Friday, April 17, 2009

Torture is torture is torture

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it"

Philosopher George Santayana, volume one of The Life of Reason

One of the lessons I have had to learn as a teacher is that I don't teach my students anything.

They learn.

I am a firm believer in the pedagogical theories of both Dewey and Friere.

We learn by doing and we learn by doing whatever it is we are trying to learn by doing it with others.

Action and collaboration.

As a teacher, I correct students.

They are wrong sometimes. Plain and simple.

I tell them it's nothing personal.

I kind of feel this way about our President.

I knew a lot about him before I worked on his campaign having grown up watching his career from just over the border in northwest Indiana. I knew who I was voting for on November 4, 2008: a moderate Democrat with a good head on his shoulders-- a DC outsider that had the will and the energy to instigate the changes our country so desperately needed.

However, I cannot sit idly by while certain policies and practices by our government leave us standing in the same pile of manure we were standing in November 3, 2008.

Power reiterates institutions and institutions reiterate power (Foucault).

Institutionalizing torture was wrong when Bush and cronies did it and it is still wrong as President Obama fails to take a different course of action.

Being president has one characteristic that no other job does: you get hired to do a job (during a first term) that you have had no prior experience doing. The only ones with any experience are the ones who get rehired for a second term. Sometimes they have learned from their first terms, sometimes not.

I think President Obama's learning curve will be a strong one-- he seems to pick things up quickly and plays well with others.

But we *never learn to do something right* if no one corrects us when we are wrong.

We never learn to do something socially if we don't learn from other's mistakes.

And President Obama is wrong in guaranteeing no prosecutions for those who "legalized" the United States' "interrogation program," a sick euphemism for:
  • Pushing detainees against a wall
  • Facial slaps
  • Cramped confinement
  • Having prisoners stand or sit for long periods of time in "stress" positions
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Waterboarding or simulated drowning
  • Playing loud music for hours
  • The placing of a detainee into a confined space with an insect or an unfriendly dog
Abu Ghraib was only five years ago.

The types of torture used there were no better than those listed above:
  • Urinating on detainees
  • Jumping on detainee's leg (a limb already wounded by gunfire) with such force that it could not thereafter heal properly
  • Continuing by pounding detainee's wounded leg with collapsible metal baton
  • Pouring phosphoric acid on detainees
  • Sodomy of detainees with a baton
  • Tying ropes to the detainees' legs or penises and dragging them across the floor.
  • Sexual abuse of a 16-year-old girl by two interrogators
  • Having venomous snakes bite prisoners
  • Hooded prisoners forced to masturbate
  • Forced homosexual acts
Any acts committed against another human being that de-humanizes that person is torture. No exceptions. No passes.

We cannot righteously condemn other countries and governments for doing things we do ~and~ don't criminalize or punish. It places our service women and men and any American in foreign custody in great peril if we do not act to hold those who were in charge accountable.

A simple [rhetorical] question for those who do not see these things as torture:

If any of these were to happen to you or a loved one, is it considered torture?

You are wrong, President Obama. And yes, this is personal.



Unknown April 17, 2009 at 11:29 PM  

She's back!!!

This was very good. Your passion for things comes thru in your writing. Something needs to be done about this.

Anonymous,  April 18, 2009 at 12:03 AM  

Glad I checked my google reader before heading off to bed.

This is brilliant. I notice the media is talking about this a bit; your argument here is a good one.

ZIRGAR April 18, 2009 at 6:42 AM  

Amen. And his Dept. of Justice stance on State Secrets is not very commendable either. Mr. Obama is a decent man with a good head on his shoulders, but he is wrong on torture and State Secrets. We need to be fundamentally better than those who would torture us just to have the moral high ground, and neither of these positions help to reinforce the idea of American Exceptionalism.

skyewriter April 18, 2009 at 9:11 AM  

Thank you James and pottersfield.

Thanks also to ZIRGAR for the comments. I still cannot post one to your blog... but I have been reading your archives and you are hilarious and sharp.

Great reading.

And yes, Holder needs to get a pair. It's time we had three branches of government again...

Anonymous,  April 18, 2009 at 10:15 AM  

Skye, do you advocate prosecution for anyone who tortured?

skyewriter April 18, 2009 at 10:36 AM  

Good question, Catherine,
I don't think justice would be served by prosecuting the military people who performed these actions.

However, if there is a clear link in the chain of command starting with the former president down, then those at the top should be held accountable.

Those who wrote the memos (clearly verifiable) and those who enacted the programs (DOJ and advisors) should provide viable routes for prosecution.

Then again, I am out of my depth in legal terms. I just think it's a fine line our president is walking. *Someone* has to be responsible. I think it should be those in charge and making the orders.

Unknown April 18, 2009 at 11:02 AM  

I am reminded of the Nazi Trials in the Hague, in which Prominent Nazi Torturers claimed to, "...just be following orders."

skyewriter April 18, 2009 at 11:30 AM  

Yeah, seeing eye. It sadly is a case with many precedents. I suppose I just want our government to do anything other than sweeping this under the rug.

That rug is no longer able to lay flat on the floor with all of the shyte that has been swept beneath it in the last 8 years.

Anonymous,  April 18, 2009 at 2:57 PM  

I have been looking for the video footage, but have not had time to do a thorough search, but I do recall around the time of 9/11 when the Bush administration raised torture. I disagreed with that at the time, but I thought we went overboard on many things around that time. For example, how Bill Maher got fired for saying that the September 11 terrorists were not “cowards” and the Faux News psychotainers can call for revolution against a lawfully elected President is beyond me.

But I do believe that they raised torture. So it never came as a surprise to me. In any event, people in the CIA and the military followed a chain of command. I am not sure what the options were when they were told to do this and what the consequences would have been if they hadn't, especially when they understood that the Bush administration lawyers vetted the torture protocols.

I am not sure I would feel comfortable prosecuting them, but I also don't know all of the circumstances.

All that aside, I think President Obama is faced with the political reality that if he were to start prosecuting CIA and military, there would be a very real possibility of having those involved in counterterrorism telling Obama to go ---- himself and leaving the job because either they feel betrayed or they feel betrayed for their co-workers. How could they trust such orders in the future and what is their recourse. Where would that leave our national security?

Finally, if I recall that torture was discussed in the public domain, and in the days following 9;/11 the public sentiment was to give Bush whatever he wanted and to make terrorists pay at almost any price, then how do we do prosecute them? I alos think some high ranking members of Congress may be on the hook, but maybe I'm wrong.

On the other hand, i am all fpr prosecuting the Bush 6 because they authored "legal" opinions that the US could legally torture when those memos are a joke. I would also like to see Jay Bybee immediately removed from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals because I cannot fathom how he ever got there in the first place. It makes me ill to think that he is on the bench. Bybee is the author of the memos authorizing some horrific torture methods. He should also be disbarred for his participation in war crimes.

I think the people higher up the chain have got to be held responsible because it would not have happened but for them.

Just my two cents for whatever that's worth.

Anonymous,  April 18, 2009 at 2:59 PM  

By the way, if you are interested here is a great link on to an article authored by Jeffrey Toobin on Bybee's participation and legal acumen (or lack thereof).

skyewriter April 18, 2009 at 4:06 PM  

Thanks for your comment, Catherine and for the link.

Definitely a tricky and volatile situation in terms of perceptions of our President (and ultimately us as Americans). Top that with the issue of security and we have a huge shytestorm.

There seems to be a bottomless pit of corruption surrounding so many aspects of our "war" on "terror."

Anonymous,  April 18, 2009 at 6:32 PM  

Hey Skyewriter. This was so powerful. I love the comments here too. You have a good crowd of people visiting and commenting. I learn something new every time I visit and always leave thinking about what you and the people who comment here write.



Anonymous,  April 19, 2009 at 12:05 AM  

Good comments. If I understand this correctly, though, I believe that President Obama said he wouldn't prosecute those who carried out the torture. He hasn't ruled on the ones who authorized it. While those who did the torture did despicable things, I think the ones who made it legal and ordered it are the most culpable.

I don't think we've seen the last of this from our very shrewd president. Give him some time. He is a masterful political chess player from what I've seen. In the meantime, we can keep the pressure on.

We must never allow this to happen again and we must take action to hold those accountable who ordered torture. Period.

Unknown April 19, 2009 at 9:19 AM  

I cannot speak to the CIA Chain of Command. But in the military, you have to follow all Lawful orders. [note lawful orders] so someone could tell you to jump off a cliff, and unless you are base jumping and properly outfitted, then you can refuse.

With Bush's Memos then that could cause problems in sorting out just what exactly a lawful order is. Because Bush basically stopped following the Geneva Convention. The International Courts were afraid to go after him and his administration because of its beligerence. So they waited til he was gone and decided to make examples of people who followed his orders. That is not a good way to conduct bussiness. If the fish stinks from the head down, then start at the head.

As far as Ms English and Abu Graib, keep in mind the rape and assault stats over there. What might have happened to her had she not gone along with what her unit was doing?

Even by refusing to follow an order that is not lawful, expect your career to be done. In that moment you are no longer a team player, but a potentially dangerous whistleblower and your counterparts will find a way to force you out. That is how the military is.
Its probably worse at the CIA.

Anonymous,  April 19, 2009 at 10:26 AM  

For anyone interested in thos topic, here are two good posts on what do we do now that we officially have proof:,-what-do-we-do

Sidhe April 20, 2009 at 8:41 AM  

Like Seeing Eye, I would extend discipline to military members based on the lawful order issue. For example, I absolutely would not grant any lenience to any of the Soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib torture based on the erroneous assumption that they were "just following orders." They were not just following orders; they were torturing fellow human beings. These are the adults that we have entrusted with our national security, we have a reasonable expectation that they can distinguish a lawful order from one that is not. Every branch of military service has core values that they expect their members to embody. The Army's are:

Selfless Service
Personal Courage

Finally, I've been irritated by the media's discussion/debate/whatever of the release of the documents describing the torture and incredulous that any one of them thinks that they can justify torture on the basis that the recipients are: 1) alleged terrorists; 2) would do the same to us; and 3) it's not really torture (i.e. waterboarding is not If John McCain, an individual that I consider a subject matter expert on torture, calls it torture then yes, it is torture).

Having said all of that, I'm not really interested in starting a "witch hunt" but also do not believe that there should be a general amnesty either. But if prosecutions were to commence I would agree that those further up the chain bear the greatest amount of responsibility and any legal action/discipline should reflect that as well.

P Sonderman April 25, 2009 at 11:17 PM  

The fish rots from the head. Incarcerating those who followed orders is just public relations. Shoot the freaking messenger. Provide the illusion of justice. Talk it up, act like it's over. The public has a short memory.

The problem is that these atrocities are public property now. Precedent is set.

We know the orders came from above and it is there that, should any prosecutions be imminent, they should begin. Past "imperial immunity" just doesn't fly. Go after the stenographers/attorneys who took dictation from the Bush administration that set the stage for criminal acts conducted in America's name. Make the titmouse whores squeal like pigs, water board Hannity on Fox and Friends. (This, just for enjoyment). Let's see how loyal these pricks (Yu, et al) really are.

No consequence insures repetition. Unless real justice prevails, we have no moral authority to excuse our abhorrent behavior and even less to promote democratic values (with a straight face and uncrossed fingers) throughout the world.

skyewriter April 25, 2009 at 11:37 PM  

I agree, Paul.

We cannot let our elected officials or our Attorney General let this pass without at least an investigation.

The previous DOD folks are acting like these were only two torture sites and that they were entirely unrelated in terms of interrogation practices.

Without investigations and even prosecutions, democracy will become nothing more that a pustule of corruption dressed in an American flag.

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