The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The CIA Torture Report

Just a few quick points:

  • It seems HQ wanted more torture than those in the field did, and would insist;
  • Torture,  Stirling Newberry once told me, is about sending information “we torture”, not getting it;
  • But really, torture can provide any info you want, like that Saddam has WMD;
  • It is interesting that the report is so negative.  Maybe the CIA screwed up by spying on Congress and getting caught?

We knew it was happening over 10 years ago. We knew then that it didn’t work in the sense of providing reliable information, and we knew then that the cost of torture in terms of damage to America’s reputation would be huge (and reputation does matter.)

As Bmaz points out at Empty Wheel, a great number of crimes were committed, and not just by the CIA, but by government officials, and they knew at the time torture was illegal.  There’s no chance of them being prosecuted now, but we can hope that some of them will face a court in the future.  Times do change, and those who must protect them to protect themselves will not always be in power.

One day it would be nice to see Bush in the dock.   Cheney, unfortunately, will probably die before then.



In Light of Eric Garner


The Ethics of Torture 101


  1. BWESX

    A message had to be sent to the rest of the industrialized world that there was no way of resisting annexation. Voting and civil disobedience will not be effective, so don’t even bother, for there are no limits to the depravity of what we will do in the service of expanding our empire.

    Accusations of “spinelessness” leveled against the other 1st world countries are fundamentally disingenuous in their tacit denial of this reality.

  2. S Brennan

    A couple of points from my FBook reply to a comment on the subject:

    1] It doesn’t work, unless the interrogator already has the all the facts before him…and then, what’s the point? The victim just tells you the story you want to here and that false Intelligence leads to needless deaths of US Soldiers…as it did in Iraq & AF-PAK.

    Case in Point:

    In 1633 Galileo was interrogated & tortured lightly by the inquisitors for 18 days and on April 30 th, Galileo confesses that he erred in saying that the earth revolved around the sun and promised to correct his mistake in all his future scientific writings. The Pope wasn’t satisfied with his “confession” and sentenced Galileo to prison.

    Yeah, the interrogators got Galileo to recant and swear that the sun goes round the earth, but if we worked off that “intelligence”, last Friday’s launch would have been a disaster. Fortunately, NASA scientists & engineers don’t use “evidence” obtained by torture.

    2] You are presuming guilt when you torture, almost all of those guys in Afghanistan were kidnapped for bounties. FYI, the guys collecting the reward were predominately Al Qaeda & Taliban…that’s one of the reasons the war in AF-PAK is this country’s longest running defeats.

    3] If torture was successful as Dick “Dunkoff” Cheney claimed, the we would be forced to listen to the exploits 24/7, but they can’t tell us because; they haven’t got squat this way. But if any body needed to be tortured into a “confession” it’d be the guy who got drunk, shot a man in his face, fled the scene and forced the victim to apologize for having been in the area of a falling down drunk firing his shotgun.

  3. Water boarding lead to the capture of OBL. Anyone who thinks Obama took office and suddenly located him in Pakistan is a fool.

  4. Mary McCurnin

    Anyone who thinks that OBL had anything to do with 9-11 is a fool.

  5. Ian Welsh

    The idea that water boarding was important to capturing OBL is contentious, at best. Anyone who thinks that there aren’t other methods of gathering intelligence, and even of interrogation, is a fool.

  6. jcapan

    Anyone who thinks that the efficacy of torture should be a factor in civilized debate is a fool.

  7. Ghostwheel

    No proof whatsoever that OBL was assassinated in the Pakistan raid. Essentially, the White House, Pentagon and CIA told a story and said, “Trust us.”

  8. Mary McCurnin

    Apparently, OSL had no dead body. We couldn’t see it due to the religious sensibilities of the Obama administration.

  9. Cameron

    “It’s interesting that the report is so negative. Maybe the CIA screwed up by spying on Congress and getting caught?”

    Maybe, or maybe they wrote Bush a blank check with the AUMF and now they just want to distance themselves from any of the negative consequences of never providing a scintilla of oversight.

    “Torture? Damn over zealous CIA. Y’know they just care so much about protecting the citizens of this great nation, what can you do?”

  10. John Massie

    I think this report is just a warning message from the sociopaths in charge that we do what we want with impunity and we will seriously fuck you up if you cross us. Just another feature of the militarized police state. They know they can advertise what they did and not worry about any consequences. Think Germany in ’35 or ’36.
    Unfortunately these sociopathic attitudes and actions lead to much worse catastrophic actions and events. A good sociopath is always upping the ante…particularly when they publicize and get away with each outrage.

  11. the ticking time bomb case

    Just hold on everyone. Absolutes, like, “it is never ok to use torture as a means of extracting information”, is a stupid statement. What kind of torture are you talking about? What about something that is nonviolent and only psychologically damaging? For example, you could smear menstration blood over a copy of Koran and put in the jail cell with the detainee. You could also use the pages of the Koran as toilet paper…There are many other options…all classified as torture.

    Sam harris, did a magnificent job in the following link, on the merits of torture in what he calls the Ticking Time Bomb case:
    Read this before you ride the coat tails of Ian Welsh.

  12. V. Arnold

    @ the ticking time bomb case

    You’re sick. Go away…

  13. hvd

    I will leave it to others to carefully refute the sheer, utter and obvious obtuseness of Sam Harris’ arguments. Building fallacy on fallacy. What rubbish.

  14. the ticking time bomb case

    @V. Arnold wrote “you’re sick go away”

    Highly intelligent rebuttal sir. So useful in dialogue and promoting a better understanding

  15. jump

    @ bomb case

    No rebuttal necessary. To quote jcapan above, “Anyone who thinks that the efficacy of torture should be a factor in civilized debate is a fool.”

  16. the ticking time bomb case


    You’re not helping the debate with your “personal” attacks. Ian, maybe you should moderate this and jump in ask people to post useful comments which have purpose to the dialogue instead of ad hominems

  17. How predictable. Anyone who thinks that anything useful will come from menstruating on a Qur’an is absolutely batty and believes their propaganda too strongly.

  18. It’s like there are people who are licking their lips at the opportunity to *finally* have an opportunity to defend torture. This dude loves torture, couldn’t wait to come on here and defend it. Anyone had any doubt that *they* live among us, and in large numbers?

  19. the ticking time bomb case

    Sam Harris gives a very specific scenario on practicality…he is not talking about torture for the “fun of it” or “licking their lips”

  20. anonone

    Anyone who defends torture perpetrated by American agents is ipso facto defending the right of other nations to torture of American citizens and soldiers with the same impunity and moral righteousness.

  21. the ticking time bomb case

    @ anonone

    of course…no argument there but Harris is making a more philosophical argument on moral absolutes

  22. Ian Welsh

    Harris’s argument is “if torture worked reliably”. It doesn’t, so we can stop there if we choose — he’s running a corner case hypothetical “are there any circumstances under which we should torture? One can easily argue “no”, and those arguments are simply the arguments philosophers make for having any moral absolutes. You can never prove them, any more than you can prove moral relativism, these aren’t arguments anyone can win on a pure logical basis, and anyone who thinks they can is a fool.

    As for practicalities, ticking time bomb scenarios are precisely where torture is weakest, actually, and the idea that that’s when torture works is a 24 based fantasy.

    I’ve written arguments both on morality and practicality at different points. I’m not inclined to recapitulate them. And you do your hero no favors with garbage about smearing menstrual blood on Korans and so forth. Responding to every comment makes you appear close to a concern troll, I’d suggest you accept that people here aren’t very interested in engaging your particular brand of sophistry, and move on.

  23. anonone

    @the ticking time bomb case

    As @hvd wrote, Harris’ screed is built upon “fallacy on fallacy.”

    I am sorry for you that you can’t see that, and must resort to fantasizing about smearing “menstration blood over a copy of Koran” or using “pages of the Koran as toilet paper” to somehow try to justify your own fallacious belief that torture can ever be acceptable in a civilized society.

    And that’s all the time I have for you.

  24. thepanzer

    The torture apologists are out in force, both on the TV as well as on the internet.

    The normalization of torture heralds the Wests closing the door on the enlightenment and loss of moral authority.

    The loss of moral authority is so pronounced that western youths now identify with and want to join a band of religious extremists who saw people’s heads off for disagreeing with them. When your civilization sinks to the point where its values are on par with medieval sadists, and has citizens who prefer the sadists, you are well and truly screwed.

    As for the ticking time tomb commenter, he/she deserves to be shunned. Torture is on the same taboo spectrum along with pedophilia, slavery, and rape. Anyone advocating the efficiency of use of any of these items as a normalized course of behavior in government is, at best, a sociopath of the first order.

    The fact that so many westerners are openly advocating for this taboo shows how dramatic the loss of morale authority is in our culture.

  25. Torture does not work. Any argument which seems to make torture work hides one or more facts. The problem is that there is a lot of money in hiding those facts, and their are plenty of people willing to pay that amount of money.

  26. EGrise

    When I was in the service we went through periodic training on the rules of war, the code of conduct, and other topics concerning ethics and warfare. I remember clearly that we were told that only our enemies (at the time, the communist bloc nations) committed torture, and that’s how we knew we were the “good guys” and that our cause was just and our intentions pure.

    I realize it was indoctrination, with all that implies. But I wonder what the military teaches now?

    Obligatory link to Mitchell & Webb:

  27. Julian

    “One day it would be nice to see Bush in the dock. Cheney, unfortunately, will probably die before then.” – Sadly we’ll ALL probably die before that happens either.Honestly more and more I think the “utter depravity” theory of human nature is the right one sadly.

  28. Julian

    BTW Ian have you read Chris Hedges’ “Empire of Illusion”?It ties in because sadly I think far from being horrified by torture most Americans would enjoy nothing more than watching it live on TV, in HD surround of course.Maybe it could be a new reality show where folks compete to become Star Torturers or some such.I’m only sort of joking sadly…

  29. JustPlainDave

    Managers of collection (that’s who this is really about) think torture is a plausible option when they have no developed sources and no means of developing them on the required timeline. Managers of analysts pretty much never think torture is a plausible option – source verification is somewhat harder and information verification is a very great deal harder with this type of take (i.e., people who have their nuts in a vice tell stories that are amazingly difficult to verify).

    Politicians, well, they’re agnostic on the matter – they get to commission the reports that exonerate themselves regardless of whether they provided appropriate oversight or not. The de-emphasis of the effects of fabricated data in the reporting I’ve seen tells me the pols have been quite effective at getting their version of the story out there…

  30. bob mcmanus

    British socialist Richard Seymour:”Torture Works”

    I think RS didn’t explicate 4) torture works the ways Roman Games worked, or public executions (drawing and quartering, the wheel, lynching). Creating a paranoid complicit solidarity in a community. I also think of Cicero and Seneca holding their noses, the opponents of torture are directed toward safe target short of systemic change.

    And I haven’t quite grasped it yet, but I also think a horror of physical brutality misses the point. “We gave subject D 200 ccs of the latest formulation, applied the tourniquet, and upon request he ate his left arm off without hesitation, smiling and thanking us through the pain.”

  31. mike

    Just love the evil genius prisoner being tortured stories. Is he lying? Does he care what you’ll do if he is, especially if he goes up with the nuclear bomb, too? Do you need a second prisoner to torture to verify? What if he’s lying? A third? A fourth? Have his colleagues moved the bomb, the choked daughter, the decaying trove of Pauly Shore vehicles? Oh, sorry, he’s an evil genius able to do all this stuff infallibly all by himself, BWHAHAHAHAHA. That’s why he’ll give it all up so easily when you torture him. How can anyone doubt Mr. Harris’ logic and experience on Planet Reality? (And be sure not to send him Sartre’s “The Wall” which decades ago detailed all the problems with and unintended consequences from using terror to get an answer, any answer, whether it’s true or not.)

  32. Authoritariansgetthenoose

    Here’s the ticking time bomb cased debunked quite easily. Interrogator tortures prisoner and asks where the bomb is, person tortured tells them it’s in Building A when it’s in Building Z. They waste hours checking Building A and find nothing. Interrogator tortures prisoner again, and asks where the bomb is, prisoner tells them it’s in Building B. They waste hours checking Building B, and find nothing. Rinse and repeat. Argument OVER. They tortured that fat mustachioed guy 83 times in a month and got absolutely ZERO actionable intelligence from him.

    The ticking time bomb case has almost never happened in human history. It is a plot device for Hollywood movies, not a realistic scenario in real life. Anyone who relies on that as an excuse for torture is a fucking idiot on a higher plane.

  33. EGrise

    Of interest:

    The Soviet Union was good at torture.

    But the Soviets excelled at torture because they understood its usefulness. “Our task is not only to destroy you physically,” a Stalinist interrogator explained to a prisoner in 1948. “But also to smash you morally before the eyes of the society.”

    History’s great agents of pain knew what the CIA pretends not to.

    Torture is a terrorist act.

    Via War is Boring

  34. bob mcmanus

    Ticking time bomb, my ass. Too easy.

    8-year-old kidnap victim bound and gagged is hidden in an isolated farmhouse starving to death. Sicko is sitting across from you silently smiling. You’re the parent.

  35. jeff pendergast

    In a perfect world, in a place that many of you seem to think is a real possibility,torture of course doesn’t exist…..The former CIA director witnessed the waterboarding of 3 individuals at GITMO, and stated that invaluable evidence was obtained as a direct result.

    Do you want to be morally superior intellectuals, deny 9/11, cut and paste your fabulously intelligent sources about the ineffectiveness of torture and then take some sort of moral high ground, or do you want to take out the S.O.B’s who bombed NYC, killing 3000 innocent Americans and are now slaughtering Americans in the Middle East? No, maybe it’s best that we just let them decimate Israel, give Iraq a nuke and then see what happens, so some precious animals are spared some water boarding? If torture is so ineffective, why has it been going this long? It isn’t a perfect world, man kind will do what man kind does.

    If we cut back our consumption of fossil fuels, but China and India don’t while their economies continue to grow exponentially, are we really solving the “global warming problem”?

  36. jump

    With international condemnation and international and US law saying torture must be prosecuted I am wondering where Obama and the DoJ will settle? Is there a choice? Not so much in the international mindset so there may be some pressure. We will see.

    @jeff p
    huh? Is there and argument there?
    Not a perfect world but maybe a civilized one.

  37. Thepanzer

    Jeff, real life is not an episode of “24”. For Bob, real life is not “the silence of the lambs.”

    You both seem to have problems separating reality from Hollywood fantasy.

    Reality is the clusterfuck we see with the CIA. Innocent people swept up in the dragnet, to include some of the CIA’s own informants, crooked psychologists giving bad advice for a 80 million dollar contracts, detainees providing false information to make the torture stop, the CIA then lying to the public, Congress, and the president about it. Of note, I don’t believe this report includes what happened at the black sites run by Egypt and other similar “allies”. That dragnet took even more innocent people and gave theme truely medieval treatment.

    In the process you destroy the wests morale authority. If you define your behavior down to the worst of what humanity offers then you become the worst of what humanity offers.

    Before leaving the military I remember an article in military times where a national guard unit stumbled on a torture house being used by our “allies” in the new Iraqi govt, the guard unit was stunned since the torture implements were the same methods they’d been sent in to liberate the Iraqi’s from under Saddam’s regime. (Rubber hoses, electric drills, etc.) They were clearly shaken an openly questioned the mission, this was as far back as 2005.

    When morale authority ebbs away so to does the will to fight and it corrodes the legitimacy of the culture supporting it. There’s a reason our returning soldiers keep committing suicide once they get back home.

  38. EGrise

    If you define your behavior down to the worst of what humanity offers then you become the worst of what humanity offers.

    This. A thousand times this.

    It’s not about them, it’s about us: who we are, who we want to be, and who we want our children and grandchildren to think we are.

    It doesn’t matter if torture works or not, it’s wrong, full stop.

  39. bob mcmanus

    For Bob, real life is not “the silence of the lambs.”

    You don’t know me.

    “Torture doesn’t work” is an evil a despicable argument because it implies that if torture did work, or if we could find a method that does work, we would be moral.

    Having look at why torture is evil, and determined that it involves a violation of the identity and integrity of the other, I decided that doing anything to impose your goals on another’s will is out of bounds, so since all social interaction is asymmetrical in resources and abilities…

    …persuasion is evil.

  40. jump

    this, a thousand times this.
    If you define your behavior down to the worst of what humanity offers then you become the worst of what humanity offers.

    as by Egrise, full stop.

  41. Monster from the Id

    Torture is ineffective at its alleged goal of obtaining accurate information.

    However, it can be quite effective at its actual goal, which is to intimidate NOT the poor wretches who are the actual victims, but their families, friends, and societies–to intimidate them into not resisting exploitation by Capital, which owns the U. S. government.

    Remember, Capital is Sauron.

    Uncle Sam is merely the Lord of the Nazgul.

    And since Panties-Wetting Torture Fan mentioned Israel, it’s one of the other Nazgul.

  42. jeff pendergast

    Torture , I’m not a fan. As I said, in a perfect world there woulda be such a dastardly thing. But it isn’t a perfect world, nor will it ever be. The longer people pretend that we can control or somehow influence these savage terrorists and their will to inflict death, destruction and doom on us and our way of life by being their morally superior, the more we will suffer. Obama’s drones are killing more people, innocents, collateral damage in the last year than we ever inflicted by enhanced interrogations. But we don’t hear about it, nor will Diane Feinstein release her important report to the world about Obama’s drone program, “no boots on the ground” and all. In the end, no one wants to torture anyone, but if you had the choice of death by drone or water boarding, which would you choose?

  43. jcapan

    OK, I’ll play.

    “Do you want to be morally superior intellectuals, deny 9/11, cut and paste your fabulously intelligent sources about the ineffectiveness of torture and then take some sort of moral high ground, or do you want to take out the S.O.B’s who bombed NYC, killing 3000 innocent Americans and are now slaughtering Americans in the Middle East?”

    Do you want to be a morally vacant individual, deny history up to/since 9/11 and draw on apologists for depravity as your sources about the effectiveness of torture and then pretend to some sort of reasonable middle ground, or do you want to prosecute the war criminals from both parties who continue to bomb and torture poor brown men, women and children, many of them innocent, in order to maintain a dying empire?

    “If torture is so ineffective, why has it been going this long?”

    Yes, from the Spanish Inquisition to the Nazis to Pinochet’s parrilla, you stand in excellent company while defending barbarism.

    “It isn’t a perfect world, man kind will do what man kind does.”

    Even in an imperfect world, some men attempt to stand for something finer, some semblance of civilization untrampled by vileness and evil.

    “Obama’s drones are killing more people, innocents, collateral damage in the last year than we ever inflicted by enhanced interrogations. But we don’t hear about it, nor will Diane Feinstein release her important report to the world about Obama’s drone program…”

    You daft nut. There’s not a single Obama/democratic party loyalist hereabouts. The bipartisan consensus that informs the worst excesses of American foreign policy is breathtakingly obvious. Obama and Bush alike are war criminals. Di-Fi is a war profiteer who would have gladly rolled over for the CIA had they only asked her pretty please.

    “In the end, no one wants to torture anyone, but if you had the choice of death by drone or water boarding, which would you choose?”

    Wrong again. Our military, like their increasingly domestic equivalent, is always jones-ing to get their glocks off, employing an endless supply of young men brought up in a culture saturated by violence. This is expressly what they’re signing up for. Do the higher ups deserve the lion’s share of the blame and punishment, of course but much of the rank and file has been complicit in this pervasive evil, as are America’s legion of authoritarian followers.

  44. Mary McCurnin

    “Obama’s drones are killing more people, innocents, collateral damage in the last year than we ever inflicted by enhanced interrogations. But we don’t hear about it, nor will Diane Feinstein release her important report to the world about Obama’s drone program, “no boots on the ground” and all. ”

    Jeff, wrong again. Everyone on this thread knew about it. Why? Because we did our research. We read. We understood what was going on for years. And, none of us agree with Obama’s drone killings.

  45. jeff pendergast

    @jcapan, @Mary McCurnin….Thank you for your perspectives. New to this site, so I am happy to hear other points of view. While I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, I must say I’ve never endured “daft nut”. I will have to google that one to see where I stand.

    @jcapan, I don’t want to live in the country you live in, because it certainly isn’t the USA. If you believe our country is run by criminals and tyrants, try Iraq or Russia. If you think the military should trade in their weapons for pea shooters and love letters, then lock your doors, put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye. While you are at it, learn Chinese or Russian or become a devout Muslim (assuming you aren’t already) and get ready to turn in your lap top to the new sheriff in town. And remember your history @jcapan, Pearl Harbor, 9/11. While torture is a deplorable method of intelligence gathering, it is a necessary evil. In response to the premise that it is ineffective, I defer to the opinion of those who have used it successfully over the course of recent history who have kept (including every living CIA director, even sitting boss John Brennan) our country safe for the past 13 years since 9/11. The Senate report was partisan hogwash, not based on fact or interviews, just speculation, not worthy of the attention it received.

    I am a proud American, a “daft nut” who for one doesn’t believe that I live in a “dying empire”.

  46. JustPlainDave

    Jeff, DCI has no actual idea whether coercive interrogation works or not. He says it does because someone a couple of layers down in the hierarchy (apparently in the CIA Public Affairs Office) provided some talking points that it did. He does not say it because he’s actually worked with any of the take or produced any of the product.

    More than anything, use of coercive interrogation techniques is a bureaucratic measure to assure one’s political masters that “everything possible” is being done. Notably, the purpose of covert coercive techniques also isn’t to terrorize or intimidate and it certainly isn’t to effectively produce intelligence.

  47. Cass Sunstein

    Good work, Mr. Pendergast. Your payment should enter your account shortly.

  48. Monster from the Id

    Shorter Pendergast: “Save me, Big Brother, from the scary sand n***ers! Baa! Baa!”

  49. jump

    @ jeff
    Marx said that government is just a facade for the owners of production. It is just a matter of degrees as to how obvious that is, how many concessions are given to the masses to keep them calm and controlled. The US did give a lot of concessions for many years but things started to change, I would argue in the 70’s with consumerism. My quip to folks who argued for our freedoms compared to Russia was, ‘Which color TV do you buy?’–no question of whether you need one or not (I didn’t even own a b&w at the time and was quite content with my choice). But corporations were not happy with the control they had at the time and needed more. Well, guess what, they got it and here we are. How much better off are we now? We have what is now termed the precariate class. Such a term never existed then. We have torturers and a militarized police that terrorize the citizenry. And we have corporations that are hitting the limit brick wall of diminishing returns and resource depletion, making them even more desperate in pushing empire to pillage every corner of the world and its people.
    So, yes, the neoliberal capitalist system is in collapse; it could not sustain itself. Will it take nations with it? Yes, depending on the degree they bought in. Are we willing to equate power with violence, because that is what it will take to maintain the current system. That means torture and terror. I will not accept that and nor will most on this site.
    Power is not by necessity violent. I would argue that the most effective power is not violent (sorry Ian). Violence will coerce, real power will lead.
    I have no nationalist allegiance, particularly when national loyalty means corporate and consumer loyalty.
    The Muslims do not hate our freedom, they hate being invaded, occupied and being denied their freedoms.
    And torture is not a necessary evil, it is just evil, full stop.
    As you do and think, you will receive. Careful where you focus your energy.

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