What Waterboarding Looks Like

by Henry Farrell on September 29, 2006

“David Corn”:http://www.davidcorn.com/archives/2006/09/this_is_what_wa.php posts the pictures which I’ve copied below of a waterboarding apparatus, and a painting of the process by a former prisoner, taken from a Cambodian “museum that documents Khymer Rouge atrocities.” Yes, that’s right. The current administration is out there on torture together with the fucking Khmer Rouge. Who, according to Corn’s correspondent, “like so many brutal regimes–made waterboarding one of their primary tools for a simple reason: it is one of the most viciously effective forms of torture ever devised.” I’d like to think that torture apologists (a couple of whom occasionally infest our comments sections) would be deeply ashamed – but I suspect that they’ve lost the capacity for shame long ago, if they ever had it to begin with.

waterboarding device

waterboarding device alternate view

waterboarding painting



Anderson 09.29.06 at 2:36 pm

I think maybe the torture apologists are too busy at the Volokh Conspiracy’s comment threads to have any time for CT. We’ve been having kind of a vote of no confidence over there.


Adam Kotsko 09.29.06 at 3:12 pm

What does “viciously effective” mean in this context? Is it supposed to have been very good at extracting reliable information? Wasn’t the Khmer Rouge doing a good old-fashioned arbitrary purge, rather than tracking down individuals who were really plotting against the government?


bi 09.29.06 at 3:12 pm

These are enemy combatants, people!

And if those dictators can do it, why shouldn’t we? Do you want us to lose?

Of course torture works! Just watch 24!


Anderson 09.29.06 at 3:15 pm

What does “viciously effective” mean in this context?

You would have to click the link and read the column to find out the answer to that.

… the torture techniques of North Korea, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union and its proxies–the states where US military personnel might have faced torture–were NOT designed to elicit truthful information. These techniques were designed to elicit CONFESSIONS. That’s what the Khymer Rouge et al were after with their waterboarding, not truthful information.


Rob 09.29.06 at 3:16 pm

We can’t allow there to be a torture gap!


Brendan 09.29.06 at 3:27 pm

The point about torture not being used by the KR to gain information or intelligence is a very important one I feel. The people who criticise torture on the grounds that it ‘doesnt work’ are of course right but this presupposes that torture is predominantly used to actually gain information. But it’s obvious that torture isn’t used to much to gain information as to create fear, to encourager les autres, and compel obedience (not just from torturees but from the population you are trying to intimidate). And in that respect, torture does work and very effectively.

Another thing about torture that is rarely discussed is that it’s obviously fun. You can see it in the faces of the guards at Abu Ghraib. They are grinning from ear to ear. They’re having the time of their lives. Having another human being grovel naked at your feet is obviously pretty close to the ultimate turn on and again, if it’s giving pleasure that is the objective then torture (and murder) is obviously again, very effective.


Steve LaBonne 09.29.06 at 3:33 pm

My country ’tis of thee
Sweet land of tyranny
Of thee I sing.
Land where the tortured sighed
Land where we once had pride
From every mountainside
Let outrage ring.


Aidan Kehoe 09.29.06 at 3:41 pm

Yeah, so, you EU citizens living in the US? You can still work in the EU. Just, by the way.


abb1 09.29.06 at 3:42 pm

The current administration is out there on torture together with the fucking Khmer Rouge.

Am I the only one here disgusted by this repulsive attempt to imply moral equivalence between our democratic torture, torture for the sake of liberty, democracy, Judeochristianity and free markets – with Khmer Rouge’s godless, evil, anti-market torture?


P O'Neill 09.29.06 at 4:02 pm

According to Rich Lowry, we can rest easy because any waterboarding takes place while the terrorists are in La-Z Boy recliners and watching DVDs.


Jim Henley 09.29.06 at 4:08 pm

Correspondence with the distinguished post author satisfies me that, properly distinguishing between Use and Mention, this is the first F-Bomb in Crooked Timber posting, as opposed to commenting, history. I thought there was a good chance Belle would have taken that prize, but search results indicate not.

I salute Henry and welcome him to a future of CT being inaccessible at Panera Bread.


M.G 09.29.06 at 4:13 pm

Am I missing something here? That actually looks kinda’ fun.


Carlos 09.29.06 at 4:22 pm

I’ve heard a lot of arguments about how torture doesn’t work and how it’s just supposed to produce confessions so let me make a couple of points. Torture DOES work in producing information. It doesn’t work very well in obtaining accurate information from highly committed detainees (they lie, hide information or simply resist) but it doesn’t mean it’s useless. It’s sort of a raw tool, useless to the trained proffesional, useful to the amateur. You mostly see it when armies (who have few personnel with interrogation or investigation training) do counterinsurgency warfare because it’s the only way that a poorly trained soldier can effectively interrogate somebody. It’s the tool of a overstretched, underprepared force that tries to make soldiers into interrogators. As such, to be useful it must be employed on a relatively large scale. The unreliability of the information obtained isn’t that relevant at that scale since information at such volumes can be cross-checked and part of the purpose is intimidation, anyway. Oh, and another thing, let me wish that those that supported the bill would have some first-hand experience with waterboarding!! I would have never imagined the USA legalizing what the military did to my relatives in our country.


Adam Kotsko 09.29.06 at 4:38 pm

Carlos, Presumably the military in your country had received some torture training from the US.


roger 09.29.06 at 4:50 pm

Well, Al qaeda is clever. It won’t be long before a captured American soldier is subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other of Bushist tortures, and videoed.


Matt 09.29.06 at 4:51 pm

The Cambodian museum in question, is S-21 Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh. I had the opportunity to visit it earlier this year and found it absolutely harrowing.


Seth Finkelstein 09.29.06 at 4:53 pm

Sadly, those pictures won’t help at all. The two equipment ones are just boxes. And the painting is too tame. It’s not pretty. But frankly, it looks like a gardening picture as would be done by Dali, with the prisoner as some sort of shrub being watered – it’s just strange, not shocking to the unconvinced.


Adam Kotsko 09.29.06 at 4:56 pm

14: Well, at least they would if they were capable of taking US troops hostage. I don’t think they really are, except maybe through dumb luck.


Anderson 09.29.06 at 4:57 pm

Carlos! The French are letting you get on the internet? What the hell?


nick s 09.29.06 at 5:04 pm

I want to see a live demonstration of waterboarding on network television. Ideally on Dick Cheney, but Rick ‘Taser’ Sanchez will do.

And the point of torture is torture; or more subtly, to be someone who tortures. 1984 isn’t their ops manual; Discipline and Punish is.


Carlos 09.29.06 at 5:16 pm

Adam: yeah (google “Dan Mitrione”). Still, I’ve never thought I’ll see your country legalizing it. On a practical side, the waterboarding seems like a safer version (no chance of drowning by accident) of the “submarino”, which was the “in” technique then. From anecdotes by relatives, sessions could last several days, with “planton” as a first step to soften you up, then stronger stuff like “submarino”, “picana”, “pau de arara” and simply beating you up. The higher ranked torturers were basically sadists (what do you expected?) who liked to do it personally, but most of the process was done by simple soldiers. Now, the police used to do some “rough questioning” before then, but they were completely unprepared against well trained, highly motivated guys. So the need for training in torturing, especially when the army took control.


Martin James 09.29.06 at 5:48 pm


Its a technical point but since they are keeping the torture secret, its technically not free-market torture. They waterboard Saddam on pay-per-view then you’ve got a comparison.


luci 09.29.06 at 5:58 pm

Surely this issue has been poll-tested by the Republicans, and the fact that we’re hearing it says it’s a winner for them. So who’s fault is that?

There does seem to be more exposure in the media of this issue, than say, a willingness to speak the truth before the Iraq war. Then, over 70% of Americans, in response to a terrorist act by 19 guys with boxcutters, supported a massive, unprovoked war against a unrelated and unthreatening country. Killing tens of thousands of Iraqis.

My point is, what wouldn’t a majority of Americans support, under the guise of making them “more safe”? Invading a third country – maybe. Agressive interrogation techniques on a couple thousand Muslims – surely. (Especially after Republicans reassure people that it’s not really torture).
Say there’s a feedback mechanism between popular support, and the political opportunity and media’s will to take a position. Where’s the critical mass of opposition gonna come from, to start the process?

Without popular support no one is inclined to stick their necks out and risk votes or market share/advertising revenue. But without “legitimate” politians and media outlets endorsing a position, the public support won’t come – just those left-loonies again.
I think the critical mass in on the torturers’ side. And after the Iraq war, I’m not surprised.


JR 09.29.06 at 6:08 pm

If one side says, “We need this to be safe” and the other side says “But it’s sort of bad and doesn’t really work and we shouldn’t do it” what do you think the result will be?

Now if someone would say, “Torturers are monsters and criminals who deserve to be put to death.” Or “Torturers are sinners against God who will be eternally damned for their descretation of the image of God in man.” Or “torture is the tool of Communists.” Or “torture makes every American who travels abroad a target.”

There’s a rule that every trial lawyer learns- if you want the jury to say it to you, you have to say it to them. No substantial block of voters will hold a more negative view of the administration and its practices than the most negative of the mainstream political and journalist voices.


Jack 09.29.06 at 6:47 pm

I also visited the prison a few months ago. The guy Corn quotes emphasizes that the torture wasn’t used to elicit truthful information, but confessions. But based on what I saw there, that is mistaken as well.

For most prisoners, the regime was no more interested in their confessions than in their favorite movies. There was nothing useful to be gleaned from these people, and since no one made it out, even using the threat of the prison to control people was entirely separate from what went on there. As Orwell understood, the torture was its own justification. Water-boards and “confessions” provided the structure, but the point for those working their and their bosses, whether they understood it or not, was pure sadism. I don’t understand the psychology at all, but since it was clear there was no functional purpose being served whatsoever, that is the only conclusion one can come to.


Mary Catherine Moran 09.29.06 at 7:29 pm

#22 strikes me as absolutely, and depressingly, spot on.


Buce 09.29.06 at 7:34 pm

Not sure why we are being such pansies about this. If it is good for enemy compatants, why isn’t it good for pedophiles, gang rapists, and Sarbanes Oxley violators?


a 09.29.06 at 7:34 pm


David Kane 09.29.06 at 7:46 pm

With such a charming invitation from Henry, it is shocking that more right-of-center readers don’t crowd the comment section. I know that I feel welcome!

In any event, as long as I combine CT with LGF, I find myself with a reasonable amount of ideological diversity in my blog reading. Thanks for the balance!


thewesson 09.29.06 at 8:33 pm

#23: Of course there is an effective spin about the torture/habeas-corpus politics:

“The Republican government in Washington just gave itself the right to lock you up and torture you at any time for any reason …”

Graphics of black-suited thugs knocking in the middle of the night to drag away a nice, harmless looking 30ish guy while his pretty, distraught wife and daughter look on, traumatized. (Note to self: family all blonde, make troopers subtly swarthy.)

Wife: What did you do?!?
Man: I … I said I didn’t like the President.
Trooper: *cuff*

is that too much?

anyhow, I’d think there’s a vast swath of conservative voters who should be appalled by it.

let Republicans tie themselves in knots explaining that you still have your rights unless the government accuses you of supporting terror somehow.


roger 09.29.06 at 8:39 pm

17, I think Al qaeda in Iraq has already taken two captives, from the town in which American troops raped the 14 year old girl and killed her and her family.

But for your classic al q., you are right. Supposedly, they have helped train Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, but I haven’t heard of them fighting in Afghanistan.

I expect, though, something will happen in Iraq. And it would simply repeat history — in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese treatment of American prisoners followed the treatment of their prisoners in the South — as their prisoners got tortured and killed, the North Vietnamese upped the ante.


parse 09.29.06 at 8:56 pm

“What waterboarding looks like”

Maybe it’s part of the problem that it doesn’t look like anything much at all. Having water poured on your head doesn’t look like torture. And the description–that it makes you feel like you are drowning–does not seem particularly frightening, either. I have no doubt that the actual experience is terrifying, but it doesn’t seem as viscerally horrible to me as “pulling off fingernails.”


Steve LaBonne 09.29.06 at 9:06 pm

In any event, as long as I combine CT with LGF, I find myself with a reasonable amount of ideological diversity in my blog reading.

Not to mention the added bonus of diversity in intellectual and moral level!


Daniel Nexon 09.29.06 at 9:46 pm

6 & 24 are spot on.

Which provides a perfect segue for me to a point out an irony at CT that I just noted — probably unsuccessfully — at the Volkh place: in his I-don’t-know-anything-about-the-subject-but-why-should-that-stop-me-from-making-an-elaborate-point-that-boils-down-to-the-idea-that-sometimes-we-might-use-consequentialist-ethics post, Eugene accidentally hits upon Elaine Scarry’s argument connecting torture to nuclear deterrence. Her claim, of course, is in line with 6 & 24: torture is a form of terror — a political act designed to annihilate a subject — and therefore shares affinities with the use of terror for other political ends (e.g., the balance of nuclear terror).


But no one trounces this crap better than the MIA Giblets.


Michael Sullivan 09.29.06 at 10:02 pm

#28, “David Kane”:

I’m right of center. I support lower taxes, I’m not a fan of nationalized healthcare, I support the right to bear arms, and I roll my eyes when people get up in arms about the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. I just spent a few comments on a previous Crooked Timber item telling people who wanted to zone against fast food in New York to get over it.

But I don’t support torture, because I’m not morally depraved.

I don’t see anything in Henry’s post that’s unwelcoming to conservatives. He seems to have a problem with torture apologists. If you confuse the terms, that’s your problem.


Seth Finkelstein 09.29.06 at 10:04 pm

#28 / david kane – Y’know, you have a point, “torture apologists” is harsh. The sensitive term is “ethically challenged”. :-)


John Quiggin 09.29.06 at 10:56 pm

Obviously, dk represents the sensible centre. Whereas lgf supports torture for everyone who isn’t a party-line Republican, and CT opposes it outright, dk would like some sort of moderate position, say only torturing people if the President (or his delegated appointees) think it’s a good idea. Is David Broder on call?


nick s 09.29.06 at 11:29 pm

as long as I combine CT with LGF, I find myself with a reasonable amount of ideological diversity in my blog reading.

The same diversity of experience found by someone who rolls around in fields of cowshit then takes a shower to scrub away the stink.


eudoxis 09.30.06 at 12:24 am

Waterboarding is part of S*E*R*E training in the military. Supposedly, once a captured pilot is familiar with these torture techniques that are largely psychological, they become less scary and less effective. I have a brother who suffered through this as well as other techniques and it was a difficult event for him, for many years.


roger 09.30.06 at 1:41 am

Michael, you aren’t alone. The conservative tradition in this country is behind you. Before big government conservatism – which isn’t an ideology so much as a crime scene waiting for a RICO investigation — it used to be that conservatives were very jealous of our liberty, instead of giving it away to the first Republican president who asked for it. I’ve always thought Goldwater was right that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Although I take the defense of liberty to include more things than Barry ever dreamed of. But still…

The days of principled conservatism seem to be over. Alas.


abb1 09.30.06 at 3:16 am

What big government conservatism, brother? The Republican party is a revolutionary world liberation movement.

So Comrades, come rally,
The final fight let’s face!
The Republican Party shall be the human race!


Belle Waring 09.30.06 at 9:36 am

hey what? doesn’t everyone remember when I told torture apologists to shut the fuck up, back in the day?
By The Power of Stipulation–I Have The Power!

so fuck a bunch of panera bread. and fuck these torture-supporting madman republicans and fuck spineless democrats who couldn’t filibuster this. I’ve been to Tuol Sleng. people who can’t see what’s wrong with waterboarding are congenitally lacking in imagination and empathy, so fuck them too.

I am so depressed and I can’t decide which is worse:
1. republican powers-that-be (cheney etc.) are straight-up darth vader evil, and support torture for its own sake.
2. they’re cynical partisan bastards willing to throw the constitution and human decency into the trash just to gain a momentary political edge.
maybe both are true! w00t. also, fuck.


nick s 09.30.06 at 10:09 am


stuart 09.30.06 at 11:02 am

I think the thing most worrying here, is not so much the US is now willing to go in for torture, is that they no longer feel the need to hide it – it’s not like these are new to the way the US government works, although they might be a bit more common than they used to be.

Does this suggest than any democratic state can be suborned into doing just about anything, as long as the media can be corrupted into compliance with the ruling class and the population are happy to eat up the propaganda and ask for more?


abb1 09.30.06 at 1:12 pm

Typically they tend to be more like deranged megalomaniacs than cynical bastards. Although “both” is also a correct answer.


Steve LaBonne 09.30.06 at 1:13 pm

Yes, I would say so. Happened in many times and places. I would also say that one particularly worrying thing in America is that, because of the delusional “we’re always the good guys, in the shining city on the hill” self-image that grips so much of our population, this country’s resistance to this sort of perfidy may actually be particularly low.


Jeff W 09.30.06 at 1:43 pm

“What Waterboarding Looks Like”? How about some pictures of “What Terrorism Victims Look Like”?


Henry 09.30.06 at 3:20 pm

David Kane – what Michael said. There are many honorable conservatives who’ve spoken out against torture, including some who I disagree with vehemently on pretty well other issue. This isn’t a left or right issue. It’s a basic issue of human decency. If your ‘unwelcoming for the right of center’ is intended, as I suspect, as code for ‘uncomfortable for those who don’t think torture is an evil thing’ then tough shit – I’ve no more intention of creating a warm, friendly, legitimating atmosphere for you than I do of creating one for people who think that slavery or killing millions of Jews or nuking Mecca are good and wonderful things.


Ben Alpers 09.30.06 at 4:18 pm

If one side says, “We need this to be safe” and the other side says “But it’s sort of bad and doesn’t really work and we shouldn’t do it” what do you think the result will be?

Actually, one side says “we need this to be safe,” while the other side says “we’re not sure we need this to be safe, but if getting it off the political table may be to our advantage in the midterm elections, we’ll let you have it.”

I agree with Henry that this isn’t a left-right issue. Depravity has no exclusive claim on either side of the extremely narrow American ideological spectrum. Heck, Sherrod Brown voted for this in the House. If the way to depravity was led by the GOP, they only succeeded because enough Democrats were willing to go along with them, and enough more were willing to look the other way.


Anarch 09.30.06 at 4:51 pm

This is a variant on an idea I’ve been bouncing around for a while but: how about getting groups of people to go around the country and offer $50 to anyone who can stand being waterboarded for 20 seconds? Maybe giving people a taste of what torture is like will convince them of the error of their ways; or maybe it’ll simply further the process of dehumanization that the Republicans seem to be pursuing, I dunno.


daelm 09.30.06 at 5:46 pm

here’s your company…

here and here


sara 09.30.06 at 6:49 pm

Don’t offer to pay the sick fucks anything.

Americans are desensitized to the point that you could easily find citizens who would agree to torture their exes or mothers-in-law on TV for $250,000.

This was the real purpose of shows such as Fear Factor and Jackass.


roger 09.30.06 at 7:04 pm

Mr. 47 — guess what? by coincidence, they are one and the same thing! The victim of torture is a victim of terrorism.
Isn’t it nice to get a present when you ask for it?


Mario 09.30.06 at 10:45 pm

Since the US now employs the very same techniques as the Khmer Rouge, the editors of high school history textbooks will have to get busy rewriting all subsequent editions to read “tough interrogation methods” in lieu of the word torture.


Anarch 09.30.06 at 11:01 pm

Or, if you’re lucky, someone will pay $800 to do it to themselves.


David Kane 09.30.06 at 11:22 pm

Although I appreciate John, Henry, Michael et al taking the time to respond, perhaps I did not make my point clear.

1) CT’s policy is to have only left of center authors. That’s fine. It’s your blog.

2) CT’s claim, I think, is that it encourages comments from those it disagrees with. CT wants to have a conversation.

If you believe, as Henry does, that your opponents (a majority of American citizens who have no problem with waterboarding high value targets) lack any “human decency,” then it is going to be awfully tough to have a conversation. Again, Henry writes:

I’d like to think that torture apologists (a couple of whom occasionally infest our comments sections) would be deeply ashamed – but I suspect that they’ve lost the capacity for shame long ago, if they ever had it to begin with.

The best part is, obviously, “infests.”

As always, CT’s authors can do as they want. If they do not want to have a dialogue with reasonable, open-minded people who disagree with them about the proper way of treating enemy combatants, then just let us know (as Henry does above). We do not want to have a conversation if you do not want to have a conversation. (One way to start the conversation would be for a CT author to comment on this.)

Michael writes:

I don’t see anything in Henry’s post that’s unwelcoming to conservatives. He seems to have a problem with torture apologists. If you confuse the terms, that’s your problem.

Well, perhaps your dictionary has a different definition of “infests.” In any event, a (vast?) majority of the House, Senate and America people are, by your definition, “torture apologists.”

My point here is not to argue the torture issue per se but to ask the authors of CT to clarify what sort of conversation they want to have in these comments. If you do not want to discuss this issue, that’s fine by me. Michael seems to have access to a magic list of topics, like nationalized healthcare, that are in bounds, that right-of-center folks are welcome to discuss, that Henry will not worry about infestation with regards to.

Perhaps Michael can publish that list so that the rest of us know the ground rules.

It is your blog. You can do as you see fit, but you should be more clear about what you want. Or, since Henry is perfectly clear to me, you should stand by what you write.


Barry 09.30.06 at 11:29 pm

David, what problem could any decent person have with the use of ‘infests’, as applied to ‘torture apologists’?


bi 09.30.06 at 11:32 pm

David Kane: “Enemy combatants”? Right! That’s a sure way to show your open-mindedness!

Perhaps then, as John Quiggin says, there’s a magic list of people that David Kane knows — in a moment of divine revelation — that are Enemy Combatants(tm) even before a fair and just trial, so that there’s no need to have a fair and just trial to determine whether they’re Enemy Combatants(tm). Or maybe, there’s a magic list of people David Kane knows — again through divine revelation — to have access to divine revelation in telling which people are Enemy Combatants(tm). So, perhaps David Kane can publish these magic lists so that we know what he thinks are the ground rules for the applicability of torture, um I mean interrogation.

So, let the dialogue begin. I’m all ears.


bi 09.30.06 at 11:42 pm

Or even a magic list of places — again, obtained by divine revelation — where living in one of these places automatically qualifies one as an Enemy Combatant(tm), would be nice. Of course, the boundaries of these places must be carefully defined.

Hey, I’m open to dialogue. I’m not too picky.


Anarch 10.01.06 at 12:28 am

In any event, a (vast?) majority of the House, Senate and America people are, by your definition, “torture apologists.”

I can’t speak to either the personal feelings of the Representatives or Senators involved, but your statement about the American people is simply wrong.


John Quiggin 10.01.06 at 1:31 am

At least David Kane is prepared to out himself openly, by name, as a torture apologist. The kind of snark we see from “jeff w.” is far more typical of those who infest comments threads on this and related topics.


John Quiggin 10.01.06 at 1:33 am

I followed DK’s link to Hugh Hewitt, and the opening question was

“1) Let’s get right to it. Do you support torture?

Let me say what I do support: When it comes to high value targets in the war on terror, wannabe evil-doers who possess or might possess important information, I support any measures necessary to extract that information.”

which I translate as saying “Yes, but I’m dishonest as well as evil, so I’m not going to give straight answers to any question on this topic”

If there was anything worth reading further down, I missed it.


de Selby 10.01.06 at 3:34 am

Hugh Hewitt sounds like Dr. Benway in Burroughs’ Naked Lunch:

“I deplore brutality,” he said. “It’s not efficient. On the other hand, prolonged mistreatment, short of physical violence, gives rise, when skillfully applied, to anxiety and a feeling of special guilt. A few rules or rather guiding principles are to be borne in mind. The subject must not realize that the mistreatment is a deliberate attack of an anti-human enemy on his personal identity. He must be made to feel that he deserves any treatment he receives because there is something (never specified) horribly wrong with him. The naked need of the control addicts must be decently covered by an arbitrary and intricate bureaucracy so that the subject cannot contact his enemy direct.”

“While in general I avoid the use of torture– torture locates the opponent and mobilizes resistance –the threat of torture is useful to induce in the subject the appropriate feeling of helplessness and gratitude to the interrogator for withholding it. And torture can be employed to advantage as a penalty when the subject is far enough along with the treatment to accept punishment as deserved.”


abb1 10.01.06 at 4:02 am

The <blockquote> tag used to work fine here; now it only affects the first paragraph, even though in preview it looks like it’ll affect the whole thing.





abb1 10.01.06 at 4:03 am

The “blockquote” tag, that is.


roy belmont 10.01.06 at 4:38 am

Of all the many points that need addressing here, this somewhat tangential bit calls loudly to me –

“a majority of American citizens who have no problem with waterboarding high value targets”

The only terms in that phrase that aren’t masked and deceptive are “American citizens” and “waterboarding”.
The subject of the verbal clause “waterboarding high value targets” is implied, meaning the ones ordering and performing the torture, but the valid noun would be something like “the brave and loving heroes on the front lines of the War on Terror, who know these things, and do these things to make us safer”.
That’s a belief born out of desperation and panic. Both states artificially induced by the real figures behind all this, who are neither brave nor loving.
The men doing these things and ordering them are insane, and desperate themselves, serving something they don’t recognize at all for what it is, or for what it’s going to become.
Americans having “no problem” with torture is not too unlike having “no problem” with the factory-meat supply that makes their hamburger. As long as it’s done out of sight, it remains out of mind. Most Americans, and especially most American children, would be horrified and made instant vegetarians by an accurate close-up view of where their meat was coming from.
“high value targets” is a sadist’s term, cloaked in the camouflage-patterns of military terminology – it’s dehumanized, insectile, and what it carries, unexpressed, is the absolute disposability of the mis-apprehended and misjudged. The mistakes go in the dumpster.
The fact is the majority of American citizens are terrified, and responding to these sharp cues and opened gates like cattle to a prod in a stockyard.
They’ve been forced to deny the flimsy character of their news sources and their total reliance on the unproven integrity of those sources. They have to pretend the TV news is accurate and fair and balanced because otherwise they’ll have to face how dependent, how close to complete domestication they’ve come. They’re being told what to think and what to feel by people they can’t see and don’t know. They trust because the alternative is to reassume their humanity, and the risk and sacrifice that will entail.
Anyone offering the will of the majority as some kind of trump card, now, is on the payroll of whatever it is that’s doing that domesticating. It can’t be done without lies and intimidation, without breaking every moral code we’ve ever had, without surrendering what makes us human.
The deal is, baldly – give up your humanity and we’ll keep you alive.


Belle Waring 10.01.06 at 9:34 am

suggesting that people give fair consideration to the “arguments” of hugh hewitt, unquestionably the single most hackish partisan hack on the R side, is ridiculous. this is the man whose motto is: the democratic party must be destroyed. he is an open proponent on one-party rule in america. he defended bush’s choice of harriet myers for the supreme court! really, I’d much rather debate ace of spades.


KCinDC 10.01.06 at 10:43 am

Is Hewitt really more of a hackish partisan hack than Hinderaker? I guess hackometers with scales that go high enough to measure them accurately are scarce.


Michael Sullivan 10.01.06 at 10:53 am

Quoting David Kane.

Well, perhaps your dictionary has a different definition of “infests.” In any event, a (vast?) majority of the House, Senate and America people are, by your definition, “torture apologists.”

Maybe they are. Did you have a point?

The thing that you’re trying to imply is that this many people can’t be wrong. That’s complete nonsense. Over the course of just the 20th century, populations have at least tacitly supported genocide (Nazi Germany, post-breakup Yugoslavia, too many Africa areas to name), systematic and brutal oppression of a large segment of their population (Blacks in apartheid South Africa and in the US South in the first half of the century, women in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan and many more), and institutionalized mass rape (Japan during WWII). And probably torture-regimes aplenty.

It would be sad, but not terribly suprising, if modern America were to join the infamous ranks of those who defend and support horrifyingly unsconscienceable evil.

And torture is horrifying, unconscienceable, and evil. This isn’t rocket science. It’s not like people take four years of PhD level philosophy and come out saying, “OH! Hey, guys, I just had a revelation! Torture is wrong!” Everyone knows it’s wrong. You know it’s wrong, which is why you’re dancing around the topic, trying to support torture without coming out and saying that you’re supporting torture. It’s in the top tier of the most hideous crimes that humanity has thought up. Maybe there are things which are worse — murder or rape may edge out torture on the wrongness scale by a nose — but there’s nothing which is a whole different tier of badness.

Waterboarding is doubtless not the most disgusting, cruel, and vile torture technique of all time. But that’s no more of a justification than saying that at least a murderer killed quickly and cleanly, or at least a rapist didn’t use extraneous violence.


David Kane 10.01.06 at 12:06 pm

1) The post I linked to was written by Dean Barnett (aka SoxBlog).

2) Honestly, I used the term “enemy combatant” in an attempt to be neutral. The term “terrorist” would obviously beg the question. What (short) term would CT prefer I use? “Suspected terrorist”?

3) Several authors of CT are much more expert than I as to US public opinion, but I believe that it is a statement of fact that a vast majority (75%?) of Americans are in favor of the recent bill. If Anarch can point to other evidence, he should do so.

4) I am sorry that John did not have time to read the whole post I linked to. If you want to know why (intelligent) Republicans think the way they do, that post is a good guide.

5) Again, my point here is to clarify what the authors of CT want in terms of comment participation. Although I can’t find the link (does CT’s search work for comments?), the last time we discussed this, the claim was that right-wing commentators were welcome in the comments. Now, both Henry and John use the terms “infests” to refer to me and people like me. That’s fine! It is your blog! I (and, I hope, other conservatives) won’t comment here if you don’t want us to.


bi 10.01.06 at 12:28 pm

“Enemy combatants” doesn’t beg the question?

“I believe that it is a statement of fact” — Ah, it’s the “in my opinion, it’s a fact!” schtick again. Same old, same old.

I think “no weasel phrases” (which’ll cover the kind of nonsense above) is a good description of a ground rule.


roger 10.01.06 at 12:31 pm

The problem with using polls on a subject that can easily induce moral panics is that the polls will widely vary.
Here’s a poll, taken in 2004 (closer in time to 9/11) which gives the opposite result from D.K.’s 75 percent (by the way, what poll gave that conclusion?):

Inducing a moral panic to destroy a republic is a classic junta technique. This is why there are checks and balances on majoritarian rule — for instance, a hard to change constitution. Of course, constitutions are “parchment protections”, as Madison said, if the legislative and executive branches reach a certain point of moral corruption. Madison was right. Bush is his nightmare. Hopefully, though, on Bush’s next visit to a foreign country that has recognized the International court in the Hague, he’ll be picked up for crimes against humanity. It is pretty much an open and shut case. Sic Semper Tyrannus.


nick s 10.01.06 at 1:08 pm

If you do not want to discuss this issue, that’s fine by me.

If that’s not a weasel, then it’s certainly Mustelinae in its implication that
we’re cowering from some hard by necessary truths. If it’s a choice between a ‘conversation’ in which one side tries dancing around torture and no conversation at all, then count me in the ‘no conversation at all’ camp.

There are polities in which one can have that conversation. In best Lockean tradition, I don’t think this is one of them. Perhaps you can find some absolutism-friendly spaces for your ‘conversation’.


Henry 10.01.06 at 2:57 pm

David – I’ve no intention of getting involved in an argument with you because that would suggest that this is something that reasonable people can politely disagree about. It isn’t, anymore than reasonable people can disagree over whether slavery or anti-Semitism is a good or a bad thing. In a quite real sense, you and other torture apologists are morally depraved, something that genuine conservatives (of whom a few comment on these issues) understand quite well. This isn’t a matter for genteel intellectual debate; it’s a matter for telling you that you should be ashamed of yourself. And again, if this makes you feel uncomfortable, then tough shit.


Matt Weiner 10.01.06 at 5:08 pm

Belle/Henley: And didn’t Daniel write a post called “Here’s your fucking latte, sir”? F-bomb in the title.

Anyway, Belle, I think it’s both.


John Quiggin 10.01.06 at 6:38 pm

As DK points out, the evil and weaselly torture apologist to whom he linked was indeed Dean Barnett, posting on Hugh Hewitt’s blog, and not, as I thought, Hewitt himself. If DK can point me to something by Hewitt indicating either that he opposes torture (not likely!) or that he’s at least willing to say openly that he supports it, I’ll correct my characterization of him.


Bruce Baugh 10.01.06 at 8:25 pm

As an aid to those who are confused but have not yet surrendered their moral sense, like, DK, a few notes on terms.

People who are in custody of US forces or their allies are people in custody.

People in custody whose status has not yet been subject to any real review or consideration are people in custody of uncertain status.

People in custody who have received good review of their status and found to be hostile combatants may have any of several labels, depending on the details. Categories recognized in prevailing law include prisoner of war, spy, and prisoner awaiting civil or criminal justice. There have been fine posts about this by others; I won’t go into all the options here.

People in custody who have received good review of their status and found not to be guilty of anything that warrants criminal or military attention are innocent people in custody awaiting release.

“Unlawful enemy combatant” with its implication “and therefore undeserving of basic protections established in treaty as applying to all” is a made-up category by people who are trying to dodge their legal obligations. It’s like “flying pink elephants” as a category for domestic pets – the fact that you can assemble the words like that, or in this case those words and implications, doesn’t make them mean anything to the rest of us.

People who deliberately violate their obligations in law, whether it originated domestically or as a result of treaty, are criminals. People who deliberately violate their obligations with regard to war and the treatment of people in custody may be war criminals, depending on the outcome of the sort of good review they’re denying to others.

Hope this helps.


David Kane 10.02.06 at 7:17 am

Henry writes:

I’ve no intention of getting involved in an argument with you because that would suggest that this is something that reasonable people can politely disagree about. It isn’t, anymore than reasonable people can disagree over whether slavery or anti-Semitism is a good or a bad thing. In a quite real sense, you and other torture apologists are morally depraved . . .

Good to know! Again, my goal has been to determine if you want comments from people like me at CT. It’s clear you (and John Q? and Belle? and even open-minded Daniel?) do not.

It’s your blog so I’ll abide by your wishes. Best of luck having a conversation with a bunch of people who all agree with you.


Barry 10.02.06 at 8:32 am

David, it isn’t a matter of desiring or not desiring comments from people like you, IMHO. It’s a matter of whether or not most (almost all?) of us have even the slightest respect for what you say.


bi 10.02.06 at 8:42 am

David Kane, thanks for telling us how open-minded you are. Unfortunately, our minds aren’t so open that our brains fall out.

Best of luck having conversations with people with, um, wide wide wide open minds.


bi 10.02.06 at 8:58 am

Now all this talk about open-mindedness gives me an idea. What say you all to a skit in which a soldier subjects a prisoner to waterboarding, in order to Open The Mind(tm) of the prisoner to the possibility that He Might Well Be A Terrorist(tm)?


Steve LaBonne 10.02.06 at 9:16 am

bi, that really happens with appreciable frequency in psychologically high-pressure police questioning of young, dimwitted, or otherwise highly impressionable suspects- there have been a number of false confessions revealed by subsequent DNA testing, and who knows whether that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Sometimes life is stranger than snark…


bi 10.02.06 at 10:49 am

Oh, shoot.


Louis Adkins 10.03.06 at 11:35 pm

I keep seeing the term “torture apologists” – but at this point, in my opinion, it’s Torture Advocates.

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