Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Road to Hell

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
- William Shakespeare


It’s even worse than we thought.

It is, isn’t it?

If you’ve read the Senate Select Committee On Intelligence’s Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program, the executive summary of which was released yesterday, you know it’s even worse than we thought.

The torture, I mean.

Of course, we knew that our government tortured people. We knew that. That’s no secret. They told us. And we Americans? We let them do it and a lot of us cheered them on – certainly not all of us, maybe not even a majority, but enough.

And why not torture? No really, why the hell not?

After what our enemies did to us, after the crime they committed, after the carnage they wrought, were we not justified in any measure?

We wanted blood.

We wanted revenge and we had a right to that payback did we not?

We wanted to make them suffer, those filthy pig humping sons of bitches, the ones that dared attack the United States. The ones who killed our people.

We wanted them to grovel before our towering righteous wrath.

We wanted to grind their God into dust, to crush their primitive religion, to erase their murderous philosophy from the face of the earth. Our God, our religion, our philosophy, our way of life, is better is it not? Are we not exceptional, we Americans? Are we not morally superior? Well?

So why shouldn’t we torture the bastards? Why shouldn’t we destroy them? Is that not our duty? Didn’t our parents and grandparents go forth and hunt down the Nazis and the Bushido Warriors of the Rising Sun and wipe them out? Hell, our grandfathers vaporized two entire cities full of murderous terrorists, what’s a little torture compared to that? And do we not hail the people who dropped the bombs as The Greatest Generation? Can we do any less? Can we?

We wanted the people who attacked us to die, just as we had died when the towers fell, just as we had died in the wreckage of the burning Pentagon and in the cornfields outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

More than anything, we wanted them to be afraid.

Just like they had made us afraid.

They aren’t human, these enemies. That’s what we tell ourselves, isn’t it? They’re not human, they’re not men. That’s how we justified it. They’re pigs. Dogs. Towel heads. Camel jockeys. Ragheads. Hajis. Sand niggers. Vermin. They are terrorists and nothing more. So what does it matter if we torture them?

They deserve no mercy.

They are entitled to no rights.

But even then – even then – we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to admit what we were doing, could we?  We couldn’t quite admit what we Americans allowed to be done in our names. So we called it “enhanced interrogation” and “coercive methods” and “rendition” instead of “torture.” And we said those words in the same fashion that we Americans used to say “separate but equal” to describe our apartheid.

When Congress wrote the Patriot Act and the Protect America Act, when the President gave the order, when the Director of the CIA issued his directives, they couldn’t use euphemisms. They couldn’t hide from it, no, they had to spell it out in all its ugly truth.  That’s why they made those sections of the law, those orders and directives, classified. That’s why it’s taken more than a decade for this report.


When the Bush administration classified what we were actually doing, when they used the words “enhanced interrogation,” they did it not to hide torture from our enemies, but to hide it from us.


You might want to give that some thought.

You see, that’s why those interrogation tapes were destroyed by the CIA.

Because when you see a man being waterboarded, well then you just can’t hide from it anymore. When you see, really see, those images, well, there’s only one word for it.

When you stop hiding behind the euphemisms, you are faced with the brutal ugly dishonorable truth.


That’s what we’re talking about here, torture, and make no mistake.

The United States of America is a nation that tortures its enemies, its prisoners, its own citizens, and the innocent – oh, yes, that’s correct, we tortured prisoners that later turned out to be innocent.  But then again, given our track record vis a vis the death penalty, I suppose nobody should be surprised.

We Americans, we knew what was going on, at least in broad strokes, sure we did.  And we were willing to turn a blind eye to it, reluctantly or enthusiastically, but we were. Yes, we were and don’t you think otherwise. Because the men who gave those orders, the men who tortured others, and the men who stood by and watched them do it without protest even though they knew it was wrong, well those men are all still walking around free, aren’t they? They’ve never, ever, been held to account in even the slightest way.

Some Americans even think they are heroes.

But, hang on a minute. Torture works. We got good actionable intelligence from torture.

Didn’t we?

No, no. Stop right there. That’s hokum. Torture doesn’t work. You can’t depend on any information you get using torture.


That’s what we’re arguing about today: whether or not torture works.

That’s the basis of today’s argument in Washington. That’s what the TV pundits and the politicians are arguing about. For a lot of Americans, that’s what it comes down to: whether or not torture works.

That’s the conservative argument, torture works, therefore it’s moral. It’s justified. So long as you call it “enhanced interrogation.”

That’s the liberal argument, torture doesn’t work, therefore it’s immoral. It’s not justified, no matter what you call it.

On one side you’ve got people like former vice-president Dick Cheney who is unapologetic in his unswerving support of torture.

Yes, conservatives say, torture is bad and ugly, but it’s necessary in defense of freedom. These guys, these terrorists, they’re hardcore. If we don’t use every means necessary, if we take any option off the table, the terrorists win.

They ask in dire tones: What if – what if – torture is the only way to prevent another 9/11, another Pearl Harbor, or worse.

Much, much worse.

What if the terrorists had a nuke? What then?

I’ve seen this argument a thousand times in the last decade, I’m sure you have too. Maybe you’ve even made it.

What if?

That’s the ultimate justification, that’s why we must keep torture on the table, that’s why we must get them to talk, that’s why we must get the information by any means necessary.

It always comes down to this trump card, the one nobody wants to argue with: What if?

“What if the terrorists had your family? What if they had an atom bomb hidden in a city with your family strapped to it and you caught one of those bastards and there was only an hour left and there was no time to evacuate and millions were going die? Including your family! Huh? What about that? Are you saying you wouldn’t do whatever was necessary to get that information? I bet you would!”

You’re right, I would.

I, me personally? I would do whatever it took, including torture, if that was the only way to save the city, if that was the only way to save my family, if that was the only way to save you. As a military officer, yes, I would. Absolutely. I wouldn’t order my men to do it, I’d do it myself. I shove a hose up the bastard’s nose and turn on the water. I’d shoot out his knees. I’d cut off his balls. You bet. If that’s what it took. I’d do it without hesitation.

And I’d do it knowing I was breaking the law, and I would expect to be tried for the crime and sent to prison.

I would.

Because even if I saved the day, I’d be wrong. 

Good intentions do not justify evil.

A just cause does not justify injustice. No more than if I donned a cape and tights and drove around Gotham in the night killing criminals without trial or due process.

Think about something: what if we let police search you and your property without a warrant? What if law enforcement was allowed to randomly come into your house or place of business and go through your closets and your hard drive and your car?  If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve really got nothing to worry about right? You can trust the cops not to abuse this power, can’t you? I mean, sure it would be inconvenient, but isn’t that a fair trade for the decrease in crime? Sure as hell, the cops would find drugs and porn and stolen goods and people who cheat on their taxes and abuse their spouses.

So why don’t we allow that?

No, think about it. Why do we require the police to get warrants before searching private property? Why did they put that into the Constitution?

Same thing.

If I tortured a terrorist, even if I saved the city, even if I was a hero, I’d still be wrong.

I’d still face trial, I’d likely go to jail.

And that is precisely what should happen.

The morality of this supposed situation is a choice for human beings. It is a moral choice for men, for women, for individuals.

The morality of nations is something else entirely.

Morality is a choice for people, not governments.

Torture, no matter how pure the motive is against everything this country stands for. Everything.

The men who founded this country, who designed our government, they knew this. But, they were not fools. They knew the pitfalls of absolutism and inflexible law.  They knew that they couldn’t make the Constitution too rigid, or the new United States would rapidly outgrow it. So they made it fairly general except in the areas that they knew needed rigid and specific limits, such as habeas corpus and individual rights.

The Founders weren’t stupid, they were in fact brilliant, and they could play the “what if? game too.

So, they built in safeguards.

If I torture a terrorist into confessing the location of the bomb and I saved the city, I’d still be wrong. I’d expect to go to jail.

And that, my friends, is exactly what a presidential pardon is for.

It’s not to pardon corrupt politicians. It’s not to pardon the rich and connected. It’s not to clean the slates of hacks and flacks and flunkies and contributors and lobbyists. And it is most certainly not to pardon those who would turn us into our own enemies through abuse of power.

The Presidential Pardon is a safeguard built into the framework of our nation as a relief valve for exactly this type of situation.

While there may be times when brutal action might be justified by personal choice (that is the basis of most of our heroic action movies, isn’t it? And the source of that strawman nuclear bomb scenario above), the same should never be an option for government.

As I have written elsewhere, once the enemy becomes a prisoner and no longer has a means to resist, we become solely responsible for his or her life, well being, and treatment, both by our own code of conduct and by international agreement.

Now certainly it may be extremely difficult to treat a terrorist who tried to destroy your nation and your loved ones humanely.

Certainly. No sane person disputes that. I’ve taken prisoners in defense of my country, trust me on this, it’s goddamned hard.

However that, that right there, is the very definition of moral courage.

You cannot lay claim to the moral high ground if you engage in the same brutality as your enemies.

If the United States of America insists on calling itself exceptional, then it must be the exception.  And there is nothing exceptional about torture, it is all too horribly common in the world. The United States holds up as its greatest triumphs the defeat of tyranny great and small, from the Nazis and the Empire of Japan to Baby Doc Duvalier to Manuel Noriega to Saddam Hussein.  And those who rage and bellow, who invoke the name of their God and their sandaled prophet to decry the supposed moral decline of modern America, are the very ones who today cheer the immorality of torture most vigorously.

That’s something they might need to talk to their God about.

On the other side of the argument are those who decry torture as ineffective.

They’re wrong. Or rather they’re not right, not quite.

Torture isn’t one size fits all.  Some folks start talking the minute they’re captured. Some will resist to the bitter end. But all human beings have breaking points. Pour enough water up their noses, rip out enough fingernails, pump enough electricity through their testicles or vagina, rape them over and over, break their bones, shove a red hot poker up their ass, stack them in naked meat pyramids, lock them in a sensory deprivation tank until they go insane, shoot their kids in front of them, sooner or later they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. 

The thing is, they have to believe you mean it.

You can’t just put an empty gun against their head and pull the trigger, they have to believe you’re fully willing to kill them. 

It’s not enough to pour water up their nose, they have to believe, believe, that you’re willing to let them drown to get what you want. Your enemies, the ones in your custody and the ones still out there, they have to believe that you’re willing to go all the way.

For torture to work, you can’t just pretend to be a torturer, you actually have to be a torturer.

For Americans, because we are who we are, torture is mostly an ineffective means of gathering information. Mostly. But not completely. And so there’s always the counter: we can’t take it off the table, because if it works, even once, when everything is on the line, well, then it’s justified.

And that’s the pitfall.

See, let’s just say that torture is a reliable and effective means of interrogation. It’s not, but for the sake of argument let’s say it is.


Theft is an effective means of making a living.

Murder is an effective means of winning an argument.

Abortion is an effective means of ending a pregnancy. 

Terrorism is an effective means of conveying a political point.

Follow me? 

Again, if you’re going to lay claim to the moral high ground, then you’d better walk the walk or you’re nothing but a miserable hypocrite and no better than your enemies.  

In the days before we became torturers,  before September 11th, 2001, the CIA, the FBI, they had all the information necessary to stop that attack – and they got that information without torture, without compromising our values, without becoming our enemies. 

But they failed to act on it.

The problem wasn’t a lack of information, the problem was a failure of intelligence. We had the information, but our intelligence organizations refused to work together and to share that information – and they still do.

Torture won’t change that, in fact, the techniques and classification of information gained via torture ensures that the information will be tightly controlled and not shared among those who could make best use of it. Again, I was a professional intelligence officer, trust me on this, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Over and over and over.

The problem wasn’t that we couldn’t get our enemies to talk, the problem was that those in authority, congress, the Bush Administration, the intelligence community, refused to listen – and they still do.

The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of torture matters not at all. It’s a red herring.

It doesn’t matter if you're right or wrong about the effectiveness of torture.

It doesn’t matter if your motives are patriotic and your heart is pure.

It doesn’t matter if your cause is just.

It doesn’t matter how terrible your enemy.

Listen to me, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man of God, if you molest a child, you’re a goddamned child molester.

And it comes down to this: If you engage in torture, you're a torturer.

And you live in a country that tortures people.

It’s really just that simple.

“The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today. The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”
Ronald Reagan, President of the United States, 1984
Address to the Nation upon signing the UN Convention On Torture


  1. I can't really add anything to what you wrote - my only note on the whole torture thing, is that the show '24' came out in 2001. To go tinfoil on that nugget, I'd say it was to lay the groundwork to make torture acceptable to the US public. But then I'd have to say that it was decided that the US would use torture well in advance of when we actually did (or at least acknowledged we did). But I don't really want to go there.

    1. I've often turned off the television (especially on "24") when it dawned on me it was not-even-force feeding the American public some pretty horrible stuff as necessary and acceptable.

  2. Thanks for putting all of this into words. I didn't think I could be sadder than the day I sat at my computer and cried while viewing the photos of Abu Graib. How did this happen? Well, that day is here again, albeit I am not as stunned this time around.

    The last sentence says it all. If you torture, you are a torturer. If you are a nation that condones torture as part of its policy, you are a nation that tortures. And for this and many other reasons including the Patriot Act, AQ and Osama bin Laden in fact won. We threw our values to the wind for revenge.

    My one point of contention is that the law in fact recognizes a "necessity" defense. For a good article on why no one will ever be prosecuted in the US, check out this article: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-12-09/why-the-cia-wont-be-punished-for-torture In combination with the fact that many Americans think it is just fine and would do it again, the odds of any legal action is less than zero.

    Given Cheney's non-stop blathering about how proud he is of his actions, I only hope he sets foot on EU soil and the IHRC gets him and tries him. A very sad time for America.

    Thank you Jim.

    1. Well stated.
      It isn't about whether "torture" works. It's about whether (and/or when) it's cool to break The Golden Rule.
      The CIA tortured people itself, AND dragged hapless people to other countries to be tortured and "interrogated" right after WWII... and probably our armed forces tortured others before that. Inmates in prison have been tortured 'forever'.
      WE simply have to say NO to that... despite the marvelous "what-ifs" that can be constructed. Do 'we' have Ideals?.. or do 'we' worship at the Altar of the Alleged Smoking Gun?

  3. This is well said sir. Very, very well said.

  4. As usual you get to the nub of it Jim. The concept of a Pardon. You can be pardoned for committing a crime *after* you committed said crime. You cannot be pre-emptively pardoned because somebody ordered you to do a crime or you did the ordering.

    Anyone who "authorised" or committed these crimes is entitled to appeal for a pardon but only after they have been judged in a court of law.

    1. Gerald Ford gave Nixon a preemptive pardon for crimes he "may" have committed. Nixon was never charged with a crime.

    2. Reagan was pardoned also for the Iran Contra crimes.

    3. Funny you should mention Fords pardon of Nixon. Yes, I guess pardons can be granted blanketly, no need to investigate or even know what crimes might have been committed. Alas thats the way it works, not the way it ought to work.

      Interestingly one might make a case that Fords pardon of Nixon was the on-ramp to the Road to Hell Jim describes. After all, Ford went on to hire both Rumsfeld and Cheney as his Chiefs of Staff. Look how those stellar hires turned out. Oh, and GHW Bush as CIA Director.

      We been on this road for 40 years with more or less the same bus drivers.

  5. Proof reading:

    But then again, given our TRACK record vis a vis the death penalty...

    As always, Jim, "You are my God!"

  6. Thank you, Mr. Wright!
    Inge Mooney

  7. Proofing:

    "Now certainly it may be extremely difficult to treat a terrorist who tried to destroy your nation and your loved ones humanly."

    Do you mean humanely?

    Other than that… sad but too true.

    1. Many times I wish I could express myself this way. But I'm too prone to chasing virtual rabbits through briar patches and warrens. With the entire train of thought, off its rails, behind me. Thank you for your clear thought, and your years of work--both your service, and your craft.

      Another possible typo: You may want a closed quote after the question mark in the sentence:

      The Founders weren’t stupid, they were in fact brilliant, and they could play the “what if? game too.

      And your bolding didn't "take" for the "a" in "and" for the second bolded "and they still do."

      Gretchen in KS

  8. Very well put, and very well thought before that.

    I have wondered, and in fact still do, whether the real motivation for this was a certain fascination with the suffering of another human being.

    I don't think it's a stretch, given the way Bush and Cheney presented themselves, to presume that they actually did this because they relished - at the appropriate distance, of course - their ability to do harm (by proxy, of course, so their well-manicured hands would remain clean) to others.

    It is, after all, a luxury afforded only to a few.

    We will be a long time living this down, if we ever do.

  9. But all of that aside - there is an even simpler and more basic reason to reject the practice of torture in its entirety: if we do not clearly and unambiguously outlaw the use of these practices against our enemies they can potentially be used against anyone deemed an enemy of the state, even unto us and our children.

    1. Thank you for putting this into words. As we see more and more examples of police overreach and brutality, it's not a stretch to see this coming to our communities.

  10. While reading about the subject of torture here and elsewhere this article kept popping into my mind.


  11. My constant though during the past decade or so while watching US policy and action in the international arena has been "We should be SO much better than this." By taking government action in the same mindset as an individual beset with the fiercest human emotions and mouthing the justification that since the other side does it, so should we, the US has, for the foreseeable future, done tremendous harm to its international standing and its ability to use any sort of moral suasion on other nations. To steal from Walt Kelly: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

    Thanks for the wise (and salty!) analysis, Jim.

  12. Thank you, Jim.

  13. As always, a well thought our piece of writing, going directly to the point. I live in a country that tortures. I am not shocked. Just saddened for the loss of what could and should be, but isn't. Our country talks a good talk but walks a very dark path. Shame on all of us for allowing it to be so.

  14. Jim, you are the real deal! Thank you.

  15. Jim, you nailed everything. Not all of us were on board with the Patriot Act or the Bush/Cheney war machine. I am one of those believers that we had the info on pending attacks via the Presidents daily briefings. 30 countries warned us of an attack. We did nothing to stop it. Under the Patriot Act the DEA, FEDS, and Homeland Security have already used that power here at home to target those they seek. Great piece of writing Jim

  16. As Rachel Maddow brought up tonight - there was no "ticking time bomb" when they put someone in solitary confinement with absolutely no human contact for 47 DAYS and THEN, began to torture them - water boarding them 180 times. Where is the urgency?

    1. I thought her comment what spot on, as well.


  17. You've got a double negative in there: A just cause doesn’t not justify injustice.
    A just cause does not justify injustice.
    You are so very right on this one. as usual. If we sink to playing by their rules, we are not exceptional; we are just as evil as they are. Dehumanizing them with name calling does not actually dehumanize them. We tortured other human beings. Are we actually safer? Is the illusion of safety worth the price we paid? I don't think so.
    Martha Zimmerman

  18. We must stand before the International Criminal Tribunal and answer for the deeds of our leaders. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand. The skeletons are out.....it's time to pay the piper.

  19. Most of the time I catch you a couple of days after you publish, so you are well proof read by then.

    "Now certainly it may be extremely difficult to treat a terrorist who tried to destroy your nation and your loved ones humanly."

    I think you mean "humanely", but either works.

    There are many stories told in our history that tell of our enemies surrendering to us because they knew they would receive decent treatment. Now that we have crossed the line into being as evil as everyone else, I wonder how many enemy combatants will reach the end of their rope and tie a knot instead of giving up.

    I wonder how many American lives becoming a nation that tortures will cost us.

    1. "I wonder how many American lives becoming a nation that tortures will cost us."

      All of 'em.

    2. "There are many stories told in our history that tell of our enemies surrendering to us because they knew they would receive decent treatment."

      It was the best weapon in our arsenal. Priceless! Squandered by idiots for NOTHING!

  20. To Messrs Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Yoo, et al:

    You slimy bastards, how dare you presume to carry out these acts in my name, in the name of this country. You all are war criminals and should be prosecuted. It may never happen, but that doesn't mean your vile acts can be brushed aside. What you have done to this country and its victims is reprehensible. May you rot in Hell.

    "A Friend"

    [If Obama were not using Yoo's memo to cover the various drone attacks, I'd feel a lot better about the DOJ's role in this.]

  21. And now I sew what you said we were missing. Regardless of the effectiveness of the torture, if we fail to share and use the data collected, in defense or offense, it didn't work, did it? And we just keep fucking up. Sad, sad, sad.

  22. I don't even know who the fuck we are any more. But I like us less and less.
    Survival trumps courage. profit trumps ethics, power trumps leadership. Did we ever have a moral compass? Was that an illusion? Or did triumph by circumstance just allow us to to write the history we wanted to believe?
    Yes, I love my country
    But the relationship feels abusive

    1. Well said. You sound as disillusioned as am I with our country. WTF happened & how to we change it?

    2. "Did we ever have a moral compass?"
      I have one. Vote, fuckers, vote! This is what we get when we fail to know the issues, when we fail to vet the candidates for office and especially when we fail to VOTE.

    3. "Did we ever have a moral compass?"
      "I have one. Vote, fuckers, vote!"

      And if there is only rotten and less rotten apples, RUN! We need more doers and less cheerleaders and critics. Even if only on your own local level.

      Thank you again, Mr. Wright. I have been so distraught of the torture report, and what we've known for years about it, and have been anxiously awaiting your much more informed and rational take on it.


  23. Whenever I read your blog, I always think, "I don't know that I'd like this guy in real life. I might have to leap across the table and take a shot, or get in a knock down, drag out (verbal) argument." What I like about you, is that your writing is thoughtful. You believe what you believe and feel what you feel and it's HONEST. You also know what you know, and I certainly have to concede to your life experience. I like you, because you show me a different angle of an issue and make me think about it. Thank you for that.

  24. Brilliant analysis, as usual. Powerful writing, as usual. Best regular commentary on the web. Thank you, Jim.

  25. I also thought of "24" reading this. One of the important messages of that show was that terror always works for us -- the bad guys always break in time for the heroes to save the dy -- but it doesn't work for the bad guys, because our heroes withstand torture long enough that they save the day.


  26. I cannot express how much I value your essays. Thank you for sharing your insights and wisdom.

  27. Spot on. torture is a moral issue, though I'm perplexed how atheists contrives moral constructs. Must be outcome based, which then requires the practical outcomes to be weighed.

    Then as to outcomes, torture of suspected terrorist has produced enough actional intelligence amid the sea of false leads to saved some lives. Juxtiposed against its supreme value as a recuiting tool, at best it is a wash.

    I was awestruck at one point during George Stephanopoulos' recent interview with GWB. "Is Iraq safer now than before we got involved?" "Uh, well, American is safer." I'm paraphrasing. Not one iota of concern for the devastation and rampant chaos he created. No pity for the hundreds of thousands of dead and millions displaced. Torture? That's the least of it.

    Our own atrocities aren't new. From Sherman's total war on the South to extermination of Indians to the firebombing of German cities to carpet bombing Laos and Cambodia. MLK fingered the US government as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." It is still true.

    Check out H.RES.758. The context is being laid to confront Russia militarily in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the former soviet republics, wherever. Packed full of inflammatory lies and hypocrisy but passes with only 10 'nea' votes in the House.

    1. Morality is not owned by those who believe in a Deity. Nor does religion create moral imperatives. Your conscience does.

    2. If that is so, Dick Cheney's conscience isn't bothering him, so for him torture is moral, but it isn't for you. Moral relativism, thankfully, isn't evident in Jim's missive.

    3. 1. People who argue in favor of torture have to show (prove) that torture produced data (intelligence) that was not obtainable any other way. According to the Senate report, this did not happen. Otherwise, it's redundant as well as criminal and reprehensible. So much for being effective.
      2. George W Bush is a born-agi'n so-called good Christian. That did not stop him from pushing for secret legal justification for torture, against U.S. and international law, and pushing for the so-called Patriot Act that shredded the Constitution. So much for morality coming from religion.
      3. Christian "morals" call for treating your enemies well and not fearing death in a good cause. The opposite is going on, when we are torturing our suspected (not even proven) enemies, denying them a trial, and imprisoning them indefinitely without a trial (even slaves had a time limit in your Bible). We are using the rabid foaming fear of death to justify war (a much much smaller chance of death than auto accidents or handguns). So much for strength coming from religion. All I see is weakness, cowardice, and fear, and it's not coming from us atheists.

  28. Most definitely, the ends don't justify the means as the pro-torture spin doctors would have us believe. I find it ironic that they proclaim torture is just & effective except when our own folks are tortured by our enemies. They can't have it both ways.

    Since these pro-torture spin doctors are "good" with the use of torture on our enemies, they must therefore condone what Hitler did with the holocaust. I mean, he tortured the Jews to "save" his country from perceived threats, right? And for awhile, we were ok with that, at least until we were drug into WW2.

    And these asshats have the nerve to compare PBO with Hitler & nazism. To them I say, "project much?"

    1. Rather then the ends justifying the means the means corrupt the ends.

  29. Great essay! Near the beginning, in the paragraph that begins "But even then – even then –," a close-quote is needed for ' "torture. '

  30. When I started thinking about this, the first thing I wanted to say is "We used to be the good guys... and now we're not." But that's not true. We've been world-class assholes for some time. No moral judgment there; nation-states are generally, by human standards, assholes. It goes with the territory.

    But what made this different is that this time we knew better. We picked up a moral question, knowing precisely what the right and wrong choices were, and deliberately chose evil. For all the reasons you say, and because craven politicians knew that not doing so would be used against them by even more cowardly politicians, we said to hell with the basic principles of civilization.

  31. Jim, I would love to see you make your essays come alive on YouTube. If tundraTart can have a pay channel for folks to listen to her wordsalads, so can you ;)

    1. Caribou Barbie is trolling for dollars from her army of idjits. Jim is wielding an enormous spotlight. Different game altogether.

    2. Many people would stop reading/ responding to the blog in my opinion if it was a profit seeking capital enterprise as opposed to informed opinions / essays presented as is with an opportunity to donate if one wishes.

  32. I was discussing this on another thread earlier today, saying this:

    The Torture Report Reminds Us of What America Was
    I found the article that I'll link at the bottom very interesting, and it caused me to think about the widespread rejection of the argument--in the aftermath of the Nazi regime--made by lower-ranking participants : "I was only following orders." While it is certainly true that military personnel are taught to obey orders, so much so that they can be prosecuted for deliberately disobeying directives from higher-ranking officers, at what point do they have a moral imperative to say "No, I will not do this; it's wrong"? I realize that such a refusal is a difficult call when one is schooled to obedience, so I am somewhat sympathetic to those who might genuinely have believed that they had no choice; however, I am very much in favor of making those who issued the orders (and who rarely, if ever, dirtied their own hands by participating directly) accept responsibility for having given/sanctioned the orders in the first place.

    Here's the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/opinion/the-torture-report-reminds-us-of-what-america-was.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=Blogs

    1. American officers take an oath to uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States, which supersedes the requirement to obey superiors. I do not think this applies to enlisted personnel. Disobeying an illegal order is implicitly required by our oath, though one has to have iron-clad evidence, and even then you might be prosecuted for disobedience. Being right can still wreck your career. However, "I was just following orders." is not acceptable.

    2. Jerry:
      When I enlisted in 1984 I had to raise my right and solemnly swear to protect and defend the Constitution. I believe when people re-enlisted (I went from Active to NG then became a commissioned Officer in 1989), they had to reswear the same as at first. Enlisted Basic Training and Officer Candidate School then Officer Basic all had some elements of lawful orders and disobeying non-lawful orders as well, so nobody can fairly say "I was just following orders".
      Virginia: I found very few blind followers during my career, although there was always a willingness to follow the leader's direction when past experience showed that they kept us alive, fed and watered.

  33. TROTW has been waiting a long time for America to wake up.

  34. Excellent piece, Jim, as always, your clarity and integrity are inspiring. Thank you.

    It occurred to me, that it all boils down to a simple thought, akin to your conclusion:

    Those who engage in torture, are - at the least - terrorists.

    They do these horrors in all our names, and we cannot accept apathy with regards to the situation, it's an exceedingly dangerous option.

  35. Excellent Jim! But then I wouldn't expect anything other than excellence from you.

    Sadly, as I read comments in other articles, in the realm of zip line commenting/lightning strikes from behind the avatar, it's very clear to me that far too many feel justified with any and all behavior, if it's done in the name of the US.

  36. "That’s the liberal argument, torture doesn’t work, therefore it’s immoral. It’s not justified, no matter what you call it."

    What do you call a person who argues that torture is both ineffective and immoral? (They're two separate things in my world.)

  37. This may be your best one yet, Jim. And it so absolutely, indisputably needed to be said, every word.

  38. Nothing personal Jim, but every time you quote Reagan about things i actually believe in I cringe a bit. Mainly because he actually was willing to state the ideal from time to time. Not that he actually followed the ideal. He actually did the same thing. Instead of contractors he used Contras.

    1. And he was pardoned for it.

  39. Is this my country now? Why isn't someone going to jail for this?

    Thank you for the essay. I think.

    1. Why? Thanks to the Republican wing of the Democratic party, of course.

      In a CIA Torture Case, the Only Person Punished is the Whistleblower

      Heads, the crooks win. Tails, we lose. And the crooks win.

  40. Not quite a "casual" read, but surely a road to hell. Page 81, offering cash bonuses to a "newbie" torturer?

  41. I know others have alluded to it and maybe even you have a time or two about being long winded in some of your posts--but I can't find anything in this post that doesn't belong. (For the record, I haven't found any of your posts that conveyed too much superfluous information).

    You've hit the nail on the head, as usual. Even if torture produced effective results, it's against the law. We are a nation of laws and there should be consequences for the violation of the laws. This is what makes us Americans--this is what makes us exceptional. Those that would justify violating the laws of the land or hide behind a vulgar interpretation of the laws, (W and Dick and their ilk), make us less American and more like all the others. In essence, they show the world we are not anymore exceptional than anyone else and seem to go out of their way to prove it.

    For me, they aren't patriots, they don't support the constitution, they don't support our way of life but a twisted version of what they think is. They don't honor treaties we have entered into in good faith; they are lawless and the disrespect they receive is deserved. Our founding fathers, who they love to constantly and erroneously invoke, are turning in their graves. I can't help but think they would be appalled at the subversion of our democracy at the hands of these despots who defend the notion of and advocate for the degradation of this country. What's worse, these fascists don't even know what they've done to us.

    I would submit we need a leader or leaders who aren't afraid to stand up, point the finger at them and say loud and clear "We, as Americans, are not them. They do not represent what we are or what we stand for." And do it in a way that makes the knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, neanderthals reluctant to say anything or advocate for anything anti-American ever again.


  42. When WWII ended and finally finally the Allies took over the sad mess that was Germany at the time, my granny and great granny stood at the window of their flat in Leipzig, trembling with fear at the approaching soon to be occupying forces. When they realized that those approaching were in fact U.S. soldiers (and not as feared the Russians), they literally cried with relief and happiness. I have heard that story told innumerable times (as grandparents do), as well as the part about the renewed fear for life and soul, when it turned out that the Russians would take over Eastern Germany after all. But for a moment, in these terrible terrible times, there shone a beacon of hope amidst the destruction and horribleness that is what is left of a country after a war; and that beacon was a little group of U.S. soldiers coming down the street where my grandparents lived (and I later grew up in), with chocolate (that is not a cliché) and nothing but good will for the civilians.
    That is the picture I grew up with and it has worked like a shield even against the pictures of Abu Graib, really, as strange as it might seem.
    You are a nation that is capable of so much good and your armed forces have done you proud many a time in history (and I envy you for that because we in se Tschörmany really do not have that); and judging from the comments here – not all is lost. Don't let those politicians make you feel ashamed for yourselves, please. Maybe be ashamed for them, as they really do not seem to be capable of it.

  43. We are a country that is in a current mess. We the people are angry, as we were when 90% of us wanted gun laws tightened a bit after the massacre of children in Newtown. It didn't matter to our elected officials then: they listened only to the NRA. This, sadly, probably will not matter to them either. So how do we the people get control again? (Maybe we could start by actually voting out the people that are so comfortably ensconced in their Congressional seats, but, yea, that's not happening.) (Maybe we aren't REALLY that mad??) Sad state of affairs. Excuse me but I need to go make some protest signs now. Maybe that IS the only thing that finally causes change? Us in the streets. Our streets. We paid for them; those are OUR streets.

  44. As a Canadian I lost a lot of the respect I had for the US after they said torture was okay. Even Reagan was against it and I was not a fan of his.

  45. As far as I know, Alan Dershowitz was the first person to formulate the "ticking-time-bomb" meme in print. Then "24" must have run with it.

    To this day, I DESPISE Dershowitz, and will never watch "24".

  46. No big surprise to anyone here that Daddy was head of the CIA prior to his ascension, but it has got to have some relevancy in that Sonny Boy was ever so amenable in endorsing this horror. The more I think about it the strings of the Puppeteer most probably lead directly back to dear 'ole Dad, not only Cheney. These boys should never leave the Continental US in their lifetimes if they think about it.

    I am cynical enough to say that I am sure this is not a new thing in our prior declared and non-declared wars, just newly published. Since I have no military experience I won't try to speak to the checks and balances in place to prevent abuses of power. I am aware that you can refuse an order if it is unlawful/immoral, but I am also aware that there are profiled parameters involved with recruitment for these duties. (Parallax View anyone?)

    It's enough to make one cry.

    1. Daddy Bush was only head of the CIA for less than a year - he was confirmed on January 30, 1976 and resigned on January 20, 1977 (Carter's inauguration day). Most of what he did was damage control and rebuilding from the fallout of the Church Committee hearings.

  47. Another excellent, thoughtful, and powerful essay, Chief. Thank you.

    IMO, the only way to ensure this doesn't happen again is to punish those responsible. No, not the CIA operatives who poured the water; the people at the top who ordered it. All the way up to and including the president and vice president. Director Hayden should not only be charged for his role in the torturing, but he should also be charged with perjury for lying to Congress (the Washington Post had a great article yesterday comparing what Hayden said in his testimony before Congress, and what the CIA's own internal documents said. The "man" is a goddamn liar, and he lied under oath.).

    I don't know if you'll allow me to post this link, Chief, but I hope you will. It's to a petition on the White House's website, asking President Obama to rescind his promise not to punish those who did this. Anyway, here it is: http://wh.gov/i1Gst

    1. Thank you for making me aware of this petition. Signed.

  48. I really can't bear seeing what we have become. To expect our men and women in the military and the CIA to torture people because some asshole in a lawyers office decided that could be done at the direction of the President and Vice President. I don't want the heads of the people that did it, I want the heads of the bastards that ordered it. Why oh why isn't the Dept. of Justice doing anything about it? They destroyed the tapes. Who ordered that? What happened to our laws? I'm tired of Americans being so afraid of everything. We are not only torturers, we are cowards!

  49. I love it Jim! Much of what you are saying, is exactly the same as comments I have been making. Thing is, you have even far out done me. You have brought out things that I had not thought of. Also, things I thought of, but could not have expressed nearly as well. You are doing a service that is so needed. Like I have said before, keep it up.

  50. An excellent review of the topic, as expected from you, Jim.

    I just want to know when can we expect Cheney, et. al. to be extradicted per the treaty.

    1. can we? expect that? should. but can? let's see. i sure do hope so.

  51. Another perspective is "Torture" wasn never about info but messaging for everyone else! The US will go after those that attack us with all resources available, it still does not make it right (cannot prove the theory) When you are nation in constant fear fed to the massess every day in the 24 hour news cycle and DC clown show playing Kabuki Theater, hard to fight that mentality. Cheny, Rumsfielf, Bush and throw in Kissenger also will never pay the price for there lies and crimes....but also if you are against torture you cannot be for Capital Punishment either, just another form of torture...the meme of torture is just like our constitution which is only as good as the society that interprets it or in the good ole USA by the "Angry Ole Wite Men, the Supreme Assholes"....As always Jim, pure comedy and spot on essay...Thank you Sir!!

    Gray Man

  52. You cannot lay claim to the moral high ground if you engage in the same brutality as your enemies.

  53. What really bothers me is the lack of response from the so-called "Moral Majority", the fundamentalist who insist we are a Christian nation. (What was good enough for Christ is good enough for our enemies, besides we didn't hang them on a cross). Most of the GOP (with McCain as an exception) are excusing this behavior and blaming it on Democrats for insisting on releasing the report. Fox claims POTUS doesn't want the US to be "awesome" ignoring the fact he did not want it released either.

    No one will ever presume to look at W & Darth Vadar's mental composition - men who did whatever it took to avoid actual danger but had no moral code preventing them from sending everyone else into danger. In fact they acted as they did (I think) to prove they were MEN. This lack of morality was always there, GOP and voters ignored it so when they reverted "to form" what else did anyone expect? Hitler used to watch films of those he tortured. W and Cheney were more into Pontius Pilot behavior waving the flag while clutching a Bible. That they refuse to acknowledge guilt or remorse means our "spiritual" leaders must step forward. Not to do so is the German population swearing "they had no idea" and it wasn't "them". It was us and is us and while "we" didn't all let it happen we did nothing to stop it or bring it out in the open. That is the media's main question to themselves. I doubt they have the courage to face up to their failtures, we know the GOP refuses to and that won't change. Dems are beating their chests but it too little, too late. None were willing to risk their lives/professional careers being that "voice in the wilderness." Thank you Jim. Sadly I always believed we would never "go THERE" until John Yoo was not charged and his "memo" accepted by the media and he was patted on the back and given a job that didn't include breaking rocks on a chain gang. Marlene

  54. It's actually worse than this. Several dozen people who were later determined to be innocent were tortured TO DEATH. This is murder. Our government is willfully murdering human beings supposedly on our behalf.

    The Obama administration has declared that no one will be prosecuted for these crimes. Which ever candidate in 2016 promises to prosecute this murderous hoard has my vote.

  55. See why i'm kind of glad i'm dying of leukemia ? usn vet Bob

    1. wow dude. those are some sad words. makes me cry.

    2. i just moved. to another country. nicaragua. second poorest country in the western hemisphere, next to haiti. also the safest. you can check an article in the economist, if you care to. and here, i really only have to deal with 1 BIG ASSHOLE. CULO in spanish. his name is ORTEGA. and he's about as bad as they come. but like i said, he's only 1. xo~kelly everett, san juan del sur, nicaragua, bungalow betty bed and breakfast. and some other stuff too. ;) love you i do.

    3. Don't be sad.I'm really glad to be done with this reality. I really feel sorry for my kids. Son computer geek, daughter usn vet.They are the ones that have to fix what some of us fucked up.It' going to take a very loooooong time. Bob

  56. Let’s not forget about John Yoo, who sat down and used his considerable intellect, along with intellectual porn moves, and bastardized our laws to justify the entire torture program. And like all Fascists he was just doing what he was told.

    Chris in South Jersey

  57. Thank you for saying this.

  58. i love you man. i always have. you are so spot on, it is not even funny. and it isn't funny. it's vile. it makes me hate, my own country, a country i am supposed to blindly love. a country i do want to love. there will be a rEVOLution. there is no way things the way they are can be allowed to continue. you are gonna have to pick up a lot more dead americans if things are allowed to remain the same.
    O and BTW, i got my earrings and my shopkat pendant today. so i'm feeling extra special. they delivered it to the bar after all. if, but more likely when, i return to, you know, that other place, with the initials, F and B, i will post a photo to your page. if you'll let me. and i think you will. didn't you save ma spot on your friends list? we'll see i guess. vamos a veer. but like i said before, and ima gonna say it again, i love you man. xo~kelster, i am woman. ;)

  59. "...it was the U.S. who set that standard, as defined in the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture. He highlighted Article 2 of the document, which states that “no exceptional circumstances” exist allowing a country to justify torture."

    Signed by one Ronald Reagan, 1988


  60. screw F to the B. i can just comment on ur shit. all day :) can i? i'll play. nice. prometo yo. <3

  61. if you are not smiling. you should be. i am. i will. i am.

  62. Old "joke"
    He: Will you have sex with me for a millions dollars?
    She: Uh, sure.
    He: Here's $5.
    She: What do you think I am?
    He: We know what you are, we're just haggling over the price.
    If you torture, you're a torturer. If you molest a single kid, you're a child molester.

    1. A to the A men. well probably some women too. we can't all be good girrls carol. ;) or can we? i know i am. a good girrl. are you a good girrl too? carol.
      p ok also to the s. if you cheat. once. you are a cheat her. all ways. and forever. huh? es la verdad. it's the truth. but if you say it like this: es la ver dad, it means see papa. hmm. go figure. i try too. xo~aka kellygirrl (i make clothes buy my hand, second hand, recycled stuff), and 1goodgirrl (on skype) because i put the RRRRRR in girrl. ;) jim, maybe we could talk? soon?

  63. In this world, bad people do bad things. In this world there are wars. Wars bring death and suffering. Good guys die, bad guys die, innocent people die. In this world there are consequences for actions. There are also people who lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and tint situations with their own agenda and for their own good.

    Sometimes you must stop evil pre-emptively. Sometimes you take down targets of opportunity because it is war, and people die in war and you are authorized to do so. Sometimes you must get information from individuals who do not wish to give it to you. They understood what they were getting into when they started their mission.

    I believe this society has a great many things that the public has no knowledge of, things that are classified, restricted or otherwise kept away from public view for the simple reason that ugly situations require ugly responses to save lives. Regular public doesn't understand the underbelly of humanity. They don't understand a person who would happily murder their children in front of them with any object they can take to hand that would expedite the process. They don't understand it.

    There is no moral high ground in the dark. There is only whether you get to go home at the end of the tour or the other guy does. On the days when you do, it is a good day. On the days when you don't - your family gets a flag and crappy benefits. You can talk about moral high ground because you are safe, you are not staring at murder personified looking at you with unbridled hatred, incomprehensible loathing, as something other than human.

    You are talking about something that does not exist in the trenches. In gear I can take a direct hit from hostiles without endangering my life, but after I have taken that hit, I am authorized then to use my weapon? It is like walking into an area with a rifle surrounded by opponents with airsoft weapons. Smoke and mirrors. Whatever helps people sleep at night, I guess. They shot first? Sure, but they have a better chance of killing me with the spoon they used for their cereal than that shot has of getting through my gear. Semantics do not provide morality for anyone but the politicians... and maybe the public.

    1. it does NOT have to be THAT way. war and all that other ugly stuff in the NOT good NOT old NOT united states of NOT america, only part of it. part of the north part. I KNOW. I LIVE. IT. mirame. that means, WATCH ME. ;) xo besos y abrazos. hugs and kisses. de, from nicaragua. :) with love and my pleasure. rEVOLution. re: charles einstein.

    2. You can talk about moral high ground because you are safe, you are not staring at murder personified looking at you with unbridled hatred, incomprehensible loathing, as something other than human.

      Actually, Anonymous, I have been right there. I spent 24 years on active duty. That's why the moral obligations that came with my oath are so important to me.

      You're entitled to your opinion and your morality, you're not entitled to tell me what mine is.

    3. I do not and did not tell you what your morality is.
      I do not claim war is moral. I know what I did, and I live with it. I know that without people like me - there would be no America as we know it. We sit in our car after 4 months of hell and have some "proud American" nearly side swipe us in traffic and then scream profanity at us throwing middle fingers in the air as they drive on.

      That is what my brothers died for? That is what we bled for? It is not about mom's apple pie and free speech and freedom of the press when you are in it deep. But still the only time anyone can sit back and throw stones at those of us with bloody faces and hands is when all of the smoke clears, and all of the grime is wiped away, the battle is over. No one loves the sheep dog when there are no wolves. No one treads on the sheepdogs when they meet the wolves at the gate. No, the sheep only start bad mouthing the sheepdogs when the wolves are all gone and they are nice and safe and protected.

      You get that right, you get the freedom to have your opinion, to claim your high ground and to feel ... whatever it is that makes it ok to say what you do. But when the wolves come home, the kind, gentle, morally high people - will call for me. And I will do what I do best, with my brothers who do what we do better than anyone else in the world.

      We make the wolves afraid.

      That's how I live with myself. That's how I sleep at night.

    4. Anon,

      I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you said.

      But as somebody who has looked into the eyes of the enemy and seen raw naked hate looking back, one vet to another, let me offer you some advice. You don't have to take it but, please, just for a minute, listen:

      America owes you nothing.

      You, me, our comrades in arms, the ones that lived, the ones that died, the ones that came back shattered, all of us, we volunteered. We came when called and we did our duty. It's ugly and it's brutal and there's nothing glorious about it. As you said, we’re not fit for polite company, but goddamned if they don’t howl for us when the barbarians are at the gate. That is the nature of the thing.

      But we knew what we were getting into and we did it of our own free will.
      America owes us nothing. Respect would be nice, wouldn't it? But it's not required. Making good on everything they promised us, that would be fucking great too, wouldn't it? Healthcare and dental and education and all of that? You’ll get no argument from me. That would be great, but I wouldn't count on it. I've felt exactly the same resentment and bitterness and rage you do. Exactly. When you said, "We sit in our car after 4 months of hell and have some ‘proud American’ nearly side swipe us in traffic and then scream profanity at us throwing middle fingers in the air as they drive on" that could have been me. I survived twenty years on active duty, three wars, I don't remember how many goddamned deployments "short of war" in between, only to end up nearly getting killed by some fucking soccer mom slobbering into her phone barreling along in her giant gas guzzling foreign made SUV with a "Support Our Troops!" magnet stuck on the back. I’m with you, pal, I am. Some days, it’s everything I can do not to kick them to death. I got all my men home alive, only to see them die from stupidity and lack of VA care and booze. My service left me with a limp and an arm I can barely use and never ending pain. So, yes, believe me, I sit on top of that same rage and bitter resentment every single fucking day.

      But - but - there comes a time where you have to if not let it go then bunker it. Or it will eat you alive. Sooner or later you have to make peace with the idea that America owes you nothing. Most of the people around you are oblivious and they always will be - that's what we were doing out there in the dark and dangerous places, giving them the freedom and the security to be oblivious. That's what makes us who we are. Resent it? Of course. You wouldn't be human if you didn't. But you have to let it go or it will eat you alive, inch by inch, day by day, until there’s nothing left.

      You’re right, there’s no moral high ground in war. It’s a damned dirty immoral business and make no mistake. But I went of my own free will and America owes me nothing for it. I didn’t do it for America. I did it for me, so I can look myself in the eye. And I did it for my comrades in arms. In the end, our morals, how we act, our own code of conduct, that’s all we have to get us through the night.

    5. Thank you Jim, for that response to this Vet, who like too, too many of his fellow servicemen (and women), scream for justice, recognition, and an America that will actually pay attention to the important things instead of shouting platitudes and false patriotism.

      This response should be read by so many of our vets. Perhaps think about posting it as its own piece.

  64. Thank you for putting this out there. Everything you said rings extremely true, and it's going to be a stain on our nation for a very long time, even though we came clean about it.

    What we found out is, go hunting monsters long enough, and you end up becoming the monster. To quote an old comic strip, in this case "We have met the enemy, and they is us!"

  65. did you hear about the new terrorism insurance? maybe somebody up there ^^^ made a comment already. i haven't read everything yet. but OMFnotGOD. "they" are gonna mother freak queen SELL insurance for terrorism "THEY" CREATED. un freak king believable. yeah, believe it baby. it's true. rotmfflmao butt knot ina good way. shit is beyond unreal. it is extra terrestrial.

  66. and i do have a lil girrl whose birthday is coming up. in february. she'll be 6. and i love her so so very much. how could i not love you too? i KNOW it's a coinkydink but hey, it's what i got.

  67. Thank you. This was fantastically stated.

  68. Very powerful words, Master Chief...I have been feeling the shame for the last few years as bits and pieces of this appeared...Now, I am angry...and still don't know what I can do...I tried to keep Mark Udall in the Senate, but folks around here are prone to believing the fairytales...Tin Foil Hat country...

    1. Chief Warrant Officer. I was never a Master Chief.

      Chief Warrant Officer is commissioned line officer (as compared to a Warrant Officer, which is a warrant or temporary commission). Master Chief is the senior enlisted NCO rank.

      I left the Chief's Mess (the Navy's Senior NCO ranks, Chief, Senior Chief, Master Chief, E7-E9) at the rank of Senior Chief (select), a step below Master Chief, when I was picked up for a commission to CWO.

      Technically I outrank a Master Chief, but you don't get to be a Warrant by being stupid enough to test that.

      If you're going to address me via my military title, it's either (formally) Chief Warrant Officer Wright or (informally) Warrant

      (Army Warrants (W1) are called "Warrant." Army CHIEF Warrants (W2-W4) are called "Chief." Navy Chief Warrant Officers (W2-W5) are all called "Warrant." The Navy does not have non-Chief Warrants (W1). Marine Chief Warrants just grunt and answer to "Hey, Asshole!" The Air Force doesn't have warrants of any kind and they call each other by their first names. We just do this to keep everybody confused. Nobody knows what a Chief Warrant Officer does anyway)

      All of that said, I'm retired. It's Jim.

  69. Chief Wright,

    Another pertinent and appropriate essay. Thank you for writing it. I'm glad I read it.

    That said, I have two comments...

    At one point you said, "I would do whatever it took, including torture,..."

    Later, you said, "...let’s just say that torture is a reliable and effective means of interrogation. It’s not, but for the sake of argument let’s say it is."

    I'm seeing those as two, mutually exclusive statements. You (seem to) assert that torture is ineffective, yet, at the same time, you say you'd use it in certain circumstances, knowing that it's unlikely to produce any reliable information. Can you comment, clarify, or resolve this apparent contradiction.

    At another point, you said, "And those who rage and bellow, who invoke the name of their God and their sandaled prophet to decry the supposed moral decline of modern America, are the very ones who today cheer the immorality of torture most vigorously."

    As one who follows the "sandaled prophet", I want to say that I and many of us who are Christians DO NOT cheer the immorality of torture. The Lord Jesus Christ that I follow is grieved even more deeply than any of us by the actions of those we're talking about. He does not condone it, He condemns it. Even to the point of saying to those who 'cheer the immorality of torture' and, at the same time, claim that they are His disciples, when they stand before Him at the end, He will likely say, "Depart from Me, I never knew you."

    Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts and insight.

    1. Can you comment, clarify, or resolve this apparent contradiction.

      Contradiction is the point.

      We're talking about morality here. Not legality, morality. Morality is a personal choice, not an absolute - despite what certain folks would like. You always have to make a choice. Morality cannot be dictated by government or religion or society, or you live in absolutism of the worst kind.

      At one point you said, "I would do whatever it took, including torture..." Later, you said, "...let’s just say that torture is a reliable and effective means of interrogation. It’s not, but for the sake of argument let’s say it is."

      I also said that everybody has their breaking point. And I said that how we typically carry out torture is ineffective and produces unreliable information - but not always. And finally, I said that for torture to work, the victim has to believe you're willing to go all the way. If they had my family and I had one of them, trust me, that guy would believe.

      That said, we're talking about a strawman. An unlikely and extremely hypothetical situation. An episode of 24. A Bruce Willis movie. They've got a nuke, we've got one of them. The good guys beat the information out of the terrorist and defuse the bomb with 3 seconds left on the BIG RED TIMER.

      It's a Strawman. And while strawmen can be useful planning tools, the likelihood of this one is very low. My hypothetical role in it is also a strawman. The point of the story isn't what I would or would not do, it's that a) morals are for people, not governments, and more importantly b) it's a bullshit argument. We shouldn’t base national policy and the laws of our nation on a Bruce Willis action movie.

      I want to say that I and many of us who are Christians DO NOT cheer the immorality of torture.

      Good for you. But you don't speak for all Christians, do you? And I'm somewhat skeptical of your assumed authority to speak for God, to wit: "The Lord Jesus Christ that I follow is grieved even more deeply than any of us by the actions of those we're talking about.” Really? He told you that? Personally? But I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and not demand proof of your bona fides. That said, again, good for you and I mean that sincerely. And good on those Christians who do indeed act in a Christlike manner. That said, you need to go back and read my essay again, I didn't say the majority of Christians, I said the majority those who use religion to describe a supposed moral decay of modern civilization are the same people who are even now dismissing the Senate Report and demanding that torture remain an option available to the CIA. Dick Cheney comes immediately to mind.

      Now, please do me a favor and do not resort to the No True Scotsman fallacy to tell me how Dick Cheney isn't a real Christian. He says he is. You say you are. I'll take you both at face value. You sort it out between yourselves and leave me out of it.

  70. Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "The Road to Hell":

    After the first World War was finished, Churchill wrote:

    "When all was over, torture and cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves: and these were of doubtful utility."

    Leaving our state, which of course likes to think of itself as both scientific and Christian, with nothing left to brag about except we didn't on purpose eat any of the bad guys.

    Yay. U!S!A! U!S!A!

  71. hi. again. i just stopped by to say hi. and that you know you are good when i only have to type 1 S in my address bar and your blog pops up. first. es la verdad. ;)

  72. You know you're my hero, don't you, Jim? But I also hate you because I try to be a writer, and I realize that I could never write as well as you. You have a gift, sir.
    A little snippet from Sept. 11, 2001 here in Alabama....I was talking with a co-worker that afternoon, and we were understandably upset by what had happened that morning. She said, "All I know is that we'd better be bombing somebody tomorrow." I asked her who we should attack. She said, "I don't care, just as long as it's somebody."
    Too many of our countrymen don't seek justice. They seek revenge. Usually a bloody, painful revenge that tears others to shreds. And it doesn't matter if the wrong people pay the price, because it'll make us feel like badasses, and that's really what matters.

    1. I'll let you in on a secret, Anonymous, you can write as well or better than I do. Writing isn't a gift, it's a skill, not just the grammar but putting concepts and phrases together. The only way you get good at it is to write. Write. Write. Write. You'll write a lot of crap, stuff that'll make you cringe when you look at it years later (really, don't go back and read the first posts here. Really), but if you keep at it, you'll just keep getting better.

      Writing is a skill and like any other skill it just takes practice.

      That said, thank you.

  73. I've only one nit to pick, and it isn't about spelling or grammar.

    I question the effectiveness of torture for simple reasons. The prisoner wants it to stop. At the breaking point, they will literally say anything to get the torture to stop. At this point, it doesn't matter whether they are guilty or innocent - they will confess to anything. It doesn't matter if they know anything of value or not - they will tell you what they think you want to hear.

    So, yes, I know you moved on from that, I know you said that this wasn't the real point, and I get your real point. Hell I agree with 90% of everything you've ever written here, including the concept that the person who is willing to go that far to save lives should do so knowing full well that they will go to prison for it. But getting that pardon mostly depends on whether they were lucky enough to have the right prisoner in the first place.

    1. But getting that pardon mostly depends on whether they were lucky enough to have the right prisoner in the first place.

      You pays your money and you takes your chances.

    2. The torture techniques used were pulled from a training program developed to show agents what they could expect if captured and tortured by the communist Chinese. Specifically, this torture was not designed to extract intelligence, but to extract false confessions for propaganda purposes. Numerous American POW's were trotted out by the VC and put on TV to confess to war crimes after being tortured.

  74. Writing is more than a skill. Yes, one's writing skills can be improved with work and practice. Dramatically improved. But writing is also a gift. There are great wordsmiths whose words soar. Think of the "Cricket Bat speech " in "The Real Thing" by Tom Stoppard. You, sir, work hard to improve your craft. But you also have a gift. Thank you for accepting it and honoring it with your hard work and using it and sharing it with all of us.
    -Martha Zimmerman

  75. I cried after reading this post. Is there a treaty the USA will not break? Why are we even signing the freaking things if we have no intentions of following through? And for the love of pete, why does the world believe us when we do? It's not like we have a history of keeping our word.

    The whole situation is totally dysfunctional and needs to be fixed. I have no ideas on how to address something this big so I've reduced it to what am I going to do - and I'm already working on solutions to the challenges that face me. I've been in stable housing for a year after becoming homeless when my husband died three years ago. I am getting the physical therapy necessary... I'm doing my best every day and I know I can do better.

    I've been told it doesn't matter how close to the edge you get as long as you don't go over. I was on the edge so long it crumbled under me and I went over anyway. When falling to the very bottom there is only yourself. Honor, courage, love - these are the lights that showed me the way to rise above my circumstances.

    Thank you Jim for writing this. Thank you for your experiences and service. Thank you for being that light. Happy Holidays to you and yours. :)


  76. To be clear, there is no apprehension or moral conflict behind the term "enhanced interrogation". They use this term to protect themselves against international war crimes laws.

    1. Yep. Read today that Wikipedia has rejected several attempts to scrub the word "torture" on the entry regarding this issue. The IP address originates from the Senate. Now I wonder who would ask a staffer to do that? http://teamotg.com/2014/12/11/senate-staffer-tried-to-scrub-torture-from-torture-reports-wikipedia-entry/

  77. Deborah Sherman de Santos wrote on my wall: I love it! I've spent 6 years trying to save the life of a cranky old former special forces officer from Eastern Europe who thinks exactly like this. This writer is brutally sane, honorable and honest. That is so rare these days.(On another tread, Deborah went on to say that Audrius would do what you would, and expect to go to jail as he believes in the law)

    --Marilyn Ciucci

  78. I was living in Manhattan on Sept 11th, but was far away from any danger and did not know anyone who died that day. I have two comments -- No pardon should ever be granted to a torturer (IMO); and why do we react so much to the 3,000 or so folks who were killed on 9/11 as opposed to those who die of other causes? Since 9/11, in the US alone, several hundred thousand people have died on our highways; at least one hundred thousand from gun violence; probably a few million due to cancer, heart disease etc. Yes, of course the loss of life on 9/11 was horrible, but dead is dead. We did not react in remotely the same way over the couple of hundred who died in Oklahoma when that Federal building was bombed -- maybe that was because the bomber was an American. I do not know. All I do know is that I grew up loving the US and admiring my country and I no longer do.


  79. Thinking about the chunk of this that discusses the pattern frequently heard of: “What if the terrorists had your family? Huh? What about that? Are you saying you wouldn’t do whatever was necessary to get that information? I bet you would!”

    I recall thinking about this writ somewhat larger, of which this is but a piece, IE: PATRIOT ACT, et al versus another 9/11 style attack. Compared and contrasted with our response, I consider the response of the Norwegians to Utoya Island. While it's a Strawman (and not a great one at that), given the false choice of compromising the (espoused) core values of the nation vs. suffering another 9/11, I end up on the side of "Well, I guess some people are going to die, and some of them will be ours."

    Will we do everything we can to stop it before it happens? Yes. Will some of that mean operators doing dark things in dark places? Likely. Could it mean a war? Possibly. Will it mean rendition, torture, Gitmo, PRISM, etc? No. Is this an arbitrary line? Sort of. But (IMO) it is a line far closer to the laws of the nation, and the treaties which we have given the force of law, and the value structure that (nominally) those laws are supposed to support and protect.

  80. I've always had a visceral horror to the whole torture thing, and I've always had a kind of fluttered, disbelieving panic behind my breastbone that people uphold it. I can't believe that years after the festering Bush presidency cleared out we're all going to get together and talk like civilized people about whether or not torture is okay.

    If you went after that strawman terrorist to torture him, I think I know what I'd do, which is try to stop you.

    Because the whole scenario is so contrived to end in atrocity it might as well end "and what if the button to disarm the bomb was hidden inside a baby, and you only had chainsaws for hands???"

    Because a terrorist hateful enough to plant a bomb would be hateful enough to trick you into setting it off for hurting him.

    Because you'd have no way of knowing if he were lying or not besides... more torture, which, if he tried to make up something else to get you to stop, would just lead to you torturing him down more alternate stories until the bomb went off.

    Because a man desperate enough to hack an answer out of another human being is unlikely to be in a state to recognise, or use, whatever he hears.

    Because you won't be alone. There must be someone in the city he could be made to care about. Someone of the same religion, country, or similar backgrounds. Others would help you.

    Because things break. Things go bad. And using an hour to hurt someone so badly that he's probably just screaming unintelligibly anyway is a waste of time when you could have done something to soften the blow for some people in the city.

    I'd probably fail. But I'd do my best to stop you.

  81. Goddamn that was good. BEST thing I've read on the subject by far. It was cathartic. Sheezus. You nailed it.

  82. It's not about who they are, it's about who we are. -- Senator John McCain

    1. I feel a little disoriented when I find myself agreeing with Senator McCain, but he certainly nailed it on this issue.

  83. I have to wonder how anyone thinks that the path to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is killing, imprisoning and causing misery.

  84. I cannot imagine how this could have been said any better.

  85. We have lost our moral authority to tell other nations they cannot torture our soldiers, sailors, and marines. We can no longer, with moral authority, inform another nation that has captured one of ours that they must adhere to the Geneva Convention. We have put our own at risk. I cannot believe we have allowed this to happen.

  86. As usual, you nailed it, Jim. Now, let's all slap down soon-to-be-former Sen. Tom Coburn. Why? He singlehandedly made it more difficult for veterans to access mental health care. A pox on his house.

  87. I stand by all patriots who know torture is WRONG and have the courage to say so.
    This is an excellent treatise, Mr. Wright. Thank you.

  88. Well said, Jim. I couldn't use exactly your words yesterday in the pulpit, nor does my congregation allow me the time to go on at the same length, but I tried to frame the discussion of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" in the same way - it's not about utility, it's about morality. Torture is wrong. Period. And it's not who we are or who we aspire to be. (John McCain, at least in this instance, was right.) http://thefunstons.com/?p=7780

  89. Mr. Cheney said the other night on the TV that anyone who takes the line that Jim is taking is just being "self righteous".

    Self-righteous says he. Hmmm. Kinda like: We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident.


  90. Cry me a fuckin river, We are at war, Who the fuck cares the who and the how, We are in a war and those guys we tortured would do far worse to us then we would ever consider doing to them, The fact our Democrat controlled senate chose to give our enemys this fuel for there fire is self serving bull shit. I know you fellas here, Shit a green squealing worm when you read that report. I know you all feel we should ask these bad men a polite question on were the bad men are going to strike next and when they say FUCK YOU! as any man with any balls normally would, we smile give them 500 dollars and a Letter of Apology from our commander and Chief, Does they fly with you guys. You know this Country of ours can be taken, Right out from under us, Its a mean nasty world out there and there our men who at this very minute are plotting against us. But then again you fellas are not the ones who would consider trying to stop them, No No your the guys who whould complain about how the rest of us tried to stop them.

    1. Jim:

      Maybe comments should have tags.
      I can't tell if Tonto is writing sarcasm or what.

    2. "Who the fuck cares the who and the how..."

      Might makes right. The ends justify the means. Eye for an eye and a bloody tooth for a bloody tooth, says so right in the bible. It's war. That's what they said in WWII, no doubt - on the Nazi side I mean. We're right. We're the master race. Who cares about the who and the how? Herd 'em into the box cars, stand 'em in front of the machine guns, gas 'em, burn 'em, no apologies. Adolf Hitler, Hideki Tojo, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, the knights of Klu Klux Klan, they all justified their brutality with the same words. Who the fuck cares the who and the how?

      ".. those guys we tortured would do far worse to us then we would ever consider doing to them."

      Probably. Probably they would. So? What's the point of taking down a brutal dictator if we're no better? Where's all this vaunted morality we claim? Where is this so-called exceptionalism? What's the point of hunting down terrorists if we become agents of terror ourselves? What's the point of our freedom and our liberty if we end up living in a walled camp surrounded by barbed wire and enemies, terrified to venture outside or to the grocery store without being armed?

      "The fact our Democrat controlled senate chose to give our enemys this fuel for there fire is self serving bull shit."[sic]

      So, just to be clear, we DON'T want to know what our government has been doing? Does that apply to ... Benghazi too? The IRS? The VA? NSA? Or just torture? Seems to me that any government of the people, by the people, and for the people has a right and duty to know what's being done in the people's name. Also, if the report was "self-serving" on the part of the Democrats, then perhaps the "Democrat controlled Senate" should have released it BEFORE the election. This way, well, it seems like they were just doing their jobs.

      "I know you fellas here, Shit a green squealing worm when you read that report."

      ANY American should be appalled at what was contained in the report. We are a nation that tortures people. Those are not the actions of a just and moral people, those are NOT the actions of exceptionalism. THE GOOD GUYS DON'T GO AROUND TORTURING PEOPLE, THAT'S WHAT OUR ENEMIES DO. THAT'S WHY THEY ARE OUR ENEMIES. Torture is the tool of dictators and tyrants and brutal sons of bitches.

      "I know you all feel we should ask these bad men a polite question on were the bad men are going to strike next and when they say FUCK YOU! as any man with any balls normally would, we smile give them 500 dollars and a Letter of Apology from our commander and Chief, Does they fly with you guys."[sic]

      Right, because those are the ONLY two options. Torture or let 'em go. And tell me something, that man, the one with the big hairy balls? What takes more courage? Holding true to your honor, your duty, your law, your morality, your ethics ... or not? Maybe, and here's a thought, Tonto, you should stop thinking with your balls.

      "...you fellas are not the ones who would consider trying to stop them, No No your the guys who whould complain about how the rest of us tried to stop them" [sic]"

      24 years on active duty. 3 wars. Decorated 13 times. And I never once compromised my honor or that of my country. I faced plenty of enemies, most of them thought just like you.

      Your reasoning ability isn't any better than your spelling or grammar. Fuck you, Tonto, and the horse you rode in on.

    3. In Tonto's defense, he probably has 100's of citations for bravery earned during his tour with the 101st Keyboard Commandos.

    4. "Cry Me A River" seems to show up all over the internet in "pro-torture" comments. I can't bear to watch Beck or his fellow ululators on the tube, but I do wonder if someone like him must be the fetid source of this river of faux tears.


    5. Most likely. The phrase does seem to trace back to that sort of origin.

      Folks like Tonto are internet patriots. All piss and vinegar and full of soundbites from The Blaze. What little thinking they do is with their dicks. Which explains their worldview - dicks are amoral organs on the best of days.

    6. "You know this Country of ours can be taken, Right out from under us ... there our [are] men who at this very minute are plotting against us."

      That just has to be white supremacy bullshit doesn't it? This country of "ours"? Plotting against "us"? To "take" the country? Even the shitbags in A.Q. in it's headiest days never considered "taking" the U.S., nor did anyone ever worry that they might. So who does this guy want to torture? Sounds like anyone who dares to walk around not being white.

  91. “The real unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, without anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crimes they hope to prevent in that future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present - they are real.” --LM Bujold, Shards of Honor

  92. Cheney is our own Goring. He is a war criminal.
    Him NOT being charged as such, pisses on the graves of all those that died in WWII and those that didn't - and suffered the atrocities seen in war for the rest of their lives.
    The Nuremberg Trials were to mean something, a justification for the winners going to war and setting legal standards for the world to use to (hopefully) keep peace, create some law.
    The Geneva Convention is to mean something, some laws for conduct during war.
    The UN Charter is to mean something, some laws for conduct among countries.
    The Constitution is to mean something, a set of laws to order our country by.
    True laws are like gravity, everybody is effected.
    If everyone isn't effected, you have rules.
    We are ruled. The rulers don't need to follow what are called laws. "The rabble, the mob" has to.

  93. In response to your (Jim) post on FB about tonto's ravings: On June 28, 2001, my husband (Aydogan Fuat aka Sheykh Abdul Kerim) was arrested in Izmir, Turkey, for leading a prayer service. He was a dual US-Cypriot citizen of Turkish ethnicity, and he was being held as a political prisoner for violating a sacred cow - Turkey's official definition of Turkishness. The Turkish government at that time was subject to repeated army coups and its prisons were playgrounds for police torture, primarily against political (read "too religious" or Kurdish) prisoners. The only leverage we had as Americans working for my husband's release was our country's reputation as a nation which valued human rights. He was ultimately acquitted and released on December 6, 2001, the day after, and as a result of, a private conversation between Sec State Colin Powell and Prime Minister Ecevit in a limo ride between official venues. My husband may have been the last American for whom anyone could negotiate from a position of relative moral superiority (possibly even then more of a perception than a reality). The US response to 9/11 was a disaster for Americans because the perpetrators of that response at the highest levels betrayed our honor and principles and the trolls at the lowest levels proclaim and/or act out their own ignorant concurrence. I feel for Americans who have the misfortune now of being held under inhumane circumstances for political purposes. Their (our) country doesn't seem to have a leg to stand on when it comes to negotiating their release. What a mess. What a shame. What a waste.

  94. What do we expect in a country that tortures it's own prisoners? Why does a mentally ill person deserve to even be in prison let alone be tortured? Why should a heroin addict be tortured because they have a health problem? Why should inmates be in solitary confinement and denied health care? Why are the whistleblowers the ones in prison rather than the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity? There are people who are incarcerated either in a prison or a psych unit to keep them from telling what they know in connection to lots of government agencies. They label them as crazy, you know like they did to Lt. Col. Blaylock and myself. Bullies are the same no matter what level they are on.

  95. Of all the officials, politicians, and political commentators, in my opinion only John McCain has the credentials to talk about torture.

    Once 'Dick' has experienced what John McCain did, I may listen to him.

  96. Jim, someone linked to your blog so here I am. This that you wrote: "America owes you nothing. Most of the people around you are oblivious and they always will be - that's what we were doing out there in the dark and dangerous places, giving them the freedom and the security to be oblivious..."

    I disagree with that. Here's why. Power brings responsibility. Different sectors of society have different responsibilities. We all share collective responsibilities of citizens.

    "Obliviousness" is irresponsibility. If you were fighting to give people space to be irresponsible -- maybe reconsider freedom to be irresponsible as a worthwhile goal?

    Why are people oblivious? Many are not literate. News organizations have not fulfilled their role with integrity. Education entertains/keep busy/promotes consumerism and fashionable attitudes, but fails to instruct far too many US citizens in world geography, foreign languages, civics, cultural history and much more that is necessary for responsible voting/governance.

    Citizens who hold positions of world power had huge responsibilities. We are losing that position. I think many US citizens did not want the world responsibility in the first place. While politicians (who were voted in) bumble about overseas, using the military as tools, our communities and schools are turning into gangland territories, ruled by fists, shootings, hammers and torching of people who get in the way. (Look up some recent Memphis and Mississippi news if you aren't aware of the trends, like "Gang Disciples", 'Fam Mob", Courtland, Poplar Plaza. For whatever reason those terms don't show up on the front page, despite remarkable brutality, death and property damage).

    But back to what you said -- the military was entrusted with responsibilities to protect, but that did not and does not relieve non-military people within the U.S. of different, separate responsibilities that are also essential. People who wield the privilege of power cannot afford to be oblivious, and should not be excused from exercising vigilance and diligence (and ethics).

    1. Nikki,

      I was addressing a fellow vet in regards to our shared experience regarding respect for service, I was not making a general statement.

      That said, sure. Okay. I don't disagree with anything you said. In theory at least, anyway. If you read enough of my stuff, eventually you'll come across the recurring theme of rights and responsibilities and that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, i.e. a Republic, requires that the people be educated and informed and responsible for their nation.

      That said, go ahead, legislate it. You can't legislate social responsibility or respect, not in a free society, you'll end up living in Feudal Japan.

      Freedom is about choice - and especially the consequences of those choices. If you truly believe in freedom, if you truly believe as a member of the military that you are defending freedom, then you have to understand that some people are going to choose to be oblivious and irresponsible and ignorant.

  97. Pretty much agree, Jim. Although I'm non-party-affiliated, I am on board with the Libertarians about not passing laws on paper that are not enforceable in reality. Alcohol Prohibition was well-intended, but it didn't work. Drug prohibition isn't working either because of popular demand.

    Torture is also occurring among the oblivious general population, especially among gangs, human trafficking victims, in the prisons, in schools that resemble prisons, and torture is broadcast through TV, cable, movies, etc. as entertainment.

    I'm not about legislating behaviors by force -- but for damned sure I want to know when I'm around people who have sadistic proclivities. And I agree, as public policy, torture was and is incompatible with responsible leadership. Unfortunately, a lot of our leadership is irresponsible -- and being a leader is a pain in the ass. I wouldn't want to be a leader either.

  98. The FBI agent, Ali Soufan (THE BLACK BANNERS) was getting good and actionable intelligence using his knowledge of the Koran & the region. Then, came the "professional" CIA contractors with their water buckets, the FBI were recalled and the turf war was settled. While reading Bob Woodward's book (STATE OF DENIAL) I came across the statement by President Bush that he wanted the CIA to find the connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. The contractors tortured until some poor bastard lied to gain relief from the pain. "W" got his talking point for invading Iraq.


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