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Talking about Torture and Using Germany for Illustration

To your left is a short video clip of a talk show discussion about the Senate vote on the controversial detainee interrogation bill.
It's a good summary of some of the usual pro and con arguments. Reza Aslam, author of No God But God. The Origin, Evolution and Future of Islam (, is noteworthy.
The panelist Sandy Rios defends the Bush policy and the Senate vote. To support her opinion she incorrectly claims that a German prosecutor used non-life-threatening coercion techniques to get the location of a kidnapped boy from the suspect. Bill Maher's response was inaudible to me (do you understand him?); nobody corrected her statement. In the case she mentioned nobody used any such techniques. The deputy policy chief threatened to use violence. The deputy police chief and another policeman were temporarily suspended and a judge said in his concluding statement: "With the threat of torture the police did grave damage to the rule of law of this country." Background in DW World.

Assorted quotes on this matter in general:

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and author of Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier's Fight for America From Baghdad to Washington. (, in the NY Times:
America's moral integrity was the single most important weapon my platoon had on the streets of Iraq. It saved innumerable lives, encouraged cooperation with our allies and deterred Iraqis from joining the growing insurgency. But those days are over. America's moral standing has eroded, thanks to its flawed rationale for war and scandals like Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and Haditha. The last thing we can afford now is to leave Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions open to reinterpretation, as President Bush proposed to do and can still do under the compromise bill that emerged last week.

Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek in November 2005:
Ask any soldier in Iraq when the general population really turned against the United States and he will say, "Abu Ghraib." A few months before the scandal broke, Coalition Provisional Authority polls showed Iraqi support for the occupation at 63 percent. A month after Abu Ghraib, the number was 9 percent. Polls showed that 71 percent of Iraqis were surprised by the revelations. (...) Initially, people the world over thought Americans were crazy during Watergate, but they came to respect a rule of law so strong that even a president could not break it. But today, what angers friends of America abroad is not that abuses like those at Abu Ghraib happened. Some lapses are probably an inevitable consequence of war, terrorism and insurgencies. What angers them is that no one beyond a few "little people" have been punished, the system has not been overhauled, and even now, after all that has happened, the White House is spending time, effort and precious political capital in a strange, stubborn and surely futile quest to preserve the option to torture.

Andrew Sullivan:
It is one of history's great tragedies that American conservatism, born in part in resistance to Soviet torture, should end by endorsing it in America, by Americans. And not just endorsing it, but brandishing the use of it as a tool to gain re-election and maintain power. "
More in the Moderate Voice.

Endnote: You might have to click twice on "play" to see the video and you might need to install a flashplayer.

UPDATE: In his Boston Globe column "Fighting for our honor", H.D.S. Greenway wrote about practical considerations as well:

"No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices," the army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, Lieutenant General John Kimmons, told Pentagon reporters recently. "I think the empirical evidence of the last five years tells us that. And, moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility, and . . . it would do more harm than good . . . We can't afford to go there."
Virtually all of our successful interrogations in the war on terror, the general said, "have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices, in clever ways that you would hope Americans would use. . ." The best intelligence comes from psychologically breaking down resistance and winning the prisoner over.


Mutually Inclusive PR on : Outrageous Satire, or U.S. Foreign Policy? Hard to Tell, Some Days

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When you scan a headline like this in The Onion, you know it's either a hilarious exagerration of the truth, or American foreign policy (read: credibility) has sunk to a new low. If it's humour, everyone's getting in on the joke: Talking Torture and Using Germany as an Illustration - Atlantic Review Senate Passes Torture Bill and Bush Pardon - Drudge Report: Beavis Christ Blog Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir, at Long Last? - Tragos, Brian Cooney Senate Passes Detainee Bill Sought by Bush - New York Times When the post 9/11 suspension of some human rights began, I hoped the various governments, armies and security agencies would somehow distinguish themselves by their ethics and actions from those who sew terror with suicide bombs in public places. The distinction continues to blur until into insignificance. Tags: terrorists, usa, senate, anti-terrorism, torture Powered by Qumana


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clarence on :

Bill Maher (the moderator, who is a professional comedian) simply terms the interrogation techniques permitted by the bill as "torture", which of course ends the matter as far as he is concerned. My response is that Mr Maher is a moron, which ends the matter as far as I am concerned. ;-) To the point: Assume your country is at war. A soldier kills an enemy combatant. Is that "murder"? No, because what is morally sanctioned in war is not morally sanctioned on the streets of Berlin during peacetime. The same distinction applies to interrogation techniques. The people captured in Afghanistan and Iraq are not innocent children swept off the streets of Paris; they are my country's enemies. A foreign combatant in wartime does not receive the same protection of the law as does a citizen (a point the US Supreme Court made quite clear in its recent decision criticizing the Administration's trial system for the prisoners in Guantanamo).

David on :

"The people captured in Afghanistan and Iraq are not innocent children swept off the streets of Paris; they are my country's enemies." Interesting "state of denial". The whole point is that Congress has passed legislation that permits the President to kidnap and torture innocent foreign citizens (like al-Masri) or hold indefinitely without charges (like Murat Kurnaz). They WERE innocent - but they were lucky, since they were released. How many unlucky innocent detainees are being held? We don't know, since not one shred of evidence has been produced - nor will it ever now, with the new bill. This bill is blatently unconstitutional and will be thrown out by the Supreme Court (over the objections of Scalia, Thomas, and Alito).

David on :

"Bill Maher's response was inaudible to me (do you understand him?);" As far as I understand him, he answers ironically: "You won me over" Besides that Sandy Rios is from Fox News so what do you expect ;-) At least she recognized that there weren't any WMD in Iraq.

Eva on :

Even though it might sound naive, but I never thought I would live to see the day, when in the US a law is passed that legalizes torture. Torture can never be a matter of "semantics", its clear to see that the legalized techniques like waterboarding, stress postions etc. are all torture. You do not need to use hot irons to torture a person. And it does not matter whether someone is innocent or not, torture is simply not debatable in any circumstances, it is unacceptable.

ROA on :

Is waterboarding any worse than being escorted to an 8-by-10 cell shared with a tattooed dude who says “Hi, my name is Spike, honey.”? A punishment enthusiastically endorsed by California's Democratic Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Why do Democrats approve of rape, but oppose waterboarding?

Simon on :

Why do you have to think along those lines of "Democrats vs. Republicans means either one or the other"? I don't know enough about the Californian case, but in case "the" Democrats screwed up there, is that a nyreason to approve of Bush's (or any other) politics? - It's just one more incident showing me that the US American two-party system misleads some people to think in "black and white" categories. "If the other is wrong [preferably add: about anything], I have to be right."

clarence on :

"Congress has passed legislation that permits the President to kidnap and torture innocent foreign citizens" You are a liar. There is no legislation that says any such thing. In any country, under any circumstances, it is possible that an innocent person can be killed, arrested or incarcerated in error. That does not justify your malevolent propoganda.

David on :

Either you are too lazy to read the actual legislation, or you are blinded by your love for Dear Leader. The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published. The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture. Read the Bill and then call me a liar. The legislation is beyond the pale for any civilized nation, which is why it will be struck down by the Supreme Court.

Don on :

Ah yes. Abu Ghraib - again. Such a TIMELY topic dontcha think? No doubt we will still be hearing moral homilies about Abu Ghraib 10, 20, 50 years into the future. The worst moral trangression in the history of the (known) universe. Though absent a law completely outlawing anything up to and including saying 'boo' to a prisoner we fascists will no doubt plumb even deeper depths of depravity in the future...... Wake me up when his holiness finishes, willya? ZZZZZZZ......

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I am certainly not someone who exaggerates Abu Ghraib. See my post: [b] [url=,-but-not-Darfur.html] Why Abu Ghraib, but not Darfur?[/url][/b] I mentioned Abu Ghraib here to show how torture and allegations of torture hurt US interests: Zakaria: Ask any soldier in Iraq when the general population really turned against the United States and he will say, "Abu Ghraib." Perhaps historians will say in the future, that Abu Ghraib was the most definite turning point that explains why the US lost in Iraq. Abu Ghraib probably happened because some military police personell thought they had the right to treat detainees that way and thought they were doing their country a service. I would not be surprised if the new bill would be abused in the future as well. There are not just moral, but strategic and realistic reason to oppose the interrogation bill. As noted recently by the head of Army Intelligence, Lt. Gen. John Kimmons: "No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that." This was quoted in what seems to be a [b][url=]letter from CIA officers to the Senators[/url][/b]. This letter is worth reading! The quote is also to be found in the Boston Globe and I will write an UPDATE with that quote.

Don on :

Darfur? What is this Darfur? Oh, yes, Darfur. You'll forgive me. Darfur is one of those things the barbarous Yanks are forever on about, but not much of a topic here in virtuous Europe. Except for slightly strange sorts like our friend Joerg. Darfur would become an issue only if the Americans invade - sotensibly to save people but actually for OIL! Then we'll pay attention, particularly when the barbarous Yanks jail some poor innocents from the Janajaweed. Dog leashes and iss on their Lorans. Till then we Europeans can't really be bothered to pay attention....

Chris on :

This would be comedy if it were not so brutal. She doesn't even understand the term "straw man". She just parrots back like terminology to sound as though she is engaging the points. Sad thing is, she probably doesn't even realize this and considers herself smart and decent. She is neither. Reza Aslan is a GIFT FROM GOD for our leaders, if only they would pay more attnetion to his points. You cannot be a Catholic and support this president. He might have conducted a just decision to attack Iraq (I don't think he did, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt on this one) but he has not conducted a just war according to Catholic doctrine.

Fullie on :

Once there was a country who based its constitution and its Bill of Rights on the Magna Charta. Habeas Corpus was one of the fundamental rights of EVERY HUMAN BEING. This current legislation distinguishes between Americans and "Untermenschen", enemy combatants, for whom the fundamental human rights are not valid. Luckily, there are still some Americans who can think for themselves:

clarence on :

Fullie, >Once there was a country who based >its constitution and its Bill of >Rights on the Magna Charta. Habeas >Corpus was one of the fundamental >rights of EVERY HUMAN BEING. Well, that country was not Germany, France, or Switzerland, was it? No Bill of Rights, no Habeas Corpus to be found in their Constitutions or laws. Enemy combatants have NEVER been accorded the same rights as citiens, not in the US or in the UK. (Care to discuss how Germany has treated enemy combatants in the past?) That distinction is not "new", it is centuries old; neither is it in any way unique to the USA.

Hattie on :

Maher is not a mere comedian, any more than Stephen Colbert is. That kind of critique is like saying that Jonathan Swift wrote children's books.

clarence on :

>Maher is not a mere comedian Hattie, You are correct, and I should have been more precise. So, let's try this description: Maher is a failed comedian, who is now trying another career for which he is equally unsuited. He is not a journalist, nor a historian; he has no education or vocational experience in the topics on which he opines. Essentially, he is a male Oprah...without the sense of humor. Is that better? ;-)

wintermute on :

> Care to discuss how Germany has treated > enemy combatants in the past? Just a question, clarence: Is this the level you want to discuss on? As long as we behave more humane than the Nazis did, everything's peachy? Seriously, that argument is a little weak and let's you get away with pretty much everything.

clarence on :

Wintermute: I completely agree with you; it is a weak argument. However, as a debating point it does tend to stifle the "we are morally superior" lecturing that many Europeans seem to enjoy. And, honestly, wasn't that lecturing exactly the point of the original title, "talking about torture".....and isn't that precisely the tone of most of the comments? The title and excerpt didn't ask, what treatment of combatants is authorized in Germany or Britain or Japan (or the US)? I doubt anyone who posted here even knows. It simply suggests that the US practice torture. There is a useful admonition about stones and glass houses. It really does take nerve for someone to rant about the Bill of Rights when not a single country in Europe has (or ever had) any such thing. I did also make a more substantive argument in my posts above, however: (a) neither the US, nor any other country to the best of my knowledge, has ever accorded enemy combatants the same rights as its own citizens in peacetime, (b) the recent legislation in the US did not change that fact, and (c) the legislation does not authorize "torture" by any rational definition.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

"The title and excerpt didn't ask, what treatment of combatants is authorized in Germany or Britain or Japan (or the US)?" The post corrects a misunderstanding or misconception of interrogation techniques in Germany.

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