Just like the Nazi torturers, the CIA documented its work…

December 11, 2014

I just want to add a comment to my last post. I was listening to one of the ubiquitous right-wing talk shows and it was noted that the Senate committee report on the issue of CIA torture included no interviews. Well it is no secret that the report was partisan on the Democratic side, partly because Republicans opted out of the report.

But maybe they did not need interviews. I mean it appears that the CIA included so much detail in its own reports.

Wasn’t that the case with the Nazis in WWII? They recorded everything, even left some awful photos and films for the allies to review at their trials…

The original post follows:

Concerning the just-released Senate report on the U.S. use of torture on terrorism suspects or prisoners:


I have not read the report but I believe it is in no dispute among logical and fair-minded people that our government did engage in torture techniques.



Well I now have read a news story account of what is in the report. Torture was inflicted on some prisoners but there seems little if  any evidence that it did any good. Of course those who support torture will say it did. But what kind of demented person tortures another?


And I for one believe torture is wrong no matter the circumstances. That is not us or who we should want to be.

On the other hand, we are in the fight of our life as a people and a nation against the forces of world-wide terror. So I feel it is not in our interests to dwell on all of this in public too long. But it did need to come out. There, we’ve admitted it.

Hopefully we won’t resort to such barbaric acts in the future. But that does not mean we will turn 180 degrees and make life comfortable for suspected terrorists. We many in effect inflict what amounts to mental torture by the mere fact an individual does not know what is to happen to him or her.

As far as holding people indefinitely, I have a hard time with that. What do we do? Well, I don’t know — probably that has to be judged on a case by case basis.

I wonder if there is any way to change the minds of these misguided souls.

And there are many who seem indifferent to the fact that the U.S. has practiced torture on prisoners. But aren’t we supposed to be different from the forces of evil? If not, then who are we?


Oh, and there seems to be disagreement as to whether the torture ever produced any usable information. Kind of hard to prove whether it did or not I think. But how do you know what a person says under torture is true? And what is the veracity of anything anyone says under duress?
P.s. p.s.

But sometimes it may be necessary for the CIA or other such agencies involved in clandestine national security work to do things that would seem against our norms — I mean I think that is an accepted fact, even though we don’t like to admit it. But, well, it better stay a secret. And I don’t know if what I just wrote is right or wrong really — kind of a conundrum.







Romney, Huntsman, Gingrich only GOP candidates up to the job…

November 12, 2011

UPDATE ( SUNDAY, 11/13/11):

I like what Ron Paul had to say in the GOP presidential candidate foreign policy debate Saturday night about whether the U.S. should go to war with Iran over its developing or obtaining nuclear weapons. He said no and he said it sounds like the talk that led us into Iraq where we never found any weapons of mass destruction. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich seem hot to go to war there if it seemed necessary (if other pressures do not work).  Paul also said that we should only go to war via the formal declaration method set forth in the Constitution and that once committed we fight, win, and get it over with. I do feel, though that Iran cannot be allowed obtain nuclear weapons capability. A full-out war is probably not practical or necessary there, but a strike might be if all else fails (but of course that might set off some type of war). And now that I have gone this far, I have to acknowledge that in this modern day and age, it may be necessary for the nation to conduct various military operations short of war, but they should be kept to a bare minimum. I updated this post after reading part of the debate transcript — I’ll read it all and post about it later.


When Barack Obama won the presidency I can recall people, that is ones who supported him, saying, “at last we have an adult in the White House”.

Since it is likely that Obama will lose in 2012, because it is hard to retain the presidency when so many people are in economic difficulty, it is fascinating to think who might be the proper adult to replace him.

After watching snippets of the CBS GOP presidential candidate debate on foreign policy this evening (I missed most of it due to the fact I had just got home off the road and was fixing my dinner), it seems to me the only real adults, or responsible adults, are, and not necessarily in this order: Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich (well, responsible might be a stretch there, but Newt is professorial, kind of like the old sage).

Ron Paul is correct on many things, and seems well meaning, but he also does not seem to realize that not all of us are doctors and can afford his world.

This all has nothing to do with whether I agree with their politics — on some things I do and on some I don’t; I’m just thinking who could reasonably handle the job at the helm of the world’s super power.

Actually Huntsman should be the man. He is astute. He speaks Chinese and seems politically moderate and broad minded. But he apparently just does not fit into the modern Republican Party. Actually a ticket with Romney and Huntsman would be exciting, but I doubt the nation is going to put two Mormons in charge — there’s a question even one can get elected.

Herman Cain, despite his being top in the polling among identified Republicans, is not likely to have a chance in a general election. And foreign policy, which is a vital part of running the world’s super power, is way beyond his depth, he has clearly demonstrated.

Actually on foreign policy I am torn between Paul’s Libertarian view, best described as isolationist, and those who would be ready to nuke Iran so it does not get nukes.

(And I do think that to allow Iran to acquire nukes is suicide for us and the whole world. I doubt that we should, would, or could get into a land war with that nation over the issue, but there must be some way to prevent such a catastrophe.)

History shows that turning our back on problems or pretending they are not our problems leads to things such as Hitler with his Wehrmacht trying to take over half the world and Gen. Tojo and his military the other half.

The electorate, though, right now is probably more concerned about domestic issues, read that “the economy”, “jobs”.

Romney thinks he can use his supposedly proven track record in business to streamline things and get our fiscal house in order. At the same time, he does not come across as a right-wing firebrand who would dismantle every last bit of our economic safety net.

I was distressed when several of the GOP candidates wholeheartedly gave their endorsement to torture.

I would have a hard time voting for anyone who would support torture (unfortunately, the last time around the winning candidate opposed it and then continued the policy supporting it  — okay, I am now clarifying this or correcting this: my instant web research says that Obama has banned water boarding, but there are also stories claiming there are policy loopholes that allow torture to continue in some cases — unclear on this. I also note that I think the term “enhanced interrogation techniques” is nothing more than a euphemism for torture).

It’s probably too bad the whole issue of water boarding and other tortures ever came out in the open in the first place. I mean if it is only done to truly evil people and if there is anything useful produced from it, then who cares? But there is no guarantee that it is or would be limited to truly evil people (and in fact would not be used against the innocent) and it is questionable whether anything useful ever comes out of it — torture me and I may confess to anything and tell you anything you want to hear, but not necessarily the truth. And of course there is the troublesome moral question. And worst of all, once we put ourselves on record as being fine with torture we have no ability to dissuade our enemies from using it on our own people; we are left with no moral high ground to stand on.

On the other hand, once we go on such a public record as opposing torture, we lose some of that power to bluff suspects. Police use the bluff all the time.

But it always floors me when I hear people who seem nice and civilized wholeheartedly endorse torture.

I do not.


In an update of this post at the top I said that I had read part of the debate transcript. One really has to have either watched the whole thing or read the transcript and not depend upon news stories or blogs (like mine) to get the full sense of the whole thing. And these are not really debates — they are forums and not conducted in a way that gives each candidate equal time to cover each issue — each candidate does not even get to answer each question — time considerations, I imagine, and audience attention span would prohibit that. I think one-on-one traditional debates would be better, but of course in the primary there are several candidates.

Aside from us being blackmailed for billions, I like Obama approach to Muslim world…

June 5, 2009

At the end of my last blog I wrote something to the effect that I would like to go back over any details of President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world to see if there was anything I might have missed or that I would disagree with and that I would be interested in world reaction.

After reading the official White House transcript, complete with notations of applause and someone blurting out “Barack Obama we love you!” and the president saying “thank you”, I concluded that I had indeed heard the speech in its entirety and I did not find anything particularly objectionable, save his promise to provide billions of dollars for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but in even that I can accept the concept, just don’t see how we can afford it.

So, my plan here is to go down through the transcript, paragraph by paragraph, and make some comments. Before that, I note that as of this time it seems overall world reaction, particularly among the target audience, the Muslims, seems to have been quite receptive and quite good. And, as I expected, his biggest detractors were the American far right (you know, those folks who love to hate and love torture) and some Muslim extremists (you know, those folks who love to hate and love to torture).

And now the paragraph by paragraph analysis of the transcript of his speech:

The president greeted his audience at the Cario (Egypt) University and noted that for a thousand years it has been a “beacon of learning”, and he said he carried with him a greeting from Islamic communities in the U.S.: “Assalaamu alaykum” (Peace be upon you), to which he received enthusiastic applause.

Later on a talk show someone commented that it is good that he spoke at a university and there were a lot of young people in the audience, and it was said that it is a mis-perception that terrorists come out of only the poverty-stricken class. In fact, many, including the 9/11 terrorists, are highly educated.

And I realize now that commenting on each paragraph or each line is too tedious, but I am going to arrange my commentary in descending order of the transcript paragraphs.

He noted that there are great tensions between the Muslim world and the U.S. (And the whole Western world) and he acknowledged the role colonialism played in all of this and the fact that the best interests of the inhabitants were not looked after and that in the Cold War Muslim country’s were treated as proxies in the struggle between the West and the communist block nations (although he did not actually mention the communist nations or the former Soviet Union). But anyone who has any grasp of recent history knows that it was all about the competition between primarily the U.S. and the Soviet Union for influence in the Middle East and other areas of the world. The president also said that Islamic traditions were not always respected. And I think that the fact that President Obama recognized Islamic traditions and even used some Islamic phrases and quotations from the Koran is a major deal. You do not have to adopt someone’s religion to respect it. And this recognition, a show of respect, plays big in the Muslim world.

And the president said that he had come to Cairo to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world”. And that “new beginning” phrase I note was used in headlines around the world – pretty powerful stuff.

To show his sincerity, Obama noted that although he is a self-professed Christian, he has Islamic roots in his family and lived in a Muslim country (Indonesia) and heard the morning and evening prayer calls (he did not say, but I think it is correct that he attended a Muslim-run school for a time). He also said that he worked among Muslims in Chicago neighborhoods. I don’t know if he meant members of the “Black Muslim” sect or just Muslims in general. But it does demonstrate his unique ability to connect with Muslims. And it shows that he is an adept politician in that he downplayed (had to ) his Muslim roots and connections during his presidential campaign (does anyone think that in this day and age anyone who even hinted he might be a Muslim could be elected president of the U.S.?). I think it is a de facto requirement at present in the U.S. that one be a Christian or profess to be in order to get elected president (that might change some day – stranger things have happened, like the election of Obama).

He noted how the whole world is interconnected and thus has mutual interests. In the global economy all nations suffer at a downturn. Disease threatens all. Nuclear weapons threaten all.

And I’ll jump in here and note that just going chronologically doesn’t work here either. So I will jump to the fact that he said that Iran has a right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but that developing nuclear weapons, no. And that is the great irony we have come to and these are my words. The U.S. was the first to develop nuclear weapons and the only nation to ever use them. They are so terrible we are stuck with the quite necessary and difficult task of doing everything we can to make sure no one else who has not already got hold of nuclear weapons does.

President Obama assured his audience that the U.S. in not at war with Islam. I note here that even George W. Bush said the same (but the overall tone from his administration and those who so adamantly supported his policies made it seem otherwise).

In probably one of the most important parts of the speech as far as U.S. policy and justification for it, Obama made it clear that the U.S. was and is justified in going after Al Qaeda (and other extremists) in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the result of the 9/11. He noted with some force and even anguish in his voice that nearly 3,000 innocent people in the U.S. were killed on 9/11.

And then he turned around and said that on the other hand, while we felt compelled to invade Afghanistan (because the 9/11 extremists were based there), our government (then headed by Bush) chose to go into Iraq and that there was much controversy within the U.S. at the time over that. Obama, who had been on record as against the Iraq invasion, implied in his speech that the U.S. made a mistake in doing so and had learned a costly lesson. I think that he essentially admitted that the U.S. had over reached in its rightful authority in Iraq (and I realize that arguments could be made either way on all of this, but in the end, the Iraq invasion does seem to have been a blunder – and even if it all works out, that does not make it right).

The president also proclaimed that the U.S. seeks no permanent military presence in either Iraq or Afghanistan. And I think that is a major policy statement.

President Obama said that he has unequivocally made his position clear that the U.S. will no longer use torture (so I do not know what Dick Cheney meant when he claimed recently in his own defense that even Obama had reserved the right to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” — the right wing nut euphemism for torture). That is a powerful statement that hopefully puts the U.S. back on the high ground of humanity (if we become as ruthless as the terrorists, what do we have left worth saving?).

One part that bothered me was that he pledged several billions of dollars to build schools and hospitals and infrastructure and in economic support for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now probably that is a good idea in that folks with a better standard of living and a better standard thanks to us might be less inclined to become terrorists against us. But it also seems that we are being blackmailed here and there is a question in my mind: who needs this money more? folks over there or folks here at home? (Does not charity begin at home?) But that is the great quandary we always find ourselves in as the world superpower (and one wonders how long at this rate we can hold on to that claim).

And maybe the biggest thing president Obama proclaimed in U.S. foreign policy was his insistence on a two-state solution for the 61-years-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his insistence that Israel quit expanding its settlements into Palestinian territory. And I say, what other solution is there to all that and why have we not insisted on that all along?

He said he supported women’s rights and the right of women to education, which is significant in that conservative Muslims often deny such rights to women (but I note that conservative Christians in this country often put down the idea of women’s rights and seem to promote the idea that women must be subservient to men – it’s all biblical, you know).

President Obama also said that although the U.S. prefers democracy and the rule of law it would only promote its form of government rather than force it upon other nations. But I have to note that wouldn’t it be heck if after all of this that Iraq or Afghanistan, for instance, would wind up with hardline Islamic governments ruled by religious leaders without regard to human rights?

I probably missed some things to comment upon after all, but I’ve probably already gone on too long.

Personally, even though a cable news commentator said his speech contained no real policy statements, I think it was the strongest and most reasonable foreign policy speech I have ever heard from a U.S. president (and even though I was young at the time, my memory goes back to hearing Dwight David Eisenhower).

Obama vs. Cheney: as much as they differ they are remarkably the same…

May 21, 2009

I was struck by the fact that although former Vice President Dick Cheney and current President Barack Obama differ widely in their view of the past eight years and the war on terror, they agree on at least one thing, and maybe more.

President Obama said today that the wars we are fighting will not conveniently end with the signing of a peace treaty, that they are open ended (actually I think he said something like they might go on for as much as ten years – but really that means it’s open ended). And the idea that the wars would be open ended was widely proclaimed by George W. Bush and Cheney.

Cheney is sticking to the line that torture of 9/11-related suspects was necessary – although he insists on using the euphemism of “enhanced interrogation techniques”.  And he holds up the fact that we have not suffered any more attacks on our soil as justification. He seems to plead that only if the president were to release more classified material on info we supposedly received by way of torture, he and the Bush administration would be vindicated in their “harsh” techniques. Personally, I doubt any of the material would prove anything one way or the other. But it seems a strange argument to make in that Cheney and his ilk always argue that secrets must be kept. Of course he says that since the fact that we used torture has been released, the other side of the story should be too. And maybe it should – don’t really know.

The big divide seems to be that Cheney believes that a presidential administration does not and should not follow the law when doing what it deems necessary to keep the American people safe. President Obama thinks otherwise. He seems to think we actually weaken our nation when we give up our principles.

Cheney today lashed out at the New York Times for doing stories that he claimed gave away state secrets to the enemy. I’m not sure what secrets he was referring to, but I see the ongoing problem or conflict of the press being the watchdog on government and the real concern in doing so that legitimately classified national security info might be leaked out.

Back during the Nixon presidency the New York Times and I believe the Washington Post published the so-called Pentagon Papers. The Nixon administration unsuccessfully tried to prevent the publications, arguing that national security was being jeopardized. But my recollection was that what came out of those documents was not info the enemy (in Vietnam) did not know, but the fact that our own government was lying to the public about various facts concerning the war, most notably asserting that we were winning when all indications were to the contrary.

And President Obama said today that although he supported transparency in government he would continue to protect legitimate state secrets but would not seek to withhold information for purely political reasons or just to avoid embarrassment of public officials. And that to me seems a better attitude than Cheney’s trust us, we know what we are doing.

Cheney may feel some comfort in the fact that President Obama has had to make some compromises in his campaign assertions concerning national defense, such as deciding not to release more torture photos and re-instating military tribunals, and even, according to Cheney, holding on to the power to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” or torture if need be (on that last one, I think Cheney is correct. I have not completely followed it).

I only heard part of President Obama’s speech (maybe most of it, not sure) and heard all of Cheney’s.

I noticed that Obama took quite a few digs at the Bush/Cheney record over the past eight years, but he also said that he does not favor continuing to rehash the whole thing (even though he was just doing it) and going for prosecutions.

Cheney for his part sounded kind of bitter, but he did give a strident defense of the Bush/Cheney tactics. He seems to continue to conflate Iraq with 9/11 (and somehow no matter what the facts are, I think it forever will be) and he seemed to casually throw out the weapons of mass destruction assertion even though at last word as far as I know, they never existed.

And it occurs to me that even though I think going into Iraq was a wrong move, I could easily make a case for why we should have gone in. But my case would not be based on any false connection between Iraq and 9/11, but more on the fact that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was violating the no fly zone and weapons inspection agreements and was funding terrorism against Israel. I’m not sure I would agree with my own arguments there, but it would have been a more valid set of reasons than the ever-changing ones we have been given over the years.

Strangely enough in all the rancor between opposing factions on the so-called war on terror, I don’t see much going on now that differs from what Bush/Cheney would have done or a President McCain.

We continue to be in Iraq and we press on (perhaps now a little more vigorously) in Afghanistan.

President Obama has come out in his public statements solidly against interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. That is a difference. But if he has nonetheless retained the power to order it (something I need to check out), then there may not be so much of a difference after all.

I’m sure if I examined transcripts of both speeches given today I would come up with even more things to blog about, but those were the things that jumped out at me from my live view.


Contrary to what some in my household think, I do not spend all my time on this blog or even researching for it, so I do not yet have an answer to the question of what exactly Cheney was referring to when he said the president has retained the right to use enhanced interrogation (torture) techniques. It kind of rang true, but I was not sure. I did read a Feb. 2, 2009-dated piece on the web from Times Online that said Obama issued an executive order to the effect that the CIA could continue to use rendition, which is shipping detainees to nations where anything goes. I’ll keep working on this as I get time. Any help would be appreciated.

ADD 1:

Still keeping my eyes and ears open. I just heard Chris Matthews on his Hardball show (MSNBC) ask top presidential advisor David Axelrod, in reference to Cheney’s assertion, whether Obama retained the torture option. He asked Axelrod the question directly two times and two times did not receive a direct answer. The only thing Axelrod said that came close to an answer was:

“The president is going to do whatever he needs to do to keep this country safe” (that was part of his response the second time he was asked). 

I know there is a better and more direct answer somewhere. I just have not found it.

Not much to be gained from prolonged torture debate…

May 14, 2009

President Obama’s abrupt U turn on releasing more top secret torture photos seems strange, but I am not sure that I don’t agree with his decision.

I am 100 percent against water boarding and other torture, but releasing photos of torture and abuse probably serves little purpose other than to take another dig at the Bush/Cheney failures. I am not sure that it would endanger our troops, but I suppose it would provide more fodder for propaganda for our enemies in the Middle East wars. And why our torture is worse than their much publicized on the web beheadings and other mutilations, I have no idea.

But the bottom line is we know our government tortured poisoners. There is disagreement over whether we got anything useful out of it all (although there are at least strong indications we did not). And most importantly, President Obama has made it the policy that we will cease torturing (of course the liar George W. Bush claimed we did not torture while we were).

We can’t undo or deny what was done in the past. We need to move forward. But whether investigations should or will proceed is a matter for those who instigate and run such investigations to decide, I suppose.

It would seem impractical and highly unjust to me though if lower or mid level or even highly stationed persons were brought to justice but those at the very top, namely Bush/Cheney, were not . We all know that Bush/Cheney ordered the torture (I believe I heard Cheney publicly acknowledge it) and that they ordered the legal opinions that they thought would cover them.

The deciding factor in all of this may well be the American public. I may have not read all the polls or weighed them, but at this point I am unsure of what the public’s attitude is, other than a collective ambivalence, or maybe outright lack of interest to the whole story. Yes, there are those who are simply steadfast against torture, yours truly included, and there are those who figure if it’s done to “bad guys” who cares? But in the vast middle ground I think the public does not really know what to think other than the fact it all seems rather uncomfortable to have to think that torture in the name of the USA has been revealed for the world to see, but gee, maybe it was necessary (I don’t think so).

So personally, as disappointed as I am about the fact that our government broke with a long-standing moral position that we would not torture, I think not much will be gained by wrangling over who is at fault. We know the answer to that. If we start prosecuting former presidents and vice presidents our whole system is in jeopardy, even though I do not believe anyone is above the law.

Would I mind if George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were prosecuted as war criminals? Half of me says no. But the other half says yes. Who would ever want to be president or vice president again if it was thought that after one’s term of office his or her adversaries might prosecute for policy decisions?

And then there is the question of what did Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi know and when did she know it and if she thought torture was so wrong, why did she not speak out earlier?

I don’t know. But I do know that while Bush and Co. had a lock on the presidency and the congress, to speak out would have been political suicide (not that such is a good excuse).

And one last thing. While I would just as soon see that everyone move on from the torture debate, I also think we have a problem from now on out for the safety of any of our military personnel or anyone else who is captured by an enemy. We can hardly urge or exert pressure on enemies to follow the Geneva Convention rules on humane treatment of prisoners when we broke it ourselves. We have lost that tool, perhaps forever.

There was a conspiracy to torture, but prosecution could dismantle our system…

April 26, 2009

(Note: In my last post I hinted I might quit blogging – fat chance, unless my laptop konks out.)

When prosecuting wrong doers do you go after the wrongdoers or the lawyers who gave them “bad advice?”

That seemed to be the question on a couple of Sunday morning news/talk/opinion shows I just watched.

But I’ll cut to the chase here. From the investigative news accounts I have taken in so far it seems abundantly clear that what happened is that former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and others directly or indirectly (a wink and a nod) solicited bad advice from legal counsel to justify what anyone without consulting a lawyer would know was wrong (under the Geneva convention and any sense of morality), that is to torture people.

They told the lawyers what they wanted the lawyers to repeat back to them. The lawyers just had to figure out the right legal justifications and terminology.

So who’s wrong. Well both sides of course. It was a conspiracy.

In my opinionated mind they are all guilty of something akin to the war crimes for which we prosecuted military and governmental leaders of Germany and Japan after World War II.

(We hanged some of them.)

I think the resulting scope of the Bush/Cheney violations or the resulting torture activities is probably much smaller than that of the Axis powers in World War II.

And the problem is that if our government now was to go after Bush and Cheney it might mean the total break down of our system. How could we have a system in which, say, the president of the United States has to fear that in the future he could be prosecuted for a policy decision? And I think that is the question that our current president, Barack Obama, is wrestling with.

While I think that Bush and Cheney knew full well that what they did was wrong, they also rationalized it, perhaps through tortured logic (pun intended, even though it’s not so funny) that it was for the security of the nation (but if you waterboard someone hundreds of times, as has been reported, does that not tend to prove it doesn’t work?. And in my mind, even if it did, it was wrong).

Certainly if Bush and Cheney has perpetrated torture and killings and other war crimes on the scale of Adolf Hitler or Gen. Tojo then there would be no question as to their guilt and need to be prosecuted. But I don’t think it quite matches.

Adding to the cover for our two bad boys is the fact that much of what they were doing and how they were doing it was reported early on. The American public in general seemed to acquiesce.

The most shameful part of all of this is that the only people who were ever jailed and/or otherwise severely punished were some enlisted people in the military.

While I am not at all sure that those punished people were entirely without culpability, giving to the circumstances, that is to say, knowing now that apparently orders from the top came down directly and indirectly to torture prisoners (detainees), I personally believe it would be right that those enlisted personnel be fully pardoned and their ranks reinstated.

Whether there can ever be any prosecutions, I don’t know. But if there are to be, they should be at the higher levels. But then we’re back to Bush and Cheney and the whole idea of prosecuting ex presidents and vice presidents, something that again I think would tear apart our system of government.

The tragedy of our for the most part senseless and every-changing war policies in the Middle East and our economic fiasco brought on by imprudent use of credit point to a moral breakdown that took place in our society. We may be pulling ourselves out of that.

I don’t know, maybe an official statement owning up to the fact that we used poor judgment but will do better in the future is enough.


Whatever leverage the U.S. may have had against other nations or enemies torturing our own citizens has been severely eroded.

You don’t have to follow an illegal order, or do you???

April 23, 2009

While I think some of those GIs we saw in those awful Abu Ghraib photos abusing and torturing prisoners may have looked as they were all having a little too much fun, I realize the terrible dilemma they faced.

The evidence is clear that they were ordered to use harsh treatment (the euphemism for torture) on the prisoners (or detainees, another and strange euphemism) by non-military personnel (who were put in charge of some in the military) and by superior officers (that is not to say that it would not be possible that even then some went beyond what was ordered, although I doubt it).

But the terrible dilemma faced by anyone in the military, especially the lowly enlisted person, is that while you are not supposed to follow illegal orders, if you don’t, you could still be subject to punishment, to include courts martial. And if you do follow illegal orders, you may well still be subject to punishment to include courts martial (just ask Lynndie England and Charles Graner, for example) .

I am not a lawyer or legal authority but I did take Army basic training. I remember it clearly back in February of 1968 at Ft. Lewis, Wa. in a basic training company in the north fort area in what was a small wooden building that was something like a garage. The officer told us that we were not expected to follow illegal orders. “If you were told to march over the cliff,” you would not have to comply, he told us. But soldiers are not lawyers (generally) and have no way of knowing how to interpret the law in all cases (most cases) or, worse still, how the courts martial or courts of appeal might interpret it. We were told that if we chose to disobey what we deemed an illegal order that we’d better be right, because if we were not we would be subject to disciplinary action, to include courts martial.

If I am a guard at a prison and I am ordered or instructed that I should slap a prisoner, or I should make him or her remove her clothes and to otherwise humiliate a prisoner, or if I am ordered to take part in water boarding (but told it is not torture, just a harsh technique), who am I to argue? It might or might not seem morally repugnant to me, but in the eyes of the law it might not be illegal.

Also, as I mentioned in a previous blog, one of the first things a soldier learns in basic training is that superiors always have the double standard of telling you what to do but at the same time retaining deniability if something goes wrong. That is why career military people learn to cover their asses, CYA.

So what I am really trying to say here is that while in all of this harsh treatment and torture stuff, while I think that some of the lower level people may have known on some level that what they were doing was wrong and while they may (or may not) have enjoyed it a little too much, if they had wanted to be on the straight and narrow they would have likely faced a Catch 22.

That’s why the moral compass has to be set at the top.


Many articles I have read suggest that out and out torture is not generally effective. There are many mind games and methods that use deception and the fear of the unknown that produce positive results.

It may (or may not) hurt our intelligence gathering capability to the extent that prisoners might in the future feel that they will not face actual torture. Hopefully we can deal with the wrong doing of the past (and we do need to in order to make sure it does not happen again) without opening up our whole play book to the other side.

Do what you’re told Private, but remember, you did not get the order from me; Condi’s cool with waterboarding…

April 22, 2009

Really, from the beginning didn’t we all know that the poor seemingly lame-brained little girl from I think it was West Virginia, former Army Specialist Lynndie England, seen in those photos molesting (torturing) prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was just being used as a convenient scapegoat?

(Actually, of course, I don’t know what her mental capacity is. I just think she was a small-town girl trying to make her way in a cruel world in which even when you do what you’re told it often works against you.)

It seemed plain to me. Even if you’ve never been in the military you have to have seen that what she was doing was surely sanctioned by higher ups and you had to see by the silly expression on her face that she was probably not the brightest bulb in the lamp.

I was in the Army once upon a time. The first thing you learn is that you are often told to do things in which superiors let you know that while they expect you to do it, if the you-know-what hits the fan they will deny they ever told you to do it. But that does not let you off the hook, you still are expected to do as you are told. Fortunately for me those orders were for minor non-controversial things, such as stealing cleaning supplies from other platoons or companies, but the mind-set is formed early on in basic training.

And while I think more higher ups should have been punished over Abu Ghraib, one of the saddest chapters in the tragedy that is the Iraq War, I was suspicious when they tried to pin it all on former Army Reserve Brigadier Gen. Janis Karpinski, demoting her to colonel before her retirement.

She feels somewhat vindicated now that a U.S. Senate report has been released that reportedly says orders for harsh treatment of prisoners came down from the Bush administration. She claims she knew nothing about what was going on at Abu Ghraib. I don’t know if that is so good for her. Maybe she should have known. But she says that when she found out she asked to be able to assure the Iraqi people that the matter was being investigated and that such would not happen again. She said she was told by a superior to keep her mouth shut.

But here’s my question: Where were the officers when all the reported and photo-documented abuse was taking place? And doesn’t anyone realize that it is highly unlikely that any widespread abuse would have taken place without orders from above? And if the higher ups did not know what was going on then they are all guilty of dereliction of duty.

It is a major injustice to only punish the underlings. In fact if they were doing what they were told that might mitigate their crimes, although I believe at Nurnberg it was decided simply “following orders” is not a good defense.

England is no longer in prison, but she was demoted to private and dishonorably discharged from the Army. Her boyfriend, Specialist Charles Graner, was also demoted and is serving a 10-year prison sentence and will be dishonorably discharged. Several enlisted people were dishonorably discharged and various officers did receive disciplinary actions.

But again the highest price was paid by the underlings.

All evidence suggests the orders to maltreat and torture came down from at least as high as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. And according to the Senate report, then national security advisor Condoleeza Rice gave her verbal okay to water boarding torture back in 2002. Of course we know President George W. Bush apparently had no problem with what was going on, especially while it was still secret.

And judging from a comment I got on a recent blog, and talk radio, I would say a lot of folks don’t seem to care that much, other than the fact it may be somewhat uncomfortable and embarassing for the U.S.

Of course eventually those higher ups will meet a higher authority. Meanwhile they can prepare their answers.

(And if you condone it yourself, good luck when you meet your maker.)


I agree with what I heard Col. Karpinski say on TV about the torture our personnel have inflicted on prisoners (sometimes called detainees):

“…people around the world did hold the United States of America to a higher standard…”

I for one wish we would have kept up that higher standard.