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Pro-Torture Buffoonery in the WaPo

[ 0 ] April 26, 2009 |

I must credit Michael Scheuer; all previous efforts at pro-torture buffoonery pale in comparison to this:

In surprisingly good English, the captive quietly answers: ‘Yes, all thanks to God, I do know when the mujaheddin will, with God’s permission, detonate a nuclear weapon in the United States, and I also know how many and in which cities.” Startled, the CIA interrogators quickly demand more detail. Smiling his trademark shy smile, the captive says nothing. Reporting the interrogation’s results to the White House, the CIA director can only shrug when the president asks: “What can we do to make Osama bin Laden talk?”

This might be too embarrassing even for Alan Dershowitz, although Fred Hiatt seems to think it worthy of publication. I’m not sure which element of this scenario is the most absurd; why don’t we just assume that Osama Bin Laden is a crab-person, and thus immune to waterboarding?

It gets worse from there. Scheuer ignores evidence of the ineffectiveness of torture, asserting simply that CIA interrogators “know” that the methods are extremely effective. They just “know” it; how they “know” it (comparative effectiveness studies, historical analysis, gut feeling) isn’t worth investigating, and certainly shouldn’t be challenged. Moreover, Scheuer believes that claims about the illegality of torture amount to “personal ideological beliefs” rather than sound legal analysis; there’s no recognition that arguments of law have any validity at all. The notion that the CIA should be able to do anything it wants to suspects in order to “save the lives and property of Americans” amounts, of course, to a “personal ideological belief.” As far as I can tell, there’s nothing in Scheuer’s argument that would prevent using the rack or hot pokers to get information from detainees. The only limit that he apparently recognizes is a the gut knowledge that the methods will “work,” actual evidence be damned.

Scheuer gained a bit of cred among Iraq War opponents with Imperial Hubris. This was rather a pity; it was apparent from that text that he was equal parts crank and buffoon. Interestingly, he views prosecution of Bush era appointees as a near certainty. This probably amounts to a guarantee that they won’t actually happen.

…relevant to this discussion is this article in the LA Times:

Reporting from Washington — The CIA used an arsenal of severe interrogation techniques on imprisoned Al Qaeda suspects for nearly seven years without seeking a rigorous assessment of whether the methods were effective or necessary, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The failure to conduct a comprehensive examination occurred despite calls to do so as early as 2003. That year, the agency’s inspector general circulated drafts of a report that raised deep concerns about waterboarding and other methods, and recommended a study by outside experts on whether they worked.

In other words, it is literally true that the CIA relied on what amount to “gut feelings” to determine the effectiveness of torture. There does not appear to be even the faintest effort within the CIA to determine whether the methods they were using were more effective than the alternatives. Why, after all, should such an examination have been necessary? US officials do “not ‘argue’ or ‘contend’ or ‘assert’ but know” (emphasis added) that torture works; there is no reason, therefore, to bother collecting evidence. Call me a crazy social science type, but I don’t find these claims terribly compelling. In this context, it is unsurprising that Mark Thiessen’s rantings about the effectiveness of torture depend entirely on the self-reporting of the CIA; sans a comparative effectiveness study of some sort, the CIA hasn’t the faintest whether torture “works.” And this is also why, differences of opinion on the legal liability of CIA torture enablers aside, heads at the Agency should roll.

Apocalypse Now?

[ 0 ] April 26, 2009 |

Tempest in a teapot, or gather the guns and bottled water and head for the hills?

A Note on Letters to the Editor

[ 0 ] April 26, 2009 |


If you’ve sent me an e-mail with an interesting story or link or book that you think I’d be interested in writing on, odds are strong that it’s still there, with a star next to it. Same thing applies to a query or angry tirade. Most of the questions and ideas people send are very good; the spirit is willing, but the blogging flesh (so to speak) is weak. Hopefully someday I’ll get to all the posts that I want to write.


The Management

Submitted for your consideration

[ 0 ] April 26, 2009 |

Attending the NFL draft in the jersey of your favorite team to cheer and boo your team’s selections is the lamest thing a sports fan can do.

How Jarrod Washburn Became My Most Valuable Pitcher

[ 0 ] April 26, 2009 |

11.1 innings pitched, 18 earned runs, 19 hits, 8 walks…. this is the Verdun of my fantasy pitching staff.

Deep Thought

[ 0 ] April 26, 2009 |

I’m generally opposed to the idea of national anthems before sporting events in principle, but hockey games in Chicago justify the practice.

That Sound You Hear Is Parody Dying

[ 0 ] April 25, 2009 |

Shorter David Broder: Illegal and immoral acts by public officials shouldn’t be subjected to prosecution as long as said officials really thought they were a good idea. Besides, it would be scapegoating — why should the people who conceived and carried out illegal torture bear any more responsibility than anyone else for these policies? [Note: this kind of analysis does not apply to more important issues, like Democratic public officials lying about blowjobs.]


[ 0 ] April 25, 2009 |

Yes, I sure hope that the GOP will emulate the strategy that brought Jim Tedesco such smashing success. I mean, Glenn Reynolds thinks that this race proves that Barack Obama is very unpopular, and he’s never wrong about anything!

[ 0 ] April 24, 2009 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Ripley and Nelson


[ 0 ] April 24, 2009 |

I haven’t considered the issue enough to know what I think of the (plausible) commercial speech arguments put forward by 5CA, but I will say that the idea of licensing regimes for interior designers is one issue where libertarians definitely have a point. One concern I would have about the case (which, of course, isn’t really an argument against the court per se) is that Texas could preserve its policy by making it more draconian, as an outright licensing requirement (as opposed to the current indirect one) would be even worse policy but almost certainly constitutional.

If America Does It, It’s Not Immoral. If A Republican Orders It, It’s Not Illegal.

[ 0 ] April 24, 2009 |

Shorter + Scarily Verbatim Michael Goldfarb: People who engage in illegal torture to obtain information so valuable that it, for example, thwarted plots that had already been thwarted a year ago are “American heroes.”

Bonus hackery: “More responsible critics are satisfied to argue that the technique is illegal. Maybe they’re right, but there are plenty of lawyers, and at least one Supreme Court Justice, who will argue the other side of that. It’s not clear the United States government can prosecute a lawyer for holding a minority view.” I was previously unaware of the argument that laws could not be applied if a single person anywhere disagreed with the applicability of the law (with, presumably, bonus points of these disagreements rest on utterly farcical arguments.) I must say that I also don’t recall this standard being deployed by Goldfarb’s magazine during the Clinton impeachment, but admittedly blowjobs are a far more serious concern.

Creepy Misogynist of the Day

[ 0 ] April 24, 2009 |

Robert Stacy “Emmett Till Had It Coming” McCain.

Bonus Shorter McCain: If mainstream conservative parties don’t embrace white supremacy, white supremacy will have to be left to neo-fascist parties. All of which makes it perfectly acceptable for American conservatives to form alliances with neo-fascists.