Balkinization  

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Addicted To Torture

JB

Marc Ambinder reports that the new Administration is finding it difficult to transition from the Bush Adminstration's torture regime: "Sources say that Obama's team is having trouble finding a potential CIA director who lacks politically incriminating links to controversial Bush Administration policies and yet commands the respect of the agency's rank and file."

Indeed, far from seeking to make a break with the past, House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes has urged Obama to keep on Bush's Director of National Intelligence and CIA chief for the time being, as well as retain parts of the CIA's programs that allow "alternative" interrogation techniques go beyond what is permitted in the Army Field Manual. (Hat Tip: Glenn Greenwald).

Reading these two examples, it struck me that they have much in common with the problems of any number of countries transitioning to democracy from a long record of human rights abuses. These examples show how difficult it is for a country that has violated human rights in the past to stop.

On the one hand, many of the people who are qualified for government posts are complicit in the old regime. On the other hand, holdovers from the old regime are pretty comfortable with existing practices, and see no need to make many changes.

It is appalling to think that eight years of the Bush Administration have compromised a good chunk of its country's intelligence and military experts, as well as politicians from both parties. The past Administration has addicted us to torture, and now we are behaving like a drug addict, denying we have a problem, fearful of a life without the drug, and desperate to avoid the pains of withdrawal.

Comments:

This analogy seems pretty lame to me. You might consider the possibility that Reyes (who is privy to a lot more information than we are) genuinely believes that restricting the CIA to techniques authorized by the Army Field Manual will compromise intelligence-gathering. Reyes may or may not be right about that, but I hardly see how characterizing his position as an “addiction to torture” advances the discussion.

Whoever is chosen to lead the intelligence community will have to make some tough calls about what is the most effective way to get information needed to protect the country. Whoever is chosen to lead OLC (maybe Marty Lederman) will have to make determinations about whether these techniques are legal. These decisionmakers can and should be held accountable for their decisions, but we should acknowledge up front that making the decisions is a lot harder than blogging about them.
 

Contra mls, this post is exactly right. To torture or not to torture is not a tough choice. It is the easiest choice imaginable for anybody who has either a moral compass or the ability to honestly evaluate social science data. Unfortunately, too many decent people have allowed hate and fear to cloud their judgment and have become complicit with a small cabal of evil men and women. We can't let shame and fear prevent us from righting this horrible wrong.
 

Here is a more probable scenario:

1) Coercive interrogation is not what most people consider torture.

2) Coercive interrogation works when non-coercive interrogation fails to obtain timely and actionable intelligence.

3) The timely and actionable intelligence gained through coercive interrogation rolled up much of al Qaeda and saved lives.

4) Without exception, when our representatives of both parties like Reyes were read in on these facts, they either actively supported coercive interrogation or did not oppose it.

5) Now that Obama and his foreign policy team has been read in on the facts of life, they too support the continued use of coercive interrogation.

The Ambinder story is the latest in a series of stories spinning Obama's center right foreign policy team choices to his left base. The idea that Obama cannot find anyone qualified to run CIA and who opposes the coercive interrogation program does not pass the snicker test. The reality is that, now that he is faced with actual governance, Obama has decided not to abandon this intelligence tool.
 

"'Sources say that Obama's team is having trouble finding a potential CIA director who lacks politically incriminating links to controversial Bush Administration policies and yet commands the respect of the agency's rank and file.'"

There's no problem there. You appoint someone who lacks incriminating links to torture policy and you take a lesson from Reagan's treatment of the air traffic controllers and fire all complainers. Promptly ending torture is a matter of national security and whiners can't be allowed to put the nation at risk and do al Qaida's recruiting for them just because those whiners think 24 is a reality show.
 

Coercive interrogation is not what most people consider torture.

"Coercive interrogation" is a euphemism for "torture." How could interrogation be coercive and not be torture? If you are not tortured, then you are not coerced. If, for example, you are merely slapped on the face in a manner that cannot cause injury, you will not feel coerced into providing (the usually false) information that you would provide if you were coerced (i.e. tortured).

The law ought to prohibit even touching a prisoner (I will not use the euphemism "detainee") except in two circumstances: self-defense, or when touching serves a legitimate purpose and there is no intent to inflict pain. (With respect to this second circumstance, I have in mind a prisoner who refuses to return to his cell and must be carried there.)

Also, long-term solitary confinement (including for 23 hours a day) is torture (it drives people mad), which means that Bush, as far as I know, has never ceased torturing, and whatever else Obama does, he ought to order an immediate end to long-term solitary confinement.
 

I have never thought much of Greenwald's reasoning, but I will give him credit for consistency in his views by at least raising red flags concerning Obama's adoption of the Bush foreign policy tools that Greenwald criticized in the past. Most other Bush critics on the left are conveniently ignoring or excusing Obama's heresies as I predicted before the election.
 

Henry:

Torture is the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain.

Coercive interrogation covers a much wider set of techniques meant to compel the target to talk.

For example, the AP carried a story yesterday about heavy metal musicians protesting the use of their music to wear down targets. While Nine Inch Nails may be considered to be esthetic torture to many folks, playing their music does not cause severe mental or physical pain and is thus not treaty or statutory torture.

Similarly, disorienting the target by playing games with lights, smells, meal schedules and the like are also coercive techniques that do not rise to the level of torture.

However, I hear the CIA also used the "I love you" song from Barney. That gets close to crossing the line...
 

Most other Bush critics on the left are conveniently ignoring or excusing Obama's heresies as I predicted before the election.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 10:19 AM


Before the election you were predicting that McCain would win.
 

I'd go a step further than Robert. In my view, once an organization becomes as entrenched in a failed policy as the CIA has with torture, there's no hope of reforming it. We should abolish it -- or at least all aspects of it other than the uninvolved analysts -- and start over with honest, moral employees. Otherwise the corporate culture never goes away.
 

there's no problem there. You appoint someone who lacks incriminating links to torture

Exactly right. Anyone who committed, authorized, or condoned torture has no place in government, let alone in a high position where he might commit more war crimes.

It's shocking that this should even need pointing out. That alone speaks volumes about how far we have moved from the civilized world.
 

I prefer an analogy to organized crime, which has always understood that the best way to "keep your enemies closer" is to manipulate them into getting some blood on their hands, at which point - for reasons both practical and psychological - it becomes much more difficult for them to acknowledge, even to themselves, that mistakes were made.
 

You might consider the possibility that Reyes (who is privy to a lot more information than we are)

Ah, yes, Reyes, the font of knowledge:

http://public.cq.com/public/20061211_homeland.html

Reyes stumbled when I asked him a simple question about al Qaeda at the end of a 40-minute interview in his office last week. Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East.

We warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence issues and Iraq. And then we veered into terrorism’s major players.

To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?

The dialogue went like this:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.


I guess if we keep enough "options" open, Reyes might eventually use his privy correctly.

And Hezbollah? I asked him. What are they?

“Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah...”

He laughed again, shifting in his seat.

“Why do you ask me these questions at five o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?”

“Poquito,” I said—a little.

“Poquito?! “ He laughed again.

“Go ahead,” I said, talk to me about Sunnis and Shia in Spanish.

Reyes: “Well, I, uh....”


Or not.

Bart, you must have an odd definition of "the left" bc the topics of Obama's embrace of torture advocates has never been confined to Greenwald. It's not just Brennan (or PNACers in his inner circle) - once you put Clinton in at SOS, you pretty much kill any real investigation of extraordinary renditions being used in conjunction with torture conspiracies and violations of the the anti-torture conventions.

Her husband's administration's involvement in the shipment to torture of the Albanians, and the links between those actions and the African Embassy bombings, if any and to what extent - those things can't get an airing while she holds the SOS slot, and we lose any credibility that we are trying to recommit to the rule of law.

Holder was a commentor who supported unlimited rights to round up and detain for all time when he got to be a talking head after 9/11.

In any event, to get to the more specific point of the post, it shouldn't be at all surprising that torture has become an addiction and that the addicts run the show. This is why torture is such a strict taboo, this is what it does. There is no absolution - not for individuals and their souls, not for a nation and its soul.

When Scott Horton did a "6 questions" with Darius Rejali, this was a point that was framed pretty clearly.

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/02/hbc-90002387

In the 1970s, the Brazilian military had a similar system, and the state had to turn on and kill its torturers in order to preserve itself. As the Brazilian journalist Elio Gaspari observed at the time, “Unless everyone in the army participates in torture, you very quickly develop two kinds of soldiers.” He call them “the combatants,” who fight the terrorists with torture, and the “bureaucrats,” who are committed to preserving the military’s everyday functioning and discipline. In Brazil, the day came when the combatant-torturers refused to accept the orders of the bureaucrats and regarded with contempt their peers who were committed to army disciplines. The generals reluctantly concluded that the “torturers were going to have to be isolated, marginalized, and eliminated, so as to save the Army.”

The problem we have is that the "bureaucrats" in this country have been the ones penning the torture memos or selling torture oversees. The Goldsmiths and Bellingers who some try to paint as heroes are really the bureaucratic bridge - allowing the torturers to infiltrate and subsume
 

Bart:
However, I hear the CIA also used the "I love you" song from Barney. That gets close to crossing the line...


Ah, classic Bart: softening his uncompromising support for torture with humor. Cheney and Rumsfeld would be proud.
 

Mary:

My definition of left does not include the Clintons. They are amoral power seekers who will adopt any ideology which will advance their quest for power. Because we live in a center-right country, they adopted the majority ideology.

My definition of left is pretty much limited to the subgroup Pew calls " Liberals ," who make up about 19% of the voters. Unlike Pew, I do not like using the venerable term "liberals" to describe you because your beliefs are generally the antithesis of classical liberalism - whose banner is now carried by the libertarians.

You folks do not make up nearly as much of the population as you believe, which explains Clinton and now Obama's disregard for your opinions after lying to you during the election.

I am what Pew calls an Emterpriser. We make up a similarly small portion of the voters. However, I am under no illusions about this fact and am unsurprised when the GOP goes off what I consider the reservation.
 

Because we live in a center-right country

Sure, if you completely disregard the last 2 elections.
 

BB:

As soon as Dems start running as leftists on an unabashedly leftist platform in a majority of the country's states and districts, then you might have a point.

The fact is that Obama fled from the label liberal like a vampire from holy water while he ran on tax cuts, cutting spending to make room for his new programs and on an expanded war against al Qaeda. The surprising thing is that he may not have been lying about many of these classic Reagan positions.
 

As soon as Dems start running as leftists on an unabashedly leftist platform in a majority of the country's states and districts, then you might have a point.

According to you Obama was running as a Marxist. It's only now that he's kicked your ass that you've decided he's a conservative.

In fact, he will almost certainly be a center/left president, which is what most of America voted for. We are now a center/left country.
 

Of course, if your current argument is that your pre-election estimate of Obama was wrong, I see no reason why your pre-inauguration opinion of Obama should have any credibility. Get something right. Then maybe you can be taken seriously.
 

So wrong for so long: the neocon legacy.

We will be greeted as liberators. Saddam had WMD. Saddam was going to give WMD to al Qaeda. Mission accomplished. The war will pay for itself. We're turning a corner. It's just a few dead enders. The surge will give the warring parties a space to reconcile. The fundamentals of the economy are strong. We do not torture. Either you're with us or you're with the terrorists. Heckuva job, Brownie. We're a center-right country.

So wrong for so long. Apparently believing that if you say it, it's so, doesn't convince everyone else to ignore inconvenient reality.
 

I just wish that Bart DePalma would become
Fuehrer, because then the trains would
run on time.
 

As soon as Dems start running as leftists on an unabashedly leftist platform in a majority of the country's states and districts, then you might have a point.

Such a joke, but what do you expect from someone who only acknowleges the power of white men.
 

"While Nine Inch Nails may be considered to be esthetic torture to many folks, playing their music does not cause severe mental or physical pain and is thus not treaty or statutory torture."

Is this categorically true? I'd say whether or not loud music constitutes torture depends on the duration and intensity of the exposure. Turned up loud enough, sound certainly CAN cause physical pain, and can even lead to permanent hearing damage.

It seems to me, deliberately exposing a detainee to music sufficiently loud to cause physical pain and hearing damage would probably even meet the permissive Yoo "pain associated with organ failure" definition of torture.
 

Don:

It would be counter productive in an interrogation to raise the volume to the point where you cause physical pain, damage and deafness. Makes it difficult for the target to hear the questions being asked.

In any case, the technique to which I referred is not meant to inflict pain or physical damage.

The ongoing music is meant to exhaust, irritate and disorient the target so he cannot think clearly to resist answering the questions posed.
 

Sweetly sings the neocon, at the break of day. Before you even ask him, this is what he'll say: "it's not torture! it's not torture! it's not torture!"

Oh well, fits the addiction model pretty well. "I'm not addicted! I'm not addicted! I could kick any time!" is what the addict sings. Classic denial. Oh sure, you're not addicted, you just can't seem to stop doing it.
 

It would be counter productive in an interrogation to raise the volume to the point where you cause physical pain, damage and deafness. Makes it difficult for the target to hear the questions being asked.

So, "it would be counterproductive" is a compelling argument that "we don't do that"? You remind me of a drunk driver arguing to the judge, "why would I drink and drive? I need to drive to get to work? Why would I put my drivers license at risk?"

The ongoing music is meant to exhaust, irritate and disorient the target so he cannot think clearly to resist answering the questions posed.

Yes, because if you want accurate information the first thing you want to do is make sure your subject cannot think clearly.
 

mattski,

IIRC, there is some psychological literature that memories are formed in such a way that they are much more likely to be recalled if you are in a mental state similar to the one you were in when the memories were formed.

Thus, college students who cram on caffeine and "energy drinks" who crash during exams can't recall all that info they were cramming.

My wife experienced this, when she lost about a week of memories in the hospital because she was on very heavy duty painkillers (that almost stopped her heart before they gave her narcan).

So creating severe disorientation in prisoners would make them less likely to recall salient information that was laid down in memory when they were conscious, oriented, and mentally sound.

Now, doing intense, but professional interrogations, might actually keep info you want available to their consciousness.

But apparently some feel it is not quite adequate to treat people according to the minimums of the GCs.
 

Prof. Balkin:

Marc Ambinder reports that the new Administration is finding it difficult to transition from the Bush Adminstration's torture regime: "Sources say that Obama's team is having trouble finding a potential CIA director who lacks politically incriminating links to controversial Bush Administration policies and yet commands the respect of the agency's rank and file."

This has been a continuing 'problem' with the CIA. In its many failures and scandals, outside people have been brought in to "clean things up", and the insiders and lifers have hated the outsiders. So these outsiders were resisted tooth-and-claw and generally didn't last more than a year or so. The complaint about these people was essentially: "You just don't know how things work around here" (in particular for the DO). Unfortunately, the plain fact is that things in the DO pretty much didn't work, the way they'd been doing it ... amongst other things, pretty much every agent/operative they tried to run or insert ended up dead, often caught and executed (thanks in part to moles in the U.S. intelligence agencies).

And the insiders had no interest in changing the way things ran.

A couple possible exceptions: Bob Gates may have tried to reform the CIA despite coming up through the ranks ... but he didn't succeed. And Porter Goss was not well liked by the rank-and-file despite being former CIA.

See Tim Weiner's book "Legacy of Ashes" for the skinny on the longstanding incompetence and malfeasance of the CIA ... and the failed efforts to reform it.

Cheers,
 

MLS:

You might consider the possibility that Reyes (who is privy to a lot more information than we are) genuinely believe...

...d that there were WoMD in Iraq?!?!?

Cheers,
 

"Bart" DeTorquemada:

1) Coercive interrogation is not what most people consider torture.

This is called "reframing". "Bart"'s "coercive interrogation" has killed a number of detainees.

2) Coercive interrogation works when non-coercive interrogation fails to obtain timely and actionable intelligence.

Coercive interrogation gives you "answers" pronto. Ask al-Libi.

3) The timely and actionable intelligence gained through coercive interrogation rolled up much of al Qaeda and saved lives.

Assumes facts not in evidence.

4) Without exception, when our representatives of both parties like Reyes were read in on these facts, they either actively supported coercive interrogation or did not oppose it.

They only know what the maladministration and the CIA choose to tell them.

5) Now that Obama and his foreign policy team has been read in on the facts of life, they too support the continued use of coercive interrogation.

Assumes fact once again not in evidence.

If Obama continues to flaunt international and jus cogens law, count on me to oppose him and these policies ... as much as I opposed LBJ/HHH in 1968.

There are some things that are simply just wrong.

Cheers,
 

One of the hallmarks of the fascist is the deformation of the language - ordinary words take a new meaning and euphemisms are developed for the abhorrent reality.

Thus, the Nazis had their "Einsatzgruppen" (tr 'intervention groups' or 'task forces') to carry out "Die Endlösung der Judenfrage" (tr 'the final solution of the Jewish Question') and the Loathsome Spotted Reptiles have their "extraordinary rendition" (= kidnapping), their "coercive interrogation" (= inhuman and degrading treatment) and their "enhanced interrogation" (= torture).

There sits LSR Bart up in his mountain cabin in the Rockies - described by some as the US National Redoubt - tapping away at his keyboard doubtless hoping that the recession will turn into depression and promote the resurgence of his far right friends.

Shades of Corporal Schickelgruber in the Barvarian Alps! I wonder how long it will be before we are treated to a DUI lawyer's version of "Mein Kampf".
 

One of the hallmarks of the fascist is the deformation of the language - ordinary words take a new meaning and euphemisms are developed for the abhorrent reality.

Bart is a rare specimen, and the mental illness from which he suffers is truly of a dangerous sort.

And I thank all my friends on this blog for not letting his putrid poison go unanswered.
 

The point is, the CIA has used the cover of intelligence gathering to support covert operations which tempt presidents of all stripes with their siren song of deniability, and lead to all sorts of undemocratic coverups and embarassments. I say kill the agency, split it between the NSC, State Dept. BIR, and military. Make sure presidents understand that when they commit acts of war they invite acts of war and therefore must think things through.
 

r.freidman:

The point is, the CIA has used the cover of intelligence gathering to support covert operations which tempt presidents of all stripes with their siren song of deniability, and lead to all sorts of undemocratic coverups and embarassments. I say kill the agency, split it between the NSC, State Dept. BIR, and military. Make sure presidents understand that when they commit acts of war they invite acts of war and therefore must think things through.

This is somewhat of a theme of Weiner's "Legacy of Ashes".

But as you point out, presidents of both parties and Congress have been unable to reform it or abolish it. It's like a ghoul that keeps rising from the dead, more malign and putrid each time (the use of "contractors" at present seems to be an even more devious way to avoid any direct accoutability, much as Blackwater did such for military duties). Not to mention, the CIA has always insisted to their nominal bosses that they can't "play by the rules" for their particular "mission" (in particular the DO) and that the best management style is a laissez faire one that just gets out of the way and lets them "do what needs to be done".

Perhaps the time has come to evaluate this premise, and the moral implications of such for a democracy. Weiner does a good job of showing that it's not inability to play by the rules that accounts for the CIA's horrendous track record, the objections of the various 'cowboys' in it and out notwithstanding.

Cheers,
 

arne --
I've read a lot of CIA stuff, Weiner's didn't add much for me, except perhaps the extent to which those involved in the agency's most notorious failures continued to serve and rise in the agency.

What more recent CIA directors have learned is that it's important to make the president, of whatever party, complicit in the deeds of the DO. The president is no longer protected by deniability, rather he is recruited as the ultimate agent of influence.

Obama should take a lesson from James Watt and appoint Morton Halperin or Thomas Blanton to be CIA head with the purpose of declassifying documents, exposing and expelling the guilty culprits, and disestablishing the agency.
 

r.freidman:

Can't disagree with you.

Even "Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda " by the relatively pro-CIA Robert Wallace, indicated that many of even the techinical wiles of the CIA ended up with equivocal results in the end, even when just engaged in the traditional role of intelligence, not operations.

The DO, on the other hand, has been pretty much a disaster from start to finish, when considered in terms of what would actually be useful to do (rather than in terms of some lack-and-white "Commies are a bigger Evil than Satan" paranoia).

I really don't think we'd be much worse off blowing the CIA to kingdom come ... but I'd note that the military intelligence (co-opted by Cheney, Hadley, et al.) sought to bypass the "stodgy" CIA and do even better (or worse, as one looks at it).

Cheers,
 

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