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April 27, 2009

That Dark Place

The deepest foundation on which morality is built is the phenomenon of empathy, the understanding that what hurts me would feel the same way to you. And human ego notwithstanding, it's a quality other species share.

Morality Quiz

I can still remember the worst dream I ever had, though I had it well over 20 years ago.

Needwood-05.jpg In my dream I was walking through the tall grass on the shores of Lake Needwood near my parents' house. I have no idea what I was doing there but then dreams don't have to make sense, do they? Perhaps it was because I spent a fair amount of time there as a teen.

The afternoon sunlight washed the tops of the autumn grass with gold as I waded silently through an endless sea of waving strands. It sounds tranquil, idyllic.

And for the first few moments it was. I was happy. At peace.

But then suddenly, without warning, an icy bolt of pure adrenaline shot through me. My son - a tiny angel whose upturned nose was just beginning to show the barest dusting of freckles - where was he? He was only three years old... when had I last seen him? I began to run through the grass, but night was coming and suddenly I knew with a sick certainty that he needed me. And I couldn't find him.

Mothers have an odd connection with their children. I think it must stem from the physical bond we share during the first year of life. We carry them everywhere, wrapped in a cocoon of warmth and safety. Snuggled deeply inside us, they recognize and react to our voices when we speak. And for the first time in our lives we know another human being is totally, utterly dependent upon us. We feel their tiniest movements. When they are startled or agitated, we know without having to be told.

Loud noises can frighten the unborn even in the womb. I remember gently placing my hand over my swollen belly and speaking softly to both my sons when some sudden noise startled them and they began to kick like tiny frogs.

"Shhhhhhh. It's all right. I am here. You're safe."

But in my dream he wasn't safe. I don't know how I knew this, but the feeling went so deep I never doubted it for an instant. I knew it in the same way I always woke just before my children did in the middle of the night, even though they never woke at the same time two nights in a row. A gossamer thread connected us. It passed through closed doors. It transcended space, crossed time. It didn't make sense.

It just was.

Night fell, and I could see searchlights winking like fireflies along the shore in the gathering gloom. Someone had my son. He was still alive because I could sense his presence.

But someone - I didn't know who - was doing terrible things to him. Unspeakable things. I knew, without having to be told, that he was in agony and I was powerless to help him - unable to stop his screams.

I think the reason I still remember that dream after all these years is that it was the first time I truly understood the phrase "she died of a broken heart". Some things you can't truly comprehend until you experience them for the first time.

When I finally woke, I thought I was having a heart attack. There was a crushing weight in my chest - it felt as though an invisible fist had reached right through my rib cage and was squeezing my heart. I can't describe the sensation. It didn't matter a bit when my rational mind said, "It was only a dream." I heard and understood. But then the pain came and reason - reality - ceased to matter.

I've remembered that feeling often in the last few weeks and the thought has occurred to me: what would I have done, in my dream, to protect my son? What would I have done if those searchlights had descended upon someone who knew where my child was being kept? What would I do if I'd found someone who knew who my son's tormentor was, who could lead the police to him and stop the awful pain?

I wonder how many of the parents, lovers and friends of those who died on 9/11 have had similar dreams? Dreams that, unlike my long ago nightmare, they couldn't wake up from? I'm not alone in asking this question:

In surprisingly good English, the captive quietly answers: 'Yes, all thanks to God, I do know when the mujaheddin will, with God's permission, detonate a nuclear weapon in the United States, and I also know how many and in which cities." Startled, the CIA interrogators quickly demand more detail. Smiling his trademark shy smile, the captive says nothing. Reporting the interrogation's results to the White House, the CIA director can only shrug when the president asks: "What can we do to make Osama bin Laden talk?"

I've heard - and read - the disclaimers. The rationalizations seeking to justify something the speaker can't possibly know:

"It's just a hypothetical, and a ridiculous one at that."

"There they go, fear mongering again."

Except that it's not far fetched anymore. Since the day 19 men armed with nothing more than boxcutters flew planes into two buildings and a field in Pennsylvania, nothing seems far fetched anymore except to those determined to avoid hard choices. Who would have believed it took so little to make us vulnerable? If the 9/11 scenario had been laid out ahead of time, can you imagine the ridicule? The accusations of fear mongering? Who would have believed 19 men could snuff out 3000 lives in an instant?

Certainly not these people. Certainly not the ones who brandish the enviable surety of 20/20 hindsight with such self-righteous delight, secure in the knowledge that their consequence-free pronouncements will never be second guessed.

I'd love to believe that I am a moral person; that I have a well thought out code of ethics I'd never violate under any circumstances - no, not even to save a small child from torture and a painful death. Not even to save my own son. I've often said that two wrongs don't make a right. I've said this repeatedly. I've said that principles mean nothing if we're willing to jettison them at the first sign of trouble.

But then there is that dream. Would I knowingly inflict pain on a unwilling informant, if by so doing I could end the pain of an innocent child?

Empathy is an odd emotion. For me at least, it's not a one way street. I can easily imagine the terror of being nearly drowned. I can just as easily imagine the screams of a small Iraqi child or his grandfather when their limbs are blown off by a suicide bomber. I can imagine these things just as easily as I can feel the devastating guilt, the aching loneliness of the wife who had a nasty argument with her husband just before he headed off to work on a brilliant September morning in 2001 without hearing her whispered, "I'm sorry....so sorry. I love you so much."

"I didn't mean what I said last night."

Perhaps it is because I can empathize - not just with one side, but with all sides in this awful mess - that I can't pretend there wasn't a choice to be made. And I can't duck that hard question: what would I do, if it were my job to keep others safe? Would I be strong enough to stick by my principles?

And if I did, would I be strong enough to live with the guilt if that was the wrong choice and others suffered a worse fate through my inaction?

The absolutists - on both sides - are willfully ducking the question; refusing to recognize the hard choices made by those who watch over us as we go about our daily routines. And the truth of the matter is, we only know so much about what transpired because the watchers recorded what happened. They left a record of their decisions; their reasoning, of the facts and the law as they understood them then (not with the brilliant clarity of hindsight, but in the moment).

We would like certainty. We would like to remove ourselves to higher ground and look back on what was done to protect us with civilized distaste. We can do that because we are, in fact, safe.

Hunted people avoid higher ground. It's the most dangerous place to be. It's exposed, and when the bullets are flying the safest thing to do is to duck, and hide, and do nothing.

But the question remains: what would you do?

For you, this is only a hypothetical question. When you turn off the evening news and pause before the door of your child's bedroom to listen to his soft breathing in gathering darkness, try to remember that.

Posted by Cassandra at April 27, 2009 07:37 PM

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Comments

I'd love to believe that I am a moral person; that I have a well thought out code of ethics I'd never violate under any circumstances - no, not even to save a small child from torture and a painful death. Not even to save my son.

I don't quite understand this code of ethics that would not save a child from a sadistic adult. A moral person would protect the child. God gave you authority over your son, and the responsibility to protect him until he can protect himself. High-velocity lead poisoning for the perpetrator in your dream is justified.

Adults choose to do what they do. If an adult chooses to take a small child and endanger him, the adult should lose his gonads or his life. I only hope that I would be grizzly-bear enough to do the deed. People who would harm a helpless child or person are the equivalent of rabid dogs, and should be dealt with harshly.

I saw a t-shirt that says "I'd Rather Be Waterboarding" and am still tempted to buy it and wear it. In my opinion, it's just stupid to say that waterboarding, which leaves no injury except fright, is "torture". This is absurd. When Steve Harrigan can be waterboarded for Fox News and live to report another day, I have no concern about supporting this practice to get information.

Stress positions? Uncomfortable cold? The Barney Song? Caterpillars in an enclosed space? Using such techniques for personal enjoyment against innocents is evil. Using them against evil people is good.

People who jeopardize others' lives forfeit their right to life, IMHO. Fire away.

Posted by: MathMom at April 27, 2009 10:47 PM

I'm of the opinion that if it is okay to do to our troops during their training, it is okay to do to terrorists...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at April 27, 2009 11:26 PM

My own personal moral code would allow me - by whatever means necessary - to protect my children and the ones I love. I take full responsibility for my actions and will accept full consequences for them - whatever those may be, here on earth or elsewhere.


God sacrificed His Son so that I wouldn't have to sacrifice mine. I believe that holds true, regardless of the circumstances.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at April 27, 2009 11:52 PM

The problem with torture is if you grab the wrong person. To do whatever it takes to get information from a bad guy that has grabbed your son wouldn't register on my morals at all including filleting him. Where it goes wrong is when you grab someone you are not sure of. What happens when the person that you torture doesn't know anything?

I believe that we have went to the edge and then backed off a little with waterboarding. If we did grab someone with no knowledge we would do no lasting harm.

Posted by: Russ at April 28, 2009 12:07 AM

Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago and have been reading it over the past few days.

Posted by: runescape gold at April 28, 2009 02:56 AM

What happens when the person that you torture doesn't know anything?

Then you don't get any information from him. So you move on to the next candidate.

I believe that we have went to the edge and then backed off a little with waterboarding.

I was waterboarded in 1968 -- it wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't torture. I've seen the results of real torture, and it wasn't inflicted to gain information, it was done to instill fear of the torturers. And it wasn't *our* side that did it.

Posted by: BillT at April 28, 2009 03:36 AM

Having been through SERE training, which includes waterboarding, I think calling it torture is ludicrous. Torture leaves marks...

Posted by: camojack at April 28, 2009 03:46 AM

A few observations:

1. Mathmom: the "moral" part (and moral was originally in quotation marks - I probably should have left it that way but I'm aware I've been overusing them lately) was meant to introduce a bit of ambiguity into the scenario, and also perhaps to pose a possible argument against inflexible moral judgments.

The person in that hypothetical isn't the person who was hurting my son. At worst, they (and we intentionally aren't told if "they" are male or female, or what their circumstantial relationship to the malefactor is) are aiding and abetting with some knowledge of what is going on.

At best, they may just have information I want. And in any event, I don't have concrete evidence which "proves" one way or another that they are involved. There is only my circumstantial and strong belief that they know something that might stop what is going on.

So. How far am I willing to go to get that information?

2. My own position comes closest to what Russ said: "To do whatever it takes to get information from a bad guy that has grabbed your son wouldn't register on my morals at all including filleting him. The problem is when you grab someone you're not sure of."

Which is why I set this up the way I did.

3. That said, I would also like to believe I wouldn't let personal squeamishness - my desire to have clean hands - prevent me from saving my son from a fate far worse than anything I would be inflicting on the person I questioned. Like HF6, I tend to think I'd do what had to be done and take my lumps.

Classic lifeboat ethics.

And yet, what if this standard were applied broadly? What if the police routinely did this sort of thing in this situation?

We have laws that say a suspect is innocent until proven guilty and that we can't torture suspects to obtain evidence of guilt. Arguably, those laws were never intended to apply (though apparently SCOTUS disagrees) to non-uniformed enemy combatants, but I think we can all see the wisdom in them.

This is the larger part of moral reasoning which says, "OK. In general this is wrong but there are mitigating circumstances in this specific incident."

But also there is what your mother used to say to you: "Obviously you don't think you've done anything wrong. OK. What if someone did it to you? What if everyone acted this way? What kind of world would it be?"

Posted by: Cassandra at April 28, 2009 05:42 AM

"What if someone did it to you? What if everyone acted this way? What kind of world would it be?"

But everyone *doesn't* act this way, because there's no reason to do so in their daily lives.

If there are to be exceptions, they must be extraordinarily compelling -- life or death. And if we *didn't* act that way in desperate circumstances, you'd be long past worrying about what kind of world it would be.

Or anything else, for that matter -- except for the Last Question you're asked when your life is reviewed: "I gave you the knowledge and the will you needed to obtain the information that would have saved the lives of a hundred thousand innocents, yet you chose to do nothing -- why?"

Posted by: BillT at April 28, 2009 06:15 AM

But everyone *doesn't* act this way, because there's no reason to do so in their daily lives.

BINGO.

But that doesn't get to my question about the police, does it?

The problem - and I do see it - is that in the presence of uncertainty, I don't think this is a practice we would want to see replicated, even though in some percentage of cases it would have utility.

Are the police justified in rounding up every one of a suspected kidnapper's associates and waterboarding them to try and catch him before he kills?

That is why I say it is a hard choice. In real life, the decision is rarely supported by certainty. And yet the consequences of inaction can be tragic.

My point was that it's easy to criticize these decisions from the Comfy Chair... or the Oval Office after the crisis is over.

As you say, everyone *doesn't* have to make these kinds of decisions. Certainly, Obama hasn't had to make them.

On the other hand I think we need some rules, because without them you'd have people concocting ever-more-tenuous reasons why they "had" to act to prevent something they thought was worse.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 28, 2009 06:42 AM

All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Catchy, isn't it? :p

Posted by: Edmund Burke at April 28, 2009 07:26 AM

Are the police justified in rounding up every one of a suspected kidnapper's associates and waterboarding them to try and catch him before he kills?

The police have other "incentives" to use, because in this instance, we'll assume the perp is a criminal, not a terrorist. Since he and his associates (if any are knowledgeable of the crime) are likely monetarily-motivated, his associates will talk rather than deal with the certainty of being charged with Accessory to Murder Before the Fact, and most lawyers will convince their clients to plea-bargain.

Terrorists are generally political or religious apocalyptics -- if they can't be persuaded or cajoled, they must be either tricked or coerced into revealing information. Cause one of them to become temporally-confused and convince him it's late May when it's actually mid-April, and it can result in him revealing an operation scheduled for early May.

Posted by: BillT at April 28, 2009 07:30 AM

The person in that hypothetical isn't the person who was hurting my son. At worst, they (and we intentionally aren't told if "they" are male or female, or what their circumstantial relationship to the malefactor is) are aiding and abetting with some knowledge of what is going on.

If we're still talking about people who know a child is in peril, are not personally doing anything to harm the child, but are not doing anything to save it from peril, my position holds. They are accessories. Waterboard 'em. Beat the s#!+ out of them. Yes, I know you said "at worst", but they don't look guilty for no reason, I'll wager.

Wasn't there a case in the news in the last year or two where a child had been abused and eventually died, the neighbors stood idly by even though things looked fishy? Those people are guilty of inaction, and even if they don't "get theirs" in this lifetime, God will have something to say about it at their deaths.

At best, they may just have information I want. And in any event, I don't have concrete evidence which "proves" one way or another that they are involved. There is only my circumstantial and strong belief that they know something that might stop what is going on.

This is what questioning is for. One of your sons is a police officer, correct? He has probably developed a "spidey sense" that tells him something is fishy when questioning suspects. Like the officer that pulled over Jeffrey Dahmer and noted a bunch of black plastic trash bags in the back seat. He asked what was in the bags. Dahmer said "just some garbage". The officer's spidey sense was twitching, but he was helpless to investigate. Gotta give them their rights! There were body parts in those bags. Jeffrey Dahmer could have been stopped years earlier if criminals' rights were not more important than the rights of law-abiding people. Is it a coincidence that the number of serial killers has increased dramatically (and the individual killer's body count), since the Miranda decision? I think not.

So the line blurs here. I don't think we want to return to the questioning style we saw in the movie L. A. Confidential, which according to my Government professor in college was used customarily before "read-em their rights". But their might be times when that approach is better than letting someone go whom you suspect knows something, but whom you cannot press for information.

Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far toward erring on the side of caution.

Posted by: MathMom at April 28, 2009 07:44 AM

There are two things in this discussion (the whole discussion, all over the news)that really grate on me.

(1) The boiling down of an entire interrogation program to waterboarding, which is used with about the same frequency as Comet Hale-Bopp's appearance in our sky

and

(2) the assumption that the only thing that qualifies someone for "enhanced" interrogation techniques is having attended pre-school with someone who would grow up to be a terrorist.

Number 2 is simply and absolutely not in any way true.

Interrogators follow a scale as they do interrogations. They start with rapport building, they evaluate what is received with what they already know, then decisions are made as to how to proceed. Even KSM (or as Leno called him "Joe MillionHairs") was not subject to waterboarding before they attempted anything else. I'm guessing on that one, anyway, because if his questioning had been so different than the norm I'm sure someone would have already mentioned it.

Furthermore, the terrorists who are so disgusting as to be held and subject to these "enhanced techniques" are hardly what one would call "upstanding citizens" in their everyday life, either. In the course of questioning these people about their terrorist actions, interrogators hear horrendous tales - child abuse, child molestation, abuse of women, stoning, the horrific murders of innocents in the cause of jihad. The interrogators hear all this, the things that would cause us to put a sudden end to the evil in front of us and consider it justice - the interrogators hear it and then continue to do their job within the boundries that are set for them.

Not that I'm romanticizing interrogators, or anything (said seriously). It's just a subject near and dear to my heart as I have an up close and personal relationship with someone trained in interrogation, who has been an interrogator in war zones, even if it isn't his primary job.

Anyway, I'm all about the morals of a situation - otherwise my attendance at church would be hypocritical. I do not believe that justice, however (and to me justice is a necessary part of "the moral answer")is static. It would have been justice if someone could have imprisoned Hitler at Auschwitz and ended WWII before he murdered 6 million Jews. It would have been justice to grab Pol Pot and confine him to a sparse cell with no comforts while he was pumped for information and brought to trial.

It would have been justice if one of John Wayne Gacy's victims had turned the tables on him.

What Ellie Nesler did was justice.

When we stop examining our reasons, we have a problem. That is when our morals can be truly called into question. But what has been done up to now? I'm sad that the interrogators have had to internalize some of the things they have heard, but I am not sorry those things were done.

Posted by: airforcewife at April 28, 2009 08:03 AM

Admittedly I'm arguing the devil's advocate position here.

But you are (again) assuming certainty on the part of the accessory's involvement and/or knowledge. There have been plenty of times when the police suspected the wrong guy, so their "spidey sense" wasn't working too well that day. Either that, or they were under pressure to arrest someone quickly and that caused them to overlook plainly exculpatory evidence. Do we want to legally empower them to beat unwilling informants into submission?

I don't think so.

Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far toward erring on the side of caution.

Perhaps it has.

On the other hand as has always been argued to me, just how much power do we want to cede to the government? The social compact exists because together, we are less vulnerable to the depredations of our fellow men than we would be alone.

But without law, we are also vulnerable to corrupt and even criminal government officials who have far more power over us than our neighbors ever will. Most military folks are suspicious of arbitrary exercises of force because they know how fragile freedom is - a sentiment that has been oft expressed in response to the Obama administration of late.

It has also been argued by many here that government should have the least amount of power needed. If there's a bright line here, I'm not seeing it.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 28, 2009 08:17 AM

When we stop examining our reasons, we have a problem. That is when our morals can be truly called into question.

That is precisely the point of this post :) Context matters. Greatly.

But I also think we have to make rules knowing that people are fallible and that wherever we draw the line, they will push up against it for reasons both good and bad. One-size-fits-all rules can never address every situation adequately, but they provide a general measuring stick against we can judge individual cases.

I liked what HF6 said about making your best call and living with the consequences.

I also think that lately even conservatives shrink from that principle. They are fine with people they agree with making their best call. They are not fine with them having to be measured against society's yardstick.

I think it has been interesting that for most of the military folks brought up on charges in this war, the case hasn't made it past the Article 32 hearing. And yet people - conservatives - screamed that there even *was* an Article 32.

I think this is the price of being protected by laws - we can't always selectively except those we agree with from examination - not and remain a free society that operates under the rule of law. And I think we need to separate legal guilt under a given standard from evidence in mitigation. There's a reason it's called mitigation: it doesn't mean the law wasn't broken.

It must means we understand *why* it was broken: it's an admission that our rules are not infallible.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 28, 2009 08:26 AM

I admit I'm one of the people who screams about things going to Article 32.

The reason I do that is that no one is ever "innocent". They are just "not guilty". In the course of saving someone else's life, you - in effect - forfeit your own future. Or at least, you can be called to forfeit. If you even get to an Article 32, you're life as you know it is over - and the life of your family, your career...

The same applies to the unfortunates accused of rape - you are guilty even if you aren't guilty. one accusation of sexual harrassment, even if it is made by someone looking to even a score, ends a career.

It seems to me that at the moment there is the worst of both worlds. The guidelines were too lax, and the threat of punishment is too arbitrary.

Posted by: airforcewife at April 28, 2009 08:34 AM

I agree that it's awful. And painful. And uncomfortable. And I, too, find myself viscerally upset when this happens.

But then there are people like that Green guy who raped and murdered an innocent girl - one of the people we are supposed to protect - and her family. How do we punish people like that - and protect the innocent - if there are no laws?

I think that sometimes it is too easy to accuse people, but the legal system can't protect us from every flaw in human nature, and that isn't its purpose. The ones who count make the right distinctions, and that's when you find out who is rational and who your real friends are.

The fact is that the system works most of the time. It's not perfect, but it's the best system we have.

My own husband has been accused of racial and sexual discrimination -- for holding a female Marine to the exact same standard men were held to under his command. The system worked and he wasn't punished for upholding the rules.

But it wasn't pleasant.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 28, 2009 08:53 AM

I have to throw in this aside:

I can't BELIEVE I used the wrong form of you're/your in my comment. I blame my capitalization issues on typing too quickly, but the you're/your...

I'm totally humiliated.

Posted by: airforcewife at April 28, 2009 09:10 AM

"But without law, we are also vulnerable to corrupt and even criminal government officials who have far more power over us than our neighbors ever will. Most military folks are suspicious of arbitrary exercises of force because they know how fragile freedom is - a sentiment that has been oft expressed in response to the Obama administration of late."

Very true. The problem comes in when government lawyers, who are asked to come up with legal boundaries for interrogation do so to the best of their ability, document it for the record, then are thrown before a "Truth Committee" years later for it. Especially when those calling for such a "Truth Committee" fail to mention the Truth that they were fully briefed on those legal limits and how they were being applied all along.

If the law is vague, change the law. In this case explicit public law is a bad idea since it would reveal to the targets what they need to train themselves to resist. If you can make it to that point, and you know we can legally go no further, you're home free. We KNOW Al'Qaida trains their operatives in counter-interrogation already, we've got their manual for crying out loud. What's been done is to hand them the keys to the kingdom when it comes to knowing our limits. Furthermore, we've REMOVED those former limits as options, so they now know if they can resist kind offers of coffee and donuts, we can't touch them. Nice job guys.

I was asked about my opinions on the use of harsh interrogation techniques up to and including full blown torture (as in pliers and a blowtorch torture) as applied to the "ticking timebomb" scenario back in 2004. My position then (and still today) is that a President not willing to do everything INCLUDING torture (not waterboard, full on drills and powersaws) a suspect to prevent a major terrorist event such as a nuclear, biological or chemical attack, does not deserve the job. Personally, I'd authorize whatever it took, then walk into Congress and tell them what I authorized and why. If that's determined to be over the line, so be it. No career, even POTUS, is worth saving at the cost of American lives.

Posted by: MikeD at April 28, 2009 09:13 AM

"I can't BELIEVE I used the wrong form of you're/your in my comment. I blame my capitalization issues on typing too quickly, but the you're/your..."

Don't feel bad, AFW... your not the only one who does it.

:)

Posted by: MikeD at April 28, 2009 09:19 AM

AFW, I've done the same. I think being on the Internet you see so much bad grammar and so many typos that it warps your brain :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 28, 2009 09:26 AM

Yeah, I consider it a moral victory not to drool on the keyboard, myself. If there isn't a typo or twisted grammar in my comment it was probably put there by an imposter...

Posted by: Pogue at April 28, 2009 10:22 AM

BillT, I didn't mean to imply that waterboarding was wrong. I meant to say that waterboarding was as close to the edge as we want to go when unsure about the people that we are interrogating.

Posted by: Russ at April 28, 2009 12:46 PM

Another excellent post M'lady.

As you said, such decisions are not to be taken lightly. Depending upon the situation or context, where your notions of responsibility and your sense of duty resides, taken together with your willingness to accept personal failure, or worse, should you believe that you must act in the defense of others, that is what I would want in the persons tasked with protecting the nation, the state, the county, the home.

Speaking as one of the Comfy Chair folk, I can only consider my history and imagine how I would act in any given circumstance. And I'm not saying more than if a threat was hanging over one of the people I love, or if I were responsible for the safety and wellbeing of a group, I would like to think that I would act to the best of my judgment and ability to protect their lives and interests and let <insert higher power of choice here> sort it out afterwards.

The current crop of weasels in the district leaves me asking the question of when, not if, another attack will take place within our borders. And I second what Mike said, or just to say IMO, the POTUS and Congressional leaders do not rate their leadership positions.

Posted by: Manchurian-bubba-hun at April 28, 2009 01:08 PM

"the POTUS and Congressional leaders do not rate their leadership positions. "
Case in point, in an attempt to cling to power, Senator Arlen Specter switches to the Democratic party.

Posted by: Manchurian-bubba-hun at April 28, 2009 01:20 PM

Arlen Specter has been a Democrat since he was Frank Rizzo's bud in Philly. The only thing he's finally done is *admit* it...

Posted by: BillT at April 28, 2009 01:27 PM

True, but I question the timing...

And what did he not know and when did he not know he didn't know it?

Special Prosecutor!

Posted by: Manchurian-bubba-hun at April 28, 2009 01:38 PM

I meant to say that waterboarding was as close to the edge as we want to go when unsure about the people that we are interrogating.

Unsure in what manner? Unsure of their connection to with the higher-ups, or just unsure of the extent of their knowledge?

You wouldn't use the same method in both instances.

Posted by: BillT at April 28, 2009 01:39 PM

And what did he not know and when did he not know he didn't know it?

I say we waterboard him :p

Posted by: Princess Leia in a Bipartisan Bikini at April 28, 2009 03:35 PM

Yanno........
If they'd just add a little mazola oil, whipped cream and cherries to that technique it could be *protected speech*.....

jus' sayin'.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at April 28, 2009 05:11 PM

"If they'd just add a little mazola oil, whipped cream and cherries to that technique it could be *protected speech*....."
But only on a float in a

yeah, you know where this is going...

We're OK and You'd Better Agree If You Know What's Good For You, You <fill in the blank as needed>-phobe parade in places such as that city by the Bay.

Yes, San Fransesspoolco.

Posted by: Manchurian-bubba-hun at April 28, 2009 05:38 PM

We established a legal system for ordinary criminal procedure in this country that not only prohibited torture but even unwelcome interrogation or any other attempt to force anyone to testify against himself. We didn't do it entirely because we thought it was wrong or unduly cruel to use those techniques in all circumstances. We did it because we thought these were techniques whose abuse led to more harm than good. In part that was because they made government too strong in relation to ordinary citizens. But it was also partly because, when you use torture to extract "confessions," it's pretty clear that you'll get a lot of false confessions. There's a strong temptation to get the false confession anyway, in order to score a conviction, either for career promotion or because the authorities had an ulterior motive for wanting to lock someone up or execute him, but needed a whitewashing excuse. So torture seemed too dangerous under the circumstances.

But the situation is different when you're extracting information that you plan to use to prevent an ongoing or future crime, rather than to support a criminal conviction. In that case, you're not interested in the confession for its own sake. You're interested in information that can be independently tested and will be independently useful. In that context, I think the balancing act between the need for useful techniques and the danger of giving government too much power is different. And the concern about extracting false confessions doesn't really even rate as a problem. Some statements will be lies, others will be truth, and we'll find out when we check.

But the most important thing for me is that, once we're gone through this balancing act and authorized people to use particular techniques, after Congressional hearings, we shouldn't try to change the rules retroactively. That's just dishonorable. In the case of Congressional leaders who knew perfectly well what they were authorizing (talking to you, Madame Speaker!), it's not only dishonorable but gutless, corrupt, and otherwise contemptible in every way I can think of.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 29, 2009 09:25 AM

Great comment. I agree that there's a lot of confusion regarding the purpose of interrogation of wartime detainees vs. suspected criminals.

The same confusion applies to warrantless surveillance - I wrote a piece a long time ago that unfortunately isn't around any more. The reason for requiring a warrant for search and seizure was originally the understanding that whatever was found could be used against you in court.

But if the purpose is interdiction (as with unannounced searches of barracks rooms on military installations), that alters things. There is far less danger of the seized material or information being misused, and so traditionally courts have tended to uphold this activity even without a warrant.

But the requirement to try and release wartime detainees has muddled things considerably because we were, if I understand it correctly, allow the prosecution to use confessions as evidence of guilt.

I understand why so many military JAG folks had a problem with this. What I don't understand is why more progressives, don't? They are actually citing the fact that "due to the way they were obtained", confessions and/or interrogatory materials won't stand up in court!

In many ways, the pressure to try enemy combatants led to precisely the abuses progressives were supposedly concerned about. I don't think lawfare is a particularly efficient way of dealing with terrorism or non-uniformed combatants. The battlefield and intelligence services are ill equipped to gather the kind of evidence of guilt that will stand up in court, and yet we're being told these folks have to be tried and then when we can't convict them (duh) that this is evidence they were improperly detained or interdicted from further terrorist acts.

Talk about a catch 22.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 29, 2009 09:40 AM

The battlefield and intelligence services are ill equipped to gather the kind of evidence of guilt that will stand up in court, and yet we're being told these folks have to be tried and then when we can't convict them (duh) that this is evidence they were improperly detained or interdicted from further terrorist acts.

Wait 'til al-Q sticks this into its "How to Play the Infidels" handbook and troops start getting sued in court for "interfering with freedom of movement."

Guaranteed that'll solve the problem of what to do with future detainees -- no live prisoners = no detainee dilemma...

Posted by: BillT at April 29, 2009 12:36 PM

The Engineer and I were talking about this just last night. I cannot pretend to take a moral stand because the rights of a terrorist supposedly trump the rights of the many to live their lives.

Instead, I will point out that if he suffered a bit of discomfort at being waterboarded, that is a blip of anguish compared to the hell the victims and survivors and this nation would be put through.

I would not hesitate. I am in that dark place...
and I will now be quiet.

Posted by: Cricket at May 1, 2009 10:41 AM

"I am in that dark place...

*pulls up another stool, hands Cricket a long, cold glass of iced tea*

The Boss is gonna hafta get me some more stools, it's getting crowded here in the Dark Corner.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at May 1, 2009 01:40 PM

*hauling up more barstools from the basement*

Posted by: BillT at May 1, 2009 01:57 PM

Thanks, Sly. It goes deep, but there are men and women who won't come back, and who didn't come home because my freedom was important enough to them that they gave it all up. I can't forget them. I also can't forget a couple of things on a personal level, but what it comes down to is that if it were up to me, I would not hesitate. Ever. There are some things that are crystal clear in my mind, and the liberty and safety of our country/citizens is uppermost in all we do to protect it and preserve it.

I will answer to God for how I think, but at least I won't lie about it or cast aspersions on those who watch over me and mine. If they can find a way to do it without 'enhanced techniques,' more power to them.

Posted by: Cricket at May 1, 2009 01:58 PM

Cricket, I live everyday with a small, albeit very personal, reminder of what has been given for our freedoms. I understand exactly where you're coming from.

Mr. DeBille!! Don't sit...*crash*....on that one....
It's broken.
Sorry.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at May 1, 2009 03:22 PM

Fear the Tuttle!

What bothers me is the absolutist aspect of the 'waterboarding is torture' argument. We should get information some other way. Uh, saving time, lives and money is sometimes the expedient route for all aforementioned reasons, but also, even then the intel gathered still has to be verified.

As I see it, we have people who are ready to be martyrs to a cause they are fanatical about and so we should never stoop to that level because why? We become them? Have we heard that argument yet from the left? 'We become them?' How so? These are 'freedom fighters.' They have rights. They are fighting for a cause and well, hey, so are we. Ergo, moral equivalent.

Thanks, SlyLady.

Posted by: Cricket at May 1, 2009 04:51 PM

My Pop used to admonish his children, "You better not ever start a fight, but you damned well better finish it."

I'd say this is exactly what happened long before 9/11, sadly we've only had one President who believed as my Pop did.

And you are most welcome, Ms. Cricket'.

guacamole?
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at May 1, 2009 05:32 PM

*grumble* *groan* OW! %$#@! splinters...

Easy on the guacamole, Cricket -- Sly had the fruit plate cooling under the barstool, and the avocados were rendered hors de combat when I landed...

Posted by: BillT at May 1, 2009 07:37 PM

and the avocados were rendered hors de combat when I landed...


I love you guys.

Yeah, I'm being mushy. Get over it.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 1, 2009 08:21 PM

heh. Guacamole is absolutely a must, but I think I will scrape the avacados off yer butt and feed 'em to the Moat Monster. For some reason I just don't..

Oh never mind. I need to quit studying.

Posted by: Cricket at May 1, 2009 08:43 PM

I'd take it as a personal kindness if you used the spatula, *not* the spackeling knife...

Posted by: BillT at May 2, 2009 04:26 AM

*shuts down grinder*

But, but, but....I just finished putting an edge on it!
*sigh*

*digs through drawer for wooden spatula*
Fine.

Posted by: DL Sly at May 2, 2009 01:54 PM

Wooden?

Heh.

Posted by: Cricket at May 2, 2009 06:27 PM

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