Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Bad flicks

It seems that the anti-war movies (e.g., Rendition, In the Valley of Elah) have been disasters financially. Shame.

Discussions - 28 Comments

There have been some movies out that are quite good. Lars and the Real Girl is worth seeing. It is about a very withdrawn man and a full-size sex doll, but it is not THAT type of movie at all. It is delightful.


If 3:10 to Yuma is still around, that is worth seeing, too. I thought it even better than the original with Van Heflin and Glenn Ford. It is rare to find a movie remake that improves on the original and even on the original short story, by Elmore Leonard. This one does.

Mr. Schramm, are you suggesting that if a film is a box office flop it is therefore a "bad flick"? Does popularity necessarily equal quality?

I haven't seen either of the films you mentioned, but I think that their low box-office take is not necessarily so indicative of their cinematic merits as it is indicative of what most moviegoers expect when they sit before the silver screen. As the editor of Movies.com says, in the article you linked to:

"A lot of people go to the movies to escape."

Quite true, no? I think I've read and heard quite enough about CIA renditions and torture. At the moment I don't think I need to see a film that deals with those things.

It is interesting that you would consider "Rendition" to be an "anti-war" film as, from what I know of it, it primarily deals with the practice of CIA rendition to 3rd-party countries that are known for looking the other way, or even allowing, torture. Is merely depicting, or even analyzing the practices of rendition and torture from a critical perspective, is that "anti-war"? The tv show "24", which has been widely embraced by the right for its ever-manly Jack Bauer character and his uncanny ability to extract down-to-the-wire information using extraordinary interrogation methods, has dealt with these issues. Are torture and rendition necessary components of, and inextricably linked to, the "War on Terror" (or "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism" as Rumsfeld tried to rechristen it)? That would strike me as rather extreme positions to take!

I have noticed how little the issues of rendition and torture (among others) have been addressed here at NoLeftTurns. I am curious if any, or all, of the pro-war bloggers here feel that Alan Dershowitz might be onto something, albeit inadvertently, in his recent WSJ op-ed. He says:

"There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives."

Senator Richard Durbin took a great deal of heat for comparing what he had read in FBI reports about the conditions and treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo with those of various murderous regimes. Without even touching upon anything Americans have done at Guantanamo or elsewhere in the last 6 or so years, we could simply treat this as justification for current and future policies. Should torture be utilized because we know that it was effective for the Nazis? If they wrote a book on effective methods, would we want to study and use it? Or, alternately, if such a guide were found in the basement of Saddam's palace, should we be translating it into a study guide for secret agents, rather than putting it directly into an historical museum exhibit detailing the barbarity of the Hussein family?

The Kingdom is good and hardly a conventional antiwar movie. It is the sort of movie a Ron Paul supporter who took something like Islamofascism seriously would make. It doesn't deny the problem because the typical solution is afraid or incapable of identifying it.

Well Craig, The fact that we can take advantage of rendition to aid us is a good thing.

The greatest single impediment to the war on terror is the shear weight of bureaucracy. The Kingdom partially blames the state depatment types. But in the civilian world the state department types are the lawyers and ethicists. Following what I can't describe any more accurately than a de-ontological/legal positivist framework...these folks conspire to decontextualize everything. Senator Richard Durbin in equating Guantanamo with murderous regimes is just an example of following this moral framework to its logical conclusion. When pro-life forces argue that destroying an embryo is murder they argue in a similar vein, (Jonah Goldberg's argument is much better.) Same thing with the death penalty argument. The presupposition is always that one must ignore distinctions and context because of some slippery slope. But the true slippery slope exists when out of fear of slippery slope we eliminate judgement and the capacity for judgement and become bogged down by a moral/bureacratic superstructure.

We fear Nuclear Proliferation in the abstract, and thus we say why does the US get Nuclear weapons and Iran can't have them? No answer...because the deontological moral superstructure doesn't allow consideration of Iran as Islamofascist. In fact it gives us a UN where we have absurd terrorist regimes heading up Human Rights Pannels.

Torture if effective is sometimes necessary and moral. A captain of a ship making a judgement call that requires him to eat one crew member so that the rest may live is a potentially moral albeit difficult decision.

Craig Scanlon, I know you are not addressing me, and certainly I was pushing the comment area in another direction, but ...


movies that are ideologically driven rarely do well at the box-office. Rarely are they good, either. Please, feel free to point out exceptions to both of my claims.


More Dershowitz, one of his questions: "Would you want your president to authorize extraordinary means of interrogation in such a situation? If so, what means? If not, would you be prepared to accept responsibility for the preventable deaths of hundreds of Americans?" Senator Durbin is not directly responsible for the safety of the nation. Those who are responsible might need to use any means at hand, even torture.


I decided I needed to look up "rendition" as it was being reported in the news. Maybe I have been too busy lately and not reading the news carefully enough. Lo and behold, I find it nowhere but in diatribes from the left on their blogs or as accusations without substantiation in the NYT or WaPo. Explain why anyone on NLT, or anyone else, ought to take such things seriously?

The only thing I have time to respond to at the moment is Kate's research wherein she concludes that information about rendition is only to be found in "diatribes from the left on their blogs or as accusations without substantiation in the NYT or WaPo."

That is absurd. While obviously, and for a variety of reasons, the persons in authority who are responsible for "extraordinary renditions" (the term used by the CIA) are not eager to admit to them or give details about them, there has been both acknowledgement and defense of the practice by those in power. See here just for a start. I don't know what sort of substantiation you expect. A travel snapshot of a CIA agent handing over a detainee to some underground figure in a country where torture is standard practice?? I think it's substantiation enough that the head of the CIA makes reference to the program, no? So to try to paint this as the chatter of tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists is just very cheap, to say the least.

And I presume it's not even theoretically possible that you could be bothered by any cases of mistaken identity and/or innocent persons being rendited and tortured? If the program is to "protect Americans" then it's automatically and instantaneously self-justifying, merely by being described as such. Yes, it may be unfortunate, but if there are a dozen "erroneous renditions" but just one successful "Jack Bauer" rendition that yields information that saves 20 lives, then it all works out by the math and it is worth it, right?

It wasn't absurd. I did a simple (and, yes, cheap) Google search and came up with - not much that I could take seriously. Thank you for the BBC reference. I would like to hear the actual speech.

An "extraordinary rendition" ought to be something heard on stage. Political language is nauseating. I wonder who came up with that term?


I am not unmoved by the possible cases of mistaken identity of innocent persons who are hurt or harmed in any aspect of this war. These pictures of wounded veterans grieve me, too, and I have a hard time not thinking of them as innocent. My oldest son could be one of those in the next couple of years. To be called pro-war is like being slapped. Who is pro-war?


I don't know what it takes, for real, not as shown on TV programs, to cope with the incidents of war. I am not responsible for even 20 lives. If I were responsible for other people's lives, I hope I would find the fortitude to do whatever was needed to protect and defend. I am glad there are people who can do that sort of thing, but I feel sorry for them, too.

I don't think that The Kingdom was necessarily antiwar at all. It was about Americans going to Saudi Arabia to help them find and eliminate a terrorist who murdered Americans.


The Kingdom is, judging by the opening sequence, a movie that is critical of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. The opening sequence traces the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in 1933 by an American expedition, our increasing ties with the Saudi monarchs over the years, how the Saudis could use the oil to cripple the United States, through the rise of Osama bin Laden (a Saudi). It highlights how, when Hussein invaded Kuwait, bin Laden offered the support of his army from Afghanistan. Instead of taking bin Laden's aid, the king took an American offer. Afterwards bin Laden started denouncing the Americans and the Saudis, launching his terrorist attacks. The sequence ends with showing how in the year 2000, Saudi Arabia was the largest producer of oil and the United States was the largest consumer, ending with that bargraph representing the Twin Towers being destroyed-- by planes flown by terrorists, of which fifteen were Saudis.


The is not anti-Iraq War at all. I think it shows some of this "blowback" theory and how our relations with the Saudi MONARCHY could be harmful to our national security. But it also portrays the heroes of the American FBI doing whatever they can to eliminate a threat to the American people and stop him from taking more American lives. So, as was already alluded to above, it is also somewhat anti-State Department as it shows State being full of red tape while the FBI agents work to take out an Islamo-fascist terrorist who murdered dozens of Americans citizens.

Craig, I don't doubt that rendition is occuring. The question is why the United States would allow itself to get so hamstrung by international laws treaties and conventions that it would have to resort to duplicity.

"I presume it's not even theoretically possible that you could be bothered by any cases of mistaken identity and/or innocent persons being rendited and tortured."

Of course that is possible and I am bothered "theoretically" with torture...I am also bothered by a cheap calculus...saying that torturing 19 innocents to save 20 is justified...

But...and this makes all the difference the people that the CIA would consider important enough to go to the trouble of torturing are not random samples...these guys are not really innocent, these are at the very least people who where filming IED's in order to pick up bonuses...in all likelyhood worse than that by magnitudes. You aren't shipped out to Gitmo for throwing rocks at Humvees or telling the americans to go home.

So within the sample that the CIA would cull for extra information there aren't that many innocents and there are certainly no lambs. So really the "Innocents" are bad guys that don't know much of anything vs. bad guys that do know much. By my simple calculus it is quite permisible to torture 19 such bad guy "innocents" in order to find one bad guy who knows something that will save 20 people.

Good presentation of the Kingdom R.O.B.

The thing about these anti-war movies is that most of them are too pompous. They're freighted with the delusion that they're the first to treat on the folly of war.

Wasn't it Herodotus who wrote on the utter folly of the Peloponnesian War? It's not a new subject, so I'd appreciate it if they'd stop deluding themselves that they've something novel to offer. It's not like they're presenting ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, which at least did visually display the scale of all the endless mowing down.

Some are trying to portray this quasi-colonial war we're fighting, along the far frontiers of civilization, as some kind of Verdun.

This isn't The Great War.

I've been working on a script for a movie called "Fightin' Arab-Killers." What I really want is a new John Wayne to play the lead role.

Good luck with that Hal.

I'm sure you'll get a bunch of lefties in Hollywood eager to produce it.

John Lewis - Obviously, we disagree on rendition being "a good thing." You say that "the true slippery slope exists when out of fear of slippery slope we eliminate judgement and the capacity for judgement and become bogged down by a moral/bureacratic superstructure." I think I see your point there, in that Guantanamo isn't as horrific as a Nazi concentration camp or Pol Pot's butchery. Yet, I can make the judgment that certain treatment of prisoners can be reprehensible, cruel and unjustified without reaching those other depths. The judgment can still be made that even nations that are acting defensively against terrorists can still compromise their position of moral superiority by allowing themselves to be sucked into a race to the bottom, to the lowest common denominators of behavior and activities that run counter to precisely what the USA is supposed to represent the model and pinnacle of: civilized society. I also have reservations about Sen. Durbin's usage of the Nazi and Pol Pot terminology, at least in part because it shouldn't be necessary. The actions of a government can certainly be considered despicable and wrong for many things that fall well short of wholesale genocide, no? The problem with abusing or overusing the Nazi comparison is that it allows too many bad governments to claim the mantle of righteousness as long as they are not doing what Hitler did. But surely we all have the judgment to see how problematic that is.

"Torture if effective is sometimes necessary and moral." Well, the "if effective" aspect is an important part of that equation, and I remain unconvinced. Would it work on suicidal maniacs? Why wouldn't they simply say what they think their torturers want to hear? If the torturers already know the one correct answer that the prisoner must provide before the torture will stop, then why is there the need to torture, as the answer is already known.

Your second set of comments (#9) were somewhat puzzling. First you said "I am also bothered by a cheap calculus...saying that torturing 19 innocents to save 20 is justified." but then you finish by saying "By my simple calculus it is quite permisible to torture 19 such bad guy 'innocents' in order to find one bad guy who knows something that will save 20 people." I understand that you modified their status, by pointing out that, apparently, if the CIA has nabbed them, then they must be guilty of something. I think that this is problematic. The same organization that bought into "Curveball"'s line of b.s., (one of the) same organization(s) that spun the airtight certainty of the WMD claims is entitled to this level of trust that they can be judge, jury and...torturer of individuals in the name of our security? That's interesting. Have you read much about the case of Maher Arar? From what I can gather he certainly sounds like he could qualify as a "lamb." But what an atrocious standard you set; someone is at least partially guilty until proven to be as innocent as a lamb (and thus, truly innocent). If you got whisked from a foreign airport, would all of the rest of the world consider you to be a "lamb"?

What I also don't understand is, if detainees are all necessarily (by virtue of having been detained) at least somewhat guilty, and are eligible to be rendited and tortured but ineligible to be formally charged or to be granted a trial, then why have so many of them been sent back to their home countries? You know that doesn't really pass the sniff test. First, they're the "worst of the worst" as Rumsfeld said, but then they're released, free and clear, to their home countries. And no one is supposed to ask about why they were in prison for years without being charged (but maybe getting waterboarded)?

But again, back to the torture, I think the worst aspect of it thus far has been the secrecy and the complete lack of accountability and responsibility. It's all been maneuvered and spun with the ridiculous macho attitude as if the American people couldn't handle the truth (picture Nicholson's character in "A Few Good Men") of what needs to be done to protect them. Talk about a nanny state! Ok, here's what I propose. The U.S. policy on torture should be we will never engage in it EXCEPT in that ticking-time-bomb "24"-like scenario, where extreme measures of whatever kind need to be employed to prevent mass deaths and casualties. My condition would be this: if that exceptional circumstance should ever need to be employed, the entire torture act would need to be done on videotape by Americans identified by name, all faces shown. It would need to be done on American soil, at an American embassy, or in/on a US military vehicle. No "black sites", no basements in the middle of nowhere. If the torture is successful and saves lives, the video can be aired and the torturer can be hailed as a national hero. If the torture is unsuccessful because the victim didn't have the needed information (and thus, was the wrong guy), then the video can be used during any subsequent criminal trials. This would provide some safety measure that torture would not simply be employed as simple sadism by rogue agents (as I suspect it is, or could be, now). I trust that this compromise suggestion wouldn't be dismissed as getting our government "bogged down by a moral/bureacratic superstructure" as, after all, can't the right and left agree that we do and should operate under the rule of law, not the rule of men?

Kate, your assertion that renditions are the imaginings of bloggers and liberal newspaper hacks WAS absurd coming from someone who I had assumed keeps abreast of current events. There have been various admissions from relevant officials, some fairly direct and some less so, that the rendition program exists, and the same have defended it.

I didn't intend to verbally "slap" you by (indirectly) referring to you as "pro-war" (I was actually talking about the NLT bloggers, whereas you and I are merely commenters here). I thought that wouldn't be controversial, as you have appeared to be largely in favor of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its continued military presence there, correct? I wouldn't presume that you would, as some general principle, be in favor of any and all war, at any place and time. In any case, I apologize that I offended with that description.

Kate, I did find your final sentence to be rather thought-provoking: "I am glad there are people who can do that sort of thing, but I feel sorry for them, too." There is some ambiguity in what you might mean by "that sort of thing" but I really think you might find this essay to be worth your time. Do look past the somewhat sensationalist headline, and as they say here at NLT, read the whole thing. It taps right into what, I think, you were talking about.

To "View, undimmed by pacifism" - Who needs to wait for lefties to produce anything? Last I knew, anyone with a big wad of money can buy/build their own studio and make whatever kind of films they wish. Just remember though, "the market will decide" the rest. So, why not start up a right-wing propaganda studio on the RIGHT coast? Carry on, soldier!

Craig,

sure, you can drop a bundle and make your movie, but who will show it, which theaters will run it. It's not just production of the film that's problematic, it's distribution thereof. Look at the hurdles that Mel Gibson had to overcome to get his movie made and shown. Think of it as buying a car, sure you can buy or lease a 'vette, but auto insurance is the more problematic expense.

I would still appreciate someone answering my question about the hypothetical (but hardly far-fetched) torture guidebook found in Saddam's palace. Do you think we should translate it and use it as our own guide?

To View - sorry, but there's also nothing stopping you from opening up your own chain of theaters, or marketing to independent/arthouse cinemas. As for Gibson's movie, I believe that did pretty well, despite whatever hurdles he might have faced (such as his internationally famous name attached to the project?)...

Craig: Saddam's torture manual should not be translated for instruction purposes, unless something usefull can be derived from it. Also torture might not be very usefull at all...I would defer to the CIA/FBI Interegators, I just think it is unwise to take options off the table that may be capable of yielding results.

Basically the function of interogation is to get at the truth, to get information. I am not saying that torture is necessary nor am I suggesting that a fanatic wouldn't die with a lie on the lips. You have to find a means of putting pressure on someone in order to pick up on lymbic behaviors outside of a baseline. You have to be able to tell when someone is telling the truth and when they are lying. With nothing at stake determining truth from falsehood is more difficult. I am sure that there is a lot of guess work in interogation, it is both a science and an art.

I am for allowing the CIA the FBI and the military the greatest level of discretion in how to go about the business of extracting the truth.

At issue is the question of civilian/moral oversight. In my opinion a lot of this is hypocracy. The position that we compromise our moral claims by the means we employ to assure national security has an alure to it and it is true that we should try to minimize collateral dammage...but basically what happens is that we bring in the marines or interegators and the people at the top look away... the job is accomplished and then because the means that were employed are distasteful to moral pieties we turn around and investigate the Marines or Abu Grab. You grab up a few enlisted kids who think in black and white terms about the ennemy. Kids that Julie praises because they can kill frankenstein. People somewhat like me who take a sort of Lockeian view towards these things... A person can be shooting at me one second but as soon as he drops his weapon or runs away I cannot continue shooting... I must make him a POW. These POW's are basically ennemy combatants...so you can explain to me exactly how much store I put in the idea that torturing them if they don't know anything is "evil". From time to time when I am struck by clear thinking...I certainly must conclude that pace Locke these POW's have forfeited the full scope of human rights. Sure the Geneva Convention exists...but that doesn't stop the other folks...and I am certainly not clear on why it should stop us if some good could come from it.

So basically every now and again you round up some marines after they have pacified an area, or you take some soilders after they have instilled fear in the ennemy and you prosecute them. It is almost always lower enlisted and maybe a clear thinking Officer/Captain with the integrity to defend his actions..who gets nailed. Sometimes several careers are ruined/dammaged higher up...but they can always cover tracks...all in the name of maintaining moral superiority.

I am not sure if you are familiar with Cesare Borgia and Remirro de Orco as recounted in Machiavelli's the Prince...basically Cesare Borgia had a job that called for "the Marines"...the Marines accomplished the mission, but in doing so made themselves hated and feared...So Cesare Borgia took Remirro de Orco cut him in half and put him in the public square.

Basically we have liberals like you Craig who are worried about "Morality" so the civilian/ethicists/lawyers/state department work 24/7 to create so many conventions and red-tape to cover the ass of anyone who is in power. When investigations are done only the enlisted people, only the expendables are brought down, everyone else has either plausible deniability or a memorandum or policy letter argueing explicitly against the means in question.

Craig, to say anyone is pro-war is a slap. I was protesting because I felt the sting of the blow and acknowledge being as "pro-war," in the sense that you use the term, as anyone else on the blog. I tell you, no one is pro-war, though he may defend the necessity of war.

I read Zizek's "whole thing." I agree it was a pity that the US would admit to torture and wonder if honesty is always the best policy. Yet, to deny was ridiculous - and we are supposed to have as open a government as possible. I recall a conversation between WWII veterans on the topic of torture of prisoners for information by the US wherein they were saying that they presumed that the US tortured when needed, but no one wanted to know that it happened. No one asked, no one told. Is that really better? More comfortable for the rest of us, for certain.

I see no grandeur in the torturer, nor in the executioner, but I can understand any human being in those positions needing to reassure themselves of their own humanity in any terms possible. Why would you expose that person? I presume that what he is doing is a service to the nation. If you are right about "24", then other Americans might see that person as a hero, as they see Jack Bauer. Is that what you want? People used to go see public executions. I'll bet it was a gesture of humanity to the executioner to allow him to wear a mask.

My veterans in my classes are home, but seem to feel that they will never be truly at home with what they have in their heads, their memories. John Lewis speaks to something of what they talk to me about. Not just that "the people at the top look away", but that all of America would rather look away. We would.

Kate is on my side but I still disagree with her. Saying someone is pro-war or pro-death penalty or pro-torture is not a slap. To suggest that the executioner wears a mask to retain his humanity is like suggesting that lady justice wears a blindfold to do the same. One is pro war on the grounds that war is justified, one is pro-death penalty on the grounds that a person has through his actions forfeited his right to life. One is pro-torture and interogation on the grounds that the information gleemed is beneficial and that the prisoner who has already forfeited his rights cannot complain should he be treated in any manner of lesser punishment than death. Kate, you should read Julies article about shooting monsters...side by side with the article by Zizek posted by Craig...I suppose you can have it both ways with great erudition and consistency.

My contention is that the kid who shoots Frankenstein is a Lockeian. The kid who reproaches him and says that even killing monsters dammages the soul is with Zizek. The kid who eats red meat is Lockeian. The kid who eats no red meat is with Zizek/Heiddeger. The Lockeian doesn't look for humanity in much, he understands nature to be something that must be conquered...Zizek finds humanity in everything including Frankenstein, fish, birds and bees, he sees nature as something that must be lived with...At its highest in a pure fictional form Zizek urges something like an elf like existence. In fact I can hear JRR Tolkien speaking that just because Golum deserves to die does not mean that one should kill him. I can also think of the story of Cain/Able and Beowulf.

There is a sense in which one can humanize monsters by accepting that the soul is dammaged in maiming, killing or torturing them...Locke for all of his toleration nevertheless sought to draw lines...King David could not build God's temple because he had blood on his hands, nevertheless he was a man after God's heart. Solomon asked for wisdom but was pleased to receive concubines and wealth. Aristotle elevated the life of contemplation or what you folk are now calling leisure, but few men could be happy whom fate deprived of health and wealth.

In any case different people elevate different things...Is it not possible for the executioner to dispense justice? Does Lady Justice wear a blindfold as a jesture of her humanity...or as a symbol that she is blind to the humanity plea and seeks only to weight facts?

In any case getting back to the topic: what kind of movie is Beowulf?

You can't equate lady justice with the executioner. She is blinding herself to everyone else's appearance, yes, weighing the facts and doing that impartially, but the executioner wears the mask to blind us to him. Justice can be done by the hand of the executioner, but he does not dispense justice, he executes it. Who would want a blind executioner? Someone could get hurt.


I can say, and do, that a war is justified, but I do not like it, not at all. I am pro-death penalty, but probably could not be the executioner. I haven't met anyone who has killed a person and not been effected by the action. What do we think of people who kill other people and are unaffected by that? And Zizek was not writing about killing animals or monsters, but about killing people. Isn't it different?

I do not know anyone, any American, who could be said to be pro-war in the sense that they would say that war is a positive good. Those people who do, like those who cry for jihad, seem monstrous to us. They are pro-war. To the rest of us, war is a reaction, a response to evil and maybe a necessary evil, but it is a sorry thing.

I was looking at the trailer for Beowulf this evening because my daughter wants me to take her to see it. It is a weird-looking thing, like an animated graphic novel. Angelina Jolie plays Grendel's mother. That is a considerable personification of a monster. It is that kind of movie.

"Saddam's torture manual should not be translated for instruction purposes, unless something usefull can be derived from it."

Wow. That is simultaneously sort of funny and disturbing. So, if it worked for Saddam, then we should give it a shot as well.

A lot of of denigrating "moral pieties" on this subject. But I distinctly recall a lot of moral pieties being thrown around regarding our military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. If we don't capture or kill Osama, at least we'll be helping the women who are oppressed under the Taliban. If we can't find Saddam's WMDs, then at least we will have liberated and bestowed democracy upon the people who suffered so much under Saddam. Saddam and his sons were, after all, MONSTERS!! Didn't we even get some footage of at least one of the torture chambers used by the Hussein regime? Of course, those moral arguments came to the fore with increasing frequency and intensity as the pre-emptive self-defense justification came to look more and more hollow (looks like trusting a guy named "Curveball" wasn't such a smart idea). But moral righteousness has been employed plenty by the right, and we were reminded more than once that part of Saddam's brutality was that he was a torturer. He was willing to sink to those depths.

And now, with the phrase "or the terrorists have already won" a fading memory, the best defense of our torture would have to be "well, at least we torture people because Jack Bauer knows it will save many lives" and we admit that we don't want to know when, where or how often it happens, but we assure ourselves that, despite it not having any transparency or accountability in its application, torture is never utilized inappropriately. But perhaps even that sort of concern should just be shrugged off as a frivolous "moral piety"? I'm also baffled that the word morality gets put into the quotation marks of sarcastic dismissal. Remember, the current war in the Global War on Terror was initiated by a man who claims Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher. Who would Jesus torture?

And this talk about monsters is pretty absurd, as well. "My contention is that the kid who shoots Frankenstein is a Lockeian. The kid who reproaches him and says that even killing monsters dammages the soul is with Zizek. The kid who eats red meat is Lockeian. The kid who eats no red meat is with Zizek/Heiddeger."

???????????

I had always assumed that when the right describes their various enemies as "monsters" (while conveniently forgetting the handshakes and embraces of yesterday/year), that even they were aware that they were playing on a metaphor, that they too realized that those they hated and wanted to destroy (for reasons of morality or opportunism) were actually HUMANS. Now pseudo-profound blog-posts (that should have remained private diary entries) are referenced in such a way that it appears that our human enemies are confused with fictional monsters. Saddam = Frankenstein. Osama = Dracula. Are some on the right concerned that Saddam could reappear at some point, like Jason in the Friday the 13th movies, some zombie that can't be killed? I guess I had assumed too much, eh?

Kate - did you see the recent article in the WashPost about the WWII interrogators who specifically spoke out against torture and described the more cerebral methods with which they got whatever info. they could from enemy POWs? I can dig it up if you haven't seen it and can't find it...

Craig,

Did this fall off the blog faster than normal, or does it just seem like to me since I am still engaged in the discussion? No, I did not see the WaPo article you mention, and yes, I would read it.


To one of your points - handshakes of yesteryear - we do not always know at point A in time about a person what we will later understand about him. More truth can be revealed or the person can change with experience and circumstance and sometimes opportunity. Marriages fall apart on that basis all the time and and international alliances falter similarly.

Never mind, it's back. Was there some momentary blog aberration and I stumbled in it?

Well, Kate, I'm afraid we're about to reach the blog equivalent of the waterfall, where this post - and our comments with it - will fall into even greater obscurity in the NLT archives. But I gave up on achieving fame or fortune this way some time ago, so I'll toss out one last comment before the bow tips forward.

Here is the link to that Washington Post article I mentioned before (note that I've linked to page 2 of the article, the somewhat more relevant section). One highlight:

"'During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone,' said George Frenkel, 87, of Kensington. 'We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I'm proud to say I never compromised my humanity.'"

Regarding the "handshakes of yesteryear" I recommend a read of this.
It's well-documented. The U.S. maintained pretty cordial relationships (esp. on the business end, well greased by govt. officials) with Hussein well after he had been established as something less than a saint (that gassing his own people thing).

And this one, regarding the various national and corporate interests that helped to arm Saddam back in the good old days, is a must-read, too. Or, at least a glance...

Here is Mukasey on torture, with a Holocaust comparison that didn't seem to enrage anyone half as much as Durbins's comments did. I can say that I thoroughly agree with the last line of this from him:

"The Bybee memo is 'worse than a sin, it's a mistake,' Mukasey said. He referenced the photographs taken by U.S. troops who liberated the Nazi concentration camps in 1945 to document the 'barbarism' the U.S. opposed. 'They didn't do that so we could duplicate what we oppose.' Beyond legal restrictions barring torture clearly, torture is 'antithetical to what this country stands for.'"

I am not completely without hope regarding Mukasey, but I am bothered that he can't figure out the obvious, that waterboarding is a form of torture. (If it isn't, then I guess the comparatively tame Chinese water torture should really be renamed "Silly Chinese water gag" and marketed as a prank at hobby centers).

Yet Rudy Giuliani is worse, with one of the lamest defenses of the practice ever:

"(town hall attendee) Ms. Gustitus said: 'He (Mukasey) said he didn’t know if waterboarding is torture.'

Mr. Giuliani said: 'Well, I’m not sure it is either. I’m not sure it is either. It depends on how it’s done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it.'" (...and he then pathetically proceeds to lambaste the "liberal media" for giving waterboarding a bad name)

I've heard of the IOKIYAR (It's OK If You're A Republican) Syndrome, but that's really taking it to the breaking point, I think.

Lastly Kate, you said above "I read Zizek's 'whole thing.' I agree it was a pity that the US would admit to torture and wonder if honesty is always the best policy." Do you really think that was his point there? He did, after all, close with "that is a sad indication of a deep change in our ethical and political standards." I think he was pointing to the push for making torture acceptable and the particular shamelessness that goes along with that (haven't Julie Ponzi and/or Joe Knippenberg blogged about shamelessness before, fairly recently?? Not sure if that could be connected here, I'm just noting it.).

Ultimately, I think torture either is, or devolves into, sadism.

Craig, We have another day. Thank you for all of the links.


Your last line reflects my fear, expressed in my comments above, although I have no real proof that such is definitively the case. Do you?


Your WWII veterans were dealing with a different sort of prisoner, "German scientists and submariners." Playing chess with Rudolf Hess, who defected to Britain, for Heaven's sake? Current interrogators are not dealing with the same sort of person. When they are or they make the mistake of terrorizing such a relative innocent, it is a horrible mistake. I wish people did not make mistakes, but they do.

I am reading the Bybee memo and this mentioned in the links you offer me. Like Guiliani, maybe, I am going to have to be ambiguous on the subject of torture. I think that keeping innocents from harm is important, more important than worrying about the humiliation or hurt of someone who would happily inflict harm or be complicit in that harm. Waterboarding does not leave lasting damage, does it? Then, while that is torture, it is a form of torture I would condone in the severest circumstances. It depends on who does it was a stupid thing to say, but it sounds like Guiliani was thinking the thing through out loud, which is certainly not the best, nor most politic way to handle such a question. Yet, depending on the circumstances? Yes, it would depend on the circumstances. And I would feel awfully sorry for anyone who had to deal with those circumstances.

I have seen medical procedures that are a kind of torture, but ultimately were of benefit. The doctor who put the naso-gastric tube in my daughter-in-law's head through to her stomach took nearly an hour to do it and the entire proceeding was like to torture. She lived with that thing for weeks. It was torture and that doctor was no sadist. By my third day of labor during the home-birth of my first son I might have told anyone anything to let me give birth painlessly and yet it was the most natural thing in the world. Ghastly pain can be part of life and there are various reasons why we might inflict it on one another.

About the Zizek piece, yes, I got that point, too. I think people are desensitized to all sorts of things. Body suspension looks like torture to me and I can't imagine how it is beneficial. I also think that people have been cruel to one another through history and that kindness and what we call civilized behavior is an anomaly and a precious one.

I am left with accepting limited torture in limited circumstances and loathing and fearing it. It is a moral ambiguity that makes me uncomfortable. So does your other little glance at Saddam in the day when the enemy of our enemy (Iran) was our friend. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Kate, thanks for your response.

Your examples of medical procedures as being in any way comparable to torture just don't wash, sorry. People allow those procedures to be performed on themselves for the sake, not the detriment, of their own health, even if it does hurt like hell in the short-term. They freely choose to endure that pain for the greater benefits to themselves. They aren't being held without charges, rendited to places/countries unknown to them, or being virtually drowned. There just is no comparison.

Lastly, I refer you to someone who can make these points a good bit better than I, Glenn Greenwald. Here he deals well with the offense taken by some to the "pro-war" tag (although do note that I was only referring to the current Iraq war), waterboarding, and Jonah Goldberg.
Do check it out.

Over the waterfall....

I grant that my medical analogy is not perfect, but ask you to consider it in the realm of the body politic. Those persons (can I call them terrorists?) having such things done to them as you mention are usually not in that position without having given cause (which is why I want to call them terrorists.) As people, a world society of persons, we would allow those things to be done for a greater benefit to the world of people, ourselves. We don't like those things, they make us profoundly uncomfortable (or they make most of us uncomfortable) but we allow radical measures to resist radical harm to the community of man, the body of mankind or any innocent piece of that body politic.

I know I am putting this badly and wish I had someone to direct you to. I am listening to the Goldberg/Beinart debate. I wish Goldberg made his points better.

Thank you for the argument, Craig.

Since our argument is now in the NLT graveyard, here is my email address.

Doesn't it seem absurd, sometimes, to spend so much thought and energy on these arguments when they disappear as vaporously as conversation? Why do we do this? It is public, and yet not public at all, especially pursuing the thing on such a recessed back-page as this one. Funny.

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