Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Torture Flowchart

(Picture by the invaluable darkblack.)

How did all this torture and war stuff happen, you ask? Well, some people have been trying to cover those stories for several years now, but the recently unclassified senate report adds valuable detail. But hey, why not try a flowchart?

Click for a larger view, or go here. Here's a larger view of that little collage:

Click for a slightly larger view, or go here. (One of the pictures comes from "The Green Light," a summary of one of the better books on torture out there, Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values by Philippe Sands. Check out the article if you haven't.)

Feel free to quibble with any of the specifics in the chart, or improve it. It's somewhat tongue-in-cheek and has its flaws, beyond the resolution issues. With authoritarians, there's often a chicken versus egg question for their actions, and an ignorance versus evil question for their motives. However, for them, an authoritarian regime is both a means and the ends. To paraphrase Digby, incompetence, corruption, secrecy and dishonesty are features, not bugs of these systems. My main point is that a host of attitudes contribute to the problem, and a little bit of reflection, humility, intelligent analysis, oversight, honest counsel or courage can check it – unless the steamroller is allowed to prevail. Just as bullshitters don't care whether what they're saying is true or not, authoritarians tend not to care about such pesky things as negative consequences, principle or the law. An explicit order to "Torture that man until he falsely confesses to an 9/11-Iraq connection!" might never come, in those exact words – yet that outcome is nonetheless the natural (or perhaps unnatural) result of a series of deliberate decisions, an arrogant attitude and the overall climate created. (That's not to mention the issues of self-awareness and CYA language.) It's not as if the Bush administration lied, hid the evidence, dodged oversight and ignored or punished warnings from their own people out of good faith. They knew what they were doing was radical. (See Angler, a superb book, for much more.) In any case, there will be plenty of time to discuss the specific "whys" as we continue to establish all of the "whats" in greater detail. We need an excellent special prosecutor to investigate the crime scene. ( A truth commission might help as well, but not if it goes the Iran-Contra route of immunizing everyone and undercutting any criminal investigations.) Paul Krugman spells it out well:

Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.

There’s a word for this: it’s evil.

Exactly. Let the full truth be known, and justice be done.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)


Comrade Kevin said...

Of course, but the Obama Administration sees prosecution as a polarizing issues that will derail his ample domestic policy reforms.

And I, for one, am certainly hoping for Universal Health Care for a purely selfish reason.

sliderossian said...

I am afraid the reason there is not much enthusiasm around prosecution for torture from congress is because so many signed off on it, both Republicans AND Democrats.

However, I believe that anyone who is sure enough about their beliefs to break the law should face their medicine and martyr themselves in the name of this belief, a la Martin Luther King or Gandhi. That these humunculi try to weasel out of the lawlessness of their actions shows they were quite aware of what the American people would think of these things being done in the name of freedom and democracy. The only reason for the memos was to erase their culpability.

Anonymous said...

I found this question posted to right wingers on WAPO...and no responses by right wingers as of yet.

"Let's say:

a psychopath asks lawyer to give him written advice as to how to commit mass murder without being held responsible.

The lawyer writes down exactly how to loophole the national and international laws ( also by using different vocabulary word other than "murder") ....then psychopath kills your entire family and more.

Does that mean psychopath can't be punished because he has a lawyer's written document telling him how to get away with it all and with the assistance of simply using semantics?

permial said...

Wonderful. Thank you. But I must agree with sliderossian on many of his/her points. We cannot, as a group, be made whole again until we apply the law equally. It hasn't happened in my lifetime, nor my fathers, but with the hope that it might. Dr. Franklin said: Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
(Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790), Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759) Yes, I tend to give credit where it's due!
This is not the republic that motivated my father and 6 of his brothers to join the battle in WWII. Nor is it the same that gave him pause, and make sure that I would never have to serve in Vietnam (I'm not quite old enough, but only missed it by a few months). But I wax rhapsodic in this day and age. ThesaurusMaximus has an argument that is a bit more specific. Please understand that these people are not actually psychopathic in nature, they are just ruled by small green pieces of paper, have no sense of reality (I'd say overprivileged, but then, so was I). Please give me an example where you have not used semantics where it would benefit you. For a raise, to feel a little superior, or just to get out of trouble. We begin this as children (e.g. I didn't mean to hit the ball towards the house). I've run long here, much to do.
I appreciate this forum, feel free to discuss this with me at anytime.

Batocchio said...

Thanks to everyone for stopping by. You all might be interested in Mark Danner's latest op-ed, "If Everyone Knew, Who's to Blame?" I think a full investigation is essential, and as Danner argues, even more important than prosecutions is obliterating the monstrous lies that torture is necessary for national security or is ever right.

Sliderossian, you're right about the hypocrisy and chickenhawk angle. It's alarming how much some of these people used the show 24 as a guideline rather than history or the law (documented in more depth in earlier articles).

ThesaurusMaximus, that's a good way of putting it. Torture apologists are fond of brushing past torture's immorality and clear illegality. You may have seen some of the documents (or articles on them) that the Bush administration was specifically warned that what they were doing/planning to do was illegal, and that torture was unreliable for intel.

Dr. John, that Franklin quotation is a fantastic one. It's been very timely the past several years. Thanks also for sharing your family's experience. You make a good point about semantics, but I think you're cross-talking a bit. In the analogy, the psychopath is not a torture apologist (although that comparison may be appropriate in some cases) and "semantics" really means something closer to "hiding behind a ridiculous legal memo to claim that something that's clearly illegal is legal." I believe ThesaurusMaximus was offering a specific rebuttal to the common torture apologist argument that the Bush administration thought these specific torture techniques were legal because the Office of Legal Counsel said so. Some of the legal blogs have dissected the reasoning in the memos in far greater depth, and the reasoning is very shoddy, often completely ignoring directly relevant case law as well the torture statutes themselves. Saying something is legal doesn't make it so. And torture apologists omit something very important from the timeline – the memos were issued after these torture techniques had already been authorized by the White House and were being used. The memos were CYA docs, not a deliberated policy, as monstrous as that would be on it own.

As for your green pieces of paper, you're right – being a hack often pays well. But wonks and people of good faith do debate much differently than hacks. I also think it's wrong not to call pundits and public officials on their BS. When it comes to something as serious as torture, it's especially dangerous to let lies or misconceptions go unchecked. It's one thing for a lawyer to defend his or her client in court – that's an important part of the justice system. But lies and misconceptions can be challenged there, too, as they should be but often aren't in the media. The scoundrels are free to make their case, but we don't need to pretend that it's a good one, nor to pretend they're honorable people, nor that they had no choice but to offer such shoddy and immoral arguments. Some of the torturers and their apologists have shown sadism, vengeance, bigotry, and fear, some are in it for the money, some may even have had noble motives that became terribly perverted. But in the memos, we've certainly seen the banality of evil.

Sorry, it's late – thanks to all for stopping by, and see you around.

darkblack said...

Invaluable, you say? My creditors might beg to differ...I suspect their jaundiced appraisal would give a rather concise value of me.


Excellent piece, Batocchio...The chart really leaves no room for wiggling ambiguity.