Saturday, September 23, 2006

# Posted 8:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCain, Warner, and Graham sold out.
The NYT:
The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions.
Kevin Drum:
At this point it looks like the three Republican "moderates" gave in completely
Juliette Kayyem of TPM:
I'm eating my words; Marty is right -- McCain is a tragic figure now.
Marty is Marty Lederman of law-blog Balkinization, whose analysis is quoted approvingly by Kevin and Matt in addition to Juliette:
It only takes 30 seconds or so to see that the Senators have capitulated entirely, that the U.S. will hereafter violate the Geneva Conventions
Your opinions welcome.
(16) opinions -- Add your opinion

I may be wrong, but do the Geneva conventions apply to the people who might be "tortured"? I thought immediate execution was acceptable under the agreement.

The gray area doesn't apply to the military, all P.O.W.'s will be treated as well as the Germans, no matter how they treat our prisoners (mutilate and torture, the real kind).

So can we assume that you are as bad as they are?
Properly phrased, the question should be, "Which is worse, that one guy get water-boarded, or that 2,500 of us go directly from Heathrow to the bottom of the Atlantic?"
The magic bullet fantasy. A better and simpler question would be, is torture effective?

The mismanaged security situation has been getting worse not better, and torture for you is just a Rovian election issue.
I'd love to see some evidence that authorities foiled the London plot as a result of evidence collected from torture. The fact is that torture doesn't work as a method of interrogation. And even if it did, why stop there? Totalitarian societies don't have much in the way of problems with terrorism.

Hey, how goes it? Far as I'm aware there is no evidence that the British plot was foiled as a result of evidence obtained through torture.

That said, we don't know what the situation is. Andrew Sullivan was dumped on from a great height for suggesting that the plot was actually a storm in a teacup and not nearly as advanced or potentially horrific as the powers that be and a rather excitable press corps had suggested. As time goes by it seems more and more likely that he may be proven right (at this point just about the only thing that argues against this is the fact that several suspects have been bound over to court). We'll see.

If he is proven correct, then it opens up the question of what went wrong. It already seems likely that the Security Service was pressured into moving in before they considered the case to be tight, in part due to external pressure from the US. It's possible - I wouldn't put it any stronger than that - that what's actually going to emerge is a case in which the gun was jumped due to faulty intel coming out of Pakistan.

Torture can work. It just often doesn't and for a democracy it generally brings in a strategic cost that far outweighs any benefit at lower levels.
Torture is, of course illegal. And has been, even before the McCain Amendment. The devil is in the details. The Administration has previously taken a position that "no permanent damage" is an acceptable standard for distinguishing torture from very-strict-behavior-which-is-somehow-not-torture. At another extreme, current regulations forbid any kind of "good cop/bad cop" behavior, and hypothetically even using female interrogators could technically be "humiliating" to terrorits. Of course, any discussion of the topic is extremely icky, and feels like base casuistry.

At the same time, obviously some level of definition of torture is necessary. Otherwise someone could simply make the syllogism: "The fact is torture doesn't work as a method a interrogation. Involuntary confinement is a restriction of a basic human right, humiliating, and degrading, and thus prohibited under the Geneva Conventions and torture. Hence, all prisons are torture and we cannot confine anyone." We can certainly stick with the "we'll call it as we see it" principle, but surely that's a formula for a slippery slope in the field and discovering abuses only after the fact.

Marty Lederman's analysis is without weight. Technically, the Geneva Convetions won't be violated because the terrorists aren't protected for various reasons, such as threatening civilians. Even more tendentiously, nearly anything could technically be "humilating" to prisoners.

No law is going to be able to ban real torture more than the current law (even pre-2000) already did without defining what is and is not torture. Anything short of that, and it's merely symbolism and screaming after the fact.
Anthony writes "torture can work." My limited understanding is that this is not, actually, true. I have heard from experts that torture does not work -- in terms of extracting useful information, as opposed to as a form of political repression -- but that governments persist in torturing people, in part, because they think that other governments use torture effectively.

Depends on the context. As an overall policy I'd say torture doesn't work. Certainly not in a counterinsurgency context. And yes, you're right that professional opinion overwhelmingly backs this reading.

Where it's most likely to work is the exceptional "ticking time bomb" circumstance. There actually aren't many examples of this in the anti-terorrism arena, but there are some from the world of kidnapping. Another example would be, I dunno, the Gunpowder Plot.

The case of the French in Algeria represents torture working AND why it's a really, really bad policy for a liberal democracy. The French tortured fairly widely in the Algerian counterinsurgency (notably electrodes on the nipples and water-based torture). Did they get nothing but bad info from it? No. They didn't. They got a shedload of first class intel.

But - and it's a big but - it didn't matter because although they got quite a lot of info, the down side far outweighed this. First of all, the policy had a toxic impact on domestic political support for the campaign. Second of all, it alienated ordinary Algerians who might otherwise have supported the French. It had a crippling impact on French standing and the moral strength of the French campaign. Third of all, successful counterinsurgeny to a large degree often relies on turned insurgents, who will then work for the security forces. You don't get that if you get yourself a reputation for treating detainees badly.

Torture got the French an array of tactical successes, culminating in strategic collapse. Just not worth it.


"governments persist in torturing people, in part, because they think that other governments use torture effectively"

I think this is true as far as it goes. However, I wouldn't underestimate the degree to which in many instances torture has a social purpose as much as an information-gathering one. It's a method of control through fear. You think Saddam tortured all those people just for information? Nope. In most of the places in which torture is commonplace, there's a really deep social aspect going on.
"So can we assume that you are as bad as they are?"

Still no name anon? I don't really care what you assume about anything.

I don't think that the U.S. government in all its forms should bother taking high level al-queda members prisoner. If "torture" (pink belly for oxblogers) is never effective then there isn't any reason to take them prisoner. IMHO, the only reason they exist is to give us intel. to destroy their friends. They love death, let them enjoy it. (top level al-queda type's yes, P.O.W.'s no, just to clarify)
So we can assume that you are as bad as they are.
The Gestapo got zilch from torturing resistance fighters? I thought they rolled up a bunch of networks.

How'd they do that?

I think you need to think about convincing all Americans that they'd never break--never--under torture if you're going to convince them it never works.

It worked on McCain.
We won WWII. (Actually, the Russians won the European theater with our assistance.) Yes, the Gestapo tortured Resistance fighters and undoubtedly gleened some information. This happened first.

But second, after we invaded, captured Germans, if they survived the battlefield, were treated humanely. Germans strongly preferred to fight the Americans knowing this, knowing that they would be treated humanely. The alternative was known simply as being sent to the Russian Front. Certain death. By our treating the Germans humanely and breaking their will, we saved American lives. It also made the ensuing occupation of Germany easier.

In the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqis also knew that they would be treated humanely. They crawled over the desert begging to surrender. Again, our humanity helped to break their will.

Sun Tzu understood this. "Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it, they will fight hard."

Colin Powell knows this in a different way. "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."
In the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqis also knew that they would be treated humanely. They crawled over the desert begging to surrender. Again, our humanity helped to break their will.

True enough. They're also, incidentally, apparently begging for us to come back to Abu Gharib, because we treated the prisoners there much better than the Iraqi government. But nobody's really going to care about human rights abuses perpetuated by a foreign government, don't you know. So long as we can wash our hands of it.
So long as we can wash our hands of it.

Exactly. That is the plausible deniability of extraordinary rendition.
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