article cites such arguments, and speaks to a context where the author clearly thought such arguments were commonplace. As do I, having lived through the past decade. Why would he write it, and more importantly, why would the article survive the peer review and editing process at a major law journal if liberals were not commonly making consequentialist arguments for torture?

    5. As everyone who writes for this blog does, you are baiting your commenters to flood the issue with mindless invective, then try and stand back and act the saint. Which is cheap, and easy, but also cowardly.

    6. This blog once attacked publications like Slate and TNR for being reflexively antileft, and pressured Democrats from the left on issues like foreign policy and espionage. It is now reflexively antileft itself, and pressures liberals from the right on issues like foreign policy and espionage. It’s to the point where you’re concern trolling Bradley Manning’s torture, despite the fact that the UN torture chief found that Manning had been tortured.

    Is that how badly stung you are, by people pointing out that you’ve become a centrist hippie-puncher, that you’d concern troll torture? That you’d work to undermine those claims? You challenged me and you lost, and you did because you didn’t think things through. Now you’re doing it again. Maybe you should take some time, step back, and chew on the fact that this blog is now indistinguishable from TNR circa 2003.

    • “This blog once attacked publications like Slate and TNR for being reflexively antileft, and pressured Democrats from the left on issues like foreign policy and espionage. It is now reflexively antileft itself…”

      Well, except for the part where we can’t actually establish that this blog’s most common targets are actually to the left of its authors in any meaningful sense, anyway.

    • Walt says:

      Freddie, you’re basically trolling liberals, most of whom oppose torture.

      And Scott lost? Is this some sort of masculinity contest? Couldn’t you guys arm-wrestle, and leave the rest of us out of it?

    • Fraxin says:

      2. If you say “All Scotsmen live in Bulgaria”, and I point out that most Scotsmen live in Scotland, I am not committing any particular fallacy…

    • mark f says:

      You said that liberals want to be told by leaders that torture is cool. In defense you cited, sometimes disingenuously, leaders. And ignored evidence, repeatedly pointed out to you, that liberals en masse have failed to follow the directive. What this indiRAAHHR HULK SMASH BIGBALLS VICTORY

      • Ah yes, there is that little complicating matter, isn’t there. Apparently this mass of liberals who want someone to “force” them to support torture just hasn’t found anyone persuasive enough, despite plenty of opportunities to do so.

        I guess if nothing else we’ve got an ideal type (through projection, anyway) of the phenomenon of internet based Real Liberals yearning for their own Republican daddies to take care of everything for them, though.

    • brewmn says:

      This:
      “As everyone who writes for this blog does, you are baiting your commenters to flood the issue with mindless invective, then try and stand back and act the saint.”

      Immediately followed by this:

      “Which is cheap, and easy, but also cowardly.”

      Is hilarious.

      • sharculese says:

        This.

        Seriously, you post this after going on what, you’re millionth multi-day tear about how just totally awful and unbearable everyone to your right is? Do you have even a modicum of self-awareness?

      • Seriously, this guy is a projection machine.

      • David Nieporent says:

        If the shoe fits…

        That’s exactly the m.o. of this blog.

        Step 1: Find someone to mock.
        Step 2: Watch the circle-jerk in the comments as each commenter tries to top the last in mocking the target.
        Step 3: There is no step 3; that’s as far as it gets.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Don’t worry David, we’ll get back to mocking you soon.

          • David Nieporent says:

            Loomis, you mocking me is like Stephen Hawking making fun of Albert Pujols for not being a good baseball player. I mean, I thought you couldn’t get any stupider, but then you come up with a list of ideas that a high school social studies class would be embarrassed to have dreamed up.

            Please, I beg you: take an economics class before you graduate from college. Just one.

            • Erik Loomis says:

              I’m impressed by you comparing yourself favorably to Albert Pujols.

              • njorl says:

                Shows what you know. He equated himself with Albert Pujols. He compared himself favorably to Stephen Hawking.

                He also equated you with Stephen Hawking in order to convey just how stupid you are.

                • David Nieporent says:

                  Analogy fail. For both of you. A:B :: C:D compares the relationships between the individuals in each pair, not the individuals themselves. Loomis is to intelligence as Stephen Hawking is to athletics. I could have gone for Helen Keller instead, but while her baseball skills were probably quite poor, she could walk (while she was alive, anyway), which makes Loomis unfit to clean the mud out of her cleats.

                • njorl says:

                  Connotation fail, Mr. Nieporent. Language is not a purely logical phenomenon. The non-denotative aspect of your analogy managed to make you look like an arrogant buffoon.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      I am far from a reflexive defender of everything Scott writes (as regular readers of this blog’s comment thread know), but you have done nothing close to proving your claim that liberals, in general, want to be forced to support torture. You’ve cited a tiny handful of people–many of whom are not liberals at all–who do, in fact, support torture. In this comment, you cite a law review article that itself explicitly uses liberalism “in the broad sense used by political philosophers from John Stuart Mill on, a sense that includes conservatives as well as progressives, so long as they believe in limited government and the importance of human dignity and individual rights,” i.e. to mean something other than what “liberalism” has meant in this conversation so far.

      Fail.

    • Superking says:

      Freddie, reading point 4, most law journals aren’t peer reviewed. They are run by students. Articles are selected and edited by students with little to no oversight by law professors. I’m not sure that that says anything about you’re point, but it is a major indictment of legal academia.

      • Glenn says:

        Yeah, I spit out my coffee when I read “peer-review” at a major law journal. They’re reviewed by law students who think they’re brilliant but actually know fuck-all about the law. I know, I was one of them.

    • Jeffrey Beaumont says:

      Freddie does have a point with the Bradley Manning issue. He was tortured, and Scott should not play definition games with it, period.

      The rest is the sort of invective and bad argumentation he accuses “all the bloggers” of. Way to go fruitcake.

      • He was tortured, and Scott should not play definition games with it, period.

        He was not, and the definition games are being played by the people who jumped on the bandwagon and don’t want to admit they were wrong.

        • Jeffrey Beaumont says:

          Look, keeping someone in solitary confinement qualifies as torture to any reasonably compassionate person. Harming people physically and psychologically as a means of coercion, punishment, example-making, whatever, is torture.

          • He had a television in his cell, received weekly visitors, and regularly had conversations with other detainees on his unit.

            I don’t dispute at all that extended solitary can be torture, but the reality of what Manning experienced was not. There was a lot of bogus information pushed at the beginning of this story, and it’s polluted the discourse.

          • John says:

            If solitary confinement is torture, in and of itself, then there are many better examples to go to than Bradley Manning.

    • tonycpsu says:

      “To prove my point that liberals in general want to be forced to support torture, I will cite a handful of liberals and a couple of not-at-all liberals who have supported torture. Scoreboard!”

      The debate ends when Freddie says it does, and if you ask for evidence supporting a premise of his overall point, he’s going to end the debate when he proves (to his satisfaction) that premise holds true, not when he’s defended his original point.

      But Lemieux is the one moving the goalposts.

      • David Nieporent says:

        Lemieux didn’t challenge him to prove the point “that liberals in general want to be forced to support torture.” Lemieux challenged him to “cite some of the unnamed” liberals who fit the description. He did. Or he didn’t, if you want to argue that these people don’t fit the description. But you can’t argue that he shouldn’t have named individuals when Lemieux challenged him to name individuals.

        • Mike D. says:

          But you can argue that the particular liberals Freddie cited when asked to name some liberals to illustrate the claim he made a bout liberals generally are instructive as to the validity of the general claim in some way that you then explain. Which is what Lemieux argued and then did.

        • Paul Beaulieu says:

          You say that Lemieux didn’t challenge DeBoer to prove the point “that liberals in general want to be forced to support torture.”. True. On the other hand, that doesn’t change the fact that DeBoer’s claim is not proven. Unless he can show that these people and their positions do in fact represent “liberals” generally, his claim will remain unproven, and, since this whole argument stems from that claim, until he proves or retracts that claim the rest of this argument is just quibbling over minor details.

        • tonycpsu says:

          The most straightforward way to assess the validity of a statement like “liberals want to be forced to support torture” is to first ask for some examples of these liberals, then discuss whether this evidence that those liberals do, in fact, want to be forced to support torture. It’s not quite a prerequisite for such a debate — you could argue the point on purely academic grounds without getting into specific examples — but it’s easier to debate the issue if we have real people and events to discuss.

    • rea says:

      Barack Obama– who was actually complicit in torture

      You are a damned liar.

      First, you don’t acknowledge that you are talking about treatment of one prisoner, Manning, rather than a general program of torturing prisoners. The way you argue this wilfully misleads your audience.

      Second, you insist on using the word, “torture,” without acknowledging that you are talking about solitary confinement and not, say, waterboarding. Solitary confinement is not “torture,” as the word is ordinarily understood. I quite agree that prolonged solitary confinement is abusive in most circumstances–but argue about what was actualy done to Bradley Manning, rather than chosing words that obscure the facts. The way you argue this wilfully misleads your audience.

      Third, you say that Obama was actually personally complicit in how Manning was treated. Presidents ordinarily don’t micromanage treatment of particular prisoners–we don’t ordinarily want them to. There is a long chain of command between the president and Manning’s jailers. You have zero evidence tht Obama intervened to impose a harsher regime. To the extent that Obama is resposnible as CinC of the jailers–well, he’s also CinC of the psychiatirsts who objected to the treatment, and of the military lawyers who went to court to stop it, and of the senior officers who ultimately ordered him transfered. Again, you argue this in a way that wilfully misleads your audience.

      Fourth, the military–which, you know, Obama runs–just concluded a long series of hearings into the matter. See, this account. I recognize that the 4th International is probably too rightist for you, but still, read the article. It looks like the matter is being investigated and remedied in an appropriate way. Note that the hearings do, in fact, show a White Hose intervention:

      Revealingly, Barnes testified that after she ordered Manning’s forced nakedness, she was told that any future changes in his treatment would need approval from a three-star general. The micro-management of Manning’s conditions by military brass came in response to the widespread condemnations over the abuse and expresses the direct concerns of the Pentagon and the White House . . .

      You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

      • MosesZD says:

        Bradly Manning. You lose. Solitary confinement has been considered torture for ages. In 1826, Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville denounced a New York prison experiment using continuous solitary confinement for all inmates:

        “This experiment, of which the favorable results had been anticipated, proved fatal for the majority of prisoners. It devours the victims incessantly and unmercifully; it does not reform, it kills.”8

        We know solitary confinement is torture. We’ve known it since then. We’ve know it from mutiple lines of science, testimony, court cases, etc.

        We know the US Prison system routinely tortures people by using solitary confinement. We know it was done to Bradly Manning with full knowledge by Obama.

        There is no gray area here. It’s black-and-white and you’re on the wrong side of that argument. Along with Scott who just publicly shat himself by pretending psychological torture (solitary confinement) is not torture.

        • Bradley Manning – you mean the guy with the TV in his cell, who received weekly visitors, and who conversed with other people on his unit?

          We know it was done to Bradly Manning with full knowledge by Obama.

          You are either making shit up, or you have been mislead by others who made shit up.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      1. I’m not changing the one changing the subject and moving the goalposts. You post unambiguously contained an argument about liberals as a class. It should be obvious that when I asked for examples I meant “examples sufficiently representative to justify the generalizations you are unwilling to defend for obvious reasons,” not “random isolated examples, some by people who aren’t liberals and some who don’t support torture.”

      2. As I said in comments, pointing out that someone most liberals hold in contempt largely because of his defenses of torture isn’t representative of liberals as a group isn’t a “no true Scotsman” argument, it’s a “Scotsman is not an Irishman” argument.

      3. For the reasons cited, I reject Obama as an example. He ended the official sanction of torture; the one example you cite that he could plausibly be “complicit” in doesn’t involve actions that are generally recognized as torture (although, again, they are not defensible.)

      4. I did not say that no liberal has ever defended torture. I did say that when you asserted that all liberals support torture your argument was transparently wrong.

      5. I have no idea what that means. I’m fully engaged in the argument and saying what I have to say; I’m not delegating to or hiding behind anyone.

      6. This assumes that you are to my left; I believe there is no actual basis for this assumption, since I don’t believe that a willingness to endorse transparently counterproductive tactics is a litmus test for one’s leftist commitment. It is precisely your belief that you are the Last True Lefist bravely pointing out heretics that seems to be the source of the silly generalizations under discussion here.

    • cpinva says:

      perhaps, if you actually cited actual liberals, you might have a point. please come back and play the game when you find some. man up dude! admit you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, take the lovely home version of the game as a parting gift, and go.

      bill clinton, holder & obaama as “true liberals? i think not, except in the “conservapedia” world. if that’s your idea of “true liberals”, you really need to get that prescription re-worked, it isn’t doing its job.

      it was never a matter of “winning”, because your assertions never held weight to begin with, they are simply the fantasy ravings of the right wing, with reasonably correct grammar and syntax. you get two points for that. that, and torture isn’t a competitive sport, everyone loses.

    • Murc says:

      1. You said “cite some.” I cited some.

      You cited a whole bunch of people who many liberals regard as either not-liberals or as squishes on civil liberties. I mean, lets leave Dershowitz aside. Fred Kaplan isn’t a liberal (because if he is, the term has no meaning) and you may recall that despite our fondness for a decade in which we weren’t at war and the economy was booming, many liberals refer to Bill Clinton as “the best Republican Administration of the last half-century.”

      I will say this; you responded, admirably, to Scott asking for cites. But if you think Chuck Schumer, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street, is some sort of liberal lion and great standard-bearer of the left, well, that’s just kind of silly.

      At best, you’ve proven that torture has advocates and apologists among high-ranking Democrats. That’s… true. Has anyone here ever argued it isn’t true?

      2. No True Scotsman is an elementary and juvenile fallacy.

      Er… right back at you? Don’t you accuse people who claim the mantle of libertarianism as not being “true” libertarians all the time?

      Which is fine. ‘No True Scotsman’ is kind of bullshit as a logical fallacy to begin with. But you don’t get to slag on it if you do it yourself, and it isn’t clear what Scott is doing to merit the accusation.

      If you are trying to say ‘Scott is saying that anyone who is a torture apologist isn’t a real liberal’ well, no offense, but this is kind of true. As someone who considers themselves pretty liberal, I kind of want the definition of liberalism to explicitly exclude that class of people.

      3. I cited many people, including Barack Obama– who was actually complicit in torture–

      I’m open to the argument Obama has been complicit in torture, but I didn’t actually see you cite him DEFENDING torture or wringing his hands over being ‘forced’ to support it. I couldn’t find an Obama quote or cite in either of your posts.

      5. As everyone who writes for this blog does, you are baiting your commenters to flood the issue with mindless invective, then try and stand back and act the saint. Which is cheap, and easy, but also cowardly.

      I don’t think Scott is actually smart enough to do that, and even if he were, Scott is responsible for what HE writes, not what other people write in these threads.

      And “everyone?” Really? Even SEK and Loomis? Loomis is an honest-to-god labor radical, for god’s sake.

      6. This blog once attacked publications like Slate and TNR for being reflexively antileft, and pressured Democrats from the left on issues like foreign policy and espionage. It is now reflexively antileft itself, and pressures liberals from the right on issues like foreign policy and espionage.

      “Democrats” and “liberals” are not interchangeable terms. Those venn diagrams do not overlap. I would argue that in recent years they haven’t even SIGNIFICANTLY overlapped, although it’s been getting better. Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh were Democrats. So was Jim Webb.

      And you’re gonna have to prove that this blog pressures Democrats and liberals from the right on torture. I’d love to hear this explanation.

    • 1. Almost all of your cites are bullshit. You have to make up facts to believe that Manning was tortured, and that’s the only way you can argue that Obama supports torture. You had to completely invent a position to assign to Eric Holder. Watching you accuse anyone else of moving goalposts after that little performance confirms my decision not to ever waste my time with you again.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      In 2003, the Virginia Law Review published an article that specifically was intended to combat liberal arguments for torture. The article cites such arguments, and speaks to a context where the author clearly thought such arguments were commonplace. As do I, having lived through the past decade. Why would he write it, and more importantly, why would the article survive the peer review and editing process at a major law journal if liberals were not commonly making consequentialist arguments for torture?

      Ooo! This will be fun! First, “combat liberal arguments for torture”:

      To an important extent, one’s stance on torture runs independent of progressive or conservative ideology. Alan Dershowitz suggests that torture should be regulated by a judicial warrant requirement. Liberal Senator Charles Schumer has publicly rejected the idea “that torture should never, ever be used. He argues that most U.S. senators would back torture to find out where a ticking time bomb is planted. By contrast, William Safire, a self-described “conservative… and card-carrying hard-liner[],” expresses revulsion at “phony-tough” pro-torture arguments, and forthrightly labels torture “barbarism.” Examples like these illustrate how vital it is to avoid a simple left-right reductionism. For the most part, American conservatives belong no less than progressives to liberal culture, broadly understood. Henceforth, when I speak of “liberalism,” I mean it in the broad sense used by political philosophers from John Stuart Mill on, a sense that includes conservatives as well as progressives, so long as they believe in limited government and the importance of human dignity and individual rights.

      So not about “liberal” in the sense of “left/progressive”. Note that the argument that torture flirtation spans the left-right divide in a substantive way is not shown but a few examples. The mobilization of data in that article (at least the intro) is terrible. Shockingly crap.

      Why would he write it

      To get published.

      Note the “someone published something about something means that their primary motivation is based on facts” is not a particularly good argument.

      why would the article survive the peer review and editing process at a major law journal

      Law journals in the US are not (typically) peer reviewed, in the ordinary sense, but student edited. That doesn’t necessarily make them crappier per se, but it does take off a bit of shine. More importantly, I don’t think they draw on people who are in fact expert in the specific area (which traditional journals typically do).

      In any case, peer reviewed != correct or even sensible.

      Not a nice try.

    • spencer says:

      “You said “cite some.” I cited some. You are now furiously changing the subject and moving the goalposts”

      The real problem, Freddie, is that when you cite someone like Dershowitz in a way that even suggests you might consider him to be a liberal, it calls into question your basic ability to even recognize a liberal when you see one. And if we can’t be sure of that, then how seriously should we treat your argument?

    • jre says:

      Yeah, but in the future could you just say “cf. Dersh[POAFN]” and save the bytes? http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2006/07/bar-talk.html

  2. Thers says:

    “Man up, dude?”…..

    • delurking says:

      Yeah, my reaction too.

      • matttbastard says:

        Think I found a pic of Freddie.

      • Jason says:

        Ew, sharculese, I read your link. Paragraph after paragraph of someone sanctimoniously mansplaining to Amanda Marcotte and Sady Doyle about how they should talk and think about male feminists–including a bit on what it would be like if they went on a date with him–all the while making not a single point of substance.

        However, the funniest part, from the perspective of the present fracas, is this:

        This is of a piece with a dynamic that is present in a lot of intellectual movements, the tendency to regard criticism of various arguments or positions within those movements as criticisms of the movement as a whole. … This is to ignore the fact that any affinity group– feminists, conservatives, Democrats, environmentalists, utilitarians– is going to contain a great deal of internal controversy about what that group is, what its tenets are, and what is in its best interest.

        But, of course, there is no internal controversy whatsoever among liberals with respect to their unanimous desire to be forced to embrace torture in their everyday lives, as quotes from Alan Dershowitz and Ayn Rand decisively establish. We must all man up and admit this.

    • DrDick says:

      Seems someone has masculinity issues.

  3. Walt says:

    The quoted passage makes deBoer sound like the biggest tool in the world. If someone said to my face that I secretly wanted to be forced to support torture, I would be tempted to punch them in the fucking head — which is, I suppose, ironic, but expresses how mad the accusation would make me. If torture was required to kill Osama bin Laden, then better he remain ungotten.

    But why do we care what this guy thinks? I’ve basically never heard of him before a month ago when Corey Robin briefly mentioned him. Is it to get our blood pressure up? Was there a Surgeon General’s warning about the dangers of low blood pressure that I missed?

    • “If someone said to my face that I secretly wanted to be forced to support torture…”

      I don’t think there’s any way to interpret this framing fairly that doesn’t involve assuming projection of some strange S&M fantasy on deBoer’s part.

  4. c u n d gulag says:

    I love how people who claim to speak for me, a real Liberal, have never spoken to real Liberals like me – everyday ones.

    They always either cite some supposed Village Liberal, or say “some,” or “many,” without identifying either the people, or any number.

    As for Dershowitz, the second he came out advocating torture, he lost any respect I may have ever had for him. He is dead to me.

    I’m almost 55, and when I was a kid, you could have told me any number of dystopian things that my government might do in the future, but I never, NEVER, could have imagined that it would include torturing people.
    And if you had told me that anything but a tiny minority would have supported it, I’d have told you that you were delusional.
    I foolishly thought that torture was a closed subject.

    And then came 9/11, the ensuing panic, and the ratcheted-up fear by an administration that was not only willing to do torture, but be open about doing it when it was discovered.
    And public opinion was swayed by TV networks that aired shows like “24,” where torture was acceptable, if not downright glorified (for the sake of honesty – I never watched a second of that show, so maybe I’m wrong. I can only go by what I’ve read about it).

    Btw – I’m under NO delusion that we never tortured anybody in our history.
    I certainly think that we have.
    But if people did, and were discovered, I had hoped that they, and the people authorizing the use, would be tried before The Hague.
    And if found guilty, given life sentences.

    Tortuer is not only unacceptable under any, ANY, circumstances, but also completely inefficient.

    But you can’t tell that to the lizard-brains who enjoy that work – and their willing political enablers, who’ll do anything to get, and stay, in power.

    • cpinva says:

      not by the hague, by the local circuit court.

      But if people did, and were discovered, I had hoped that they, and the people authorizing the use, would be tried before The Hague.

      a county sheriff was tried and convicted, for waterboarding a prisoner, in an effort to get information out of him. he, and his cohorts (i think he did this all on his own, no supervisor authorized it) were arrested, tried and convicted.

      i can’t remember the case cite, but it was mentioned at talkleft a couple of years ago. the reason i remember it, is because i was so stunned that it actually happened. i think it was probably around the time the abu ghraib situation was exploding in the bush administration’s face.

      if there was a ticking time bomb, what are the odds, even if torture worked, and you got valid info, that you were going to get to it in time? slim to none, and slim just left town.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Shoot!
        You’re right! I forgot about that.

        I also remember being equally shocked.

      • if there was a ticking time bomb, what are the odds, even if torture worked, and you got valid info, that you were going to get to it in time?

        Also, if there is a ticking bomb, then the prisoner knows he only has to hold out for a little while.

        • Jon says:

          Hold on, are you suggesting that there might be holes in a hypothetical scenario in which an unlikely terrorist attack is foiled by the magical identification, capture, and coercion of someone who knows all the details (all of which, according to 24 takes 15-20 minutes)? What kind of pinko commie are you, anyway?

    • Dave says:

      Surely, if you were a kid 40-50 years ago, your govt was torturing the FUCK out of people in ‘Nam, and probably half-a-hundred godforsaken places all ’round the world – or at least, paying slightly darker-skinned people to do it for them. School of the Americas and all that?

      What was different under GWB was the sudden decision that they could make it legal to openly advocate and use torture, rather than just do it and keep quiet. Seriously ugly, but they were always going to be torturing people anyway…

  5. CJColucci says:

    I’ve always thought that most people of any political stripe who support torture, other than the obviously wacky torture-porn enthusiasts, have always been soft torture supporters, supporting it only because their government solemnly assures them that there’s scary shit going on that we’re better off not knowing about and that torture is, regrettably, necessary to deal with it.
    That said, I’m not aware, for all of DeBoer’s bloviating, of any particular trend among liberals to feel this way, let alone to demand to feel this way. My impression is that they’re considerably less likely to fit this description than others, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise by — oh, I don’t know, actual evidence maybe?

    • TT says:

      As best as I can recall, it’s conservatives, specifically neocons, who are obsessed with the ticking time-bomb scenario, solemnly and righteously intoning that while torture may be kinda sorta unpleasant to those who lack “the stomach” for it, seeing New York, Chicago, or LA turned into a desert would be infinitely worse. Krauthammer and Bret Stephens at the WSJ editorial page in particular have taken this line. It distinguishes them from torture porn moguls like Marc Theissen….how, exactly?

      As for Dershowitz, many words describe someone whose views on Israel are essentially identical to those of Elliott Abrams and who argued on the WSJ op-ed page that torture worked for the Nazis so it can work for us, but “liberal” is not among the first thousand or so that come to mind.

  6. Major Kong says:

    Torture is wrong. Period. Full Stop. End of discussion.

    That’s all I’ve got.

    • c u n d gulag says:

      Sure, say what it took me a ton of paragraphs to say!

      Bastid! ;-)

    • DrDick says:

      Exactly, which has been the only position taken by the authors and regular commenters (other than trolls) on this blog that I am aware of.

      • And to go further, I can’t think of any author or regular commenter who even deigns to take things like the ticking time bomb seriously to begin with.

        • Major Kong says:

          I don’t anyone ever took the “ticking time bomb” seriously – except for every script writer on 24.

            • thusbloggedanderson says:

              Hm. Someone at the last thread said “24″ didn’t actually veer into torture until post-Abu Ghraib. I am blessedly unfamiliar with the show, myself.

              • Njorl says:

                I recall the first season had plenty of torture. It was the protagonist who was tortured, though. I vaguely recall it didn’t work.

                The show actually gave a more balanced treatment of torture than many think. It wasn’t always a pro-torture cheering section.

                There was at least one scene in which Jack Bauer tortured an innocent woman who was a friend of his because of faulty intelligence. They didn’t play it for all it was worth, though. They did at least make the point, that when you decide to torture the guilty, you also decide to torture the innocent.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          I’m feeling contrarian today!

          I think the ticking time bomb case is worth taking seriously in a general way, but I think “taking it seriously” involves understanding the many problems with it as an argument for torture period much less torture in any real world scenario.

          If I were going to use it in an ethics class, I would definitely start with a fairly crude version and then show how even minor adjustments render it extremely suspect as an intuition pump.

          These sorts of extreme case can be useful as a starting point for pushing critical examination of consequentialism vs. deontology.

          I’m not totally against the apparent Clinton strategy of conceding it but then limiting all policy to that case. It’s obviously much worse than a total prohibition, but I’m open that there might be evidence that prohibition results in more torture than regulation. In that sense, I don’t find Dershowitz’s (baaaaaaarf) torture warrants to be off the table per se. If it really turned out that the world was even more fucked up than I like to think and that torture warrants actually reduced the amount and severity of torture performed, then I might feel compelled to grit my teeth agains the rising gorge.

          Now maybe this makes me one of the “wanting to be persuaded” folks. Frankly, the evidence would have to be magically staggering for me to be budged even a little bit away from anti-torture absolutism.

          Furthermore, I am worried that even admitting that much is fairly dangerous. Politically, reflexive, adamant rejection is almost certainly the right way to go.

          • BigHank53 says:

            It’s all bullshit anyway. Grant the full time-bomb scenario. Torture is a capital crime. You, the hypothethical interrogator, would torture the terrorist anyway. Your life will save thousands.

            Or maybe you’ll get a pardon.

            The whole idea behind making torture legitimate is grant immunity to the state for torturing the wrong person: an innocent. Which is how it eventually–always–winds up being used on, say, union organizers.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Really, this is one of those cases where Henley said it best, years ago.

              • I dunno; I think Murc said it pretty well:

                We don’t, for example, have a huge body of law explaining when and how it is permissible to careen through the streets in your car like a madman. We just kind of trust that in the unlikely event someone really is rushing their in-labor wife to the hospital, the cops and courts won’t be dicks about it.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Murc was good; Henley was better.

                • mark f says:

                  Offer may not apply to black people:

                  Officer Robert Powell also drew his gun during the March 18 incident involving Houston Texans running back Ryan Moats in the Dallas suburb of Plano, police said.

                  “I can screw you over,” he said at one point in the videotaped incident. When another officer came with word that Moats’ mother-in-law was indeed dying, Powell’s response was: “All right. I’m almost done.”

                • Murc says:

                  Far be it for me to undercut one of the few nice things joe has ever said about me, but I’m with Mal on this one; the occasional trenchant insight that accidentally escapes from my keyboard can’t really stand up to Don Henley.

                  At best, a Don Henley cover. I’m like the Ataris cover to the original Henley song.

                • elm says:

                  I dunno, “End of the Innocence” is kind of apropos here, but I think your line was pithier and more to the point.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              It’s all bullshit anyway. Grant the full time-bomb scenario. Torture is a capital crime. You, the hypothethical interrogator, would torture the terrorist anyway. Your life will save thousands.

              Yeah! That was my very first reaction to such examples: If I’m a consequentialist, I’ll do the torture AND take the hit on torture. Indeed, I should maximize how evil and exceptional I am to discourage the rise of torture. In fact, I have to do everything I can to prevent becoming a hero.

              (Or I must conceal it utterly. That’s the not nice version.)

              The whole idea behind making torture legitimate is grant immunity to the state for torturing the wrong person: an innocent. Which is how it eventually–always–winds up being used on, say, union organizers.

              Yep. That’s what I think was wrong with Clinton’s support for a “targeted” torture authorization. It’s rarely very targeted. (Of course, a clear, targeted authorization is far better than a vague broad authorization.)

  7. Superking says:

    Pretty much the only book anyone needs to read about torture is “Torture and Democracy” by Darius Rejali. It is encyclopedic and thoughtful. He does a really good job dealing with the ticking time bomb trick.

    • AR says:

      I second this. His class on the book is the most comprehensive introduction to the subject you will find (though a fairly high percentage of the class will cry from the reading at some point).

    • mark f says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. If anyone decides to shop for me based on my Amazon wishlist I am going to have one depressing Christmas.

  8. Jon says:

    Personally, I’ve never understood how anyone could take Freddie deBoer seriously after this.

  9. Marek says:

    I want to be tortured into supporting torture.

    • ajay says:

      But if we torture you until you say that torture works, how will we be sure that you’re telling the truth? We’ll just have to torture each other until we say that torture works too. Then we’ll know.

  10. Morbo says:

    The left needs its Megan McArdle’s too, Scott.

  11. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Meanwhile, Charlie Pierce reminds us this morning that the Lesser Evil, while less evil than Bush, Romney and the Greater Evil, remains pretty evil when it comes to torture.

    The behavior of the Obama Justice Department and the Democratic Senate Majority on this matter remain infinitely more important than what Freddie deBoer writes or even what Kathryn Bigelow films. And the low bar of “better than Romney or most other presidents” ought to stop being good enough the minute one leaves the voting booth.

    • tonycpsu says:

      Indeed.

    • Silly me: I actually took you seriously for a second when you claimed to be posting a link that showed Obama was evil.

      • thusbloggedanderson says:

        I’m pretty sure no one is going to try persuading *you* that Obama is evil, wrong, or uninformed.

      • Anonymous says:

        You could have avoided feeling silly by simply reading the second paragraph, which would have helped you to understand that “Obama Justice Department” = “government prosecutors”.

        • Yes, that’s the problem: I didn’t understand that federal prosecutors work for the Justice Department.

          Thank you ever so much; what would I have done without you.

          • BobS says:

            Become an apologist for an administration that’s trying to hide government torture of suspected terrorists?

            • …because no one knows that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was tortured. It’s hidden!

              I like that word “apologist.” You don’t have to make an argument – just point out that your opponent disagreed with a criticism, and them select a term that makes it sound like disagreeing with criticism is inherently disreputable.

              I guess it’s what you’ve got left when don’t have the intellectual firepower to argue merits.

              • BobS says:

                Sorry- you’re only an apologist for an administration trying to keep the torture of a suspect from being revealed during his trial.

                • TL;DR.

                  At this point, I don’t get past your handle.

                  You should just stop.

                • BobS says:

                  Yet it’s important for you to respond…

                  And then of course there’s your denial/defense of the torture Bradley Manning was subjected to.

                  I don’t have your command of the language, Joe- is there something more accurate than apologist to describe the position you take?

                • rea says:

                  an administration trying to keep the torture of a suspect from being revealed during his trial.

                  You didn’t read the article, did you? It’s going to come out in the trial. What comes out at the trial, though, isn’t necessarily going to be published in the news media.

                • BobS says:

                  Yes rea, I read the article and I should have been more precise. When I alluded to our torture of KSM being revealed during the trial, I meant to the general public, much of which remains ignorant or amnestic or in denial of.

                • A Google search on KSM tortured yields 1,120,000 results.

                  Keep digging.

                • rea,

                  That the information is going to come out at trial is “central to his point.”

                • I don’t have your command of the language, Joe- is there something more accurate than apologist to describe the position you take?

                  Truthful.

                  Correct.

                  Concerned with the facts.

                  Not talking out of my ass.

                  It’s not just your command of language that is lacking. You just don’t care whether the things you argue are true.

                • BobS says:

                  Yeah, Joe, you might want to rethink “truthful”- somehow I knew you were being anything but when you wrote you stopped reading at my handle. But damn, what a brilliant insult, if you’d had the self control to follow through- you think that might be because of that ‘teenager with a chip on his shoulder’ thing?
                  1,120,000 Google results means ___? You’re arguing that the general public isn’t ignorant, amnestic, or dismissive of torture or anything else that isn’t drumbeat into their awareness, and that the Obama administration isn’t trying to avoid that?

                • Do you even remember what you were trying to argue anymore?

        • BobS says:

          Yes, I think I can help you out there Joe. This pissing contest is about the “Obama Justice Department” trying to keep the “evil” reality of torture out of sight and out of mind by the invocation of national security.
          Maybe your own need of a reminder will help “silly” you to appreciate the forgetfulness of the public in matters such as these.

          • The Justice Department has nothing to do with military trials.

            Is there some point where in might start to occur to you that you’re in over your head, and don’t have a sufficiently-sound understanding of the law, facts, or issues to justify your arrogance, or even your position?

            But, then, when has that ever stopped you?

            • BobS says:

              So help me out, humble Joe- explain to me about that other US government (the one where Obama doesn’t serve as president and C-in-C) that’s had it’s “government prosecutors” fighting to prevent the public disclosure of testimony about the torture of KSM.
              And which US government is it that’s been subjecting Bradley Manning to not-torture? Obama’s or not-Obama’s?

      • BobS says:

        Sorry, Anonymous was me.

    • rea says:

      You know, I think highly of Charlie Pierce, but (1) the link has to do with handling of classified information about torture committed by the Bush/Cheney administration, not with torturing people, and (2) it’s a pretrial ruling by a judge, not a decision by the president. Once again, you ordinarily don’t want the president interfering with this sort of thing . . .

      • Anderson says:

        The judge ruled that way at the behest of prosecutors. Obama told DOJ that DOMA wasn’t defensible. Keeping torture secret however is A-OK.

        • What “keeping torture secret?”

          In what universe is the torture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed secret?

          This whole line of argument is silly. Why are the prosecutors trying to keep details of an interrogation secret? Why, obviously, because the tightly-guarded secret about Khalid Sheik Mohammed being tortured can’t be allowed to get out!

          Beyond Wikipedia, that is. And the 1,119,999 sources that come up when you google “KSM tortured.” Other than that, they are determined that nobody learn this terrible secret.

        • brewmn says:

          Isn’t this a military trial? Are military prosecutors also taking their marching orders directly form Eric Holder?

        • T. Paine says:

          The judge ruled that way at the behest of prosecutors.

          That’s an…interesting way of thinking about how it went.

    • Gord Wood says:

      I would read it but it would take away time needed to formulate the next boner joke.

    • Anonymous says:

      it will take years for judge pohl to get his brain untied from that pretzel he left it in. meanwhile, franz kafka’s corpse is kicking itself, for not having had the balls to live to see this day. easy money book.

  12. jeer9 says:

    At any rate, while the treatment of Bradley Manning has been reprehensible, it (contrary to some initial reports) does not constitute torture as the term is usually understood.

    Only cruel and inhumane.

    despite the fact that the UN torture chief found that Manning had been tortured.

    Only cruel and inhumane.

    • rea says:

      Well, to amplify on what I said about this issue above, if you want to argue that Bradley Manning was tortured, then tell us what they did to him and argue that it amounts to torture. Don’t just throw aroudn the word “torture” and lead people to beleive that Obama treated Manning the way Bush/Cheney treated Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

      • IM says:

        They used and abused the prevention of injury and prevention of suicide procedures to deprive him of sleep. And sleep deprivation is torture.

        That is as far as I understand the core of the plausible argument.

        I think the abuse of these procedures during a certain time period is now more or less acknowledged. The rest is interpretation.

        • And sleep deprivation is torture.

          Sleep deprivation can be used as torture, but not all sleep deprivation is torture (though deliberate sleep deprivation is always abusive).

          Some torture practices, like electrocution or waterboarding, are always torture. The very first jolt, the very first splash of water up your nose, causes extreme pain and horror.

          Other practices that are used to torture people, like isolation, sleep deprivation, and temperature control, do not start out causing that level of pain – they become torturous beyond a certain point. When that happens is determined by intensity, duration, and context.

          When the Bush administration used sleep deprivation torture, here’s what they did: they shackled someone into a position so painful that it was physically impossible for them to fall asleep. They kept the victim in that position for days on end, while they experienced increasing pain in their extremities, and it was the severity of this pain that made them stay awake. Several days worth of no sleep then added further, ever-worsening suffering on top of that pain. Throughout this experience, the victim was being threatened and humiliated in other ways.

          Is waking someone – yes, waking, meaning they were asleep – every few minutes to ask them if they are ok abusive? Absolutely. Bradley Manning was abused, abused by staff who violated procedures to do so. This is why the CO of that brig was removed from duty, and the abuse he endured should result in a reduced sentence, if the court is making a serious effort to be just.

          Is what happened to him torture? That’s not so clear. It seems like the people who insist on that term, instead of the more accurate “abuse,” are stretching the meaning to encompass something very different from what a reasonable reader would understand it to mean, in order to elide that difference.

          • Ed Marshall says:

            He was in a military brig. He is lucky that he is as high profile as he is. Manning was treated *better* than you would expect.

            If you are upset about Manning, you need to be upset with the military justice system. If he is a victim than pretty much everyone in there is a victim.

            • IM says:

              I don’t think waking someone every few minutes is standard procedure in a military brig.

              And that is a traditional technique, used in the east, of sleep deprivation.

              That there are other methods doesn’t really change that.

              Sleep deprivation was a common stalinist torture technique.

              • Ed Marshall says:

                That isn’t even uncommon on suicide watch in civilian incarceration. It’s not nice, but prison isn’t nice. People are naive.

                • But he shouldn’t have been on suicide watch; their own psychologists said that.

                  That makes it look like they put him on suicide watch just so they could do these things to screw with him.

                • Ed Marshall says:

                  Prison guards abusing procedure to be vindictive isn’t something that started with Bradley Manning or even had much to do with him being Bradley Manning.

                  That is what they do.

                • rea says:

                  And note–both Joe and I do not disagree that what wa done to Manning was wrong, and that people ought to be punished for it. But don’t argue it in a way that makes it sound like Manning was treated the same way as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, because it isn’t true, and makes what was done to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed sound more acceptable.

  13. Erik Loomis says:

    I guess Freddie can ignore gender issues between candidates since his writing demonstrates he has major gender issues himself.

    Or do I just need to “man up?”

  14. Semanticleo says:

    I think the semantics of ‘liberal’ are at play. Webster’s defines (apolitically) as open and generous; while conservative is close-ended and stingy. If ‘Centirst’ could be defined by it’s name it would likely be similar to the religious term ‘Agnostic’. You could say a ‘Centrist’ and an ‘Agnostic’ have something in common; they can have it both ways.

    Since Teahadists and forebears have moved the needle to the right, it would follow that more ‘centrist’ types truly see themselves as liberal, when in reality they are more conservative than the name liberal would imply.

  15. Sebastian H says:

    I’m not sure you can say anything particularly interesting about liberals as a class of people and beliefs on torture. Their recent governmental actors were better than Bush, but that’s a super low bar. Clinton’s justice department essentially innovated the extraordinary rendition for purposes of outsourced torture regime. And Obama is still doing weird things to prisoners with even the recent manning treatment being hard to defend. I think the best you could say about them as a class is that liberals won’t usually defend torture under Republicans and won’t attack it loudly enough to have any chance of doing much under Democrats.

    Now there are personal instances where that isn’t true, but liberals as a class in the US can’t really be characterized by a strong politically potent commitment to being anti torture so long as they have the presidency.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Your belief that the Democratic coalition consists solely of liberals is highly mistaken.

    • And Obama is still doing weird things to prisoners with even the recent manning treatment being hard to defend.

      The treatment of Manning is almost as hard to defend as the claim that it amounts to torture, but neither are as hard to defend as the claim that the White House had anything do with it (except for ending it when the abuses came to light).

    • thusbloggedanderson says:

      Discussion of Obama and torture shouldn’t be focused on Bradley Manning.

      Bagram is AFAIK the most serious concern.

      Failure to prosecute, or even to set up a “torture commission,” takes indifference right up to the edge of complicity.

      And crap like the Gitmo ruling linked upthread, IMHO, steps over that edge.

      Manning wasn’t treated nearly as badly as Jose Padilla (gay + white still trumps brown, evidently), who appears set to recover zilch for flagrant abuse he suffered.

      • The linked story comes from November 2009, which means the events took place before that – shortly after Obama took office.

        Since then, the reports have trailed off into nothing. As we learned under Bush, torture does not stay secret. Information comes out. Documentation, whistle-blowing, and reports from victims are reported. This has not happened.

        The reasonable conclusion to draw is that it took time to enforce the new standards of behavior on everyone at Baghram.

        • Anderson says:

          Abuse and torture have continued, as reported by Andy Worthington and others. But again, trust me, I am certainly not addressing any criticisms of Obama to you.

          • “…as reported by Andy Worthington and others.”

            Barack Obama stole the election, as reported by Michelle Malkin and others.

            Reports are a dime a dozen. I’m talking about evidence.

            • And if your asserted truth was based on anything other than a proxy O-bot fight, you wouldn’t feel the need to keep bringing that reference up.

            • Usually a Lurker says:

              Did you just compare Andy Worthing to Michelle Malkin, joe? Really? Fail, just….FAIL.

              • No, not the people, just the appeal to authority in place of evidence.

                The FAIL here seems to be yours, if you didn’t get that. Do you even understand why “So and so said…” isn’t evidence for their claim?

                • Usually a Lurker says:

                  You could, you know, go read for yourself. I guess it’s easier just to follow the line of the US Corporate McMedia, though.

                • Usually a Lurker says:

                  Also try watching RT sometime. The torture and lawlesness of the US government continues regardless of the “R” or “D” next to it’s name. Same ball of wax.

                • Appeal to authority is taught in freshman year logic as a fallacy.

                  “Someone said something, so it’s true” is a stupid argument, even when that “someone” isn’t a Kremlin media outlet.

      • heckblazer says:

        I’d say that the biggest problem with Manning’s treatment is that it is common practice throughout the American prison system.

        • Even worse, the purported treatment Manning endured, but actually didn’t, is fairly common in the American prison system.

          This is why the bogus claims that he was singled out for abuse at the behest of the administration are so pernicious: they make the issue of solitary confinement seem like something that goes against procedure, and requires some political interference to bring about.

  16. Steve says:

    I guess if one wanted to be charitable to Freddie (not that he has given you reason to do so), one could say that your preferred (not beloved, but preferred) candidates waffle inexcusably on a clear-cut moral issue; and no amount of patient explanation of historical or political norms has done anything to change the fact that ugly stuff happens pretty regularly.

    • tonycpsu says:

      If that were the point he originally made, I would be willing to give him a pass, but it’s not. In fact, he specifically said

      It’s not that I think liberals support torture.

      So when he declares himself the winner after only citing a few liberals and a few non-liberals who have supported torture, well, he loses any benefit of the doubt.

    • Murc says:

      I guess if one wanted to be charitable to Freddie (not that he has given you reason to do so), one could say that your preferred (not beloved, but preferred) candidates waffle inexcusably on a clear-cut moral issue

      How is that being charitable to Freddie? I mean, that’s just a fact. One that this blogs proprietors are very open about.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        In the end, I’ve just come to believe that Freddie does not understand how American politics work.

        • Semanticleo says:

          The corollary might imply it’s time for American politics to change.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            Sure whatever. Good luck changing 250 years of how a nation operates. Clearly an achievable goal.

            • Ethan says:

              You’re being sarcastic. But when(I think) Rob Farley said in discussing the drone issue and Conor F’s attack on Obama that ‘the state is an instrument of violence and anyone chosen to lead the state will inevitably have blood on their hands’ Freddie actually did get pissed off that Rob hadn’t followed up by endorsing some alternative to the state (what useful alternative could be suggested, I don’t think he’s deigned to tell us, but he definitely WANTS one, so that’s nice).

            • Murc says:

              Well, it’s happened before.

              But it takes more than wishing. Generally, change take two forms; slow and peaceful, or swift and violent. The two or three great and sudden wrenches in the way this country operated, right back to the Revolution, generally involved a lot of people dying.

            • Semanticleo says:

              Luck has nothing to do with it. Publicly Funded Elections is the only way to prescribe fundamental change. Currently our political refinement is historically, identical to metal refinement. The slag shit rises to the top. So, if your satisfied with the money game perpetuating human failings, then yes, good luck to you.

          • brewmn says:

            Then start arguing in favor of a change in our politics, instead of tarring a president who has actually walked some of the worst abuses of our post-9/11 hysteria significantly back with the same brush that you tarred the president who actually implemented torture as government policy.

        • mark f says:

          It’s like he thinks every option on the ballot is actually “Press if you don’t care about Freddie’s boners.”

  17. N__B says:

    Maybe he meant “liberals have to be tortured into supporting torture.”

    • Snarki, child of Loki says:

      Now, if you said

      “Conservatives have to be tortured to STOP supporting torture”

      you’d have a point.

      And a plan. Get right on it, m’kay?

  18. J.W. Hamner says:

    It seems to me that de Boer has indeed cited a handful of liberals who “take the stupid ticking time bomb hypothetical seriously”… but I’m at a loss as to how that proves that proves that liberals as a whole “want to be forced to support torture.”

    • tonycpsu says:

      He realized he couldn’t defend the latter, so he saw Lemieux’s request for names of liberals who do support it as an escape hatch. Find some liberal support of torture, spike the ball, and run away before people realize you haven’t done anything to prove your original point.

      • Njorl says:

        I remember when DeShaun Jackson spiked the ball on the 2 yard line, but this is like spiking it on the 38 … your own 38.

        • tonycpsu says:

          As a Philly fan, the fact that DeSean managed to make Leon Lett’s famous fail look forgivable by comparison fills me with deep sadness.

          But yeah, saying I WON I WON in an online argument isn’t even a good idea when you have, in fact, won the argument. I’ve long appreciated the perspective Freddie has brought to the table on many issues in the past, but these days he seems to be most concerned about being right, proving that he’s right (to himself) and painting every issue as a leftier-than-thou “DFH” versus lesser-evilist “Obot” civil war.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Remember too that at least one of the (Clinton) backed away from taking the scenario seriously.

  19. Bijan Parsia says:

    As it happens, the college library has it in e-book form, so I perused it after getting to work. Levinson, at least, is a liberal who I admire, and Robin is dismayingly right — Levinson’s introduction does express support for the idea that torture might be a lesser evil in some circumstances, based on worthless hypotheticals. Having said this, the existence of this volume is pretty weak tea in terms of an argument that liberals generally support torture and see value in the ticking time bomb scenario.

    Could someone quote that? See Levinson’s categorical opposition to the argument in an interview about the book. To repeat:

    Levinson: There’s nothing “edifying” about torture. The real issue is whether we’re willing to do it even if, by stipulation, it would prevent a death of an innocent person. Most people would say we can never know that with sufficient certainty. But others, and I am one of them, would say that it is such a departure from any acceptable human-rights norm as to be unacceptable even to save an innocent person (though, as a matter of fact, I think that most people would, albeit reluctantly, accept torture if convinced that it could save, say, thousands of lives).

    Also, Bill Clinton (now) categorically opposed torture and (then) was supporting ticking time bomb statues pretty clearly as damage control measure to limit official sanction of torture.

    • Did you catch the two-step in the “worthless hypotheticals” argument?

      Levinson provides a worthless hypothetical justification for torture, based on worthless hypothetical assumptions, and then points out that the justification is worthless because the assumptions are worthless.

      DeBoer then points out that the assumptions are worthless and hypothetical, but treats the justification, which is expressly described as worthless because it is based on worthless hypotheticals, as serious.

    • Corey Robin says:

      Bijan: Please see my response to your response on the other post here. This is in no way a controversial characterization of Levinson’s position in that essay. http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/12/against-aesthetic-stalinism/comment-page-1#comment-406576

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        Thanks. I’m caught up now.

        I’m still trying to understand what the claim is. I have quotes where Levinson rejects torture in the ticking time bomb case and torture warrants. He also says that such arguments should be taken seriously and refuted.

        Are these consistent with your understanding of Levinson? Is the problem that he takes the arguments seriously even though firmly rejecting them? How does that help deBoer’s argument in any way?

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Ok, here’s a concrete claim:

          Levinson also endorsed the position of supporting torture in the instance of the ticking time bomb, as did Oren Gross, Miriam Gur-Arye, and several others in that volume.

          So this is the strongest claim as he rejects that pretty explicitly in the interview:

          Levinson: There’s nothing “edifying” about torture. The real issue is whether we’re willing to do it even if, by stipulation, it would prevent a death of an innocent person. Most people would say we can never know that with sufficient certainty. But others, and I am one of them, would say that it is such a departure from any acceptable human-rights norm as to be unacceptable even to save an innocent person (though, as a matter of fact, I think that most people would, albeit reluctantly, accept torture if convinced that it could save, say, thousands of lives).

          I guess it’s technically open whether he was one of those people, but my reading (and you can correct me if you’d like :)) is that he wouldn’t endorse torture even to save thousands of lives.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            I guess it’s technically open whether he was one of those people, but my reading (and you can correct me if you’d like :)) is that he wouldn’t endorse torture even to save thousands of lives.

            It’s probably the other way around, i.e., that he would only endorse torture after a sufficient number of lives are at stake. From what I can tell.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Th ee-book format we use doesn’t allow cut-and-paste and I don’t have time to transcribe, but I think Corey’s reading of the Levinson essay is fair. If he’s backed off, then good.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Corey said he’d email me some points later tonight. I didn’t catch any positive endorsement of the pro-torture conclusions of the ticking time bomb argument. He does think that the debate is serious and needs engagement.

          But that’s weaker than thinking torture is ok in the ticking time bomb scenario.

          It’s a bit weird to be disbelieving both your and Robin’s reading without having read the whole essay myself, but it’s seems weird that Levinson would shift his views between the intro essay and an interview about the book. It also doesn’t seem consistent with Levinson.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Esp. as the essay is a standard “Intro to the debate; overview of the essays”. It’s not very typical to have a substantive argument there.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Ulp! Ok, I found some concrete evidence from the Acknowledgements (having searched through various fragments online :)):

              inasmuch as several of the essays, including my own, countenance the possibility that under some very restrictive circumstances, it might be a “lessor evil” to engage in torture”

              Ok! So I hereby apologize to Robin. I’ll go back and direct my comments here.

              But, to be fair to me, this make a different point. Mere endorsement of ticking time bomb arguments doesn’t entail “bad on torture” in any substantial way. Is Levinson even on the same planet wrt torture as e.g., Rush “Fraternity Pranks” Limbaugh?

              While I think that ticking time bomb arguments are often mobilized as part of a “Now we’re deciding on your price” strategy, that strategy may be resisted while accepting the time bomb conclusion.

              Nevertheless, Robin has a case and I was wrong in thinking he didn’t.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                Levinson also states it in In Quest of a Common Conscience: Reflections on the Current Debate about Torture:

                Although I have suggested, in my own contribution to a recent book on the subject, that one might have to reject the absolute prohibition of torture,

                This seems to be pretty weak. Esp. in light of this from the same essay:

                Even if one believes, arguendo, that there may be extremely restricted circumstances when torture would be justified as a means of interrogation, I seriously doubt that any such circumstances have been present in Iraq or, for that matter, Afghanistan. To say, for example, that torture would be justified simply in order to procure “actionable intelligence” that might save the lives of American soldiers would be to negate the most basic rules regarding the interrogation of prisoners of war, for surely some detainees in U.S. military custody might possess such intelligence. Afghanistan might present a closer case than Iraq only because there is some reason to believe that among those captured are some high officials of Al Qaeda, who might be expected to have information about the possibility of future attacks similar to those that occurred on September 11.

                I have already indicated my strong belief that some torture, under any reasonable definition, has undoubtedly occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, I fear, in the secret camps maintained elsewhere by the CIA or other agencies of the United States government. A “reasonable definition” of torture is, of course, a loaded notion, inasmuch as it suggests that there might be “unreasonable” definitions. I am deeply ashamed, as an American, of the clearly unreasonable, indeed outrageously limited, definition of torture set out in the notorious Bybee Memo of August 1, 2002.

                Or:

                For the sake of argument, I am willing to accept even the horrendous Bybee Memo as offering an authoritative statement of the implications of the Senate’s most unfortunate modification of the Torture Convention’s definition of torture, namely, that anything which does not cause “excruciating pain” is not torture at all. The question I want to ask is short and simple: So what? If we describe what the United States has done as the unwarranted “infliction of pain or suffering on another,” does its action not deserve our condemnation, just as we condemn the systematic humiliation of powerless individuals within our power as the essence of “inhuman or degrading” conduct? Much conduct of that sort, after all, serves only to demonstrate the extent to which our captives are precisely in the position of slaves, having only such rights as we choose to respect.

                But wait! He goes squishy:

                Under some circumstances, I have no trouble defining sleep deprivation as torture or inhuman. But I confess that I do not view, say, 24-36 hours of such deprivation as “torture,” even ifit is undoubtedly coercive (and, most certainly, “cruel and unusual,” if used as a form of punishment rather than as a goad to interrogation). Indeed, the authors of The Interrogatorsinsist, with whatever degree of plausibility, that very often the interrogators themselves, as a practical matter, got little more sleep than those they were interrogating.

                But now we get to something I find disturbing:

                So what is the ultimate point of these remarks? It is this: Those of us who discuss “torture,” “cruel, inhuman, or degrading activities,” and “highly coercive interrogations” must climb down into the muck and confront the “facts on the ground,” rather than merely doing what we do best, which is to proffer (and take refuge in) place-holding abstraction. As we climb down we discover that there is far less of a “common conscience” than we might wish, whatever may be the degree of our ostensible agreement on the abstract statement of the norms in question. One need not believe that these norms are useless, however. What would a world be like that did not state that torture is abhorrent – even if we believe that, at the end of the day, the practical utility of our norms may be limited? Our fate may be at once to accept the darkness of the glass through which we comprehend reality and to accept the duty to decide, perhaps by making “leaps of faith,” the degree to which we are willing to inflict pain or degradation on other human beings in order to wring out information that we believe they possess about matters of great importance to us.

                This does seem to open the door and I do think that this could be read as supportive of being persuaded. There is real danger here. I’m rather shocked that Levinson would go this far.

                Or maybe I’m overreading it. The state does inflict violence in all sorts of circumstances and we do have to figure out what’s acceptable and what’s possible to constrain. So this last bit from Levinson isn’t necessarily the wedge to Bushesque torture policy.

                But it remains disturbing.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Ugh. Levinson explicitly endorses Walzer’s view in “Precommitment” and “Postcommitment”: The Ban On Torture In The Wake of September 11:

                  Instead, I believe that one must accept some version of the view articulated by Michael Walzer in his classic essay, The Problem of Dirty Hands, where he explicitly endorses the necessity of having political leaders who are willing, in dire circumstances, to engage in quite horrendous actions, including torture, though their saving grace, if that is the right word, is feeling suitably guilty about violating what most people indeed wish were an “absolute” prohibition.

                  Sigh.

                  The Democratic Party is, alas, so anesthetized that it appears unwilling to lead any serious political discussion about the police-state methods that are defended by the Bush Administration and its apologists. And even political liberals like Alan Dershowitz seem willing to countenance the use of torture at least in some instances rather than adhere to the language of international law and its unequivocal condemnation of any and all torture. No doubt, many readers may feel that I have betrayed the cause of human rights even by indicating my genuine respect for Dershowitz and the arguments he offers. But, of course, these are not the only voices in the debate, and I conclude with two strong arguments against those (of us) who seem willing to violate this most basic of all precommitments.

                  This is a very powerful case, and much in me wishes simply to endorse
                  it without further ado. At the very least, I strongly agree that the United States must be willing to bear significant costs-greater than many other countries-before it accepts the possibility of torture. “Catastrophe” must be taken seriously as a limiting condition, rather than as a rhetorical term to be evoked whenever something appalling happens.

                  So, Bad Levinson. But it doesn’t seem like he’s on a big slippery slope per se which is a comfort, if a bit cold.

  20. Johnny Sack says:

    Gotta feed that persecution complex. They’re not self-sustaining you know!

  21. bradP says:

    This really is trolling.

    His argument is basically this:

    What liberals want is ultimately to do what conservative hawks want to do, but only after experts and leaders assure them that they have no choice.

    That obviously translates roughly to, “liberals are too deferential to the good guys” and not “liberals want to be forced to torture”.

    I’m just wondering if DeBoer is just trolling liberals, or if he just wants to avoid the can of worms the former statement opens up.

    • AR says:

      Its this argument:

      Because you need me, Springfield. Your guilty conscience may move you to vote Democratic, but deep down you long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That’s why I did this, to save you from yourselves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to run.

  22. Corey Robin says:

    As someone who considers himself a friend of this blog, and a great admirer of many of its writers — and none more than Scott himself — I have to say I’m disappointed by this post and by the various responses to it.

    The challenge of the previous post, from Scott, was for Freddie to name some liberals. He has done that. The challenge wasn’t: name me some liberals that I support. It wasn’t: name me some liberals who I’ve heard of. It was name me ANY liberals who support torture and the ticking time bomb theory, on the assumption — it seems — that what Freddie was saying was that ALL liberals support torture, and thus all one had to do in response was to say, like a matador waving a red flag at a bull, NAME ME ONE. Because of course it could not be done.

    Well, it turns out that Freddie can name not just one but some liberals who both support torture and support the ticking timb scenario. That should be admitted. Gracefully. And graciously.

    Now if the issue with Freddie’s post was a concern that he had illegimately generalized about all liberals, Scott could have said that. I myself am constantly fighting with the left about precisely this issue — I think liberalism is a much more conflicted and open-ended tradition than many of my comrades think; and I dislike the generalizations — and I would have happilly joined that discussion. But that wasn’t what Scott said in response; instead, it was a sneery challenge, suggesting that Freddie didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about. I don’t think it was worthy of Scott at his best — frankly, not even of Scott at his not so best.

    Let’s to get to substance. The torture issue has been a real problem for liberals and liberalism. After 9/11 — and even before, as I argued in my first book on fear, one could see arguments pointing in this direction — liberals really made a move away from a non-abolitionist stance on torture. Not all liberals, but enough to make it, as Freddie says above, worthy of note.

    Now the question is: who counts as a representative liberal — and what counts as a representative liberal argument. It seems like folks here want to rule out of court any contemporary politician as liberal. Fine, so let’s move to the cultural world of academics, intellectuals, and journalists.

    When I read “Walzer’s idiosyncratic views are not representative of any branch of left political thought” my jaw dropped. Maybe this is a disciplinary thing. But to dismiss Walzer as some non-representative figure — and also to pull out the communitiarian critic of liberalism canard (as Walzer and his defenders, as well as his critics in fact, always point out, communitarianism is a tradition within liberalism, and always has been; Tocqueville, Hegel, the French Doctrinaires, Durkheim, Dewey; the list goes on and on) — suggests someone who’s interested in scoring points (and not all that successfully, I might add), not in getting at the substance of the issue. Michael Walzer is probably one of three leading thinkers on the American left of the last half-century, I should say he’s not my guy, but he’s been extraordinarily influential across a range of contemporary political and policy issues: just war, social justice, civil disobedience, and more. When he speaks, he’s not a idionsyncratic voice in the wind; he has an entire chorus, ready and waiting on his every word. Especially in academia.

    Which brings me to the torture question. As I mentioned in my original comment, Walzer’s dirty hands argument isn’t just one article in the field; it has almost defined the field. Google his original article and you can see for yourself. Not everyone agrees with it, but many people do, and many liberals are among them.

    I won’t spend too much time on the question of liberalism as a tradition that I flagged above. But on that score, whether you subscribe to Dershowitz’s position or not, his position draws upon two arguments that are squarely within the liberal tradition of thinking about the state, coercion, and security. First, the notion that the use of state coercion should be limited strictly to issues of security: it was liberals who invented that argument (because they wanted the state to stop using coercion for the sake of enforcing religious orthodoxy) and have carried its banner since the early modern era. Whether we think of Dershowitz as a representative liberal or not, his argument on that score is in fact representatively liberal. Second, the notion that the issue of state coercion must be subject to tremendous procedural restraints: Dershowitz’s position is that whether we like it or not, the state WILL engage in torture. His goal is to limit that use to a very few, and narrow set of, circumstances by forcing the state to get a warrant to do so from a judge. Now I think that argument is crazy, but it is in fact a liberal argument in its emphasis on procedural law.

    The only way one can say these are not liberal arguments is to say that liberalism stands for the inviolability and rights of the individual, whatever the context, consequences be damned. That kind of deontological argument certainly has its supporters, including liberals — but you should know that it has always been just one stream within the liberal tradition. To say that that is the only legitimate liberal argument, well, you’d have to take on a whole set of counter-arguments that I’m not sure folks here — especially folks here — would be prepared to take on. I’ve never thought of Scott or Farley or Erik Loomis as deontological liberals. That doesn’t mean I think they support torture at all: it just means that I don’t think they can avail themselves of this particular argument against it. And if they can’t — but still want to call themselves liberals (which I think is legitimate ) — then you can’t say the abolitionist anti-torture is coterminous with, or exhausts, liberalism.

    Anyway, I think Freddie overstated his original point — or, to be more precise, did not specify sufficiently who particularly or what tendency within liberalism he was talking about. But I think he raised a legitimate point. And rather than swatting it away as so much foolishness, it deserves to be engaged.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      The challenge of the previous post, from Scott, was for Freddie to name some liberals. He has done that. The challenge wasn’t: name me some liberals that I support. It wasn’t: name me some liberals who I’ve heard of. It was name me ANY liberals who support torture and the ticking time bomb theory, on the assumption — it seems — that what Freddie was saying was that ALL liberals support torture, and thus all one had to do in response was to say, like a matador waving a red flag at a bull, NAME ME ONE. Because of course it could not be done.

      That’s not the challenge Scott raised. It just isn’t. Your insisting that it was does not make it so. To quote Scott:

      …also, I’d appreciate it if Freddie deBoer would cite some of the unnamed “liberals” who “want to be forced to support torture” and take the stupid ticking time bomb hypothetical seriously. The only one he discusses is Ackerman, who defends the film’s treatment of torture because he believes it to show torture as being both brutal and useless. This may be a misreading of the film, but it’s a weak basis indeed for an assertion that Ackerman is a secret torture apologist who also speaks for all liberals.

      It’s clear that Scott is asking deBoer to make the case. The case isn’t made by citing dubious liberals who dubiously support torture (cf. Levinson and Clinton as two example of people with explicitly absolutist statements against torture (now) who are cited as at least torture curious, including by you (for Levinson!)). Citing some even actual liberals who support torture (even Dershowitz nominally opposes torture per se!) wouldn’t make the case.

      In other words, the challenge is to cite some of the liberals blah blah to supply reasonable support for “an assertion that Ackerman is a secret torture apologist who also speaks for all liberals”.

      That’s the starting point.

      • J.W. Hamner says:

        Your second paragraph is either a complete fabrication or a willful misreading, so it’s hard to take anything you say after that seriously.

      • Corey Robin says:

        Sorry dude I’m not running a course in remedial reading. When Scott says, “I’d appreciate it if Freddie deBoer would cite some of the unnamed “liberals” who “want to be forced to support torture” and take the stupid ticking time bomb hypothetical seriously” I take him to mean: name me some liberals who want to be forced to support torture and take the ticking time bomb seriously…If you can’t understand that, I can’t help you. As for Levinson, I’ve responded to you on the other post. You’re wrong about his position; the two of us here who have read the piece in question — me and Scott Lemieux, who is on the opposite side of this overall argument — have accurately characterized its contents. If you don’t trust me, trust him. And if you don’t trust either, go read the damn thing for youself and stop asking the rest of us to do your homework for you.

        • When I see the “you can’t read” pose, I know one of two things is happening:

          You’re either dodging the other person’s argument, or it went over your head.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Sorry dude I’m not running a course in remedial reading.

          But as you are showing that you are crap at reading, that’s a good thing!

          Now if you’d like to take a class, I’d be happy to help.

          If you’d read to the end of the quoted paragraph by Scott, the context is clear.

          Given that Scott has in the past attacked Dershowitz on torture, it’s simply uncharitable to read him as unaware. Given his explicit disavowels of that reading, it’s moved beyond lack of charity to just silly.

          But in the end, it doesn’t matter. How does finding a few liberals or nominal liberals who endorse torture support deBoer’s article? We don’t get to “many” much less most.

          As for Levinson, I’ve responded to you on the other post. You’re wrong about his position; the two of us here who have read the piece in question — me and Scott Lemieux, who is on the opposite side of this overall argument — have accurately characterized its contents. If you don’t trust me, trust him.

          Thanks, I’ve not seen that yet. I was surprised by Scott’s agreement. As I said, I don’t have easy or immediate access to the book, so some more precision would have been helpful. I’ll look more carefully at your comment.

          (I’m not sure why I should take either of you on faith, given the contrary evidence from Levinson. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I pointed to a public assertion from Levnson, in an interview about the book, that was full statement anti-torture absolutism. Perhaps he shifted his view, but then his last view should have some weight, right?)

          And if you don’t trust either, go read the damn thing for youself and stop asking the rest of us to do your homework for you.

          Yes, one of the things I am well known for, and have exhibited many times in these two threads, is asking other people to do my homework for you.

          In normal society, those advancing the arguments have the burden of providing the evidence.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Well, there’s some of the intro in the Amazon preview. But I don’t see from what’s there that Scott’s claim:

            Levinson’s introduction does express support for the idea that torture might be a lesser evil in some circumstances, based on worthless hypotheticals.

            is correct, at least, in any robust sense. Levinson does say that the anti-torture consensus has broken down and there’s a growing literature about legtimizing torture in some cases. But that’s not the same as endorsing those views.

            I’d get the Kindle version, Corey, but as we suffered a home invasion two nights ago and had to turn off all our credit cards (before flying to the US), both my US and UK credit cards aren’t working at the moment :) Thus, I have to ask you to do my homework for me. If there’s something in the bit of the intro Amazon provides that supports your view, great!

            I’d like to know what’s being claimed: AFICT, Levinson is unequivocally against torture. Period. Do we agree on that?

            He is willing to take pro-torture-in-some-cases arguments seriously. But…so? He’s an academic. I, myself, think that e.g., Dershowitz’s warrant arguments need rebuttal. Indeed, so do Walzer (Walzer is one of those people who went from admirable to nuts; sad).

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              See this comment for my concession to Robin.

              • Semanticleo says:

                This nesting is a perfect example of the dissonance inherent in any discussion of ‘torture’ as it relates to liberal vs whatever. What is the latin phrase for ‘wrong in itself’ versus wrongs ‘legislated’? The nigglers over legal descriptors is what makes people hate lawyers.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                I’d like to know what’s being claimed: AFICT, Levinson is unequivocally against torture. Period.

                This is the bit I’m clearly, 100% wrong about. Levinson endorses some ticking time bomb scenarios, apparently. He is explicitly not an absolute rejectionist.

        • J.W. Hamner says:

          I take him to mean: name me some liberals who want to be forced to support torture and take the ticking time bomb seriously…

          So he’s got a list with liberals who, at least at one point, took the time bomb thing seriously.

          Where is the first part? You know, the ones who “want to be forced to support torture”?

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Corey, as I’ve already said, my statement has to be viewed in context. Given that it was a response to a claim that liberals as a class support torture, it’s pretty clear that I meant representative examples, not random isolated ones. If any gracious apology is owed here, it’s to someone who asserted with no evidence whatsoever that I “want to be forced to support torture.”

          On your more theoretical point, it is true that it is possible to construct an argument for torture in some circumstances that does not overtly contradict liberal premises broadly defined. But it remains true that a large majority of liberals don’t go down this road.

          • Stephen Frug says:

            Scott, I don’t think your being fair to Corey Robin in your response here.

            First of all, he makes a number of key points you don’t address. For example, I think he has you dead to rights on Walzer. Which is to say, that Corey’s correct that (at least some of) Freddie deBoer’s examples were much better than you imply.

            Second, I think your earlier response to Freddie deBoer didn’t come across as, perhaps, you intended. deBoer made a wild overstatement. In reply, you made what reads on its face like an equally wild counter-statement. He said “all”; you seemed to be saying, sarcastically, “not even one.” Which is to say, that I think that Corey was right in the earlier thread when he wrote:

            …the premise of your challenge to Freddie was that he could not even cite one and that it was silly for him to write as if there were even one. Clearly that’s not true, and it seems unfair to him to write as if he were being so outlandish; if you want to change the terms of your challenge, we can, but we should then acknowledge that that is what you’re doing.

            Now maybe you didn’t intend the statement that way. But I think it sounded that way, yes, even in context. Perhaps you could very charitably read it your way… but that, not Corey’s reading, would be strained.

            And since the original exaggeration/counter-exaggeration, you and deBoer been accusing each other of moving goalposts. In a way, you’re both right: his reply to your counter doesn’t come close to backing his original claim, but it does more than meet your exaggerated counter-challenge.

            It would be appropriate and gracious for deBoer to admit his evidence doesn’t come close to matching the extremeness of his original claim. But I think it would be equally appropriate and gracious for you to admit that your counter-challenge was itself an exaggeration, and that deBoer did safely meet *that* threshold. And I take that to be what Corey is saying.

            (I can only guess your response is going to be to say, again, that that wasn’t what you meant, read it in context. Well, I’ve read Corey Robin’s book, and from that it’s clear that (despite some silly trollish snipping from commentators above stating the opposite) he’s a sensitive and careful reader of texts. And he took that to be the clear implication of your challenge. (As did deBoer, and for that matter as did I.) And I think that if you reread what you wrote you’ll see why. Try and read it that way and see.)

            SF

            • Stephen Frug says:

              Oops, the double-embedded quote there was a tagging mistake: after the quote from Corey Robin it ought to have gone back to my text. From “Now maybe you didn’t intend the statement that way” on is me again.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                There isn’t the slightest dispute about whether Walzer himself is a torture apologist. What is in dispute is how representative he is of “liberals,” particularly since in a framework in which the democratic American left is divided into “liberals” and “real lefists” Walzer if anything belongs in the latter camp. (Again, I think these distinctions are essentially useless, and that we’re all liberals and all social democrats here.) At any rate, Michael Walzer simply cannot prove that liberals as a general rule approve of torture when the vast majority of both rank-and-file liberals and liberal intellectuals don’t agree with him.

                • Stephen Frug says:

                  When I said Corey had you dead to rights about Walzer, I didn’t mean about whether or not he was a torture apologist; I meant rather about this:

                  “But to dismiss Walzer as some non-representative figure — and also to pull out the communitiarian critic of liberalism canard (as Walzer and his defenders, as well as his critics in fact, always point out, communitarianism is a tradition within liberalism, and always has been; Tocqueville, Hegel, the French Doctrinaires, Durkheim, Dewey; the list goes on and on) — suggests someone who’s interested in scoring points (and not all that successfully, I might add), not in getting at the substance of the issue. Michael Walzer is probably one of three leading thinkers on the American left of the last half-century, I should say he’s not my guy, but he’s been extraordinarily influential across a range of contemporary political and policy issues: just war, social justice, civil disobedience, and more. When he speaks, he’s not a idionsyncratic voice in the wind; he has an entire chorus, ready and waiting on his every word. Especially in academia.”

                  i.e. that yes, Walzer was an example not only of a liberal, but of a *major* one, who supports torture.

                  You also skipped the second half of my comment, namely, that while (as I said multiple times) of course Walzer doesn’t prove deBoer’s sweeping claim about liberals, he does answer your sweeping, sarcastic challenge to name some. Again: deBoer overstated (all!), and in reply you made an implied counter-claim (none!) that was equally overstated. You’re right deBoer should admit the former; but I think you should admit the latter. Which is what I take Corey to have been saying (e.g. “That should be admitted. Gracefully. And graciously.”).

                  SF

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  I will just say, again, that a counterclaim that literally no nominal liberal had ever been a torture apologist is “implied” only if you adopt a terrible, hyperformalist reading of my question that completely ignores the context both of the discussion at hand and the history of this blog’s discussions of torture.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Also, with a little more time I’d like to address this:

                  and also to pull out the communitiarian critic of liberalism canard (as Walzer and his defenders, as well as his critics in fact, always point out, communitarianism is a tradition within liberalism, and always has been; Tocqueville, Hegel, the French Doctrinaires, Durkheim, Dewey; the list goes on and on) — suggests someone who’s interested in scoring points (and not all that successfully, I might add), not in getting at the substance of the issue.

                  Well, as I said, I agree! The distinction between “communitrianism” and “liberalism” is essentially useless. But, of course, for that matter neither Corey or Freddie are somehow entirely alien to the liberal tradition, unless what they’ve written about Obama’s civil liberties record is pure opportunism or something. The fact that you can theoretically mount a defense of torture that maintains a veneer of procedural justice implicates, if you buy this line of reasoning, anybody who cares about limits on arbitrary state authority, which means more or less everybody on the democratic left. So Walzer can implicate “liberals” (as distinct, in this essentially useless formulation, from the Real Left) only if his torture apologism was in some measure responsible for his influence. In fact, as far as I can tell Walzer’s torture apologism and Iraq War-curiosity have made him distinctly less influential.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  In fact, as far as I can tell Walzer’s torture apologism and Iraq War-curiosity have made him distinctly less influential.

                  This. Walzer’s clearly a major figure, but these bits have tended, at least in my experience, to diminish his impact on political reality. As a theorist, the dirty hands theory occupies a significant place.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              (I can only guess your response is going to be to say, again, that that wasn’t what you meant, read it in context. Well, I’ve read Corey Robin’s book, and from that it’s clear that (despite some silly trollish snipping from commentators above stating the opposite) he’s a sensitive and careful reader of texts.

              Even a sensitive and careful reader of texts can fall into a misreading and get stuck there.

              This misreading is not strictly forbidden by Scott’s text, I guess, but it is by no means obvious nor is it correct (much less charitable).

              “deBoer cannot cite even one liberal who’s a torture apologist” is not a reasonable paraphrase of what Scott wrote. You might think it’s an insinuation, but Scott has explicitly, consistently, and repeatedly denied that insinuation. Contrariwise, deBoer really has stuck with the idea that torture curiosity is a real feature of the liberal landscape as a whole.

              What’s worse, of course, is that, afaict, the evidence against even the modified deBoer thesis is exceeding weak as shown by presidential politics and opinion surveys.

              You could maybe recast it as a fear that this film might be the straw that broke the anti-torture liberal consensus. But that’s a hugely different and pretty hard claim to push.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Not everyone agrees with it, but many people do, and many liberals are among them.

      But does this have any substantive effect on the Democratic consensus on torture either amongst the elites or the grassroots? (Evidently not, btw.) Absent that, it’s hard to see how it square’s with deBoer’s discussion of how self-identified liberals behave or are likely to behave instead of what might be theoretically supportable.

      Second, the notion that the issue of state coercion must be subject to tremendous procedural restraints: Dershowitz’s position is that whether we like it or not, the state WILL engage in torture. His goal is to limit that use to a very few, and narrow set of, circumstances by forcing the state to get a warrant to do so from a judge. Now I think that argument is crazy, but it is in fact a liberal argument in its emphasis on procedural law.

      Yes, and it’s clear that the Clinton’s flirted with it as a way to restrain the Bush regime. But both rejected it around the 2000 election where the Democratic consensus was uniformly strict rejectionist. Thus, in spite of a liberal argument available, liberals and a coalition not consisting merely of liberals, rejected it utterly and overwhelmingly continue to do so.

      It’d be wonderful to have that conversation. But deBoer did not start that conversation. Nor is he making any effort to steer things that way.

    • Now I think that argument is crazy, but it is in fact a liberal argument in its emphasis on procedural law.

      Being able to take an argument liberals have used in one situation, and claim that it applies to another situation, does not demonstrate that liberals apply it in that second situation.

      I can have a whole lot of fun demonstrating that conservative arguments can be used to show that snob zoning is wrong, but that won’t prove that there are conservatives who oppose snob zoning.

    • mark f says:

      it turns out that Freddie can name not just one but some liberals who both support torture and support the ticking timb scenario.

      Ya but, Freddie said:

      I think liberals want to be forced to support torture. What liberals want is ultimately to do what conservative hawks want to do, but only after experts and leaders assure them that they have no choice. [. . .] That’s why writers like Spencer Ackerman exist[.]

      Scott wrote:

      I’d appreciate it if Freddie deBoer would cite some of the unnamed “liberals” who “want to be forced to support torture” and take the stupid ticking time bomb hypothetical seriously

      and then claimed that Freddie misrepresented Ackerman.

      Scott is explicitly asking Freddie to name not liberals who are pro-torture, but Freddie’s liberals who became pro-torture due to “experts and leaders” telling them to.

      Freddie then cited . . . the president, an ex-president, the US AG & a senator (“leaders”) and some academics (“experts”).

      Freddie didn’t respond to the question at all.

    • Jon says:

      Despise being a great admirer of your work, I think you are completely wrong here, not so much because of your arguments about various liberalisms (though I have issues with that to), but because you treat Freddie deBoer as worth taking seriously. Anyone who does that, especially in public, should feel at least some embarrassment.

    • Murc says:

      It is implied that Scott is asking Freddie for exampled that actually make his case.

      In a very narrow sense, you are of course correct; Scott asked for cites, Freddie provided them.

      But Freddie’s provided cites don’t prove anything about Freddie’s thesis, which is that liberals AS A CLASS are, basically, lying about opposing torture; that they profess to oppose it but REALLY want to be talked into it.

      So yeah, Freddie gave examples of a few semi-liberals who are squishes on torture. None of them are dispositive or really help to prove his case.

      If I were to claim “conservatives, as a class, are anti-torture” you would, rightly, ask me to cite people to prove this. I could respond by grabbing a few quotes from Andrew Sullivan and other guys the conservative movement regard as apostates, as well as some Republican outliers.

      I would have fully satisfied your request to provide cites, but my cites would have done to prove my thesis. At all. This is the situation Freddie is in.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        I would have fully satisfied your request to provide cites, but my cites would have done to prove my thesis. At all. This is the situation Freddie is in.

        This. Cites that don’t actually buttress the initial claim are obviously non-responsive.

    • Jeffrey Beaumont says:

      It might be interesting to discuss whether or not “some liberals” want to be cajoled and coaxed into supporting torture if it were really a topic. But it isn’t. Yes, some liberal theory recognizes the potential for torture in state power. Some liberal thinkers openly support torture. Great.

      But two things make this a non-issue/topic/thing worth considering…1)who the fuck are “the liberals”? Are we talking about registered democrats, and leftish thinkers, capitalists, who? This is a sloppy and empty term. 2) Freddie’s comments had nothing to do with certain strains of liberal philosophy, but his shitty dismissal and armchair psychoanalysis of anyone he thinks is less righteous than himself. He is a silly troll, and should not actually be engaged.

    • Njorl says:

      Well, it turns out that Freddie can name not just one but some liberals who both support torture and support the ticking timb scenario. That should be admitted. Gracefully. And graciously.

      His use of Holder does not stand up to scrutiny. Believing that someone is not protected by the Geneva conventions as a prosoner of war does not equate to believing they can be tortured.

      His citation of Kaplan does not work logically. He claims Kaplan’s call for a discourse on torture is a desire to be convinced it is necessary. Kaplan’s call for a national discussion of the topic can be seen as a desire to alter the status quo. If it were true that we, as a people, abhorred torture, then he’d have a point. But we don’t abhor torture. Our people as a whole strongly support torture.

      His own link to the Dershowitz and Clinton “torture warrants” discussion shows that they do not support the idea. The discussion was about the best way to avoid excessive use of ticking-bomb scenarios if such things are deemed justified.

      The references to Obama as a torture supporter have been debunked elsewhere in this thread.

      He did a very shoddy job of trying to make the limited (and useless) point he set out to make.

  23. Major Kong says:

    In 1973 former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by Red Brigades terrorists.

    Some members of the Italian security services wanted to torture a suspect they thought might have useful information.

    General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa famously said “Italy can survive the loss of Aldo Moro. It would not survive the introduction of torture”.

  24. Johnny Sack says:

    But Scott’s challenge to “name one” doesn’t rectify the illogic in treating it like it proves anything. Not to mention the fact that those types of challenges are usually rhetorical exercises.

  25. Ed Marshall says:

    Ok, I’m the liberal asshole who would beat on someone in some incredible situation where you *knew* something terrible was going to happen that was going to kill a bunch of people, and you *knew* that the guy had the information.

    I would make the utilitarian calculation that you might as well try something or the outcome is going to be trivial to the torture of one person. This scenario is fantasyland. It’s never, ever, going to happen.

    • Dave says:

      And the usual deal is, you go to prison for it afterwards – which is waaay different than being told it’s OK to do it as a policy…

      • Ed Marshall says:

        That’s fine. I’d do my time standing on my head.

      • Murc says:

        This.

        If an actual 24-esque scenario popped up in real life, one might concede that the people involved should maybe be pardoned. I’d be skeptical but that’s not insane.

        But we don’t craft policy based on crazy outliers. We don’t, for example, have a huge body of law explaining when and how it is permissible to careen through the streets in your car like a madman. We just kind of trust that in the unlikely event someone really is rushing their in-labor wife to the hospital, the cops and courts won’t be dicks about it.

      • Dan says:

        Nobody will be going to prison for torturing the bad people anytime soon. I’m not convinced many nation states have a history of punishing their own agents for going above and beyond as is, but I’m open to hearing examples.

  26. mark f says:

    I think we can all agree that the most tortured person of all time is Steven Crowder, whose experience getting punched in the nose is indistinguishable from that of blacks in the Jim Crow South and Lara Logan in Cairo.

  27. Usually a Lurker says:

    Regardless of what happened to Manning (I believe it to be torture, and that certain posters on here saying it isn’t torture are no different than those who called waterboarding just a “drip of water up the nose” and laughed about Abu Ghhraib being nothing more than “fraternity pranks) Obama has not lifted a finger to prosecute the Bush/Cheney junta for torture. This means Obama is complicit in torture. Refusing to prosecute is the same as complicity, according to international law.

    • that certain posters on here saying it isn’t torture are no different than those who called waterboarding just a “drip of water up the nose” and laughed about Abu Ghhraib being nothing more than “fraternity prank

      Except for the part about one claim being true and the other being false.

      But that’s not really your thing, is it?

      • Usually a Lurker says:

        It’s so hard to tell the difference between the left and right in USian politics these days. I swear, swap the labels and the names of the people being tortured and this guy is no different than those laughing about waterboarding and “Club Gitmo” back in the 2000s.

        Do you have any idea how this makes your country look to the rest of the world?

        • Well, troll, I see you skipped right over the little matter of the factual truth of the claims, as I predicted.

          It really becomes difficult at this point to give a hoot about whatever else you have to say.

          • Usually a Lurker says:

            The factual truth is this: what was done to Manning is torture. Full-stop, just like waterboarding was torture, and all efforts to rationalise it were political partisans and two-bit nationalists attempting to justify the injustifiable.

    • Refusing to prosecute is the same as complicity, according to international law.

      Here is the UN Convention Against Torture, which you’ve never read. Could you please cite the part which says “Refusing to prosecute is the same as complicity?”

      Thanks.

      • Usually a Lurker says:

        What would you say if a country refused to prosecute a former high Nazi official which fled its shores?

        Actually this is even worse than that. What Obama is doing would be like the current German government refusing to prosecute Eichmann were he alive in Germany today, or even just extradite him to be tried under international law.

        Obama is protecting torturers and killers, and he is complicit. Period.

        • Could you please cite the part which says “Refusing to prosecute is the same as complicity?”

          Thanks.

          • Usually a Lurker says:

            Could you tell me what you would think of the German government in the 1950s refusing to prosecute, or even extradite Eichmann?

            Thanks.

            • No, I’m just going to keep reminding you that you can’t support your claim.

              Refusing to prosecute is the same as complicity, according to international law.

              No, it is not. There is no international law that says that.

              Unless you display the extremely low level of integrity necessary to acknowledge that, why would I want to try to discuss something with you, as opposed to just discrediting you?

      • thusbloggedanderson says:

        I suppose you mean, besides articles 6 and 7?

        • Article 6

          1. Upon being satisfied, after an examination of information available to it, that the circumstances so warrant, any State Party in whose territory a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is present shall take him into custody or take other legal measures to ensure his presence. The custody and other legal measures shall be as provided in the law of that State but may be continued only for such time as is necessary to enable any criminal or extradition proceedings to be instituted.

          2. Such State shall immediately make a preliminary inquiry into the facts.

          3. Any person in custody pursuant to paragraph I of this article shall be assisted in communicating immediately with the nearest appropriate representative of the State of which he is a national, or, if he is a stateless person, with the representative of the State where he usually resides.

          4. When a State, pursuant to this article, has taken a person into custody, it shall immediately notify the States referred to in article 5, paragraph 1, of the fact that such person is in custody and of the circumstances which warrant his detention. The State which makes the preliminary inquiry contemplated in paragraph 2 of this article shall promptly report its findings to the said States and shall indicate whether it intends to exercise jurisdiction.

          Article 7

          1. The State Party in the territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found shall in the cases contemplated in article 5, if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.

          2. These authorities shall take their decision in the same manner as in the case of any ordinary offence of a serious nature under the law of that State. In the cases referred to in article 5, paragraph 2, the standards of evidence required for prosecution and conviction shall in no way be less stringent than those which apply in the cases referred to in article 5, paragraph 1.

          3. Any person regarding whom proceedings are brought in connection with any of the offences referred to in article 4 shall be guaranteed fair treatment at all stages of the proceedings.

          There is nothing in Articles 6 and 7 that declare refusal to prosecute to be the same as complicity in torture.

          For instance, the Convention states that complicity it torture be declared a crime. What part of Articles 6 and 7 state that refusal to prosecute shall be declared a crime?

          Articles 6 and 7 state what shall be done with someone accused of torturing. Kindly quote me the language in Articles 6 and 7 in which the Convention states what shall be done with someone who does not prosecute.

        • You know, there is a legitimate point that you could make, instead of dying on the hill of the troll’s garbled misrepresentation:

          International law, in the form of the UN Convention Against Torture, requires signatories (ie, the US) to prosecute torturers, and Obama has not lived up to that treaty obligation.

          But “has not lived up to our treaty obligations” just doesn’t have the visceral kick of “complicit in torture,” and you sure as hell can’t make a claim that “failing to live up to our treaty obligations” produces an equivalency with Bush, so we find ourselves torn between saying something true, and saying something sexy.

          And we all know how that contest turns out on the internet.

  28. Mike D. says:

    What I don’t get is what liberals being forced to support torture has to do with any of the other things deBoer discusses in the rest of that post, or even in the rest of the paragraph that contains it. It seems logically and evidentiarily unmoored from anything else Freddie mentions that we might imagine made him imagine that it’s the case. Just a free-floating outburst in the midst of some unrelated but reasonable if debatable observations.

    • Mike D. says:

      …Perhaps what he’s referring to the fact that many liberals have considered arguments (and they’re not conservative or neoconservative arguments, they’re just arguments) that torture can be justified in certain circumstances, and not a few (depending how you define the term liberal) have had periods of uncertainty or even receptivity to those arguments. That’s not being forced into support. It’s the process of exercising considered judgement that every member of a polity has to engage in. Frequently that is done in amorally imperfect way, and liberals are not immune to this.

      In the years since 2001, I’m comfortable asserting that truly the vast, vast majority of liberals who were ever receptive to pro-torture arguments have subsequently rejected them on further consideration and evidence. If there needs to be a discussion about whether anyone who still conditionally supports torture can be called a liberal, or for that matter anyone who ever did (a standard that i believe would indeed require a considerable degree of excommunication from the community such as it is, but the discussion can certainly be had), then there certainly should be that discussion.

      But to say that people who consider arguments and make a judgement are being forced into a position on the question at hand is absurd and condescending and never merited the number of words in in response to it that it has now received. Oh well.

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