Monday, May 28, 2007

Torture update

"Surge-related" American forces capture a de-facto prison of al Qaeda's in Baghdad. Surprise, surprise ... Jihadis torture people:
U.S. forces freed at least 41 kidnapped Iraqis during a raid Sunday on an al-Qaida hide-out northeast of Baghdad, the military said. Some of the victims appeared to have been tortured and suffered broken bones. ...
Some of the captives appeared to be suffering from heat exhaustion. Others gave harrowing accounts of having been hung from the ceiling and tortured, said Army Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, another military spokesman. Evidence of abuse, including broken limbs, appeared to back up their account.
Some of the captives said they had been held for four months, Garver said. Most were middle-age men, but one said he was 14. The victims were taken to a safe location and were receiving medical treatment, the military said.
Obviously, it was retaliation for Abu Ghraib, where these Arab dearhearts learned of the very concept. Even before the torture manuals I alluded to last week, would anyone really have been surprised by this news? Iraqi media reports say officials have what they think are the bodies of the three captured US soldiers last week and they showed signs of torture (though this article doesn't elaborate so I hesitate; men captured in a fair fight will have violent marks on their body similar to torture, and enemies have a "right" to interrogate too) But they would not be the first such cases.

What this stuff reminds us is that we are the good guys in this conflict. Period.

This doesn't mean everything we do is good. It does mean (1) that whatever we do wrong, they will almost always do it worse, and loyalty can be inferred from rhetorical weight; and (2) our victory will advance the cause of good (even on matters like torture, Abu Ghraib and Gitmo notwithstanding) and our withdrawal and defeat, which the local left pines for, will set it back. Because political defeat is not abstractly moral, but always concrete -- US defeat means defeat to Al Qaeda and Islamism generally. Not to the UN. Not to the Church. Not to some overarching nebula called "decency" (or anything else). But to Islamism.

Fundamental rule of all politics -- whether war or an election. You only get to choose among the alternatives in front of you. Those alternative will always be imperfect, but you must make a choice (including "no choice," which is a de facto choice of the prevalent). Between X and Y, the defeat/victory of X is a victory/defeat for the concrete and immediate alternative Y, regardless of one's private motive or one's preferred alternative of Z. A US withdrawal would be a victory for Islamism, and thus a victory for torture and other forms of brutality.


Nikolai said...

The fact that the Jihadist are sadistic tortures should not be a surprise to anyone (and I doubt it is really a surprise to anyone). The fact that the KGB tortured people is also not a surprise, the fact that the Stasi tortured people is not a surprise. Even that a few rogue elements in the US armed forces resorted to torture is not a surprise --human nature is human nature and all nations have their share of potential sadistic torturers and abusers. What I found surprising, however, is that so many Americans condone abusive treatment of prisoners. Have you seen "The Lives of Others"? For me it is obvious that the way the Stasi obtained those confessions was by torturing those prisoners. From what I have read, though, many Americans would now claim that such treatment is not torture (no bones were broken, no permament physical damage was inflicted) and is perfectly permissible. I have read that some Americans even claim that waterboarding is not torture. Perhaps I was being naive, but in the past I thought that torture is condoned only in primitive and cruel cultures or in populations that have been brutalized by years of repression and false propaganda (like the Soviet Union or Iraq).

Victor said...


I have seen THE LIVES OF OTHERS twice.

And no ... the Stasi methods presented in that movie are not torture, though some may be immoral on other grounds (violation of privacy; withholding medical care; blacklisting) or for being in service to an immoral regime (the GDR) or immoral ideology (communism).

I really don't get why so many people with room-reperature-plus IQs listen to "something is not torture" and hear "therefore perfectly permissible" -- you're stealing a lot of bases in between those two thoughts.

Donald R. McClarey said...

Being opposed to the US war effort in the current conflict on the grounds of alleged use of torture by US troops is akin to being opposed to the Union war effort because white Union soldiers often had racist attitudes to blacks. It is all about being able to distinguish gnats from camels. The use of what could be called torture in the present conflict against enemy captives is far below what was unofficially tolerated in past US conflicts, especially when the enemy being fought was notorious for ill-treatment of American captives. Considering that the fate of almost all American POWS in the present conflict consists of torture, mutilation and murder, I think our forces have exercised admirable restraint under the circumstances.

Nikolai said...

Okay, Victor. I appreciate your candid reply. I disagree with you. Let's not even call it torture, but the Stasi methods portrayed in the movie were intrinsically immoral-- whether performed by a Stasi agent interrogating a dissident or a US agent interrogating a Jihadist.

I strongly believe that the US, a country I came to love and defend, is going down an immoral path and I'm very disheartened by it. And I'm a person who believes in a strong military and a muscular foreign policy. But you can have that without resorting to "enhanced interrogation techniques" or whatever term people prefer to use.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with Nikolai, but he shows that it is possible to have this discussion in a reasoned manner, without hurling epithets, insults or impugning anyone's motives. Let's hear it for reasoned debate...


Phillip said...


I would get into it but won't given how often I have gone over it.

Basically the argument is, if there is some form of coercion which is not torture and if that coercion is licit, then why should we not use it to defend others?

Anonymous said...

the Stasi methods portrayed in the movie were intrinsically immoral-- whether performed by a Stasi agent interrogating a dissident or a US agent interrogating a Jihadist.

No, I don't think anything shown in the movie is intrinsically immoral, whether it's called torture or not (if it were torture, properly defined, it *would be*). Keeping somebody awake is not intrinsically immoral, nor can asking questions, wiretapping, firing from jobs ... everything shown in the movie can legitimately be done in service of a legitimate regime or with proportionate good reason in the actual common good (though the GDR fails both these counts).

I think you're putting too much weight on "intrinsically." It doesn't mean "really, really, really" immoral. It means "by its nature and without regard to circumstance." Masturbation is intrinsically immoral, but homicide is not. They are hardly thereby comparably grave deeds.

The Stasi acts shown in LIVES OF OTHERS were immoral certainly, but with regard to circumstance (the regime they served) or with regard to degree (keeping someone awake 48 hours or whatever might be immoral; though keeping someone up one hour would not) rather than intrinsically. This is not to deny that the real-life Stasi committed torture (a matter on which I'm ignorant).

Nikolai said...

Hi again. A quick clarification, since I know that neither I nor you would be able to persuade the other. English is only my third language and my grammar is rather poor, but when I wrote "intrinsic" I did mean intrinsic. As far as torture is concerned, I just want to point out that what for me was torture in, say, the year 2000 (and before) is still torture now. My understanding of what torture and abuse of detainees is was definititely colored by what the Soviet and other communist regimes did when interrogating their prisoners (I've met some of the people that went through those experiences). So yes, I was deeply disappointed when I found out that the US have been using some of those "techniques". On the other hand, I'm pleased that in the US military several high ranking and battle tested officers spoke up against such type of interrogations.