• On The BBC Defending Not Torturing People

    December 15, 2014

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

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    I joined fellow whistleblower and former chief Guantanamo prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis on the BBC’s World TV recently to speak out against torture.

    Because most “journalism” these days defines objectivity as having people from bizarrely opposite sides of an issue yell at each other until time is up, I found myself “rebutting” a handful of nut jobs whose argument was basically that torture is good, or maybe useful, or vengeful, or whatever, as long as it hurts dirty brown Muslims because, 9/11. Witches deserved it. Also, torture works.

    Torture Worked at Salem

    Torture does indeed work, if your goal is simply to punish, humiliate or extract false confessions. One example of torture’s very successful use in American history was with the Salem witch trials. Innocent women in 17th century America were brutalized until they admitted to being witches. In one ingenious twist of logic worthy of their post-9/11 successors, the torturers devised a 100 percent effective strategy: hold a suspected witch under water until she either drowns (oops, not a witch, exonerated) or magically floats (confirming she is a witch) and then execute her. One way or another, you’re always correct!

    The logic holds for our modern day torturers. We learned than some 26 men held by the United States and tortured, some for years, truly had no connection to terrorism. Everytime they were waterboarded, threatened with death or beaten, they told the truth: they were not terrorists. However, their denials of culpability were taken merely as signs that more torture was needed to get them to confess.

    9/11 Left Us with No Choice

    One of the other points the troglodytes supporting torture, from the other guests on the BBC show to the Director of the CIA and the President, have brought up is the urgency and seriousness of the post-9/11 environment. They insist torture must be viewed in that light, not from the soft comfort of 2014. America had been attacked, and only through any and all means necessary could we protect her.

    Many other times America faced dire circumstances, most far more dangerous to the nation, when government-sponsored torture on a massive scale somehow wasn’t needed to prevail. The American Civil War, and WWII, especially in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, are two examples that come to mind. What made a handful of jihadis more dangerous?

    Ticking Time Bomb Scenario

    OK, OK, the ticking time bomb scenario. This one pops up as regular as bowel movements. Isn’t torture justified under a situation where a captured terrorist knows information that would stop a bus full of patriotic orphans from being blown up?

    Of course, no such scenario has ever existed, and is unlikely ever to exist. For a real 24 TV-like ticking time bomb scenario to exist, here’s what would need to fall into place: the U.S. would have to capture a terrorist in a timely fashion who knew the full, precise details (Monday morning, corner of 5th and Main, Columbus, Ohio, bad guy in white Prius), the U.S. would need to know that the terrorist indeed possessed this information, the U.S. would have to know only torture would elicit the information, the terrorist would need to “break” and give up the full, true information in a timely manner and the information would need to be transmitted to the appropriate law enforcement authorities wherever they were and they would need to act conclusively under whatever time pressures existed, and be successful in their intervention.

    Absent even one of those elements, there is no ticking time bomb scenario. It is a false argument for torture, as they all are.

    17th Century Morality

    But at the end of the day, what troubled me most was not the odd idea that the venerable BBC had stooped to scouring the world to find advocates of torture and given them an audience larger than those they normally addressed from under the rocks they live hidden beneath, or that journalism stoops so low now.

    The saddest thing of all is that in what is supposed to be the enlightened 21st century, with so many cries of “never again” echoing in our historical background, we are still forced to defend the notion that a country like the United States should not torture people. We have reverted to a 17th century morality.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “We have reverted to a 17th century morality.”

      Really? We have never changed our “morality” since we landed in this country and started killing anyone who didn’t look like US.

      12/15/14 4:24 PM | Comment Link

    • Helen Marshall said...


      What is happening is really beyond comment….but here’s one. While we debate whether we tortured or not, the USG in its moral finery has decided to impose sanctions on Venezuela for suppressing anti-government protests. Anyone remember what happened to Occupy Wall Street?


      12/15/14 5:19 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Venezuela? Why does anyone care…oh yeah. oil.

      12/15/14 5:26 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      And we thought we were the good guys. Anyone who still suggests that to you, smack them in the head for me.

      12/15/14 5:28 PM | Comment Link

    • Tim said...


      A case worth looking at http://www.dw.de/killer-convicted-police-under-fire-for-torture/a-936126

      Also worth remembering that when he was arrested Anders Breivik claimed to have accomplices. Were the Norwegians negligent in failing to torture him?

      12/15/14 8:06 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Title for Peter’s next book on the decline of the American Empire: “We are NOT the Good Guys Who Ever Meant Well.”

      12/15/14 8:59 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      First Chapter: Would a corrupt government that tortured people to force lies about non-existent WMDs to kill innocent people, then use a real one – ANTHRAX – to scare patriots to act?

      12/15/14 9:04 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      quote”Everytime they were waterboarded, threatened with death or beaten, they told the truth: they were not terrorists. However, their denials of culpability were taken merely as signs that more torture was needed to get them to confess.”unquote

      Rich has it right..
      quote”Would a corrupt government that tortured people to force lies about non-existent WMDs to kill innocent people,…”unquote

      The key word here is EXPLOITATION. The torturers already knew the answers to the questions. They didn’t give a damn about other so called “terrorists”, or plots. They tortured human beings to get them to say things for one reason only. To exploit them. Marci Wheeler nails it…

      quote”As the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on torture (released over 5 years ago, in far less redacted form than tomorrow’s summary will be) makes clear, the Bush regime embraced torture not for “intelligence” but for “exploitation.” In December 2001, when DOD first started searching for what would become torture, it was explicitly looking for “exploitation.” unquote


      Meanwhile, the DFCOTP continues arguing over whether we got intel from torture or not. As far as the pro-torture people are concerned…they’d do it again..cause..it “saved lives”.

      sheesusfuckingcrist. These people would leap over a cliff if Cheney told them it would save lives. Meanwhile, because of the propaganda lies, 4000 American and hundred of thousands innocent Iraqi lives were lost instead.

      bartender..give me a bottle of HANGMANS NOOSE and a shot of 100prf FIRING SQUAD.

      12/16/14 12:30 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      oops..wrong link..here’s the right one..


      note to self..file under

      I’d kill for an edit button.

      Meanwhile, our good ole Homeland Security has now decided to put a map of your neighborhood showing you who the bad people are on your iphone. Shades of the Salem witch hunts. These fuckers never cease to amaze me at their fear mongering, not to mention pure fucking hubris.


      12/16/14 12:40 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      12/16/14 1:38 PM | Comment Link

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