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Torture Proponents Have No Serious Argument

Posted on Dec 18, 2008

By William Pfaff

Vice President Dick Cheney was on American television last weekend to say that he directly approved CIA torture of American prisoners, and that he favors keeping the Guantanamo prison camp open until “the end of the war on terror,” a date which “nobody can specify.”

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Those of Cheney’s persuasion are trying to convince Barack Obama that “realism” requires continued torture and the offshore prison system by which, under George W. Bush and Cheney, the United States took up the precedent and practices of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and other criminal regimes that gave the 20th century its reputation for moral depravity.

Pleas are beginning to appear in the American press in support of torture. Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer now with the “Foundation for the Defense of the Democracies,” writes (in The New York Times and International Herald Tribune) that such practices are essential to “stopping the slaughter of civilians by Islamic holy warriors” and dealing with “ticking bomb situations” where water-boarding the enemy “mastermind” can save “thousands of civilians.” Extrajudicial rendition to client-nation torturers, he says, has the advantage of keeping illegal practices out of sight, and away “from Congressional prying.”

Another man who has addressed the question is Philip Bobbitt, a law professor at Columbia University, former official of the National Security Council and author of a book published earlier this year, “Terror and Consent: The Wars for the 21st Century.”

He argues that a radically new international situation exists in which the market is replacing the state as we have known it (a judgment he might today wish to revise?). This benefits the terrorist who operates without frontiers. To deal with such terrorists, “extreme” measures of coercion may be necessary, as well as global “preclusive” interventions to protect civilians and smash terrorist groups, with a legalized “total information awareness” program providing America with unlimited access to international communications.


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His position on torture is that it should be applied only after a warrant has been obtained from the courts that cites necessity—raison d’etat.  He foresees the need for an extensive reordering of American and international law concerning civil liberties, and a large new grant of power to the executive branch of the U.S. government.

Harvard law school professor Alan Dershowitz also advocates the issuance of torture warrants when there is an “absolute need to obtain immediate information in order to save lives, coupled with probable cause that the suspect has such information and is unwilling to reveal it.”

According to his personal Web site, he is in principle opposed to torture but argues that authorities should be permitted to use nonlethal torture in a “ticking-bomb” scenario, regardless of international legal prohibitions, as it would be less destructive to the rule of law than to leave such matters to the discretion of law enforcement agents.

“If torture is going to be administered as a last resort in the ticking-bomb case, to save enormous numbers of lives, [then] it ought to be done openly, with accountability, with approval by the president of the United States or by a Supreme Court justice.”

The case for torture always rests on the “ticking-bomb” case. The argument is always that torture is the “only way” to save the city from the nuclear explosion, the tens of thousands of “innocent civilians,” or the kindergarten where your own child is playing, from being killed. The “ticking-bomb/only way” argument has been described as the card shark’s “forcing” onto his victim the card he wants him to select.

From what we know about CIA and American-outsourced torture in the Bush administration, there must have been a lot of ticking bombs in recent years. (Would they have ticked slowly enough for professors Dershowitz or Bobbitt to get their warrants?)

The argument always ignores the point repeatedly made by FBI and police officials, and other professional interrogators: that professional techniques of crisis negotiation, dealing with hostage-takers, and criminal investigation have been proved beyond doubt superior to torture in obtaining serious information. Torture produces lies, fabulation, telling the torturer whatever he wants.

It corrupts the torturers and their superiors, as well as the legal and intelligence systems involved.

It also ignores the possibility that if someone has been determined and clever enough to plant a nuclear weapon or anthrax bomb or doomsday machine in the middle of Washington, he might be sufficiently committed to endure some “nonlethal” torture for the cause. It’s the serious terrorist’s professional hazard. And if the bomb is indeed ticking, he (or she) will soon be put out of misery, together with the torturers.

There is a sense in which this simply is not a serious argument.

George W. Bush’s war against terror has brought out of the darker places in America a lot of people who want to torture, or like the idea of it. By now we know the names of the principal such figures in the Bush administration, even without the benefit of Dick Cheney on television or the bipartisan Senate report, just made known.

If these are the kind of people who remain in charge, the United States will earn its permanent place in history as the kind of nation that tortures people.

The country used to be governed by a different class of people. It seems reasonable to hope that in Barack Obama the United States has elected president someone who belongs to the category of people who have the values of that other America.

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at

© 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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By cann4ing, January 2, 2009 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment

By Dahlia, January 2 at 5:42 am #
(Unregistered commenter)

The first time one of our soldiers is tortured, watch how fast people change their minds about torture!\

Some of “our” soldiers have been tortured in every war.  The Japanese tortured American soldiers during WW II, not to mention civilians like my father.  The Chinese tortured captured Americans during the Korean War.  Americans were tortured by the North Vietnamese, by Saddam’s regime during Gulf War I, and al Qaeda in Iraq has tortured American captives, beheaded them and mutilated their corpses.

The men at the top of the Bush regime who ordered torture as a statement of raw power.  They were well aware of the arguments that our engaging in torture exposes our own troops to torture.  Newsflash!  They could care less what happens to our troops, who are merely cannon fodder for their dreams of world conquest.

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By Dahlia, January 2, 2009 at 6:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The first time one of our soldiers is tortured, watch how fast people change their minds about torture!

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By Folktruther, December 24, 2008 at 10:32 am Link to this comment

As I’ve said before, torture is not being used to gain information, but to intimidate the active population.  It therefore doesn’t matter whether the Terrorists have committed any terroist acts. They probably oppose US imperialism, as most earthpeople do, so they will serve as examples as well as others to deter activism.

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By cann4ing, December 22, 2008 at 11:48 am Link to this comment

Cyrena, the torture issue arose as a result of dangerous theories of unchecked executive power held by Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, who was the attorney responsible for the Kafka-like military tribunals at Guantanamo, a system imposed on a detainee population, 55% of whom, per a Seton Hall study, had never committed a hostile act and only 8% of which were alleged to have been connected with al Qaeda.  The vast majority, 86%, were captured either by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance at a time when the U.S. was offering huge bounties for “suspected” terrorists.  In a New Yorker piece, “The Hidden Power, Jane Mayer contends Addington was well aware of this, for the JAG and CIA officers sent to Guantanamo to find out why no useful intelligence was being extracted returned, reporting to both Addington and Alberto Gonzalez that “more than half the detainees…didn’t belong there.”  Their pleas were callously ignored.  A perplexed administration official questioned the logic:  “How could you deny the possibility that one or more people were locked up who shouldn’t be there?  There were old people, sick people—why do we want to keep them?”

Here we find another of Paul Krugman’s observations exceedingly poignant.  “When you’re dealing with a revolutionary power, it’s important to realize that it knows what it wants, and will make whatever argument advances that goal.  So there should be no presumption that the claims it makes on behalf of its actions make any sense in their own terms.”    The administration official’s questioning of the utility of detaining the innocent made sense only if one assumes that Addington and Gonzalez possessed the belief, however misguided, that there was utility in torture in terms of the professed goal of fighting a war on terror.  “’Torture isn’t important to Addington as a scientific matter, good or bad, or whether it works or not,’ the Administration lawyer, who is familiar with these debates, said.  ‘It’s more about his philosophy of Presidential power.  He thinks that if the President wants torture he should get torture.  He always argued for ‘maximum flexibility.’”

Cheney’s comments, reported in today’s NY Times, underscore the severe danger posed by his radical views of executive power.  He said that the president “doesn’t have to check with anybody”—not Congress, not the courts—before launching a nuclear attack “because of the nature of the world we live in” since 9/11.

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By cyrena, December 22, 2008 at 1:00 am Link to this comment

Louise writes:

•  “When Bush and Cheney speak of their success in keeping America from being attacked again, it’s almost laughable. Reactionaries do not prevent problems, they only react. And because they have no vision, often their reactions are worse than the thing they react too!”

Bingo of course. We’ve watched this reactionary stuff and been victimized by it for so long now, that far too many of us seem to have accepted it as the ‘norm’ and that is only one of the disasters they’ve wrought.

But on this:

•  “…The most perfect example of that is the current financial melt-down. And the bad way they have reacted instead of dealing with outcomes. They cant see outcomes, anymore than they could see the meltdown coming!..”

Something makes me think, (maybe a gut feeling more than anything that I can actually substantiate) that Cheney and his secret staff damn well saw the outcome of the current financial meltdown in advance, and didn’t give a shit, and neither did George, by the time somebody clued him in. Georgie’s response was to plaintively wail, “Can’t we just say everything is fine?”

But I think the rest of them knew damn well what all of the deregulation would do, not to mention the on-going HEIST of the national treasury over the past 8 years, for the funding of no-bid and other war contractors. Trillions of dollars and an equivalent amount of human blood has been laundered through the sands of Iraq and elsewhere, to wind up in the treasure chests of this Cabal.

So the paradox is that while their overall persona is clearly reactionary, (at least in terms of the ostensible ‘team’ that Americans have believed were running things) Cheney’s shadow government is a whole ‘nother story in my view, because I think they’ve very meticulously planned most of the disaster, (not all but most) that has befallen us since the turn of the century.

Ya know, it continues to amaze me to watch how this all plays out, and how Cheney has been able (with the help of compliant media) to blame his faked change of personality (as if he was not always a sadistic psychopath) on 9/11. He actually has the world convinced that he’s only just become the anti-Christ because of the events of 9/11, when HE’S the reason those event’s occurred!!! The dude oozes treachery and deceit, and he’s a sadistic pervert to boot.

Cheney fought HARD – with every hate-filled blood cell he has, to maintain the authority for the CIA to continue ALL of the techniques, back when the OLC memo’s were finally being rejected. (which clearly wasn’t soon enough). And he and his team were determined to retain the authority to utilize the sexual humiliation techniques. The stripping of other human beings of their clothing, -DIGNITY- and treating them like animals with dog collars, and the use of American female military personal to sexually harass them and exploit cultural sensitivities were ALL high on Cheney’s list of ‘techniques’ to fight for. He demanded them.

Sick bastard!! Another Pinochet.

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By cyrena, December 21, 2008 at 8:24 pm Link to this comment

“My father’s testimony at the 1948 War Crimes trials in Hong Kong helped to convict a Japanese general and his subordinates.”


I didn’t know this part of your father’s story regarding his testimony at the War Crimes trials. I know he’s gone now, but did he ever talk to you much about that experience? The torture and later, the experience of the Trials? I would very much like to talk to someone who has even an oral history to connect to those trials.

I’ve been trying to study these previous incidents (and there have been far too many) of heads of state and their regimes who have operated with impunity for so long, and eventually gotten away. Not all of them of course, but the model that was established in the 1948 War Crimes Tribunals has not been overwhelmingly successful in the years since. We’re catching up slowly, but that’s on the international level. We’ve gone backwards on this here in the US, which of course is why these US Regime War Criminals have been able to do what they’ve done.

But, I said all of that to say that it would be an interesting academic project to do a compare and contrast of the War Crimes convicted then, (and who they were in the hierarchy of the regime(s)) to those that must be prosecuted now.

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By Jean Gerard, December 21, 2008 at 8:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Torture (overt and hidden) is endemic in America today, particularly in prisons, in wars, in gang-dominated neighborhoods, and sad to say in homes where “macho” stances are advocated, even glorified.  Another kind of torture is present where people have no homes, live on the streets, kicked about by authorities, underhourished, forced to steal for drugs to kill their pain, haunted by the fevers of addiction.  Almost nobody tries to do anything about all these forms of torment, and the truth is, all of them could be avoided using humane methods.  The problem is how to admit the widespread prevalence of torture and stop making excuses for it, pretending not to see, not to know, pretending to be unable to do anything to prevent it.

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By cann4ing, December 21, 2008 at 6:39 pm Link to this comment

By Doc Sanchez, December 21 at 3:24 pm #

Cheney will pay for his sins, make no mistake.  Does not the Creator of heaven see?

For an atheist like myself, Doc, your words provide no comfort.  I am not interested in the hereafter or “sin.”  I am concerned that torture is a federal crime; that within our secular form of government, there is the phrase “Equal Justice Under Law” inscribed above the entrance to the Supreme Court, and that if that phrase is to have any vitality, Cheney and all others who have participated in or authorized war crimes must be brought before the bar of justice, tried before a jury of their peers, and, if convicted, that the receive appropriate sentences, serving time—perhaps the remainder of their lives in a federal prison.

Anything less does violence to the rule of law and tells future would-be tyrants that their status as national leaders means they can commit crimes against humanity with impunity—and that would be more damaging to our constitutional democracy than the original act of torture itself.

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By Doc Sanchez, December 21, 2008 at 4:24 pm Link to this comment

The argument is mute concerning whether torture works or not.  It can or it cannot, depending.
That’s not the issue.
The U. S. is not supposed to use torture on prisoners so that our POWs will not be tortured, period.
Cheney will pay for his sins, make no mistake.  Does not the Creator of heaven see?

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By Sepharad, December 21, 2008 at 3:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

gerard—What a great idea! Wonder why no one’s thought of it before.

cann4ing—Your father’s story, as well as similar stories from individuals who have actually undergone the ordeal of torture, should be gathered and presented to committees and agencies and attorneys general as well as to the public. Nothing persuades like the truth.

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By Clash, December 21, 2008 at 11:37 am Link to this comment

Human society has the peculiarity of being willing to harm one another for the emotional pleasure they receive from these actions, much like doing drugs. Observing this it could be concluded that those that torture must truly enjoy doing so.

A look the history of our civilization will reveal that torture has been practiced privately and publicly sometimes sanctioned some times not but always there. The propensity for this type of violence lurks just below the surface of the veneer of what we know as civilized behavior, waiting to feed the desires of those who feed on bringing pain and death on the defenseless only because they can.

The use of these methods to gain information or control certain groups of dissenting persons seems to me just a secondary benefit of these actions and only an excuse for this type of behavior.

We have been very lucky up till now this behavior is found predominantly in the ignorant and persons who are psychopathic.

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By gerard, December 21, 2008 at 5:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

M Cheney says that torture is an efficient mean of gettting valuable information.

There is one infaillible way to find out if his theory really works and that is to send him to Syria , or Égypt or somewhere else and see how many glasses of water it would take before he changes his opinion.

I am willing to bet that within ten minutes, M Cheney will be willing to say that torture is not good to get true information.

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By Terry Dougherty, December 20, 2008 at 1:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As many of you have already stated, torture as a means of acquiring real information simply doesn’t work. The victim will agree to anything to end the pain.

Back during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when pressure was put on the sheriff to find the culprit responsible for a capital crime, the sheriff would find some poor chap, torture him until the unfortunate confessed to the crime, and then use his ‘confession’ in a court of law to convict him.

The framers of the U.S.Constition realized this and put a phrase into the Fifth Amendment that prohibited a person from being compelled to be a witness against himself (‘taking the fifth’). This meant that testimony from a person who was accused of a crime could not be used as evidence and was deemed ‘inadmissable’ in a court of law. Since the confession of an alleged criminal could not be presented at trial, it was useless to try to elicit a confession out of him whether by torture or any other means.

Unfortunately, a corrupt, proactive and pragmatic U.S.Supreme Court allowed confession to be entered into evidence a few years back thus ending any hope of real justice.

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By cann4ing, December 20, 2008 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment

As I have noted previously, my father was a victim of torture.  He was arrested in Shanghai in early 1942, taken to Bridge House by the Japanese Kempetai, kept for months in a tiny cage, whose dimensions made it impossible to either lie down or stand, and then water boarded.  He signed a “confession” that he was a British agent even though he knew it wasn’t true and even though he believed at the time that he was signing his own death warrant.  Unsatisfied with his wobbly signature, his captors arrived at his cage the next morning; gave him the choice between again signing or another round of water boarding.  He signed.  Death was preferable to water boarding.

As a means of extracting actionable intelligence, torture is worthless.  A victim will say whatever he thinks his tormentors want to hear just to make it stop.  It is also a war crime.  My father’s testimony at the 1948 War Crimes trials in Hong Kong helped to convict a Japanese general and his subordinates.

Cheney has confessed to nothing less than authorizing a war crime.  The issue is not political expediency.  Adherence to the rule of law demands that a special prosecutor be appointed for investigating and prosecuting war crimes.  Anything less would make the incoming administration complicit in the crimes of the Bush administration.

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By Louise, December 20, 2008 at 10:15 am Link to this comment

Strength, passion, frank declarations of feelings, and deep devotion to family and community were alleged to be valued by the Nazis.

They idealized tradition, folklore, classical thought, and leadership as exemplified by legends of previous kings, despots and dictators. In other words, they held values based on a perception of reality found in fairy tales and fantasy.

They rejected so-called liberalism, the right of people to think and do according to their own needs. Or the simple concept of individual freedoms. That, coupled with violent behavior in the name of reaching goals, leads to the obvious conclusion the Nazis were simply reactionary. Like the bad parent who beats the child first, then asks what happened.

I think we can safely say, Bush and Cheney have been totally reactionary! And the views expressed by those named in this article could be seen as the same thing, reactionary!

There is no comparison between the wise person who has the vision to plan ahead and prepare for potential problems. Preparation is never made by the reactionary, because they cant see past their own nose. They wait for the worst and react in the worst way!

When Bush and Cheney speak of their success in keeping America from being attacked again, it’s almost laughable. Reactionaries do not prevent problems, they only react. And because they have no vision, often their reactions are worse than the thing they react too!

The most perfect example of that is the current financial melt-down. And the bad way they have reacted instead of dealing with outcomes. They cant see outcomes, anymore than they could see the meltdown coming!

Of course reactionaries use torture! Not because it will head off problems, but because it satisfies a perverse need to get even. Somehow place them above the problem they didn’t see coming, or may have helped create. Somehow mask the reality they refuse to deal with, that they have no vision or sense of reason. To deny reality justifies putting off being prepared!

We could also call it a transference of guilt!

Add fear, amorality and stupidity to the mix and you have the reactionary who hurts people. They do not know how to do anything of constructive value! They can only react after the fact!

As for their “effort” to persuade Obama that torture is somehow valuable, I think Obama is much smarter than they are. Plus he has something they don’t have. Self-respect.

This also points out how dangerous it is to give the reactionary personality power, or any measure of credibility. We can argue from now until the end of time whether or not torture is justified, but that only makes us as stupid and short-sighted as they are!

There is no justification. None! And a bezillion or more words will never change that fact! Which by the way, is why those who did torture during WWII were found guilty and hanged!

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By Alexander Goristal, December 20, 2008 at 6:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As an agorist, I am adamantly opposed to torture, or coercion of any kind.  The only legitimate use of violence is in self-defense.  However, having stated that, I would also point out that legal authorization is not needed to deal with the “ticking bomb” scenario, even under the dubious assumption that it is a legitimate concern.  No legislators, judges, or liberty advocates are looking over the shoulders of the CIA or military intelligence (ha!) operatives in real time.  In that scenario those operatives would remain capable of taking whatever measures they deemed appropriate to extract the information that they deemed mandatory.  The difference is that they would be held accountable for their conduct after the fact.  Let Cheney and the rest of these “heroes” forgo immunity for their behavior and put their own liberty and well-being at risk if they feel so strongly about this issue.

Alex G

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By diamond, December 20, 2008 at 1:37 am Link to this comment

Look into Dick Cheney’s eyes. If that doesn’t scare the shit out of you nothing can. Even more frightening, look into Bush’s eyes. Nothing there. Nothing. Nothing at all.

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By cyrena, December 19, 2008 at 10:12 pm Link to this comment


The title of the piece says it all…Torture Proponents have NO argument, let alone a serious one. In short, there is NO SUCH THING as a ‘ticking bomb’ scenario aside from the old Popeye the Sailor cartoons when Olive Oil used to be tied to the railroad tracks, and he would have to save her in the nick of time; THAT and the equally unreal TV fantasy series “24”.

Again, the ‘ticking bomb’ scenario is a made up scenario that has NEVER occurred in real life circumstances or situations. EVER!! Period. It’s simply never happened, and as any logical person would conclude, even if so called ‘terrorists’ WERE able to rig such a situation that would take out cities and huge portions of civil society, they obviously DON’T care about martyring themselves for such a cause, so how does ‘torturing’ them change that? It doesn’t, and that’s already been proven over and over and over again.

So Pfaff’s is a good piece for those among us who’ve never taken the time to understand the torture that has been practiced in our names, based on the psychotic logic of a few academics like Dershowitz, whose primary claim is that torture should be ‘legalized’, BECAUSE IT’S GOING TO BE PRACTICED ANYWAY!! That is Dershowitz’s primary claim, because, he wants to provide a legal cover for it, which is no different than what John Yoo and others in the current administration have attempted to do by ‘redefining’ what torture really is. At the same time, this (from Pfaff) isn’t a ‘new’ or recent argument from proponents of torture, and it’s no more or less bogus now than it was when Cheney, Dershowitz, or the CIA and others first began promoting it, based on the equally bogus ‘war on terror.’

Torture for Dummies

The REAL List Of Congressmen Responsible for Torture
by bluerevolt

Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 06:32:12 PM PST

•  “Below the fold you will find the list of Senators and Representatives who you really should be pissed at for the Torture Bill…Keep this in mind.  If your neighbor’s mean-ass pit bull comes into your yard and bites you, you don’t get mad at your own dog for not protecting you.  First order of business is to get rid of the god-damned pit bull.  After all, he’s the one that’s really responsible for your wounds.  Once that’s done, then you can worry about giving your own sorry pooch some watch-dog training.”

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By cyrena, December 19, 2008 at 10:10 pm Link to this comment


So none of this is new to many of us. This topic of Torture Law and the related debates have been raging for 7 years; which is why several portions of this piece concern me, but specifically the speculation that Obama would ever accept or sign on to ANYTHING that accepted the use of torture in ANY circumstance!!

•  “…he has promised he will restore habeas corpus and declares that it is “never OK” to torture…”

Again, this isn’t new. Obama has repeated this too many flippin’ times, for his sincerity to be at question on this particular issue.  As the above linked article asserts, it’s NOT some ‘brave courageous stance’ to be against torture. We’re SUPPOSED to be against it!! Not just because it’s contrary to so-called “AMERICAN Values”, but because it’s a violation of UNIVERSAL Law and Human Rights that are at the core of how we conduct ourselves in agreement with the rest of the world and EACH OTHER!! 

So WHY would we even ponder the question of whether or not Barack Obama, the President-elect, is likely to be swayed by the arguments of these torture proponents? He hasn’t been YET!!! 

I’m also not sure who Pfaff references here:

  “…Those of Cheney’s persuasion are trying to convince Barack Obama that “realism” requires continued torture and the offshore prison system by which, under George W. Bush and Cheney, the United States took up the precedent and practices of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and other criminal regimes that gave the 20th century its reputation for moral depravity…”

We’ve known all along who –some- of these people are, (of Cheney’s persuasion) but there’s no evidence that they are trying to ‘convince’ Barack Obama to take a polar opposite stance on such a fundamental issue as torture, because the Torture Laws are absolute and not open to a middle-ground or “State of Exception” legal interpretation.  Obama KNOWS THAT for Christ’s sake, and has argued the point vehemently!!

So, who does Pfaff mean when he says this:

•  “If these are the kind of people who remain in charge, the United States will earn its permanent place in history as the kind of nation that tortures people.”

Who does he mean by ‘people who remain in charge’? Dershowitz and Bobbitt aren’t ‘in charge’ of anything and they never have been. Neither is Reuel Marc Gerecht, who is only the latest among others to promote Cheney’s torture agenda.

So what/who is Pfaff talking about here?

If Barack Obama writes and verbalizes (for the record) that “Torture is NEVER OK”  - what part of that is unclear? More importantly, why would he change that sentiment NOW? This piece raises that unfathomable suggestion without providing any contextual or intellectual legitimacy for why it such a thing should even be considered.

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By Folktruther, December 19, 2008 at 8:26 pm Link to this comment

Israel has practiced torture for decades and Zionists like Dershowitz are for legalizing it in this country.

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By Sepharad, December 19, 2008 at 5:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A couple years ago, I read a lengthy interview with an Israeli professional interrogator (either in Jerusalem Reports of the NYTimes Sunday Magazine). He claimed that to get information of any value, nothing works except highly psychologically skilled interrogators basing questions as well as their manner of presenting the questions—gruff, gentle, non-emotionally—on whatever personal and professional information is available on the individual, as well as an understanding of the individual’s culture, motivation, etc. Asked about “ticking bomb” cases, as I recall the gist of it, he said that briefly hitting someone hard may work occasionally, if the individual cares about his or her own survival, is having second thoughts, or if the individual has been drugged. But in other “ticking bomb cases”, particularly with very young teens and adolescents, gentleness and reassurance has disarmed many young people at the checkpoints. They’ve been tricked or shamed or threatened or told it will benefit their families in the first place, and more bullying would hardly be effective. With Al Quaeda-like hard-cases—a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or an Atta, a religious nut who just enjoys watching he world burn, to quote the Joker in a Batman movie—it’s hard to imagine anything at all working. If torture “worked” I suppose a case could be made along the greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number lines. But even that is a very, very slippery slope.

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By gerard, December 19, 2008 at 12:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is an act of cowardice , when you have control of a person to make that person suffer.

It can also demonstrate a tendency to sadism from those who authorize it and from those who execute it.

The people who are in power and who authorize torture are the equivalent of mafia chiefs from whom we can expect such a conduct.

But for the most powerful country of the world, there must be enough brain and imagination in that country to make people talk without destroying them.
A country who authorises torture is not any better than what we call a rogue country.

Torture is degrading for those who authorize it, those who execute it, those who are submitted to it and all the participating countries .

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By Folktruther, December 19, 2008 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment

Yes, torture proponents DO have a serious argument in its favor, but it is so discredible that it can not be stated publically.

The purpose of torture is not primarily to gain information as is claimed, but as Naomi Klein stated in the 2005 Nation article, it is a means of social control.  Its purpose is to intimidate the population from actively resisting their oppressors, and, if possible, turn the tortured into police spies and provocateurs.

That is why the American mass media blur the distinction between Terrorists and Militants.  The War On Terrorism can’t be conducted against the Muslim populatio, or against the American population, without torture being a vital tool in the War.  That is why it has been instutionalized in Israel, along with death squads, and transferred to the US.

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By Jim Yell, December 19, 2008 at 10:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This bi-partisan BS is why we got into this mess and why it doesn’t look good for the future. The opposition is supposed to balance the extremes of a temporary public maddness, but instead we have had 8 years in which the Democratic leadership enabled the most preposterous group of thugs to violate the laws of this country and they are now succeeding in allowing these groups to go unpunished.

Those who want the power to torture are the very and most dangerous terrorists that the country must worry about, except they are now embedded in the countries power structure and unlikely to be dislodged and that is the real thing that makes Obama supporters uneasy about Obama’s cabinet.

If Obama isn’t careful he will be our Hindenberg, the man who turned the Weimar Republic over to the Nazi’s. Remember it was the lawful use of the government that allowed the unlawful rise of dictatorship. It may be happening here.

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By basho, December 19, 2008 at 9:56 am Link to this comment

check this out. seems to be in the genes.

cheney’s genes seem to be well developed in this area.

allowing him and his ilk to promote this barbarity seems to be in the genes of the voyeurs. and it seems the u.s. has more than its share of them

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By JFoster2k, December 19, 2008 at 9:16 am Link to this comment

If I recall what Rachel Maddow said last night, Cheney did not approve torture per se, he got lawyers to change the definition of torture such that techniques like waterboarding (which was always considered torture) would no longer fall under the new definition.

This is the ruse the Bush Admin has used all along. Call things something else and they cease to be what they are.

They shredded our constitutional rights, but because they called it the “Patriot Act” and it’s all ok. Right?

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By Gerbeel Haamster, December 19, 2008 at 6:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Even to consider that a torture proponent might have any serious argument for it is in itself is a sin if not a crime. There are certain things that are not open for discussion, and torture and water-boarding is one of them.”

As if that is even a consideration. Mark me down on your little list, ‘cause I believe that there IS a time and place for torture.  And I don’t mind referring to it as such.

I like this quote from the article:  “It also ignores the possibility that if someone has been determined and clever enough to plant a nuclear weapon or anthrax bomb or doomsday machine in the middle of Washington, he might be sufficiently committed to endure some “nonlethal” torture for the cause. It’s the serious terrorist’s professional hazard. And if the bomb is indeed ticking, he (or she) will soon be put out of misery, together with the torturers.”

Bullcrap.  The author shows lack of knowledge of interrogators with determination.

I wonder if Mr. Pfaff is familiar with REAL torture?  Once the detainee’s attention and respect is obtained, then the task of identifying real information is much easier.

Torture does work —IF you already have enough intelligence information to narrow the focus of the interrogation. 

For instance, if there is a good chance that a person (terrorist, enemy agent, whatever) has a time or place type piece of information that is needed quickly, then that is a situation where torture DOES work.

And I’m fine with it.

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By Chapeau, December 18, 2008 at 11:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why did the US try Japanese officers, for their use of water boarding, in Post WWII?

Because it was wrong then, and it is wrong now!

The bush administration should be held accountable for their crimes against humanity.

If we fail to hold this administration accountable - then we’ll all be complicit in their crimes and we’ll have the blood and shame to carry forward as another American legacy.

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By g, December 18, 2008 at 11:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Could someone on TV please ask these simple questions?

1)  What should happen to someone who tortures an innocent person?  i.e., If the person being tortured turns out to be innocent, what should be the punishment for the person(s) doing the torturing, ordering the torture, and legalizing the torture?  (as in most US cases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo)

2)  Torture should NEVER be legalized, because in extreme “ticking time-bomb” cases, the jury can always side with the torturer if they see a genuine necessity for it. 

Please spread the word on the film that will put BUSH BEHIND BARS!!!

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By mill, December 18, 2008 at 9:19 pm Link to this comment

If you are torturing someone,  they are already under your coercive control.  They are no longer a direct threat.

Because that’s true, then the practical evidence shows that prisoners are more easily broken through humane procedures, while torture merely triggers a flood of misinformation - say anything to get it to stop. 

The damage to our world standing because of Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld will haunt us for years.  Those traitors.

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By Fadel Abdallah, December 18, 2008 at 7:49 pm Link to this comment

Even to consider that a torture proponent might have any serious argument for it is in itself is a sin if not a crime. There are certain things that are not open for discussion, and torture and water-boarding is one of them.

After WWII trials people were hanged for water-boarding. So justice requires that Bush and Cheney should be hanged. Anything short of that is a great travesty of justice. Cheney, in particular, is now on the record that he authorized torture. That very admission should be enough proof that he deserves hanging, even without a lengthy and costly trial.

Moreover, within the sight and hearing of the whole world, Bush, Cheney and their gang of evil ones, have too much innocent blood on their hands to justify hanging them in public many times over!

Justice delayed is justice denied!

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By skulz fontaine, December 18, 2008 at 7:22 pm Link to this comment

Which then would be the greater evil, torture? Or public silence about that torture done in our name? Cheney must be forwarded to a war crimes tribunal. The Amerikan people? We seem to be reaping what we have sown.

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