Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Torturing Our History

How far our country has strayed from its founding ideals! George Washington, after capturing a thousand Hessians at Trenton, commanded his subordinates to “Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army,” who were notorious for maltreating POWs aboard their prison ships.


As Chair of the Board of War and Ordnance, John Adams complained of hearing “continual accounts of the barbarities, the cruel murder in cold blood, even by the most tormenting ways of starving and freezing, committed by our enemies” and advised a policy of “Yankee virtue” toward captives in American hands. During the War of 1812, President James Madison called torture an “outrage against the laws of honorable war and against the feelings sacred to humanity.”


Sentiments like these were codified in Lincoln’s administration under the “General Orders No. 100” which affirmed that “Military necessity does not admit of cruelty—that is, the infliction of suffering for the sake of suffering or for revenge, nor of maiming or wounding except in fight, nor of torture to extort confessions.” Lincoln’s humane policy became a model for other European nations and eventually for the Geneva Conventions.

Can America regain its moral bearing? Even President Obama, who has favored a policy of “let bygones by bygones,” is now hinting there may need to be criminal investigations of interrogations that took place in the Bush years. But first, Obama may need to clean up his own act. Both Aljazeera and Democracy Now report that torture may be continuing at Guantanamo. According to Democracy Now, “Another Guantanamo Bay prisoner has come forward to back accounts of worsening torture since President Obama took office.”

Gitmo inmate Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, in a letter to his attorney, asks, “America, what has happened to you?” It’s a question a question every citizen should be asking.

(For a full article on America’s Founding Fathers and the policy of “harsh interrogation,” see an article I wrote for Tikkun last fall titled “Torturing Our History.” You can access the magazine online at http://www.tikkun.org/fmd/files/septoct2008_complete.pdf.)

31 comments:

Brad Hart said...

I think it’s impossible to objectively compare the wartime tactics of Washington with today. Yes, Washington didn't torture like today but he DID have soldiers killed for desertion, insubordination, etc. That doesn't happen today.

This is a difficult issue. Yes, we don't want to torture but we also want to protect our country. Does torture provide valuable information? I have no idea. Having worked in law enforcement, I do know that "intense" interrogation can and does yield valuable information that can and is used in other criminal investigations. In many cases, this is the only time law enforcement can gain such evidence, so it's important that law enforcement "cashes in" when such cases arise. I would imagine that it could be similar on the international stage.

As for Lincoln, you neglect to point out that he too (like George W., FDR and other presidents) suspended habeas corpus and detained many people who were thought to have ties with the South. Maybe he was humane, I honestly don't know. But questionably detaining people is still an infringement on rights, is it not?

Again, this is a slippery issue. I'm not sure we can start declaring our nation's morality to have been completely destroyed due to torture cases. I'm just not ready to get there quite yet.

Anonymous said...

Treatment of prisoners during the Revolutionary War is something I've been trying to research (google) without much success. I have seen those quotes mentioned above, but that alone doesn't reveal the actual treatment. What did John Adams consider "barbarities"?

I have seen anecdotal accounts like this that the rebels did torture, but in that account it doesn't seem to be an official policy but what was done by individual rebels.

Does anybody have a good source on this topic?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, Gary, but there is no valid analogy here between Washington forbidding the gratuitous maltreatment of prisoners and the moral dilemma of how to gather the information needed to prevent mass murder.

Brad Hart said...

Yep, I have to agree with TVD.

Naum said...

1. So what you (TVD and BH) are saying is that you're OK with torture? No moral compass check on Americans becoming the Soviets or other authoritarian regimes that conduct affairs in this ghastly manner?

2. …but there is no valid analogy here between Washington forbidding the gratuitous maltreatment of prisoners and the moral dilemma of how to gather the information needed to prevent mass murder. So the ends justify the means — even if we know that (a) torture doesn't work, is good at making people tell you what you want to hear (which isn't congruent with the truth), (b) administration engaged in practices that they have prosecuted others in past wars and clearly violate international law and (c) from reports released, were conducted not to "prevent mass murder" but to justify an illegal, immoral elective invasion of a country that posed no threat to the U.S. based on fraudulent deception…

3. Prisoners tortured in a facility by the military's own metrics, consider that a majority were innocent and placed in such a position by random happenstance, by warllords collecting bounties…

4. Indeed there is a absolute analogy between how Washington, Adams, Lincoln treated detainees vs. 21st century conduct.

5. John Mccain: There should be little doubt from American history that we consider that [waterboarding] as torture otherwise we wouldn’t have tried and convicted Japanese for doing that same thing to Americans. I would also hope that he would not want to be associated with a technique which was invented in the Spanish Inquisition, was used by Pol Pot in one of the great eras of genocide in history and is being used on Burmese monks as we speak. America is a better nation than that.6. Even if the consensus of psychologists and intelligence professionals is wrong and there is the occassional "success", it still does not change the fact that torture was ordered and carried out was illegal and immoral and in violation of international laws as well as domestic laws. Period. End of story. Argue about the effectiveness of of rape, murder, and whatever you wish. It will not change that these things are illegal, are crimes, are outlawed by civilized nations. Where is your moral compass? Check it.

Christian Nation? Advocates for torture… …it boggles the mind… …what a funny definition of "Christian" some of you have…

Brad Hart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad Hart said...

Hmmmm...you've jumped off the boat and missed the ocean, Naum. Perhaps checking things first before leveling HUGE accusations would serve you well.

Where in the hell do Tom or I advocate torture? One place please. I challenge you to find it. I'll let Tom speak for himself, but I did NOT say I am for torture. I said this is a complex issue, dude.

As for your final comment, had you read ANY of my stuff you'd know that I am probably the biggest ANTI-CHRISTIAN NATION person on this blog, so check your facts before leveling this kind of attack. YOu come off looking rather silly.

I also like how you are an expert on torture. How do you know it doesn't work? Did MSNBC tell you that?

Pinky said...

.
I was in the military during the Korean War (AKA Police Action and so named by H.S.T.). I never set foot in Korea; but, several of my boyhood friends died there.

There was a concept--got to be quite popular--called Brain Washing.
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Part of our training during that period was all about torture.
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That was a time when "right was right" and "wrong was wrong" as the song in the article above by Lindsey proclaims.

Torture is wrong.
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Period.

But, I'll say this about it. Generally, it is the Republican and Christian Right partisans that give their complete support to torture. Tells me more about them than anything else they might say or do.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, we've just illustrated why I prefer not to discuss current events around here. It brings out the worst in people.

Pass.

Naum said...

@Brad,

You said: we don't want to torture but we also want to protect our country.If that's not an "ends justify the means" statement, I don't know what is…

And if you research it, you will discover that a consensus of intelligence professionals and psychologists concur that torture is not effective.

A complex issue — it's not. Either you are for or against torture. Waterboarding, as defined by international law and by U.S. past jurisprudence, is defined as *torture*.

@TVD, you said moral dilemma of how to gather the information needed to prevent mass murder.

Sorry, it touches a nerve, as if it's not decried for the criminal ghastly act it is, it signals that you really are not opposed to torture. Being outraged is a necessary condition of being an "opponent of torture".

Furthermore, the analogy to Washington/Adams/Lincoln treatment of prisoners is most apropos…

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, Mr. Daum. If I want Olbermann, I'll watch Olbermann. I just don't want to see this blog turn into what's going on all over the blogosphere at this moment, if only because it's redundant.

And no, the Washington/Adams/Lincoln analogy is false, for the reasons given.

IntelligentDecline said...

Mr. Hart; I would advise being very careful about the use of quotation marks and terms such as intense interrogations, when referring to American law enforcement presently. Be sure you know exactly where this could lead: a complete distrust of American law enforcement interrogation practises. I have three friends who either are long-time local police officers, or were for over 20 years. None of them would advocate criminal interrogations anything even remotely close to what was described in the recently released OLC memos, and in fact, would be vehemently advocating that criminal charges be brought up against any police officer who used them.

The prototypical interrogation described in the OLC Document:
Application of 18 U.S.C. 2340-2340A to the Combined Use of Certain Techniques in the Interrogation of High Value al Qaeda Detainees, Memorandum for John Rizzo, Acting General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency, May 10, 2005describes a 30 day interrogation cycle, which an interrogator needed no authorization to use.

The first interrogation session could begin with the interrogators saying they "will do what it takes to get important information". As soon as the detainee is perceived as being uncooperative, he could be physically slapped, and walled. This could continue through many iterations, the maximum number left unspecified by the OLC. At the end of the first session, which may have lasted up to several hours in length, the detainee is put on a liquid diet, placed in a standing stress position nude, and not allowed to sleep. This could last as long as 24hr before the second session began. This is the loop framework for the whole 30 day interrogation cycle.

During that cycle, the detainee could be given one waterboarding treatment that lasted 5 days. In any 24hr period during that treatment, the detainee could receive 2 waterboard sessions, with session defined as being strapped to the waterboard for a maximum of 2 hours, and the limitations on the number of individual water treatment applications allowed in each session being no more than 6 lasting more than 10 seconds in the 2 hour period, and none lasting more than 40 sec. The maximum time allowed for water treatment applications in a 24 hr period was 12 min, yet if 6 40 sec maximum applications were given 2 times in one 24 hr period, that only totaled 8 min. Clearly, there was an implied approval of multiple water treatment applications lasting less than 10 sec.

During this 30 day interrogation cycle, the detainee could be deprived of sleep for up to 7.5 days maximum. No mention is given of the recovery time between sleep deprivation cycles.

Additionally, it bears notice that this memo was promulgated in 2005, which is well after John Yoo's March 14, 2003 memorandum, and Judge Jay S. Bybee's August 1, 2002 memo, which both went far beyond what the OLC memos allowed in 2005. Bybee's memo narrowly defined torture to acts that caused "death, organ failure or the permanent impairment of a significant body function". Under that definition, it would not be torture to cut off a fingertip at the first knuckle with tin snips. Do you consider that to be torture?

There is no way to prove authoritatively whether torture provided data which could not have been obtained otherwise. There are instances where it has been claimed and disproven though. One common claim is that Abu Zubaydah's torture supplied the heretofore unknown information that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was the person behind the pseudonym "Muktar"; yet that claim was thoroughly debunked in:
Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Official Government Edition; Chapter 8: The System Was Blinking Red; pg 277This argument has nothing to do with torture's efficacy, it is about the Dreamtime America.
We Are Americans, and Supposed To Be Better Than The Rest.

Brad Hart said...

Hmmmm...you guys can read into my statements all you want. To be honest, I just don't care. Perhaps you all know my mind/intentions better than myself.

I'm with Tom on this one. This is an issue that is completely out of the scope of this blog. It's pointless to debate and I'm not even sure why it's on this blog to begin with. And no, Naum, this IS NOT a clear-cut issue. There's tons of "wiggle room."

Intelligent Decline:

I never did anything illegal as a cop, nor did I see any of my fellow officers do anything illegal either. I think cops, soldiers, interrogators have a hard enough job as it is. Perhaps we should give them a little praise before we castigate them as the American gestapo!

This will be my final comment on this thread, which is sure to go nowhere fast.

Naum said...

TVD said: the Washington/Adams/Lincoln analogy is false, for the reasons given.You gave no reason, you just engaged in handwaving via an absurd off-base metaphor that shed no light on the article content…

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's one thing to disagree with my argument. It's another to misunderstand it or ignore it.

Pinky said...

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B.H. writes, "Perhaps we should give them a little praise before we castigate them as the American gestapo!".
If you were a cop in any decent sized town, you absolutely have to know that there are, at least, two kinds--(1) good cops, and (2) bad cops. No reason to be in denial.

That said, so what? You cannot stop eating food just because you had something that didn't stay down. Although you might want to for a couple days. There are a lot more good cops than bad ones; but, then, there's something called "the code of silence". What's that?

There are, at least, two kinds of politicians; (1) good ones and, (2) bad ones. Does that mean all politicians should be shot? No more so that all lawyers in spite of what Shakespeare wrote.

There appears to be two kinds of Americans as well. The same thing as cops, politicians, and lawyers--good and bad.

As a long standing and loyal red, white, and blue American, I was raised to believe we were a society of God fearing, Justice seeking, and Liberty loving people. As such, we were always against torture.

I ran into a bad prosecutor (any lawyer worth his salt knows what they are) and he did a number on me. Ended up, he went to Ft. Leavenworth for 29 years. Check him out, his name is Robert Leonard and his baliwick was Genesee County, in Michigan. He had been nominated for Young Man of the Year in 1972 or 3 by the National Junior Chamber of Commerce for his work in White Collar Crime. It was all a scam. All charges against me were dropped; but, the damage had been done.

I'm reading this book .and I'm seeing just how high the corruption can go.

If you are one of the duped, it's time you woke up to what is really going down. Before it's too late.

But, with statements like this, when the going gets a little rough, This will be my final comment on this thread, which is sure to go nowhere fast., you might not be able to handle the truth.
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(I worked with police officer unions for 25 years as a community relations publicist. And, I was actually in the military. I do have some experience.)
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Pinky said...

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Feel free to make your opinions known here.

Anonymous said...

Nobody cares what you think, Pinky. Drop it. Go elsewhere if you want to drone on about this issue that is irrelevant to this blog...

Pinky said...

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With a name like Anonymous, you should be in charge of speech all over America.
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I care what I say, Bud, and I'm interested in the feedback I get; good, bad, or indifferent--even silence. You see, I'm not stuck on myself or my ideas as you appear to be. I am still in a growth mode. But, maybe when I'm older and wiser like you....

So, you might as well put it where the sun doesn't shine.

cartwright said...

>>Tom Van Dyke said...
Sorry, Gary, but there is no valid analogy here between Washington forbidding the gratuitous maltreatment of prisoners and the moral dilemma of how to gather the information needed to prevent mass murder.

There is a valid analogy if Washington forbade torture during interrogations. Presumably the above quote ("Treat them with humanity") would have applied to interrogations.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, I don't think they had the firepower to murder thousands of innocent people in a blink of an eye back then. I think your presumption is, well, just that.

Gratuitous maltreatment. Moral dilemma of how to...prevent mass murder. These were my words, that is my argument. The analogy is not valid without making it all a porridge, as I put it in another context. A porridge cannot be reasoned with, and you can quote me.

cartwright said...

"Mass murder in the blind of an eye" seems like an arbitrary demarcation. Certainly, they was lots of murder occurring during the war, and we know American prisoners of war in the thousands were being killed due to inhumane treatment. There must have been times during the war when Washington would have had a motive to acquire intelligence by any means possible.

I did come across the letters between Washington and General Gage where they discussed treatment of prisoners, which was very contentious and accusatory. Washington threatened to treat the British prisoners as well or as bad as the American prisoners were treated by Gage.

But in the end:

"On the day after General Gage's letter was received, Mr. Reed wrote, by order of the Commander-in-Chief to the Council of Massachusetts, directing rigorous and retaliatory measures to be adopted towards the prisoners, though in a few days the order was revoked, and they were directed to show ' every indulgence and civility to the prisoners, so long as they demean themselves with decency and good manners. As they have committed no hostility against the people of this country, they have a just claim to mild treatment; and the General does not doubt that your conduct towards them will be such as to compel their grateful acknowledgment that Americans are as merciful as they are brave.'"

From The writings of George Washington - Google Book Search at page 79-80. The letters start at page 77.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't dispute your facts, Mr. Cartwright. However, prisoners of war---in this case, the mercenaries, the Hessians, if you look it up the source quote---are not remotely analogous to those who would "murder thousands of innocent people in a blink of an eye."

I made a single statement on this entire mess. If you wish to address it, please address my actual comment.

If you wish to argue that "prisoners of war are analogous to those who would 'murder thousands of innocent people in a blink of an eye,'" and that George Washington would see no distinction, then please argue that. I argue that the horrors that a small band of men are capable of in our present day were inconceivable in the Founding era, and any attempt to rope the Founders in is false analogy.

Pinky said...

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If the problem weren't so serious, the sick thinking here would be funny.
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When I was in the U.S. Marine Corps and in training at Little Creek, Virgina, we were exposed to the pro and con arguments and debates surrounding the release of atomic bombs on the Japanese people that evaporated so many people and left so many maimed for the remainder of their life.
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It was clear that officials in the Truman administration argued both sides of the debate whether or not the bombs should be dropped.
Truman settled the debate by dropping the bombs claiming that the American people would approve..

Our military training in 1949, 50, and 51 was, of course, influenced by the way World War II was fought.

I've been wondering where TVD would draw the line for the cutting edge as to when torture was acceptable and when it was not? Would saving the life of one person be enough to allow it or would it have to be thousands in a second?

Any thoughts on that one, Tom?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Torture is always acceptable. We should torture all prisoners at all times just to be safe. Everything Mr. Daum wrote is true. Conservatives, especially Christians, love torture because we are insane sadists. Only leftists are kind and pure and good.

Pinky said...

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Now that we have the Patriot Act, you have to be extra careful what you say.
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Ass der Chermuns sedt in der Var, "Ve no how to deal mit peepals lak yoo." or is that, "Wir wissen wie zu behandeln Leute wie Sie. "?
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Glad to finally see that you do have a sense of humor.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, it's not the Patriot Act I'm worried about.

I could probably gin up a post tying in the Alien and Sedition Acts, but as you know, I'm not in favor of that sort of thing on this blog.

Pinky said...

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The name of that game.is, as you know, Gotcha.
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And, once the first whistle blows, it continues until all the players are on the water board.
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Back and forth, back and forth, like basketball.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hehe. You got that one right.

Naum said...

TVD wrote: If you wish to argue that "prisoners of war are analogous to those who would 'murder thousands of innocent people in a blink of an eye,'" and that George Washington would see no distinction, then please argue that. I argue that the horrors that a small band of men are capable of in our present day were inconceivable in the Founding era, and any attempt to rope the Founders in is false analogy.The founding fathers opposed torture as evidenced by their codifying it in 5th and 8th amendments.

They realized federal authorities are mistake prone in their righteous zeal. They knew of Europe and monarchies that did torture. They rejected that barbaric conduct and it was reflected in treaties signed henceforth.

Your "murder thousands in a blink of an eye" is an absurd "ticking time bomb" argument that marks you as a barbaric "ends justify the means" (and very un-Christian) advocate.

And finally, my name is Naum. Are you trying to score points with name calling or is there some other reason that you continue to mangle my name even after I've previously advised you of this?

Tom Van Dyke said...

No offense was intended, Mr. Naum. I knew a fellow named Daum. It was a genuine error, and my apologies.

You still didn't address my point, however. Washington's quote was about POWs, specifically the mercenary Hessians, and the key word was "gratuitous."

BTW, the Madison quote about "torture" was about the British unleashing the Indians to commit wanton brutality on civilians, and was far more analogous to al-Qaeda's tactics than to waterboarding.

As for your claims about the 5th and the 8th, they must be argued, I suppose as due process and cruel and unusual punishment. But they have nothing to do with the original post.