Torture OK was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.”

In yesterday’s New York Times, Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti reveal how top White House and congressional officials all came to agree that torture was legal in 2002:

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

This is one of those articles where I just can’t figure out when to stop the excerpt, because it’s just so compelling. My favorite bit is this: “The process was ‘a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,’ a former C.I.A. official said.” That’s a pretty good summation of the Bush administration.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

31 replies on “Torture OK was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.””

  1. This “perfect storm” has a third major element: Authorizing torture to generate confessions justifying the Executive order to start a war of choice.

    The cover-up continues.

  2. We all claim to abhor torture. It’s horrible and we’d never stoop to it.

    That being said, I’m perfectly willing to admit that if someone is withholding information regarding a serious and/or lethal threat against my family or loved ones, I’d do almost anything to get that information to protect them.

  3. A significant purpose of government is to hold its citizens to higher standards than their baser instincts would support. There’s a reason why the police, upon finding a murderer in the act of dismembering the corpse of his victim, are not permitted to beat him to death. That is our instinct, but we collectively have resolved that government should protect us from those instincts.

    Further—and I think that this is the part that you and the Bush White House both missed out on—is the fact that all experts agree that torture doesn’t work. It does not elicit the desired information. The people who are tortured are often not the people with the desired knowledge—that is, they’ve got the wrong guy—and compelled to present the nonexistent information, they make stuff up (because that stops the torture) and send said tortures on a wild goose chase.

    Please, read the article. Then you will realize that what you are saying makes no sense at all. If you wanted to help your family, you’d probably want to go to the police. Or, hell, even the military. You’d find that neither of them would torture, not only because it’s immoral but because it doesn’t work.

  4. “A significant purpose of government is to hold its citizens to higher standards than their baser instincts would support.”

    Government is there to make sure the trains run on time. Government will never be able to change my moral compass.

    “…all experts agree that torture doesn’t work”

    All generalizations are false. (heh!)
    I’ve never seen all “experts” (said in a mocking high-and-mighty tone) agree on what’s for lunch, much less anything of substance.

  5. If torture is an effective means of getting truthful and actionable intelligence out of a subject quickly and effectively, why did we had to waterboard Khalid Sheihk Mohammed 183 times over the course of a month? If waterboarding’s such a silver-bullet that the ends justify the means, why didn’t it work the first time? Or the second? Or the 50th? What did we not get out of him the 182 time we waterboarded him that we had to go back and waterboard him again?

  6. If I was to say “Who cares? The SOB truly deserved a bullet in the head for his acts, but waterboarding was good enough”, am I a heartless bastard?

    Did you say yes? I can live with that.

    I can hear the collective gasps from Charlottesville from here.

  7. HalifaxCentral,

    Yes, in light of your point that experts can’t agree and that generalizations about the efficacy of torture are wrong, we should obviously do the most base and vile thing possible. Like rape people we think might know something we want.

    Would you kill another person’s family in order to protect your own? Do you believe that our government should condone someone killing your family in order to protect theirs?

    For that matter, would you sacrifice someone else’s child in order to please a god to save your own family? I mean, experts obviously don’t agree about whether this is effective, and you’d do almost anything to save your family.

    I’m butchering the quote, and I can’t remember who said it, but it’s still worth restating: if your morality only exists while it’s convenient, it never existed at all.

    What you’re proposing is monstrous. I’m absolutely shocked and sickened that this is happening in America.

  8. Government is there to make sure the trains run on time. Government will never be able to change my moral compass.

    Guess it’s a waste of time to outlaw murder, then.

    Tell me, what is “America” to you? Is it just a patch of land? The lives of the people living there?

    If you would sacrifice any principle for safety, if you would declare that treaties we have signed, and laws of the land that we have passed to implement them may be ignored if it’s “necessary,” then you have already surrendered to terrorism.

  9. If I burn down my neighbor’s church because he scares my mommma, I’m a criminal. If I torture his church members to get them to falsely testify that there was a plot upon my momma, I’m evil.

    If I torture them 183 times, I’m evil incarnate.

  10. If I was to say “Who cares? The SOB truly deserved a bullet in the head for his acts, but waterboarding was good enough”, am I a heartless bastard?

    Did you say yes? I can live with that.

    Aha. As I suspected, your earlier assertion that torture was about protecting Americans:

    “If someone has information on a threat to my family and loved ones, I’ll have no problem getting that information through any means necessary.”

    was complete and utter bullshit. You don’t even believe it yourself.

    Do please feel free to come back when you actually have a concise and honest argument you’d like to propose on the topic at hand.

  11. What I said about my family and loved ones holds very true to me. And I’ve got no sympathy for that “Khalid Sheihk Mohammed” guy in any way, shape or form.

    Those two things are quite unrelated

    And thanks for the invitation. You make a good door greeter.

  12. HalifaxCentral,

    You can’t even rouse yourself to defend what you stand for. Nice. Condone torture, abhor reason, and pat yourself on the back.

    You were born too late. The Khmer Rouge and the SS would’ve loved to have had you. Your brand of whatever-it-takes philosophy and total disregard for what is right is exactly what has led to the greatest atrocities on this Earth.

    Anyway, I’ll quit feeding the troll now. I shouldn’t have replied in the first place, but holding the US to a lower standard than we held the Nazis sort of touches a nerve.

  13. When you can’t find the thread that relates your opinions on a given matter from one moment to the next? That’s how you know you don’t have an argument — all you’ve got is a “feeling.”

    And good for you! You don’t need to read the New York Times to get information for your brain to know what you think about things like all those limp-wristed lib’rals. You think with your gut. Sir, we salute you. Seriously, you’re like a poor man’s James Young.

  14. If the shoe fits…

    Actually though, I chose the SS, because you’re much more cruel than the Luftwaffe was:

    Colonel Robin “Tin Eye” Stephens was the commander of the wartime spy prison and interrogation centre codenamed Camp 020, an ugly Victorian mansion surrounded by barbed wire on the edge of Ham Common. In the course of the war, some 500 enemy spies from 44 countries passed through Camp 020; most were interrogated, at some point, by Stephens; all but a tiny handful crumbled.

    Stephens was a bristling, xenophobic martinet; in appearance, with his glinting monocle and cigarette holder, he looked exactly like the caricature Gestapo interrogator who has “vays of making you talk”.

    Stephens had ways of making anyone talk. In a top secret report, recently declassified by MI5 and now in the Public Records Office, he listed the tactics needed to break down a suspect: “A breaker is born and not made . . . pressure is attained by personality, tone, and rapidity of questions, a driving attack in the nature of a blast which will scare a man out of his wits.”

    The terrifying commandant of Camp 020 refined psychological intimidation to an art form.

    Suspects often left the interrogation cells legless with fear after an all-night grilling. An inspired amateur psychologist, Stephens used every trick, lie and bullying tactic to get what he needed; he deployed threats, drugs, drink and deceit. But he never once resorted to violence. “Figuratively,” he said, “a spy in war should be at the point of a bayonet.” But only ever figuratively. As one colleague wrote: “The Commandant obtained results without recourse to assault and battery. It was the very basis of Camp 020 procedure that nobody raised a hand against a prisoner.”

    Stephens did not eschew torture out of mercy. This was no squishy liberal: the eye was made of tin, and the rest of him out of tungsten. (Indeed, he was disappointed that only 16 spies were executed during the war.) His motives were strictly practical. “Never strike a man. It is unintelligent, for the spy will give an answer to please, an answer to escape punishment. And having given a false answer, all else depends upon the false premise.”…

  15. Whoops, wrong quote (though still somewhat relevant). The correct one follows:

    Hanns-Joachim Gottlob Scharff (December 16, 1907 – September 10, 1992) was a German Luftwaffe interrogator during the Second World War. He has been called the “Master Interrogator” of the Luftwaffe and possibly all of Nazi Germany; he has also been praised for his contribution in shaping U.S. interrogation techniques after the war.

    Merely an Obergefreiter (the equivalent of a senior lance corporal), he was charged with interrogating every German-captured American fighter pilot during the war after his becoming an interrogation officer in 1943. He is highly praised for the success of his techniques, especially considering he never used physical means to obtain the required information. No evidence exists he even raised his voice in the presence of a prisoner of war (POW)….

    Scharff was opposed to physically abusing prisoners with the intent to obtain information. Taught on the job, Scharff instead relied upon the Luftwaffe’s approved list of techniques which mostly involved making the interrogator seem as if he is his prisoner’s greatest advocate while in captivity.

    Scharff’s interrogation techniques were so effective that he was often called upon to assist other German interrogators in their questioning of bomber pilots and aircrews, including those crews and fighter pilots from countries other than the United States. Additionally, Scharff was charged with questioning V.I.P.s (Very Important Prisoners) that funneled through the interrogation center, namely senior officers and world-famous fighter aces.

    After the end of WWII, Scharff was invited by the United States Air Force to give lectures on his interrogation techniques and first-hand experiences. The U.S. military later incorporated Scharff’s methods into its curriculum at its interrogation schools. Scharff’s methods are still taught in US Army interrogation schools…

  16. Now you’re just being silly.

    I would have thought you would have pulled out the description of those Nutzy Nazis from Stalag 13.

    Werner Klemperer was da man, you know.

    Hoooooooooo-gan!

    (And not Clarke Hogan…I know Charlottesville would explode if I mentioned his name.)

  17. Indeed. I suspect he’s taking the same satisfaction that Rep. Barton did after he, uh, “stumped” Steven Chu. Militant ignorance isn’t just a part of the modern GOP, but a core principle. Treating it with anything other than derision, I think, is pointless.

  18. Guys stop taking Halifax’s bait. Im from SW VA and hes playing with you…a favorite hillbilly game. Bait the Yuppie if you will. SW VA has a chip on its shoulder the size of the Rotunda and Halifax is carrying his share of it.

    What gives this chucklehead away is his ‘Kernel Klink’ responses to actual responses and facts. He has no facts or details, never will. Keep this thread going and he will work Gilligan and maybe even Ginger into one of his snappy comebacks all the while reminding us he will torture someone to save his family at the drop of a hat.
    Is TBS doing another John Wayne or Chuck Norris marathon?

    If push came to shove Halifax would blow the torture of his familys captor/tormentor and kill the guy in a fit of initial rage…learning nothing, killing his family and ruining a perfectly good room.

    We Cville residents are really impressed at what an amazing family man you are. And yes, of course we think your a big scary special forces interrogator stud too.

  19. If push came to shove Halifax would blow the torture of his familys captor/tormentor and kill the guy in a fit of initial rage…learning nothing, killing his family and ruining a perfectly good room.

    I almost spat my breakfast cereal onto my screen.

  20. Oh Halifax, Im having a blast…and just getting warmed up. Dont scurry off now. We have so much to talk about.

    I do wonder though, when one of our enemies has your narrow ass strapped to a chair and has made a smiley face on the table out of your finger and toenails while you crapped yourself from the pain, if you will understand he feels he was just protecting his family.

    The End…you say (and we wish). Its never the end with your type because ignorance seems to have a half-life of at least a few billion years.

    I have some mp3’s of ponies roasting if you want to snag a download….

  21. Come on, guys. You’re calling ME a troll when you’re trying to bait me back in here?

    Sorry, I had to work today and couldn’t participate in your witch hunt.

    You folks do know what good hard “work” is, right? Not everybody has those trust funds.

  22. If I burn down my neighbor’s church because he scares my mommma, I’m a criminal. If I torture his church members to get them to falsely testify that there was a plot upon my momma, I’m evil.

    If I torture them 183 times, I’m evil incarnate.

    There’s delusional, and then there’s DELUSIONAL. Wow. Just… Wow.

  23. Halifax, nice to hear you passed the drug test and have a job…but in looking back at your posts it seems you were not working on Thursday, or perhaps you just took a 3 hour lunch?

    I checked out your website, and from some of the content it seems you consider yourself a man of faith. Oh dear, we have something in common. I suggest you check out Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount) then come back and lets chat some more.

    I guess all that spare time we have (since we dont work), allows us to do a little reading? Perhaps you should take a day off and give it a try.

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