April 27, 2009

Screamers vs. Invokers

Reportedly, the Federalist Society has lately taken to marshaling its formidable legal acumen in defense of former vice-president Richard B. Cheney, Ninth Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee, et al.

Inquires a Federalist Society worthy, presumably rhetorically: Why should we look to, for example, the waterboarding Grand Inquisitors, when we have the U.S. military's SERE program, in which willing waterboardees were quickly un-drowned at their throwing down of the safe signal. Um, because perhaps the former are more analogous?

The Federalist Society's "purpose," as we are duly advised, "entails reordering priorities within the legal system."

Check. However disingenuously, evidently.

Locally, Marquette University law professor and FedSoc operative Rick Esenberg has promised a series of "blog posts" examining the rationale behind the so-called torture memos.

He's tipped his hand quickly, however, with an amusingly revealing choice of action words. In the course of laying out his internal debate's "guidelines," he describes torture critics as "screaming" while on the other hand, torture defenders are calmly "invoking."

In doing so, Prof. Esenberg has left little doubt as to where he thinks the reasonable conclusions lie. So, let's dispense with the ruse.

Not content with only this dichotomous ad hominem, Esenberg erects a Straw Man to boot: The "screamers," says he, are those doing so "without much thought about what was actually done and how often."

Fallacies aside, here's hoping Prof. Esenberg deigns to address the numerous non-screaming torture critics, those who have actually given a lot of thought to what was done, as well as to how often.

Because there appears to be a considerable quantity of them, including, notably, the former Viet Nam POW and current Senator from Arizona (and especially his comic sidekick) that Prof. Esenberg energetically supported for President of the United States.

Whatever Prof. Esenberg's ultimate conclusions, we can all expect the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's in-house torture apologist and guide to good reading, Patrick McIlheran, to be salivating in anticipation.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

when we have the U.S. military's SERE programYeah, and despite his opportunistic caterwauling in VF, Hitch didn't appear to be under all that much duress.

illusory tenant said...

NSFW!

Anonymous said...

I could be wrong - I've demonstrated my ignorance of legal reasoning here and elsewhere - but it seems blindingly obvious to me that the claim "there is some level of pain and suffering which may be inflicted without amounting to torture" is constructed to deliberately miss the point.

There's a reason why the law doesn't specify which physically coercive techniques are allowed and which are not, no?

Clutch said...

There are certainly kinds of suffering that can be inflicted without amounting to torture.

The suggestion that there are amounts of pain and suffering that can be counted on to break a committed enemy's spirit and wring the truth from him (or her), without amounting to torture, is casuistry beyond the point of foolishness.

In general, if you want to know whether it's torture, ask yourself whether the people who use it are counting on the pain and suffering to be sufficiently unbearable that even perceived zealots will be broken by it. I believe this is useful for clearing away the bullshit.

Again, there is absolutely nothing novel in the existence of educated, articulate, legalistic minds, purporting merely to defend their country against uniquely dangerous threats, who advocate torture or provide apologetics for it. These American apologists would not have been out of place in 1970s Argentina, in this respect.

Anonymous said...

As Michael Kinsley once put it, "Once we are rid of the childish notion of an absolute ban on torture, there is no telling where adult minds may take us."

John Foust said...

And here's Kinsley's 12/05 essay where he uses that phrase.

I'm still waiting for the Professor's explanation of why the government not promoting religion is an infringement of the rights of the religious.

Rich said...

"...when we have the U.S. military's SERE program, in which willing waterboardees were quickly un-drowned at their throwing down of the safe signal."

Making stuff up really does not support your cause. In fact I fear that you just can't reason with people that will resort to such fabrications.

Willing participant? You make it sound like we were all lined up to take some Vics 44. Um, no. I fought hard. It took many many men to hold me down. No, NOT a willing participant. Liar.

Safe signal? Are you kidding me? Where do you get this stuff? Liar.

OBTW, I was waterborded in SERE.

Rich said...

"...if you want to know whether it's torture, ask yourself whether the people who use it are counting on the pain and suffering to be sufficiently unbearable that even perceived zealots will be broken by it. I believe this is useful for clearing away the bullshit."

So sayeth Clutch. What happened to "the nation of laws"? Now we just make up our own standards that fit our current needs in order to hope for a slim shot at political gain. How petty......

illusory tenant said...

Hi Rich.

"Where do you get this stuff?"

Right here:

SERE school techniques are designed to simulate abusive tactics used by our enemies. There are fundamental differences between a SERE school exercise and a real world interrogation. At SERE school, students are subject to an extensive medical and psychological pre-screening prior to being subjected to physical and psychological pressures. The schools impose strict limits on the frequency, duration, and/or intensity of certain techniques. Psychologists are present throughout SERE training to intervene should the need arise and to help students cope with associated stress. And SERE school is voluntary; students are even given a special phrase they can use to immediately stop the techniques from being used against them.

"Liar."

Take it up with the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Clutch said...

Willing participant?-

To say SERE participants are willing is not to say that they're happy about it when it happens. The question is: Did you volunteer for the program, in full knowledge that such things would be done to you?

So, yes, willing participant. Obviously.

Did you also know that ultimately it would not be a repeated feature of your life thereafter, and would not be prolonged to the point of harm?

So, not just willing, but reassured and confident of your safety -- despite the (no doubt) deeply unpleasant character of the experience -- by comparison with those suspected (but not necessarily convicted) of terrorism.

Yet again: nothing new here. The wingnut-o-sphere was awash in allusions to frat hazing and military initiations when the news about Abu Ghraib broke; did those wingnuts suddenly acquire moral character when they noticed how outraged the decent people really were, or did they just get shamed into silence?

What happened to "the nation of laws"?-

Please attempt to follow the conversation. The question of what sort of pain and suffering amounts to torture, given what the law(s) say(s), is precisely what's under discussion by Esenberg.

Rich said...

IT,

Please forgive me. I recall a completely different SERE experience than what is described in your post (being quickly undrowned. Um, no.) and in this SASC document (secret code words to make it stop; perhaps "D.O.R." is what they are referring to, but I do not recal any word at my disposal to make it stop).

However, I can't blame you one bit for not having the first hand experience that I have.

Thank you in advance for your patience with me. It's more than I showed you.

Sincerely,
Rich

Rich said...

"Did you volunteer for the program, in full knowledge that such things would be done to you?
So, yes, willing participant. Obviously."

No. Not true. SERE was a CONFIDENTIAL school. It was Confidential specifically so that I would NOT know what was going to happen to me. I did NOT know. PLEASE please please do not make stuff up for political gain. It's very petty.

Clutch said...

No. Not true. SERE was a CONFIDENTIAL school. It was Confidential specifically so that I would NOT know what was going to happen to me.-

It is utterly NON-CONFIDENTIAL!!! that SERE includes POW/interrogation experiences modeled on some of the inhumane treatment to which American POWs have been subjected in the past. You volunteered anyhow.

Then again, you have been trained in evasion... ;-)

Rich said...

I did not know I was going to be waterboarded.

The details were CONFIDENTIAL.