Wednesday, February 07, 2007

He just doesn't get it ...

Here again, this where understanding another's actual positions in useful. Mark writes:
When Chris Blosser acknowledged that the Bush Administration has in fact sanctioned and authorized torture, I thought we might be heading toward a rapprochement on this question with the hard core members of the CfF. The CfF seems to regard Chris, at any rate, as a reasonable soul. But apparently I was wrong to think they'd follow suit.

First of all, there are no "hard core members" of the Coalition for Fog. There are two contributors, myself and Victor, and everyone else posts in the comments. Mark's inability to understand this may be the reason why he keeps attempting to project his feud with Joe D'Hippolito onto us, but that is another matter altogether.

Here is what Chris Blosser said:
In response to #2, in the specific cases that Mark specifically cites ("the murder by hypothermia of torture victims in Afghanistan? The rendition and torture of Maher Arar? The torture and murder of the Ice Man by CIA ops at Abu Ghraib?"), I'd say yes.

I'd also note that with respect to the latter story, there appears to be conflicting testimonies --'s account, for example, states that Several Army and Department of Defense investigations found that the CIA presence may have contributed to the abuse committed by military police and that abuse occurred under direct supervision of the CIA. TruthOut's interview with Gen. Janis Karpinski (in charge of Abu Ghraib), on the other hand, counters this impression:

... So as I had discovered in past investigations of this matter, explaining the root causes of Abu Ghraib abuses are rather more complex than "the CIA did it" and, quoting Mark, "Dick Cheney wants more Abu Ghraibs."

Now Blosser is of course able to speak for himself on this, but I certainly didn't see this as an endorsement of Mark's repeated and rather hysterical denunciations of the Bush administration on this subject. If anything, I would say that the last sentence is trying to point that these particular situations are a tad more complicated than Mark's cartoon version.

Mark continues:
Today, I discover they are backtracking (and, of course, hurling insults) concerning something I thought they had agreed to yesterday: the fact that Veritatis Splendor 80 teaches torture to be "intrinsically immoral". Yesterday, they were citing Jimmy Akin to the following effect:

Instead of worrying about whether or not something counts as torture, we can start figuring out whether particular acts are or are not moral. If the pain involved in them is disproportionate then they are immoral and therefore torture. If the pain involved in them is not disproportionate then they're not immoral and not torture.

What this argument means is this: "Torture *is* intrinsically immoral, just as John Paul says. However, some forms of pain infliction are "proportional" to the desperation of the situation (i.e. the ticking bomb scenario). Such proportional acts are not torture and therefore not intrinsically immoral."

I won't argue the merits of that argument here. I simply note two things:

First, the CfF approved of that argument yesterday.

Before you get mad at us for hurling insults, we're still waiting over here for a retraction of your claim that we have no intention of providing a definition of torture when we did exactly that back in November. Moreover, I would note that the whole point that we and others have made in setting up our current understanding of torture is note that you determine the desperation of the situation on a case-by-case basis. I'm rather confused by the fact that Mark is unwilling to engage our argument rather than noting that it exists. If it's wrong, then by all means set us correct on where it errors, but I doubt that this will happen because that would mean ending Mark's rhetorical tap dance where he can condemn us as apologists for Satan, equivalent to abortionists, et al. while simultaneously arguing that someone like Jimmy Akin is just a poor naive soul who hasn't thought his positions out in full. At least Zippy, to whom Mark leaves much of his intellectual legwork, has the guts to come out and explain why he believes Akin to be wrong.
Second, that arguement means that the torture which the Bush Administation has, as Chris agrees, sanctioned and authorized is real torture and is therefore "intrinsically immoral", even by the standards given in Jimmy's scenario. We know that prisoners have been subjected to abuse, torture, and even death when there has been, at times, no solid evidence that they were guilty of anything, much less in possession of information of some imminent life-or-death situation. We also know this has happened, not just at the hands of the "few bad apples" at Abu Ghraib, but at prisons in Afghanistan, or due to rendition, or and at the hands of CIA operatives who were authorized by the administration (and previous administrations) to torture.

Here again Mark, you are conflating a whole host of issues here under a single umbrella for rhetorical effect, which is one of the reasons why I continue to note that in many cases you are engaging in crude demagoguery on this issue. The fact that you can't even conceive of a reason for us to disagree with you on this except to defend the Bush administration speaks volumes in and of itself as to how far he is willing to project motives on this one. The issue of what interrogation techniques are moral and what interrogation techniques should be legal are two separate but closely related issues. The framework that we and others have stated explicitly work on a case-by-case basis, ergo your sweeping condemnation is invalid under the criteria that we have lifted. In the specific cases that you are so apt to cite (Maher Arar and the individual in Afghanistan) I am quite ready to acknowledge as Blosser has that torture occurred and that it was immoral. He will forgive me, however, for not then proceeding to adopt all of the premises of an argument that I do not share to rail against the evils of the Bush administration.
At some point, this appears to have dawned on the CfF, because today I find Tom McKenna in my combox trying hard to pretend that we are talking about non-torture coercive methods and not cold cells, strappado, and waterboarding which have, on several ocassions resulted in the death of prisoners. Meanwhile, over at the CfF, talk reverts to the attempt to show that "because Veritatis Splendour doesn't perfectly align with personal interpretations of Church history and previous practices, it cannot mean what it actually says."

First of all, Tom McKenna is not a contributor here and in contrary to whatever paranoid fantasies Mark may indulge, he and I do not coordinate our positions. Also, he's got the situation reversed when it comes to Gaudium et Spes and Veritas Splendor. The Church does not, simply as a practical factual matter, teach that deportation is intrisically immoral. Now Mark can try to argue that because the Church does not hold to this that this refers to something else (forced deportations, perhaps). Because we at the Coalition believe in the indefectability of the Magisterium, we do not believe that you can just carry out a rhetorical slight of hand and dismiss Catholic teaching on very unpleasant topics like torture or slavery because you think that the latest encyclical wins. This is basically what the rad-trads argue concerning Vatican II and I would like to thank Mark for essentially arguing that they are correct. And as I noted in my previous post, it isn't just me but also people like Cardinal Dulles, Jimmy Akin, and Dave Armstrong who hold to this position about topics like torture or slavery. If Mark wants to argue with them, that's fine, but to just dismiss the idea that this isn't a serious position or hold that "the plain meaning" of Veritas Splendor and Gaudium et Spes must lead one to his position when anyone can see that his view is clearly not what the Magisterium teaches (again, see deportation) when confronted with the full text of the passage strikes me as being nothing short of fundamentalist, which is why I will continue to refer to him as such.
So apparently we are back to pretending that Veritatis Splendor does *not* say torture is intrinsically immoral, even though the text is right there for anybody to read. Undoubtedly, this will be billed as saving the Church's indefectibility from the clutches of muddy thinkers like John Paul II, but in actual fact, what we are seeing is the attempt to save George W. Bush's bacon from the fact that he has sanctioned and approved torture. Look for more name-calling at us "fundamentalist proof-texters" for the crime of reading Veritatis Splendor according to what it actually says.

First of all, this whole discussion would go a heck of a lot further if Mark refrained from constantly shifting back and forth between the issue of morality and that of politics. But since Mark can't separate the issue of the morality of torture from that of the Bush administration, I guess we can't either. And as far as "reading Veritatis Splendor according to what it actually says" goes, Mark might want to take note that his resident DNC shill has already set sail on that trip and it is manifestly clear to me that this is not what the Church actually teaches. The whole reason that we have a Magisterium and rejected sola scriptura in the first place is to avoid such attempts at "clear meaning" as being our standard for what a text says in the first place. But I guess the Catholic Church is too far in the tank for the Bush administration to recognize the intrinsic evil that is deportation.


roger h. said...

It really is annoying how Mark suggests that to disagree with his interpretation of Veritatis Splendor translates into an accusation that John Paul II was a muddy thinker. Such, I suppose, is the sort of representative tactic of someone who is incapable of sustaining his position (e.g., the Church holds that torture is intrinsically immoral) because a key element to that position (e.g., Veritatis Splendor says torture is intrinsically immoral) has been severely compromised (deportation is intrinsically immoral?).

Christopher said...

Now Blosser is of course able to speak for himself on this, but I certainly didn't see this as an endorsement of Mark's repeated and rather hysterical denunciations of the Bush administration on this subject. If anything, I would say that the last sentence is trying to point that these particular situations are a tad more complicated than Mark's cartoon version.

In a word, yes. I laid this out -- with respect to Abu Ghraib -- in the second and third posts of my own series on torture (Mark's Continued Use of Abu Ghraib 10/08/06, Mark Shea's Characterization of the Bush Administration 10/15/06).

I found the interview with Army Reserve Brigadier General Janis Karpinski rather curious for this reason: while she does find fault with the decisions of Secretary Rumsfeld and the military superiors above her, it's in response to the very specific question, "Do you think the CIA is involved? Did you have any contact with the CIA at all, in terms of their involvement with the interrogations?", that she has his suprising answer:

------------------ [begin quote] ------------------

. . . Marjorie, I have to tell you that from July onward, even up until December, I wouldn't say regularly, but it was often, that I encountered somebody from the Task Force, from the CIA, from Special Operations, and by and large, they were professionals. They were absolutely the consummate professionals.

Now I don't know if they ran separate facilities, and I don't know what techniques they use. I do know that when they determined that somebody they were holding in one of their facilities no longer had any value and they wanted to turn them over to us, at Abu Ghraib, most likely, they turned them over with full medical records. They turned them over with a whole file of interviews and interrogations, and they turned them over in relatively good health, particularly given the situation. So I think that - this is only my conclusion - but I think that techniques in the right and responsible hands are used appropriately. I mean, I never saw anybody under the control of the Task Force or under the control of the CIA who came in bruised, bloody, beaten, and, you know, stitched together. Occasionally we did see the aftermath of a gunshot wound, but these were higher-value detainees, if there was cross-fire or if there was a bullet, but they treated those kind of wounds. That would be my impression.

However, these same techniques or suggestions of aggressive techniques that were designed, in my opinion - again, I don't know this first-hand - but all of these reports now would indicate that these techniques were designed and tested and implemented down at Guantánamo Bay and in Afghanistan. And when you take those same techniques and put them in the hands of irresponsible and non-accountable people, like these civilian contractors were, you are combining lethal ingredients. And what happens? You get civilian contractors who have a playground, and they get out of control. And unfortunately, at Abu Ghraib they suck the military into that same playground. There's no doubt in my mind that they ordered these things to be done.

MC: Who is "they?"

JK: They being the civilian contractors - Titan, CACI. The majority of those contractors were either in Guantánamo Bay or Afghanistan prior to being sent to Abu Ghraib. There were a lot of translators who were working for Titan. Some of them were locally hired, some of them were brought in from the United States. And they were given an opportunity to upgrade their positions to be interrogators - without any kind of formal training whatsoever. So now you have a deadly mix. You have people who have been exposed and who have used these techniques first-hand in other locations. They know that there is no supervision or control. They have been directed, using whatever words, to get Saddam, get the information and get these prisoners to start talking, use more aggressive techniques. So you have allowed people who have no responsibility whatsoever to use techniques that were originally, perhaps originally designed and used by very experienced hands. And it got out of control. It clearly got out of control.

------------------ [end quote] ------------------

Again, it's a complex situation, and I'd agree with Mark and others that some very bad upper-level decisions were made, particularly with respect to the use of civilian contractors in interrogation duties who weren't under the army's jurisdiction. But this is not to say "Dick Cheny wanted more Abu Ghraibs".

The other interesting thing I found out is that Dick Cheney, serving as Sec. of Defense in 1992, actually approved the destruction of Spanish-language intelligence manuals which had been found to contain "offensive and objectionable material" which compromised the United States' policy on human rights:

------------------ [begin quote] ------------------

. . . The CIA reviewed the manuals, and noted some policy and classification discrepancies. The documents contained several passages which provided training regarding use of truth serum in interrogation, abduction of adversary family members to influence the adversary, prioritization of adversary personalities for abduction, exile, physical beatings and executions.

In the summer of 1991, Secretary Cheney was alerted to the existence of the manuals and the objectionable material. An independent inquiry into the documents was conducted, and Congressional Armed Services and Intelligence Committees were informed of the error. According to the Pentagon, copies of the manuals were retrieved. The Inspector General noted in its 1997 review, however, that total retrieval of all of the manuals in circulation was considered doubtful.

During the first week of August 1991, the Assistant Secretary of Defense notified the Congressional Committees on this matter, and the Assistant to the Secretary for Defense reported the incident to the President's Intelligence Oversight Board.

On August 9, in a secret memo to the Secretary of the Army, U.S. Commander in Chief - Southern Command (USCINCSO) and the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, the Assistant Secretary of Defense announced that it completed a study of one of the manuals in question, "Manejo de Fuentes" (or "Handling of Sources"). The study concluded that the manual advocated methods and activities which contradicted U.S. army policy. . . .

------------------ [end quote] ------------------

So, it would appear that Dick "we want more Abu Ghraibs" Cheney oversaw the clean up of controversial intelligence training manuals which were then in use by the School of the Americas.

This isn't so say that one can't find fault with decisions by Cheney or Rumsfeld or President Bush (I have concerns about the Military Commissions Act as well) -- but it's a topic that must be approached with circumspection, and you need to take all aspects into account in making an assessment.

Christopher Fotos said...

Very interesting, Christopher.

I would like to point out, without in any way diminishing your stupendously comprehensive work on this issue, that source of the Karpinski interview--is not what I would call an automatically reliable source. Among other reasons because of Jason Leopold's flameout over stories he published there about supposedly impending Karl Rove indictments (and I can't vouch for everything in that Wiki entry, but it's a good place to start). At least the Karpinski story wasn't written by Leopold. And it is an interview that Karpinski has never challenged to my knowledge, so it can at least be seen as an accurate version of her account.

As for the incidents described, whenever someone adopts the conceit We know this and We know that as Mark does in his little recitation, I usually think no you don't. Given Mark's record in vetting sources and accurately rendering them even if he gets that far, even less so in this case.

Christopher said...

Christopher [Fotos] -- agreed. Generally I take the content of such cites with a degree of skepticism. In this case it was (as you note) an interview which had never been challenged. I found Janis' additional level of distinction btw/ the CIA and civilian contractors (in assignment of responsibility) interesting (the tendency is to lump everybody together).

It doesn't exonerate the CIA, but it does provoke a greater level of concern about the role of non-military "contractors" in the affair. (11 US soldiers and officers have been convicted in the Abu Ghraib scandal, including Karpinski; the civilian contractors directly involved and overseeing the interrogations have not been indicted.

My post is by no means comprehensive, but I hope Shea's readers would take it as indication there's more to the story.

Anonymous said...


I wonder why Mark, Zippy and their cohorts are not as outraged over the Muslims misuse of Catholic worship space in Europe (the ostensible home of the faith) as they are over torture...


Perhaps they have been afflicted with the same kind of misguided tolerance that afflicts the West today and don't want to admit it to themselves?


Anonymous said...


That should be "torture"...