August 26, 2009.  It would be nice to believe that sometimes an old dog can be taught new tricks.  Definitely not the case with Dick.  Now that the CIA report has made it clear just how immoral the so-called enhanced interrogations techniques were, all Dick can do is repeat his claim that we got results.  Two obvious points: 1) Experts dispute this claim.  Other methods are more productive.  2) The international agreements against torture don’t say, “Well, if you think it will get results, go ahead and torture.”  They say, “Torture is immoral and unacceptable.  Don’t do it!”

We tried enemy combatants in WWII as war criminals for some of the same acts that have recently been committed in our name.

Since old dogs like Dick Cheney can’t be taught new tricks, I thought it worth bringing back two posts from last spring.


Harsh Techniques (torture) to be used to Combat Swine Flu


April 26, 2009.  The United States declared a public health emergency today.   Although it appears that no one has died or become seriously ill in the U.S. from a new strain of the swine flu, health officials are taking no chances.  All of the traditional measures to combat epidemics have been set in motion.   Funds will be made available for anti-viral drugs, and time-tested and effective methods for tracking and preventing the spread of disease will be utilized.  The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is reassuring the public, citing its decades of experience in handling epidemics and its recent preparation for pandemics.

However, former Vice President Cheney, through a spokesman, is calling on the CDC to avoid thinking within the box in deciding on measures to halt this attack on our nation.  “We can’t afford not to act with every means available to us,” said his spokesman.   Inside the CDC there is mounting pressure to consult with agents from the CIA to examine how harsh interrogation techniques might be of service.  With fear mounting and pressure growing, expert legal advice is being sought in order to provide the proper “legal cover” for actions that international agreements have outlawed as torture.

“Look,” said a representative from the former VP’s office, “you gotta do what you gotta do.  There are swine out there who, or I should say, that are dangerous.  We need to know what, where, and when.”   The plan seems to be to find the pigs that are harboring the terrorist virus, and apply harsh techniques, torture if you will, in order force them to provide operational intelligence.

There has been some concern that the swine won’t talk.  But everyone should know that swine are among the most intelligent animals, according to experts in covert intelligence.   A spokesperson for the CDC insists that with proper guidance, waterboarding a pig is possible, and it will get the animal to talk, and talk fast.  (He then handed this reporter a copy of Animal Farm.)

Questioned about violating the rights of these animals, a Cheney spokesman said, “What’s the difference?  Whether it’s a human animal or an animal animal.  If it attacks you, or if you believe that it might possibly attack, you go after it.”  There was little response to a question directed to Cheney himself  (as he was walking his dog) by one reporter, “What about all of the innocent pigs, for example, the three little ones, that were just minding their business, trying to build lives for themselves?”  Cheney did say that if we could apply harsh techniques to the virus itself, we would.  But since we don’t have the technical means to do so, as many of the swine as possible gotta be boarded.

images-5 Asked to comment, The White House declined, claiming that as an inanimate object it had little to say.   Although a spokesman for the President did say that if the tactics were forward-looking enough, and did not constitute a threat to his domestic agenda, he might be able to get his team behind the CDC.  In any case, no CDC employee will be prosecuted for actions deemed acceptable by agency lawyers.

A spokesperson for the Humane Society claimed to be too upset to return this reporter’s call.


Cheney and Torture (or how the ex-VP fails Ethics 101)


April 21, 2009

The New York Times reports the following comments by Cheney in reaction to Obama’s release of the Bush administration memos defending acts of torture:

As the debate escalated, Mr. Cheney weighed in, saying that if the country is to judge the methods used in the interrogations, it should have information about what was obtained from the tough tactics.

“I find it a little bit disturbing” that “they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” Mr. Cheney said on Fox News. “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity.”  ”Pressure Grows to Investigate Interrogations,”  April 20, 2009,

Leaving aside the fact that experts in the field have consistently challenged the utility of torture, leaving aside the fact that we could have gotten more information through alternative methods of interrogation, and leaving aside the fact that by torturing prisoners we increase the chances that our own soldiers will be tortured, what Cheney’s comments reveal is the poverty of the ethical imagination of the Bush administration.

Yes, there are good arguments to be made for taking into consideration consequences in judging whether acts are ethical.  There is a whole philosophical tradition built around this notion, Utilitarianism.  However, the idea that we can justify torture based on “the success” of the method, which presumably means the successful gathering of intelligence, is precisely what every declaration of human rights, including the Geneva Convention, repudiates.  (As does every form of sophisticated Utilitarianism.)

Imagine if I said, let’s rape prisoners in order to get the information that we need.  No decent human being would tolerate this as a legitimate means of gathering information.  Rape is a basic violation of the dignity and integrity of another human being.   It’s horrific to think that governments might write legal briefs defending rape on the grounds that it produced information that they needed.  Yet, how different is torture from rape?  It too is a basic violation of the dignity and integrity of another human being.  If one thinks about what the act of torture does to another human being (and what it does to the torturer), it can be viewed as a form of rape, just as rape can be understood as a form of torture.  Nevertheless, the Bush administration’s lawyers wrote legal opinions defending acts that time and again have been labeled torture.

So, here is my suggestion in response to Cheney.  When he says, “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity,” replace the last part of the sentence, “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of raping human beings.” Now, tell me whether anyone who is even moderately ethical, or anyone who wants to defend the ideals for which this country stands, would be willing to utter such a sentence?  But this is in fact a sentence that follows from Cheney’s crude consequentialism.

Cheney is a clever but hopelessly thoughtless man, who was part of a thoughtless administration.  He still doesn’t understand how much damage he did to this country in his efforts to protect us.   (And let’s not forget, his methods aren’t even good ones in terms of protecting the country.)


UPDATE, April 22, 2009:  Former FBI supervisory agent discusses recent claims about the effectiveness of torture.

“My Tortured Decision” (excerpt)

By ALI SOUFAN,  April 22, 2009, The New York Times

FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence….

One thought

  1. I think the responsibility lies at the top of the administration that asked for torture to begin by renaming it as “enhanced interrogation techniques”, (even Ronald Regan, called the practice of torture “abhorrent”), is anyone surprised that Cheney is now crying about the investigations.

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