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January 13, 2005

Check the Mirror

Joshua Cohen: January 13, 2005

I just read Andrew Sullivan's NYT review of the books on Abu Ghraib and other sites of torture by Mark Danner and Steven Strasser (the latter contains the Pentagon and Independent Panel reports; the former includes these as well as Red Cross reports, a bunch of other documents, and Danner's NYRB articles).  I suggest that you all read the Sullivan review, and read the books.

After acknowledging that President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, and Attorney-General-to-be Gonzales (among others) bear some of the responsibility for the torture, and that "the critical enabling decision was the president's insistence that prisoners in the war on terror be deemed 'unlawful combatants' rather than prisoners of war," Sullivan says:

But in a democracy, the responsibility is also wider. Did those of us who fought so passionately for a ruthless war against terrorists give an unwitting green light to these abuses? Were we naïve in believing that characterizing complex conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq as a single simple war against 'evil' might not filter down and lead to decisions that could dehumanize the enemy and lead to abuse? Did our conviction of our own rightness in this struggle make it hard for us to acknowledge when that good cause had become endangered? I fear the answer to each of these questions is yes.

American political polarization also contributed. Most of those who made the most fuss about these incidents -- like Mark Danner or Seymour Hersh -- were dedicated opponents of the war in the first place, and were eager to use this scandal to promote their agendas. Advocates of the war, especially those allied with the administration, kept relatively quiet, or attempted to belittle what had gone on, or made facile arguments that such things always occur in wartime. But it seems to me that those of us who are most committed to the Iraq intervention should be the most vociferous in highlighting these excrescences. Getting rid of this cancer within the system is essential to winning this war.

I was an opponent of the war, in part because of its predictable course, and I continue to believe that that opposition was fully justified. I also think it is disgraceful for Sullivan to chide Danner and Hersh for their alleged eagerness to use this "scandal" for "their own agendas." That said, I applaud Sullivan's willingness to look in the mirror and acknowledge that he shares in the responsibility for the disgrace, which was not simply about Abu Ghraib or about rendition. The incidents of torture "were everywhere":

from Guantánamo Bay to Afghanistan, Baghdad, Basra, Ramadi and Tikrit and, for all we know, in any number of hidden jails affecting ''ghost detainees'' kept from the purview of the Red Cross. They were committed by the Marines, the Army, the Military Police, Navy Seals, reservists, Special Forces and on and on. The use of hooding was ubiquitous; the same goes for forced nudity, sexual humiliation and brutal beatings; there are examples of rape and electric shocks. Many of the abuses seem specifically tailored to humiliate Arabs and Muslims, where horror at being exposed in public is a deep cultural artifact.

Participants in the exchange on "Kidnapping, Renditions, and Torture" who are "attempt[ing] to belittle what had gone on, or ma[king] facile arguments that such things always occur in wartime" ought to have the decency to follow Andrew Sullivan to the mirror.

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Left2Right is one of my favorite blogs. In its very early days, I commented: It makes it difficult when people who (apparently) disagree with you, when presented with facts that absolutely demolish the administration line, respond simply with knee-jerk... [Read More]

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» Hatchet Job from Fake Barn Country
Left2Right is one of my favorite blogs. In its very early days, I commented: It makes it difficult when people who (apparently) disagree with you, when presented with facts that absolutely demolish the administration line, respond simply with knee-jerk... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 17, 2005 6:16:02 AM

Comments

Posted by: S. Weasel

Ummm...okay. I was in favor of war in Iraq, so I'll acknowledge that I am as responsible for the bad actors and bad outcomes as I am whatever benefits there may turn out to be.

There.

What did that accomplish?

Posted by: S. Weasel | Jan 13, 2005 12:30:29 PM


Posted by: Mark

I agree that, in assessing the moral justifiability of the war, reasonably predictable outcomes of the war must have been considered. Thus, if one can make the argument that, prior to the war, some amount of torture of Iraqis was reasonably foreseeable, then war proponents should be held accountable for it.

However, anti-war opponents should also be held to the same standard. Like war supporters, they should be held accountable for all reasonably foreseeable outcomes of their position. Most damningly, this includes the reasonable foreseeable condition of Iraqis under Saddam's fascist regime: continued genocide, enslavement and mass torture.

I have yet to see a single war opponent acknowledge their shame in condemning innocent Iraqis to their fate under Saddam & sons. If you hold up the mirror for others, at least have the courage to look in it yourself.

Posted by: Mark | Jan 13, 2005 12:36:49 PM


Posted by: Nonami

I say the following with as much humility as possible. If it sounds preposterous, it is still something I sincerely believe.

I believe History will look kindly upon the Iraq War, not because it was a good deed, but because it was the best possibility. I have not heard an anti-war opinion which addresses this moral equation to my satisfaction.

I believe war and torture will eventually be reduced, but not because "anti-war protestors" somehow implored the world through wise ideology and enlightened techings to lay down their arms, but because eventually humanity will run out of wars to fight.

In that sense, I think the Iraq War was a war that needed to be fought. It needed to be added to the to-do list, and one way or the other, struck off. Call it a necessary evil if you want a simpler term.

The world doesn't improve because humanity improves--humans are the same animals they've always been--but because with improving economy, technology, living conditions, and interpersonal understanding, our deficiencies eventually either become moot, or counterbalanced.

Again, Iraq was a disaster waiting to happen. It was either going to happen on schedule, or not. That was the only variable in this equation.

Posted by: Nonami | Jan 13, 2005 12:55:01 PM


Posted by: Terrier

"It's really wonderful to watch apologists for inaction now have to watch as action defeats evil. They will change the subject; they will attack those who got this entire story right while they got it entirely wrong. But they will never reconsider." - Andrew Sullivan 2003-03-22

"Should we have gone to war under the circumstances then prevailing? Probably not. Given the lack of urgency with regard to Saddam's WMDs (yes, this is hindsight, but so is all of this), we obviously should have waited." - Andrew Sullivan 2005-01-12

I am sick to death of this war and the summertime patriots it bred. Those with the capacity to feel are walking around now like Sullivan with hollow eyes wondering not just what went wrong but how they contributed to it. For the noble few that dutifully drank the kool-aid and are still marveling at the "march of democracy" even the admission that the search for WMD has ended fruitlessly will mean little. Snot-nosed trust-fund kids, overwrought soccer moms and tinhorn tough guys will not waver until the war touches them. They will spit defiance in your face and insist on unreported miracles and a liberal-bias clouding every story that chronicles actual events. I just don't have enough time left in my life to debate these delusions. I pray every day that the war will just stop.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 13, 2005 12:59:01 PM


Posted by: frankly0

Mark,

To most people it's pretty obvious that, in most cases, one is not equally responsible for what happens if one does not interfere in a situation as one is for what happens if one chooses to interfere. In the latter case, one assumes full responsibility for one's acts, and that is one reason people and nations choose not to interfere unless the case is overwhelming.

Are we now fully "responsible" for the carnage in Darfur because we haven't chosen to interfere? I don't think so. The parties involved are the ones truly responsible, and ours is relatively small.

But if we inevitably get involved with widespread torture by starting a war against Iraq, then we ARE fully responsible for that; we must bear the consequences of our own actions.

Posted by: frankly0 | Jan 13, 2005 1:03:05 PM


Posted by: cirdan

re: mark's post above.
"However, anti-war opponents should also be held to the same standard. Like war supporters, they should be held accountable for all reasonably foreseeable outcomes of their position. Most damningly, this includes the reasonable foreseeable condition of Iraqis under Saddam's fascist regime: continued genocide, enslavement and mass torture."

Er, no. This might even be true if being anti-war entailed *not* doing anything at all. i.e. letting things in Iraq continue as they were doing. However, as I remember it at the time, there were at least some people who opposed the war on the grounds that it was an *ineffective* and *unjust* way to remove Saddam and accompanying disbenefits.

That is, one could agree that Saddam's removal was undesirable AND that the war was nevertheless unjust.

Posted by: cirdan | Jan 13, 2005 1:09:24 PM


Posted by: cirdan

Sorry, that should read, 'that Saddam's removal was desirable, and that the war was nevertheless unjust.'

Posted by: cirdan | Jan 13, 2005 1:12:14 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I read Sullivan lengthy review last night after reading Mr. Cohen’s post. I don’t think accusing Hersh of using news of prisoner abuses to further his “agenda” is disgraceful, but perhaps that is a small point. It seems to me that what Sullivan was saying there was that because of the intense political polarization, people too frequently dismissed out of hand otherwise meritorious claims made by the opposition. That the opposition’s motives were not entirely pure is worth remembering in that context.

I also remain agnostic about how widespread the “disgrace” of such abuses has been. The disturbing investigations which are now coming to light are probative but hardly dispositive, especially insofar as they include many so far uncorroborated and thus possibly false prisoner reports. Moreover, both those reports and Sullivan’s review may be using very broad and inconsistent and questionable definitions of torture and abuse. (One example: it may be neither civilized nor humane to force a Muslim to eat pork. However, it hardly rises to torture and I’m not sure it even rises to abuse. If that were all it took to pry valuable information from an insurgent prisoner, I’d start frying up the bacon in a heartbeat.)

I don’t think there is anything particularly facile about recognizing that war is horrible and brutal, that it brings out the worst in some people and that some innocent people are killed or injured. Those of us who did not oppose the war are indeed responsible, as far as that goes, for accepting responsibility to minimize the horrors of war and to hold accountable those who violate our moral and legal standards in its commission. As Sullivan also points out, the latter is in the process of being done even now. As for the former, the U.S. military took extraordinary measures to avoid collateral damage (itself, an ugly euphemism) during combat operations. If the left has useful suggestions as to how to interrogate and otherwise deal effectively with this particular sort of enemy combatant in the present situation (as opposed to endless suggestions how not to do it), I’m sure many non-leftists would be glad to listen.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 13, 2005 1:16:36 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Mark, are you making a case for welfare or warfare? Am I my brother's keeper only if he is an oppressed Iraqi? Or are you calling for state subsidized health care not just for Iraqis (they have this now under our occupation) or do you want to extend these benefits to citizens of your own country?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 13, 2005 1:18:21 PM


Posted by: frankly0

As to the larger question, is (even) Iraq better off without Saddam, I can only say it's not obvious to me that that is true now, or will remain true. How many people really died under Saddam in the years immediately before the war? All the terrible numbers I've seen quoted go back to periods much earlier, when he appeared to be consolidating his hold on power. If 100,000 Iraqis really died in the war, how long would it have taken Saddam to kill an equal number at the rate he was proceeding in the years of relative stability directly before the war?

Of course, one has to factor in, somehow, the apples of freedom to counterbalance the oranges of brutal deaths and bodily harm. But even here, much depends on things we don't even know, namely, what kind of freedom will really obtain after we remove our own presence. Will most Iraqis see themselves on balance as being better off? It's not exactly obvious that they will.

Posted by: frankly0 | Jan 13, 2005 1:19:05 PM


Posted by: Chris

Mark writes, “I agree that, in assessing the moral justifiability of the war, reasonably predictable outcomes of the war must have been considered. Thus, if one can make the argument that, prior to the war, some amount of torture of Iraqis was reasonably foreseeable, then war proponents should be held accountable for it.” I will argue that torture was reasonably foreseeable in this war just as it was in all past wars and will be in all future wars. This is exactly the reason why “civilized” nations have tried to implement “rules” to wars. When you put normal people into abnormal situations some are going to do terrible things regardless of the rules.

Posted by: Chris | Jan 13, 2005 1:20:59 PM


Posted by: Mark

franklyO,

I agree that anti-war leftists would not have been as responsible for Saddam's continued atrocities as Saddam himself. However, that is not the issue. The principle of the argument, established by Mr. Cohen, is that both sides should be responsible for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their positions.

Anti-war leftists were confronted with a situation where they could choose to support the rescue of innocent people from horrible injustice. Presumably they declined to support the rescue attempt after considering the foreseeable consequences of both support and opposition. The reasonably foreseeable consequences for opposition to the war were continued enslavement, mass torture and genocide. This situation was, or should reasonably have been, countenanced by anti-war leftists. They cannot now disclaim it. I am simply deploying Mr. Cohen's principle against his own anti-war position. He, of course, has anticipated this move and has an answer for it.

Your answer, however, is unresponsive.

Posted by: Mark | Jan 13, 2005 1:26:13 PM


Posted by: frankly0

Mark,

I think that all anti-war activists have to acknowledge is the very small responsibility they might have had for the continuation of atrocities under Saddam. This could only be as large as the responsibility that we all have now for not interfering in Darfur. Indeed, since Darfur is by any reckoning a situtation of far greater brutality than Iraq under Saddam, the responsibility anti-war activists would have for not interfering in Iraq is objectively far less.

You're doing everything you can to make the responsibilities incurred by not acting the same as those one must assume if one does act. But there's no way that will ever be made to work.

And in any case there are degrees of responsibility one has for the consequences of one's acts when one interferes. We are most responsible for those consequences which are most directly and obviously due to that interference. We are especially responsible for the things that we ourselves do in consequence, such as perpetrating torture.

Posted by: frankly0 | Jan 13, 2005 1:38:13 PM


Posted by: Chris

Cohen states, “I also think it is disgraceful for Sullivan to chide Danner and Hersh for their alleged eagerness to use this "scandal" for "their own agendas." What’s wrong with Hersh having an agenda and using information to support that agenda? I don’t necessarily agree with some of the positions that Hersh may take but so far he hasn’t been put on the rack for not doing his homework! It’s all how you present the facts. Towards the end of the book, Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History by George Crile, there is section describing the production of the 60 Minutes segment on Charlie Wilson and his part in the Russian/Afghanistan War when one of the producers asked the other how he was going to edit the program because he could make Wilson look like a hero or a clown. Same facts and same footage totally different results.

Posted by: Chris | Jan 13, 2005 1:51:30 PM


Posted by: Mark

Cirdan,

Any alternative to the war which sought the removal of Saddam's fascist regime with the implementation of democracy would be subject to evaluation as above: how reasonable was it to suppose that this would happen outside of a war? If you want to argue that anti-war leftists had a reasonable alternative here, then do so; please provide appropriately dated pre-war links.

franklyO,

You say anti-war leftists only have to acknowledge "the very small responsibility they might have had for the continuation of atrocities under Saddam".

I suppose you and I disagree on the degree of responsibility here. I am pleased that you have conceded that anti-war leftists have to acknowledge their failure to support the rescue of Iraqis from continued and unrelenting slavery, mass torture and genocide when there was an opportunity to end such suffering, and to take responsibility for it. (You are only the second anti-war lefist I have ever seen to make this concession, btw.)

To characterize this responsibility as "very small" is, I find, a strange and inconsistent position to take for leftists. I have thought for a long time that the left is a long way from its ethical roots in fraternity and equality. How differently would the world look if we characterized our responsibility to help others as "very small" in WW2, or the civil rights struggle?

Your post at 1:19, though, asks the right questions. Norm Geras estimated future deaths under Saddam using HRW figures of past deaths (230,000 conservatively, not including Iran/Iraq war), at 10,000 per year. (I don't think it's an answer to exclude early deaths either.) You can find his post at his blog I'm sure. I haven't seen his figures seriuosly challenged.

I agree that it is difficult to measure the long term benefits, but that just forces us to use concepts like "reasonable foreseeability" in assessing moral justification.

Posted by: Mark | Jan 13, 2005 1:54:25 PM


Posted by: oliver

'I also think it is disgraceful for Sullivan to chide Danner and Hersh for their alleged eagerness to use this "scandal" for "their own agendas."'

I don't share the judgment that Sullivan has been disgraceful here. At least in that brief excerpt I don't think he's saying the reporter's "agendas" distorted their reporting or explained why they reported the torture in the first place. If you're a member of a democracy and like me you see Bush and crew as dumb and dangerous, you're going to hope that others come to see them as dumb and dangerous too; and if your job is to report news to your fellow nationals, then you're going to be enjoying your job especially while reporting the news that suggests and is liable to persuade others that Bush and crew are dumb and dangerous. It only disparages the reporting to say that the enjoyment biased it, and Sullivan doesn't say that. Mildly tendentious maybe, but "disgraceful" no. So in the competition to appear to play nice while attempting to kill your opponent, I think Sullivan scores a point over Cohen. And I'll give myself a point here for nitpicking.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 13, 2005 2:04:24 PM


Posted by: Chris

For an opposing view to Hersh see How to Interrogate Terrorists by McDonald


http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_1_terrorists.html

Posted by: Chris | Jan 13, 2005 2:04:52 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Mark, would you please apologize for not removing Saddam in 1991? How many died after the first war when conservatives could have prevented their deaths by pushing on the Baghdad then? Didn't conservative sit idly by while the gunships put down insurrections they encouraged? Why has their been no apology, no acknowledgement of this crime?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 13, 2005 2:15:00 PM


Posted by: Mark

Terrier,

I'm not sure why you believe that referring to conflicts other than the recent Iraq war counters my position. You'll have to clarify how this is relevant.

Insofar as you do make reference to other conflicts, you seem to accept the proposition that one should be responsible for reasonably foreseeable moral outcomes that one endorses - so we're in agreement.

Posted by: Mark | Jan 13, 2005 2:24:09 PM


Posted by: Chris

Since the title of this post is Check in the Mirror I thought I would ask how many of those that are contributing are parents? How many of you who are parents have violated the Geneva Convention by torturing your children? Have you spanked them? Have you given them a time out? Have you made them stand in the corner? Have you threatened them with eternal damnation if they don’t tell the truth?

Posted by: Chris | Jan 13, 2005 2:24:45 PM


Posted by: JeffS

This Post, though very interesting, obscures a fundamental fact about torture today: torture depends on making exceptions, on saying “these” enemies, for whatever reason, are not entitled to the normal decency we extend even towards our dangerous attackers. To properly condemn the practice, one needs to condemn all such exceptionalism, to fight the idea that any enemy, no matter his crime, deserves such horrible treatment.

Instead, too many opponents of the Bush administration, as in this post, seek to blame torture precisely on the vilification of the particular enemy today, on the over-extension of the “war on terror” or of concepts like “evil.” Which, in effect, is to legitimate the practice of torture by implication – supposing, for example, all of the alleged connections between Iraq and 9/11 were established, or we found that the victims were truly evil. This is the wrong answer. Recall that anti-torture conventions, especially in Europe, were often formed precisely in response to wars against terrorists such as the IRA.

Political and ideological greed, the lustful urge to blame everything on one’s political opponents, can blind us to our own true culpability in the wake of Abu Ghraib, even when we look in the mirror. The hard fact is, 50 years after human rights conventions, as this post shows, we have not properly taught our soldiers – nor ourselves – that no exceptions, no evil, justifies the evil of torture.

Posted by: JeffS | Jan 13, 2005 2:25:52 PM


Posted by: farmgirl

D. A. Ridgely: "it may be neither civilized nor humane to force a Muslim to eat pork. However, it hardly rises to torture and I’m not sure it even rises to abuse."

If you were forced to eat human flesh while imprisoned, would that rise to the level of abuse or torture?

Mark -- Are we all now responsible for the genocide in North Korea, since the US is not taking direct steps to effect regime change? Would you advise a reactivation of the shooting war there to remove our collective culpability?

Posted by: farmgirl | Jan 13, 2005 2:41:43 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Mark, no actually, I don't think anti-war protestors are responsible for Saddam's atrocities, that's ridiculous, because after all Saddam was removed so how can someone be responsible for something that never happened? Kindly stay in the world of reality and inform us whether you support the war and the torture that resulted - that is what the issue of the post is here - actual dead bodies are not equivalent to hypothetical dead bodies.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 13, 2005 2:48:53 PM


Posted by: Chris

Article 26

The basic daily food rations shall be sufficient in quantity, quality and variety to keep prisoners of war in good health and to prevent loss of weight or the development of nutritional deficiencies. Account shall also be taken of the habitual diet of the prisoners.

The Detaining Power shall supply prisoners of war who work with such additional rations as are necessary for the labour on which they are employed.

Sufficient drinking water shall be supplied to prisoners of war. The use of tobacco shall be permitted.

Prisoners of war shall, as far as possible, be associated with the preparation of their meals; they may be employed for that purpose in the kitchens. Furthermore, they shall be given the means of preparing, themselves, the additional food in their possession.

Adequate premises shall be provided for messing.

Collective disciplinary measures affecting food are prohibited.

Posted by: Chris | Jan 13, 2005 2:49:41 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Farmgirl:

(1) Surely you are not comparing Muslim human beings to pigs, are you? (2) Abuse, possibly, depending on what cut and how it was prepared. Not torture.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 13, 2005 2:58:20 PM


Posted by: Mark

Terrier,

I think you've misinterpreted my arguments, but I won't repeat myself. Suffice to say that if we apply your principle to the other cases you've mentioned, your political opponents can use it against you to exculpate themselves. When you decide which syllogistic course you prefer, get back to me.

Posted by: Mark | Jan 13, 2005 3:02:35 PM


Posted by: Tom Perkins

I cannot think of a more cold blooded, evil thing any official in any American Administration, past or present, has said in my lifetime than Madeline Albright saying that if the sanctions were killing a quarter million Iraqis a year--while permitting Saddam to unambiguously continue torturing Iraqis and play peekaboo with UN inspectors--that the sanctions were worth it.

If opponents of the war will say they believe the sanctions could be justifiably continued and assume some appropriate share of culpability for the deaths caused by the failure to remove Saddam already, I will gladly assume my share of the culpability for supporting a politically feasible end to those sanctions.

Since I've only voted for GW, I'd say that's something like 1/55,000,000 X 100,000 deaths*. I presume that leaves me responsible for some Iraqi's hangnail?

In sum, the posters pretensions amuse me.

*If that figure is accurate, I think the British Red Cross report was quite inflated.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

Posted by: Tom Perkins | Jan 13, 2005 3:20:47 PM


Posted by: farmgirl

D.A. Ridgely: "Surely you are not comparing Muslim human beings to pigs, are you?"

Facetious much? No, my point was only that pork is deeply taboo in the Muslim faith, and I wondered whether you were trivializing its forced consumption because you (possibly) did not share the same taboo. Cannibalism is a nearly universal taboo, so I wanted to compare your reaction to that idea. Thank you for the response.

Uncivilized, inhumane, abusive -- however one would categorize it -- forced breaking of cultural taboos can backfire (cf. Sepoy Mutiny of 1857).

Posted by: farmgirl | Jan 13, 2005 3:22:40 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Mark, "your political opponents can use it against you to exculpate themselves" on what basis? The hypothetical murder of millions? We're talking about things that happened here not some fantasies about evil empires creeping into your room while you sleep bearing scary weapons. Sullivan said it pure and simple. If you supported the war you have a greater obligation to get off your rump and speak out against the wrongs. Have you done so?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 13, 2005 3:29:25 PM


Posted by: tom perkins

Terrier, the leftist puppet candidate so recently rejected by the American electorate was quite a fan of respecting that same international regard which led Bush I to not fracture the coalition by removing Saddam in 1991. Would you prefer conservatives who act in a way that would, if you have any consistency, horrified you then?

You really can't have things both ways.

And for the record, and with hindsight being 20/20, Bush I should have removed Saddam in 1991, even if Iraq dissolved.

As the magnitude of that error became clear over time, Clinton should have acted unilaterally to remove him, citing Saddam's numerous breaches of the armistice agreement and attempt to assasinate George HW Bush.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, pfpp

Posted by: tom perkins | Jan 13, 2005 3:30:43 PM


Posted by: Shag from Brookline

Accountability is what should be demanded by Americans from the government. Bush Jr.'s Administration avoids accountability but wants it from CBS and other critics. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the lame duck. At some point those who supported Bush Jr. will say, "If only I knew ...." But don't expect it; they will rationalize that it was worth it to get rid of Saddam, so long as they did not shed blood, lives or limbs, but got the benefit of tax cuts. There are not enough swords for these people to fall upon.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Jan 13, 2005 3:33:45 PM


Posted by: Joshua Cohen

1. I may have put the point too strong when I said Sullivan's remarks on Danner and Hersh are "disgraceful." The essential point is that Sullivan ought simply to have praised them for their large public service: the comment on their aims is at best irrelevant.

2. I don't think that Jeff's description of the position in the post is accurate, but never mind: I think Jeff's position on torture is correct, and nothing I said was meant to disagree.

3. As the NYT editorial on WMD today correctly obserrves: "What all our loss and pain and expense in the Iraqi invasion has actually proved is that the weapons inspections worked, that international sanctions - deeply, deeply messy as they turned out to be - worked, and that in the case of Saddam Hussein, the United Nations worked. Whatever the Hussein regime once had is gone because the international community insisted. It was all destroyed a decade ago, under world pressure."

4. As for acknowledging responsibility for Sadaam Hussein's atrocities: I regret not having raised my voice against US support for the regime when Hussein was gassing the Kurds, and the US could have done something about it. I confess that I was distracted throughout the period by American policy in Central America.

Posted by: Joshua Cohen | Jan 13, 2005 3:34:47 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Farmgirl:

It was your analogy, not mine. And I answered you. I do consider eating human flesh a taboo and I wouldn’t consider it torture. But neither would I consider the taboo against cannibalism on a par with the taboo against eating pork in the first place. Moreover, my point was that if I found it a useful interrogation technique, I would not hesitate to use it. I would similarly feed pork to orthodox Jews, fish on Fridays to Roman Catholics, iceberg lettuce salads to New Yorkers and wine-in-a-box to the French. If I were a prisoner and was told I was eating human flesh, would I consider myself abused? Yes (Though not as badly as the main course had been.) Would I call it torture? No.

The reason we have all those words (inhumane, uncivilized, abusive, torture, etc.) is because they mean different things.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 13, 2005 3:47:02 PM


Posted by: pedro

I am sure Mr. Ridgely--whom I have developed great respect for--wouldn't be so inclined to use euphemisms for torture, if he or his children had been forced to do the kind of things that have been deemed 'acceptable' forms of treatment by those who called the Geneva conventions quaint.

In Latin America we have some local knowledge of what torture is, and judging from family examples, I'm afraid many people underestimate the degree to which what they call "abuse, perhaps, surely not torture" can affect human beings. Abstractly, it may sound to you and me that it isn't the worst thing in the world to have to eat human flesh in dire circumstances. But it is quite a different thing to be *forced* to do something, than it is to do it. By way of example, it can be fun to have sex, but it is certainly no fun to be forced to have sex. The latter is called rape. In my book, being forced to do humiliating things with one's body is psychological torture. And psychological torture can be every bit as aggravating and damaging as physical torture. In fact, testimonies of hundreds of tortured people in Latin America attest to this.

Posted by: pedro | Jan 13, 2005 3:47:49 PM


Posted by: Terrier

tom perkins, I know it was Clinton's fault. The sky is blue. Do you have anything new to add to this debate? Would you like to personally condemn torture?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 13, 2005 3:55:32 PM


Posted by: bobbywally

Wow. Number crunching [human lives] to stake out the moral high ground. It's a fascinating exercise, but I guess someone has to do it.

I apologize for being so touchy-feely lefty, but was there ever any doubt about the true gist of our patriotic, flag waving, "it's for the children," self-righteous war mongering? I didn't need to be told that there are bad people in this world who are doing bad things to other people. [I'll spare you the list of indignities that American arrogance has heaped upon the down trodden people of the world. You probably know it better than I].

What I did need to be told was the TRUTH. [Our economy runs on the free access to someone else's oil. We have to play ball with the Chinese, because, well, they own us]. Why do I have to be told lies and jingoistic platitudes? Who the fuck are we anyway? Do we have ideals, or just ideologues?

I am 100% for liberating all of the people in any world who are not free. Everyone. And I understand that the "evil doers" will fight back. I don't want to be a Neville Chamberlain. But I really hate to learn that some of the people who are shouting the loudest have the least to loose, and are also making money on the deal. True democracy scares the beejesus out of people in power.

So where so we start? We stood by when Mr. Hussein was making his mark. We continue to stand by while Equatorial Guinea goes tin horn dictator, not to mention the mess in Darfur. But perhaps we are a bit over extended? Never mind, have a tax break.

How can anyone be so glib about how history will treat the stupidity of an empire in decline?

By the way...have you noticed that the Moral High Ground Stakes are portable?

Posted by: bobbywally | Jan 13, 2005 4:06:31 PM


Posted by: chainlink

I've noticed the tendency elsewhere, and the conversation here provides a good example it: whereas the Left once claimed that the point was not to study the world but to change it, Leftist discourse seems often now not even to pretend to be about "changing the world." It drifts compulsively to the issue of how much responsibility can dance on the head of a pin. What is this "responsibility" that it likes so much to talk about? To whom, exactly, does it conceive itself as "responding?"

Frankly0 writes: "To most people it's pretty obvious that, in most cases, one is not equally responsible for what happens if one does not interfere in a situation as one is."

Where does this hygienic approach to world affairs come from? Why has this weirdly metaphysical conception of "responsibility" become so characteristic of the Left?

My guess is that it is spin invented to disguise the Left's powerlessness in the world: okay, it says, we don't affect anything--but that's only because we want to keep our hands clean.

Posted by: chainlink | Jan 13, 2005 4:14:25 PM


Posted by: Lancelot Finn

I oppose torture. That's why I support the war in Iraq. Saddam practiced torture, and murder, on a far larger and crueler scale than the US army did in the aftermath of the war.

That Saddam was worse is not a justification for what US soldiers did. And yet there's something deeply absurd and disturbing about anyone using the practice of torture by US forces as a justification, or even as part of a justification, for opposing the war. Such an argument is clearly not motivated by a desire that Iraqis are not victims of torture, since far worse atrocities were a constant feature of Saddam's regime throughout his 35-year rule. Instead, the argument is motivated by a desire that *we not be involved,* that at least *our hands are clean.* I call this the "Pontius Pilate solution." (see this article: http://www.lancelotfinn.com/kerry_nixon_partners_crime.htm )

My reaction to the Abu Ghraib scandal is on my website here: http://www.lancelotfinn.com/Bringing_Neoconservatism_Home.htm

Posted by: Lancelot Finn | Jan 13, 2005 4:14:56 PM


Posted by: Mark

Mr. Cohen says:

"As for acknowledging responsibility for Sadaam Hussein's atrocities: I regret not having raised my voice against US support for the regime when Hussein was gassing the Kurds, and the US could have done something about it."

This is an intersting admission. He seems to endorse the principle that one should be responsible for the reasonably foreseeable outcomes of one's position. But notice that simply a failure to raise one's voice is grounds for criticism. This seems like a fairly low standard; many anti-war leftists, including leftist academics, voiced opinions that Saddam's fascist regime be left in place, thereby endorsing a (reasonably foreseeable) situation of continued mass torture, genocide and enslavement of Iraqis.

So why does Mr. Cohen let himself off the hook in this situation? Or is his shame so great that he cannot bear a public exhibition of it?

He has, so far, avoided the main issue.

Posted by: Mark | Jan 13, 2005 4:16:50 PM


Posted by: cirdan

Mark, in response to:
"Any alternative to the war which sought the removal of Saddam's fascist regime with the implementation of democracy would be subject to evaluation as above: how reasonable was it to suppose that this would happen outside of a war? If you want to argue that anti-war leftists had a reasonable alternative here, then do so; please provide appropriately dated pre-war links"

I suggest that:
There were good reasons to suppose that war was not necessary to achieve legitimate US policy goals. But let’s be clear about the quality of moral responsibility here. There’s a difference in the moral quality of anti-war and pro-war acts, as franklyO has pointed out above.

In response to your challenge, here's a 28 page paper dating from 2002, courtesy of the Kroc Institute for peace studies.

The strategy advocated is ‘Containment Plus’ [their term]. It would have involved various sorts of boring, routine, bureaucratic multi-lateral stuff, but it just might have avoided a war.

Specific recommendations include:
-Improved border monitoring
-Establishing sanctions assistance missions.
‘the task of monitoring shipments into Iraq would be a substantial challenge, but it would be less difficult than inspecting the large volume of trade that crosses the U.S.-Mexico border ever day…’[p. 15]
-Engagement with Iraq’s trade partners to gain their support for the embargo.
-Exposure of Arms embargo violators
-Eradicate kickbacks through improved oil-pricing mechanisms.
-Require audited financial Reports from Oil purchasers
-Control or shut down the Syria pipeline
-Strengthening Deterrence.
‘While it is clear that nonstate actors such as al Qaeda cannot be deterred by conventional methods, nation states such as Iraq are a different matter. By their very nature, they seek to survive and to accumulate and preserve power.’ [p.20]

Finally, ‘if deterrence could succeed against a superpower like the Soviet Union, it can surely work against a weakened and impoverished country like Iraq.’ [p.21]

So, good eveidence that measures short of war could have achieved legitimate US policy goals. Alternatively, good evidence that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, no longer posed a threat to its neighbours, and was not actively supporting terrorist activity. The humanitarian crisis was grave but might have solved given political will.
What,then, say you?

Posted by: cirdan | Jan 13, 2005 4:18:28 PM


Posted by: CDC

Shag, "At some point those who supported Bush Jr. will say, "If only I knew ...." But don't expect it; they will rationalize that it was worth it to get rid of Saddam, so long as they did not shed blood, lives or limbs, but got the benefit of tax cuts. There are not enough swords for these people to fall upon."

That would be me. The best information we had is that we had a choice of two terrible options. We chose the one that we expected to be the least bad. I still expect it to be the least bad. We still have incomplete information so I'm not sure. Anyone who is should be congratulated on his omniscience.

Josua Cohen, "What all our loss and pain and expense in the Iraqi invasion has actually proved is that the weapons inspections worked,that international sanctions - deeply, deeply messy as they turned out to be - worked, and that in the case of Saddam Hussein, the United Nations worked. Whatever the Hussein regime once had is gone because the international community insisted. It was all destroyed a decade ago, under world pressure."

If anyone - including the NYT - had confirmation of that information at the time, I missed it.

While we are at it, let's refight Overlord. There was obviously no need to send the Rangers to die at Point du Loc. There were no 88s in place. And we lost a lot of good paratroopers because the prep bombing was much too deep.Ike and Bradley should have been stood against the for relying on their best judgement and faulty intel.

There is nothing easier than "woulda, shoulda, coulda".

Posted by: CDC | Jan 13, 2005 4:23:44 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Mark, still talking hypothetical torture? Would you care to condemn the real thing? Why do you let yourself off the hook in this situation? Is your shame so great that you cannot bear a public exhibition of it?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 13, 2005 4:23:49 PM


Posted by: Mark

Cirdan,

I note that the report is directed to secure the interests of the US in assuring that Iraq divests itself of, or ceases pursuit of, WMDs. It does not seem to make the case for regime removal (see containment, etc). If you want to establish that the anti-war left put forward a reasonable alternative to war for the removal of Saddam's fascist regime, you will have to look elsewhere.

Terrier, at least make some attempt to engage with my arguments by making your own counter-arguments. It's a waste of time to do otherwise.

Posted by: Mark | Jan 13, 2005 4:42:03 PM


Posted by: tom perkins

Terrier, I'm glad you know that the far largest share of blame to any individual (other than Saddam) goes to Clinton. The current President squarely described Clinton's strategy, and I paraphrase, "as shooting a $5 million dollar missile at an empty $5 tent and hitting a camel in the butt."

The sky frequently is blue.

I did add something to this debate, the specific fact that the Clinton administration (and by extensions leftists) felt that 250,000 Iraqi lives per year was an acceptable price to pay for the status quo ante to continue.

Relative to that, I am quite comfortable with the equivalent share of blame that might be assigned to me against my supporting the conclusion of the Gulf War.

Compare and contrast the speculative 250,000 per year since 1991 with the speculative 100,000 for one year, maybe two. I contend it would be one or the other, so which is better?

No I would not like to personally condemn torture. Someday I may need to do it. Unlike such an unabashed leftist as, for example, Alan Dershowitz--who wanted to have the government endorse the "only following orders" defense by issuing torture warrants; I am comfortable saying those who torture should face a fully informed jury of their peers and be judged thereby. I do not believe it should be legalized. For example, the officer who "tortured" a just captured Iraqi fighter for information about an ambush the officer's men then avoided, I'd give that guy a thumbs up. The thumbs up that England was giving in the photo should have earned her and her officers long stints at Leavenworth--on top of which, many of the prisoner's she and colleagues were abusing were common street criminals--they had no information. Stupidity as well as depravity should have a higher price, and so should the command of such things.

I do believe that some of what has been done to Iraqi, Taliban, and alQaeda prisoners is torture. I believe much of it is not. D.A. Ridgely has a good point that inflating every uncomfortable thing done to our prisoners to the level of "torture" cheapens the word, misdescribes the behavior, and lessens the rhetorical effectiveness of the person using the word.

I do blame the Administration for failing to find hardly any officers or agents above the rank of Sgt. who knew or should have known about the abuse--but I don't really think there's much of any recourse to be had on that point--not for the effort of having it.

I also do not believe the alQaeda prisoners are POWs. The closest any international law comes to cover them, IFAIK, is that they should be treated as pirates and killed out of hand or tortured for information as seems useful. The only concern I have concerning alQaeda detainees being tortured is for the humanity of the torturers.

The Talban certainly are POW's, and if they are obeying the rules of war (but they're usually not) the Iraqi's are POWs. I am ashamed of the Adminstration for fudging these distinctions when they clearly, to me, are in fact clear.

I wonder if you have something to add to the debate besides short posts which are still long enough to be inherently self-contradictory?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

Posted by: tom perkins | Jan 13, 2005 4:54:50 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I would respond to Pedro as follows: I don’t deny the existence of psychological torture, but neither do I consider humiliation, per se, or the mere breaking of some taboos to count as torture. I have never advocated the inhumane treatment of prisoners in general. My point was and remains what I personally would condone if it turned out to be an effective interrogation technique. I stand by that. Comparing taboo foods to rape is precisely the sort of “it’s all the same” mindset I wish to argue against. Reasonable people may think I’m wrong about this specific example, but it is unreasonable to call every tactic which might actually be useful precisely because the interrogatee wishes to avoid it to be torture.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 13, 2005 5:09:45 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Thanks, tom perkins, sounded like a condemnation of (most) torture to me. As for Mark, I made an argument that you have never responded to, there is a big difference between hypothetical responsibility and real responsibility. You keep criticizing people for hypothetical responsibility and not responding about real responsibility. If you will not answer me at least quit harping about what did not happen.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 13, 2005 5:11:10 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Cohen writes: I confess that I was distracted throughout the period by American policy in Central America.

Gawd, that's good!

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 13, 2005 5:11:12 PM


Posted by: BigMacAttack

'Participants in the exchange on "Kidnapping, Renditions, and Torture" who are "attempt[ing] to belittle what had gone on, or ma[king] facile arguments that such things always occur in wartime" ought to have the decency to follow Andrew Sullivan to the mirror.'

I couldn't find a single comment in the thread for Kidnapping, Renditions, and Torture that matched the above description.

Could someone point out such a comment? Multiple comments from different sources?

Posted by: BigMacAttack | Jan 13, 2005 5:24:56 PM


Posted by: CDC

D.A.Ridgely: When in doubt, blame Reagan.

Posted by: CDC | Jan 13, 2005 5:42:21 PM


Posted by: CDC

In an earlier post I intended to say, "Ike and Bradley should have been stood against the wall and shot for relying on their best judgement and faulty intel."

While I'm at it I'll add Marshall, Stimson and FDR. Why not? With our God-like powers of retrospection we condemn Myers, Rumsfeld and Bush for less.

Posted by: CDC | Jan 13, 2005 6:37:58 PM


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