Wednesday, January 2, 2008

"Turbo"-Charged Idiocy About Torture

Roughly thirty years ago, the late Johnny Carson unveiled the masterpiece in his collection of sketch-comedy characters: Floyd R. Turbo, the plaid-wearing people's pundit.

Imagine a genetic experiment that produced a hybrid of Elmer Fudd and George W. Bush (especially the familiar vacant stare) and you'll get the basic idea of Mr. Turbo's appearance and general demeanor.

Taking advantage of a local television station's offer to air guest editorials from the public, Mr. Turbo (who once helpfully explained that his middle initial R stood for “Arthur”) would materialize from time to time to impart his rustic wisdom about current affairs.

Here, for instance, is his take on nuclear energy:

"And what's all this fuss about plutonium? How can something named after a Disney character be dangerous?... They say atomic radiation can hurt your reproductive organs. My answer is, so can a hockey stick, but we don't stop building them.”

Carson once explained that Turbo was meant to be “the epitome of the redneck ignoramus,” but the character resembles none of the rednecks I've been honored to know. As written and performed, Turbo embodied one of those “Every Town Has 'Em” personalities – the self-appointed seer whose supply of certitudes greatly outweighs his inventory of facts, and who is given to expressing those certitudes in the most graceless way imaginable.

What Carson and his writing staff created was an uncannily prophetic representation of the variety of punditry that typifies contemporary conservatism: Give old Floyd a decent haircut and an expensive suit and he's ready to guest-host The O'Reilly Factor or Hannity and Colmes.

Give him the top editorial post at WorldNetDaily and a Creator's Syndicate column, and Floyd could just as easily fill in for Joseph Farah.

I was prompted to think of Turbo's dubious sagacityas I read Mr. Farah's latest homily regarding the moral virtues of torture – or at least of that method of torture called waterboarding, which Farah insists isn't actually torture.

The fact that “there is a growing chorus of opposition against any further use of waterboarding” is clear evidence to Farah that “Americans are simply losing their ability to distinguish right from wrong.... Up is down, day is night, left is right and right is wrong.”

Yes, our country is in the throes of a moral crisis: Apparently, most Americans still oppose torture.

The use of waterboarding is morally appropriate, Farah insists, because the Bush administration tells us it was used to break “two of al-Qaida's top operatives – Khalid Skeikh Mohammed ... and Abu Zubaida.... In both cases, there is reason to believe planned terrorist attacks were foiled as a result of this technique.”

The only “reason to believe” such a claim is the word of an administration that has not told the truth about any issue of public consequence.

For Farah, waterboarding – better described as controlled drowning – is perhaps the most humane of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that should be used against terrorist suspects. (Like most commentators of his ilk, Farah simply refers to such detainees as “terrorists,” since he has a Soviet prosecutor's confidence in the guilt of anyone trapped in the machinery of state detention). But most importantly, torture must be permissible because Jack Bauer approves of it.

Let's not tie the hands of future Jack Bauers who will need to do what they have to do to save lives,” pleads Farah.

It would have been helpful for somebody to let Floyd Turbo know that the name given to the element called plutonium had nothing to do with a cartoon dog. And some kind soul really should disabuse Joe Farah of the idea that Jack Bauer is a real person – or, more to the point, that the fictional character called Jack Bauer is in any sense a sound moral role model.

He's not a real person, Joe.

According to Farah, controlled drowning, although an effective way to break a subject's will, isn't torture.

My definition of torture is simple,” he continues. “It involves physical or mental abuse that leaves lasting scars. Cutting off fingers, toes, limbs – that would be torture. Forcing prisoners to play Russian roulette – that would be torture. Sticking hot pokers in the eyes of prisoners – that would be torture.”

So unless the procedure involves death or mutilation, it isn't to be considered torture, from Farah's perspective. Additionally, waterboarding doesn't make the cut because “the US military waterboards hundreds of our own soldiers every year ... [as] part of the conditioning Special Forces troops undergo to prepare for battle and the possibility of capture by the enemy.”

Wait a minute: Against what contingency are Special Forces troops being “conditioned” here? The obvious assumption is that captured US troops might be subjected to waterboarding by an enemy.

If US troops were captured by, say, Iran, and some of them were subjected to waterboarding, I doubt that Farah would have any difficulty considering such an atrocity to be “torture.”

But as an apologist for the Bush Regime's most heinous innovation – the institutionalization of torture – Farah might find himself caught in the same conundrum that recently trapped Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, chief legal adviser to the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions.

A few weeks ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) asked Gen. Hartmann essentially the same question: How would the military's legal community react if the Iranian government used water torture to extract vital strategic information from a captured US soldier?

I am not prepared to answer that question,” responded Gen. Hartmann, the kind of reply one offers when it's too dangerous to speak the obvious truth.

Hartmann's performance prompted naval Lt. Commander Andrew Williams, a member of the Judge Advocate General corps, to resign his commission in disgust.

There was a time when I served with pride,” wrote Williams in a letter to his local newspaper in Gig Harbor, Washington. “Sadly, no more.”

Thank you General Hartmann for finally admitting the United States is now part of a long tradition of torturers going back to the Inquisition,” continued a bitterly disillusioned Williams. “Waterboarding was used by the Nazi Gestapo and the feared Japanese Kempeitai [military police]. In World War II, our grandfathers had the wisdom to convict Japanese Officer Yukio Asano of waterboarding and other torture practices in 1947, giving him 15 years hard labor. Waterboarding was practiced by the Khmer Rouge at the infamous Tuol Sleng prison.... [T]he United States Army court martialed a soldier for the practice in 1968 during the Vietnam conflict.”

It didn't start in the "War on Terror": U.S. and allied troops waterboard a captured Viet Cong fighter.

Farah, a veritable Brian Boitano when it comes to skating on the surface of important questions, doesn't seem to know much about the history of waterboarding, and isn't inclined to examine the implications of institutionalizing the practice.

Professor Darius Rejali of Reed College, author of the new book Torture and Democracy, points out that waterboarding was widely practiced by US occupation forces in the Philippines in the early 20th Century (something I've discussed before). “Returning soldiers brought water torture back to their civilian jobs as policemen in the 1910s, and it soon appeared in military prisons and police stations in large cities and small towns, especially in the American South. By the 1920s, one can find the full encyclopedia of modern water torture already written up in American newspaper accounts and trial transcripts.”

Waterboarding was one of the relatively refined, “clean” forms of torture that thrived in police departments nationwide between 1902 and 1931, observes Rejali. This subculture of official abuse was able to thrive precisely because people were sold on the spurious definition Farah is trying to peddle – that is, only practices that result in dismemberment, disfigurement, or death can be regarded as torture. Because the preferred methods left no marks, the public wasn't aware of widespread police torture until the American Bar Association published an expose in 1931.

As Rejali points out, where torture is concerned “there's no real boundary between `there' and `here.' It would be ignoring history to assume that what happens in an American-run prison in Iraq qill stay in Iraq. Soldiers who learn torture techniques abroad get jobs as police when they return, and the new developments in torture you read about today could yet be employed in a neighborhood near you.”

When people can't speak intelligently about cruelty, they aren't likely to be able to protect themselves against tyranny at home,” concludes Rejali.

Unfortunately, too many conservatives of Farah/Turbo variety are incapable of such critical thinking about government power when the conversation turns to its most destructive manifestations -- such as war and torture.

Dum spiro, pugno!


Anonymous said...

Oh great, and all those "veterans" will of course be on the fast track to get jobs as cops. I guess they'll love their new taser's and will impress their bosses with their skill at "liberating" information from those damn dope heads. Or anybody else for that matter that gets in their way. Law enFORCEment is going to rise to a new level real soon. Thanks for the history lesson, hope and pray we aren't sovereignly doomed to repeat it.

Al Newberry said...

So, when is Farah going to willingly submit to a televised event where he will be waterboarded by an enemy operative?

Al Newberry said...

I just sent the following e-mail to Mr. Farah:

Hello, Mr. Farah.

I was informed of your article about waterboarding from this site:

It's great news that you don't believe waterboarding is torture. With this in mind, I challenge you to arrange for a televised event on which you submit to being waterboarded by an enemy operative.

Why an enemy operative? Well, so that nobody can charge you of cheating by having a friendly armed forces employee perform a "fake" waterboarding on you for public relations reasons.

This would be a great service to our country. Finally, the public would see that waterboarding is indeed not a form of torture. You will have shown them the truth.

I look forward to seeing the date and time of this televised event posted on the Worldnetdaily home page.

Have a great day.

Al Newberry.

drs said...

As you note, it is unlikely in the extreme, given the Bush admin. patent disregard for the truth, that KSM and Abu Zubaydah actually divulged critical intel during torture.

However, we do know that an American citizen, Jose Padilla, was imprisoned indefinitely without charges for years and subjected to psychological torture based largely on the word given by these two terrorists under torture.

Another prisoner named al Habashi (who was not a terrorist) also "confessed" to Padilla's guilt when tortured by the CIA.

In addition, the torture of one, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, resulted in some of the bogus intel about Iraqi links to al Qaeda.

All claims that I've seen so far concerning the efficacy of torture have been very generic. Even former CIA operative John Kiriakou, during his high-profile interview, didn't give any concrete examples, but said that the waterboarding "*probably* saved lives".


dixiedog said...

I read Farah's piece early on and I was disappointed in his framing of waterboarding as an innocuous exercise that shouldn't be considered torture. And, as soon as I opened my reader and read your RSS heading "'Turbo'-Charged Idiocy About Torture" I immediately suspected it must have something to do with what Farah wrote. I had to come right over quickly and take a gander at what you wrote. I was right...hehe.

Indeed, I agree with your take on this completely. I also saw in Farah's piece a dichotomy of sorts. For one thing, he states “Americans are simply losing their ability to distinguish right from wrong.... Up is down, day is night, left is right and right is wrong” as you quoted (and I do agree with that aspect), yet he is displaying exactly that kind of depraved ill in his piece. And using a Hollyweird-concocted character, of all things, to promote this kind of argument is nigh salacious and disingenuous since he speaks so unfondly of Hollyweird much of the time. I do too, but I never use it's crap creations and characters to encapsulate an argument for "right" behavior, and certainly not torture in any form. An oxymoron, usually.

I think the core problem here, though, is the accepted definition of the word "torture." Most folk, regardless of creed, even Farah, tend to agree that "torture" abstractly is wrong, but there is disagreement about waterboarding specifically being torture.

The reason I agree with his statement that Americans are increasingly becoming essentially moral relativists is because if we knew right from wrong clearly and unambiguously, there wouldn't be millions of abortions annually taking place among other things. I mean, if I was given a choice b/w the two, I'd certainly choose waterboarding over being aborted, after all.

People generally are averse to torture, not particularly because of some God-given discernment (when many today have no such belief and therefore discernment anyway), but because it's simply unlawful under Art. 17 of the Third Geneva Convention (1949), ratified by the U.S. in 1955. Also Hollyweird celebs and the media make noise about it and often speak negatively against it. Yada, yada.

Good, of course, on that particular matter, but it's no real measure of people's ability to discern right from wrong independently of those influences, which is not a positive sign of the aggregate populace's moral fiber in and of itself.

In fact, all that would be needed to change ordinary commoners' rather whimsical opinions about the "rightness" or "wrongness" of anything, including torture, would be to simply to mangle word definitions. Designate some human-beings as "non-persons" and some forms of torture as "enhanced interrogation techniques," and, just like with abortion on "fetuses," certain tortures could commence easily with little noise from the public at large. Of course, anyone can fall for chicanery, if they're not careful.

Anyway, another excellent piece Will. BTW, could you divulge when your book will be out?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing the news about Andrew Williams' resignation of conscience to my attention. This ought to be on the front page, but of course it won't be.

If Congress were held to the standards proclaimed by the U.S. at the Nuremburg tribunals, Capitol Hill would be a ghost town.

Unknown said...

Very good. Scared people will justify almost anything that they think will alleviate their fright. "Fear not, for I am with thee, be not afraid, for I am thy God..." America is very afraid, and I think it reveals a spiritual condition.

Anonymous said...

I'll quote myself: "The human mind is sacrosanct; no man can justify attempting to invade and manipulate the mind of another. The mind is free, and no thought can be a crime. Only actions can be punished, not motives. God alone reserves the right to judge a man's heart. Contempt for others is not a civil crime; habitual bad behavior is. Causing needless sorrow, fear, terror and other forms of mental stress are wrong. Torture in the slightest degree is a sin. No presumed need of the State trumps such a thing. If a man is your enemy, capture him, imprison him, even execute him; but his mind and heart remain off limits by God's Word."

If we must torture to win, we deserve to lose.

Mike said...

No doubt this conversation has occurred in many places. In my conversations, Liberals and sometimes Libertarians will sometimes adopt a form of pre-emptive self defense and endorse various acts including waterboarding, up to and even war. What absolutely astonishes me, however, are the number of self-identified religious conservatives who do so. Do these individuals know that our ancestors deplored these acts and prosecuted them? Yes--they do know. And they realize that such acts are absolutely contrary to the Bill of Rights and are therefore unconstitutional. They also know--and understand--that waterboarding is just another form of pre-emptive warfare--attacking a person--or a country--before you know whether or not they even intend to attack you. Many are aware that some 80% of individuals imprisoned in Iraq (according to Coalition sources) and end up being questioned under duress turn out to be innocent individuals turned in for financial gain and other motives unrelated to the war. Without exception, however, their view is this: 'So what? Waterboarding (or pre-emptive warfare) might protect my family.'
Did you get that 'might' part?
Scary, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Farah says, "Sticking hot pokers in the eyes of prisoners – that would be torture."

This article describes the condition of Omar Deghayes, a former prisoner of the US government: "Deghayes had been blinded in his right eye as a result of 'US mistreatment' in Guantanamo."

I don't know (and I'm not sure I want to find out) precisely what sort of mistreatment he received in Guantanamo, but I wonder whether Farah would approve of it?

Anonymous said...

Every time I am tempted to take Mr Farah and his War Net Daily website seriously I am reminded that just last week he endorsed none other than Duncan Hunter as presidential nominee for the Republican party. Duncan Hunter who ever really heard of him before the primaries and whoever will remember him afterwards. Ah the deep well of profound thought that one can glean from Mr Farah's literary works. Great composition for conservative wing of Boobus Americanus.

Anonymous said...

Excellent letter,

but I disagree on one point:

Jack Bauer does exist. He shot young Sammy Weaver in the back, murdered Vicky Weaver with a head shot from some distance, he burned 80 people at Waco, he is active in the "drug war".......

Oh Jack Bauer does exist, surprising how he is worshiped instead of reviled ("saving lives" as he does)

Furthermore, "waterboarding" newspeak for Chinese water torture, should better be reefered to by its real name.

Anonymous said...

I sent this to Joseph Farah - no response yet:

Mr. Farah:

To my understanding, you confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Please review the following scriptures and then provide me with your thoughts on torture in light of those scriptures:


Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
Romans 12:19-20

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies (could that be Moslem extremists?), bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."
Matthew 5:43-45

Also, please note, Mr. Farah, that your opinion that torture contradicts the opinions of King James of England and George Washington, 1st President of the United States - as you stated:

"My definition of torture is simple: It involves physical or mental abuse that leaves lasting scars. Cutting off fingers, toes, limbs – that would be torture. Forcing prisoners to play Russian roulette – that would be torture. Sticking hot pokers in the eyes of prisoners – that would be torture."

Concerning King James:

Persons accused of state crimes very frequently were interrogated with the use of specific techniques, including the rack, the thumbscrew, and waterboarding. King James I personally described the process in The Kings Booke (1606). He would, on the advice of his officers, “approve no new torture,” but he would certainly avail himself of the existing practices. In ascending order of severity they were: thumbscrews, the rack and waterboarding. That’s right. Waterboarding was considered the most severe of the official forms of torture. Worse than the rack and thumbscrews.

George Washington found out that his soldiers were going to make Hessian prisoners run the gauntlet (which may or may not be to the death according to Wikipedia). Washington issued the following statement:

“Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”

“‘Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands,’ he wrote."

- George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775

Commentary on Washington's policy:

In all respects the prisoners were to be treated no worse than American soldiers; and in some respects, better. Through this approach, Washington sought to shame his British adversaries, and to demonstrate the moral superiority of the American cause.

Note that Washington's treatment of prisoners worked, because Many of the German Hessians in fact joined the revolutionaries in their fight against the English and stayed here in America to be free when the war was won.

General Washington agreed with the Word of God. Do you?

Very truly yours,

Robert W. Bright

Anonymous said...

You should see what the blockheads over at are saying about Mr. Williams resigning.

It is a wonder that we don't already live in a military dictatorship. The stupidity of the average american, whether military or civilian, never ceases to amaze me.

Anonymous said...

I like Mr. Newberry's suggestion that Mr. Farah voluntarily submit to a televised waterboarding by non-friendlies just to demonstrate the procedure's "harmless" nature.

Add, say, Alan Dershowitz voluntarily submitting to the insertion of "sterile needles" under his fingernails while undergoing a hostile deposition - alongside the waterboarded Mr. Farah - and we'd finally have a genuinely useful and entertaining reality teevee show!

Anonymous said...

What are the common characteristics of Americans:

1.) Gross sexual degeneracy.
2.) Extreme physical cowardice.
3.) Always, always,always, the lip smacking sadism that link 1 and 2 together.

America, we have not yet begun to torture.

Anonymous said...

You wrote: "Taking advantage of a local television station's offer to air guest editorials from the public..." I guess you're too young to remember the day when this wasn't an "offer." It was a requirement to get the broadcasting license.
Tom Wood

rae said...

I've been quietly perusing your blog for some time now and silently cheering you on. This post finally made me break my silence and at the same time left me speechless in indignation. Others have said it better before me, but I have to add my voice. Thankfully Farah does not speak for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was reading bits of your criticism of Floyd R. Turbo. I think Carson's humor was meant to be ironic. And by the way, what is a "Christian individualist"? It's also obvious that pompous chickenhawks like you have never served in the military. Lee Iacocca was right when he said torture IS the dark side. Hate to say it, but most Americans are not bound by one set of ideology or another. We take the best ideas from EVERYWHERE. I do see you have some great taste in music, however. Thin Lizzy RULE!!!

William N. Grigg said...

I'm gratified that you share my enthusiasm for Thin Lizzy. Given that Phil Lynott's compositions include such anti-war songs as "Military Man," "Soldier of Fortune," and "Out In the Fields," if you consider him a "pompous chickenhawk" as well.

No, I've never been paid to kill strangers on behalf of the state. As I understand the term, however, "chickenhawk" refers to someone who declined to enlist in the military, yet consistently promotes war - people such as Joe Farah, for example, or Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Newt Gingrich, Dick "Other Priorities" Cheney, and the incumbent Murderer-in-Chief.

The simplest definition of a "Christian Individualist" is someone who believes in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and understands that the Golden Rule and the Second Great Commandment are the foundation of all human action. What this means, in practical terms, is that aggression is never morally justified, whether carried out by individuals or in the name of the murderous abstraction called the State. Nobody who is a disciple of Jesus Christ would countenance torture.