Saturday, April 25, 2009

Odd Bits 3: Torture and Bill Maher

The Interrogator Speaks
An issue eliciting much brouhaha across our country is in right now (besides who’s gotten voted off American Idol) has surfaced with the release of the so-called “Torture Memos”. These memos note the high-level approval to torture as a regular tactic, almost immediately after 9/11.

I understand the nature of this conflict… you have the “Keep Us Safe At All Costs” camp versus the “Thou Shalt Not Torture Lest We Become Our Enemy” camp.

I tend to come in under the latter, though allowing for shades of gray. There are far too many cases where there is not a black and white answer. (Unlike on “24”, where you almost always know what has to be done.)
But regardless of the camp, there is one argument that trumps all… “Does it work?”

That shoe seemed to have dropped this week with
an Op-Ed in the New York Times by a fellow that was involved with the interrogations. He wrote:

“One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.”

“There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.”

Game, set, match. If it doesn’t work and is unnecessary, then it is pointless to dither about the moral points of torturing. End it, and reap the benefits of taking the high road for whatever reason.

Another thing these memos have accomplished is to get the onus off the field-level personnel conducting the dirty work. I bet if these were public a couple years ago, we wouldn’t have convicted the low-level grunts at Abu Ghraib. It’s clear that the orders to torture and humiliate came from the highest levels of the Bush Administration and not just a few “bad apples.” Just like in real life… the rich and powerful skate while those without cash or clout do the time.

I Wish I’d Said That Dept.
Have you ever had something on your mind and spill it out in some silly blog and then someone comes along and says it smarter, funnier and more pointedly? I get that a lot and it happened again when I read this column by Bill Maher in the LA Times. He used part of it on his show “Real Time with Bill Maher” last night, but the whole thing is worth the read.

Some of the chestnuts:
“If conservatives don't want to be seen as bitter people who cling to their guns and religion and anti-immigrant sentiments, they should stop being bitter and clinging to their guns, religion and anti-immigrant sentiments.”
“Here are the big issues for normal people: the war, the economy, the environment, mending fences with our enemies and allies, and the rule of law. And here's the list of Republican obsessions since President Obama took office: that his birth certificate is supposedly fake, he uses a teleprompter too much, he bowed to a Saudi guy, Europeans like him, he gives inappropriate gifts, his wife shamelessly flaunts her upper arms, and he shook hands with Hugo Chavez and slipped him the nuclear launch codes.

Do these sound like the concerns of a healthy, vibrant political party?”
“The GOP base is convinced that Obama is going to raise their taxes, which he just lowered. But, you say, "Bill, that's just the fringe of the Republican Party." No, it's not. The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, is not afraid to say publicly that thinking out loud about Texas seceding from the Union is appropriate considering that ... Obama wants to raise taxes 3% on 5% of the people? I'm not sure exactly what Perry's independent nation would look like, but I'm pretty sure it would be free of taxes and Planned Parenthood. And I would have to totally rethink my position on a border fence.”

You should read the whole column from the link above. To me, Bill Maher is almost worth the cost of getting HBO by itself.

Note: I'll have another post soon, probably tomorrow. It was orignally part of this one but I'm running long. Sometimes once I start typing, I just can't stop. I may be shaped like a bowling pin, but my fingers are in great shape. I also haven't forgotten about the last installment of my Favorite Villains series. Stay tuned...

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