Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama is right to close Gitmo

We're Americans. We're supposed to be the good guys. Part of our strength is our capacity to be humane. While our nation has mastered the art of the big stick, it has forgotten the part about speaking softly.

Towards the end of World War II, Germans fled west towards the Americans and British to surrender while putting up a stiff resistance against the Soviets. This is because they expected better treatment from the western Allies. If Taliban holdouts expect to be subject to torture or "advanced interrogation techniques" (or whatever euphemism you prefer) when captured, that makes it much more likely that they will fight instead of surrender when cornered, thus increasing the possibility of American casualties.


gadfly said...

Robert ...

Let me review the bidding here. On 9/11/2001 the World Trade Center towers were disintegrated and 3000Americans lost their lives. The war that has followed required that we inter enemy combatants somewhere . . and that somewhere was GITMO.

Prisoners of war are entitled to humane treatment under the Geneva Convention and from all that I can gather, the US military has abided by those rules.

We have only the stories of prisoners and their lawyers (who want them to have access to US courts) to contadict my belief.

The most terrible accusation is that prisoners were tortured using "water boarding" which I do no see as torture.

This article would indicate that GITMO prisoners are treated just fine.

Robert Enders said...

If they are not prisoners of war, then they should be treated as criminal suspects. They should be tried in the jurisdiction that they were captured in. Saddam was tried by the Iraqis, let the Afghans try these guys

MichaelK said...

Well, Gadfly, Perhaps you'd like to give waterboarding a spin if you think it's not so bad? This guy did:

Tim Zank said...

First of all, I would submit, if you have to rely on an argument akin to "how would you like it if" (MichaelK)you need to stick with the other third graders.

Second, Even if you distrust every level of the American government, you'd have to agree the American soldiers that captured these "detainees" did so with just cause. I.E. they were being shot at or the like. To assume our troops have the resources, time, equipment, and incliniation to randomly walk the mountains of Afghanistan or Iraq and take the time to round up goat herders and the like for sport while being shot at and dodging grenades and missiles is highly unlikely. Does anybody really believe, of those 255 left there in Gitmo there is some percentage of innocent taxi drivers from Kirkuk or Kahbul that just happened to be standing on the wrong corner when those evil American troops came by? It defies logic.
Gitmo had to be established precisely because of the problem we have now, if you bring 'em here, they all get their own Robert Shapiro or Johnnie Cochran, and if you believe they deserve their very own Johnnie Cochran you are a flaming idiot, to put it mildly.

Robert, There is no comparison between the way we treat prisoners and anyone else, there never has been, period. No one on the face of the planet is more humane or more fair than us.

MichaelK said...

Zank, if you're going to open with an ad hominem attack, don't bother replying to my comment.

"How would you like it" is actually very appropriate in this case - because decent human beings just don't treat each other this way. And anyone who doesn't consider waterboarding torture clearly doesn't know what they're talking about.

"Robert, There is no comparison between the way we treat prisoners and anyone else, there never has been, period." Zank, I would suggest you're ignoring a bit of history there.

We're talking about a torture technique that goes back to the Spanish Inquisition, that's been used by the Khmer Rouge.

"Well, I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb. The towel was wrapped around my face and put across my face and water poured on. They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I’d get my breath, then they’d start over again... I felt more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death".

-Chase J. Nielsen, one of the U.S. airmen who flew in the Doolittle raid following the attack on Pearl Harbor, testifying at the war crimes trial of his Japanese captors. (

Do we really want to become the thing we hate?

Tim Zank said...

Sorry if you interpret that as ad-hominem, but i think you live in a different world than the rest of us. Since the beginning of recorded time man has been killing, beating, torturing, raping, maiming, and generally fricking with his fellow man for reasons from the absurd to the noble. Americans, in a scant 233 years have surpassed any civilization known to man ever in terms of human rights, and if you think waterboarding a handfull of murderous, throatslitting, baby-killing, child-raping scumbags will somehow turn us into the same thing, then you are either paranoid or stupid or both.

We are in no danger of "becoming the thing that we hate". We are in danger of becoming SUBJECTS of the thing we hate.

MichaelK said...

Wow. Just wow. Way to ignore everything I wrote and slide right into more personal attacks and hate.

Once again, if it was a war crime when the Japanese forces did it to Americans, why is it not when we do it?

We're supposed to be the good guys, what are we when we start to do evil even if it's to stop evil?

But hey, even if you can't realize it's morally wrong, at least you can realize that it doesn't work anyway.

"In researching this article, I spoke to numerous counterterrorist officials from agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Their conclusion is unanimous: not only have coercive methods failed to generate significant and actionable intelligence, they have also caused the squandering of resources on a massive scale through false leads, chimerical plots, and unnecessary safety alerts—with Abu Zubaydah’s case one of the most glaring examples."

So yeah, I do live in another world. The real world, where not only do we realize that torture is wrong, but that it doesn't even work anyway.

Tim Zank said...

OK, truce. Neither one of us is going to cede the others point. Suffice to say we'll agree to disagree.
But, just so we're clear, call me immoral if you will, but I'd have done a lot worse to Kahlid than waterboarding.

Robert Enders said...

Some of these prisoners were captured not because they were fighting US forces, but because locals said that they were Taliban. Now, if an anonymous tipster called up the FBI and said that I was a terrorist, the FBI would need a little more to go on than an anonymous tip before they made an arrest.
Some of them might actually be Taliban. Some men joined the Taliban because they were freedom hating Islamofascists. Wouldn’t an actual religious fanatic prepared to die for Allah be hard to capture alive? Others joined the Taliban because they were opportunists, or because they were forced to join. These guys could be convinced to support the Karzai government. A lot of people have switched allegiances since the conflict began.

Tim Zank said...

Robert, you note "Some of these prisoners were captured not because they were fighting US forces, but because locals said that they were Taliban."

Really, you got any names? Seriously though, I think it defies common sense and battlefield logistics to take the word of one village resident and believe him instantly and just scoop up his neighbor. Not only would that be terribly time consuming (while IED's are going off, grenades being tossed, and snipers shooting) it also falls upon the shoulders of Senior officials to surmise who's a spy and who's a goat herder.

Left leaning politicos and groups act as though this prisoners are akin to an illegal alien raid in Nevada for Christs sake. The 255 left are not denying they are jihadists, they are not claiming to be misunderstood goat herders, they are proudly telling their captos (us) they wish nothing more than "Death to America".

Do you (or anybody else that reads this blog) sincerely believe "war/conflict/islamic jihad/whatever" is EVER going to end? These guys aren't a country that we can defeat and contain like Japan or Germany, these guys are all over the place with all kinds of nasty weapons and bombs strapped to their wives and kids.

There are no conventional wars anymore, and there never will be again and if you think by us being diplomatic they will somehow have a change of heart an stop, you are sorely mistaken. This will go on forever and it will be going on right here on our soil much sooner than people think.
This ain't a movie or a college course boys and girls, it's the real deal, might want to buy your arms and ammo early, you're gonna need it eventually.

Phil Marx said...

First point: Water boarding and simply being held incognito are, in my opinion, forms of torture. Regardless of whether you agree with my definition here, the bigger problem is that most people who are proponents of these methods refuse to set any limits to what they would allow or whether it’s application should be regulated in any way.

Second point: With the introduction of weapons of mass destruction, the rules have changed. Torture may not be appropriate to save the life of a handful of people, but it may be appropriate if it would save the lives of a hundred thousand people. To not consider changing our tactics to meet the new dangers we face is very naive.

Fourth point: Robert’s comment reflects many stories which have been told that combine to portray our actions as more of a baseless witch hunt rather than a legitimate military operation. It’s most likely that the reality of the situation is some combination of these two views, but as long as we refuse to hold open trials on the matter we will never really know the answer.

Fourth point: During WWII, the Soviets lots 23 million lives. This was over thirteen percent of their population and nearly one third of the total casualties of all countries involved. During the 28 month siege of Leningrad alone, the Soviets lost 460,000 soldiers and 1.2 million civilians, many of whom were reduced to cannibalizing their fallen comrades. Not to minimize our own country’s contribution, but our loss of less than half a million people simply pales in comparison here.

Let’s not fool ourselves. If our treatment by the Germans had been comparable to the way they treated the Soviets, those Germans would have been shooting themselves in the head rather than surrender to us. I think most of the time when we proclaim ourselves to be “better people,” we somehow neglect to account for the fact that we have often had unique circumstances which allowed us to be this way. If those circumstances changed, we probably would also. To deny this and try to stand on principle alone is foolishly dangerous.

Our decision not to torture, or when we should and what types of torture should be allowed, should not be based on some naïve notion that we always strive to be nice guys. It should be based upon a calculated decision as to whether doing so would make our position better or worse. And it should take into account both short and long-term consequences.

To allow torture, without defining or regulating it, is as dangerous as to disallow torture without justifying why that would be beneficial to our present circumstances. Unfortunately, it seems the debate is usually characterized by these two extreme views.

Robert Enders said...

"The 255 left are not denying they are jihadists, they are not claiming to be misunderstood goat herders, they are proudly telling their captos (us) they wish nothing more than "Death to America"."

If this is the case, it shouldn't be to hard to get a conviction. Then we can move them to Terre Haute.

Tim Zank said...

Robert, they could have confessed 100 times on videotape and we couldn't convict them because the Johnnie Cochrans have already established the fact that all the evidence we have against them is now inadmissable.

Phil, your point about clarification/limits etc makes a lot more sense now that you have explained it in a way i can comprehend (I can be a little thick sometimes). Thanks..

Phil Marx said...


What's funny is that the limits/clarification was really my main point on our previous conversation at FWP. Of course, like usual, I got a bit sidetracked and took my thought into several different directions.

I actually don't think we should rule out torture without a proper discussion of the matter. Unfortunately, this has not yet happened among the politicians who make the rules. Both sides claim that we should not torture, but neither side really defines torture.

Robert Enders said...

Ok. How about "intentionally causing pain or harm for reasons not related to confinement" as a definiton? I can see using pepper spray if the inmate is out of control. But there is no good reason to pour water on the head of someone who is already restrained.

If these guys are so upfront about being terrorists, then why use any special means to gain that particular info? Now, not all of them will be honest about their allegiance. But if a dedicated fanatic refuses to confess under regular interrogation, is there any means of coercing someone who isn't afraid to die?

Phil Marx said...


I think the definition you presented here is pretty much what we need for a starting point. You are correct that spraying someone in the face with pepper spray when they are handcuffed and chained down is an entirely different action than spraying someone who is fighting to regain control.

But I think your second point is misapplied. I don't think it's usually a confession we are looking for here so much as information about other terrorists or their future operations.

For anyone who says they are unequivocally against torture, I suggest they begin with the folowing scenario. Imagine a terrorist is in custody and you are certain that he is aware of the exact location of a nuclear device that will soon be dentonated in the heart of a large American city. Would you torture this person to try and extract that information? I think a vast majority of Americans would support torture in this case.

Now, this scenario is unlikely for several reasons. First of all, it is probably never certain, and usually quite speculative, whether the accused actually does hold the information we seek. Second, the planting of a large WMD on U.S. soil is not something to easily achieve. Even though it could happen and we have to prepare for it, the odds are highly against it. In most cases of torture, we are probably trying to extract information that, if credible, would save tens or hundreds of lives, not thousands or millions.

The bottom line is this. Given that for each sucessfull case of torture, we would probably have to torture many people who really knew nothing at all, and given that each sucessful case of torture would probably save a relatively few number of lives, the backlash that would come to us as a result of it would likely outweigh the gains from it. But in cases where we have more certainty that the suspect is in posession of the information, or in cases where substantially larger numbers of our people might be saved, it is worth considering.

Robert Enders said...

If you can demonstrate that you stopped a nuke from going off through shocking someone's testicles, I would not be able to find 12 people who were willing to convict you for it.

That scenario is impossible. Every country that has ever made a nuke has spent billions developing it. Plus, non-suicide terrorists are never captured between the time a bomb is planted and the time it goes off. Even if a nuke was just planted, a bomber would only need 30 minutes to get out of the blast radius, then set it off via cell phone.

Phil Marx said...


On your first point, I tend to agree with you. While I think there are many people who would convict for this, I think it highly unlikely that it would be unanimous or even a majority. Your opinion here shows me that you do not suffer the same mental lapse that often seems to come from the liberal “do not torture under any circumstances, because we are the nice guys” point of view. It seems that you would allow torture in the extreme scenario I provided, but not for certain other cases.

Now, on your second point, I think you overestimate the situation when you say “impossible”. I think “highly improbable” would be a better substitute here. And I actually conceded that point when I provided my hypothetical situation. It was merely used to begin at one far end of the argument, where hardly any person would say no to torture. Of course there is the other extreme, where torture is used randomly, without cause, and with little to no success being gained from it.

Personally, I’ve never been present during an interrogation, and my government seems very reluctant to honestly tell me what they are doing on my behalf, so the truth is that neither you nor I really know what the real circumstances are. I suppose if they torture a guy just because he looked at them funny, there’s probably not much substance to that. But if they find a guy with bomb parts lying around his house, but no bomb, It’s a lot more reasonable to assume that a bomb was created there and transported somewhere else.

Logically, I assume that there are a lot of various scenarios that fall somewhere between the two extremes of complete certainty and completely unjustified action. Yet no one seems willing to discuss this. One side simply says “do not torture.” Without explaining themselves better than this, it can logically be concluded that they would not even allow torture in the extreme case where millions of lives were in jeopardy. The other side simply says “but sometimes harsh interrogation is necessary.” And without explaining this position further, it comes across as a blanket endorsement for committing any kind of torture for any reason whatsoever.

Once again, here is the problem I have with our current situation. No one wants to admit to supporting torture, because that word is so inflammatory. Therefore both sides loudly proclaim they are against this, while failing to properly define it. This means the soldiers who are charged with conducting the interrogation are given such flimsy explanations that they are constantly in danger of being accused of both being too harsh and not harsh enough. That is not fair and it is dangerous to place them in that situation.

Furthermore, by failing to properly explain ourselves before the rest of the world, it allows others to simply assume the worst. One of the most commonly used lines by those who oppose torture is that it will harm our image and cause others to treat our POW’s worse. But by not definitively stating what torture is and under what circumstances we will or will not allow it, we have as much as stated to the entire world that we will treat prisoners any way we like, for any reason, while refusing to let people know what we are actually doing. The bad PR that we anticipate from admitting to torture is no worse than what we get under the current situation where no one will discuss it fully and honestly.

Phil Marx said...

On the above comment I said no one will discuss this issue honestly and fully. I should have said none of our elected representatives will discuss this issue honestly and fully.

I suppose if we all got paid to win our argument, rather than to understand the other side and find a compromise, then we'd be as disingenuous as they are. Luckily we don't get paid to blog, so we can change our minds or ocassionally admit that the other has made a valid point.

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