Eye-Roller of the Day
Posted on November 5, 2005 Posted by John Scalzi 31 Comments
White House officials will be required to attend briefings next week on ethics and the handling of classified information after the indictment last week of a senior official in the CIA leak probe, according to a memo released on Saturday.
The briefings will provide a refresher course on general ethics rules, including "the rules governing the protection of classified information," the memo said.
Yes, because, you see, that whole thing about senior White House officials allegedly blowing the cover of a CIA operative? They just didn’t know it was wrong. Which may in fact be true; however, not in the manner a refresher course in ethics would be able to rectify. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad President Bush decided a course on ethics for his staff was necessary. Possibly, however, it should have come in late 2000, before they all took up shop.
Meanwhile, as this memo comes out, Cheney is still pressing Congress to let CIA agents torture people.
Gaaaaaaah. This White House doesn’t need an ethics course. It needs an ethics intervention.
Bush Orders Ethics Course
The CIA leak investigation has prompted President Bush to order his aides to brush up on the ethics
To be fair, though, there’s quite a range of activities being discussed under the rubric “torture.” Smacking someone in the face a few times is considered physical torture just as much as the old “electrodes to the testicals” trick, as are various sleep deprivation techniques. Also under consideration for a ban are forms of mental and emotional torture, such as (e.g.) threatening harm to a suspect’s family, showing pictures of naked women to a devoutly Muslim man, and so on.
Also, I would submit that what the CIA (and other, less up-front agencies) is asking for is not all that different from the CIA being allowed to spend money on less-than-morally-upstanding people throughout the world to gain information about terrorists, arms/drug trafficking, and the like, which you yourself have posted about as being not unreasonable.
Hold it – it’s one thing to buy information from some lowlife, not knowing what he’s done or to whom. It’s something else entirely to say agents of our government can have carte blanche authority to beat information out of someone or threaten their families if they don’t talk.
If it’s anything like your typical law school ethics class, it’ll quickly turn into “How To Get Around the Ethics Rules.”
A very cool webpage you have. I read a few entries; I like the pictures, and altogether, a comforting page to visit.
I’m confused about how giving someone $10,000 dollars for information is “not all that different” from waterboarding them.
Given what past abuses we’ve seen in the course of the Iraq War from folks who were already enjoined against torture, let’s just say that I’m not in the least optimistic that people approved to use torture will be any more judicious in their approach. Nor do I honestly think Cheney is asking for the right for the CIA to slap suspected Al Qaeda members a couple of times or show them pictures of naked women.
Also, simply as a practical matter, I’m far more willing to grant that someone like John “I was tortured for years by the North Vietnamese” McCain (who has been a mover behind the torture ban) understands better what is genuine torture than Dick “I had other priorities in the Vietnam War” Cheney.
Yeah if ethics intervention = trial/conviction/prison!
Over at The Sideshow, Avedon quotes somebody who suggests that if torture is so important in protecting America from those who would harm it, we ought be torturing Scooter Libby and Karl Rove. An idea I can almost get behind. But that’s just me and wish fulfillment.
Notes for White House Ethics Course
Hey guys, you know all those things we’ve been doing for the last five years? They’re unethical. Who knew?
“Not all that different” in the sense that we’re engaging in behavior that we (as a free, democratic nation) collectively feel is beneath us as a nation, yet see the practical need for given the environment in which agents of our nation are forced to operate. (And your example is akin to someone saying that driving 5MPH over the limit is not all that different from murdering a family of 5.)
John McCain and anyone like him, having lived through what he did, is free to say and propose anything he likes, but as a matter of personal conscience rather than a question of practical, operational policy.
Whenever the issue of officially sanctioned torture (which, as I’ve mentioned, covers a wide range of possible actions) comes up these days, people always drag out the abuses of Abu Ghraib. The problem with that is it’s an example of people who would _never_ be allowed to engage in what Cheney’s proposing –but who might have witnessed or assisted with what he is proposing– essentially playing with dad’s tools and burning the house down. Nobody is suggesting we officially sanction the kind of simpleminded, thuggish behavior that was exposed there.
At the same time, what Cheney is (officially) proposing is simply that there be some provision made for the use of torture in certain situations. Even if his proposal were for carte blanche in the interrogation of terror suspects (e.g.), nobody is suggesting that “the government” should be allowed to return to the days when your metropolitan police force could use rubber hoses when interrogating suspects.
Unless your concern is that this might be the beginning of a slippery slope, of course, I think this can be reasonably compared with the provision you support that supplies taxpayer money to “unsavory individuals” (sorry; I couldn’t resist) who might be known known to be murderers/rapists/etc in order to gain information we think would be valuable. (Or maybe “you” think that Dick Cheney and others in this administration are Darth Vader without the fancy suit?)
“‘Not all that different’ in the sense that we’re engaging in behavior that we (as a free, democratic nation) collectively feel is beneath us as a nation, yet see the practical need for given the environment in which agents of our nation are forced to operate.”
What you’re either ignoring or simply don’t see is the difference in outcome, which is to say on the end of the recipient there is a drastic difference between receiving $10,000 in exchange for information, and being waterboarded to extract information. Also, I rather strongly suspect that you’d find one is far more beneficial than the other in terms of the quality of information one gets; certainly there is ample evidence that information extracted under torture is impressively unreliable, because people will say anything to stop being tortured.
“Even if his proposal were for carte blanche in the interrogation of terror suspects (e.g.), nobody is suggesting that ‘the government’ should be allowed to return to the days when your metropolitan police force could use rubber hoses when interrogating suspects.”
And yet: Abu Ghraib, operated under rules which disallowed torture. It doesn’t matter what people are suggesting, Steve, it’s what people do, and what we say is allowable. If we say torture is allowable under certain circumstances, then indeed torture of the worst kind will happen, under the auspices of “the government” (although no quotes will be needed there, as the executive branch will have suggested we allow torture and the legislative branch will have codified it, and the CIA, which is an arm of our government, will be performing it). Perhaps you are optimistic that this is not the case, but given the track record of abuses that have occured in the immediate recent history, I don’t share your optimism.
“Maybe ‘you’ think that Dick Cheney and others in this administration are Darth Vader without the fancy suit?”
“I” think it’s absolutely morally appalling that the Vice-President of the United States is spending his time lobbying Congress to allow the use of torture, and “I” don’t think a snarky and facile comparison to an over-the-top fictional character by an apologist for such an action is going to change that in the least.
Interestingly, however, it’s not apparent that other members of the administration share Cheney’s enthusiasms in this regard, as this article from the Washington Post details.
I think I would be a lot more open to the idea if it was mandatory that the BIG CHEESE himself, Mr. Bush, was also required to attend. I swear this administration has redefined “DUH.”
Steve, from a moral standpoint the use of torture is wrong – I’m not sure why you don’t get that.
But even from a practical standpoint, it is ineffective at best. As John points out, it has been shown that the information extracted under torture is suspect because often a person will say whatever is necessary to stop the torture.
There is enough torture happening in the world without the US sanctioning its use. For an administration that claims to have such a storng moral compass they sure aren’t showing it with policies like this.
I’ve never said word one about whether I think torture is moral or not. Also, the “practical” angle of torture’s effectiveness (and the example specifically mentioned by John) concerns physical torture that causes a great deal of pain. In other forms of physical torture, sleep deprivation being a good example, the subject is typically not even aware of their words/actions and is not concsciously saying what their torturer wants to hear.
(If you want to get really picky about all this, would you consider it moral for a detective in an interrogation to “threaten” a suspect with dire consequences such as extensive jail/prison time, isolation from friends/family, scenarios where his children grow up without knowing their father, his wife sleeping with another man because her husband is no longer around, etc., if he fails to tell the detective what he wants, but instead decides to “lawyer up?”)
I put the “you” in quotes to (I thought) make it clear it was the generic “you” rather than you personally. And the “Darth Vader” comment was not intended to be snarky at all, but merely a clever (or so I thought) attempt to rule out commentary on this issue by anyone who ascribes only evil intentions to anyone in GWB’s administration.
I’m not an apologist for anything (and certainly not what happened at Abu Ghraib), merely pointing out that various forms of torture clearly ARE effective (even certain forms of physical abuse) at extracting information or there would be no point in engaging in them (again, the “let’s debase people for the fun of it” example of Abu Ghraib aside) and that there are certain rarified situations where I, personally, think authorized agents of the government should be allowed to engage in them.
Ah. Thanks for the clarifications. I think there’s ample leeway for physical and psychological leaning on prisoners within the current rules and without a blanket exemption from torture, however.
I just read the WaPo article linked to by John earlier in this thread and find it interesting that the debate has nothing to do with “torture doesn’t work,” very little to do with “torture is a bad thing,” and is mainly about the clash between Dick “the ends justify the means in battling terrorism” Cheney and various people (on the Republican side at least) who are uncomfortable with the open-ended language in the UN convention and/or are concerned about the PR ramifications of the US engaging in any level of torture or “harsh treatment of prisoners.”
FWIW, I do NOT like the idea of military personnel engaging in anything beyond what’s currently in their field manuals (and this is reflected by part of what McCain’s proposing), but do believe that it’s acceptable in certain situations by a cadre of trained covert operatives. Maybe it’s pollyanna-ish of me to think that anyone can be trusted in this regard, but my feeling is that voluntarily hamstringing your country’s agents (diplomatically, militarily, or otherwise) in what the Other Side (communists in the Cold War days, drug traffickers, religious/political terrorists, whatever) publicly calls a war is simply a misguided effort at fair play.
“Maybe it’s pollyanna-ish of me to think that anyone can be trusted in this regard,”
Yup. It is. If you want to know more, you might try finding out about the French and Algeria. In theory, they were only supposed to use torture a little, when needed, etc, but they found they were torturing left and right.
I think many people underestimate the power of inherently rewarding behavior. I think sadism, when people are forced to try it, is one of those inherently rewarding behaviors. Once out of the box, that behavior simply does NOT go back in. One other unfortunate side effect is that anyone who witnesses it (such as guards) also gets it in their repetoire. I had a professor in college who was an expert on torture, and he explained that many torture techniques used in Vietnam showed up back in the states in police interrogation rooms.
I don’t believe in torture on moral grounds, but if you want more practical reasons, you could read the confessions of the Inquisitors. People really will say *anything*.
Finally, we don’t need the Geneva Conventions to outlaw torture. We have the Constitution which forbids ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ as well as requiring such niceties as a jury of peers. Yes, I know there are ways to weasel out of this by saying things like ‘not in a time of war!’ or ‘they’re not US citizens!’ or whatever, but I believe the Constitution is pretty much the bedrock of who we are. I do not believe following the constitution to be misguided fair play.
Wow, gee, we could legalize the use of torture and be just as morally reprehensible as Saddam’s regime. That sounds swell.
No no, America isn’t evil, we only torture bad people. That’s what makes us the good guys.
I’m sorry, I don’t buy the whole so what if it is morally heinious, it is for security, its practical. It is that sort of opinion that is very literally destroying what this country was founded on. People who hold opinions like “Lets torture bad people to protect ourselves” are threats many times greater than the supposed terrorists.
I mean, you yourself admit it was morally detestable Steve. Did you not pay attention at all in school when they talked about the principles that the founding fathers held? I missed the part where they said “And all principles should be suspended if they prove impractical.” Could you please point that section out for me in the constitution?
I think that Cheney’s stance has more to do with the first half of your post than anything else. I don’t think that Cheney feels that coming out publicly in favor of torture is a great political or personal move. However I think that he recognizes that once you start putting these well intentioned laws on the books that a political opponent or two down the line will twist it around and use it as a club to go after someone they dislike. The law of unintended consequences.
The Plame affair is a great case in point. After two years of a very intense investigation Fitz didn’t find any trace that anyone outed a covert agent. It didn’t happen. Moreover, most pundits agreed very early on that no crime had taken place. However the identities act was used as a vehicle to exact a political pound of flesh from President Bush. In the end Libby stands accused of lying about statements he made to a reporter about something very routine (by which I mean that sensitive information leaks to the press from all administrations at all times). Hardly something worth the time and money spent on the investigation. Personally I would rather have spent the effort tracking down the motives behind Sandy Berger stuffing classified documents in his pants. Documents that he admits he later detroyed. An act for which he recieved a slap on the wrist. But I digress. And Bush et al did loudly and publicly state that outing a covert agent is wrong and should be punished. And they are still saying that.
Cheney is not arguing for torture as much as he is arguing against bureaucracy.
Josh, I still haven’t said whether I think torture is morally detestable. What I have said is that the non-productive (read that however you like) abuses at Abu Ghraib were detestable. Not quite the same thing.
Also, I’m finding it interesting in this discussion (here and elsewhere) that there are a lot of people who seem more inclined to view “torture” (and even what qualifies as such seems to differ among people) as a black-and-white, right vs. wrong issue than other issues that, one could easily argue, are just as morally questionable.
You seem to be beating around the bush. You’re coming off to me as just a rabble rouser. Why don’t you spit out what your definition of acceptable torture is? Maybe it will turn out that what you’re thinking isn’t really torture at all and it can then be pointed out to you that what you’re suggesting isn’t what Dickie is suggesting. He is suggesting morally, ethically repugnant torture that will turn us into what we so high and mightily claim we are not.
Let’s all keep our eye on the ball, here.
Torture is a terrible way to collect intelligence, as it results in _bad_ intelligence if it results in any intelligence at all. Time and time again it has been proven to result in garbage information. Trying to get a picture of the world through this kind of information will generally screw up your foreign policy (like there is any unscrewed US foreign policy right now) and cause governments to make bad decisions.
I mean, argue all you want about the limits of torture, and what the definition of the word really means. Just don’t conflate these thought experiments with reality. The tortured almost always just end up saying exactly what the torturers ask them for. This is exactly the kind of crap intelligence that gets more people killed.
In the real world, torture nearly always results in bad or dubious information, bad movie plots notwithstanding.
1. Moral issues aside, anyone saying that NO form of torture is EVER effective is ignoring a few thousand years of human history.
2. Many (actually, probably all) of the examples brought forth in this discussion arguing against the effectiveness of torture have been A) examples of physical torture, and B) examples of coercive, rather than interrogatory torture.
3. Bad movies plots aside, information gathered via “modern” torture is not used in isolation.
4. I have spoken with people who have undergone torture (US military in Vietnam and civil rights workers in Central America) as well as people who have used torture techniques (US military in Vietnam). Moral issues aside, much of what these people have said argues that various forms of torture ARE effective, within certain limitations.
Senator McCain is proposing that the entire USG infrastructure that deals with prisoners (officially recognized POWs or otherwise) adopt the rules set forth in the U.S. Army’s Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation (FM 34-52), which you can read here. VP Cheney is proposing that the CIA be allowed to exceed that in some (publicly undefined) way, but that would, I expect, include many of the devices that exceed or violate what’s in FM 34-52 as described in “Lawfulness of Interrogation Techniques under the Geneva Conventions”.
Finally, I would recommend reading “Can Interrogatory Torture Be Morally Legitimate?”, which comes pretty close to how I personally feel on the subject.
“Moral issues aside, anyone saying that NO form of torture is EVER effective is ignoring a few thousand years of human history.”
You know, moral issuses aside, anyone saying that NO form of slavery economy is EVER effective is ignoring a few thousand years of human history, too. And yet, our nation doesn’t do that, either.
There are things you don’t do, despite their possible efficiency, because they are not thing to which you can say “moral issues aside” without great peril. The simple fact that our vice-president is out campaigning for our government to be allowed to perform an unspecified level of torture (in our secret CIA prisons in other countries where our Administration blithely believes its actions are outside the law and obligations of the US) is a huge hit to the moral standing of the US and the ability for our nation to be seen as a force for good.
As for the “effectiveness” of torture, check out the opinion polls of the Iraqis regarding the US before Abu Ghraib and after. Torturing those people was certainly effective in getting the Iraqis to view the US as an occupying force, and it gave the insurgency all the ammunition it needed to recruit across the middle east, and to put our troops in further danger. And I’m sure that the knowledge that the CIA is torturing people in those secret untouchable camps will be equally effective in this regard as well.
Of course, moral issues aside, I suppose one could say the problem with Abu Ghraib was not that we were torturing people there, but that we got caught doing it.
John, I agree with the two big paragraphs from your most recent post, but you seem to be ignoring the fact it was officially accepted that the CIA engaged in all kinds of morally questionable acts from its inception until President Ford curtailed things like assassination and torture in the early ’70s. What Cheney is asking for is a provision to return to how things were not that long ago (in contrast to your slavery example), along with other actions that were banned but are now allowed again. Whether some of the CIA’s rules & proscriptions should be relaxed somewhat is a different debate, but the issue of torture should not be viewed as some isolated crusade by Cheney.
Also, the “example” of Abu Ghraib in this discussion is really a poor one, in that it’s a perfect illustration of A) why the US military shouldn’t be engaging in anything proscribed by FM 34-52, and B) is NOT an example of what Cheney is asking for. Abu Ghraib was not an example of of CIA interrogation techniques being exposed, it was an example of simpleminded thuggery by immature people. It has to be the single dumbest, most inept thing that’s happened since the invasion of Iraq, but holding it up as the act that united the common Iraqi against us is as facile as anything else. (And, yes, I fully agree with anyone who says that the people caught abusing and debasing prisoners were probably under the impression it was okay because they’d seen/helped covert intelligence officers do the same for information. But the “Johnny did it, too!” defense never works.)
Various people in this discussion seem to revolve their arguments against torture around physical abuse, or simply “all torture is bad/wrong/immoral.” I’d be interested to hear reactions to some of the things outlined in FM 34-52 that are proscribed as torture… I’d bet some people using the “all torture is bad” argument would be surprised at some of the things that are not allowed by the military when interrogating prisoners, and that Sen. McCain is proposing not be allowed for use by any US agent.
(Finally, and withOUT intending to start another discussion, it’s interesting that a lot of the same folks [not necessarily in this thread] who rail against the very idea of torture as morally reprehensible also support abortion, or eat farm-raised beef/chicken/pork, both of which are viewed as morally reprehensible by great numbers of people throughout the world. Is it the rational cruelty inherent in physical torture [at least] that makes it “worse?”)
“John, I agree with the two big paragraphs from your most recent post, but you seem to be ignoring the fact it was officially accepted that the CIA engaged in all kinds of morally questionable acts from its inception until President Ford curtailed things like assassination and torture in the early ’70s.”
And? Just because it’s only been 30 years makes it qualitatively better than other immoral activities our government may have allowed to exist but no longer do? We tortured people within living memory so it’s okay to go back to it? This is an argument?
“Also, the ‘example’ of Abu Ghraib in this discussion is really a poor one, in that it’s a perfect illustration of A) why the US military shouldn’t be engaging in anything proscribed by FM 34-52, and B) is NOT an example of what Cheney is asking for.”
Well, I agree to your “A” but unless you’ve managed to slip into the sessions in which Cheney is discussing his torture plans, I have no confidence in your declaration “B.” However you assertion that this is a poor example is wrong, because the point made there is that horrible things happened even when people were enjoined from torture, so it is immensely naive to expect that even worse things will not happen when people torture other people with the consent of the government. As for Abu Ghraib not being reminiscent of CIA techniques, some experts would beg to differ, and it is instructive to note these would be techniques pioneered buring those halcyon days of yore about which you speak earlier. You may certainly argue that the Abu Ghraib guards followed the techniques poorly, but it does not follow that creating a professional class of American torturers who efficiently torture their charges any more moral or any more desirable.
As to why people might find torture immoral but approve of abortion: Possibly because there’s no actual equivalence between a woman having a right to control what happens to and with her body, and a government asserting the right physically and psychologically batter a person against their will for the goal of extracting information which is consistently shown to be of dubious quality because of the nature in which its extracted. Likewise cleanly and efficiently slaughtering animals for food is also not equivalent to a government asserting the right physically and psychologically batter a person and etc.
Steve, as nothing you have brought up in the conversation I find even remotely exculpable regarding the VP’s behavior in lobbying for a CIA exemption for torture, and it seems unlikely that anything you’ll bring up in the future will likewise change my mind on the matter, and apparently vice-versa, I suggest we table this as an irreconcilable philosophical difference and move on.
I agree that there’s really no point to this discussion (never was, really), but I would like to try to clarify a couple of things:
1. I mentioned the relatively recent ban on torture & whatnot to point out that A) Cheney isn’t asking for the CIA to start torturing people, but to ensure that it’s an option again, and B) many of the things the CIA was enjoined from doing are now, again, allowed; what’s the logic in excluding torture (of any kind; as I’ve mentioned, many forms of “torture” are not obviously cruel in and of themselves) when we’re apparently “okay” with assassination and coups d’etat? (I freely admit that “A” is a distinction of a vanishingly small nature.)
2. Abu Ghraib is a bad example, not because of what was done, or even who did it, but WHY they did it: It was funny (to them) and they could do it. What those guards did wasn’t organized and wasn’t productive (if you will; based on the aftermath, actually counterproductive).
3. I have no idea what Cheney’s asking for, specifically, no. But I do know what’s proscribed in the field manual that Senator McCain is proposing be used for all agents of the US government.
4. For the torture/abortion/food issue: You seem to be saying that it’s different from other issues that lots of people believe to be immoral because it’s the government trying to officially do something immoral. (Or have I characterized that incorrectly? I suspect so, but I don’t see any other logical way to do so.)
5. I’d also like to say it’s been a little frustrating & disappointing that you (and others) have cherry-picked which of my points you want to refute. As you say, though, it’s your site and your rules. Fair ‘nough.
Say the word “torture” and nearly everyone thinks of hot pokers, electrodes, bamboo under fingernails, etc. While I would agree that modern, “no touch” torture is no less cruel in the abstract, the reality is that it CAN be effective at verifying (and, to a lesser extent, obtaining) information and with far fewer lasting effects. Do I like the idea of torture? Of course not. Am I comfortable with the idea that my government engages in it? Not really.
But: I do not believe that non-US citizens engaged in violent acts against us while outside our borders should gain protection under our constitution. If they want some form of protection, follow the rules required for combatants under the various Geneva Conventions.
(Also, and because I’m sure many of my arguments have been dismissed by people making assumptions about where I’m coming from: I didn’t vote for Bush. I think the administration has made more mistakes in the second term than in the first, which I wouldn’t’ve thought possible. Cheney creeps me out. I believe in the option of abortion, although not as an alternative to birth control. I’m an unrepetant carnivore who doesn’t care where my food comes from.)
“I’d also like to say it’s been a little frustrating & disappointing that you (and others) have cherry-picked which of my points you want to refute.”
I see it more as prioritizing, in that some points are more important than other points, and some points, when refuted, make the other points irrelevant. In this case, you may assume that I addressed the points I saw as significant, rather than bothering with a point-by-point laundry list refutation of points. Because, among other things, I have the rest of my life competing for my time.
I make no assumptions about your voting history and personal worth as a human being from your position; we just disagree on where the line is drawn for this sort of activity on the part of our government. Bear in mind that even my positions on where the line are drawn appall and horrify some others. When I wrote this for example, a German reader was absolutely appalled with what I suggested, defining it as torture. Let’s just say he and I had a difference of opinion on that. People can disagree.
“I see it more as prioritizing, in that some points are more important than other points, and some points, when refuted, make the other points irrelevant. [snip]”
And, again, that’s certainly your prerogative. Sometimes, though, I find it’s more a case of black/white-issue people being unable to see or debate ANY shades of grey, which is unfortunate.
“[snip]Because, among other things, I have the rest of my life competing for my time.”
To be sure, as do I, of course. But I do appreciate the time you took to continue the discussion, even if we were somewhat talking past each other. I just wish more people had been more involved in the debate, as I think it (both specifically and generally) is an important one.
“I make no assumptions about your voting history and personal worth as a human being from your position; [snip]”
Perhaps you did not (and you never came across as doing so), but many people would, and have, in face-to-face discussions about this and other issues I’ve had over the years.
So: Moving on… can’t wait for TGB to come out! :-)