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The Al-Qaeda Leader Who Wasn’t: The Shameful Ordeal of Abu Zubaydah (tomdispatch.com)
350 points by brhsiao on April 26, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 169 comments



Before, we were told how tough it was on a person to be waterboarded.

That it was so debilitating that it was only used in extreme cases.

Now this guy is waterboarded 3 times a day for a month, basically at every meal (if you want to think about it in terms of frequency).

It seems clear that it is not rare; and that it doesn't really deliver results.

Again and again, we have been lied to about waterboarding, how often it is done, what level of use we get out of it, etc.

And, this is just 1 example - there could well be other methods of torture and many other cases of incompetence... makes you want to say "you know what? Let's just scrap the whole thing..."

If waterboarding was a piece of software it would be considered too crashy and unreliable and a replacement that worked better would be sought immediately.


If your goal is to utterly break and dehumanize a person until they're rendered psychotic, incontinent, incapable of human interaction or ever being able to take care of themselves again, this is how you accomplish it.

We handled interrogations with Nazis better. We showed them respect and they gave us valuable information.

It leads me to believe intelligence wasn't the main motivator for the continued torture of these people, but only an excuse.


"If your goal is to utterly break and dehumanize a person until they're rendered psychotic, incontinent, incapable of human interaction or ever being able to take care of themselves again, this is how you accomplish it."

Not to mention make them more pliable and potentially willing to give a false testimony just to make it end. Not that false testimonies have ever been tortured out of people by governments before.


Indeed: a technique mastered by the Soviets.

At the end of WWII in Europe, Churchill wanted to simply string up the captured leaders. The US pushed for trials -- and the Soviets agreed since they felt it legitimized their own show trial apparatus.

To paraphrase Pogo: we met the enemy and he was us.


> If waterboarding was a piece of software it would be considered too crashy and unreliable and a replacement that worked better would be sought immediately

Only there is no possible replacement so they just continue using the same horrible thing. If there is one thing people are terrible at it's understanding that not doing something is often a viable option.


They think there is a replacement though. They always keep searching for something, but the realities of torture mean they never will. In reality, inevitably, torture is kept hidden anyway, so improvised means and methods because the norm. You couldn't deny soldiers field telephone magnetos for most of the 20th century, which meant you couldn't deny them electroshock torture devices either. Same with rubber hoses, or basins of filthy water.


It's not JUST waterboarding... you just described torture in a nutshell. I suggest reading, 'Torture and Democracy', it's incredibly enlightening and has a fantastic set of sources.


But it did deliver results, confessions that were directly cited by the US Commander in Chief to justify the invasion of Iraq.

This poses a further question. Was the invasion decided apon based on the belief such intelligence was true or was this confession rather something to justify a decision ?

Winston Churchill's criticism of torture is that it was not useful because you were told what you want to hear - under torture the victim will say anything to make it stop.

Enhanced Interrogation is a euphemism. That the actions described in the article are torture is clear.


Well it didn't deliver results, because none of it was true. So how could the guy give up any information that didn't exist?


Imagine you had a scale, onto which you put a weight labeled "100kg". You know it weights 100kg because it says so right there. The scale however, only registers 85kg. You take it off, you put it back on, the scale always says the same thing. You try different scales, they say 85kg, but you keep going because it's 100kg and you're going to find a scale that's accurate! Eventually you find a scale that says what you want.

This straw man illustrates that at some point, it isn't the tool, but the process that's flawed. Even if your tool is accurate, if you don't believe it, you can't get at the truth, and if you work hard enough you can find a broken tool to tell you what you want.

So perhaps there is some truth to the idea that torture can extract true information from people, but if the whole process operates like the above straw man, it totally invalidates the use of the tool.


It's more like, you will extract information, but only in hindsight can you ever know if it was worthwhile, accurate, a trap, etc. You will also kill some people, some people won't break easily, and some will babble anything and everything. You won't know which is which in the moment, and usually you're torturing for time-sensitive information.

What you get is what happened during WWII, when the resistances knew they just had to withstand torture for 24 hours, 48 at most. It's amazing what motivated people can do when they have a goal, and that goes for the tortured as well as the torturers.


Part of the result of any interrogation is to figure out if the subject has the information you want.

So it didn't deliver at all.


Right, but the point of the article is that they were doing it to the wrong person. That doesn't mean it does not work. Causation does not imply correlation.


If it takes you more than 83 separate instances of waterboarding somebody to decide that they don't have useful information to share with you, then waterboarding is not an efficient way to get reliable information.

If waterboarding is not an efficient way to get reliable information, then I'd be very curious to hear about what definition of "work" you're using where waterboarding might satisfy, but fail in this particular instance.


For all the times it didn't work, how many times did it work for others? One person, with no information, doesn't mean anything.


"Here are eight cases cited in the report where the C.I.A. made the case that its tactics thwarted plots and led to the capture of terrorists, and how the committee's report undercut those accounts."

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/08/world/does-tor...

Full report:

http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/senate-inte...

Torture is illegal under the Eight Amendment. The Supreme Court has affirmed this multiple times.

If we're going to go against legal precedent as well as international convention, the burden of proof for torture's effectiveness is on torture advocates. The evidence provided does not stand up to scrutiny.


Your question is poorly formed because the basis of my comment was asking how you defined "work" in the context of waterboarding. You didn't provide any sort of definition, you just said "Well, maybe it worked for other people".

But if it doesn't work reliably, for whatever "work" means, then it doesn't matter if it's successful sometimes and unsuccessful other times because if you don't have a way to distinguish the success from the failure, it's impossible to measure.

That's why I asked you to clarify what you mean when you say it might "work".


well, either it means they were just gratuitously torturing him for fun, or it means they can't tell whether they were getting any useful information or if he had any to give

neither option suggests the technique is useful

it's also about as immoral as you can get


> Right, but the point of the article is that they were doing it to the wrong person. That doesn't mean it does not work. Causation does not imply correlation.

I think this case make it obvious that it's impossible to tell if the person you're torturing has the information you're looking for and is withholding it, or simply doesn't have the information. That's a textbook definition of "ineffective".


What's the alternative? I'm generally curious as to what would be considered more effective.


"We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture," said Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess [1].

Also: Why Torture Doesn't Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation [2]

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10...

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Why-Torture-Doesnt-Work-Interrogation/...


The alternative is to operate within the law and international convention.


From the sound of it, "do nothing" would be no less effective, and a bit cheaper.


Have you quantified the times when it has been effective though?


If you can't tell the difference between when its effective and when its ineffective, then the technique is worthless.


This article will not change anything. By the time our day end we will have been bombarded by so much other information that it will just be one more forgotten thing.

And there's so much things that are revolting that our brains are just shutting down as a self defense mechanism.

Sociopaths in power don't even need to hide anymore, they know they are hidden in the noise.

I mean look at Turkey : they help ISIS, they shoot Syrian refugees crossing the border, they kill their own Kurdish population and they denies a genocide ... barely a blip in the news.


20 years ago it wouldn't have been news at all. Now it's hard to make things completely vanish. Its just the balance between scandals and outrage has shifted; far more scandals are floating to the surface in the Information Age and outrage has yet to catch up. But it will


20 years ago, it would have been far bigger news. There's been a gradual slide in the conditions in Turkey that make what's happening there now not very surprising.


Disagree. 20 years ago no one would have heard of this. And 20 Turkey was a far worse place than it is today, just about to have a military coup https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Turkish_military_memora...


>barely a blip in the news.

This might sound harsh but look beyond the metaphor; if I wake up in the morning and find poop in the toilet, it's not really such a big surprise. But if I find poop on the kitchen table, well we have reason to be concerned now.


Unless everyone is waking up to find poop on the kitchen table every morning for so long that they then begin treating it as normal. Which is what the parent post is suggesting - that we are already there.


yes, but we need Turkey. They are in Nato, they are on "our" side - thus we do not criticise (and if we do - very meekly).

The same as when they are "our" dictators, or "theirs". Whether the government is murdering "communists in their 10s / 100s of thousands or whether the government is trying to improve the lot of the country's people via social programs at the experience of foreign (our) international businesses.


One reason this won't cause a blip in the news is because it's really sensationalist and biased.

The article implies that the government was totally wrong about Abu Zubaydah and, therefore, he was totally innocent But to prove that the article cites to the court memo that says the US government doesn't alleged Zubaydah was a member of al Qaeda.

But the government still alleged he ran an independent terrorist training camp that was affiliated with al Qaeda. The gov't just didn't "contend that Petitioner was a 'member' of al-Qaida in the sense of having sworn bayat (allegiance) or having otherwise satisfied any formal criteria that either Petitioner or al-Qaida may have considered necessary for inclusion in al~Qaida. Nor is the Government detaining Petitioner based on any allegation that Petitioner views himself as part of al-Qaida as a matter of subjective personal conscience, ideology, or worldview. Rather, Respondent's detention of Petitioner is based on conduct and actions that establish Petitioner was 'part of' hostile forces and 'substantially supported' those forces."


If he wasn't innocent, he would be judged by an independent court, and be given the chance of challenging the evidence against him. The US is a democracy.


Even a guilty man shouldn't be subjected to 81 waterboardings in a month.


Pretty much. Of course, all of that stands to change if the quality of life for the people "shutting down" their brains suddenly plummets. Then, magically, you would see people flip out. Short of that, they'll just take the suffering of others as their own possible worst end.


I think it's time to confront the reality that we have a serious asshole epidemic in America. It has gone unchecked for a few centuries and it has reached a fever pitch of state sanctioned torture and Donald Trump supporters.

Much like idiots, assholes cannot possibly realize that they are being assholes. It's one of the symptoms. They're actually completely confident that what they're doing makes total sense. It's a touch-and-go sorta thing; how do you openly confront assholery without becoming a huge asshole? I call this the Snowden dilemma. It's a real problem.

We are well past the point of occasionally waking up to find feces on the kitchen table. The majority of this country is subsisting entirely on a diet of pure shit. I don't want to seem elitist - I regard myself as a world class dummy - but I do know what shit tastes like and I understand that eating it is bad for you. I don't have any answers but I think we're in a lot of trouble here.

"Democracy always seems bent upon killing the thing it theoretically loves. [...] It not only wars upon the thing itself; it even wars upon mere academic advocacy of it. I offer the spectacle of Americans jailed for reading the Bill of Rights as perhaps the most gaudily humorous ever witnessed in the modern world." --H.L. Mencken


I don' think there's a magic bullet to asshattery. There has to be a cultural shift away from asshattery as acceptable behavior. The same way there has been a cultural shift away from domestic abuse and racism being acceptable (though they both have their stragglers).

The problem is that the diet of pure shit serves a purpose. It keeps people both agitated and docile at the same time. The kind of agitated and docile you would recognize in a cranky 80 yr man who shouts at clouds. Angry and uncomfortable, but ultimately harmless; miles away from taking an AK-47 and marching on Washington, and ultimately willing to pull the lever for the blue or red party, or best, not vote at all.


The sad part is: despite reading this article and fully agreeing with it, conservatives in this country will just shrug and say: mistakes happen, let's not dwell on it. And they feel justified in taking this view because they know deep down that it would never happen to a white person in today's US. Case in point: John Walker Lindh -vs- Jose Padilla. JWL (a white guy) was actually fighting against the Americans; was taken prisoner, treated well, immediately put on trial and sentenced to 20 years (he'll be out in 7). Jose Padilla (a Hispanic male) was tortured for years in a Naval brig, without charges.


conservatives in this country will just shrug and say: mistakes happen, let's not dwell on it.

Apparently so will our Liberal president:

I hope that today’s report can help us leave these [torture] techniques where they belong—in the past. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/12/09/state...


Obama, for his part, also committed not to pursue any prosecutions for the misdeeds of his predecessor's administration.


Both liberals and conservatives will eagerly switch off their brains when their pet interest is threatened. For conservatives it is their brand of culture, for liberals it is their brand of state. The puppet show is getting boring. As far as the identity politics, I can't think of a group more paranoid about government abuse in the US than white male birch society types.


If they can do this to him they can do it to anyone. The saddest thing is the example the "free world" is giving to all totalitarian torturers.


Sometimes I question whether there is the possibility of change, here. The CIA has started openly torturing people - they have no doubt been covertly torturing people for years; we've been showing this in our fiction for decades, and this is probably largely the public's view of how the CIA is - unsavory characters who do the "dirty work" that needs to get done to keep us safe.

Why do we accept this notion of torture as a heroic virtue, when it's obviously not? I think we're unable to assimilate the alternative - that our national myths are all false, that we are subject to an evil torture state, that our security apparatus is beyond democratic control or the rule of law. All of these are horrific, monstrous possibilities that we can't confront, so it's much easier for us to rationalize them away by suggesting that the CIA's actions are not, actually, evil.

Determining otherwise requires an act of national catharsis, a revolution in our understanding of ourselves as a political entity. We are not safe, good, democratic. We are venal, aggressive, evil. Making this confrontation will take more than just a factual understanding.


You would expect this to happen. Things like the Geneva Conventions are artifacts of roughly symmetric wars, where one could reasonably expect treatment & retaliation to be reciprocal. This explains things like restrictions on, eg, hollow point bullets - it's easy enough for everyone to use them, and it only serves to increase the severity of the conflict with no change in relative outcomes.

Now that the US doesn't actually fear having large numbers of troops captured, and even if they did their opponents have no desire to reciprocate treatment, they're "free" to engage in whatever horrific behavior they would like, and vise versa.

Lind is good on this: http://www.amazon.com/Generation-Warfare-Handbook-William-Li...


Well if he didn't hate the CIA before then he probably does now.


Good point. The argument could be made that the CIA agents involved have provided material support for terrorism.



Speaking as someone who served in the U.S. military - this is not how a prisoner should be treated.


Well no shit; there's the Geneva convention and shit that makes practices like torture and such illegal. The US can waltz right over that though, because what is anyone going to do?


I understand that some people argue that the Geneva Convention doesn't apply to members of terrorist organizations; that it only applies to members of a sovereign country's military. Regardless, it reflects badly on us.

Torture is wrong; no matter who is doing it or who it is being done to.


I think their discussion of "learned helplessness" is interesting in this context. I think it also applies to most Americans in the feeling that this will occur in our name, without our consent or approval, regardless of what we do. I don't think this is truly the case but it is hard to shake the feeling that it is and be as outraged by this as we absolutely should be.


I notice that the article places all the blame on the Bush administration--yet it says the Obama administration quietly dropped the charges but did not release Zubaydah.


Charges is not the right word, he has to this day not been charged with anything whatsoever. He's held based on suspicion, allegations, stuff like that. Essentially awaiting a fair trial for over a decade, while being tortured in the process. It's quite insane.


> Charges is not the right word

Yes, good point, I should have said "dropped the claims being made" or something like that.


As a free member of the western world, happily able to pursue "the dream," and unexposed to the direct effects of war and humanitarian crimes, what am I to do? If you think about it, the domestic conditions in the US, relative to many of the places in the non-western world, are such that we have no incentive to ACTUALLY do anything to change things for the better. Sure, we get upset about reading articles like this. But is getting upset for 5 minutes, writing an article, making a movie, or even settling into the mindset of being jaded and skeptical about our own country's leadership really the toolset we are left with at the end of the day to cause change? Is there revolution in the modern west? Or are we neutered by the relatively great living conditions we take for granted?


So here is a false choice, but consider which one would have a greater and longer lasting impact:

A) You dash to the rolltop and feverishly write letters to every politician you can think of. You then get on a bus with a bunch of other upset people, go to DC and wave signs with clever catch phrases. You then live in a tent on public space for several weeks.

B) You consider this information, your feelings, and your prior model of the way the world worked. Methodically you reexamine long unchallenged precepts related to morality, the role of the state, and the logical consistency of the entire endeavor. After a while you find that things make a lot more sense, you are no longer experience the effects of cognitive dissonance when new information hits your brain. You share this new understanding, through example (maybe by pestering strangers online, either or).

Clearly I favor option B, but one could easily deride it as slacktivism - though the self reflection is not something you often see in #Kony2012. Every example of positive change that I can think, involved marching and rhyming slogans, would not have been possible without a great deal of uncomfortable self examination.


The historical purpose and utility of torture is to produce made-up confessions and bullshit "intelligence" to lend some veneer of necessity to whatever course of action the high and mighty have already committed to.

Just about anybody with a Middle-Eastern-sounding name and the slightest plausible connection to or proximity with "Al Qaeda" (conveniently defined and delimited by the torturers themselves) would have been equally useful for this purpose. There is no "right" man, no "wrong" man. That's torture. It's a show, a blood pageant. It's reading the Tarot or goat entrails.

That's the system, the procedure you defend when you apologize for torture.


The CIA is not known for its intelligence.


Agreed, they've come to be known for lack of oversight, being involved in corruption, being involved in drug production and trafficking, overthrowing democraically elected governments, installing despots, grabbing people from their home countries and torturing them in absolutely vile ways, and more.

The 3 letters 'CIA' now strike fear into the hearts of innocent people across the globe.


I would say disgust rather than fear, just another entitled bunch of aholes who think they can do whatever they want all around the globe and they actually have means to do so.

but then comes fleeting moment of satisfaction when some of them are shot, kidnapped etc... yeah, that's how despised they are


> just another entitled bunch of aholes who think they can do whatever they want all around the globe and they actually have means to do so

I think that understates things a bit - I'm not aware of any other group in history that has freely wrought global havoc for so long, torturing, killing, trafficking in drugs, destroying lives, destroying whole nations...

Honestly, they are terrifying.


Yeah. I wonder if there's a way to tally up their death toll... it's possible it'd be in the millions.


I don't think disgust is the right word what you will feel if they put your name on some kill list.


Same article on a website that is not awful

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176132/tomgram%3A_rebecca_go...


OK, we changed to that from http://www.thenation.com/article/the-cia-waterboarded-the-wr.... We'll also use the article's title (which you have to scroll down to see), which doesn't suffer from the problem users have pointed out with the Nation's title.


Good thing I clicked on it before it was changed. I have the complete opposite reaction. The Nation's page has a nice picture to set the theme and uses a wider space with a bigger font, while the TomDispatch page looks like something from 1999.


I agree that the design of the nation's site is better/more modern. However, when I landed on the site, I was able to read the first sentence before a modal subscription form popped up. I clicked the little x button in the top right of that modal, and it did a full page load redirecting me to an article about hillary clinton, and then popped the subscription modal again.

I clicked the x button again and it did the same fucking thing, so I gave them the email address go.fuck.yourself@gmail.com, found the article I was trying to read and noticed that it was sourced from the link I dropped above. That page loaded quickly and showed me what I wanted to see, the content.

/rant


That does sound like a bad experience indeed. I didn't get that myself, and can't seem to replicate it now in incognito either. Perhaps geo-targeting?

Pop-ups suck, and I wish my browser's pop-up blocker would also block these inline e-mail asking dialogs in every site.


I've been meaning to whip up a browser extension that streamlines the Open web inspector - find offending node on page - delete div element work flow.

There are some out there that sort of do what I want, but I really just want to right click on the annoying popup/ad/whatever and select delete from the contextual menu, or something like that.


The website comes up with a pop-up when I try read the article, but when I hit the 'x' to close it I get dumped at the homepage.

Here's the Google cache version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Itp90I0...


On my phone it is a scrolling advertisement. To get past it don't click on it just scroll using the page around the ad and once you get past it you can scroll again! Desktop I'm not sure about however


Bush is a war criminal


Well, that should teach these non-terrorists not to be easily mistaken for terrorists any more.


Trevor would be so into this story


Imagine the patches with cool Latin slogans!


Interesting implication from the title of the article: that it would be 'right' to waterboard some other men. Who are they, and what justifies their torture? And before someone says it, I don't think "gathering intelligence" is a sufficiently moral or practical justification. People being tortured don't tell you valuable information; they tell you whatever they think will make the torture stop.

The CIA is a sickening and surprisingly amateurish organisation. Their actions over the past decades have ruined the United States' international moral authority. It's laughable whenever some US politician goes on TV and proclaims that America is some magical paragon of liberal democratic virtue. It's a sick joke.


To be fair:

"And even if it had been true, what the CIA did to Abu Zubaydah—with the knowledge and approval of the highest government officials—is a prime example of the kind of still-unpunished crimes that officials like Dick Cheney, George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld committed in the so-called Global War on Terror."

... from very near the beginning of the article.


Although, to be fair I can't read the article because of its abhorrent pop up...which redirects me when I try to close it.


>Who are they, and what justifies their torture?

>People being tortured don't tell you valuable information; they tell you whatever they think will make the torture stop.

You're already asserting your position, and disguising it as a question. Virtually everyone seriously condoning torture believe it is effective. If they were to believe it wasn't effective, they wouldn't order it to be done.

You may think it's not effective, but that should be argued on its own merit. You're assuming the conclusion, then pretending that everyone else does and are therefore unjustified.


> Virtually everyone seriously condoning torture believe it is effective.

I think a very high number of "torture proponents" are simply in favor of hurting the "bad guys" and don't even care that there might be information to be had.

Donald Trump said it best, to an arena full of cheering supporters:

"If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing"

In his mind, and the minds of his constituents, the "information gathering" aspect is a sly wink at the other sadists in the room.


Donald Trump and his supporters are not the individuals who ordered the torture/enhanced interrogation (T/EI). If one watches/reads General Hayden's comments on the topic, he's disgusted by any call for punitive T/EI. He begins talking about this at about 34:50. https://youtu.be/GBx-ECt6vUo?t=34m50s

The discussion on the US' RDI program begins at about 30:25.


T/EI ?

What a cute military acronym.


I just made it up.


I did include two qualifiers there.

>In his mind, and the minds of his constituents, the "information gathering" aspect is a sly wink at the other sadists in the room.

I'm not so sure. You could have a model where the main purpose of torture is for information, and the value of that information is so much that you don't need a high chance of it being effective, and even if it's not effective there's not too much harm done. Trump has certainly claimed it to be effective.


> You may think it's not effective

Torture factually isn't effective. https://www.cgu.edu/pdffiles/sbos/costanzo_effects_of_interr...


In a "24" like scenario, if you knew that torturing 100 people, all of whom you believe to be terrorists, was 50% likely to yield useful information would you do it?

For me personally, the effectiveness of torture is irrelevant. Maybe it is for you as well, I don't know from your comment. It's something we should not do, full stop.


I believe torture is morally wrong, but it's easier to point out the practicalities of coercive interrogation (even of a nontorturous kind) producing useless bullshit most of the time.

Also, your hypothetical is absurdly biased in favor of torture, given that any real information retrieved would be a needle in the haystack of the aforementioned useless bullshit.


The problem with debating it on a practical level is that it sounds like you're haggling over what kind of ends are required to justify the means.

Even if it were 100% effective - every person tortured did exactly what the torturer wanted - it would still be unjustifiable because it is so morally repugnant.


Part of my point is that there will literally never be an end that justifies the means with torture, because torture factually does not and will never return any kind of reliable information.

Trying to stress the point with weird hypotheticals just emphasizes that the weird hypotheticals don't reflect the facts of what results torture gives.


I imagine that if you torture 1000 of your enemies you will get at least some useful information from them. Sure, they will also give you a lot of rubbish and you'll struggle to know what's true and what's made up. But that 1% nugget of truth is what the Donald Trumps of this world use to justify torture.

I imagine for the head of the CIA or Mossad or MI5, these aren't weird hypotheticals but real decisions. We need to tell them as a society that we do not accept torture, whatever results it would bring.


> Sure, they will also give you a lot of rubbish and you'll struggle to know what's true and what's made up.

If you had any ability to distinguish the truth involved from the bullshit, you wouldn't need to waste time torturing anyone in the first place.


> Virtually everyone seriously condoning torture believe it is effective. If they were to believe it wasn't effective, they wouldn't order it to be done.

Not that simple. They "say" they believe is it is effective. The reason they do it is not necessarily the same.

People have sadistic tendencies and will torture and inflict pain on others just for pleasure and amusement. Bullies do it on playgrounds, people in power do it to their subordinates, others torture animals for pleasure and so on.

I don't buy the idea that just because they ended up as advisory experts to the Pentagon, or they rose into power it somehow means those tendencies are not there.


Here is some research to back up that torture is ineffective: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v527/n7576/full/527035a...

But it is behind a paywall :/


Assuming the conclusion? That would only be true if I also stated that the only possible justification someone might give for torture is intelligence gathering. I was simply addressing what I thought would be the most likely counter-argument, not asserting it's the only possible counter-argument.

By all means, feel free to argue the merits of my 'pre-emptive counter-counter argument' (boy this is getting confusing). Or if you like, feel free to argue the merits of some alternative justification for torturing people. Here, I'll start you off:

- It's a good deterrent to <x> behaviour

- It's fun

- It hurts people we don't like

- The victim is a witch, and we need to find out who the other witches are


I think you should have left out the question altogether, or phrased it as an assertion: "nothing justifies torture".


I probably muddled my own point by descending into a rant in the OP.

I just found the unsaid implication, that torture is fine if the person does possess information you want to know, worth examining. Perhaps consider it this way: imagine all of the assertions made by the Bush administration about the victim were correct; he really was the Al-Qaeda 2nd in command, he had smuggled high-ranked Al-Qaeda members out of Afghanistan etc.

Would there be a defensible justification to torture him, and what would that justification be?


I think the word “wrong” in the title was meant to be understood in the sense of “pressed the wrong button”—undelining technical rather than moral incompetence from the CIA. Torturing someone already strongly implies the latter.


> The CIA is a sickening and surprisingly amateurish organisation. Their actions over the past decades have ruined the United States' international moral authority.

I'm not even sure that's true. I think the perception of the CIA (perhaps due to generally positive portrayals of it on TV and in movies) is completely different to, say, the perception people have of the Stasi or KGB.

And yet did those organizations, which people rightly consider to be bad, actually do anything worse than the CIA has been doing in the last 70 years?


Behold, the effects of propaganda. I'd really like to see some solid research in how much the CIA or US government funds TV shows and movies to portray those organizations as the good guys, or whether it's more due to patriotism or whatever it is that makes a movie-maker portray organizations like that as good or bad.


Hah, good luck with that. One of the reasons the CIA is so effective is that it essentially self-funds the activities it doesn't want the public prying into. The agency makes its own investments and uses the profits as needed.

We usually think of this as a drugs-for-arms Iran-Contra-type of affair, but for most spy agencies, real estate is the way to go: it's easy to obfuscate ownership, the value tends to hold or rise, and nobody's gonna steal your condominium when you're not looking.

Sarasota FL has an interestingly high concentration of expensive property and people with clandestine connections. (It also has one of the highest rates of climate change denial, a thought for another time) "He works in real estate" is a common implication.

So to answer your question, how much propaganda does the CIA fund:

You will never, ever know.


Yes both in terms of degree and scale. In my mind the CIA's actions are morally indefensible but still pale in comparison to what those organisations got up to. Even if you throw in the FBI in its darkest days under Hoover you don't get close to the tyranny the KGB inflicted.

It is going to take Western history a long time to get over its Communist apologists like Hobsbawm and be willing to fully accept the horrors that system spawned.


> did those organizations, which people rightly consider to be bad, actually do anything worse than the CIA has been doing in the last 70 years?

Yes, they did.


>And yet did those organizations, which people rightly consider to be bad, actually do anything worse than the CIA has been doing in the last 70 years?

The average American is not personally affected by anything the CIA does. Can the same be said about the KGB?


You'd be hard pressed to find an instance where an average American civilian was affected by the KGB per se. Remember that most of the Cold War was a proxy war, fought in the middle east and South America.

The FSB their successor did assassinate a dissident in London (Litvinenko), which the UK government ignored until Russia became sufficiently persona non grata lately.


I meant to ask whether the average Russian was affected by the KGB.


AIUI the CIA is not supposed to operate domestically, so the comparison between the two is not exact (I don't believe the CIA would operate domestically the same way as the KGB did anyway, though, but the KGB was basically just helping to prop up an openly tyrannical state), but even if the KGB has the CIA beat on home turf, I think the CIA 'wins' abroad.

Even just taking the example in this thread, a monstrous program of 'black sites' set up around the world specifically to torture innocent people indefinitely, where is the KGB version?

Leaving aside any comparisons, if they're a distraction, why is an organization that does the terrible things the CIA has done throughout its history not only tolerated in a civilized democracy, but actually still viewed generally positively?


> a monstrous program of 'black sites' set up around the world specifically to torture innocent people indefinitely

I'm pretty sure everyone involved thought the person was not innocent. This is not a fair description.

Also, as far as I can tell the claim is just that he wasn't part of al-Qaida or some of the other stuff he was accused of, not that he's completely innocent. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Zubaydah#Biography_and_ear...

>Zubaydah eventually became involved in the jihad training site known as the Khalden training camp, where he oversaw the flow of recruits and obtained passports and paperwork for men transferring out of Khalden.


I'm pretty sure everyone involved thought the person was not innocent.

This is always true of almost everyone arrested by the police: they're arrested because they're suspects. Suspicion is not grounds for torture. Guilt is not grounds for torture either! That's what the 8th Amendment is about.

Torture is, in and of itself, a crime against humanity under international law and the laws of war. This is not a theoretical point, it was used in the post-WW2 war crimes trials to prosecute even low-ranking staff who were involved in systematic torture. The Allies executed people for torture.


I was just pointing out that "specifically to torture innocent people" was misleading and wrong.

>Suspicion is not grounds for torture. Guilt is not grounds for torture either! That's what the 8th Amendment is about.

Morally, you have a point. But from your mention of the 8th Amendment, it looks like you're talking legally, in which case only US citizens and people covered under relevant international agreements have such rights.


No, non-citizens are arguably covered: http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?ar...

"The Constitution does distinguish in some respects between the rights of citizens and noncitizens: the right not to be discriminatorily denied the vote and the right to run for federal elective office are expressly restricted to citizens.12 All other rights, however, are written without such a limitation. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection guarantees extend to all "persons." The rights attaching to criminal trials, including the right to a public trial, a trial by jury, the assistance of a lawyer, and the right to confront adverse witnesses, all apply to "the accused." And both the First Amendment's protections of political and religious freedoms and the Fourth Amendment's protection of privacy and liberty apply to "the people.""

The restriction to US citizens isn't in the text of the constitution, which is written in the passive voice:

> "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted"

But a bit more digging reveals that it was explicitly banned by US law some time ago, making this discussion of its legality moot: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/20...


> I was just pointing out that "specifically to torture innocent people" was misleading and wrong.

What are so-called 'black sites' set up for then, if not to torture people who have not been charged with let alone convicted of anything (ie, are innocent)?


That word does not mean what you think it means.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/actual_innocence

>A finding of actual innocence, as that term has come to be used in federal habeas corpus jurisprudence, is not the equivalent of a finding of not guilty by a jury or by a court in a bench trial.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actual_innocence

Innocent means that they didn't do anything legally wrong. Plenty of uncharged and unconvicted people have broken the law.


> That word does not mean what you think it means.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/presumption_of_innocence

    One of the most sacred principles
    in the American criminal justice
    system, holding that a defendant
    is *innocent* until proven guilty. 
> Plenty of uncharged and unconvicted people have broken the law.

I can't believe anyone would bother making such a fatuous point, to which the obvious response is simply: plenty of uncharged and unconvicted (and even convicted for that matter) people have not broken the law.

Now can you answer the question you evaded in my last post:

If stating that black sites are set up specifically to detain people without charge and torture them is "misleading", according to you, please explain what you believe the purpose of black sites is.


>I can't believe anyone would bother making such a fatuous point, to which the obvious response is simply: plenty of uncharged and unconvicted (and even convicted for that matter) people have not broken the law.

Which is entirely irrelevant. Your claim was that innocent simply meant not found guilty, which is incorrect. There's a "presumption" of innocence: "innocence" means they actually didn't do it, and the law assumes they're in that state until proven otherwise. That doesn't mean everyone presumed innocent is innocent.

>If stating that black sites are set up specifically to detain people without charge and torture them is "misleading", according to you, please explain what you believe the purpose of black sites is.

I didn't say that. I specifically suggested you use "unconvicted", but if you'd used "uncharged" it would be fine. The word innocent is problematic for reasons I've explained.


> Your claim was that innocent simply meant not found guilty, which is incorrect.

What I said is: "by definition, the people being tortured, not having been found guilty of any crime, are innocent". Which is not incorrect.

I'm going to assume you know the principle of innocent until proven guilty, since it was in my last reply, quoted from Cornell's Law site.

> the law assumes they're in that state until proven otherwise. That doesn't mean everyone presumed innocent is innocent.

Okay, point me to a legal principle akin to innocent until proven guilty that instead states might not be innocent even if they have not been found guilty.

> The word innocent is problematic for reasons I've explained.

That it's problematic for you does not make it problematic.


I did above. See actually innocent.

There's presumption of innocence and hen there's actually innocent.


I was thinking more generally, about the fact that these sites are set up and used specifically to avoid due process. I mean by definition, the people being tortured, not having been found guilty of any crime, are innocent.


>not having been found guilty of any crime, are innocent.

That's not what innocent means. You should use unconvicted.


Why I should use "unconvicted", which implies possible guilt, for people who have not even been charged with anything, but are simply imprisoned and/or tortured indefinitely?


If you don't like that word, then use a longer phrase to convey what you mean. Innocent does not.


No, I will not come up with another word or phrase just because you will not accept innocent.


I am against torture. However, it behooves us to be honest to avoid counter arguments. There is a time when torture clearly does work - when you have a way to quickly verify information. I.E. if there is a safe in the room, or a phone number you can call, or something like that. However, most of the time torture is not used for that purpose.


What's the difference between a drone strike or a beheading of innocents? What's the difference between Assad torturing non-Syrians or Americans doing the same thing at black ops sites? Out of all the justifications for acting brutally or inhumanely according to the ethical standard American rhetoricians, most of the justifications that sort of give a passing nod to all the State sponsored brutality are rooted not in any real plots that have happened, but in fictional ones that could happen.


I agree. This is the one situation I can think of where torture would probably be an effective means of obtaining the information you want.

And I also agree it's important to make this distinction, and for people to define what they mean by 'verify'. In my mind, the information is verified if the safe unlocks, the bomb is defused etc. The danger, I think, is when people consider 'verified' to include 'corroborating information obtained through torture'. This tends to lead you to false conclusions (e.g. half the women in your village are witches, as they all implicated each other when they were tortured).


So you ask them 30 questions 10 of which you know the correct answers. Also if you have several prisoners you can compare answers. This should give you a good idea about the validity of the answers.

Just waterboarding till you get a story you like is obviously bullshit but this also does not tell you much about the potential efficacy of torture.


> "(...)" This should give you a good idea about the validity of the answers."

And this is exactly, how we learned about the witches and why we had to burn them.


You can read any implication you want into 11 words of text.

"If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged."

- Cardinal Richelieu


The CIA may be sickening, but at least they don't intentionally misinterpret headlines in order to segway into grandstanding.


While "waterboarding the right man 83 times in 1 month" would of course be a very honorable occupation.


"Justified" is the word you're looking for.

We want it to be justified, not honorable. Nobody gives two shits about honor as soon as it is about "them" (whoever fits that definition currently).


I'm not sure this kind of disgusting behaviour can ever be justified.


"Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe torture can be justified to extract information from suspected terrorists, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll ... Only 15 percent said torture should never be used ... The Reuters/Ipsos poll included 1,976 people. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2.5 percentage points for the entire group" http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-torture-exclu...


We can see physical or psychological torture used effectively in many TV series. I have read that in real life, torture was very ineffective to make people tell something they want to hide. Generally people die without speaking or do not know any valuable secret.

Remember at school. When one child get punished, all the other childs of the class become quiet. The main desired effect of torture is manipulation of population. They do not care if the tortured guy speaks or dies, they want to inspire fear.

I think it is the only way to understand how something so barbare and so ineffective (in its direct purpose) is still used. TV series should stop disinformation (pretending torture works and presenting torture as acceptable).

Torture is unacceptable.


> We can see physical or psychological torture used effectively in many TV series.

Almost exclusively by the heroes, and it always works almost instantly. It says something about the people writing them.

I can't wait for the episode of Daredevil where he spends a month and a half torturing someone for information.

Remember all of those scenes in movies from the 70s and earlier when halfway through the rape, the woman starts to get into it, and when we cut to the morning after she's like "never leave me," and now the viewer is expected to sympathise with the rapist and his victim against the world?

It's a snapshot of the mindset of elites.

> Remember at school. When one child get punished, all the other childs of the class become quiet. The main desired effect of torture is manipulation of population. They do not care if the tortured guy speaks or dies, they want to inspire fear.

This is only way torture is effective. Except, in this context, the more accurate term for it is terrorism.


>Remember all of those scenes in movies from the 70s and earlier when halfway through the rape, the woman starts to get into it, and when we cut to the morning after and she's like "never leave me," and now the viewer is expected to sympathise with the rapist and his victim against the world?

Actually, no. I've seen plenty of old movies, but I don't recall many rape scenes, much less such rape scenes where the rapist is meant to be sympathized with, or where the rape victim takes pleasure in it.


They were common, and they still happen, rarely. Game of Thrones got in trouble for one last year: http://time.com/70829/game-of-thrones-rape/

edit: http://www.ifc.com/2011/09/straw-dogs-sex-the-remake-of-a-ra...


Old James Bond movies at the very least come close to that. I was rather shocked watching over on a plane recently.


James Bond and Pussy Galore - is this rape?

http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/am_i_being_unreasonable/1570613-...


Maybe we have Jack Bauer to blame, he always seems to get information within seconds using fear of violence and torture.


We like to think that propaganda was something the Soviets and Fascists did decades ago and doesn't happen in the modern world. But 24/Jack Bauer and films like Zero Dark Thirty are straight propaganda. The first step in fighting it is identifying it.


Zizek on Zero Dark Thirty was a pretty good take along these lines (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/25/zero-da...)


I wonder if that had been worded as American citizen, instead of suspected terrorist, if the results would have been any different. Even so that is still too high of a number of people who are ok with torture.


Two thirds of Americans are overweight, but the president and his wife somehow managed to muster up the courage to denounce that fact and take action.


It is coneviable that circumstances could exist where the use of torture would prevent some greater evil. But the only proper place to make such an argument is in court as a defense against prosecution. The act would still be illegal and should still be illegal. The disgusting thing is trying to pre-approve illegal acts ahead of time and using that as a defence.


Such circumstances exist in three places: movies, TV shows, and fiction books. In non-fiction contexts the victim simply makes an answer up to get the pain to stop. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effectiveness_of_torture_for_i...


> It is coneviable that circumstances could exist where the use of torture would prevent some greater evil.

Sure, but this is just a thought experiment.

In real life, these kind of tactics simply don't work.


Problem is that it doesn't even give all that much actionable information in the first place.


Yes and no. In the case of somebody who has information waterboarding is generally an 'efficient' strategy. i.e. you have the guy you know hid the bomb somewhere in manhattan.

It's just very hard to tell when somebody doesn't know anything. And they will start making up information to make it stop. i.e. 10 guys and you have reason to believe one of them may have hidden a bomb somewhere.


An example of when the information is fabricated: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1...


Although that guy has a massive incentive to not tell you anything. They just have to hold out for a few hours.


I'm alright with it, as long as we know the person is a threat to our national security.

The people who commit acts like the Boston Marathon Bombings, the Brussels Bombings, 9/11, etc. - these people are not our friends. If given the opportunity, they would kill every single one of us.

So if the people who are on our side feel they need to use torture on these people to keep us safe, I'm not going to argue with them.


The German jurist Carl Schmitt essentially made the same argument: the power of the executive is the power to divide the world into enemies, and to declare a "state of exception" that allows the unfettered pursuit of those enemies. Such enemies need not be foreign, but may be domestic; not only criminal, but political.

The Bush administration said that Abu Zubaydah was al-Qai'da; he was not. They said he helped bin Laden escape Afghanistan; he did not. They said he had intelligence justifying the invasion of Iraq; he had none. Every justification they gave for his imprisonment and torture was either disproved or a simple lie, and yet they continued. In the end, their justification was simply, "He hates us, and we hate him."

This is a troubling basis on which to exercise military power. And once the executive arrogates for himself the power to place persons beyond the pale of domestic and international customary law, it's very hard to keep that demon in the box where you want him. To paraphrase, when all the laws lay flat, what will hide us from unjust power?


Without advocating Carl Schmitt, I think you are misrepresenting his views there. His concept of the 'Ausnahmezustand' (state of exception) is broader than just executive orders. He basically meant to describe the powers of a particular executive in a constitutional system by looking at the "not normal" case. This is similar to security in computers - you are not interested in the case where the computer behaves nicely. You want to know what you can do when things go wrong. So he described the power of the state as defined by what it can possibly do if they abuse them as the constitution enables it to do: "Sovereign is he who decides on the exception."


When I read Schmitt (and it's been many years!), I can't disentangle the concept of the state of exception from his insistence that politics are fundamentally about the friend-enemy distinction, and that, as he says, the qualitative element of that distinction is its ability to flare into violence.

So it's hard for me to see Schmitt's theory as anything other than the normalization of the diktat to resolve political conflicts; if the state demands orthodoxy amongst its "friends," and the executive is empowered to punish deviant "enemies," and the executive's decision to impose an exception is unreviewable (which is a Schmittian prerequisite for executive power), then the state of exception essentially never ends -- as Germany found out with the Reichstag emergency.

What are your thoughts -- am I taking him too far? Can he be read a bit more kindly, perhaps as a more formal and rigid version of the old saw, "the Constitution is not a suicide pact?" Or was he, like Machiavelli, more descriptive than prescriptive in his assessments?

As I said, it's been years since I read Schmitt, but I found him to be, ah, bracing as a thinker, a kind of prebuttal to the concept of a negotiated society that would later preoccupy thinkers like Habermas. I'd just rather live in a Rawlsian or Habermasian world than one in which political disagreements are treated as a flashpoint for war.


I think you are right in your perception of his thinking, and I didn't mean to interpret his views in a friendly way - I just wanted to note that there is a more academic dimension to the way how he meant this. I think you are exactly right in your view that he is basically thinking the opposite of a "negotiated society", this is what I got from his "Constitutional Theory" of 1928 as well. It is very instructive though because he is probably the most literate and well-spoken opponent of the liberal constitutional society - that's what I meant when I compared it with software security testing, he's basically looking for all the loopholes and small inconsistencies in liberal societes. I think his notion of these extreme powers of government is an example of that, and history has shown (with the further development of the Weimar Republic) that he was right there. I am not sure if he meant it in a normative way, as addition to the idea of politics as a fight between enemies.

Having said that, this mix of academic, positive right thinking, in the context of the abolishment of a state of law and civil society probably makes this all even more evil.


That's interesting -- I generally think of Schmitt as constructing a theory of dictatorship, but you're right: he's also black-hat hacking the constitutional order at the same time. That's a fantastic insight, I think, because you're really crystallizing him as a practitioner as well as a theorist.


You may be interested in a recent revival of his thinking from the left - [1][2] - the idea there is that he doesn't mean "enemies" in the sense of a mortal fight, but rather "agonists". This is explicitly directed against the Habermas type of discourse that is directed towards achieving a consensus, and advocating not to bury conflicts. Basically in response to a "mainstreaming" of political parties (probably not so much in the US, but in many European countries you will find that the major established parties seem to agree fundamentally with very little differences, with the rise of extreme right and left parties at the same time as a reaction). Not a view I share, but I find it interesting that they are now going back to Schmitt for that.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Agonistics-Thinking-Politically-Chanta... [2] http://www.amazon.com/Political-Thinking-Action-Chantal-Mouf...


I think Mouffe's "agonistic democracy" to be provocative and maybe even a more powerful description of politics than, say, Habermas (I retain affection for Rawls) but, like you, I don't think I can buy her efforts to claim Schmitt. Her argument that social media tends to work against agonism by enforcing epistomological closure (to use the trendy term) and thus leading people to a totalistic worldview is, I think, an unconscious rebuke of the extent of Schmitt's own friend/enemy distinction. But I haven't read her major texts, just the collections she's edited and contributed to, so I probably should spend some time on that.


I'm alright with it, as long as we know the person is a threat to our national security.

As the article illustrates, we don't know the person is a threat to our national security. We'll never know with 100% accuracy. The only available options are to accept occasionally torturing people who are innocent or disagreeing with torture and not using it. Most of the civilised world has agreed that the danger of mistakenly torturing innocent people isn't worth it.


Ah I see how this site works


It's something that also bother me about HN. People downvote when disagree. I think that downvoting should be used for uncivil comments, not related comments, spam.. Otherwise we will finish in an echo-chamber.

When we disagree we should answer. This is what I'm going try to do.

First, you say "If given the opportunity, they would kill every single one of us". That's not true. Those terrorist acts have politic goals.

Then, you say "So if the people who are on our side feel they need.." Here you assume that those people is in your side, and that they shouldn't be under control. Two assumptions that I recommend you to give more consideration.


I don't entirely agree with either side, but I will say that:

> First, you say "If given the opportunity, they would kill every single one of us". That's not true. Those terrorist acts have politic goals.

Certain segments of the western Political scene very much want to believe this, but I'm skeptical. They said that Hitler wasn't serious about his rhetoric either, that it was all politics. In fact, he meant it all, and indeed went on to start the biggest war in history and slaughter millions.

They downplayed the extremism of the ISIS types, and look what we have there. Just what we've seen so far is quite bad enough, and we haven't even gotten a full look at the situation.

Do we not at least owe the enemy the respect of believing they really intend to do exactly what they say they want to do? And they most certainly are the enemy of everything that we in the West hold dear.


I assume you are talking about ISIS here. This is my current understanding.

The explicit goal of ISIS is the creation of a caliphate. A caliphate is an area governed by a caliph that enforce their strict interpretation of the quran in their limits.

The terrorist acts that we suffer in the west have mainly two aims: terrorize the civil population so they force the governments to stop acting in the area and attract fighters to their cause.

If something, their ideal world is not one where they kill us all but where they convert us all.

Can you tell me where you heard/read that they want "to kill us all"? Is in the same place where they say that they just "hate our freedoms"?


> People downvote when they disagree.

And of course they do, because the implementation encourages it. Downvoting has no consequence, it allows people to express disagreement with zero effort, and they even get a chance to hide posts they don't like. If I were designing a site to be an echo chamber, reddit-style voting is the killer feature I'd want to have.


yeah, isn't democracy grand? Its' a microcosm of the MSM.... and you thought this was a republic? Outrage-on-demand.

EVERY opinion is protected, unless it doesn't agree with the "masses"...


You have freedom of speech, but that doesn't mean everyone should agree or respect your opinion.


Agree, no; Respect, yes (that I have an opinion). Its called being civil. I've been dinged for "not being civil" based on someone's subjective opinion (BS), but the way HN does things, its "Mob Rules". Down-vote all you want, but people who do without stating why are cowards.


[flagged]


Do you even understand the meaning of word "wrong"? And since when are we punishing people for things their buddies did? I'm sure your buddies are all saint.




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