Matthew Cole reports on a key torture apologist at the CIA who “repeatedly told her superiors and others – including members of Congress – that the ‘torture’ was working and producing useful intelligence, when it was not”:
The expert was not identified by name in the unclassified 528-page summary of the [torture] report, but U.S. officials who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity confirmed that her name was redacted at least three dozen times in an effort to avoid publicly identifying her. In fact, much of the four-month battle between Senate Democrats and the CIA about redactions centered on protecting the identity of the woman, an analyst and later “deputy chief” of the unit devoted to catching or killing Osama bin Laden, according to U.S. officials familiar with the negotiations.
Slate has a big package today about “The Year In Outrage.” It’s thought-provoking, worth your time and effort.
I’d rather talk about it laterally, though, than re-litigate old social media controversies. There’s plenty enough of the latter in the Slate thing. Let’s, instead, consider the outrage manufacturing process, which I think is more complicated than usually described. You can do it half by accident. You know, by joking on Twitter.
For example: Last night I was reading Twitter when a link came into my feed. It was to an Los Angeles Review of Books essay about Joan Didion. I clicked.
The first sentence of the piece was a run-on sentence. Then it made proud reference to the author’s attendance at literary parties. I persevered. I was then rewarded with this paragraph:
I hope I don’t seem too outraged to you when I say that this is not a good paragraph about Joan Didion. It tells you nothing about Didion. It also doesn’t tell you much about the writer, Emmett Rensin, other than his lack of apparent shame. It would be a pretty embarrassing paragraph to record in your private journal. But there it was, published by the Los Angeles Review of Books. The Los Angeles Review of Books is edited. An editor read this paragraph, and published it.
Nico Hines and Sami Yousafzai pass along a disturbing new Amnesty International report indicating that the US military “has systematically covered up or disregarded “abundant and compelling evidence” of war crimes, torture, and unlawful killings in Afghanistan as recently as last year”:
[The report] includes detailed investigations of 10 incidents in which at least 140 civilians, including 50 children, were killed in dubious circumstances. In the aftermath of nine of these, eyewitnesses and families report that no one was ever interviewed by the U.S. military. … Among the most disturbing allegations are claims of forcible disappearance, torture, and extrajudicial killings carried out by a rogue unit in Wardak province from the fall of 2012. “We interviewed a former detainee that had a really horrific story of just raw torture,” [report author Joanne] Mariner said. “It’s not only the testimony of this former detainee but a lot of bodies were found showing horrendous crimes of torture—people missing body parts and people whose corpses were badly mutilated.”
One of 125 victims and eyewitnesses interviewed by Amnesty in compiling this report was Qandi Agha, 51, an employee at the provincial Ministry of Culture, who says he was captured by U.S. forces who broke into his home and spirited him away to a dark wooden cell. “On the first night,” he said, “the Americans told me they were going to try 14 different types of torture on me. If I survived, they said, they’d let me go.”
He said he suffered electric shocks, beatings, simulated drowning, hanging from the ceiling, partial burial in freezing conditions, and the extraordinary and degrading torment of having a length of string tied tightly around his penis. “They left the string around my penis for four days. My abdomen was bulging. I wasn’t able to pee for those four days,” he said.
He was lucky. He says half of the men he was incarcerated with did not survive the ordeal, and he claims to have watched one man be beaten to death by a redheaded American commando.
With the last weekend’s breakthrough being called into question, Brian Barrett argues that these days, the Turing test “isn’t so much a test of computer intelligence as it is human gullibility”:
A bad chatbot might luck its way to victory if the judges aren’t familiar with tell-tale signs of chatbot-ness. That’s usually of less importance when your panel includes experts in the field of computer science. In this case, it included an actor from Red Dwarf and a member of the House of Lords, both of whom are incredibly accomplished and by all indications brilliant minds, but not specifically trained in this field.
David Auerbach argues that “Eugene Goostman” did in fact pass the Turing test – but that the test itself has a fatal flaw:
Trashing the Reading results, Hunch CEO Chris Dixon tweeted, “The point of the Turing Test is that you pass it when you’ve built machines that can fully simulate human thinking.” No, that is precisely not how you pass the Turing test. You pass the Turing test by convincing judges that a computer program is human. That’s it. Turing was interested in one black-box metric for how we might gauge “human intelligence,” precisely because it has been so difficult to establish what it is to “simulate human thinking.” Turing’s test is only one measure.
Dante D’Orazio takes note of this weekend’s big news out of London:
Eugene Goostman seems like a typical 13-year-old Ukrainian boy – at least, that’s what a third of judges at a Turing Test competition this Saturday thought. Goostman says that he likes hamburgers and candy and that his father is a gynecologist, but it’s all a lie. This boy is a program created by computer engineers led by Russian Vladimir Veselov and Ukrainian Eugene Demchenko.
That a third of judges were convinced that Goostman was a human is significant – at least 30 percent of judges must be swayed for a computer to pass the famous Turing Test. The test, created by legendary computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950, was designed to answer the question “Can machines think?” and is a well-known staple of artificial intelligence studies. Goostman passed the test at the Turing Test 2014 competition in London on Saturday, and the event’s organizers at the University of Reading say it’s the first computer to succeed.
I believe that in about 50 years’ time it will be possible to program computers… to make them play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than 70 percent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning.
While this didn’t happen by the year 2000, it seems Turing was off by only 14 years.
Nathan Mattise has more on this weekend’s breakthrough:
Photographer Marcel Christ combines his backgrounds in chemistry and photography to create startling images:
Through experimentation with countless liquids, the artist finds ways to give life to otherwise inanimate objects. In this ongoing series, Powder, Christ captures the expressive movement of colorful powders that pop out against a solid black background in unpredictable formations that result in an organized chaos.
I love to show things you can’t see with the naked eye, combined with all different subjects and textures. That includes bursts of powder and explosions. The aesthetics of destruction are very beautiful. That specific moment you see in these images lasts barely 1/10 000 of a second. A few moments later, the studio is a mess.
In My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead interweaves memoir and literary criticism, illustrating how George Eliot’s classic has affected her throughout her life. In a review of the book, Hannah Rosefield describes why the novel endures:
Mead first read the novel aged 17, living in the southwest of England and preparing for university examinations, and she has read it every five years or so since. Middlemarchis, of course, not the only novel that changes with the age of its reader, but it does attract a particular kind of rereading. Writers, academics and non-specialist readers alike talk about a distancing from Dorothea as they grow older, a realization of the irony in Eliot’s portrayal of the girl who wishes she could have married Milton or any other great man “whose odd habits it would have been glorious piety to endure.” They discover their sympathy, especially if they are academics, for Dorothea’s elderly husband Casaubon, the scholar fixated on a project that he has neither the will nor the intellect to complete. To the young, Middlemarch is about the young; to the middle-aged, it’s about middle age.
[Protagonist] Dorothea feels an inchoate longing to do or become something that the provinces don’t provide a ready picture of. Mead experienced this, too, although she had a better image of what might lie in the big world outside, and opportunities to reach for it.
Reporting on the shocking treatment of mentally ill inmates in South Carolina’s prisons, Andrew Cohen asks why the state has refused to do anything about it:
On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the “most troubling” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It’s heartbreaking. The evidence is now sadly familiar to anyone who follows these cases: South Carolina today mistreats these ill people without any evident traces of remorse. Even though there are few disputed material issues of law or fact in the case, even though the judge implored the state to take responsibility for its conduct, South Carolina declared before the sun had set Wednesday that it would appeal the ruling—and thus likely doom the inmates to years more abuse and neglect. That’s not just “deliberate indifference,” the applicable legal standard in these prison abuse cases. That is immoral.
But what makes this ruling different from all the rest—and why it deserves to become a topic of national conversation—is the emphasis Judge Baxley placed upon the failure of the good people of South Carolina to remedy what they have known was terribly wrong since at least 2000.
Nicole Flatow examines the horrors the inmates suffered:
First off, because it is one of my very favourite poems. The language is incredibly beautiful, of course, and lord knows I can relate to Prufrock’s indecisiveness. And it is one of those poems that has always spontaneously created a multitude of vivid images in my mind’s eye. I also think it is just the sort of poem that works best as a poetry comic. First because it lays forth a narrative of sorts, and second because it is not too concrete in its imagery, so that in converting it into visual form there is little risk of being too straightforwardly illustrative. …
[U]ltimately the most challenging aspect of making poetry comics for me is getting the pacing right. There should be a rhythmic flow to the comic that captures the corresponding flow of the poem. Achieving this is mainly a matter of how to break up the text between the panels, how to arrange the panels, how to pace the visual narrative, and where to place the text in relation to the imagery. Of course, these aspects can be judged the most successful the less the reader is immediately aware of them.
Last month, a Boston Globe profile of Peters’ work underscored the connection between comics and poetry:
Alan Turing, the great British mathematician who cracked Nazi codes and later killed himself after the government chemically castrated him for being gay, received a posthumous royal pardon last week, 61 years after his conviction (NYT). Peter Tatchell wants the pardon extended to everyone convicted under the “gross indecency” law, which remained on the books until 2003:
Why him alone? Singling out Turing for a royal pardon just because he was a great scientist and very famous is wrong in principle. The law should be applied equally, without fear or favour, regardless of whether a person is a well-known high achiever – or not. Selective redress is a bad way to remedy a historic injustice. At least 50,000 other men were convicted under the same ‘gross indecency’ law from the time it was first legislated in 1885 until its repeal in 2003. They have never been offered a pardon but deserve one, equally as much as Turing. An estimated 15,000 men of these men are still alive. It is not too late for them to receive a measure of justice in the form of a royal pardon.
In honor of Veterans Day, the Washington Post has created Portraits of War, a portfolio of some of the greatest war photography of the last 150 years. Among the ten featured photographers is Mathew Brady:
Brady remains the single most famous photographer of the Civil War. His name came to overshadow those of other photographers, causing some mistakenly to believe that Brady had almost single-handedly created the immense photographic archive. Brady deserves credit for envisioning the possibility of using photography systematically to document the war. He would send teams of photographers – and occasionally go himself – to create images of battlefields and important leaders. His public display of “The Dead of Antietam” was the first time the American public viewed images of dead soldiers on the battlefield.
Brady’s efforts to document the Civil War pushed him into a series of bankruptcies. In the years after the war, he campaigned to get Congress to buy his collection of negatives and prints. In 1875, Congress finally bought the rights to his work for $25,000.
Fisher passes along the above interview with war photographer Goran Tomasevic:
Tomasevic, who is Serbian, began working for Reuters in 1996, covering political instability in his native Belgrade. He has since become one of the best-known war photographers currently working. If you’re in the Washington, D.C., area, you can see some of his photos at the Corcoran Gallery, which is hosting a wonderful war photography exhibit through the end of September.
Max Fisher has an interview with Egyptian photographer Mosa’ab Elshamy. He reflects on “how significant events really end up taking seconds”:
As a photographer you always have to keep the shutter on — we call it the burst mode. I have full sequences, and sometimes it starts with somebody standing, but in the sixth or seventh photo, he’s got a bullet through his head, and it all took less than a second.
The consequences of that moment, of this guy getting shot or avoiding a bullet that killed someone else — it’s a very significant thing, and more often that’s becoming lost. I try to focus on that in my pictures, I try to include as few people as possible; just a man sitting with a killed friend of his, or a mother mourning next to a daughter. It’s a very individual act, one person killing another person.
Check out a Flickr gallery of Elshamy’s work here.
Alison Barker muses on The Art of Intimacy, Stacey D’Arasmo’s treatise on intimacy’s successful portrayal in literature and art:
[U]nexamined assumptions about something as powerful as intimacy make for stories that are full of stereotypes and stereotypical behavior. This is depressing. And it’s not art. By continually rearticulating how she conceives the different types of intimate relationships wrought by the best writers in this and the last century, D’Erasmo cleverly prepares us to accept that intimacy, necessarily, is a bit of a mystery, and that it is only when writers question their received ideas about intimacy that they are able to transcend sentimentality and produce stories that better illuminate this powerful, mysterious, frequently shape-shifting human experience.
Two days ago, Richard Deitsch wondered aloud how many of his Twitter followers have photos of their happiest moment ever. Megan Garber observes that the outpouring of responses is a testament “not only to Twitter’s power as a platform for sharing, but also to cameras’ increasing ubiquity in our lives”:
We may plan to take pictures at weddings, or during proposals, or after the births of babies; many of life’s happiest moments, however, are unexpected and random and weird. The fact that more of us are regularly carrying cameras around with us means that we are newly able to capture those moments–to make the ephemeral newly permanent. And, then, shareable with Sports Illustrated writers.
Many more excellent pictures sent to Deitsch are below:
For her series Reconciliation, Billie Mandle photographs American confessional boxes:
These photographs were made in confessionals, the small rooms found in Catholic churches where people confess their sins. Almost all religions have theologies of repentance; the confessional is unusual because it acts as a physical manifestation of an abstract idea. …
I was raised Catholic and so the traditions of these rooms are familiar to me. Photographing the confessional has become a type of ritual: I use a large format camera and available light, lifting the curtain of the confessional and looking into the darkness, just as I lift the dark cloth of the camera. The confessionals contain contradiction: darkness and light, corporeality and transcendence. They are rooms where people confess their sins and ask for grace surrounded by the traces of past confessions. In making these images I approach the confessionals as metaphorical spaces — rooms that suggest the paradoxes of faith and forgiveness.
Lawrence Krauss wants more research into extracting existing CO2 from the atmosphere as a way to address climate change. He notes that, unlike other forms of geoengineering, “direct air capture would treat the disease, not merely the symptoms”:
First, one removes CO2 from the air by using a sorbent, which is a material that can absorb gasses. Next, the CO2 has to be extracted from the sorbent and sequestered, presumably by pumping it deep underground at relatively high concentration or by binding it to minerals—a bit like how we handle nuclear waste. But another possibility includes actually converting it back into fuel. One particularly attractive possibility that has been proposed involves using an “exchange resin” sorbent which binds CO2 when dry and releases it when wet. In this way the evaporation of water could actually be used to help reduce the energy burden associated with binding and subsequently extracting the CO2.
Scott Rosenberg wonders whether geoengineering, through either carbon dioxide removal or solar radiation management, is “a slam-dunk no-brainer or a regrettable last resort”:
Computer scientist Thomas Murphy has designed an artificial intelligence, PlayFun, that can figure its way through videogames by relentlessly testing strategies that lead to high scores. Gary Marcus explains further:
The program proceeds by automating trial and error. It records everything in the Nintendo’s memory, and correlates every simulated press of a joystick with particular memory locations in the game that represent a player’s score. Any action that increases the score gets weighted more heavily; actions that decrease the score become less likely. In essence, Murphy aims to overpower the Nintendo through sheer brute force, not by what humans would consider actually playing the game. He writes that the “central idea … is to use (only) the value of memory locations to deduce when the player is ‘winning.’ The things that a human player perceives, like the video screen and sound effects, are completely ignored.”
In the wake of the Newtown shootings, NPR ran an item accompanied by the above picture. The news outlet was later contacted by the woman shown in the picture, Aline Marie, who noted that “no one asked [her] permission to post [the picture].” Coburn Dukeheart relates her feelings about the experience:
“I sat there in a moment of devastation with my hands in prayer pose asking for peace and healing in the hearts of men,” [Aline Marie] recalls. “I was having such a strong moment and my heart was open, and I started to cry.” Her mood changed abruptly, she says, when “all of a sudden I hear ‘clickclickclickclickclick’ all over the place. And there are people in the bushes, all around me, and they are photographing me, and now I’m pissed. I felt like a zoo animal… yes, it was a lovely photograph, but there is a sense of privacy in a moment like that, and they didn’t ask.”
Dukeheart also spoke with the photographer, Emmanuel Dunand:
[W]hen he took Marie’s photo, he knew she was suffering, but that he simply didn’t want to bother her. He thought that leaving her alone was the most respectful thing to do.
NPR solicited reader comments on whether photographers should “interact with their subjects in moments of grief” to ask permission and names, or if it is “more respectful to leave them alone.” Dukeheart summarizes the responses here.
(Photo: Aline Marie prays outside St. Rose of Lima church in Newtown, Conn., on the day of the school shooting. Marie noted in her message to NPR that she was “not asking [them] to take the photo down, nor [was she] offended.” By Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.)
For his series "Baled," Wesley Law photographed bundled items at Goodwill liquidation centers:
It took him nine months. And when he finally got access, he found an awesome panorama — thousands of items leftover from Goodwill stores around the country, crammed together in bales as large as 5 feet tall by 7 feet wide, awaiting transport to new destinations. Initially, Law thought he'd shoot the scene as a landscape, to capture the size and scope of the facility and its contents. But on a second visit, he started considering the bales individually. "I realized when I got close to these things that they each have their own personality. They have their own identity," he says.
From Law's artist statement:
We are not forced to live among our refuse, knowing the immediacy of its decline, unaware of the process it undergoes. Our waste is conveniently carted off by mainly unseen forces. The average American discards 4.34 pounds of garbage each day. The majority of which ends up in a landfill or gets shipped overseas. Almost 200 million pounds of donated clothing was sold in 2011 by one non-profit in particular. The vast unknown quantities not sold were baled and sent away.
Even absent the extraordinary levels of cruelty on display in the video, Butterball turkeys live terrible lives. As Mercy for Animals reports, "Butterball’s turkeys have been selectively bred to grow so large, so quickly, that many of them suffer from painful bone defects, hip joint lesions, crippling foot and leg deformities, and fatal heart attacks." Contrary to popular belief, turkeys are both highly social and relatively intelligent animals. Butterball is the United States’ largest turkey producer, making up 20 percent of turkey sales year round and 30 percent of total Thanksgiving sales.
In many places, it's illegal to photograph your ballot. Joyner asks why. McArdle answers:
Votes used to be widely available in America for outrageously small sums of money, or free whiskey. But that was back in the 19th century, before secret ballot measures were adopted. Now the buyer of votes has a grave difficulty: people might take your money, and then pull the lever for the other guy. Enter the camera. As inexpensive snapshot cameras became available, the vote-buyers were potentially back in business; just demand that the voter mark his ballot in indelible ink and then take a picture.
It's increasingly hard to miss since Obama's first year. Here's one take on why:
States such as Alabama are aggressively courting local and international manufacturers. They are dangling tax breaks and other lucrative incentives to attract companies — and in turn are generating industry jobs and boosting their revenue. The federal government's bailout of the auto industry in 2009 saved General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) and Chrysler from bankruptcy and helped propel American automakers to improved sales, record profits and more hiring.
Rising expenses in China are another big reason domestic factory work has heated up considerably in the last 12 months. As labor and raw material costs skyrocket, more American companies are bringing production back home. One example is WindStream Technologies, which makes small wind turbines. WindStream opened a facility in North Vernon, Ind., last year so it could move production out of China. The change eliminated overseas shipping and travel expenses and helped lower production costs by 10% for each turbine.
Jeremy Harding uses the publication of Magnum Contact Sheets, a collection that reveals how photographers worked before the advent of digital cameras, to meditate on the meaning of the art:
So much of what photography has to say about appearance, it turns out, is really about disappearance: cultures and places changed beyond recognition, lives long gone, and the old arts of the analogue camera and the darkroom with them. Both subject and practice take on a lyrical, heritage quality as they’re superseded or extinguished. In his piece about the end of the Kodachrome colour slide (LRB, 3 February 2011) Julian Stallabrass pointed out that nine of the images produced by the American photographer Steve McCurry – another Magnum member – when he petitioned to shoot the last roll of Kodachrome in 2010 were of a vanishing nomadic tribe in Rajasthan…
Lecturing — which is all one can do with 100,000 students — is just about the worst way to teach ever devised. It’s problem are well known in the pedagogical literature … To give one-way talks to an audience (which is what lecturing is about) is an effective way to communicate a large amount of information to a large number of people. But communication represents a small fraction of what teaching is about. Real teaching must include guided discussions, interactions among peers, and a great deal of exercises. The ideal model is that of the Renaissance workshop, where one learned from the Master and his best assistants, day by day. In modern education, this is what is done in the best graduate schools and when using the Montessori method.
Well, yes. But that merely means gathering a group together to take a class ensemble. Or finding a poor grad student to help out. But even without those aids, it seems to me that being able to absorb top-notch lecturing at home for free cannot but be a fantastic thing. If combined with an online grading service, it could be revolutionary.
(Video excerpt from Andy Conway's Princeton lecture course on stats. Andy was my boyfriend before my marriage to Aaron. I wish he'd taught me stats.)
President Obama, in his State of the Union address, advocated special tax breaks and support for the manufacturing sector. I do not see any more convincing case for subsidies to manufacturing than there was for the special treatment of agriculture during the long decline in farm employment. Most of the arguments made in support of privileges for manufacturing could be made for services and other sectors of the economy.
Employment in agriculture has plummeted, leading to anxieties spurred by agricultural companies about the decline of the “family farm” and the loss of the imagined virtues of the independent farmer, to combat which agriculture continues to be heavily subsidized. The subsidies are widely recognized to be a pure social waste, and the same would be true of subsidizing manufacturing. Like manufacturing, American agriculture is thriving with its historically small labor force.
In Britain, there's a charming tendency to put British figures of great achievement on the pound notes, i.e. dollar bills. One of the things that clearly separates Britain from the US, for example, is that Charles Darwin looks proudly out from the ten pound note. Check out the beard:
You think they'd use that as legal tender in Colorado Springs? Now, there's a campaign to put Alan Turing, a key founder of modern computer science, the man who broke the Enigma Code of the Nazis, and the homosexual who killed himself after being prosecuted and chemically castrated for being gay in 1954. There is surely some justice in this. No one diputes his genius; or the contribution he made to Britain's survival in the war against Hitler. But to partially right a horrific wrong against someone abused by his own government for his orientation makes it all the more poignant.
The UK government is open to suggestions for figures on the next ten pound note; and there's a petition to honor Turing in this fashion. You can sign it online here.
No worse than the ones that serve its competitors:
[M]any of Apple’s major competitors use precisely the same suppliers. Foxconn supplies Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, as well as Apple. Most of the recent attention on unethical practices in the Chinese electronics industry has focused on Apple, rather than its competitors. But Apple may be the main target largely because, given its size and high profit margins, it’s perceived to be in the best position to improve labour standards, not because it’s own standards are the worst.
I don't know what other people are mentally accusing Apple of, but in my book, the relevant question in this whole drama has always been very simple: is Apple adequately ensuring that its Supplier Code of Conduct is being enforced, and is that code of conduct itself adequate? The question is not whether it is sinful to buy an iPhone. The question is not whether Apple is a force for good or evil in the world. The question is not whether trade with China is good or bad. The question is not whether iPhones should be manufactured in America. The question is simply whether Apple is, knowingly or through negligence, allowing widespread violations of its Supplier Code of Conduct, and hence allowing misery to enter the world that has no reason to be here.
Nicholas Thompson wants Obama to focus on software rather than hardware:
What really makes the iPhone work isn’t the hardware. Sure, the glass—designed by Corning in upstate New York and manufactured in China—is beautiful. But the transformative part of the phone is the software. The code behind the touch-screen was written here; the iOS operating system was written here; most of the apps that we use are written here. Thousands of companies, in fact, have been started here to write apps for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Software remains a great American expertise, and it’s only becoming more important as processors shrink into ever more powerful forms.
Anders Sandberg thinks through the ethical issues raised by scientists creating a new strain of potentially pandemic bird flu for lab research. Iain Brassington doesn't think terrorists would want to use bioweapons in the first place:
[I]f you let off a bomb or some nerve gas, you’ve got the effect right there: Here we are, here’re our demands, BANG!, We really mean it. With something like flu… well, it could be days before anyone even notices what you’ve done, if they notice at all; and then you have the task of persuading the public that the strain of illness really was yours. We already have the phenomenon where shadowy groups claim responsibility for other people’s bombs; part and parcel of terrorism is that various nutters will appear to claim that they did it. Translate that to bioweaponry, and the situation becomes ludicrous: Here we are, here’re our demands, Atishoo!, We really mean it… No, honest, it was us, stop laughing, come back.
With the iPhone users accessing Siri to find restaurants, make appointments, and ask trivia-level questions (and with more areas of interaction added down the road), Apple's servers are going to amass the queries of millions of people many times every day. And as Google has shown with Google Translate, if a computer has enough raw material, it can pretty much figure this sort of thing out.
So as this database grows by orders of magnitude and the logic is refined accordingly, if a Turing Test is fashioned to distinguish a computer from a person in the day-to-day tasks of working with a personal assistant – in one room is hidden an iPhone, in another room a person, you interact with them as you would an executive assistant over the course of the day, and then at the end of the day you choose which one you think is the person – it is only a matter of time before the iPhone becomes indistinguishable from the human.
(Video: The Chinese Room and the Turing test via The Open University. Maria Popova features the rest of the series, exploring thought experiments in 60 seconds.)
Joshua Keating summarizes how several major media outlets are commemorating the 10th anniversary. For an incredible look back at that fateful day, check out the Internet Archive's vast collection of TV news snippets, "Understanding 9/11". An emotional time-suck.
When I record a scene, my aim is to create a mixture of plain information and riddles, so that not everything is resolved in the image. Who is this person? Why is he dressed like this? What does it mean to be locked up? Is it a human act? Is it fair? Do we punish him with our eyes? Can we guess what a person’s crime is just by looking at his portrait? Is it human to be weak and murderous at the same time?
(Photo: Young Prisoners, Juvenile Prison, 2009 by Michal Chelbin)
This case isn't about the rights of an enemy soldier detained on a battlefield with a weapon in his hand. It's about the rights of brave whistle-blowers who were tortured by bureaucratic mistake. If you don't believe the war on terror is migrating into your backyard, this case is confirmation. If you don't think the state-secrets doctrine will be trotted out to protect the government's abuse of innocent Americans as well as foreign prisoners, this case proves it. If you worry that "turning the page" means always finding more of the same, this case makes that plain. A country in which nobody is ever really responsible is a country in which nobody is ever truly safe.
What the torture apologists don't give people credit for is that most people will break the law when they deem it to be the last-resort, unavoidablw, least worst thing to do. If one of the ticking time-bomb scenarios that Harris describes does arise, the interrogator always has the option to break the law and commit torture to save lives. However, it is not institutionally condoned and I think this shifts the consent line to exactly the right point. A torturer would have to justify putting their own ass on the line in order to torture someone. If they were right and foiled some extreme scenario, there are mechanisms by which they could get out of trouble (presidential pardon, etc.) But for our government to condone torture as appropriate under the law makes it way too easy for the horrible situations we saw in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo.
You omitted what I think is a relevant comment that Sam Harris makes later in the interview:
…if you ask me what our policy on torture should be, I think it should be illegal. I think we should say we don't torture, it's illegal, there are good reasons never to do it. Yet I can well imagine an interrogator being in a situation where clearly the ethical thing to do is to make someone uncomfortable until they talk.
This is a somewhat more nuanced and thoughtful position than what I gathered from your post.
Reading the interview you link to, I don't quite see in Harris' words what you see. He does not appear to be making a case for legalizing torture or for justifying the Bush regime's use of torture. What he is clearly saying is that blind doctrine about torture – in which its use can never be discussed, its relative value never weighed – is hypocritical in light of our apathy over collateral damage. He wonders if our issue with torture isn't more a cognitive issue than a moral one – we tend to react more strongly when the person we are hurting is identifiable than when lots of people are killed at once. But wondering these things and calling out the hypocrisy is hardly shilling for torture.
I find your criticisms of Harris's logic on torture to be hollow. For years you have conceded that in the highly improbable "ticking time bomb" scenario, torture is justified:
In extremis, a rough parallel can be drawn for a president faced with the kind of horrendous decision on which Krauthammer rests his entire case. What should a president do? The answer is simple: He may have to break the law.
Despite all of the extreme caveats that you attach to your conclusion, you still admit that torture may be an acceptable or even necessary decision. A truly courageous stance, and I believe the correct one, is that torture is always and everywhere wrong. It should never be done under any circumstances. But such unequivocal morality may smell too much like fundamentalism for your tastes.
One of your peculiar characteristics in moral reasoning is that you always leave a little wiggle room in which you can casuistically maneuver to your desired conclusion (see: abortion). In this case, it just feels wrong to conclude that the president should sacrifice New York rather than torture one individual. By opening up a crack in the logical foundation, you undermine the whole moral edifice. If there is a difference between you and Harris, it is merely where each of you is willing to draw a line that should never be drawn.
Yes. And yes. Practically speaking there is little daylight between us. But in the interview, Sam conflated the rare theoretical act of torture with the routine torture techniques of the Bush administration. It seemed to me to go too far in justifying what they did. And there is an approach to torture which seems to me to give too much credit to its practical effect and too blithe in its treatment. But in the entire context of the interview – and of his other writing on the subject – it's clear he does not defend the war crimes of the recent past. And there are nuances and care in his written prose that can sometimes be lost in conversation.
Jonathan (not John) Derbyshire interviews Sam Harris. Sam stands by what he has written about torture:
I think the reason to be against torture – and this is the reason to be against any patently unethical behaviour – is based on its consequences in the lives of human beings. You can make the argument that tolerating torture in any instance – even if we have a law which says, "we'll only torture someone we know to be a terrorist, who claims to be a terrorist, and who claims to have current knowledge of some coming atrocity" – even in that case, performing torture, knowing that there are people you are delegating to do this, is so corrosive of what we value in our society that it's not worth doing in any circumstance. Now, I think that the truth is that's probably untrue, given that something like nuclear terrorism is possible.
He continues later:
I say somewhere in The End of Faith that if you can't imagine any situation in which depriving someone of sleep, playing loud music, water-boarding them – doing something which leaves no lasting physical damage other than making them exquisitely uncomfortable for the moment so that they talk – if you can't imagine a situation in which you'd be willing to do that or sanction that, then you're just not thinking hard enough. There are people who are intending to destroy the lives of millions, render cities uninhabitable – that's what's scary, frankly.
I find the way Sam phrases this to be revealing. Note how he minimizes what torture is.
What the Bush administration did against mere suspects was not making anyone "uncomfortable for the moment". Try being deprived for sleep for weeks. Or subjected to deafening noise day and night where there is not even day or night. Or being waterboarded 183 times – that's a lot of "moments." Then this from later in the transcript:
If you get someone who you know is a member of al-Qaeda, and you know they have nuclear materials, and and they claim to have knowledge, then you have the perfect ticking time bomb situation. The idea there that you have a moral duty to keep this person perfectly comfortable with three meals a day and adequate sleep etc …
This is an extremly loaded piece of rhetoric. There is always the perfect case of the ticking time bomb in theory. In practice, as Derbyshire puts it, the likelihood of this never-happened scenario hapening in the future is "vanishingly small." But notice how he switched from torturing an individual to not "keeping this person perfectly comfortable with three meals a day and adequate sleep." That's a bait and switch – and a mockery of those of us committed to the principle of human dignity.
And try finding any evidence that torturing people gives us solid, actionable, reliable intelligence. Does Sam believe that John McCain really opposed America's actions in Vietnam? Why not? He said so after being tortured.
Bassam Bounenni sketches out the censorship regime in Tunisia and how it's losing its grip:
The government has been caught off guard by the new media. Rioting young eyewitnesses have gone beyond the official sacrosanct principle of not leaking any "harmful" video. Since the early hours of the protests, they have become a dynamic and compelling news source for international media outlets. They have posted dozens of videos showing spiraling discontent and updated death tolls in real time.
Regarding the above Youtube:
… Nawaat bloggers uploaded an extremely graphic clip showing the body of a man they identify as a university professor, “shot by the Tunisian government police’s snipers [Wednesday] during the protest in the southern city of Douz.
Enduring America compiled a series of clips from yesterday's unrest. More here.
One clip, uploaded by contributors to Nawaat — a group blog using Posterous, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to spread news of the protests — showed a huge banner of the country’s president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, being torn down in Hammamet on Thursday. As my colleague David Kirkpatrick reported from Hammamet, an exclusive Mediterranean beach town, “rioters calling for the ouster of Tunisia’s authoritarian president swarmed the streets, torched bank offices and ransacked a mansion belonging to one of his relatives.”
Despite apparent efforts by the government to keep Tunisians from using social networks to report on the crisis, new video continues to be posted day after day.
As the casualties mount, and the government continues to use violence to suppress the discontent, video of dead protesters has been added to Nawaat’s YouTube channel with disturbing regularity. On Thursday, one extremely graphic clip, apparently filmed earlier in the day on the streets of Tunis, the capital, showed the body of a man the bloggers said was gunned down by a sniper.
David Boaz passes along that chart, and remarks upon it:
Now it’s true that when candidate Barack Obama vowed, “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” he was talking about Iraq. In July 2008 he suggested that he would send two more brigades — about 8000 troops — to Afghanistan. He has far exceeded that, and we can only wonder whether the voters who responded to his antiwar message anticipated that he would increase the number of troops in Afghanistan by almost as much as he reduced the number in Iraq.
What troubles me aren't troop levels inside Afghanistan so much as the expansion of the war beyond its borders:
Senior American military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for an expanded campaign of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas, a risky strategy reflecting the growing frustration with Pakistan’s efforts to root out militants there. The proposal, described by American officials in Washington and Afghanistan, would escalate military activities inside Pakistan, where the movement of American forces has been largely prohibited because of fears of provoking a backlash.
The plan has not yet been approved, but military and political leaders say a renewed sense of urgency has taken hold, as the deadline approaches for the Obama administration to begin withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. Even with the risks, military commanders say that using American Special Operations troops could bring an intelligence windfall, if militants were captured, brought back across the border into Afghanistan and interrogated. The Americans are known to have made no more than a handful of forays across the border into Pakistan, in operations that have infuriated Pakistani officials. Now, American military officers appear confident that a shift in policy could allow for more routine incursions.
Desperate for an unlikely triumph in Afghanistan, we're risking the catastrophic destabilization of its nuclear neighbor, and likely adding to the chance that we'll be attacked by Pakistani terrorists. And Congress has nothing to say about this because they've meekly ceded their war powers to the executive branch.
Your reader referencing the Gulf's "Dead Zone" oversimplifies the reasons behind the lack of oil-covered wildlife. My wife works at the Environmental Defense Fund and told me the workers in the Gulf are using chemicals that dissolve the oil, making it heavier than water, so it sinks down and is absorbed into the sediment, rather than resting on the surface for birds or other larger animals to get coated. So the less sexy issues are plant, plankton, algae, and larvae life being threatened – in addition to unseen implications for fish and coral.
The focus on dead animals would be misguided anyway. This is not your run-of-the-mill oil spill. The real threat is not the loss of animal lives; it is the risk to human lives. The potential for the destruction of acres of wetlands accelerates the loss of New Orleans' natural protection from hurricanes by 50-100 years. That's the biggest problem here. That's what journalists should be reporting on and columnists should be pitching proposals to rebuild our natural defense barriers, not whining and wondering about the lack of dead dolphins.
(Marshland is seen as efforts continue to contain BP's massive oil spill on May 11, 2010 in Venice, Louisiana. Oil is still leaking out of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead at a estimated rate of 1,000-5,000 barrels a day. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)
Plumer has obviously never heard of the "Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. Do you really think the media hasn't been busting their butts to get pictures of dead fish and other sea life covered in oil? The reason they can't is because those animals don't exist. The Gulf spill happened in the middle of the Gulf's New Jersey-sized dead zone. The primary cause is actually Mississippi River runoff (fertilizer products). The spill is a tragedy, but the truth is we already killed all the sea life. This will change if the spill spreads beyond the Gulf or comes onshore. But for now, the Gulf of Mexico is only marginally less hospitable to animal life than it was a month ago.
Six dead dolphins recently came ashore, though it's still unclear whether the spill was the direct cause.
Contra Jesse Smith, Plumer argues that there aren't enough pictures of oil-covered birds:
After the Exxon Valdez disaster, you had scores of images of ducks and otters slathered in crude. There were pictures of dead whales washed up against gleaming black rocky beaches. It was lurid—and impossible to ignore. By contrast, [Drexel sociologist Robert Brulle] points out, not a lot of oil from the BP has reached the shores of the Gulf Coast yet. Even groups like Greenpeace have only been able to rustle up a handful of pictures of a few of ducks covered with a little bit of oil. That's not the sort of thing that drives TV coverage. And it may mean that the current spill makes far less of a dent in public opinion than past disasters have.
Now, part of the explanation here is that BP has been quite deft at managing appearances. For one, they're using hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants to break up the oil before it can reach the beaches, causing it to sink down to the sea floor. In some cases, these dispersants could be more harmful, ecologically speaking, then letting the oil wash ashore. We don't know what's in these chemicals and there's a very high potential that they could do a lot of damage to the food chain in the Gulf. Indeed, that's why Exxon was constrained from using dispersants in Prince William Sound back in 1989. But, from BP's perspective (and the Obama administration's), avoiding the sort of graphic imagery that Exxon had to deal with in Alaska seems appealing.
Jesse Smith fears that footage and photos of oil-covered animals obscure the true horror of oil spills:
The image of the oil-soaked bird isn't powerful because it suggests the threat to the species, and the food chain, and the entire ecosystem. It's powerful because it's a bird, and it's covered in oil, and you know it doesn't want to be, and that it may be in pain, and that it is, at the very least, terrified. A dirty or dead bird — or turtle or shark or fish — is proof that an oil spill is bad news; if they weren't, the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee and CBS News and others wouldn't be working so hard to shoehorn them into their coverage.
Would an oil spill that lacked these oily animals be any less dangerous? No, but to know that you'd have to motivate your brain to read science news and dissect the infographics and maps. This is hard work. Pictures are easier. You see a dead turtle, and your heart thinks it understands just how bad this situation is. And if you don't, well, how bad can things be?
He was one of the greatest minds of modern time, a founding father of computer science, and his legendary breaking of the Enigma Code may have been a tipping point in the struggle against Nazism. Few men have contributed so much to human learning or to his country's survival. But Turing was persecuted into suicide by the homophobia of his time and barred from entering the US because he was a homosexual (now America reserves that distinction to homosexuals with HIV). Here is the story of his death:
In January 1952 Turing picked up the 19-year-old Arnold Murray outside a cinema in Manchester. After a lunch date, Turing invited Murray to spend the weekend with him at his house, an invitation which Murray accepted although he did not show up. The pair met again in Manchester the following Monday, when Murray agreed to accompany Turing to the latter's house. A few weeks later Murray visited Turing's house again, and apparently spent the night there.
After Murray helped an accomplice to break into his house, Turing reported the crime to the police. During the investigation Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray. Homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time, and so both were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, the same crime that Oscar Wilde had been convicted of more than fifty years earlier.
Turing was given a choice between imprisonment or probation conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonaltreatment designed to reduce libido. He accepted chemical castration via oestrogen hormone injectionswhich lasted for a year. One of the known side effects of these hormone injections was the development of breasts, known as gynecomastia, something which plagued Turing for the rest of his life. Turing's conviction led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for GCHQ.
Every now and again, we should remember how brutal the persecution of homosexuals was for so long, how counter-productive, how many lives were ruined, and how a great man like Turing could be reduced to suicide by the oppression he lived with on a daily basis. And so it is a good thing that Britain has now offered a formal apology to Turing – if fifty years too late. Here are prime minister Brown's words.
Reading this on a computer screen? Thank Alan Turing. Not reading it in German? Thank Alan Turing again. Turing's theoretical work in the 30s laid the foundations for computer science; his more hands-on efforts as a codebreaker at Britain's Bletchley Park helped ensure that the Allies could read enciphered Nazi messages. Turing's reward for these services to his country—and species—was to be prosecuted for "gross indecency" after naively disclosing his homosexuality to police. He was subjected to chemical castration, had his security clearance revoked, and within two years took his own life by swallowing cyanide.
Now, more than half a century later, a British computer scientist has launched a campaign to secure a formal apology and posthumous pardon for Turing. It would be a small and purely symbolic gesture, but it seems like an appropriate one. Readers who hail from that side of the pond can join more than 24,000 signatories on a petition to the Prime Minister.
Greenwald rounds up the IG report's greatest hits:
Perhaps worst of all, the Report notes that many of the detainees who were subjected to this treatment were so treated due to "assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence" — meaning there was no real reason to think they had done anything wrong whatsoever. As has been known for quite some time, many of the people who were tortured by the United States were completely innocent — guilty of absolutely nothing.
Publius lists the incidents we learned of yesterday:
The highlights include: (1) mock executions; (2) threatened rape of family members; (3) threatened murder of children; (4) kicking and beating a detainee with a metal flashlight to death; (5) threatening naked hooded detainees with power drills; (6) blowing cigar smoke in detainees' faces until they got sick; (7) waterboarding with massive volumes of water far beyond what OLC authorized (to make it "poignant"); (8) stress positions that nearly caused shoulder dislocations; (9) scraping detainees with stiff brushes; (10) choking a detainee with one's bare hands until they nearly pass out; (11) subjecting detainees to extremely cold temperatures and water dousing; (12) "hard takedowns" (sometimes in diapers); and (13) beating detainees with butts of rifles (followed by kicking them).
Glenn Greeenwald is not a fan of the investigation Holder announced today:
As a practical matter, Holder is consciously establishing as the legal baseline — he's vesting with sterling legal authority — those warped, torture-justifying DOJ memos. Worse, his pledge of immunity today for those who complied with those memos went beyond mere interrogators and includes everyone, policymakers and lawyers alike: "the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees." Thus, as long as, say, a White House official shows that (a) the only torture methods they ordered were approved by the OLC and (b) they did not know those methods were criminal, then they would be entitled to full-scale immunity under the standard Holder announced today.
This quite likely sets up, at most, a process where a few low-level sacrificial lambs — some extra-sadistic intelligence versions of Lynndie Englands — might be investigated and prosecuted where they tortured people the wrong way. Those who tortured "the right way" — meaning the way the OLC directed — will receive full-scale immunity.
Andrew feared this type of investigation calling it "much worse than doing nothing."
Mowj Camp reports that a deaf and mute man was tortured in Evin prison for several days before he was released. “A detainee, who was suspected of pretending to be deaf and mute, was severely tortured for several days to make him speak until finally he was released after a doctor confirmed that he was really deaf and mute.”
In Africa and South America large ants or beetles are put along the closed “lips of a wound” so that their mandibles clamp down at the edge. When ants along the edge have sufficiently stapled the gash closed, the surgeon twists the bodies from the clamped heads and lets that sucker heal. Once they’ve clamped, there’s little you can do to unclamp these demons.
Another blog examines the practice in ancient texts.
Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray sees the torturing of Zubaydah to get a casus belli for invading Iraq as just part of an entire operation generating self-perpetuating falsehood:
In gathering evidence from victims of torture, we built a consistent picture of the narrative which the torturers were seeking to validate from confessions under torture. They sought confessions which linked domestic opposition to President Karimov with Al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden; they sought to exaggerate the strength of the terrorist threat in Central Asia. People arrested on all sorts of pretexts – (I recall one involved in a dispute over ownership of a garage plot) suddenly found themselves tortured into confessing to membership of both the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Al-Qaida.
They were also made to confess to attending Al-Qaida training camps in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. In an echo of Stalin’s security services from which the Uzbek SNB had an unbroken institutional descent, they were given long lists of names of people they had to confess were also in IMU and Al-Qaida. It became obvious to me after just a few weeks that the CIA material from Uzbekistan was giving precisely the same narrative being extracted by the Uzbek torturers – and that the CIA “intelligence” was giving information far from the truth.
I was immediately concerned that British ministers and officials were being unknowingly exposed to material derived from torture, and therefore were acting illegally.
I asked my Deputy, Karen Moran, to call on a senior member of the US Embassy and tell him I was concerned that the CIA intelligence was probably derived from torture by the Uzbek security services. Karen Moran reported back to me that the US Embassy had replied that it probably did come from torture, but in the War on Terror they did not view that as a problem.
Mark Shea, a conservative Catholic blogger who never faltered in opposing illegal torture, voices his disgust with torture boosters on the right:
…never underestimate the power of rationalization. So those who are (finally) admitting that Bush/Cheney lied through their teeth when they said "we do not torture" seem to have no problem granting total and complete credulity to everything else they say. "It yielded great intelligence!" "They had it coming!" "War means moral carte blanche for whatever we feel we have to do." All these and many other dubious assertions and outright lies continue to circulate on the Rubber Hose Right and will do so–because Obama has no intention of doing anything about it.
That's not because Obama is a great big huggy bear who just wants to forgive and forget. It's because George Dubya Bush handed all future executives some really nifty power…
Whilst marriage equality legislation could get through in the UK, at a push, there is a more fundamental reason why Brown would never attempt to promote it. Such legislation would be very strongly resisted by the Catholic hierarchy in the UK.
Brown would be very wary of upsetting the Catholic vote because of how important it is in Scotland as a significant backlash would potentially have two major downsides.
The first is that the Catholic vote is essential to the number of Labour MPs in Scotland without which it would be very difficult for Labour to win any future general election, especially in the present climate. Possibly the only safe seat would Brown’s own in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. The main beneficiary of electoral meltdown in Scotland would be the nationalist SNP which leads to the second downside. If the SNP pick up major gains in the general election they would almost certainly go on to strengthen their position at the next Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2011. That would increase the possibility of a referendum on Scottish independence quite strongly and whilst at present there is no real appetite in Scotland for independence a significantly stronger SNP might be able to make a much more forcible argument for this come to realisation. For these reasons Brown would row in the opposite direction for all he is worth.
National Review on McCain’s climate change speech. Oy. There are indeed good arguments about cap-and-trade, but NR would be more persuasive if they offered an alternative path to ameliorating global warming.
I guess the right-wing blogosphere can’t protest an Egyptian’s treatment with any integrity any more. And the methods used – mere beating – are not "torture" according to the Wall Street Journal, Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani. But it’s still horrifying.
Last month at the Jerusalem Film Festival, I caught the anti-Michael Moore documentary "Manufacturing Dissent" (I also caught the sweetly nostalgic "Rocket Science," which you really ought to see, especially if you were a high school debater). The film was produced by two Canadian, self-described liberals, who began as fans of Moore’s movies but in the process of investigating his claims, came to see that he is a self-aggrandizing fraud. The movie is not a right-wing hit job by any means, but a meticulous, carefully constructed case that demolishes not just crucial arguments Moore makes, but also the cynicism behind some of his artistic decisions.
The U.S. Congress has approved this president’s extraordinary powers to detain any one at will, without charges, keep them indefinitely, and torture them if the president wants to. Some have argued that this can only happen to non-citizens. That is untrue. Glenn Greenwald has new and important data on what was done to Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen and terror suspect, captured by the government, detained for almost three years in isolation with ever being formally charged, and, of course, tortured on the president’s orders. Money quote from his lawyer’s brief:
Mr. Padilla was often put in stress positions for hours at a time. He would be shackled and manacled, with a belly chain, for hours in his cell. Noxious fumes would be introduced to his room causing his eyes and nose to run. The temperature of his cell would be manipulated, making his cell extremely cold for long stretches of time. Mr. Padilla was denied even the smallest, and most personal shreds of human dignity by being deprived of showering for weeks at a time, yet having to endure forced grooming at the whim of his captors…
He was threatened with being cut with a knife and having alcohol poured on the wounds. He was also threatened with imminent execution. He was hooded and forced to stand in stress positions for long durations of time. He was forced to endure exceedingly long interrogation sessions, without adequate sleep, wherein he would be confronted with false information, scenarios, and documents to further disorient him. Often he had to endure multiple interrogators who would scream, shake, and otherwise assault Mr. Padilla.
Additionally, Mr. Padilla was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations.
We live in a country where one man – the president – now has the power to detain any one at will, without being charged for years at a time, and tortured. This isn’t an emergency provision, to be revoked when a conflict ends. Since this war has no fixed enemy and no fixed end, it is now our permanent reality. America as we have known it, is over. Al Qaeda never had the power to do this damage to constitutional liberties. We did it to ourselves.
Hugh Hewitt’s side-kick, Dean Barnett is all for it. Glenn Reynolds links approvingly, while of course being offended that anyone would think he supports torture. Money quote from a self-addressed series of questions on Hewitt’s blog-page:
Dean Barnett: … [T]he undeniable consensus is that water-boarding is an extremely productive interrogation tool.
8) That’s a very clinical way of putting it. Why don’t you go have yourself water-boarded and see how you like it.
DB: No thanks. I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. I’m sure it’s extremely unpleasant. Does it rise to the level of ‘torture’? That’s for each individual to decide.
9) What do you think?
DB: I don’t care. If some body of linguists or semanticists convened a weekend retreat in Cambridge, impartially studied the issue and labeled it torture, I still wouldn’t care. The welfare of terrorists is not my concern. Even if all the Jack Bauer-type crap you see on ’24’ was the best way to go, I’d still be okay with it.
10) But it’s not just terrorists. It’s suspected terrorists. Surely that bothers you.
DB: It does. It’s inevitable that innocent people will be subjected to this kind of treatment. But this is war, and in war we make moral compromises.
I don’t know if Hewitt, a professed Christian, agrees. It seems odd that very complicated issues like when life might actually begin and end are subject to absolute certainty. But whether something is "torture" or not is up "for each individual to decide." When the right needs to defend the indefensible, a little moral relativism never hurts. But there’s a more devastating moment in the post: on one of the fudnamentals of a civilized society, Barnett bravely asserts:
"I don’t care."
Yes, the Bush flunkies just got a little more honest and a lot more sickening.
Today is the late math genius’s birthday. Turing was a brilliant Englishman, one of the founding fathers of computer science, and a patriot whose cracking of the Nazis’ Enigma Code was critical to winning the war against Hitler. His amazing work was rewarded by being offered the choice in 1952 of choosing chemical castration or imprisonment for being gay. Two years later, a broken man, he killed himself. Today is a day for honoring him and the countless men and women over the centuries whose gifts and dignity were obliterated by ignorance, oppression and hate, hate that is still being excused and perpetrated today. May those of us lucky enough to have been born in their wake never forget what they went through, never forget the cruelty and evil they had to confront, and do everything we can to prevent these wounds being passed to the next generation.
This important and detailed report from the Washington Post makes for unnerving reading. Yes, as the story details, we don’t know for certain whether the reports of defectors are completely true and our satellites cannot determine with complete accuracy whether new buildings and construction are designed to build weapons of mass destruction. So the question becomes: who gets the benefit of the doubt? A dictator who has used such weapons and declared the United States as an enemy or a democratic country that has already experienced terrorist catastrophe? Meanwhile, Tom Friedman balances the Times’ recent relentlessly dovish coverage with the counter-factual omitted from the Times recent story on the economic impact of an Iraq war. What if a victory in Iraq were to lead to far lower oil prices? And what if not tackling Iraq meant at some point we’d have to rebuild Washington D.C. or Manhattan? It seems to me that a critical element in this debate has to be September 11. We’re not discussing hypotheticals any more.
KERRY’S OBVIOUS FLAW: For all the Times’ puffery, isn’t it a critical problem for John Kerry that he voted against the first war with Iraq? If he couldn’t stand up to Saddam and the enemy after a brutal invasion of another country, why should we trust him to defend our security today? I’d say that’s a fatal weakness.
The Economist‘s E.W. recently visited “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea”, a new exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. How depictions of Jesus’ mother changed over time:
Pre-Renaissance Mary is represented as queenly: ennobled, enthroned, surrounded by angels and engulfed in celestial light. In the late Middle Ages she becomes more approachable, appearing more often in the garb of an unassuming peasant. The humanist conception of Mary gained further traction in the Renaissance: she is less empress of heaven, more mother—sewing, nursing and playing with the infant Jesus. It is a representation that is crucial to the doctrine of Jesus’s “authentic humanity”:
I want to second Michelle’s endorsement of the outrage year-in-review over at Slate. The item there that jumped out at me was Jordan Weissmann’s account of having played a large part in sparking a “cycle of viral outrage” against a Harvard professor who had “raged [in email] at a local Chinese restaurant that had overcharged him a mere $4 on a takeout order.”
Weissmann cops to a history of producing clickbait outrage journalism, but explains, “It’s something I feel ambivalent about as a writer.” He makes the case for what is, after all, his livelihood. Shaming bad behavior is maybe a good deed? Plus, these pieces apparently function for a place like Slate the way lose-weight-and-get-a-man ones do for women’s mags – they pay for the serious but tough-to-monetize pieces. He also insists that, in this case at least, his target is unlikely to suffer financially. (“And I doubt his $800-per-hour corporate consulting business is going anywhere.”) These are all fair points. But I came away from the essay unsure whether Weissmann had succeeded in convincing himself that viral outrage – that is, of the sort sparked by the ostensibly private slip-up of someone who isn’t in the public eye – is defensible.
Stuart Kelly wonders what would happen if biographers were as formally innovative as novelists:
There have been various attempts at experimental biographies. Although it’s an “academic” book, Samuel Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives, published in 1970, is remarkable: a life told through attempts to tell the life, a source book for how legends arise and myths solidify into facts. More recently, Jonathan Coe’s Like a Fiery Elephant,about the avant-garde novelist BS Johnson, deploys a range of tricks – meandering footnotes, choruses of comments, an intrusive and sometimes indolent narrator – which would be recognizable to readers of the novels of BS Johnson. It is a fine example of form being determined by the subject itself.
He goes on to argue that “for literary biography to survive as a genre, it ought to take its lead from literature and go even further”:
The decline of written diaries and paper correspondence … means that future biographers may have to either resign themselves to lost sources, or spend hours with computer boffins recapturing every email, tweet and keystroke from Salman Rushdie’s iPhones and laptops: a kind of archaeology which might reveal nothing more than a penchant for Patience. But a life told innovatively and imaginatively holds out a lifeline to the form. I’ve read biographies of Dickens by John Forster and Peter Ackroyd, Claire Tomalin and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, GK Chesterton and Edgar Johnson. I know the story. But I’d love to hear how Ali Smith or Jonathan Franzen might tell it.
Reacting to a story about Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Annie Lowrey reflects on “the ‘glass cliff,’ a relative of the ‘glass ceiling’ that holds back businesswomen, the ‘glass closet’ that stifles the ambitions of gay executives, the brick walls facing many managers of color, and the ‘glass elevator’ that helps so, so many white bros up to the top”:
The term comes courtesy of two psychologists, Michelle K. Ryan of the University of Exeter and S. Alexander Haslam of the University of Queensland. In a pioneering study published a decade ago, they found that women were often promoted to board positions after a company had started faltering. Women weren’t picked to lead companies on an upswing, in other words. They were promoted to help manage turbulence and decline.
As Carl Bialik’s chart shows, Cuban baseball players are on the rise here in the US, and now with the thaw in US/Cuba relations, many are wondering about the implications for their shared national pastime:
Baseball has long been the most popular sport in Cuba and the island has long been a hotbed of baseball talent. Cubans have been playing professional baseball in the United States for nearly 150 years and even the embargo hasn’t stopped star Cuban players like Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds and Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox from coming to the U.S. to play in the major leagues. But the embargo has meant that players who come to the United States have had to defect and suffer all sorts of risks to escape out of the country—including falling prey to smuggling rings.
But reforming the current, broken system will be complicated:
Previous input from the in-tray here. Another reader gives a shoutout to Francis: “For the pope to be a broker for the deal makes the whole story even more interesting.” Another looks at the opening of Cuba with realist eyes:
There is no hypocrisy in maintaining normal relations with China, Saudi Arabia, and other violators of human rights while denying that status to Cuba. Saudi Arabia has lots of oil and a strategic position in the world producing world. It is a relationship of economic convenience, and both sides understand that. China offers huge trade opportunities, and in the beginning of our relationship, a counter to the Soviet Union. You have diplomatic relations with states when it is necessary and prudent.
Cuba offers nothing to the USA or its citizens other than another tourist destination, cigar, and rum. There are practically no consequences to US citizens for not normalizing relations other than opening up yet another Caribbean tourist destination, and providing access to cigars, and rum. Just because Cuba has not liberalized its society doesn’t make our foreign policy a “failure” any more than other nations who have diplomatic relations with Cuba “failed” to effect an opening.
I’m not opposed to ending the travel ban, but we should have gotten a lot more out of Cuba for normalizing relations. At a minimum, Obama should have required Castro to lift all restrictions for Cubans to have Internet access.
Update from a reader:
Normalizing relations doesn’t give us anything in terms of security? Really? Here’s a simple thought experiment: is it better to have friendly relations with neighbors or antagonistic relations with neighbors?
Just amazes me how the left romanticizes Cuba, even as it attempts skepticism. I just got off the phone with a friend from Cuba. Her family is sending a blood pressure machine to a relative in Cuba because none are to be found.
Another provides some family history:
Nothing steams me up more than one of the comments from your reader:
We missed a BOTDT last night because of a Dish holiday reunion with current and former staffers at Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor, near where we hold staff meetings. Before the drunken revelry, we snapped a rare photo of the whole staff together (except Alice, who joined us at the bar):
Update from a reader:
Love the staff photo. Can you please let us know who’s who? It’s nice to put a face to the name that we see all too rarely. Thanks for all your work and contributing so much to so many.
Left to right, that’s Phoebe (Dishtern), Jonah (international editor), Matt (literary editor), “some clapped out old bear“, me (editor, in charge of email), Patrick (editor, in charge of RSS), Jessie (editor, in charge of weekend), Chas (managing editor, aka Special Teams), and Tracy (associate editor, Jill of all trades). At the bar were former interns Brendan, Doug, Gwynn, Katie, and general manager Brian.
Andrew, now officially the most frequent guest on the Colbert Report, is attending the series finale tonight, so be sure to tune in. For a dose of nostalgia, check out Andrew’s first appearance on the show back in 2006. And for an even bigger dose, don’t miss this new supercut of Colbert over the years.
Michelle, meanwhile, confronted in two parts the caving of Sony Pictures to the terrorist threat over The Interview. She also discussed the discussion of rape, touched on the cycle of outrage stoked by Twitter, took before and after looks at the end of the Serial podcast, and penned an appreciation for Penelope Fitzgerald.
We’ve updated many recent posts with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @dishfeed. 17 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here (you purchase one today and have it auto-delivered on Christmas Day). Dish t-shirts are for sale here and our new mugs here.
Before Tuesday’s horrific attack on an army school, Carl Bialik grimly notes, Pakistan’s terrorism problem was on a downward trend, from utterly horrifying to just god-awful:
More than 3,000 Pakistani civilians died in terrorist attacks in both 2012 and 2013, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which monitors violence in the region. This year, through Sunday, 1,595 civilians had died, including 26 this month. Twenty-six is a horrific total for most countries in a year — 20 more than the number killed in all of 2013 in the U.S., which has roughly 75 percent more residents than Pakistan. But it’s also a monthly rate of about 58 civilians, the fewest killed in a month in Pakistan since 56 civilians died in August 2007. Tuesday’s attack reversed that modest progress; December now is the deadliest month since February.
So how did Pakistan become so unmanageably violent? In part, Matthew Green blames the government’s longstanding policy of cultivating ties with some militants in order to fight others:
Normalization of relations is a great and long overdue policy. I have a question about it that I haven’t seen addressed: will it create an opportunity to close Guantanamo?
Hopefully everyone’s noticed that the Republicans opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba:
A) Have no problem with us having diplomatic relations with China, another Communist country with an even worse human rights record.
B) Are currently defending the US’ own recent human rights abuses, i.e. torture.
We all know the real reason: political posturing. Castro stripped Cuban aristocrats of their wealth. They fled to Florida and have been propping up anti-Castro policy ever since. There are no principles here.
Lost in all the coverage is the one issue I think is the most important – will this change the absurd “Wet-foot/Dry-foot policy?
Ambinder bets that “Cheney would still have us torturing innocents, even today”:
I can only think of Cheney now as the personification of the Cult of Terror, that September 11th, 2001 political construct that gave Americans license to act outside the stream of history instead of at its headwaters, and to suppress dissent in the name of state security. What makes this scarier, even, and why I feel justified in calling it a cult, is that it also suppresses, denigrates, and stigmatizes the moral and political foundations that it seeks to protect. It’s an American cult, because it plays to our own biases about what makes us special. It is not unique or exceptional.
Chait also examines the pro-torture mindset. He contends that “admiration for the methods used by totalitarian states is … embedded in the torture program created by the Bush administration”:
Binyamin Appelbaum looks into the causes of the decline in America’s male work force:
Working, in America, is in decline. The share of prime-age men — those 25 to 54 years old — who are not working has more than tripled since the late 1960s, to 16 percent. … Many men, in particular, have decided that low-wage work will not improve their lives, in part because deep changes in American society have made it easier for them to live without working. These changes include the availability of federal disability benefits; the decline of marriage, which means fewer men provide for children; and the rise of the Internet, which has reduced the isolation of unemployment. …
The resulting absence of millions of potential workers has serious consequences not just for the men and their families but for the nation as a whole. A smaller work force is likely to lead to a slower-growing economy, and will leave a smaller share of the population to cover the cost of government, even as a larger share seeks help. “They’re not working, because it’s not paying them enough to work,” said Alan B. Krueger, a leading labor economist and a professor at Princeton. “And that means the economy is going to be smaller than it otherwise would be.”
At the same time, Amanda Cox points out, many older men are postponing retirement:
Looking back at 2014, Felix Salmon runs through all the high revenue and venture capital numbers of new media companies like Buzzfeed, Vice, and Vox:
The small but self-sustaining bloggy site is a thing of the past: if you’re not getting 20-30 million unique visitors every month, and don’t aspire to such heights, then you’re basically an economic irrelevance. Advertisers won’t touch you, you won’t make any money, and your remaining visitors will inexorably leach away as they move from their desktops to their phones.
But if you’re like the Dish and rely on subscribers rather than advertisers, you don’t need to be so dependent on huge traffic numbers. And even if you can get those numbers and their corresponding ad dollars, advertisers are fickle, as Gawker recently saw when it lost “seven figures” in ad revenue from their controversial coverage of Gamergate. (Can you imagine the ad backlash over Dish controversies like Scrotumgate or all the graphic photos of dead children in war zones?) Speaking of Gawker, Michael Wolff absorbs a recent staff memo from founder Nick Denton, who outlined a big management shakeup and a refocus on generating scoops over Facebook-friendly fodder. Here’s Wolff:
Gawker, or the Gawker identity, Denton seemed to acknowledge in his memo, is a casualty in the race for traffic: Gawker succeeded because it was a carefully molded product (a small band of young people overseen by Denton — with Denton constantly hiring and firing his editors). But then it morphed into a business with a much larger number of ever-younger people having to produce more and more, and working with less and less editorial vision or leadership. Gawker began to focus on an open area of parallel writing (i.e. free writing) designed to enhance its traffic base — but, too, with the natural effect of diluting quality and confusing purpose. … [A]t somewhat cross purposes to his desire to better compete with BuzzFeed (or admitting that this is impossible), Denton urged his company back to its blogging roots.
In Denton’s words:
[Blogging is] the only truly new media in the age of the web.
Perhaps the only saving grace of this sociopath formerly in high office is that he understands that his legacy could well be as a war criminal unlike any in American history before him. That’s my only explanation for why he has to be out there day after day, year after year, attacking his successor, lambasting America’s return to civilization, and insisting that hanging people from shackles, freezing them to near-death, near-drowning them so that their abdomens are distended with water, anally raping them, breaking their limbs, and keeping them awake so long they hallucinated … is not somehow torture. Ask yourself: have you ever met someone who believes that? Outside the professional criminal classes, that is.
And in his response today to the voluminous and undisputed evidence supplied by the CIA’s own internal documents, he has nothing specific or factual to say that can undermine any of it. He just insists, like a dad lost on a car trip, that he alone knows he’s not lost, whatever the map or GPS says. His best talking point is that those who authorized and committed the torture were not interviewed by the committee – implying this was because of bias. But this is transparently false. Six months into the investigation, the attorney general announced his own study into CIA torture techniques. Here is Senator Feinstein’s account of what happened next:
The committee’s Vice Chairman Kit Bond withdrew the minority’s participation in the study, citing the attorney general’s expanded investigation as the reason. The Department of Justice refused to coordinate its investigation with the Intelligence Committee’s review. As a result, possible interviewees could be subject to additional liability if they were interviewed. The CIA, citing the attorney general’s investigation, would not instruct its employees to participate in our interviews. (Source: classified CIA internal memo, February 26, 2010).
In any case, there were plenty of previous interviews with CIA torturers, including from the CIA’s own internal investigation, there was a formal CIA response to all the charges (highly unpersuasive because they have to argue against their own records), and, so far as I know, interviewing them all over again is still possible. Come to think of it, why doesn’t the committee take that up again under GOP leadership, if their perspective will allegedly alter the conclusions?
But in the Cheney interview, there is nothing faintly that rational. He is behaving like a cornered man. On what possible grounds does he dismiss 6.3 million pages of documentation from the CIA’s own records as “full of crap”? The CIA had a chance to rebut every one of the conclusions with other documents and failed to. This is preposterous as well as slanderous to the extraordinary work behind this remarkable report. But the most revealing parts of the interview were the following, it seems to me. Todd asked Cheney at one point what he believed the meaning of torture is, after citing the rectal hydration issue (which seems to have upset more people than any other technique). And this is what Cheney said:
I’ll tell you what my definition of torture is: what nineteen guys armed with airline tickets and boxcutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11.
Later, when confronted with an example of a human being suspended by his wrists from shackles so he could barely touch the floor for 22 hours a day for two weeks, Cheney refused to say that that wasn’t torture. Instead he repeated:
Michael Peppard searches for religion-themed abuses in the torture report:
My own research on torture in U.S. detention facilities has emphasized the religious aspects of abuse (“The Secret Weapon” and “Disgrace“). And though today’s report does not contain as much along these lines as did the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report in 2009, it does analyze assertions made by CIA Director Hayden in 2007 about the role of religion in “enhanced interrogation.” … The new report does not describe the many techniques of religiously-themed abuse that I compiled from ex-detainee memoirs and interviews in 2007-08, nor does it extend our knowledge from the 2009 report, which admitted techniques such as forced prostration before an idol shrine to generate “religious disgrace.”
But what Hayden’s comments do show is that using religion as a weapon in prolonged psychological warfare was an actual “policy” – not a result of agents gone rogue. The goal was to create a burden so great that a person’s religious faith would be destroyed. Nothing could be further from our country’s founding principle.
And yet white evangelicals in America are the most supportive of this grotesque attack on the principle of religious freedom and conscience. Dreher is disturbed by these findings:
[T]o take a captured prisoner, even one we can reasonably be certain has done evil things from religious motivation, and compel him to desecrate his religion, is to my Christian mind one of the most evil things that one human being can do to another. That the history of the Church shows Muslims have done this to Christians again and again and again does not make it right. It is always and everywhere a manifestation of utter barbarism.
No Christian can believe otherwise. And the core Christian point here is that even the worst terrorist remains a human being. He can be fought, brought to justice, jailed and even killed in lawful combat. But he cannot be reduced to a sub-human level. No one can. And to treat another human being as an object to be violated even when under your total control dehumanizes the torturer as surely as the tortured. It is total power. The entire agency of a human being is taken from him or her. And that is what American did to countless of human beings – and even now it is hard to find any tone of actual remorse among those responsible.
Yesterday, Brennan acknowledged that, “in a limited number of instances, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all.” Friedersdorf asks why those officers are going unpunished:
If CIA officers did abhorrent things that even their waterboarding colleagues managed to avoid, exceeding the orders and legal strictures they were given, why haven’t they been prosecuted for torture as a duly ratified treaty compels the U.S. to do? Why hasn’t Brennan ever remedied the failure to hold those men accountable? Why has he allowed people even he regards as criminals to remain at the CIA?
The reason is that he does not believe the rule of law should apply to the CIA.
Dick Cheney, Michael Hayden, and Brennan make a big show of invoking the legal cover given by John Yoo and others, as if they respect the rule of law. But beneath the posturing, they oppose jailing CIA officers no matter what, perhaps because those officers know things that could put them in prison. Among torturers, there can be only one code: Stop Snitchin’. Do you think that I exaggerate? As The Week notes, the only person in jail over CIA torture is a man who tried to expose it.
The CIA is above the law. It can do anything because it can also hide anything. It took years of extraordinary hard work and political struggle to get the Senate Report out – and the CIA did all it could to derail it. It was delayed for two years as the CIA objected and objected and redacted and redacted. The president, through John Kerry, tried to kill it at the last minute. And when it is revealed that 26 human beings were tortured – because of mistaken identity – no one is disciplined. No one. When someone is tortured to death, the officer in charge of the torture camp is promoted. There is simply no other institution that exists that has this level of utter impunity under the law. And that puts the CIA in a more powerful position even than the president. If the president breaks the law, he can be prosecuted and even impeached. If the CIA does, it can hide that fact, and even if it is exposed, can escape any consequences.
What I simply don’t understand is how conservatives – those most skeptical of the power and reach of big government – are not appalled by this state of affairs. It is the biggest threat to our liberty and constitution around. And yet they defend it. And find excuses for it. And even celebrate it.
(Photo: CIA director John Brennan speaks during a press conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, December 11, 2014. By Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
I’ve been a registered Republican since ’84, the year I became eligible to vote. Although since the GW Bush era I’ve voted and thought much more like an independent, I had never gotten around to re-registering as an independent for a variety of reasons, mostly inertia.
I am so repulsed by many Republicans’ support for torture and their general reaction to this torture report, that I am unable to align myself with them any more. On a chat board today, I read a description of McCain as a “RINO and a scumbag” for his having denounced torture, and the poster was unaware of how damning this was of the GOP. You reminded me of how conservative stalwarts like Starr, Buckley and Will unequivocally rejected torture just a few short years ago, and compared it to McConnell’s and Butters’ reflexively cynical response to the report. Oh how fast and far we have fallen!
I just went on-line and re-registered as an independent. I’ll be writing Reince Preibus to let him know why. I feel a bit cleaner now.
Send one to the White House as well. Another reader:
There’s something I haven’t ever seen you address but that I now see all the more clearly with the publication of this report: why we really did it. It was NOT for the value of the information gained. That much is clear. So, what then? This was not a Foucauldian effort to scare the potential terrorists. It happened because we feel that these people deserve some form of punishment deeper than prison. Until we really call that out and confront it, I don’t think there is much point in the discussion at all. We tortured because it felt good.
Another would agree:
Go back and watch the Jose Rodriguez 60 Minutes interview. When asked explicitly whether waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammad 183 times was justified (or, rather, being subjected to 183 “pours” in a half dozen sessions), he replies:
“That there are elements of the American government still arguing against this cold blast of truth, offering up the craven fear that the rest of the world might see us as we actually are, or that our enemies will perhaps use the evidence of our sadism to justify violent retribution or political maneuver — this further cowardice only adds to the national humiliation.
This is not one of the world’s great powers behaving as such, and it is certainly no force for good in the world. This might as well be the Spanish national amnesia following the death of Franco, or a post-war West Germany without the stomach for the necessary self-reflection. Shit, even the fragile, post-apartheid democracy of South Africa managed to openly conduct hearings and attempt some measure of apology and reconciliation in the wake of the previous regime’s brutalities. Not us. Not the United States. We’re too weak to endure any such moral reflection without the attempt itself descending into moronic partisan banter. That’s right. Here, in America, we are — today — actually torturing other human beings with exacting cruelty in secret and then arguing about whether we can dare discuss it in public” – David Simon.
For me, the question remains a fascinating one. The revelation that the first briefing that Bush got on waterboarding was in 2006 is a staggering finding. His own book contradicts this. But the CIA has no records of briefings other than that. And their internal response to his 2006 speech showed how distant they were. When he indicated that no inhumane practices were being used, the CIA wondered if their program had been suspended without their knowledge!
But Fred Kaplan doesn’t buy the claim that Bush didn’t know what was going on:
[L]et’s take a close look at the committee’s claim that Bush wasn’t briefed on the program until it had nearly run its course: “According to CIA records,” the report states, “no CIA officer, up to and including CIA Directors George Tenet and Porter Goss, briefed the president on the specific CIA enhanced interrogation techniques before April 2006.”
I’ve italicized two words in this passage, for emphasis. The second word is key: Bush wasn’t briefed on the “specific” techniques till 2006. Under the well-known rules of plausible deniability, he would not have wanted to know too much about these specifics. As indicated in the station chief’s presentation, it’s not that the CIA didn’t tell the president certain details; it’s that the president didn’t want the CIA to tell him.
I think that’s easily the best explanation. Bush was briefed the way we all were about “enhanced interrogation” in language designed to obscure the reality. “Long-time-standing,” for example, sounds relatively mild. It does not fully convey the fact that prisoners with broken legs and feet were put in stress positions – the kind of torture you’d expect from ISIS. But there was surely also a desire not to know, not to have direct and explicit knowledge of what was actually being done, because of the immense gravity of the crimes. Who protected him? Almost certainly Alberto Gonzales. Maybe Condi.
Here’s my best guess after puzzling about this for a decade. Bush made the fateful decision to waive core Geneva protections from prisoners suspected of terrorism early on. That was his signal. He told everyone in the CIA (and beyond) in a moment of extreme emotion that you could do anything to these prisoners you wanted. In that sense, Bush is completely and personally responsible for every act of torture on his watch. He is as responsible as the men who decided to waterboard a prisoner until hardened operatives choked up and walked away.
But he then disappears in the CIA records – and Obama refused to give the Senate Committee the White House records that could have cleared it up (another instance of Obama covering up evidence of war crimes). Cheney presumably handles it all – with Addington doing clean-up – giving Bush the reassurances that a) the torture was giving up vital information saving lives (a lie) and b) that it was all legal (only by making an ass of the law in memos that were subsequently rebuked and rescinded). I suspect that this was all Bush decided he wanted to know: it works and it’s legal. And the famously incurious president didn’t want to know any more. I remember in 2005 asking a very senior administration official if we were torturing prisoners. The carefully parsed response, after looking down and away from me: “The president doesn’t believe we’re torturing people.” They were crafting a way to insulate him from war crimes done in his name.
Serwer likewise finds it “hard to believe that the Bush administration couldn’t have had any clue about what was really going on at the CIA”:
In his deeply revealing interview on Fox News last night, former vice-president Dick Cheney was asked which plots were foiled using torture, thereby saving thousands of lives. The first and only case he cited last night was the “West Coast” “Second Wave” plot against buildings in Los Angeles. He’s cited this many times before. And here’s the thing: It’s a lie. It’s not true. And we now know it’s not true, because the CIA itself admitted it last year, after a decade of lying about it.
Cheney hasn’t read the report, although he knows it’s “full of crap.” What that tells you about this man’s integrity and honesty I’ll leave to you. But here is what he hasn’t read.
The CIA, from the beginning, cited this case as a critical piece of evidence for the efficacy of torture, in all its briefings to officials. To take one random example, here is a legal memo from Steven Bradbury, at the OLC, conveying what the CIA was telling him:
So torture gave us the existence of the Guraba cell, which foiled the plot. The CIA told Bush the exact same thing:
This was a lie. How do we know? Because CIA operational cables and internal documents tell a different story. The FBI arrested two operatives in August 2001, including a “suspected airline suicide attacker” and that provided the leads for further identification of al Qaeda operatives involved in the Gubara version of the attack. Another plot on similar lines by some Malaysian nationals, coordinated by KSM, was foiled when one Misran bin Arshad was arrested in January 2002, revealing, by the way, that the attack had already been canceled the month before. Arshad spilled the beans after legal and non-coercive interrogations. So, according to the CIA, torturing KSM gave us nothing that we didn’t already have; and agents deduced that what intelligence they did get from KSM about this was because he knew that Arshad had already been captured – not because he had been tortured.
Noah Millman believes that our reasons for torturing weren’t based on torture’s effectiveness:
Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as a partisan GOP talking point, a litmus test of seriousness with respect to the fight against terrorism. That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view.
Nine years ago, Charles Krauthammer wrote an essay in The Weekly Standard defending the use of torture by the United States. I responded with the essay excerpted below in The New Republic. I went back and read that debate this morning, just to see how it holds up in the wake of the mass of evidence we now have from the CIA itself about the torture that the US actually authorized and practiced under the Bush administration.
And what strikes me is how admirably emphatic Charles was about the gravity of the issue nine years ago. Here is a sentence and a sentiment I have yet to read in the various commentaries on the right since the report was published yesterday:
Torture is a terrible and monstrous thing, as degrading and morally corrupting to those who practice it as any conceivable human activity including its moral twin, capital punishment.
It seems to me that in a civilized and decent society, this is not something open to much caviling. Even if you believe, as Charles did, that torture was defensible in some very exacting circumstances, it is still a monstrous, morally corrupting evil. And yet that sentiment is strangely nowhere to be found on the current right. Which is itself proof of the statement. What we once instinctively regarded with moral horror has, over the years, become something most Americans are comfortable with. This is what torture does. In the words of Charles Krauthammer, it degrades and morally corrupts those who practice it. And so it has:
Notice that Krauthammer’s maximal position in 2005 is now dead last in public opinion: his view that torture should be used extremely rarely commands less than 20 percent support and is beaten by those Americans who now believe that torture should be employed often. Yes: often. And this, of course, is not an accident. When a former president and vice-president openly back torture, and when the CIA has been engaging in a massive p.r. campaign to argue – against what we now know are incontrovertible facts from the CIA’s own records – that it saved thousands of lives, it will affect public opinion. There are always atavist and repellent sentiments in war time. The difference now is that a huge section of the elite endorses them.
Whom should we torture? Krauthammer rules torture out of bounds for prisoners of war; permits it in the case of very few high-value terrorists; and then offers up a difficult category of torture victims – those with information about a “ticking time-bomb”:
Third, there is the terrorist with information. Here the issue of torture gets complicated and the easy pieties don’t so easily apply. Let’s take the textbook case. Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He’s not talking … Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it? Now, on most issues regarding torture, I confess tentativeness and uncertainty. But on this issue, there can be no uncertainty: Not only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs. It is a moral duty.
Now consider what we now know about whom we tortured under the torture program under Bush and Cheney. First off, we tortured 26 people who were cases of mistaken identity. We tortured 26 innocent people. This is so far outside any of the parameters that even Krauthammer allowed for that it beggars belief. Amy Davidson:
Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be,” and including many others, such as,
“Gul Rahman, another case of mistaken identity.… Shaistah Habibullah Khan, who, like his brother, Sayed Habib, was the subject of fabrications.… Haji Ghalgi, who was detained as “useful leverage”…. Hayatullah Haqqani, whom the CIA determined “may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time”…. Ali Jan, who was detained for using a satellite phone, traces on which “revealed no derogatory information”.… Two individuals—Mohammad al-Shomaila and Salah Nasir Salim Ali—on whom derogatory information was “speculative”.… and Bismullah, who was mistakenly arrested … and later released with $[redacted] and told not to speak about his experience.”
It seems to me that proponents of torture should be horrified by this revelation. If torture is a monstrous thing, if it corrupts all who do it, as Krauthammer believes, what incalculable damage has been done by the US torturing innocents, in one case to death? Where was there any remorse – yes, remorse – expressed by the CIA yesterday for this compounding of a crime and a mistake?
Now consider Krauthammer’s view of who should be doing the torturing:
The exceptions to the no-torture rule would not be granted to just any nonmilitary interrogators, or anyone with CIA credentials. They would be reserved for highly specialized agents who are experts and experienced in interrogation, and who are known not to abuse it for the satisfaction of a kind of sick sadomasochism Lynndie England and her cohorts indulged in at Abu Ghraib.
We now know that the CIA contracted out the torture to two individuals without “specialized knowledge of al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism or any relevant cultural or linguistic experience.” They had never interrogated anyone – yet they got a $181 million contract to run the program. They were sadists:
John Rizzo, the acting CIA general counsel who met with the psychologists, wrote in his book, “Company Man,” that he found some of what Mitchell and Jessen were recommending “sadistic and terrifying.” One technique, he wrote, was “so gruesome that the Justice Department later stopped short of approving it.”
They had a pecuniary interest in the criminal enterprise. And they were making things up as they went along:
One email from a CIA staff psychologist said “no professional in the field would credit” their judgments. Another said their “arrogance and narcissism” led to unnecessary conflicts in the field. The director of interrogations for the CIA called their program a “train wreck” and complained that they were blending the roles of doctor and interrogator inappropriately.
So the architects of the torture program also violated a core part of Krauthammer’s defense of torture. And shockingly so. Why aren’t the defenders of torture horrified by this amateurism? Where are the Republican voices of outrage that a serious torture program was handed out to amateur contractors who had no idea what they were doing and no moral compass at all?
Krauthammer also described two torture techniques he would approve of. One was the injection of sodium pentathol – which, given the rank brutality of the actual torture sessions – would have been a mercy, but was not widely used (so far as we know). The second technique was waterboarding, the torture perfected by the Communist Chinese, and for which previous US servicemembers were prosecuted. But notice what Charles says waterboarding is:
Based on the hinges of the window: Time Square Hilton. Room 420.
Or a remote island?
I’ve never been to Cape Verde, but this is definitely it.
A more qualified shot-in-the-dark:
You’re like a cat with prey – one week you give me a window that practically shouts its location from the rooftops, then today you give us this. No signs, no cars, no recognizable buildings. What are the clues? Desert-y mountains, a woman on a roof, a satellite dish (maybe?), the grate on the shutters. I was going to guess the Elqui Valley in Chile, only because I’ve been there and the mountains look a lot like the ones in the photo. But Chile is too prosperous, I think, to still have mud buildings. So I’m going with Huarpa, Peru, because the landscape is similar.
First, thanks for the live blogging yesterday. It was exhausting to read and I’m sure much more so for those on the Dish team slogging through what is a very depressing report. Days like this make my subscription worth it.
Last night, Congress finally agreed on a spending bill to fund the government for the next year. Digging into the bill I found this on pg. 1353:
10 PROHIBITION ON THE USE OF TORTURE
11 Sec. 7066. (a) None of the funds made available in
12 this act may be used to support or justify the use of tor-
13 ture, cruel, or inhumane treatment by any official or con-
14 tract employee of the United States Government.
It is utterly depressing that we need to include this in a law dictating how taxpayer funds will be used, but as the torture report release makes clear, it is absolutely necessary.
Another is bewildered:
I’m trying to understand why Obama won’t own the report now, and why his administration has resisted its release. Did he want to keep all tools available to current and future executive administrations? Is his administration being held hostage by the CIA? Does he want to stand back and let Congress and the American people work through this without his entering the debate and unleashing Republican rage even more?
I think Obama is a great president and human being, so I am really trying to understand why he seems to be choosing the wrong side of history here. I hope there’s an explanation, but it’s an increasingly small hope.
Another has had enough:
I am disgusted after reading about how Obama is a shill of the CIA and refuses to follow through on transparency in government. He should give the Nobel Peace Prize back. He truly does not deserve it.
Another gives props to Obama’s former presidential rival:
5.00 pm. Since we’re now in our sixth hour of live-blogging, I’m going to wrap it up for the time being. But I want to end on a positive note. Everything that happened in this damning report is because of Americans. But the report itself is a function of other Americans determined to push back against evil done in this country’s name. Those Americans have been heroes in exposing this horror from the get-go, and they include many CIA agents who knew full well what this foul program was doing to their and America’s reputation.
But they also include the dogged staff of the Select Committee itself. I’m proud to know Dan Jones, who was the key figure in putting this together. He was handed with literally millions of pages of often incomprehensible and weirdly filed documents, and somehow had to pull them all together, night after night, through the early morning hours, in a lonely basement. There were many early mornings when he carried on, not knowing if any of this would ever see the light of day – and, of course, both the CIA and the Obama administration did all they could to stop its release. It’s so easy to dismiss them many people working in government in Washington – but I know and revere many who perform public service with dedication and professionalism. And this report is arguably the most important act of public service in holding our government accountable in modern times.
The great achievement of this report, moreover, is its meticulousness. No one can now claim that these torture sessions gave us anything of any worth, while damning this country for decades to come as the worst human rights abuser in the West. They will still claim torture worked – but they will be lying or rather desperately repeating talking points that the CIA’s own documents have now categorically refuted.
So the last word goes to Feinstein:
All of us owe them our deepest thanks. Even on this darkest of days, they give me hope.
4.59 pm. Ambers notes that this is not an act of interrogation:
Over and over, the CIA justified ratcheting up the techniques based not on any intelligence or evidence that the detainees did know more than they were sharing, but instead to increase their own confidence that the detainees had shared everything they knew. In other words, the thinking was: “We’ll enhance his interrogations until it’s not possible that he could withhold actionable information from us.””Our assumption is the objective of this operation is to achieve a high degree of confidence that [AbuZubaydah is not holding back actionable information concerning threats to the United States,” was how Zubaydah’s top interrogator put it in a cable to headquarters. Even though the CIA was telling the executive branch that the prisoner was holding back information and that they needed to rough him up to get it out of him, the operational order for the torture itself said otherwise.
If this is the rationale for torture, then every person in interrogation should be tortured. You’ve got to prove they don’t have anything else to tell us. I guess that was the kind of decision made when pondering whether to do the 151st near-drowning, after the 150th.
All I want you to do is imagine if you were witnessing this scene in a movie. The interrogators would be Nazis, wouldn’t they? And now they are us.
4.47 pm. So, Mr President, this was an act of patriotism, was it?
The barbarism was the very opposite from a few bad apples at the bottom of the pile, as they tried to persuade us at Abu Ghraib. The bad apples were at the very top of the chain of command, rotting this country’s reputation and honor from the top down. And those begin with Bush and Cheney and Tenet. They are now wanted men. And they will go abroad again – at their legal peril. And so America becomes a legal sanctuary for war criminals. As long as they are our war criminals.
4.32 pm. A reader writes:
For a doctor to participate in torture is a fundamental violation of everything the medical profession teaches. And yet: “CIA interrogators shackled each of these detainees in the standing position for sleep deprivation for extended periods of time until medical personnel assessed that they could not maintain the position.” It’s not the most serious crime detailed in the report, but it reflects profound corruption and perversion of a profession that is supposed to save lives, not guide torturers. These are devastating revelations, though of course not without historical precedent. Thank you for bearing witness to all of this.
The participation of American doctors and psychologists in this criminal enterprise has long been one of the more depressing aspects of this dark period. We’ve been covering it on the Dish for a decade now. It gives me utterly no satisfaction to see it was even worse than we feared.
Here’s my question: ho does any media institution justify having this person comment on this report? He has lied so brazenly and so often, anything he says must be treated with instant suspicion. He’s already tried his routine with a supine news source, Newsmax. And he’s got nothing:
4.16 pm. Some righteous words from the very Catholic blogger, Mark Shea, who has long refused to betray his conscience or his faith in turning a blind eye to torture:
This is what “conservatives”, including *especially* anti-abortion-but-not-prolife “faithful conservative Catholics” have fought to defend for years. It is a disgusting stain on the American Catholic Church and a scandal which draws both the Faith and the prolife movement into disrepute. Penance is the only proper response to it.
4.12 pm. So they were the worst of the worst, were they?
It’s the footnotes that will make you weep and wail. Some of the CIA detainees who never should have been there: pic.twitter.com/N2qTga3UiS
For those on the right still defending this legacy, can we at least expect some remorse for the utterly innocent people tortured and even tortured to death? Or are these people incapable of even that? Have they really no decency left at all?
4.01 pm. This could be a moment for some on the right to reflect more broadly on what happened in this country under the torture regime. There is so much to absorb and digest in today’s report – surely enough to warrant even a passionate defender of the program to reconsider and rethink. But no. So far, the response is either to ignore these blockbuster revelations or, well, this from NRO:
Defined by selective accounts and distorted by a partisan agenda, this Senate Intelligence Committee report is intelligence birtherism. Conspiring against truth, it sacrifices American patriots and America’s security in an “Oldspeak”-style of purging the record of any truth. Unconcerned by the propaganda victory they’ve given to U.S. enemies (contemplate how ISIS will manipulate this report), or the cost for liaison-intelligence relationships (foreign services will worry that future cooperation will be misrepresented), the Senate Intelligence Committee has shamed itself and the citizens it claims to serve.
So a 500-page report, summarizing 6,700 pages of a bigger, classified version, as compiled by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is as credible as the claims that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. That’s the legacy of William F Buckley Jr.
3.58 pm. More Hayden lies:
In December 2008 and January 2009, CIA officers briefed the transition team for President-elect Barack Obama on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. CIA Director Hayden prepared a statement that relayed, “despite what you have heard or read in a variety of public fora, these [enhanced interrogation] techniques and this program did work.” The prepared materials included inaccurate information on the operation and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, as well as the same set of examples of the “effectiveness” of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques that the CIA had provided to policymakers over several years. The examples provided were nearly entirely inaccurate.
My italics. It’s very very rare for a Senator to call a former CIA chief a liar as Feinstein did today. But that Hayden definitely is – a product of an institution so usually reliant on secrecy to conceal its fabrications that lying to the outside world is close to reflexive.
3.47 pm. One of the early defenses of torturing prisoners was that, when it comes to devout Muslims, they actually welcomed it because it released them from any obligations to protect their brothers. Cliff May tangled with me on this seven years ago. He posited the following idea:
We now know that Islamists believe their religion forbids them to cooperate with infidels — until they have reached the limit of their ability to endure the hardships the infidel is inflicting on them. In other words: Imagine an al-Qaeda member who would like to give his interrogators information, who does not want to continue fighting, who would prefer not to see more innocent people slaughtered. He would need his interrogators to press him hard so he can feel that he has met his religious obligations — only then could he cooperate.
So torture was actually a mercy for these people! Well we know more about that now:
A CIA officer testified that Abu Zubaydah thanked agents for torturing him; no CIA records support this testimony. pic.twitter.com/czavbTwnVT
Hayden gave Senators inaccurate testimony about the interrogation process, threats against detainees’ families, the punching and kicking of detainees, detainee hygiene, denial of medical care, dietary manipulation, the use of waterboarding and its effectiveness, and the injury and death of detainees.
Hayden also told the Senate committee he didn’t believe CIA personnel had expressed reservations about the techniques that were used. In reality, one medical staff member said the methods made him “psychologically very uncomfortable” and several staffers were “profoundly affected” to the point of “choking up,” according to the report.
But, as we know, the CIA believes it is fully entitled to lie whenever it wants to. And since no one is ever held accountable for those lies, who can blame them?
3.35 pm. A footnote reveals how the White House refused to cooperate in any meaningful way with the Committee:
The Committee did not have access to approximately 9,400 CIA documents related to the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program that were withheld by the White House pending a determination and claim of executive privilege. The Committee requested access to these documents over several years, including in writing on January3, 2013, May 22, 2013, and December 19,2013. The Committee received no response from the White House.
Obama has done nothing to bring about this vital act of accountability. History will remember and record that as a stain on his presidency and his character. And as a reminder that when he argued for transparency and accountability in government, he was excusing the CIA from that noble aspiration.
3.30 pm. The CIA istelf never regarded its techniques as humane, even as Bush officials were ludicrously arguing as much. When Administration apologists took to the airwaves in 2003, insisting that the treatment of all prisoners was “humane,” CIA seniors were convinced that this meant the White House was abandoning the black sites and torture program!
On several occasions in early 2003, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller expressed concern to the National Security Council principals, White House staff, and Department of Justice personnel that the CIA’s program might be inconsistent with public statements from the Administration that the U.S. Government’s treatment of detainees was “humane.”[redacted] CIA General Counsel Muller therefore sought to verify with White House and Department of Justice personnel that a February 7, 2002, Presidential Memorandum requiring the U.S. military to treat detainees humanely did not apply to the CIA.
That right there is an admission of war crimes. And proof that the CIA was fully aware of it.
3.20 pm. The NYT has a terrifically useful debunking of all the various plots that we were told were intercepted or prevented through the use of torture. They’re all lies. Money quote from the report on one such lie:
Within days of the raid on UBL’s compound, CIA officials represented that CIA detainees provided the ‘tipoff’ information on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. A review of CIA records found that the initial intelligence obtained, as well as the information the CIA identified as the most critical — or the most valuable — on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, was not related to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.
But of course the lies were inevitable. Once you have decided to go down the path of torture, it’s essential that you continue to believe it must be useful. It’s psychologically very hard to admit you have been doing unspeakably evil things for no reason at all. And so all torture regimes contain self-serving lies. There are none that are halted half-way through for ineffectiveness, because that would expose those already neck-deep in barbarism to blame, and even legal consequences. And so the usual pattern is to double-down, to keep insisting that every single act of torture saved lives, even as it gave us no serious or reliable intelligence. These are the patterns of authoritarian and totalitarian states where torture reigns. And they are the patterns that George W Bush imported into the very heart of American democracy.
3.17 pm. I’m trying to keep count of the number of bald-faced lies that Michael Hayden told in the documents in this report. The NYT has a beaut:
In 2007, for instance, Michael V. Hayden, then the C.I.A. director, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “all of those involved in the questioning of detainees are carefully chosen and screened for demonstrated professional judgment and maturity.” In fact, the Senate report concludes, no such vetting took place. The interrogation teams included people with “notable derogatory information” in their records, including one with “workplace anger management issues” and another who “had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.”
More to come.
3.07 pm. It’s worth noting that the Obama administration continues to refuse to use the word “torture” in dealing with the report. This is despite the president’s casual admission that “we tortured some folks” – a statement of staggering callowness now we can see what was done in our name. Paul Waldman:
Today I was on a background call with a group of senior administration officials, and they were asked repeatedly why they seemed so reluctant to use the word “torture,” even after President Obama admitted that “we tortured some folks.” One official replied, “We’re not going to go case by case in a report like this and try to affix a label to each action.” But they do affix a label: “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which they used again and again, accepting the euphemistic label the Bush administration affixed to it.
Obama has been a captive of the CIA since he got into office, and a de facto enabler of torture in his refusal to adhere to the Geneva Conventions. But there’s also a reason for his reticence and tone-deafness. If the administration formally concedes the use of torture, Obama will be legally obligated to prosecute it. But they refuse to.
I’ll just pose a simple question: is there any organization in the West that could be found responsible for these appalling acts of incompetence, cruelty, torture, murder, sadism, and deception and have no one in that organization resign or be disciplined, let alone be prosecuted? It’s inconceivable. Which means it really is important to see what is in front of our nose: a lawless, unaccountable criminal entity beyond any legal control or scrutiny. The CIA is a threat to this democracy. And a threat to the world.
3.03 pm. Now think for a second of what the reaction would be if a captive American were subjected to the following by a foreign power:
3.02 pm. Nathan Vardi notes the financial cost of the torture program:
In total, the report claims that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program cost “well over $300 million in non-personnel costs.” One individual associated with the CIA program on the ground level told U.S. government investigators that the program had “more money than we could possibly spend we thought, and it turned out to be accurate.” …
One person associated with the CIA program told government investigators that payments of more than $1 million were made without any paperwork, in cash, and out of boxes containing hundred dollar bills. “We never counted it. I’m not about to count that kind of money for a receipt,” the unidentified individual is quoted as saying by the report.
2.30 pm. The CIA and Cheney have long defended torture as having clear and positive results. Mike Zenko notes that the CIA as recently as 2013 acknowledged that it had no way of knowing whether the torture was working:
[T]here is one CIA acknowledgment that should be as disturbing as anything that is contained within the SSCI study itself. Page 24 of the CIA memo addresses the SSCI’s conclusion that the “CIA never conducted its own comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” The CIA’s response:
“We agree with Conclusion 10 in full. It underpins the most important lesson that we have drawn from The Study: CIA needs to develop the structure, expertise, and methodologies required to more objectively and systematically evaluate the effectiveness of our covert actions. We draw this lesson going forward fully aware of how difficult it can be to measure the impact of a particular action or set of actions on an outcome in a real-world setting.”
Therefore, the CIA admitted that—as late as June 2013—it was simply incapable of evaluating the effectiveness of its covert activity.
So all those statements by Cheney, Thiessen and every talking head on Fox that torture worked? They were bald-faced bluffs by utter incompetents. They were bullshit.
2.28 pm. The devastation to our alliances is real and just beginning:
I know v senior Western intel types who collaborated w/IC on renditions, etc. They are beyond furious today. Gotten hellish emails already.
Now you know why Rodriguez destroyed the tapes. Even after a torture victim is so broken that the interrogator only has to snap his fingers to get this shell of a human being to get back on the waterboard, they continued to torture him. Let me state this as plainly as I can: this is Nazi-level criminality and brutality. This is unimaginable sadism. If the people who did this and those who authorized this are allowed to get away with this, and even be praised by presidents for it, then we have left our civilization behind.
2.15 pm. Nothing to see here …
A proposal by Sen Levin to create a torture commission "renewed interest at the CIA to destroy" video of torture pic.twitter.com/QBsiKcOjLe
2.07 pm. Flipping through some conservative media today, the crickets are chirping. NRO has close to nothing on the subject – while finding space for posts on Lena Dunham and Swedish immigration policies. Unless you count this tweet:
Drudge is leading with Gruber and Dunham. I guess that’s better then defending the utterly indefensible.
2.00 pm. The New York Times today editorializes that the torture report is “a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.” This is the same newspaper that refused to use the word “torture” for years out of deference to the Bush administration – even though it was plain as the light of day. So no surprise to find this little nugget about one of its reporters dealing with the CIA on this:
1.47 pm. The international community will now rightly insist that the perpetrators of these war crimes be punished. Here’s the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights, Ben Emerson, today:
It is now time to take action. The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.
International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes.
As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.
My italics. If the Obama administration refuses to bring these war criminals to justice, it will effectively render moot any international efforts to curtail torture anywhere in the world. It will be arguing that crimes as grave as these need have no legal consequences. That, simply speaking, ends the United States’ participation in the civilized world, and removes any standing for us to criticize any foul despot anywhere who uses torture techniques as hideous as the ones we are now reading about.
Is that the legacy Obama wants? That he made the world safe for torturers? At some point, even he will have to acknowledge the gravity of these facts beyond his callow, off-hand admission that “we tortured some folks” but that the torturers were patriots and we shouldn’t get too “self-righteous” about them. Does the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize really want to go down in history as the president who made sure that war criminals are only punished if they are not American?
And notice too that the US is legally obliged to prosecute Bush and Cheney as well. Or become a rogue state at the UN and in the Geneva community of democracies. Both Bush and Cheney have celebrated their deployment of torture and taken full responsibility for it in public. It is simply impermissible to allow these men to escape justice. The only alternative is to pardon them.
1.35 pm. The war criminal Jose Rodriguez, whose destruction of the video evidence of torture precipitated this report, knew that what he was doing was illegal on its face, explosive and had to be kept top-secret. Any slip, any leak, any discussion could come back to haunt them:
Strongly urge that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-à-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from in written traffic (email or cable traffic). Such language is not helpful.
1.33 pm. For many in the CIA, watching these brutal torture sessions was too much:
1.28 pm. As the CIA contends that the torture program was defensible because it worked (even though it plainly didn’t), it’s worth recalling the explicit language of the Geneva Conventions:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
The CIA’s self-defense is itself a violation of the Geneva Accords. This country has effectively destroyed those accords and the enormous achievement of Western civilization in constructing them. Obama as definitively as Bush.
1.24 pm. Even now, Obama’s cowardice is gob-smacking:
Obama official: White House won’t take sides between CIA, which says interrogations worked, and Senate, which says they didn’t.
You mean: they cannot read the report? There are not two sides. The evidence that the interrogations gave us nothing that wasn’t otherwise available is … the CIA’s own assessment. That’s why this report is so conclusive. The CIA itself says the torture didn’t work! And now it claims otherwise. This is a dispute between the CIA and the CIA.
1.18 pm. In most organizations, if someone breaks the rules or commits serious wrongdoing, they are disciplined or corrected. Not in the CIA. No one is ever held to account within that organization, even murderers:
By indicating that no one would be held responsible for going too far, the CIA effectively gave the green light for the very worst. This was an agency clearly believing it had the authority to break any law, kill any prisoner, use any torture technique … and would never be subject to legal consequences. When you unleash an agency with that power into the world, and remove all constraints, what did they think would happen?
1.12 pm. The goal in these torture sessions was, as in all torture sessions, to completely “break” a human being. The bizarre notion was that once you had reduced a prisoner to a quivering, incoherent mess, he would somehow give you decent intelligence. Serious commentators – Cliff May comes to mind – actually propagated this idea. But when a democracy based on individual life and liberty practices torture techniques designed to obliterate an individual entirely, it has effectively repealed itself:
1.09 pm. Only totalitarian regimes have a record of doing this:
Stress positions are insanely painful even when your limbs are in good condition. But when your limbs are already broken? And no one is going to be punished for this either?
1.05 pm. Yes, some were tortured to death:
Footnote 32 says hat Gul Rahman was a case of mistaken identity.
And we killed him. Froze him to death. Devastating.
12.57 pm. Rubio says we should “thank” those who raped and near-drowned prisoners, subjected them to hypothermia, rectal rehydration, and brutal beatings, and in some cases tortured prisoners to death. Bush believes the people who did these things were “patriots.” This is the moral universe in which some on the right now live. They are less willing to acknowledge the huge errors in this case than the CIA itself. Their defense of torture as something to be celebrated is, strictly speaking, fascist. They are a disgrace to any civilized conservatism.
12.46 pm. A detail from the Telegraph’s live-blog:
Some of the most important CIA-led interrogations were carried out by people with no specialist training or expertise, some of whom had histories of violence:
• CIA employed people who had “personal and professional problems of a serious nature” – including histories of violence and abusive treatment of others. The report found that that should have called into question their employment, let alone their suitability to participate in the sensitive CIA program.
• Two psychologists were employed as outside contractors – neither of them had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialised knowledge of al-Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise. They personally conducted some of the most important interrogations. In 2005, they formed a company to expand their work with the CIA. Shortly thereafter, the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the program. The CIA paid the company more than $80 million.
Again, remember what we were told: that this was a professional program staffed by the very best of the CIA. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was pioneered by two goons paid a fortune to do what no serious interrogator or anyone with a moral sense would ever dream of. These were Cheney’s men – doing what his panicked mind thought would actually work. And the result was crime after crime after crime.
Noting the Telegraph’s coverage also highlights the deep and eternal damage done to the US by this foul program. America’s moral standing in the world has been permanently crippled, with all the attendant damage to our national security and alliances. And that’s something we have to understand better: far from improving our safety, Cheney’s war crimes made us – and make us – far less safe, our alliances now crippled, our foes given the biggest propaganda coup they could ever imagine. Bush and Cheney did this to this country. And they remain proud of it.
12.44 pm. This is what “oversight” meant during the Bush-Cheney years:
12.39 pm. McCain is now speaking. He has been rock-solid through most of this. He has two crucial characteristics: he’s a Republican and a victim of torture. Those who will try to argue that this report is mere partisanship need to tell that to McCain’s face.
And it’s worth recalling that Feinstein’s long record has been as a stalwart defender of the CIA, a barely functioning over-seer prone to give the CIA the benefit of every doubt. No one can plausibly call her reflexively anti-CIA. But here she is today, suffused with righteous fury – every ounce of it merited.
12.30 pm. The CIA, unlike Dick Cheney, acknowledges its own errors:
When will the GOP talking points actually reflect even the CIA’s own internal assessment of its grotesque failures of competence?
this report—based on an extensive analysis of the CIA’s own files—says Bin Laden’s courier had long been under surveillance, and more than two dozen sources discussed him. The person who provided the most detailed information, a senior Al Qaeda fundraiser and logistical facilitator named Hassan Ghul, provided it after being captured in 2004—before he was subjected to the “enhanced interrogation techniques.” An CIA officer reported that he “sang like a tweetie bird…opened up right away and was cooperative from the outset.”
But after providing that information, the report says he was taken to a different detention site, where he was shaved, stripped, and stood against a wall with his hands raised over his head for two hours at a time. After 59 hours of sleep deprivation, he began experiencing hallucinations and complaining of pain, but gave no further information. While additional details of his interrogation and release were redacted, the report says he eventually wound up in a Pakistani prison, was released and ultimately killed in 2012 by a US drone strike in Pakistan.
Nonetheless, the CIA claimed that its techniques led to Bin Laden in hearings and public statements after the raid that killed him.
Kathryn Bigelow must feel like a tool now, mustn’t she? She just swallowed these liars’ spin and made a movie out of it. Will she apologize or retract?
Yes, I think we can. And take a minute to absorb what we’re talking about. We’re talking about government officials raping prisoners – and nothing will be done to hold them to account. This is what America has become.
12.23 pm. They paid the torturers more than professional interrogators:
12.21 pm. Greenwald on the CIA’s strategic leaks to the media:
For all the claims in Washington about how leaking classified information is destructive and criminal, the CIA – consistent with what the Obama administration frequently does – routinely leaked classified information to the media to propagandize about their torture program. Will there be any criminal investigations the way there are when whistleblowers leak information that embarrasses (rather than serves) the government? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question:
12.18 pm. A reader writes:
Reading through some of the excerpts this morning, sometimes I literally need to turn away from my computer screen and stop reading. This is simply gruesome. It’s extremely disturbing that there are still a great many people defending this program and these torture techniques as somehow being compatible with American values. These are also the same pieces of shit who criticize Obama for ruining America’s credibility through (fill in the blank.) They’re deeply concerned with how the US is viewed and that the world see their country the same way they do. And yet they can’t see that the rest of the planet looks at this and says, “Are you fucking kidding me!?”
I dare anyone to read this passage about the CIA holding a mentally challenged man simply to gain leverage on his family and think that the continued defense of these actions isn’t the greatest threat there is to American credibility:
The Krauthammers of the world should crawl back into the dark, greasy caves whence they came. They don’t deserve to be seen or heard ever again.
According to Dick Cheney, this kind of thing was “absolutely justified.”
12.15 pm. And the CIA mounted an extensive media-propaganda effort to disseminate the same lies they were feeding to their superiors:
The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs and senior CIA officials coordinated to share classified information on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to select members of the media to counter public criticism, shape public opinion, and avoid potential congressional action to restrict the CIA’s detention and interrogation authorities and budget. These disclosures occurred when the program was a classified covert action program, and before the CIA had briefed the full Committee membership on the program.
Here’s the Deputy Director of the Counterterrorism Center: “we either get out and sell, or we get hammered, which has implications beyond the media. [C]ongress reads it, cuts our authorities, messes up our budget… we either put out our story or we get eaten. [T]here is no middle ground.”
Having done the indefensible, they had to mount an enormous effort to keep the program in place – largely by lying to anyone they could find.
12.12 pm. And yes, they tortured at least one prisoner to death:
12.08 pm. Here’s a real bombshell: Bush was first briefed on waterboarding in 2006! And he didn’t like it:
[D]espite agency efforts to keep the Bush administration informed about the program, top White House officials repeatedly resisted having the CIA brief cabinet-level figures about the details, and CIA officials were not permitted to brief Bush directly until mid-2006, more than four years after the president signed a broad executive order authorizing the program, according to Senate Democratic aides who briefed reporters ahead of Tuesday’s release.
When Bush finally heard the details of the harsh interrogation techniques that were used against CIA detainees, he was “uncomfortable” with some of them and expressed dismay that some detainees were required to remain in stress positions for long amounts of time, to the point that they had no choice but to soil themselves, the aides said.
What does it say about our democracy in the last decade that the one person ultimately designated to run the war was utterly oblivious to what was actually going on in such an extraordinarily vital area such as torture? That others were really running the country? That he was a disastrously disengaged and incompetent figure-head? Well, I guess what we suspected is now out there. But who was ultimately responsible for torturing suspects in a manner far far worse than stress positions if the president wasn’t?
The “cold bath” technique – the same as that used against al-Qahtani in Guantanamo – was, according to professor Darius Rejali of Reed College, “pioneered by a member of the French Gestapo by the pseudonym Masuy about 1943. The Belgian resistance referred to it as the Paris method, and the Gestapo authorized its extension from France to at least two places late in the war, Norway and Czechoslovakia. That is where people report experiencing it.”
In Norway, we actually have a 1948 court case that weighs whether “enhanced interrogation” using the methods approved by president Bush amounted to torture. The proceedings are fascinating, with specific reference to the hypothermia used in Gitmo, and throughout interrogation centers across the field of conflict. The Nazi defense of the techniques is almost verbatim that of the Bush administration…
And in that case, the US occupying power decided that the proper punishment for using this technique should be execution. And indeed the war criminals in that case were put to death. Few things show how steep our moral decline is in these matters that today, leading officials in the American government argue that not only should there be no punishment for these war crimes, but that their very existence should be covered up and the names of those who tortured kept permanently from public view.
11.53 am. So seven of the 39 prisoners given the full torture treatment gave no intelligence at all. How can you justify torturing them by the “saving lives” canard? If no intelligence was gleaned at all, their torture was utterly irrelevant to seeking intelligence. For seven torture victims, it was worthless on its face.
11.50 am. The Dish team is now busy absorbing the report. We’ll be adding our comments as we go further into the report. Please join us and email any insights or nuggets you think are important.
Joel Kotkin and Richey Piiparinen posit that America’s erstwhile industrial heartland “could well be on the verge of a major resurgence, one that should be welcomed not only locally but by the rest of the country”:
Two factors drive this change. One is the steady revival of America as a productive manufacturing country, driven in large part by new technology, rising wages abroad (notably in China), and the development of low-cost, abundant domestic energy, much of it now produced in states such as Ohio and in the western reaches of Pennsylvania.
The second, and perhaps more surprising, is the wealth of human capital already existent in the region.
Allison P. Davis covers on a new technique in jewelry-making:
Most interesting … is the technological trick that allows [jeweler Iconery] to sell beautiful, of-the-moment jewelry at relatively cheap prices: They create the pieces on 3-D printers. While the new technology might seem gimmicky, this isn’t the standard Makerbot plastic jewelry.
It is extremely convenient for these people to discover the possibility that a report about past U.S. abuses might inspire outrage and even violence in response. There was no such concern among hawks about the foreign policy implications of torturing people when it was being done, and they expressed no similar worries that other U.S. actions would provoke violent responses. If one raises the possibility that aggressive U.S. actions in other parts of the world could have dangerous consequences for Americans later on, that is normally denounced as “blaming” America. Strangely enough, that doesn’t seem to apply when there is a chance of exposing our government’s egregious abuses to public scrutiny and some small measure of accountability for those abuses.
And many of the people crying blowback over this report were the same ones dismissing concerns that keeping Gitmo open would stoke resentment and terrorism in the Middle East. Waldman has it right:
Everything the president said above is untrue – and it appears that the looming Senate Intelligence Committee report on the torture program will soon prove it. The US did torture many many people with techniques devised by Nazis and Communists, sometimes in former KGB facilities. The CIA itself admits in its internal documents that none of it worked or gave us any actionable intelligence that wasn’t discovered through legal means. The torture techniques were not implemented by highly-trained professionals, but by goonish amateurs who concealed what they were doing and lied about it to superiors. All the techniques were and are clearly illegal under US and international law.
And we’re told there is some exculpatory evidence in the report, suggesting that Bush and Cheney and even Addington were misled as well – giving the former president some lee-way to explain how he came to create a torture program that will forever taint this country and has already done so much to damage its soft power. Maybe he could tell the truth and say that the extent and nature of the torture was kept from him and that he can now see what went so horribly wrong. But nah:
Some former administration officials privately encouraged the president and his top advisers to use the report to disclaim responsibility for the interrogation program on the grounds that they were not kept fully informed. But Mr. Bush and his inner circle rejected that suggestion. “Even if some officials privately believe they were not given all the facts, they feel it would be immoral and disloyal to throw the C.I.A. to the wolves at this point,” said one former official, who like others did not want to be identified speaking about the report before its release.
The question I posed publicly to the president back in 2009 – whether he could come to terms with the reality of torture and explain how it occurred – has therefore been answered a second time. In his own book, Bush owned the torture and took full responsibility for it. Now, he has decided he will not allow a sliver of daylight to come between him and war crimes. You can chalk this up to admirable loyalty, even to those who lied to him. Or you can simply reflect on a president who cannot admit to being the first in that office to authorize such an assault on core American values and decency. Which means to say he does not have the fortitude or character to deal with reality.
And now, we’re seeing a full-court press for those Bush loyalists who want to permanently suppress the evidence of war crimes under the program. If you want to get a clue about how devastating the forthcoming report might be, just observe the pre-emptive strikes:
The defense of the program has been organized by former C.I.A. leaders like George J. Tenet and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, two former directors, and John E. McLaughlin, a former deputy C.I.A. director who also served as acting director … General Hayden added that the former C.I.A. team objected to the Senate’s characterization of their efforts. “We’re not here to defend torture,” he said by email on Sunday. “We’re here to defend history.” General Hayden appeared earlier on Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS News to say that any assertion that the C.I.A. “lied to everyone about a program that wasn’t doing any good, that beggars the imagination.”
Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who ran the C.I.A. interrogation program, said Sunday that critics now assailing the agency were pressing it after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to do whatever it took to prevent a recurrence. “We did what we were asked to do, we did what we were assured was legal, and we know our actions were effective,” Mr. Rodriguez wrote in The Washington Post.
Rodriguez was so sure that he did nothing wrong that he destroyed the tapes recording the torture sessions! Nothing to see here … so move long. A reader writes:
I just watched the CBS Morning News report on the SSCI report, featuring two persons: Michael Hayden was featured in excerpts from Sunday’s Face the Nation, then “CBS News terrorism consultant” Juan Zarate. Both offered an identical analysis: the release of the report would “fan the flames of violence against America.”
On CNN, Candy Crowley still could not say the t-word, and let Mike Rogers argue that evidence of the gravest crimes by government officials should be suppressed because … they will inflame opinion abroad, and possibly lead to demonstrations and violence. Notice that for Rogers, the fact that the US government committed barbarisms more commonly associated with Nazi Germany or Communist China is of no concern. No one should be prosecuted, because, well, because American officials cannot be subject to the Geneva Conventions, which must be observed by every state actor – except the US. And no evidence of crimes by government officials should be released, for fear of undermining faith in said government. Those arguments belong in a dictatorship, not a democracy.