Sunday, April 26, 2009

Grr. Keith Olbermann

I know I'm pretty much alone around here in my distaste for Keith Olbermann. My latest reason for seriously disliking the guy:

Sean Hannity has offered to be waterboarded for charity and Olbermann is offering a thousand bucks for every second he's under.

I realize that Hannity did offer and as a publicity matter it is perfectly legit for Olbermann to publically take him up on it, but waterboarding is not a fucking dunk tank, y'all. This is torture we're talking about, and I don't think treating it like Hannity's in a high school kiss-a-pig contest to raise money for the football team is appropriate.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reportedly impressed the CIA immensely by lasting almost two minutes being waterboarded. My suggestion would be that Olbermann give $120,000 now and NOT make the amount of his contribution dependent on how much torture another human being can stand. It's just morally wrong to cheapen the torture argument that way.

CC

Full disclosure: Recently I read in my homework about an Irish interrogation method that their courts had deemed "not torture." I was curious about it, so I did it to myself for two minutes. I knew damn well that I was in a study room of the Georgetown Law Library at the time and I knew I could stop anytime I wanted, so I didn't get the full effect, but it was an eye-opening experience. I told the professor of the class in question about this, and he said with amusement that he'd never had anyone do original research on the subject before.

As an aside, if you're a law student and you decide to do original research on torture, learn from my mistake and pick a method that DOESN'T involve your fingers. For typing to hurt for days is a really bad thing, law-school-wise.



Ps. If you'd like to read Christopher Hitchens' report on what his waterboarding session was like be my guest. Note from the picture attached, though, that Hitchens is wearing street clothes and shows no signs that he has been mistreated or imprisoned for months prior to the waterboarding. Also, Hitchens knows that he will be able to go home to his family that very day as opposed to real victims of waterboarding who have good reason to assume they will never see their familes again. His experience likely had more in common with my experiment in the law library than what an actual tortured person goes through, and he's still adament on the subject that waterboarding is torture.

22 comments:

Joel Monka said...

You're not alone in your dislike for Keith Olbermann. There's being delightfully puckish and snarky, and there's being a bastard. Keith, like one or two of our fellow bloggers, has no idea whatsoever where the line is.

Waterboarding is torture, and the very people who support it provide the proof: it is very effective; it can break a man in minutes. If it were not torture, it could not work so well- all subtle methods take days/weeks/months to work; only torture breaks someone that fast.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC,

Two other blogs (Pharyngula and archy) have both commented that waterboarding Hannity is wrong because (1) it's torture and (2) it trivializes torture.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/04/torture_sean_hannity.php

http://johnmckay.blogspot.com/2009/04/should-we-waterboard-sean-hannity.html

Archy's blog also comments that being waterboarded would also work with Hannity's "playground bully" personality. Just because someone is a bully doesn't mean that he or she lacks courage or the ability to resist torture.

Hannity knows that all he has to do is endure for a few seconds and he can go home at the end of the day. He can score political points from this and enhance his "masculine" reputation in the eyes of his fans.

Chalicechick said...

I'm not even sure Hannity is right there. Christopher Hitchens writes in his article that he is too embarrassed to tell his readers the exact amount of time he lasted.

(((Just because someone is a bully doesn't mean that he or she lacks courage or the ability to resist torture.)))

Again, the CIA was congratulating, more or less, a guy for making it for two minutes. Nobody ever has the courage or ability to risk it for very long.


(((Hannity knows that all he has to do is endure for a few seconds and he can go home at the end of the day. He can score political points from this and enhance his "masculine" reputation in the eyes of his fans.)))

I don't think that will work if he only goes a few seconds.

Admittedly, Olbermann's effective PR stunt means that Hannity fans will be more likely to say "You couldn't make it five seconds more to get five thousand more dollars out of Keith Olbermann?"

The second comment on one of the stories I read in preparation for writing this blog post was "I hope the bet is taken and he can last long enough that a million dollars has to be paid to our Military Familes."

If Olbermann is offering a thousand bucks a second, then Hannity would have to endure more than sixteen minutes of waterboarding to make a million dollars.

If an actual badass can only make it for two, I suspect Hannity's fans will be sorely disappointed.

CC

Ms. Theologian said...

I don't like the Olbermann.

ogre said...

Olbermann aside...

Hannity postured his toughness, feeding the utterly disgusting proposition popular on the right that the kinds of crimes being committed weren't really very bad, no more than frat house stupidity and entertainment (child rape, murder, etc?). The "offer" was utterly disingenuous, a fraud.

Hannity had his partner in mindless babble there to decline the bold, macho offer.

Hannity got to adjust his shorts on screen, showing the idiots watching him just what a tough guy he was--and to deride the hideousness of the actual torture.

It was propaganda. Period.

As such, I understand the impulse that Olbermann has acted on. He's called Hannity out. He's making the torture deniers face the fact that their big damned he-ro is a pusillanimous twit. He'll either decline, tail suitably cowarded as he suggests he need not make good on his offer... or he'll go and do it.

Maybe he'll have an epiphany in doing so.

Maybe not, and in that case, he'll have to face his adoring mob and admit that KSM lasted something like 10 times as long as Mr. Machissiminio could.

If Olbermann had come out of the blue and suggested that Hannity get himself tortured to show how trivial it was(n't)... I'd be put out with him. I'm not. It's put up or shut up. It's counter propaganda.

It's counter propaganda that Hannity's audience will notice; it's not simply a cool, calm, rational argument that torture is torture and should not be done. It's mocking the propagandist.

Olbermann doesn't, I believe, think that Hannity has the cojones to actually face it--Hannity is certainly capable of looking at the information and seeing that he'll break so quickly as to be seen as having folded like wet tissue paper. That humiliation would be worse than just refusing to take note of Olbermann's challenge.

Waterboarding is torture. No one should posture and suggest that *they* could take it. It is effective at what it does--breaking people. It's grossly ineffective for what it's CLAIMED to do, which is to get useful, reliable, actionable information.

Hannity crossed a line that should not be. Olbermann called him on it. He did it in a way that steals the macho thunder.

Like it or not, that's effective. It's not denigrating the horrible character of torture--that had already been done.

ogre said...

Oh, and apparently it's not torture (legally speaking) under the law, if Hannity does it.

"Torture" means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control"

This would fall under some form of consensual stupidity..

PG said...

Kind of with ogre on this one -- I strongly dislike Olbermann, in part because I prefer the moral high ground and he never really does (he's self-righteous, which means he likes to pretend he's on that high ground), but there are times when it's awfully tempting to get down in the mud with your opponents.

Joel, I'm not sure how you're measuring the "effectiveness" of torture. Breaking a spirit isn't supposed to be the goal, at least not outside 1984; the goal is to obtain useful information. You can break a spirit without getting good info. The Vietnamese tortured the crap out of McCain, to the point that he was suicidal and signing "confessions," and he still was capable of giving them false names rather than accurate info.

Joel Monka said...

PG, actually I doubt its effectiveness for getting ACCURATE information- I was using the argument of those who support waterboarding (that it works, but isn't torture) against them- if it really does work like they say (they spoke of how quickly they broke tough-guy terrorists, that's why they want to use it), then that proves it IS torture.

Bill Baar said...

Olberman and Hannity are in the business of selling themselves.

They're not serious thinkers.

If there was more serious talk on some of these issues, these guys wouldn't have such a clear playing field for profiting over what is basically a stunt rather than a clear exposition on a serious moral issue: the immorality of torture vs the immorality of foregoing information that could save lives if torture has a probability of yielding it (and claiming the probability is zilch is not effective moral reasoning.)

One of the most appalling I saw was O'Riley interviewing Rev McTique on TV and she said she could define torture and could not respond to the question of what could be asked of a combatant fighting outside the rules of war and therefore not entitled to the rules protections.

She just couldn't say.

If that's the response of those charged with moral and ethical education, than the field is left to games by guys who are celebrities.

That's what a great deal of America's become and the culprits are intellectuals who are really no longer serious about their jobs.

Bill Baar said...

PS

Steve wrote, Hannity knows that all he has to do is endure for a few seconds and he can go home at the end of the day. I've read that's a big reason why waterboarding effective. The subject knows they'll be whole if they give up and talk.

I believe all of the hard techniques were routinely used on Service Members as part of their survival training.

PG said...

claiming the probability is zilch is not effective moral reasoning.So what is the probability? and what is the necessity of using torture when other methods already have elicited information, as they had with Abu Zubaydah who'd given up all the info he had, is probably schizophrenic, and yet was waterboarded 83 times just in case there was anything more there? in particular, what is the necessity of using torture to get someone to say "Oh yes, there is a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda" when there's no evidence of one?

Sorry, but I'm really tired of the BS "but what if the ticking time bomb" stuff. We didn't torture for that. We tortured in circumstances where we could have gotten the information through the conventional means, which as Joel notes take much more time. We waterboarded people literally dozens of times after they'd already told us everything they were going to. The people at the top of the Bush Admin ordered the agents on the ground, the agents who were saying "Look, this isn't getting us anything, we want to stop," to keep going either to get some trumped up crap they could use to justify invading Iraq, or out of pure sadism.

I find defenses of that literally revolting. It turns my stomach that people are unembarrassed to compare the experience of SERE training to that of a person who knows that he could vanish without a trace in U.S. custody.

Bill Baar said...

We need the Administration to release all the documents to know how they calculated the probabilities.

I promise you though. Any American President, if confronted between the choice of torture, if he/she is told torture stands a chance of yielding information that would protect the US from an attack, will torture. Will do what ever it takes upon whoever they have in hand.

There is an honorable position that says torture under any circumstance is immoral.

But it is not dishonorable to say the immorality of torture is the price to pay if it saves lives.

It's an old choice.

Whether the previous Administrations did the calculations right, and weighed the alternatives right, we need an investigation to decide.

Power is often about picking between two immoralities.

Terror bombing European cities to end WWII early (and they were deliberate terror bombings..don't doubt it... expected and designed to kill civilians, women, and children. As an ex-German soldier told me we were all in Russia. Our wives and kids were in Hamburg... this while watching a German Doc on the firebombing).

FDR refusing to bomb concentration camps because it would distract from the effort to defeat Germany and end the war as quick as we could.

It's all about picking from really bad choices.

As Ogre said going over to the "dark" side.

Wanna be Prez, then I fear you have to take a walk over there sometimes. You sell your soul in defense of the country.

PG said...

Any American President, if confronted between the choice of torture, if he/she is told torture stands a chance of yielding information that would protect the US from an attack, will torture. Will do what ever it takes upon whoever they have in hand.Bullshit. If all that's required is "a chance," no matter how infinitesimally tiny, then we'd go ahead with the Yoo-approved testicle-twising of the small children of terrorists as a way to get information. We don't (so far as I know) actually do that, because sane human beings don't act based on "a chance."

Again, really tired of the "I'm the big swinging dick that's willing to torture to prove my patriotism" arguments. Look at the people we actually tortured, and the information we actually got from torturing, and cut the crap about an alternative universe in which waterboarding KSM preventing a nuclear holocaust in NYC.

There is an honorable position that says torture under any circumstance is immoral.

But it is not dishonorable to say the immorality of torture is the price to pay if it saves lives.
No, it's still dishonorable. It's only honorable if the price to pay is that if you're going to be the hero saving lives, you had better be ready to be prosecuted and put in prison for breaking the law. If anyone tortures when there's a genuine ticking time bomb, then he can try the various defenses already built into the criminal law, including necessity and self-defense, and even if those don't work, will probably benefit from jury nullification. But the idea that we should simply say, "Eh, there is no law against this, do what you will, when you will, on the thinnest of pretexts."

Remember what I said a long time ago about civil disobedience? That it doesn't really count unless you're willing to sit in the Birmingham jail? Same goes for being the brave patriot who is willing to torture. It's really damn easy to make other people suffer for your goals. The test is whether you're willing to suffer for them too.

PG said...

should have been: But the idea that we should simply say, "Eh, there is no law against this, do what you will, when you will, on the thinnest of pretexts," is to give ourselves over to those who promise they will keep us safe so long as we never hold them accountable.

Joel Monka said...

PG- I noted your good answer on my blog.

Bill Baar said...

"a chance," no matter how infinitesimally tiny,I didn't write that. I talked of probabilities the action would save lives. An infinitesimally tiny probability would be a waste of time and if the clock-ticking and failure itself.

Again, really tired of the "I'm the big swinging dick that's willing to torture to prove my patriotism" arguments.I didn't talk patriotism. I think it's true of any leader, now, and in the past.

When confronted with the choice of torture vs saving members of the nation; they'll torture.

Again, assuming they believe the have a probable chance of getting infor that saves lives.

I gave the examples of fire bombing terror raids to show when a good many Americans would accept deaths of children (since you raise children) in return for what they believed would be an earlier ending to a war. We used a kind of torture to force submission.

"Eh, there is no law against this, do what you will, when you will, on the thinnest of pretexts,"There is no law applicable to combatants who have declared war on the United States, and fight their war outside the bounds of the Geneva Conventions.

They're not criminals. They're combatants outside the bounds of civilization and law.

The Bush Adminstration tried to figue out the rules it would apply to such a foe and put the rules on paper.

No other Nation in the world would no such a thing. They would just do what it took and dispose of the results.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told the judge at Gitmo after those 168 waterboardings --this the guy who sawed off Danny Peal's head twice (they had to repeat the execution by placing his head back on becaus the camera didn't work the first time)--

Your intelligence apparatus, with all its abilities, human and logistical, had failed to discover our military attack plans before the blessed 11 September operation. They were unable to foil our attack . . .

Our prophet was victorious because of fear. At a month distant, the enemy did not hear from him. So, our religion is a religion of fear and terror to the enemies of God: the Jews, Christians, and pagans. With God's wiling [sic], we are terrorists to the bone. So, many thanks to God.

The Arab poet, Abu-Ubaydah Al-Hadrami, has stated: "We will terrorize you, as long as we live with swords, fire, and airplanes." . . .

We will make all of our materials available, to defend and deter, and egress you and the filthy Jews from our countries. . . .

We ask to be near to God, we fight you and destroy you and terrorize you. The Jihad in god's cause is a great duty in our religion...Your end is very near and your fall will be just as the fall of the towers on the blessed 9/11 day. . . .

So we ask from God to accept our contributions to the great attack, the great attack on America, and to place our nineteen martyred brethren among the highest peaks in paradise.
If those waterboardings of KSM saved lifes, I'd say we struck the right moral balance.

PG said...

Joel,

Thanks. I thought your post made a good point about the standard "what would you do if it were your loved one" point: we make policy based on how a government should act, not on an individual's emotions. This always puzzled me about Dukakis's answer in the 1988 presidential debate about the death penalty if it were his wife who had been raped: why didn't he say, "I personally would want to rip the guy limb from limb, but the U.S. government is prohbited under the Constitution from using cruel and unusual punishment."

Bill,

There is no law applicable to combatants who have declared war on the United States, and fight their war outside the bounds of the Geneva Conventions.I realize this claim is very popular, but in fact the bar on torture exists regardless of the victim's status. I'm afraid you've gotten the Geneva Convention's various postive requirements (e.g. of allowing Red Cross access), which I agree may not be applicable to terrorist detainees, confused with international law prohibitions that apply to every human being.

The U.S. is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified and entered into force in 1994). Or if you're the type who considers treaties meaningless, check out 18 U.S.C. 2340:

As used in this chapter—
(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
(3) “United States” means the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States.

(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.


No other Nation in the world would no such a thing. They would just do what it took and dispose of the results.And you don't think your arguments are coming out of jingoistic "America is so special, nobody ever would be as virtuous as America" sentiments? Why don't you try actually researching how torture has been considered in other countries that have dealt with terrorism -- we are by no means the first. Look at Britain's dealing with Irish terrorists (many of them funded by Americans, btw).

Israel has been under literally constant, nonstop attack from its inception as the Jewish state. With the intifadahs, it has been dealing with folks who are not soldiers as the term is understood under the Geneva Conventions, who are committing terrorism against Israeli civilians. Yet Israel still establishes a framework of what is legal to do to detainees. Its Supreme Court has ruled, "Neither the government nor the heads of security services possess the authority to establish directives and bestow authorization regarding the use of liberty-infringing physical means during the interrogation of suspects suspected of hostile terrorist activities. The judges left available the defense of necessity that I have already mentioned exists: in extraordinary circumstances, interrogators that independently decide to break the law may later on, when brought to justice, try to claim that they have acted out of extreme necessity in order to save innocent lives.

Bill Baar said...

Yes, which is why the administration went to such great lengths to figure where the line was between torture and harsh interrogation, and put it all in writing.

A distinction the current Administration has no inhibitions about when it comes to the same rules on rendering captives to countries who are likely to torture. Leon Panetta has a history going here.

I have zero doubt any American president will put his/her oath of office above all when it comes to defense. If the circumstances right, they will torture if they believe our security depends on it.

I'm all for the truth commissions. George Soros put Obama to the wall here and the Administration should disclose all the memos and lets get this out in the open.

Maybe I wrote it above already, but I think when the history is written, it will find the Bush response on GWOT and the policies adopted on interrogations humane and proportanate responses.

That TV celebs get into contests about who can endure the techiques a sure sign that what we did pretty tame. Hannity and Olbermann wouldn't be in a challange like this if we crushing fingers, or using the rack, or even practices long used by the Chicago PD.

PS You're right about Israel. But there are very few countries with their moral sensitivities.

Joel Monka said...

"I have zero doubt any American president will put his/her oath of office above all when it comes to defense. If the circumstances right, they will torture if they believe our security depends on it."

Bill, I take it that you didn't read my reply to this in my blog- "The oath of the President, from article one, section two, clause eight: "Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." and from his duties, section two: "...he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,..."

In other words, his oath is to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, which means that if he or she puts his oath ABOVE ALL, then he will not torture.

Bill Baar said...

Joel,

I think it's exactly that oath that binds the Prez to do pretty much whatever it takes to defend the country. Including overlooking a UN treaty on torture we've signed while the foe hasn't.

I think every Prez past, pres, and future would say that oath of office trumps that treaty (Obama's declined prosecuting the agents who did the waterboarding... it's Obama's oath trumping the treaty).

The Bush administration didn't go that route and tried to define harsh methods short of torture, but rather than split hairs on that I'll lump waterboarding, slamming against a wall, bugs, nudity as torture.

My bottom line is I believe every Prez will say that oath obligates them to do pretty much whatever it takes agianst someone at war with us: nuke Hiroshima, fire bomb Dresden, repatriate the Cossaks to Soviet Russia after the war even though we knew Stalin would execute them man, women, and child to keep the peace and commitment to our Soviety ally (my uncle saved a Russian crew run aground during the war and was sickened when the Soviets promptly shot the ship's Captain on return.. but it was my Uncle's duty to return them --the Rus Skipper told my Uncle Mother Russian had plenty of Captains, few Ships..I'm a dead man).

I think a Prez does morally problematic stuff --if not plainly immoral-- all the time to defend the country.

Witness now UN Rep Susan Rice's comments in Power's piece in the Atlantic long ago waying the lives of Rwandans v one American solider...60k to one or something.

That's the calculus done in the name of that oath of office. Whether US security and interests worth the lives of saving those Rwandans.

If there is a belief waterboarding will save American lives, every Prez will do so... including this one.

Bill Baar said...

waying = weighing... brainlock

Joel Monka said...

Actually, none of the things you mentioned violate US law. Nuking Hiroshima and betraying Cossacks was and is legal, though not honorable. Torturing prisoners does violate US law. While I agree that realistically most Presidents would do it, they would be doing it in violation of their oath.