Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tortured Logic

[I can't help myself: I write political posts, but more often than not, I haven't posted them. But what the heck. There are some things I believe strongly, and in these most consequential of political times, where, as far as I'm concerned, the existence of the US is literally in the balance, I'm gonna post them. It's not like it'll make any difference, other than pissing off some of my readers; which is decidedly NOT what I want to do. So, as a compromise, I've decided that from now on when I post these screeds, I'll do it on weekends, when not as many people drop by. It's in no way my intention to turn this into a political blog: my goal remains to provide insight, information and hopefully some humor as it relates to the practice of surgery. But on some things, I can't hold my tongue.]

President Bush told the world, "The United States does not torture." (I did NOT..Have..Abusive... Relations...with that prisoner... Mister Zubayda...) The CIA now admits to waterboarding at least three prisoners. So there are two possibilites: Bush is a liar, or the US has undefined waterboarding as torture. Either way, it only adds to the degradation of our image in the world.

After WW II, the US prosecuted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding our own. During the Vietnam War, a GI was convicted in a court martial for waterboarding a Vietnamese prisoner. It's a technique used by the Khmer Rouge, the North Vietnamese, in Chad, and in the Spanish Inquisition. And, it should be noted, its purpose was to get people to confess to things they hadn't done. Like being witches, or pawns of the criminal US government (as in the case of North Vietnam.) Not, in other words, to get at the truth. Under such torture, it's said, people will say anything. It's not a lie detector. Except, evidently, in the US.

But that's neither here nor there. The point is this: waterboarding is torture, and has been so designated by the UN Convention Against Torture, not to mention the US's own standards. Until now. So. Who do you think we are, George Bush? If you want to argue, like Jack Bauer, that torture works and is justified, then do so and make your case. Does it, in fact, produce reliable information? Is it the best or only way? Is it in our long-term interest to be known as a nation that tortures? To survive, must a democracy be as bad as the baddest? People so argue. Man up, as they say, and give us your best shot. Just don't lie to us, or insult us by saying black is white. There's already more than enough bullshit to go around.

And, for the record, I happen to think that becoming like our enemies, in the case of Islamic terrorism, is exactly the wrong way to win the war, which, in the most final of final analyses, is a war of ideas. I think our ideas have transformative power, which is, in part, why Osama, et al, keep convincing George Bush to piss all over them. Is what I think.


A'Llyn said...

I think so too...thanks.

Susan from the Pacific Northwest said...

How can we let our country do this??? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

You left the Gestapo out.

The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture - "enhanced interrogation techniques" - is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

- Andrew Sullivan

Anonymous said...

I'd encourage you to weigh in on the coming election. I think that it is important to hear reasonable voices discuss the issues, rather than the usual babble from the chattering classes.

Sid Schwab said...

Jscarry: there are plenty of weekends between now and then!

Patrick Bageant said...

You are in good company. Today I read Hamdi v. Rumsfeld in which Justice O'Connor, writing for a plurality, states:

"It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation's commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad."

She was talking about detaining citizens without due process, but she would likely apply that same conclusion to water-boarding, too.

Only kind of relatedly, I would like to make a humble suggestion for a weekend post, if I may. Us young buckaroos don't even remember Reagan. I'm twenty five years old, and my first political memory is candidates Dukakis and Bush posted above the blackboard . . . in my kindergarden classroom.

Tell me, do you trust this administration more or less than Reagan? Than Johnson? The more I learn, the more I feel like the country is controlled by a small group of crooked snakes. I guess people have felt that way to one degree or another for the last forty odd years. Are things worse today?

I realize it's a little outside the scope of Surgeon's Blog, but hell, why not share some experience with us kids?

rcktgrl88 said...

Hi Sid,

I heard you on a download of Dr. Anonymous last night. Can't wait to read your book.

Keep these political screeds coming. What's just as appalling as waterboarding is the fine young men and women accused of employing such tactics who now say they were only following orders. Gee, where have we heard that phrase before?

Love your blog, even though I am new to it. Keep on truckin'


Sid Schwab said...

Patrick: Reagan is and was a mystery to me in so many ways: revered quite literally (the Republican debates when they were all but praying to him and claiming his beatific smile from heaven), despite having raised taxes, having questionable personal "family values," engaged in clearly unconstitutional practices (Iran/Contra). I always considered him a willing vessel -- not unlike George Bush -- for the ideologues hiding behind the curtain and pulling the levers. Spoke very well, especially when reading the words written for him; and like GWB, not so much when on his own. His invasion was successful, however; albeit on a country the size of a postage stamp, done to save the world for medical students who couldn't get into US schools. Then claimed we were once again "walking tall." There's where it all began!

Bongi said...

great arguement. wrong is wrong whether it is done to us or by us, whoever the us may be. the us and them mentality can be so destructive. i see a similar disproportionate appropriation of guilt in my country. it seems when you are in a position of power it is easy to excuse abuse of that power, even when you know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of abuse of power.

i look forward to reading your blog on weekends.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man, you're a subversive.

Welcome to the club; we're in good company (Tom Paine, Tom Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, Martin Luther King).

Right on!

rlbates said...

Thanks, Dr Sid. Torture is torture. Can't think of any time I would feel it was justified.

Justine Johnston Hemmestad said...

Dr. Schwab,
I have two parts to my question, if you don't mind:), both from an objective know that I'm a passionate Obama supporter, but in an objective way, (not an apologetic way), do you think that Bush may suffer from PTSD? Some of the historical leaders of the world regarded their countries as more than as their responsibility, but kind of as their children, of them, an extension of them. I know first-hand that in PTSD a major symptom is avoidance, and being as how he avoids diplomacy with suspect countries and jumps to react, it may stand to reason. I don't think it would justify his heady actions but I think it might explain a bit. Just a thought I've had and wondered about.

Also, I'm studying connective tissues in my A&P course now and I (little do I know) was surprised to learn that blood is a connective tissue. Therefore, I wondered what some of the effects of trauma like torture are on blood, if their are any... It seems like there would be, which is what made me think of it while reading your post. There must be effects on nervous tissue, but it seems likely there may be effects on blood too?

Justine Johnston Hemmestad said...

A slight amendment to my comment:)...I didn't explain why I though Bush may suffer from PTSD, so I meant to suggest PTSD due to the devastating physical blow to his country in the first year of his administration.

Not Important said...

Dr. Schwab,

Thanks for the discussion. More people need to be aware of these issues.

Sid Schwab said...

Justine: as to PTSD, I don't see it. It was a trauma to us all. For a while after 9/11 nearly everyone in the country was with him. Afganistan was okay, the world agreed. He could have gotten to and kept the high ground. Addictive personality? Maybe. Daddy issues? Perhaps. A need to believe he's right in all things, for whatever reason, and surrounding himself with people who serve that end, and some who used his defects to manipulate him (Cheny, et al): that's what I see the problem is.

I don't recall hearing blood referred to as a connective tissue, but I suppose it could be so considered. WIthout looking it up, I think of connective tissue as having certain proteins, fibroblasts, etc. Among the effects of trauma of any sort on blood are the rendering of it hypercoagulable; DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulopathy); hemolysis...

Justine Johnston Hemmestad said...

Dr. Schwab,
Thank you so very much for your help and direction in the traumatic effects on blood. I found DIC extremely interesting.

Thank you also for your input on Bush having/not having PTSD. Your interpretation of his problem is probably much more accurate.

Anonymous said...

I've read many descriptions, but your picture trumps them all. I do believe there is a strong case to be made for charging Cheney and Bush and more with war crimes. If someone were doing it to our soldiers, it would be!

Pete said...

Dr. Schwab,
That successful Reagan invasion you reference has gotta be Grenada...I was buttoning up my combat fatigues and mentally reviewing my own combat plan as a Hospital Corpsman back then, but before I could finish tying the laces on my boots, the damn war was over. Heck, the flight from San Diego to Grenada lasted longer than the entire "war". It seems so naive now, but back then, when I was young and stupid, the cold war was frankly, boring, so Grenada had me all pumped up for about 48 hours.

Your Tortured Logic post is spot on....

SeaSpray said...

Presidential candidate, Senator McCain is a prime example of what you are talking about. He was in the Hanoi Hilton enduring torture for 5 years or so. Confessed to war crimes against the North Vietnamese that he didn't commit because of the torture.

I know there are people out there calling him a traitor but maybe they should have walked in his shoes first. He also refused release but opted to stay with the other soldiers instead in spite of the torture.

Didn't he stand up against torture being used when all the news about Abu Ghraib made it in the headlines? McCain Amendment?

I wish no one ever tortured and there were no innocent people being killed anywhere.

No I haven't been inspired by any one candidate as yet but thought of him because of your post and the comments.

scalpel said...

Sometimes we have to do things we'd rather not do. For example, we would prefer not to kill any innocent civilians during wartime, but sometimes we do anyway, because we feel that the end justifies the means. Hiroshima and Nagasaki come to mind.

Regardless, George W. Bush won't return to the White House again, unless Laura decides that her experience as first lady qualifies her to be president. And none of the candidates remaining this year are likely to support torture.

Unless something really bad happens that makes them reconsider. Again.

Sid Schwab said...

scalpel: I suppose I could split hairs and say the civilian casualties are, at least in some sense, accidental. The decision to torture is deliberate, and is the prime intention. In the ticking time-bomb scenario, I admit to thinking if it actually works, it might be kept on the table. But there are pretty credible sources that say it doesn't, unless the aim is to produce a false confession. Bush tells us it has averted attacks. He also raised terror alert status every time there was bad news about him out there; and the few arrests that have been touted (remember Ashcroft trotting out to announce the latest triumph?) have all ended up to be overblown, and under prosecuted.

scalpel said...

KSM was one of the three who were reportedly waterboarded, and we supposedly got quite a bit of useful information from him (and he probably squealed like a pig, too).

If you are going to split hairs, I guess I can too. Our forms of "torture" don't physically harm the prisoners. Saddam's henchmen used to hang people from hooks on the ceiling by their wrists tied behind their backs, for example, long after their shoulders dislocated. And cut off fingers and tongues, among other things. And push people off of buildings.

But the war was unjust, nevertheless, I suppose. And we are no better than them, as long as you split the proper hairs.

Sid Schwab said...

scalpel: I'd love to know how much of KSM's info came from torture, and how much from the non-torture techniques that were described as used on Saddam. In the best of all worlds (well, until there's world peace and everyone is holding hands) we'd be seen as better than all of that, even the "lesser" torture methods. If we are trying to export our ideals, yada yada... I think it's important in the long run.

And I wouldn't call the war unjust (which is not to say it isn't). I'd call it stupid, because it's given OBL exactly what he wanted. Every day we stay, he gets more of what he wants. Which is why it's so stupid: if we leave too precipitously, he gets more. It was the worst thing any president has done, ever, and if it doesn't literally destroy us, it'll have brought us down for a long, long time. It was unjust to US, I guess.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter whether torture works. It debases both the torturer and the tortured.
It debases our humanity.
In that way, it's like capital punishment, it's horrible for its victims but even more horrifying is the degradation of the torturers and executioners.
THEY become less than human and those who are tacit approvers acquire the same corruption.

Doctor David said...

I couldn't agree with you more! I can't imagine we gain ANY useful information from torturing prisoners. I'm sure they eventually will say anything to make it stop, just as the victims of the Spanish Inquisition did.

Your most important point, though, was your last one. This is a war of ideas, and if we have to sacrifice our ideals to "win the war", we haven't won at all. They have. Because we will be no better than them.

Sid Schwab said...

beauzeaux: your point is an excellent one, although I'm sure there are some who'll say it's just another unfortunate but necessary side effect, like the tens of thousands who return from war permanently ruined. The intransigence of such a mindset is a big reason why it may never change.

Midwife with a Knife said...

I totally agree. I once read (sorry I don't remember where) someone who wrote that if we can't do something to our own prisoners/crime suspects, we probably ought not to be doing it to prisoners of war/terrorism suspects.

Sid Schwab said...

There's also this issue.

scalpel said...

There's also the issue of where do you draw the line between coercive interrogation techniques and torture? Clearly the "comfy chair" approach isn't going to extract much needed information. Is harsh questioning torture? Is a cold room? How cold? How about making someone stand up for a long time in one place? Or listen to music they don't like? Or deprive them of sleep?

Heck, so far it sounds like my third year surgery rotation.

Assrot said...

I agree with you 100% Sid. If becoming the Devil is what it takes to beat the Devil, then I want no part of it. Go ahead and behead me and have done.

Torture is wrong and immoral. If you use it, then you have become wrong and immoral. How then can you say you are different than your enemy?

By using torture, you have become the same as your enemy. So why then are you still fighting him if you have become the same as him. You are brothers.

kimberly said...

Some of you are talking like Neville Chamberlain, the wimpy Prime Minister of England,who tried to placate Hitler,
even as he began to ride roughshod over Europe. Thank God for Churchill.
Otherwise the history of the 20th century might be very different.

The terrorists would blow any of you to bits, just as quickly as they did your fellow citizens.Don't tell me if your families were on a plane, about to be blown out of the sky, and waterboarding a terrorist would prevent that diaster from happening, you would sit there and whine about his/her mistreatment. I doubt it.You will probably never be asked to make that decision, but think about it. If waterboarding a few terrorists would have saved all the marines that were killed in Lebanon, or those lost at the twin towers, would you still object so strongly?
I certainly would not.

I cheered when Israel or whoever dispatched that last miserable terrorist, from the 1985 hijacking. Less we forget, a young American sailor was tortured,murdered, and thrown from that plane.

Unfortunate as it may be, we are not waging an Emily Post War.George Bush,whatever his shortcomings, understands that. So did F.D.R., and Harry Truman. I will never cast a vote for any candidate, who wants to follow the wimp trail of Jimmy Carter.

I would wager that Ariel Sharon regretted many times not dispatching Yasser Arafat, when he had chance. How many innocent lives would that have saved?

One last question. Would you have objected to the torture of Nazis, if that torture had prevented the slaughter of several thousand jews?

Sid Schwab said...

kimberly: what George Bush has done, for the most part, has been to see to it that there are more terrorists in the world, more willing, more anxious, and more able to attack us. No one doubts there are terrorists who represent a very real and very significant threat. George Bush seems the least able to understand what they actually are and how best to deal with the essential nature of the threat. As to your final question: it's like asking if you'd torture if it'd make world peace.

And you may have missed the point of my post: Bush said we don't torture. Waterboarding is torture, and the US has defined it as such. So, rather than lie once again to the world and make us look even worse than he already has, why not stand up and make his case for why we must torture? If we are going to be like the terrorists, like the Khmer Rouge, like the North Vietnamese and the Spanish Inquisitors, then tell us why it must be so. Don't just undefine the word, like unwriting the Constitution.

kimberly said...

What George Bush has managed to do is prevent another major terrorist attack on American soil.

To equate anything,
America has done with the savagery of what Pol Pot did in Cambodia is to show a complete miunderstanding of history. The idea is utter nonsense.

Since world peace isn't even on the table, I will move on. Would I be willing to torture a terrorist if it meant saving American lives. You bet I would.

Being the sister of two marines and the neice of another, I have little patience with armchair generals, so please pardon me if I seem rude.

The first duty of an American President is to protect American citizens. Harry Truman was critized for doing just that in 1945. History has vindicated him.

I am not suggesting wholesale torture of terrorists. Far from it.
But in select cases if waterboarding, or some other technique saves innocent lives,then so be it.

I do agree that Bush should step forward once and for all, declaring that in some circumstances, controversial techniques will not be ruled out.

There is far to much concern with what the world thinks of us. Many countries should be more concerned with what we think of them. They call us the great satan, and imperalists among other things, but when diaster strikes, they are whining like a spoiled child for the good old U.S.A. to bail them out. If America is so terrible in the eyes of the world, why do we have an immigration problem? Why are the people filling our schools and hospitals, costing the American taxpayer billions of dollars, not making a rush for the Mexican Border? Strange, I have never heard of anyone trying to sneak out of America.

Some countries, such as France (until recently), have repeatedly
shown their ingratitude to the U.S.
Never mind the thousands of American lives it cost to free their behinds from the Germans.

There are exceptions. Eastern European nations, such as Poland, are very much aware of what it costs to skake the yoke of tyranny.

This is an odd place for this coversation, and I will not post here again because I know that neither of us will change our position. I have had this conversation many times with my aunt's ex-hippie husband.

In the end I will probably vote for John McCain,although I am not thrilled with him.In a perfect world, HIllary Clinton would be a Margaret Thatcher. There is a woman after my own heart. She did not play the gender card. You never saw her husband. Best of all, she knew how to deal with terrorists. Just ask Bobby Sands.

Your blog is excellent, for the most part, and You are probably a nice guy. Nice guys don't always finish last, but when it comes to war and terrorism, nice guys to often get killed.

Good luck to you.

Sid Schwab said...

Kimberly: I spent a year in Vietnam. Got wounded, but not killed.

The question is whether torture works anywhere but when Jack Bauer does it. Both CIA and FBI experts say no, that the info thus obtained is unreliable.

Pol Pot waterboarded. It's a fact, not a misunderstanding. I didn't equate anything else.

And as I've said elsewhere, saying George Bush has kept us safe is like the guy falling off the Empire State building passing the thirtieth floor and saying, "So far, so good." The Iraq war has not made us safer in any way. The Afganistan war did, for a while, but he went to Iraq before sealing the deal, and things are heading toward getting as bad there as they ever were. The things Bush did that are useful, he has also screwed up: remember the airport screeners at first? He opposed the department of homeland security. He has spent so many resources in Iraq that we don't have the money properly to protect ports, nuclear plants, etc. Even the white house itself said recently that al Queda has increased its ability to attack here. I don't for a minute discount the danger. I just think that nearly everything Bush has done has made it worse: and the fact that there have not been attacks in no way proves otherwise. And, of course, the number of terrorist attacks world-wide has gone up enormously every year he's been in office. Winning the "war on terror?" Only in his mind. Such as it is. I think McCain is probably as honorable a guy as there is on that side of the aisle, even though he just voted against outlawing waterboarding after saying over and over that it's torture and shouldn't be used. Kissing up, anyone?

Anonymous said...

get off your high horse

Sid Schwab said...

anonymous: brilliant rhetoric, cogent argument. Convincing grasp of and response to the issues at hand. You've shown me the error of my ways.

Anonymous said...

Enhanced interrogation techniques probably means using Versed/Midazolam. If they can't remember being tortured, then it isn't torture, or is it? Sid, this drug is used on unsuspecting American citizens so that they can be tortured by medical professionals and Police every single day with this drug. I can't feel any real sympathy for TERRORISTS while our own population is abused with impunity. If that makes me a bad insensitive person, so be it.


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