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Hornswaggle is an alternate spelling of hornswoggle, an archaic word that means to bamboozle or hoodwink. I take my pronunciation from the late Harvey Korman in "Blazing Saddles" --

"I want rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, conmen, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswagglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass kickers, shit kickers and Methodists!"

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Torture apologists

They're everywhere today in reaction to the release of the torture memos. I wish I had time right now to delve into this in more detail, but I wanted to focus on Mike Allen's use of an anonymous former Bush administration official to criticize the release of the memos, something Andrew Sullivan and others have jumped on.

Here's the relevent bit from Allen's post in The Politico:

A former top official in the administration of President George W. Bush called the publication of the memos “unbelievable.”

“It's damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama's action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are,” the official said. “We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time-bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake."

“I don't believe Obama would intentionally endanger the nation, so it must be that he thinks either 1. the previous administration, including the CIA professionals who have defended this program, is lying about its importance and effectiveness, or 2. he believes we are no longer really at war and no longer face the kind of grave threat to our national security this program has protected against.”

First off, this former administration official and pro-torture tough guy is a flat-out coward. Why wouldn't he attach his name to his opinion here? Pathetic.

As for the substance of what he says:

1) He says publicizing the techniques does grave damage because it ensures we can't use them, but Obama has already ended the use of these techniques. Furthermore, even if we were still using them, are we expected to believe that it would substantially benefit terrorists to have confirmation of our torture regime, most of the details of which are already in the public domain?

How would knowing these techniques benefit terrorists, anyway? Would they begin seeking out people who aren't afraid of insects?

SERE training notwithstanding, you can't really prepare for being tortured. It's not the SATs. I don't care how much you know about resisting it. If I deprive you of sleep for four days and beat and waterboard you, you're going to talk. You may talk about how your grandma sprouts an antenna from her left ear that receives communications from the Crab Nebula, but you're going to talk.

2) The ticking-time-bomb scenario. Of course he mentions the ticking-time-bomb scenario.

First of all, this has never happened, and the likelihood of it happening is extraordinarily small. Unfortunately, "24" has obscured that reality in our culture.

But let's lay out a hypothetical. Let's say we capture a terrorist who is part of a cell that plans on detonating a dirty bomb in an American city in the next 48 hours and he won't talk.

Everything I've ever learned about human nature and how law enforcement and covert operations actually work tells me that they will go ahead and torture the guy, irrespective of what the law says. Furthermore, the people in charge of interrogating the suspect could simply send a request up the chain and get an executive order permitting them to deviate from standard procedures. And even if they didn't seek such a request, or it wasn't granted, if they went ahead and tortured the suspect and averted a massive attack, is there any doubt they would receive full pardons?

I wish I had more time to lay this out, because this line of thinking gets into the gray areas between what the law says and what the United States actually does, and exposes me to the charge of being a hypocrite, but I'll try to find some more time at a later date to fully explain my thoughts on the ticking-time-bomb scenario.

One more thing though. For those who are so concerned with the TTB scenario and its consequences, there is one simple way to address it: Write it into law. Propose a law that lays out an exception to the United States' renewed stance against torture, setting up protocols that would have to be followed and definitions that would have to be met, and let's have a debate on the floors of Congress.

I've got a lot more to say in response to Charles Krauthammer, the two Michaels, and others, but it will have to wait at least until later today.

As for Mike Allen's defense of granting this Bush official anonymity, as provided to Greg Sargent, it's a dodge:

Sometimes ya have to read beyond a blog snippet. When people read our actual article, they’ll see that the headline and top two-thirds are an exclusive on David Axelrod’s behind-the-scenes description of the President’s decision-making process, followed by a shorter Bush view from a very high-level official whose opinion was available only on background — not ideal, but better than making readers wonder what the official Bush view is.

Sorry, Mike, but you can't get off by blaming readers for giving your post only a cursory glance. The placement of the quote in the context of the post is not the issue. The issue is granting anonymity to a Bush official in these circumstances. He says it's better to grant anonymity than not to have any take from the Bush team at all, but that's a false choice.

Allen could have simply moved on and found someone else to give the Bush administration's take. As I said earlier, there are plenty of former Bush administration officials getting their two cents in today. The real issue for Allen most likely was: Will another Bush official give me a quote this juicy? And so he granted the anonymity on that basis, because he's interested in driving traffic to his site. Pretty much par for the course for Allen, who comes from the horse-trading journalistic culture of Newsweek Time. (Note on correction: Though Newsweek in my experience is a worse offender, both Time and Newsweek tend to develop the same sort of questionable relationships with government sources to broker access.)

.: posted by hornswaggler 9:52 AM

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