The Red team, the Obama Administration, and torture

Andrew Sullivan makes a list of torture techniques he claims have been endorsed by various people on the right. I’d like to hear politicians and pundits asked to go down that list and state clearly which if any of them are acceptable in some circumstances.

Andrew Sullivan runs down a list of torture techniques that, he charges, various people at National Review Online (and others on the right) have endorsed.  The list includes, Sullivan claims, stress positions. forced hooding and stripping, mock executions, forced nudity, multiple beatings, use of dogs to terrify, freezing prisoners to near death with icewater and naked exposure to very low temperatures, repeated near-drowning, sleep deprivation up to 960 hours,  repeatedly slamming a prisoner with a neck collar against a  wall, confinement in upright coffins, and use of phobias such as the rats in Orwell’s Room 101.

I assume that Sullivan can provide chapter and verse for his claims.  But of course not every member of the Red team (I can’t call them “conservatives” in t his context without straining the language)  writes for NRO, nor did everyone at NRO endorse every one of thosetechniques.   What I’m not clear on is how many or which Red bloggers and pundits, or how many or which Republican politicians, endorse them.

We know that the entire Red team is, virtually unanimously, against holding any official responsible for doing such things, or ordering them done, or facilitating them with purported legal opinions.  We know that they are, virtually unanimously, against giving the people subjected to such techniques civilian trials at which they can the use as evidence against them of statements they made after undergoing them.  And of course against moving prisoners from Guantanamo to mainland prisons where their treatment might be subject to closer scrutiny.  But many on the right. starting with George W. Bush, claim to be against “torture.”

What we don’t know is many of them, or which of them, other than Charles Krauthammer and Donald Rumsfeld, are shameless enough to stand up and say, “Yes, I’m for waterboarding,” or “Yes, I’m for hypothermia,” or “Yes, I’m for sleep deprivation,” or “Yes, I’m for stress positions.”

Every one of those techniques is, in my view, clearly torture.  And of course if any of them were done to an American by a foreign government or by a terrorist group, all of us would regard them as torture.

So I offer a challenge to the inhabitants of Red Blogistan.  Go through Sullivan’s list, and state clearly which of those techniques you would be prepared to have used against captives of the United States Government, and which you regard as clearly over the line.

And I hate to say this, but some of the signals coming out of Washington make me want to ask the same question of some spokesman for the current Administration.  I’d really like to hear that all those things are not now being done in my name, under my flag.  I’d also like to believe that most of my fellow-citizens would, like the Father of Our Country, recoil in horror from doing any of those things.  But that pretty clearly isn’t the case.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

9 thoughts on “The Red team, the Obama Administration, and torture”

  1. For just over a week short of a year, Obama has kept imprisoned people he knows to be innocent. Many of them were kept imprisoned by Bush for seven years before that. That may not constitute torture, but it's not nice, and, sadly, the idea that America, even under a "liberal" president, could do this, is no longer shocking. It sickens me that I will have to vote for Obama in 2012 just because any Republican would be worse.

  2. "It sickens me that I will have to vote for Obama in 2012 just because any Republican would be worse."

    So it goes.

  3. I agree with you, Henry, but the Mau-Mauing Obama's taken for just wanting to move prisoners to the mainland, not necessarily restoring Habeas, has been incredible, with almost no pushback from Dem's.

  4. And, of course, Obama was bequeathed hundreds of people that might be monsters against whom we've no evidence, or who might have been radicalized by unjust detention – leaving him only awful options.

  5. Obama's sole option is to prosecute under federal criminal statutes or to release. Anything else is preventive detention. If he has any other option, then the United States is no longer a republic; it is a dictatorship, albeit one in which the dictator changes every four or eight years. If Obama can keep innocent Yemeni people imprisoned without charges, then he can keep you or me imprisoned without charges. The fact that he is a more benign dictator than Bush was is small, and perhaps only temporary, comfort.

  6. I keep hearing people say what Henry says, and I keep not understanding it.

    The "war on terror" is imaginary, but the war with al Qaeda and the Taliban is perfectly real. When enemy fighters are captured in wartime, they're held for the duration of the conflict: not as criminals after conviction, but simply as captive enemies. Insofar as we capture people not on the battlefield, the question can arise about whether they were really fighters. But that sort of question is answered in a military status determination hearing, not in a criminal trial.

  7. "Insofar as we capture people not on the battlefield" refers to the vast majority of those we have imprisoned for up to eight years, so Mark actually largely agrees with my point. But to what extent is there even a "battlefield"? The underwear bomber was not captured on the battlefield, and the 9/11 hijackers, had they been captured, would not have been captured on the battlefield; they were all criminals violating American law in America. As to those we capture in Afghanistan or Iraq (as opposed to having them turned in to us for ransom or otherwise), don't we do so more by a process comparable to arresting them as criminal suspects than by seizing them during a battle?

    Finally, Mark begs the question by referring to the "war" with al Qaeda and the Taliban. Is it a war when the enemy is not a state and can never surrender, thereby ending the conflict? Or will the conflict end when we withdraw all troops from whatever countries we have them in? (Do we even know which countries these are at the moment?) But they can still attack our embassies. If the conflict will never end, then those we capture need never be released, even if they are innocent. Mark says that "the question can arise about whether they were really fighters," but Obama feels that he can hold them even if this question is settled in their favor, and Congress (of course), lets him get away with it.

  8. In the preceding comment, I asked, "Is it a war when the enemy is not a state and can never surrender, thereby ending the conflict?" I should have asked, "Is it a war when the enemy is not a state and can never surrender nor to whom we can ever surrender, thereby ending the conflict?" For, if this were a war, then we could lose it and well as win it.

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