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The Empty Path

In the shiver

of cold dew,

the lake’s mirror ripples.

In the cold dawn,

your footprints leave their mark

on the untrodden grass.

Not one Lakka leaf has fallen here.

But, after a barbaric cycle,

the warm soul of Autumn has returned.

The skiff sails back to the old wharf,

carrying moonlight in its hood.

Thich Nhat Hanh, circa 1966

Torture: Can they walk away unchanged?

Reading through opinion about “enhanced interrogation”, you will find that there is a pervasive assumption that if there is no physical evidence of torture after the fact, the victim of torture remains unharmed. In fact, the Bush administration defined this as one of the axioms that justified their legal opinions that supported their methods — and it is one that softens public opinion toward torture, as well. The fact is that if this assumption is wrong, the W administration’s torture policy falls like a house of cards.

The crucial issue at hand is that, in the memos, torture was defined as something different than it was in practice. To understand the fundamental flaw in a way that is more than superficial, though, we have to think about what happens to a prisoner that undergoes “enhanced interrogation.” We have to consider why these tactics cause long term harm. We also have to understand why a subject in a “cracked” state of mind will always provide dubious information.

So, what happens when Rambo cracks? Will he walk away unchanged by the experience? Even if he has no pre-existing psychological conditions?

Prosecuting Those Responsible.

(After quantifying US casualties on September 11, 2001.)

These measurements obviously did not capture the full meaning of September 11. A familiar terrorist threat announced itself that day with frightening new proximity and ambition. But decision made in the White House, in response, had incomparably greater impact on American interests as a society.

Barton Gellman in Angler – The Cheney Vice Presidency, page 132.

It is entirely by design that bringing abusers of power to justice will be riddled with setbacks. The Bush 43 leaders and high level advisors used deliberate sleight of hand to insure their prosecution was improbable. They are counting on the fact that the decision to prosecute them is entirely political, and that willingness to to spend political capital for crimes gone by will be small. But they’ve also fortified their steps with subtleties that make it harder to figure what went wrong.

It will take a lot more than just energizing the left wing behind the cause and supporting Senator Leahy to bring lawbreakers to justice. We have to convince the American mainstream if we are going to make prosecution happen. A mainstream that has demonstrated time and again that they are certain to miss the subtlety.

Prosecuting Those Responsible, Senator Leahy.

If we want to successfully prosecute relevant members of the George W Bush administration for crimes against the US constitution or crimes against humanity, it is essential that we nail down precisely what they did wrong. More to the point — we need to nail down what they did that was illegal. Surely it seems obvious that something is awry when you look at the result. Our government detained innocent people and tortured them. They justified and started a war of choice in Iraq. Dick Cheney got authorization to initiate a sophisticated and domestic spying program before the end of the day on September 11. The executive branch assumed far more power than was given them by design. The Bush 43 administration altered the course of the United States, perhaps, more than any terrorist could.

My purpose here is to convince you that we should follow the larger pattern that appears in these of abuses of power rather than any individual act if we are going to effectively prosecute those who are really responsible. I think the group of abusers and pattern of abuse repeats itself, and if we watch that pattern carefully, we can shake out those who are primarily responsible.

Prosecuting Those Responsible, Senator Leahy

I write today because I want to think about the root of our trouble with respect to the abuses of power that took place during the W. administration. But I don’t want to talk about anyt particular act that took place — I’d rather talk about the general patterns behind the methods — methods that robbed us of some of our humanity. Let me suggest that if we look for this pattern, we will find that it was systemic during the George W. Bush administration, and if we drive hard at that pattern we will be able to nail down those who are responsible.

This is not a time for hunt and peck. This is a time to look for root cause.

Torturing and The Rambo Myth. A case against waterboarding.

My goal in writing this essay is to convince you that using torture — techniques that use hypoxia particularly — cannot be tolerated as a method to gain intelligence. You are already convinced? Good. Let me suggest that you are probably convinced for the wrong reasons. But I want your ear, even if you’re convinced for the right reasons — because, to my way of thinking, many of the people who advise our lawmakers about torture policy in the United States overlook critical information about the effects of waterboarding. Even many of the well-meaning ones suffer from a critical lack of understanding when they make their policy decisions.

My problem is with what I’ll call The Rambo Myth: Subjects of torture will grant a true confession in order to avoid the pain of more torture, and The Rambo Corollary: Any method that is not painful enough to make Rambo crack will not extract a true confession.  

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