“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Paralysis by Analysis. Overthinking Interrogation versus Torture

At the Belmont Club this past weekend, Wretchard, prompted by Steve Harrigan's water boarding experience at 02:08:00 PM, posted this:
Steve Harrigan gets waterboarded on Fox and you can watch at on Hot Air at the link? How does it feel? It feels like s**t, beyond a doubt. What does it prove? Apparently that you don't suffer any perceptible damage from it or that, if you had a choice, it would be far preferable to getting your fingers chopped off, your teeth knocked out or your arms broken by dangling you from the ceiling. But what does it prove morally? Ah, there's that word! Whose morality, then? Didn't you know this post was going to be difficult?
I don't believe anyone answered the questions or even directly addressed them. Let me restate Wretchard's question about Harrigan's report on waterboarding:
But what does it prove morally? Ah, there's that word! Whose morality, then? Didn't you know this post was going to be difficult?
stumbley started off the thread at 02:54:09 PM with:
"Torture" is the infliction of grievous bodily harm that has permanent effects. Waterboarding is not permanently harmful. If the prisoner is mentally injured by waterboarding, that's a regrettable side effect, but such an individual would probably be "mentally injured" simply from the stress of combat and/or capture.

Would I like to be waterboarded? Of course not...but given a choice between that and electric shock to my genitals or bone breaking, what do you think I'd choose?
Then at 3:07:36 Teresita said...
We're the white hats, we're not supposed to hit below the belt or shoot people in the back or show cruelty to our EPWs. Maybe after this Tuesday we will get our America back, the "shining city on a hill" that shuns torture and is therefore actually morally better than brutal third-world regimes scattered around the globe.
So, from the beginning, the debate of the thread was framed in the same way as the "torture debate" is always argued. One side maintains that rough, coersive treatment is not torture and the other side ignores that argument and invokes a morality argument against torture while never agreeing to definitions.

Addressing the morality issue, at 4:07:56 3Case offered a number 6. to Wretchard's list of five:
6. "We are in a death struggle with a sophisticated adversary intent on returning civilization to a 7th Century fundamentalist society. What is the morality of survival? What is the morality of the survival of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren? What is the morality of the survival of the evolution of women as free beings?
Well, 3Case got close to the question of morality but he didn't answer Wretchard's question of "Whose morality?"

At 05:13:30 PM, summignumi said...
White hats have always gotten dirty during war only the stories stayed clean so we could claim a more moral high ground fighting wars is the only time that the means justifies the ends! Some of the very first non Jewish converts to Christianity were roman soldiers, I think the first Roman solider to convert was a Centurion, this was a man of serious command and decided who died and who might live yet Jesus never told him to go AWOL from the legion so there must have been a reason, everything Jesus did had meaning.
He was getting closer to the question of "Whose morality?" At least he pointed to a source for morality.

Then, at 06:23:37 PM, sam said...
Human rights groups have questioned the CIA’s methods for questioning suspects, especially following the passage of a bill last month that authorised the use of harsh - but undefined - interrogation tactics.
Human Rights groups? No answer there.

It was way down the thread at 08:21:40 AM after much to and fro that:
2164th offered this insight on a flaw in the debate:
We are having a debate on torture because of the torture that has been done to plain speaking. Words are so distorted they have no meaning and we think in words or images. Distort the words, and you distort the images.

Torture is being drawn and quartered. That means having your belly sliced open, your intestines pulled out and your body severed by an expert who will keep you alive while it is being down.

Rough coercive interrogation is not torture and save the pablum about it not working. That is simply horsehit, it works in spades. Grow up or give it up.
It seems to me, that this has been a flaw in every torture debate. No one will agree to a definition of torture and without a legal definition of what torture is, the debate is reduced to the moral argument with one side the claiming the "moral high ground" while the other side is more pragmatic about survival.

This post by Ash 12:53:31 PM seems to characterize the "moralist" worldview:
I would subtract the recent moves to institutionalize torture, secret prisons, and indefinite detentions. by opening this door we have ended up with a multitude of abuses that has given a view of our nation being no different then the Soviets, Chinese or many of the Arab governments, to name only a few governments who ware willing to pursue unethical means to advance their selfish goals. We have forfeited the moral high ground which you so cherish. We have become no better then the rest and now that we are invading an occupying foreign lands we have little of merit to project.
At 05:10:28 PM on Sunday, catherine said...
I trust our side- its mission, sensibilities and deeds. But we all know we’re not perfect. Some think it’s better to give our enemy undeserved advantages in order to be more sporting, fair, humane and moral, even though he accords us naught. These preeners and saints who insist on "no torture" and who define it as most forms of pain and humiliation would prolong hostilities and maybe sacrifice us all.

The rest of us believe it’s better to be merely good and alive, which actually may be more “perfect” than being better and dead at the hand of medievalist mass murderers and oppressors, but who knows? All we can know for sure is that our enemy is lucky our virtuous dissenters think the way they do, and that our dissenters are really fortunate the rest of us think the way we do, because they get to posture while others of us pay.

That's some kind of heaven our fastidiously conscientious have set up for themselves, seemingly somewhere in the ninth ring down below. But who can be sure even about that? Maybe our higher purpose is to self-annihilate on principle. On not succumbing to the human instinct of self-preservation.

As of this writing, the debate is still on-going and I suspect it will continue ad infinitum because, like other moral issues, the opposing sides cannot agree on the essential definitions, (e.g. when life begins, who can be married, what is morality, what constitutes torture.) Like many of the relevant moral issues being debated today, we seem to be at an impasse of conflicting worldviews.

Lately the secular progressives camp which claims the "moral high ground" based on a moral authority emanating from a shifting, enigmatic, humanist, post-modern worldview has not been able to gain the upper hand politically. With the elections tomorrow, we will know if that has changed.

I think it was written somewhere that people get the rulers they deserve.


  1. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chmn Henry H Shelton, was Clark’s boss in 1999 when Clark was told that he was being removed from his position as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. “I’ve known Wes for a long time,” Shelton said. “I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. . . . Wes won’t get my vote.”

  2. Morality in war. If not an oxymoron then very close.

    To the grunt in the fight it's survival, there is no right or wrong. Only the politicians have the luxury of the morality debate.
    If you're a civilian, never been in a confrontation in our civil society, never beeen threatened then you're more that likely gonna "take the high ground" and list all manner of "inappropriate actions" your military shouldn't or can't take.
    It simply can not be that way on the battlefield. You kill with whatever is at hand.
    In interrogations you know you will extract information that will save YOUR grunts lives. That's as it should be. You do what you do to save your men's lives and the lives of the civilians he/she is/are protecting.
    When you train troops to kill and the fight comes you must let them kill, not hand out candy. Let the USAID people do that later. Don't ask them to multitask war/destruction with nation building. That too comes later.
    You want them to kill and wound as many of the enemy as they can.
    We've lost that as THE MISSION.
    Morality debates are a luxury for the grandees to muse while sipping brandy, and it is the fighter who suffers their ex catherdra pronunciamentoes.

    In this lastest Iraqi action we've discussed the ROE's as naseum.

  3. Whit,
    Wesley Clark was always considered a "dandy".
    His credentials are impeccable. He's just too full of Wesley Clark, and has become a Democratic Party apparatchiki.
    He's there "see we've got one too" ex military mouthpiece.

  4. The military needs to be re-thought beginning with reducing the numbers of woman in front line combat and front line support. Woman should not be on war ships. I have no problem with Amazon ships. We need to have a shock corps of attack troops that no one would ever want to see. They could be followed by military police and then public affairs types. Interrogation should be reserved to a special group of military intelligence. The military should not be an experiment in social engineering.

  5. So what's all this talk about morality in war for anyway?

    War is an all-pervasive phenomenon of the universe. Accordingly, battles are mere symptoms of the underlying belligerent nature of the universe; such a description corresponds with a Heraclitean or Hegelian philosophy in which change (physical, social, political, economical, etc) can only arise out of war or violent conflict. Heraclitus decries that "war is the father of all things," and Hegel echoes his sentiments. Interestingly, even Voltaire, the embodiment of the Enlightenment, followed this line: "Famine, plague, and war are the three most famous ingredients of this wretched world...All animals are perpetually at war with each other...Air, earth and water are arenas of destruction." (From Pocket Philosophical Dictionary). Subcribed to by Habu.

  6. Whit,
    Of that I have no doubt. I've been eyeballing him for about seven or eight years through conversations with friends who have had dealings with him.

    On paper, in his career ,he's a hero ..real life,real character has placed a less than impeccable patina on the man.

  7. Yeah Whit the conversation usually starts with the never to be answered question of what constitutes a "just war"

  8. Thinking about Terrorita being on the US Govt Payroll is cruel and unusual Torture for this US Govt Taxpayer.
    The useful idiots within.

  9. They meant the Dems take the House results TO COURT, Rufus.
    ...a mere blunder leaving out TWO WORDS.
    Like John Kerry's "1 word."

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Damn, rufus, thanks, classin' me as an "Expert"

    Can't type like on, though

  12. As for waterboarding, that's not torture.

    wee're as endangered as the Bald Eagle, habu. You're up the shitcreek when your National Bird was nearly extinct.

    Gotta do what you gotta do, to save it from extinction, whatever it takes to reverse the trend lines.

  13. DR
    re: read you 5x5 on your 8:17

  14. Tend to doubt that, rufus, I do have lots and lots of fun.

    It's what I do best, really.

  15. Rufus,
    You Tube get a taste of power and they can't let go...some will do anything.

  16. whit,

    re: Humanism v. Judaeo Christian.

    Why is it the Humanists who insist Man is something he is not? Oh, and then set out exterminate the countless millions who do not conform.

  17. I've lost my fingers and some prepostitions again.

  18. whit,

    Some of the "progressive" thinkers you quote from the BC remind me of a DJ I once knew. He was a smug, know-it-all progressive until his daughter was raped, beaten, and nearly killed. From that point, he had no problem with the death penalty and the 2nd Amendment. Those who expect men to be saints are neither Christians nor Jews.

  19. I'm really neither Christian nor Jew but, allen, I have no problem with nuns, guns or killin those folk that need, in fact beg, for that remedy to their disrespect of their fellow man.

  20. rufus,

    The music and the images were so starkly opposed! Marvelous find. Thanks.

    Oh did I say, "BASTARDS"!!!

  21. Whit,
    I think it would be easier to have all the predictions on the original post , but we will be able to check them all. everything is time marked and we don't do hanging chads at EB.

  22. Well, guys, guess who is pissed at the boys, again

    We're not the Roman Empire. But it doesn't matter to me anymore, I'm taking this opportunity to get the hell out of the Belmont Club and the Elephant Bar.

    11/06/2006 02:30:58 PM

    Part of a little ditty at the BC.

  23. buddy dipped the shiv and struck a nerve, I guess.

  24. You're Ok whit. Put it up there pal.

  25. It would be barbaric and irrational to execute the Madrid bombers. Apparently, sentencing 29 people to 270,000 years is humanistic cool.

    270,000 years' jail sought for bombers

    One cannot make up this Euro trash stuff. And, these are our allies!

  26. Voted about ten daays ago, whit.
    Mr Shadegg will win in my District.
    Bet Mr Kyl does as well.

  27. Neither of those Congressional seats is in my projection of the Dems winning 18 & 4.

  28. Interesting. I have a couple of Latin American posts ready, but like my post on Nixon, no one cares until after the election. I will hold my fire till then. Just had a great dinner with some fine fine company. Watched that u tube thing on Webb. these guys will sell their souls for power.

    I was thinking about a time I was waiting for a connecting flight from Clark in the Phillipines. I was sitting in the front row of chairs facing some double doors. Two charter planes arrived and the doors opened and I had to sit there while both planes unloaded wounded. they passed on both sides of me like I was a snag in a river with blue robed GI's in gurneys at eye level or in wheel chairs passing to the left and right. I was their age and they looked like kids. You could smell the iodine and the smell of a hospital as the went by. Every wound possible, urine bags, leaking bandages and I dared not avoid their eye contact. They looked at me and through me.

    Some time later, not exactly sure when , I heard and watched that long faced cocksucker,Kerry, out of uniform wearing battle fatigues in front of Congress, out of honor, and out for himself, damning and smearing that same river of suffering that passed to my right and left. I never forgot that phoney Kennedyesque accent. I hated the no good mother fucker then and have never forgotten what a sorry ass piece of shit he is. fuck him.

  29. buddy got under her skin. Seems to me

  30. Where did you see that the Presidental Panel had signed off, rufus?

    It's not even mentioned in the piece drudge has up, I have not seen it, anywhere.

  31. On a revise and resubmit: "I do not much care the man."

  32. whit wrote:

    "They just can't seem to accept the fact that man is inherently flawed."

    ya, so? are you saying two wrongs make a right? We are inherently flawed so torture to your hearts content?

    Waterboarding is not torture seems to be your fallback position. It seems to me if it is done right the subject truly believes he will drown if he doesn't submit. Perception is reality for the most part is it not? In the end though, he may not have any lasting physical scars (assuming the torturers did their job right and the subject survived) but the mental scars, which are real, will persist. It seems 2164th has lasting scars from watching the wounded being wheeled by whilst Kerry disses them. No physical scar no foul...right?

    Bottom line though, that good ole christian thing, or in ethics, the principle of universiality (or sumtin like that). Do you have any problem with other countries doing institutionalizing procedures like waterboarding to be used on our boys and girls? On you? If it isn't torture, why not use this procedure as a standard method of interrogation in the US for any old person picked up suspected to be on the wrong side of the law? The reason is because it is unethical and the only reason why you accept it is because you are willing to suspend your morality, or delude yourself, that it is necessary to acheive your goals. It isn't.

  33. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  34. Talk about flawless timing, someone mentions JKnK and up pops Ash.

  35. I don't get over to the BC very often but it looks like I missed a really good session on waterboarding etc.
    But the best news out of it all was Teresita saying she was getting out of the BC and EB.
    Now it's not like I don't enjoy a good colloque but she is one whacked out whatever.
    Anyway Ms. T adios and adios and adios. Don't forget to take your lithium.(ok a cheap shot but she'll never read it, if she keeps her word, oh please,please.)

  36. 2164,
    I'd like to associate myself with you previous sentiments on the junior Senator from Mass.
    He falls into that protected class that gets you in real trouble if you punch their lights out. And I would never do that to an elected official, because it would be wrong and not worth the hassle.
    But golly gee whiz I hate the motherfucker too. and Fonda,T.Turner,G.Soros,T.Kennedy..and on and on.

  37. This is Teresita's benediction:

    "Teresita said...
    I wonder the same thing. It's like two completely different posters.

    That's not fair, buddy. A person can be 100% in favor of taking the battle to enemy combatants on the field (indeed, Bush and Rummy are falling down in that job, only 10% of the forces in the theater go on patrol every night) while being 100% opposed to taking battle to the wounded, to captives, to the sick, to civilians, and other non-combatants. But all I get is fascist crap about how it's okay to burn up civilians and torture people because we might stop a ticking dirty bomb or some other such unlikely scenario. We're not the Roman Empire. But it doesn't matter to me anymore, I'm taking this opportunity to get the hell out of the Belmont Club and the Elephant Bar.

    11/06/2006 02:30:58 PM"

    Why is she mad at us?

  38. I made a distinction between terror and rough interrogation. I did not attack her personally. I rarely attack anyone anymore. She really freaks out on some issues, but she can hold her own and has an interesting point of view. Everyone gets a little hot under the collar. It will pass.

  39. IMO, woman are very welcome, and treated no better nor worse than men. Stick around and see how some of these guys go at each other.

  40. re: Ms T ....who cares, it's like just have a nice day and ignore her.
    As Catherine pointed out she's all over the place with her thoughts.
    So Ms. T rest, and more rest, and have a nice day.
    Plus I think we musta fried some of her ancestors at Iwo or Naga or Hiro, cause she gets real defensive about WWII and killing Japs.

  41. ah Mztah Rufus suh,,don't make me come ova and bite yo hand, yo vot'n'n da army done trained me up to be a crotch nipper-atter.

  42. I guess that is a good thing about being of English heritage, not many people left that have not killed your kin or you killed theirs.

  43. For what it's worth, I like her. I was mean and roughed her up once, I was wrong. I regretted it and wish I had not done it, the way that I did.

  44. I guess I should work on forgiving Kerry.

  45. Nunya Bizness

    Man, which housing project could you fry? which ones giv'n ya trouble?
    just make sure you do it during the dark of the moon. and my goodness have a good reason before you go attacking a housing project.
    I must have missed the story on the project that attacked us..or was it just you?
    anyway good luck if you're gonna take retribution on that project....are ya dropping leaflets first?

  46. dragonbiscuit,

    Hey good buddy, welcome to the EB.
    Kids OK? Wife do'in fine? Great.
    Just send ole Habu $10.00US and I'll get it to a worthwhile charity. Why charity is practically my middle name. Yep good ole CH, Charitable Habu
    But I do say that when the bad guys are try'n to kill ya, ya just gotta kill'm it for the kids, your kids, you wife, you freedoms ..say take care and have a nice night.

  47. Nunya Bizness

    oh yeah more itty bitty insight...when the shit starts don't get to analytical or start think'n 'bout logic....that's another thing the fog of war obscures.
    just get on with the business at hand that mans been do'in since like forever dude.

  48. Just can't take those radical christian lesbos at their word, if that's who they really are to begin with.

    Let's see, as to Hope, that's in Arkansas, right?

    Hope is winning the War, or not going to War at all. Hope to know who the Enemy is and then beat them 'til they are dead or give up on the War. That's the Hope

    We don't torture and we don't War.
    That's the fact of the matter.

    No rack and no branding irons, not at Gitmo, any way.

    TWAT is SWAT, truth be known, one arrest after another. Writs and Warrants, but not WAR.
    And it is not another "kind" of War, either. That's spin with a capital S.

  49. anyway glad you folks stopped by. it's Happy Trails To You ..nite little troopers.

    and to the real men OOhh Rah, Semper Fidelis.

  50. Trish,
    I just want to say that I'm a full blooded paleolithic warhawk. But I bet you had a good sense of that.

    I wasn't a poster at the BC long enough to catch the flavor of the group other than the eloquent dissertation many produced with great vigor.
    I guess you're say'n they were a bit shy on real warhawk'n? Danced around it,mincing PC'ers?

  51. DR,

    You did that Hope thing real justice, but they'll never learn. But they will want protection.
    A pitiful group.

    Amigo, bedtime....Sleep that knits the ravelled sleeve of care..MacBeth

  52. Just for clarification:

    2164th said...
    I guess I should work on forgiving Kerry.

    11:25 PM, November 06, 2006

    2164th said...
    I need to think about it.

    11:25 PM, November 06, 2006

    That was a joke.

  53. catherine,

    re: Teresita

    Here, here! Well said.