Techniques to Aid Authoritarians: The Supposed Statute of Limitations on Outrage

In the Fast and Furious and IRS scandals, the Administration has purposefully dragged its feet on disclosures.  The strategy is to let as much time pass so that when bad revelations eventually come out, the heat from the original scandal is gone.  Defenders of the Administration will then argue the revelations are "old news", as if there is some statute of limitations on outrage.  This strategy has driven Republicans crazy.

So what do Conservatives do when the torture report comes out after months and months of foot-dragging trying to prevent its release? You got it, they scream "old news".  Scott Johnson:

I confess that I do not understand the rationale supporting the publication of the Democrats’ Senate Select Committee study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. On its face, it seems like ancient history (of a highly tendentious kind) in the service of a personal grudge. It is not clear to me what is new and it is not clear that what is new is reliable, given the absurd limitations of the committee’s investigation.

By the way, I want to make one observation on this line from attorney John Hinderaker:

Similarly, the report confirms that the Agency’s enhanced interrogation techniques were used on only a small number of captured terrorists, 39 altogether. These enhanced techniques include the “belly slap” and the dreaded “attention grasp.”

Most important, it appears that waterboarding really was the most extreme sanction to which any of the terrorists were subjected (and only three of them, at that). Given all the hoopla about CIA “torture,” one might have expected to learn that far worse happened at the Agency’s dark sites. But, as far as the report discloses, the Agency stuck almost exclusively to its approved list of tactics, all of which the Department of Justice specifically found not to be torture.

Were some of the captured terrorists treated roughly? Absolutely. Their lives must have been miserable, and deservedly so. Some of the 39 were placed in stress positions for considerable lengths of time, doused with water, fed poor diets, left naked in cells. In one instance, a terrorist was threatened with a power drill. In another case, an interrogator told a terrorist that his children may be killed. There were two instances of mock execution.

A few observations:

  • The fact that they were "terrorists" seems to justify the mistreatment for him.  But how do we know they were terrorists?  Because the Administration said so.  There was no due process, no right of appeal, no ability to face witnesses, no third party review, none of that.  A branch of the Administration grabbed the guy, said you are a terrorist, and started torturing them.  I am not saying that they did this without evidence, but I am sure Mr. Hinderaker know from his own experience that every prosecutor thinks every person he or she tries is guilty.  That is why both sides get to participate in the process.
  • "Terrorist" is an awfully generic word to give us automatic license to torture people.  My sense is that there are all kinds of shades of behavior lumped under that word.  Conservatives like Mr. Hinderaker object, rightly, to a wide range of sexually aggressive actions from unwanted kissing to forced penetration being lumped under the word "rape".  But my sense is we do the same thing with "terrorists".
  • In my mind the casualness with which he can accept these kinds of treatments for people he does not like is morally debilitating.  It is a small step from accepting it for one to accepting it for many.  It is like the old joke of a debutante asked if she would have sex for a million dollars and saying "yes", then getting asked if she would have sex for $20 and responding "what kind of girl do you think I am?"  We've already established that, we are just haggling over price.
  • For those on the Right who say that all this stuff about due process does not apply because the "terrorists" were not citizens, then welcome to the Left!  Individual rights are innate -- they are not granted by governments (and thus by citizenship).  The Right generally says they believe this.  It is the Left whose positions imply that rights are favors granted by the state to its citizens.


  1. Nehemiah:

    The complaint isn't that it is old news, but that it is not factual. Obama's own CIA directors, Panetta and his current director Brennen have said the report contains many errors.

  2. Titan28:

    Come on, Coyote. The Post and Times put the story on page one, and for going on three days. So if it turns out the report is old news, and the Times & Post, et. al., put it out there, on page one, despite knowing that, the average reader starts to wonder why. Is this a search for truth? Or is it the same old, same old? An agenda-driven story. That's why the 'old news' claim has meaning, and is not hypocrisy.
    I don't believe anything any administration says. No one should. How do I know most of these mutts are "allegedly" terrorists? Because they were found on the battlefield. Were some of those who were rounded up rounded up by mistake, yanked out of alleys? Yes. Most of those guys, eventually, were let go. Hell, we even sent some Uighurs, who were definitely picked up on the battlefield, to Slovakia and Bermuda, instead of to China, which I think is pretty nice of us, considering the Chinese wanted to get their hands on them. What do you think the Chinese had in mind for them? The answer can probably be decoded by realizing that they would rather have stayed at Gitmo than be sent to China.
    There's nothing casual about Mr. Hinderaker's tone. He thinks we're at war. You, clearly, don't. You want Hoyle's rules for people who don't know the meaning of the term. Why? You seem to think that if America heavies up on these killers, we will lose our souls. Hogwash. We didn't lose our souls fighting the Germans and Japanese, and that war closes the book on brutality.
    Individual rights may be innate, but said rights exist only in a social context (i.e. there are no rights in a society of one; a man living alone on Mars can do anything he wants), and in that context, rights are bordered by obligations, that is, if you put a bomb on a school bus, or knock down a building, with people in it, you could well be sacrificing your rights. You know, lex talionis. When silly Brian Williams asked Michael Hayden how he would have felt if members of his family were to be subjected to harsh interrogation methods, what did Clayton say? He said his concern or outrage would be somewhat "muted" if his family members had just killed 3,000 citizens. Try looking at this matter from that point of view for a change.
    Lastly, in war time, we are under no obligation to do anything more than treat prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention. But--big but coming, Coyote--none of the "so-called" terrorists have signed any such accord, or agree in any way with it. Technically, Coyote, we don't have to do anything other than put a bullet in their head, which from the point of view of the victim, is probably better than having it sawed off with a knife. We should certainly give them a choice, though.
    Consider this: in 13 years, 39 prisoners (or so is the claim in your quote; I can't vouch for the number) were subjected to harsh treatment. You see this as a pact with the devil. I don't, not at all. Of course, this is subjective. I'm sure you've seen the front page panic attack in the Times on the assertion that there are 270,000,000 kilograms of plastic in the ocean. Wow. That's huge! Not so fast: how big is the ocean?
    Sorry to be a pest on this topic. You're a smart guy, and your blog, and the observations contained therein, usually make my day.

  3. Matthew Slyfield:

    Nothing said on this matter by anyone with current or prior ties to the CIA should be believed.

  4. EricP:

    It is old news in so far that it revealed nothing we didn't already know and had already been reported on. It was a rehash of information that we had already known for years. Aside from rehashing to get press headlines in media supportive of the president, it contained no recommendations for changes or anything else that might actually be useful. It was a political document and nothing more.

    As for the rest of your post, I'm sympathetic but not sold on extending natural rights to the entire world and especially to groups that actively reject them. Doing so is great in theory but I'm not sure the practical implications would actually end is a positive result.

  5. Nehemiah:

    Yeah, and what's up with including testimony from doctors when reporting on healthcare? Why would anyone want to talk to the folks who actually in the know? You can take off the tin foil hat now. The Senate Democrats have your back.

  6. Matthew Slyfield:

    Doctors don't lie as part of the normal course of their jobs, people who work for covert government agencies do. People who are current or former employees of the CIA are professional liars.

  7. mlhouse:

    It was old news because all of theses details were already investigated.

  8. skhpcola:

    Doctors kill over 100k Americans a year via mistakes and misdeeds. You think that they are honest about those deaths? But. hey, don't let reality intrude into your America-bashing fantasy.

  9. skhpcola:

    Warren squees at anything that makes the US look's a character flaw of leftists like him. He seems to be veering into "all politics, all the time" on this blog, probably because he's still aching with butt-hurt over his precious D-bags losing the Senate.

  10. stanbrown:

    Because 1) it's not torture. 2) everything already known 3) extremely distorted report

    Warren's love for bashing conservatives seems to interfere with his discernment.

  11. mesocyclone:

    I disagree. Warren is led astray by the inherent flaws in the utopian Libertarian ideology, not leftism. I have also seen no evidence that he dislikes the US or wants to make it look bad - quite the contrary.

  12. skhpcola:

    I may have been fooled by his reverence of policies that would explicitly harm the US, such as his advocacy of open borders, and his gleeful and perpetual condemnation of right-wingers. His admiration of idiotic leftist pap written by trash like Kevin Dumb and Paul Krugman isn't a mystery, if you accept that Warren is a Liberaltarian.

  13. mesocyclone:

    Warren is a thoughtful Libertarian and is clearly well intentioned. I just happen to think he is very wrong on a couple of issues, especially immigration. He's right on a whole bunch of others.

    His stance on enhanced interrogation is not one I could condemn, even though I disagree with it. The subject is inherently controversial, and it is very hard to draw clean lines.

  14. Titan28:

    Well said, Mesocyclone.