Comments on the new torture report

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Comments on the new torture report

Postby portia » Wed Dec 10, 2014 10:38 am

Well, it is out, now and we are going to hear a lot of comments and glosses and refutations.
Here are some:
If a report is only issued by one party, I always will have a germ of suspicion about it. I understand that in the present climate in Washington, it will be hard to get agreement on what time it is, but the germ is still there.

The people who did the interrogations claim that what they did was ok'd by all their higher-ups. To the extent that is true, it is double "punishment" or"moving the goal posts" to claim, now, that it was wrong. The extent to which they did follow the rules, and told their supervisors what they did is still being sorted out. (I noted that Sen. Fienstein carefully said they the CIA hadn't told the whole committee what they did. The CIA said they told the leadership. Careful wording such as Sen Fienstein's always makes me alerted to the possibility that something important is being left out.

My inclination is to believe that nothing much of importance is obtained by heavy questioning of "true believers." I'd like to know more. I suppose if enough details are disclosed, analysts can figure out the answer, maybe.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Minardil » Wed Dec 10, 2014 1:19 pm

If a report is only issued by one party, I always will have a germ of suspicion about it. I understand that in the present climate in Washington, it will be hard to get agreement on what time it is, but the germ is still there.


This is the official report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been in the works since 2009. True, it may have been released by the majority votes of Democrats on the committee, but I don't think it's accurate to describe the report as being "issued by one party", as that implies that only that one party has input into the report, or that the report was prepared by that party. I don't think that's the case here. I suppose the summary may have been prepared by Democrats only, since the official report remains classified, but still, I think this gives a more accurate picture of what happened than just shouting "America is AWESOME", which seems to be the Conservative response to the matter.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby solicitr » Wed Dec 10, 2014 6:51 pm

In this case, that's exactly what it is; the Republicans on the committee are issuing their own minority report which differs sharply from the Majority Report, as have three CIA directors. Everything politicians do is political; if you think "truth" is going to come out of Congress, well, I've got this bridge for sale....

In any event, I can't imagine that anyone is really surprised by this (least of all Dianne Feinstein, whose "Shocked, shocked!!" routine would embarrass Captain Reynaud).
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Minardil » Thu Dec 11, 2014 11:25 am

So former VP Cheney has weighed in.

https://gma.yahoo.com/former-vice-president-dick-cheney-says-cia-torture-021428058--abc-news-topstories.html

Go ahead and read the article, but I'll summarize his comments thusly:

"We don't torture people because we hired some lawyers to tell us that we did was not torture and we agreed with them. I didn't read this report but it's full of crap and totally flawed because I say we don't torture people, except maybe that bit where we stuffed food up people's arses, maybe that was a bit out of line but don't blame me because I never said anyone could do that. And sure, we waterboarded a few people, but that isn't torture and even if it was they were really bad people and we were really mad at them because of 9/11 so it's okay that we tortured them. Except we didn't."

Yeah, well, all I have to say about that is if Dick Cheney was getting waterboarded into a coma at one end and "rectally rehydrated" at the other, he'd probably feel like HE were being tortured, no matter what the torturer's lawyer said. And sure, I get that this happened following 9/11 and that the people we did this to totally deserved it (or worse), but being ANGRY is an explanation for bad behavior, not an excuse or a justification for it that makes it all okay. That lady on Fox News the other night who started ranting about how "America is Awesome" is EXACTLY RIGHT, but not in the way that she meant. She meant that since America is Awesome, we shouldn't talk about this torture stuff, but the real reason AMERICA IS AWESOME, is because when we EFF up, we talk about it, and try to make sure we don't eff up again.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Frelga » Thu Dec 11, 2014 3:28 pm

She meant that since America is Awesome, we shouldn't talk about this torture stuff, but the real reason AMERICA IS AWESOME, is because when we EFF up, we talk about it, and try to make sure we don't eff up again.


This.

Well, ideally. In principle.

But at least we try.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby solicitr » Thu Dec 11, 2014 7:01 pm

Gee, Minardil, it would be interesting to see you apply that intellect in arguing against what somebody actually said, rather than against silly strawmen of your own devising.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby portia » Fri Dec 12, 2014 5:22 pm

I saw an interview this AM which impressed me as a way of understanding how the committee report and the views of the CIA directors could be reconciled.

A. The Committee report said that EITs were not productive of useful information.
B. The CiA directors said that there were times when information came from the same people and the relationship of the information and the earlier EITs was "unknowable.

Some people may have felt that there was a "good cop" bad cop effect, here and that the informant may have been softened up (my phrase) by the bad cop and willing to talk a bit to the good cop. I think this is possible,but unclear. I do not see a way that we can reconcile the two views.

As to the claim that the information was known about Bin Laden before the EITs, that is a mere word game. When does something that you have "heard" become reliable enough to send two SEAL teams to Pakistan? Only after checking and re-checking and accounting for the contrary information.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Storyteller » Sat Dec 13, 2014 7:20 am

I'm still waiting for two things to happen in this entire torture discussion.

One is an explanation of why, if torture really doesn't work, it is still widely used by every single intelligence agency in the world.

The other is suggestions of effective intelligence gathering methods that would not involve resorting to immoral practices such as torture, blackmail, bribery, violations of privacy and whatever else one isn't supposed to do to to one's mortal enemies under the absolutist moral code of modern-day inquisitors.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Frelga » Sat Dec 13, 2014 9:10 am

1. a. Because people are vindictive bunnyslippers.
b. Because sometimes the goal is to place blame or create an appearance of success or the climate of fear rather than gather intelligence.
2. One of the things on that list is not like the others.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Jnyusa » Sat Dec 13, 2014 5:45 pm

I remain surprised that the CIA defends the use of torture. Even if you get answers this way that you suspect to be genuine information, they still have to be corroborated by other means. We would not have sent Navy SEALS into Pakistan after Bin Laden on the word of one torture victim alone, even if the first lead was later claimed to be obtained that way.

It's a matter of opportunity cost: high risk coupled with low marginal value.

From everything I have read, the most effective intelligence gathering is done on the ground by infiltrators. That's also high risk, of course, but at least it is coupled with high value. And the nature of infiltration suggests that open, heterogeneous societies are more vulnerable to this than are closed, homogeneous societies; so there is asymmetry in the effectiveness with which different enemies can use this strategy. Clearly all open and heterogeneous societies are at a disadvantage on many fronts, protecting themselves against infiltration, terrorism, disinformation, etc. But that's a risk that such societies knowingly choose to take in order to be who they are. There is always the choice to become something other than what we are, but it is never obvious that we should do so.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Storyteller » Sat Dec 13, 2014 9:37 pm

Frelga wrote:1. a. Because people are vindictive bunnyslippers.
b. Because sometimes the goal is to place blame or create an appearance of success or the climate of fear rather than gather intelligence.
2. One of the things on that list is not like the others.

Intelligence agencies are rather results-oriented bodies, so vindictiveness makes for a poor explanation when the phenomenon is this widespread and lasting. Had torture been ineffective, its use would have been rare and CIA big shots would hardly have taken risks to their reputation defending it. They would be much better served by declaring it counterproductive and making it official CIA policy.

"Climate of fear" is in itself an effective intelligence (and war) tool. An intelligence agency that's not feared would be about as useful to its country as the Spanish Inquisition from the Monty Python sketch.

Jnyusa - As intelligence gathering method, infiltration is as ancient as torture. Why people choose to pretend that it's more moral is beyond me, because the techniques used to recruit, insert, promote and utilize intelligent assets are not any kind of clean and can, in fact, involve torture or worse.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Frelga » Mon Dec 15, 2014 12:44 am

Storyteller wrote:"Climate of fear" is in itself an effective intelligence (and war) tool. An intelligence agency that's not feared would be about as useful to its country as the Spanish Inquisition from the Monty Python sketch.


I did not mean instilling fear in the enemies of one's country. I meant instilling fear in the citizens of one's country.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Jnyusa » Mon Dec 15, 2014 1:20 pm

Yes, Frelga. And, um, no, Storyteller.

Why people choose to pretend that it's more moral is beyond me, because the techniques used to recruit, insert, promote and utilize intelligent assets are not any kind of clean and can, in fact, involve torture or worse.


We do not torture our intelligence agents before sending them in to the field, first of all. And it would be a poor sort of asset who had been inducted by torture and then set loose in the wild in the hopes that he/she would continue to do our work for us and not head for the deepest hole they could find. Not even the CIA is that retarded.

You're still talking about torturing (physically or mentally) someone to get a one-off benefit which may or may not have any real value, and that's quite a different thing from having trusted agents on the ground who can provide an information stream about the enemy. Infiltrators occasionally kill people too, but the information value of a dead person is zero and that's not the primary objective of infiltration. Nor is finding luckless people to torture. Nor is kidnapping family members who then have to be hidden, fed, and guarded for the duration and will certainly tell their tale if they are not killed at the end. Causing pain is simply not an effective long-term strategy.

The market, once again, is the best indicator. After 9/11 the CIA offered a $20K signing bonus to anyone who was fluent in Arabic. They did not rush into psychiatric wards to recruit sadists. Simply being able to read and translate for us the local newspapers was worth infinitely more than having graduated from the School of the Americas. Otherwise we could have gone back to all those countries whose torturers we trained and borrowed a few of them for free.

But, you know, this goes for electronic intelligence as well as torture, if effectiveness is the only thing we care about. There are certain kinds of surveillance that are most readily done electronically, but for any situation of long-term attrition, like we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, this has as many downsides as upsides and perhaps even more. The reason we don't have effective infiltration networks in these countries is because we haven't been able to build them, not because we don't want them. Our inability to get any traction in the Middle East goes all the way back, in my opinion, to John Foster Dulles' infamous statement that "Arabs don't matter." Well, Arabs do matter today, and we are desperately and unsuccessfully trying to play catch-up now. If you look at the very geographic shape of the Middle East today, it is nearly entirely determined by the groundwork of one astonishingly successful British infiltrator named T.E. Lawrence. That is the difference between a long-term commitment that changes the map and the bootless bombast of men like Dick Cheyney. Whether you think the outcomes achieved by Lawrence were bad or good, they successfully served the interests of the British at the time they were undertaken.

Building networks takes time - any kind of network! - and beating people over the head does not make it go faster.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Storyteller » Mon Dec 15, 2014 8:59 pm

Jnyusa wrote:Yes, Frelga. And, um, no, Storyteller.

Why people choose to pretend that it's more moral is beyond me, because the techniques used to recruit, insert, promote and utilize intelligent assets are not any kind of clean and can, in fact, involve torture or worse.


We do not torture our intelligence agents before sending them in to the field, first of all. And it would be a poor sort of asset who had been inducted by torture and then set loose in the wild in the hopes that he/she would continue to do our work for us and not head for the deepest hole they could find. Not even the CIA is that retarded.

Oh, of course not. But you also don't send a pale-skinned blonde James Bond without prior background with the Taliban to spy on the Taliban.

The assets you're talking about are, for the most part, locals, otherwise they can't effectively infiltrate. They often are already members of the group, or relatives of a member thereof, and it is those prior connections that make them valuable. They are recruited either by bribes (not just money but also things such as promising medical care for a sick child or relative - and, naturally, withholding it should cooperation cease) or coercion or blackmail, or at the very best case the promise of helping get revenge on a foe - meaning complicity in a future murder; genuine ideological affinity is quite rare. These assets set up and run their own networks through the exact same methods - or worse, since they are locals playing but the much more savage local rules. Maintaining their credibility within the group means complicity in that group's activities to varying degrees, too. Torture isn't out of the question at all at one stage or another of the process - but my point is, the alternative methods are hardly more moral. Torture just captures public attention better, while infiltration is seen through spy movie glamor.

The market, once again, is the best indicator. After 9/11 the CIA offered a $20K signing bonus to anyone who was fluent in Arabic. They did not rush into psychiatric wards to recruit sadists. Simply being able to read and translate for us the local newspapers was worth infinitely more than having graduated from the School of the Americas. Otherwise we could have gone back to all those countries whose torturers we trained and borrowed a few of them for free.

Why, have they ever been on a recruiting drive for sadists from psychiatric wards?

This is just sleight-of-hand (sleight-of-mouth?), a way of dodging the issue. Of course intelligence agencies are not staffed with sadists, that's my whole point - the purpose of torture is is purely utilitarian and it is being used when it is judged the most effective method under the circumstances. That's why they have such hard time avoiding its use - because sometimes, it's the most efficient way.

Building networks takes time - any kind of network! - and beating people over the head does not make it go faster.

But it is quite helpful for dismantling networks in a hurry. When William Francis Buckley was captured by Hezbollah in Lebanon and tortured, the network he ran was crushed very quickly.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Jnyusa » Thu Dec 18, 2014 1:04 pm

Storyteller wrote: ... But you also don't send a pale-skinned blonde James Bond without prior background with the Taliban to spy on the Taliban.

Right. That's an interesting observation, too, because it points to the idiosyncrasy of spy networks.

Back in the days of the Cold War when first and second world countries were the big adversaries, networks held a diverse menu of assets. There were US and British nationals who infiltrated the Soviet Union and Soviet nationals who infiltrated us; there were the 'moles,' locals who'd been recruited for ongoing service; there were locals who sold information on a one-off basis. The easy part for those networks was the fact that it was not obvious on first glance who was local and who was not, who was loyal and who was not. Whereas with third world targets only the 'moles' and panderers are not physically distinguishable, and the one-off sellers of information are at higher risk because of the greater homogeneity of those communities. It is well-recognized in spyworld, I believe, that 'moles' are the most difficult assets to acquire, and can also be the least reliable because they might readily collect money from both sides for disinformation unless you have meta-networks that spy on your own networks. The kind of networks needed to reliably infiltrate groups like al-Qayda or Taliban would really be long in development, I would guess.

... but my point is, the alternative methods are hardly more moral.


Well, you are the person who first used the word 'moral,' cutting and pasting it on to me and Frelga. Frelga can speak for herself, but 'moral' is not the word I would choose to describe any spy network. Just to annoy you, I will repeat Noam Chomsky's assertion that 'morality' is a word that can't be applied to institutions, only to individuals. Insofar as spy networks are governmental institutions, in our particular democracy their actions are subject to legislative review rather than moral judgment. The argument against torture is not that it is immoral but that it yields unreliable information. It is not best practice.

Why, have they ever been on a recruiting drive for sadists from psychiatric wards?

Well, yes, in a way they have. The School of the Americas which has long trained torturers for anti-communist dictatorships pulls its students from a particular class and a particular military unit within those countries (the National Guard, loyal to the dictator). They are the most feared, the most violent, the least constrained by law within the military, and they are dehumanized as much further as can be done by their training. We take people with a sadistic bent, no personal moral compunctions, a great deal of hatred against the common people of their own country, and we turn them into full-blown sadists who will torture to death and enjoy it, be proud of it. That's all the School does, really, is to train torturers, and you can't in fact convince just anyone to become a torturer. Because this is acceptable behavior in fascist dictatorships, these people do not begin their careers in a mental institution, but if they were US citizens they would probably have criminal or psychiatric histories.

When William Francis Buckley was captured by Hezbollah in Lebanon and tortured, the network he ran was crushed very quickly.

One can argue more convincingly, I think, that Buckley was kidnapped and killed (or died in captivity, depending on whom you believe) because he did not have the network he thought he had. One of Pres. Reagan's singular failures was that more terrorist acts were committed against US citizens and military installations and government representatives during his terms of office than during the term(s) of any other president. This is not actually a failure of Reagan himself, given that he spent most of his presidency taking a nap, but rather a failure of CIA thinking during the Reagan years, culminating in the Iran-Contra scandal which revealed that the main strategic initiative of the CIA during those years was to develop extra-governmental sources of funding so that they could evade Congressional oversight.

One has to ask oneself how a network supposedly paying attention would otherwise have missed Khomeini's rise to power and the consequences it would have.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Minardil » Thu Dec 18, 2014 2:34 pm

One is an explanation of why, if torture really doesn't work, it is still widely used by every single intelligence agency in the world.


I think you have to answer the first question honestly: Does Torture work as a tool to obtain reliable information. I think we can all agree that torture is an effective tool to break down a person's resistance to questioning, but there is a significant body of evidence that suggests that the information then obtained is not always reliable. If the suspect has the information you want, he'll eventually give it to you, but then, he'll also tell you what you want to hear, and in some cases of extreme physical distress, the psychology and chemistry of the brain is actually altered so that the prisoner no longer KNOWS what the "truth" is, and is ONLY capable of telling the torturers whatever they need to hear in order to make the torture stop. My dad was an Intelligence Officer in the US Army, and he served two tours in Viet Nam during the war, in which his main responsibility was to catch Viet Cong and North Vietnamese agents, and to get intelligence on enemy movements, etc. When this whole torture thing came up after 9/11 I asked him HIS take, as an intelligence professional, on the effectiveness of torture, and he said that during the war he would occasionally get information from his South Vietnamese counterparts, information which he knew was extracted under torture, and he always viewed such information as being highly suspect and unreliable. He said that in his experience, there were other methods, more psychological in nature, that worked better to break down resistance and get information flowing, and that this information was always more accurate and reliable that that obtained by more extreme methods.

So, now you have to ask WHY intelligence agencies continue to use these methods. Well, aren't these methods almost always used against people who are judged by the agencies to be "enemies of the state"? As enemies, aren't the subjects of these interrogations viewed as something less than human, and aren't they often the subject of strong animosity? Listen to what Cheney said about the terrorists that were interrogated using "enhanced methods" by our own CIA: he specifically references the ANGER that was felt towards, them. "These are the people who just killed 3000 of us on 9/11," Cheney said, "did you want us to give them a kiss on the cheek?" There is nothing but ANGER in that explanation. Does this meat that Cheney is a Sadist, and that the CIA is staffed with Sadists? No, it just means that Cheney and the CIA interrogators are human beings who let their emotions get the better of them.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby portia » Fri Dec 19, 2014 9:54 am

I have to agree with Minardil.
If you do get something that sounds reliable from a "torture" subject, you still have to check it out thoroughly and I do not see what has been gained. Infiltrators and double agents, etc. seem to have produced more effective information. I especially agree with the suggestions that "torture" is primarily the product of anger: "getting back" at someone who has participated or supported some sort of harm. Maybe it makes someone feel better, but I question its value as an intelligence gathering device--especially as used against "true believers" who mostly have fully committed themselves to the cause, regardless.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Storyteller » Sat Dec 20, 2014 1:54 am

Jnyusa wrote:Well, you are the person who first used the word 'moral,' cutting and pasting it on to me and Frelga. Frelga can speak for herself, but 'moral' is not the word I would choose to describe any spy network. Just to annoy you, I will repeat Noam Chomsky's assertion that 'morality' is a word that can't be applied to institutions, only to individuals. Insofar as spy networks are governmental institutions, in our particular democracy their actions are subject to legislative review rather than moral judgment. The argument against torture is not that it is immoral but that it yields unreliable information. It is not best practice.

That's plainly untrue, and that is my central point in entering the discussion in the first place - if you want to discuss an issue, let's drop the cover arguments and cut to the subject matter. The argument against torture is a purely moral one. Had it merely been about torture "not working", none of the outrage that torture generates would have occured. The truth is that "torture doesn't yield reliable information" - a claim made invariably with no scientific data behind them, on the basis of either projection or this or that anecdotal statement by some former intelligence official that's contradicted by equally anecdotal statement by other intelligence officials - is just a device to reinforce the moral argument. This is confirmed in your particular case by your previous post ("There is always the choice to become something other than what we are" etc.).

A simple thought experiment: if a couple of months from now a statistical study confirms that torture IS, in fact, an indispensible tool of intelligence gathering, will you switch camps or will you change the argument?

(Admittedly, it is not very likely that someone will actually release a proper study on this subject anytime soon, but it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility. A short while ago, a study was released demonstrating that Israel's policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian terrorists consistently yielded an immediate and significant decrease in the number of terrorist attacks. Mass change of minds among the "it's counterproductive" crowd has not been observed so far, because - as with torture- the real argument against said policy did not in fact hinge on its effectiveness).

Well, yes, in a way they have. The School of the Americas which has long trained torturers for anti-communist dictatorships pulls its students from a particular class and a particular military unit within those countries (the National Guard, loyal to the dictator). They are the most feared, the most violent, the least constrained by law within the military, and they are dehumanized as much further as can be done by their training. We take people with a sadistic bent, no personal moral compunctions, a great deal of hatred against the common people of their own country, and we turn them into full-blown sadists who will torture to death and enjoy it, be proud of it. That's all the School does, really, is to train torturers, and you can't in fact convince just anyone to become a torturer. Because this is acceptable behavior in fascist dictatorships, these people do not begin their careers in a mental institution, but if they were US citizens they would probably have criminal or psychiatric histories.

That's a nice caricature that doesn't reflect reality a whole lot.

I was pretty sure that The School of the Americas did not hand-pick students, but rather took whoever the heads of client countries chose to send them, and that it trained military and police officers, not exclusively interrogators. I could also hazard a guess that torture was not entirely unheard of in Latin America before, during or after their military cadres began training at the School of the Americas.

(On a side note, I am always fascinated by the way in which Americans of certain persuasion view the Cold War, but that is a subject for a whole other thread).

One can argue more convincingly, I think, that Buckley was kidnapped and killed (or died in captivity, depending on whom you believe) because he did not have the network he thought he had.

With him being the CIA station chief, that would mean arguing that the CIA did not have a spying network in Lebanon. I suppose one could argue that, but the jury's out on "convincingly".

One of Pres. Reagan's singular failures was that more terrorist acts were committed against US citizens and military installations and government representatives during his terms of office than during the term(s) of any other president. This is not actually a failure of Reagan himself, given that he spent most of his presidency taking a nap, but rather a failure of CIA thinking during the Reagan years, culminating in the Iran-Contra scandal which revealed that the main strategic initiative of the CIA during those years was to develop extra-governmental sources of funding so that they could evade Congressional oversight.

Or it could reflect the fact that there was a significant increase in terrorist activity during the Reagan years for reasons that could not be controlled from Washington.

(I would also argue that "any other president" is unfair. There's currently someone in the White House who has long earned that crown no matter who wore it before him).
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Jnyusa » Sat Dec 20, 2014 11:49 am

Storyteller wrote:
Jnyusa wrote:The argument against torture is not that it is immoral but that it yields unreliable information. It is not best practice.

That's plainly untrue, and that is my central point in entering the discussion in the first place - if you want to discuss an issue, let's drop the cover arguments and cut to the subject matter. The argument against torture is a purely moral one.


Your argument is that I am lying about my own position? If your central point in entering the discussion was to attribute secret agendas to everyone but yourself, you're not very astute.

The truth is that "torture doesn't yield reliable information" - a claim made invariably with no scientific data behind them, on the basis of either projection of this or that anecdotal statement by some former intelligence official that's contradicted by equally anecdotal statement by other intelligence officials - is just a device to reinforce the moral argument. This is confirmed in your particular case by your previous post ("There is always the choice to become something other than what we are" etc.).


You're conflating three different issues here. A thing can be both distasteful and ineffective, which is worse than being distasteful alone and a more compelling reason for rejecting it. And "who we are" is not contrasted with nations who use torture effectively to gain vital information (assuming there are such) but with nations who use torture for an entirely different reason: to terrify and subdue their own populations.

I don't know what "scientific" would mean in this case. It would be hard to quantify the "value gradient" of a particular piece of information for comparison purposes. The ultimate knowledge that is desired (e.g. where in the world is Osama bin Laden or who is the mole in MI6) depends on many pieces of potentially unrelated information from diverse sources and diverse methods gathered over time and analyzed, and it depends as well on the importance of the target.

A simple thought experiment: if a couple of months from now a statistical study confirms that torture IS, in fact, an indispensible tool of intelligence gathering, will you switch camps or will you change the argument?


I do not oppose assassination as a tool of foreign policy because I believe it can be highly effective (when used prudently). If torture could be shown to be more effective than other intelligence methods (and used prudently) I would not oppose it. My information about its effectiveness comes, as Minardil's does, from knowing people who have had the awful job of interrogator. They are unconvinced by any information obtained through torture. They would not risk their own lives or the lives of other agents based on this kind of information alone. You call this sort of input "anecdotal" but then quote instead higher ranking officers who have never done this job and do not have to rest their own lives on the quality of the outcome. If we are ranking the "value" of anecdotes, mine and Minardil's are worth more than yours.

The objection I do harbor toward assassination is that it has not historically been used in the furtherance of State Department foreign policy but to further ends that seem to begin and end within the CIA itself. Too many of their black ops have done more harm than good, in my opinion (example: Gulf of Tonkin) and their objectives often puzzle me. (The outing of the Iran-Contra deal was illuminating. I have thought back to the Gulf of Tonkin many times since the Iran-Contra hearings but without being able to find a convincing analogous objective, only analogous method.)

In any event, my objection to the assassinations we've actually performed are objections of practice and not of principle. If torture were ever shown to be more effective than its alternatives, I might continue to object to our choice of victims but that is an objection of practice and not of principle. Right now my objection to torture is one of principle: you won't find an analyst anywhere who will give significant weight to this kind of information unless it is corroborated by other sources.

A short while ago, a study was released demonstrating that Israel's policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian terrorists consistently yielded an immediate and significant decrease in the number of terrorist attacks. Mass change of minds among the "it's counterproductive" crowd has not been observed so far, because - as with torture- the real argument against said policy did not in fact hinge on its effectiveness).


Who performed the study? And who measured the change of attitude (or lack thereof) among Israeli citizens? And what metrics were used? That's obviously an interesting result deserving closer examination.

I was pretty sure that The School of the Americas did not hand-pick students, but rather took whoever the heads of client countries chose to send them, and that it trained military and police officers, not exclusively interrogators. I could also hazard a guess that torture was not entirely unheard of in Latin America before, during or after their military cadres began training at the School of the Americas.


Yes, of course the students were chosen by their own governments, but they were homogeneous. You asked when we have ever recruited psychopaths and I pointed out that most if not all of those selected for this training would be considered psychopaths in a more civilized context. We have every opportunity to recruit our own psychopaths and train them using similar methods but we don't do it, even though we know from experience whom to choose and how to train them. That is the point.

We do not reject this path because it is immoral. That is almost too obvious to require statement. If we (our government) rejected torture on moral grounds we would not train other people to do it either! Torture is effective for South and Central American fascist dictators because they are not using it to gain intelligence information but to terrify their own population. For this purpose it works very nicely. That is not the outcome we wish our interrogators to achieve and that is the primary reason that we did not in the past choose this path to achieve it. That, and the ramifications of violating the Geneva Conventions.

With him [Buckley] being the CIA station chief, that would mean arguing that the CIA did not have a spying network in Lebanon. I suppose one could argue that, but the jury's out on "convincingly".


Yes, that is my argument.

Storyteller wrote:
Jnyusa wrote:This is not actually a failure of Reagan himself, given that he spent most of his presidency taking a nap, but rather a failure of CIA thinking during the Reagan years ...

Or it could reflect the fact that there was a significant increase in terrorist activity during the Reagan years for reasons that could not be controlled from Washington.


Yes, that's also a factor.

(I would also argue that "any other president" is unfair. There's currently someone in the White House who has long earned that crown no matter who wore it before him).


That was a purely gratuitous parting shot.
Obama: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/may/24/barack-obama/barack-obama-says-he-took-office-there-have-been-n/
Reagan:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/target/etc/cron.html

If we are counting the number of Americans killed rather than the number of attacks, surely George W. Bush tops everyone.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Storyteller » Sat Dec 20, 2014 10:16 pm

Jnyusa wrote:[Your argument is that I am lying about my own position? If your central point in entering the discussion was to attribute secret agendas to everyone but yourself, you're not very astute.

Not lying per se, but reflexively using a red herring of sorts - yes.

It's a common problem in political discussions, dressing up an argument from pathos as one from logos.

You're conflating three different issues here. A thing can be both distasteful and ineffective, which is worse than being distasteful alone and a more compelling reason for rejecting it. And "who we are" is not contrasted with nations who use torture effectively to gain vital information (assuming there are such) but with nations who use torture for an entirely different reason: to terrify and subdue their own populations.

That's another red herring, unless you're arguing that the CIA is using torture on foreign terrorists in order to terrify and subdue American citizens at home.

I don't know what "scientific" would mean in this case. It would be hard to quantify the "value gradient" of a particular piece of information for comparison purposes. The ultimate knowledge that is desired (e.g. where in the world is Osama bin Laden or who is the mole in MI6) depends on many pieces of potentially unrelated information from diverse sources and diverse methods gathered over time and analyzed, and it depends as well on the importance of the target.

Of course there is a need for "diverse sources", but it doesn't follow that because interrogation through torture cannot be relied upon as a sole source of intelligence, it isn't a productive source of intelligence.

If torture were ever shown to be more effective than its alternatives, I might continue to object to our choice of victims but that is an objection of practice and not of principle. Right now my objection to torture is one of principle: you won't find an analyst anywhere who will give significant weight to this kind of information unless it is corroborated by other sources.

Just as you won't find an analyst who will give significant weight to any single piece of information in isolation.

Do you not notice the moving of goalposts from "torture does not provide reliable information" to "torture alone cannot be relied upon for information" in your own thinking?

Who performed the study? And who measured the change of attitude (or lack thereof) among Israeli citizens? And what metrics were used? That's obviously an interesting result deserving closer examination.

http://public-policy.huji.ac.il/.upload ... lor-HD.pdf

Yes, of course the students were chosen by their own governments, but they were homogeneous. You asked when we have ever recruited psychopaths and I pointed out that most if not all of those selected for this training would be considered psychopaths in a more civilized context. We have every opportunity to recruit our own psychopaths and train them using similar methods but we don't do it, even though we know from experience whom to choose and how to train them. That is the point.

They were homogeneous because, unsurprisingly, when you set up a military academy the students tend to be homogeneously military. I'm not sure how you make the leap from that to "would be considered psychopaths in a more civilized context".

We do not reject this path because it is immoral. That is almost too obvious to require statement. If we (our government) rejected torture on moral grounds we would not train other people to do it either! Torture is effective for South and Central American fascist dictators because they are not using it to gain intelligence information but to terrify their own population. For this purpose it works very nicely. That is not the outcome we wish our interrogators to achieve and that is the primary reason that we did not in the past choose this path to achieve it. That, and the ramifications of violating the Geneva Conventions.

Which past period are you referring to?

Yes, that is my argument.

Fascinating. The USA and Hezbollah both stand in disagreement with your suggestion.

Yes, that's also a factor.

Loved that reply.

The city stands in ruins because the mayor was incompetent. Last week's earthquake was also a factor.

That was a purely gratuitous parting shot.
Obama: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/may/24/barack-obama/barack-obama-says-he-took-office-there-have-been-n/
Reagan:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/target/etc/cron.html

If we are counting the number of Americans killed rather than the number of attacks, surely George W. Bush tops everyone.

Well, yes, he does. That's the thing with statistics, a single event can throw the count off.

Or the sleught-of-hand of those who count. If you pay attention to those links's criteria for what counts and what doesn't - most importantly the way they exclude attacks like Benghazi because they didn't happen on USA mainland - Reagan comes out looking pretty damn good by comparison.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Jnyusa » Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:52 am

Storyteller wrote:Not lying per se, but reflexively using a red herring of sorts - yes.
It's a common problem in political discussions, dressing up an argument from pathos as one from logos.


Glass houses come to mind whenever you argue 'apologism!' which you argue rather frequently.

That's another red herring, unless you're arguing that the CIA is using torture on foreign terrorists in order to terrify and subdue American citizens at home.


You misplaced the thread of the conversation.

Of course there is a need for "diverse sources", but it doesn't follow that because interrogation through torture cannot be relied upon as a sole source of intelligence, it isn't a productive source of intelligence.


And if torture could be shown to be a productive source of information I would probably change my mind about its judicious use, though its banning by the Geneva Conventions would still require account.

You are familiar with necessary and sufficiency causation, yes? It has never been said by any analyst, to my knowledge that, oh yes, this piece of information obtained in the field appeared to be valuable but we need to corroborate it under torture. It always goes the other way - torture requires corroboration but is not accepted as providing corroboration. Other pieces of information may be necessary but not sufficient, whereas torture is never sufficient and its necessity is unproven. As such it is irrelevant to the task at hand.

Information from torture is just ... there. It's a product of anger, as Minardil said; it's a product of culture. The deed having been done, some analyst busies himself to discover whether it is worth anything and most of the time it seems not to be.

Just as you won't find an analyst who will give significant weight to any single piece of information in isolation.


Incorrect. Some pieces of intelligence are dispositive. Electronic and satellite surveillance are usually considered dispositive, though the intent behind what is seen/heard might be open to dispute. Surely the phone call from the King of Jordan to Condy Rice just prior to 9/11 should have been treated as dispositive, and if George W. Bush had allowed Condy Rice to tell him about it (per her testimony) 9/11 might have been avoided.

They were homogeneous because, unsurprisingly, when you set up a military academy the students tend to be homogeneously military. I'm not sure how you make the leap from that to "would be considered psychopaths in a more civilized context".


They are not just homogeneously military. They are homogeneously Guardias, or in line to become Guardias, which is a different chain of command from the regular army. (Perhaps not all of them but most.) And the School of the Americas is not a military academy. Since the Kennedy administration its mission has been to train elite troops in suppression techniques against communist threats, real or imagined.

Why do I call them psychopaths? Performing abortions with a bayonette on women suspected of being pro-communist is what I call psychopathy. Forcing an entire village of people into their church, bolting them in, and setting fire to the building so that they are burned alive is what I call psychopathy. Finding multiple mass graves in a countryside is evidence of psychopathy, in my opinion. If you have a better definition of these behaviors, feel free to offer it.

Whenever we've discovered that our own military personnel had done things like this we've put the perpetrators on trial. That's what I mean by a more civilized context.

Which past period are you referring to?


Prior to 9/11.

But, you know, we can split hairs. During the American Revolution Tories were 'tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail' which was the polite way of saying they'd been flayed alive and had their testicles split open. Purely out of rage; no intelligence gathering intended. But establishing a formal location where enemies could be tortured routinely by US interrogators, off US soil, with the approval of the Executive Branch, under the auspices of intelligence-gathering, along with the practice of rendition - torture of specifically US enemies by proxy - began after 9/11.

I have to read your link to the study in Israel tomorrow and will comment on it after I've read it.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Minardil » Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:10 pm

At least Storyteller admits that the CIA's actions constitute torture, and he argues strongly and openly for utilizing torture as a tool for interrogation. This is in marked contrast to Mr. Cheney (and others) who make the claim that what they ordered was NOT torture.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Minardil » Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:25 pm

The truth is that "torture doesn't yield reliable information" - a claim made invariably with no scientific data behind them, on the basis of either projection or this or that anecdotal statement by some former intelligence official that's contradicted by equally anecdotal statement by other intelligence officials - is just a device to reinforce the moral argument.



So, either Storyteller is a mind reader who can tell what we are all thinking by scanning our brains through the internet, and by doing this he has learned that we’re all really just bleeding heart mamby-pambies who think that terrorists should be coddled and we’re all just too soft to make the heard decisions and we’re just too chicken to come out and say that we are opposed to torture ONLY because we’re a bunch of hippies - OR maybe there REALLY ARE studies that show that information gained from torture is unreliable, and many people would rather have our intelligence services using the most accurate information available.

Why, HERE’s a study on the reliability of information gained from torture. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but here’s a spoiler: The word “unreliable” appears in the Abstract. . .



http://prq.sagepub.com/content/65/1/3.full.pdf+html

Interrogational Torture: Or How
Good Guys Get Bad Information with Ugly Methods

John W. Schiemann

Abstract
Debate about the sources of intelligence leading to bin Laden’s location has revived the question as to whether interrogational torture is effective. Answering this question is a necessary—if not sufficient—condition for any justification of interrogational torture. Given the impossibility of approaching the question empirically, I address it theoretically, asking whether the use of torture to extract information satisfies reasonable expectations about reliability of information as well as normative constraints on the frequency and intensity of torture. I find that although information from interrogational torture is unreliable, it is likely to be used frequently and harshly.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Minardil » Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:27 pm

Or this study:

http://www.cgu.edu/pdffiles/sbos/costanzo_effects_of_interrogation.pdf

The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture as an Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate
Mark A. Costanzo!
Claremont McKenna College
Ellen Gerrity
Duke University

Governments sometimes characterize torture as an indispensable interrogation
tool for gathering strategic intelligence. In this article, we review the relevant
social scientific research on the effectiveness, impact, and causes of torture. First,
we summarize research on false confessions and examine the relevance of that
research for torture-based interrogations. Next, we review research on the mental
health consequences of torture for survivors and perpetrators. Finally, we explore
the social-psychological conditions that promote acts of cruelty (such as those seen
at Abu Ghraib) and examine the arguments typically offered to justify the use of
torture. We argue that any hypothesized benefits from the use of torture must be
weighed against the substantial proven costs of torture. These costs include the
unreliable information extracted through interrogations using torture, the mental
and emotional toll on victims and torturers, loss of international stature and
credibility, and the risk of retaliation against soldiers and civilians.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Storyteller » Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:30 pm

Minardil wrote:At least Storyteller admits that the CIA's actions constitute torture, and he argues strongly and openly for utilizing torture as a tool for interrogation.

That's not what I'm arguing. I'm arguing that the claims that torture "doesn't work" are unproven, and that said argument's use is not what the issue really hinges on for those applying it.

But I firmly believe in calling things by their names, yes. Helps cut to the heart of the discussion. Doing otherwise may be better public relations, but then I'm not a politician.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Minardil » Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:33 pm

There are a lot more articles available online, and even a couple more scholarly studies if anyone would like to google the matter for themselves, but what I didn't find was a single scholarly study showing that torture WORKS effectively to get good reliable information. I'd be interested in reading such a paper, if anyone can find it. In the meantime, the weight of the evidence which is available shows a strong consensus that torture is ineffective as a tool for obtaining reliable information.

Add these studies to the "anecdotal" information from sources such as people who have been interrogated and people who have done the interrogating, and there doesn't seem to be very much evidence to support the reliability of torture-generated information. The only people speaking out in support of it seem to be a few people who are being accused of doing it, and their apologists.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Minardil » Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:37 pm

That's not what I'm arguing. I'm arguing that the claims that torture "doesn't work" are unproven, and that said argument's use is not what the issue really hinges on for those applying it.


I refer you to the studies I linked, in the two posts directly above your post in which you made this remark. And the argument isn't that "torture doesn't work", it's that information gained from torture is unreliable. Let's not attempt to move the goalposts here.

Also, please demonstrate your ability to read minds. I've consistently argued against the unreliability of torture as my primary objection to using such techniques, yet you have repeatedly said that I am lying about this. Please prove to me that you know what I am REALLY thinking telling me how many fingers I am holding up right now. . .
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Jnyusa » Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:56 pm

Storyteller wrote:A short while ago, a study was released demonstrating that Israel's policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian terrorists consistently yielded an immediate and significant decrease in the number of terrorist attacks. Mass change of minds among the "it's counterproductive" crowd has not been observed so far, because - as with torture- the real argument against said policy did not in fact hinge on its effectiveness).


That was a really interesting article, for a number of reasons. Thank you for bringing it up and posting the link. It hasn't gone through peer review yet but I'm sure it will pass muster and be published in a major journal.

Allow me to restate the research question, though, because you've misrepresented both the question and the result. The Israeli people are not quite as stupid as you suggest.

The background to this research (stated in its introduction) is the fact that there were competing results from prior research into the effectiveness of counter-terrorism strategies, some showing them to be effective (leading to a decrease in terrorist attacks) and others showing them to be counter-productive (leading to an increase in terror attacks). These authors, and others, suspected that the manner of reprisal and the target made a difference, but data was not available, or no one had thought exactly what events to measure, to allow a critical test between the competing hypotheses. These authors hit on home demolitions as a good metric because the IDF does have two different strategies in the selection of homes for demolition, representing two fundamentally different purposes for the reprisal. (The authors also measured additional tactics, such as curfews and Palestinian fatalities but those results were not statistically significant.)

So the two strategies are "punitive demolitions" where the home of a known suicide bomber is destroyed, and "precautionary demolitions" where homes are destroyed because they are located in an area from which attacks have come in the past without knowing whether the owner of the homes were themselves involved in terrorism or not. The outcome measure for both variables was suicide bombing attacks throughout Israel in the month following the demolition, and for the second variable alone (precautionary demolitions) the number of suicide bombings originating from a neighborhood in which homes had been "indescriminately" destroyed during one month following the demolition.

Appropriate pages are spent explaining the history of these tactics, the time periods in which the tactics were used (overlapping but not identical), the precise metrics and any uncertainties associated with them, etc. which I won't repeat here. One little sidenote: because the comparison was between two non-matching data sets and demolitions had to be aggregated by district, they reported both the usual statistics and one they seem to have invented - the percentage increase/decrease in suicide bombings per standard deviation of increase/decrease in home demolitions.

The results are very interesting and, to my eye, pretty clean and robust. Punitive demolitions caused suicide bombings to decrease throughout Israel during the month following the demolition. One standard deviation increase in home demolitions caused an 11.7% decrease in suicide bombings. However, the effect did fade over time; within 4 to 6 months terror was on the rise again.

Precautionary demolitions, by contrast, caused suicide bombings to increase. A one standard deviation increase in home demolitions resulted in a 48.7% increase in suicide bombings during the subsequent month throughout Israel, and a 14.9% increase in the number of suicide bombings originating in the area where homes had been destroyed. Fading effects were not reported.

The conclusion of the authors:
The results support the view that selective violence is an effective tool to combat terrorist groups and that indiscriminate violence backfires.


They posit causality arising from people's "sense of fairness," which I find to be a compelling explanation because a lot of research has been done on this in economics (and explains partially why US economist E. Benmelech would be involved in the research). Other explanations are possible, though ... I can think of a couple and I'm sure Storyteller can too.

Studies like this are really important because they do provide a critical test where competing hypotheses are an an impasse. If one can isolate a sufficient number of tactics that could be identified this way, as broadly discriminate or indiscriminate, one could start to build meta-data that would be genuinely useful to strategists.

But there's no reason to conclude that the Israeli public is misled or self-delusional. Competing hypotheses rightly generate competing positions. I can't speak to the current attitudes of the Israeli public but when this research hits a major journal there might well be a change of attitude and a refinement of policy. I found the result sensible because it echoes similar results derived from a lot of other contexts, namely that reprisal capability is necessary, and it works. But it can't be perceived as indiscriminate or it ceases to have information value to its target (in economic settings), and loses in this case its value as a deterrent.

(Sorry for another boring post with arithmetic in it but I thought the paper deserved to be presented fairly.)
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby Jnyusa » Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:00 pm

Minardil wrote:
John W. Schiemann wrote:Abstract
Debate about the sources of intelligence leading to bin Laden’s location has revived the question as to whether interrogational torture is effective. Answering this question is a necessary—if not sufficient—condition for any justification of interrogational torture.


LOL. Great minds do think alike.
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Re: Comments on the new torture report

Postby ToshoftheWuffingas » Thu Jan 15, 2015 1:44 pm

I make a simple point. If torture is effective in providing information about criminal actions, why isn't it available and indeed mandatory for every prosecution in the US and elsewhere?
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