Precedent, or: What hasn’t happened yet?

Second-hand – a cabbie from Uganda describes what it was like:

“Bush is a dictator. Did I offend you?”

“No. What makes him a dictator?”

“You cannot joke about killing him. Hell even under Amin we danced and sang death songs at him. He had a hotel complex that he tortured people in. The difference between Bush and Amin as far as that goes is that I knew where my relatives were being tortured, and no one knows exactly where the Americans are torturing their victims.”

“Do you believe we are doing horrible torture to thousands or to a few?”

He thought about it and said “Is there any difference? My experience is that once torturers begin torturing, the torturers have a hard time stopping.”

That really upset me. I persisted. “Seriously, do you think we are torturing thousands?”

He took his time. “They won’t let you see one dead soldier. Even under a flag they won’t let you see it. They don’t tell you the truth about anything. They lie lie lie. My experience tells me this. I don’t really know. But if I had to guess, I would guess that your government is doing the worst things you can possibly imagine. Liars are lying because they cannot tell the truth. When I see Bush speak, I don’t see a stupid man as you do and many others. I see a man who is too shamed to tell the truth. He has caused so much pain and knows it, but if he admitted one little bit of it, it would come crashing out like a dam. You understand? Bush is in a lot of pain.”

We pulled up to the hotel, I asked him to park and waved off the bellhop.

“What do you think will happen to America, Bale?”

“What do you mean WILL happen? What hasn’t happened yet? You torture in secret. You invade for what? The government reads your e-mail and listens to your telephone and makes you take off your shoes and pull out your computer. For what? Who do you need to protect yourself against? Is your computer going to attack you? Who should you be afraid of? Your government is more scary to most people than any terrorist. I feel for you really. Because I don’t think you have any idea how far down the road you already are.”

First-hand – an author from Soviet Russia describes his experience of the methods we use in Guantanamo:

In 1971, while in Lefortovo prison in Moscow (the central KGB interrogation jail), I went on a hunger strike demanding a defense lawyer of my choice (the KGB wanted its trusted lawyer to be assigned instead). The moment was most inconvenient for my captors because my case was due in court, and they had no time to spare. So, to break me down, they started force-feeding me in a very unusual manner — through my nostrils. About a dozen guards led me from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the feeding tube into my nostril.

The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man — my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit. . . . Grrrr. There had just been time for everything to start healing during the night when they came back in the morning and did it all over again, for 10 days, when the guards could stand it no longer. As it happened, it was a Sunday and no bosses were around. They surrounded the doctor: “Hey, listen, let him drink it straight from the bowl, let him sip it. It’ll be quicker for you, too, you silly old fool.” The doctor was in tears: “Do you think I want to go to jail because of you lot? No, I can’t do that. . . . ” And so they stood over my body, cursing each other, with bloody bubbles coming out of my nose. On the 12th day, the authorities surrendered; they had run out of time. I had gotten my lawyer, but neither the doctor nor those guards could ever look me in the eye again.


Sure, right now it’s just a bunch of foreigners and I guess we don’t feel foreigners are entitled to basic human rights. They must not be human — or at least not as human as “we” are. When you think about it, who knows who “we” are either? Right wingers make millions of dollars writing books about how liberals are godless, death-loving, traitors within. Many people who read those books probably believe these liberals are only one step away from being sub-human too —- they are, after all, godless traitors.

But as the soviet experience shows, anyone can be defined as such sub-humans and at some point it usually comes around to catch even the people who wrote the original tales of godless, death-loving traitors within. I don’t know why — maybe it’s a kill the messenger thing.

Coturnix is from what was once Yugoslavia:

Many of my friends and neighbors don’t believe that even they may end up in prison with no recourse to justice.

Who decides?

Many of my friends and neighbors have not experienced, like I did in Yugoslavia of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the gradual transformation from a nice, sweet, proseprous, freedom-loving country into a bunch of thugs duking it out over land and religion. Tito was dead for ten years. Prime Minister was Ante Markovic. Thousands of small businesses were starting up every week. Small people were getting rich. There was ebullience in the air.

Then, in a manner eerily reminiscent of BuchCo, thugs like Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic hijacked the government and started a civil war, ending with a break up of one big strong country into six small, economically weak and dependent units.

But that was a small country. Who is going to stop the USA? If you leave for Australia, Europe or Canada, you will just feel the effects a litle later than if you stay.

I can’t afford to leave, so that makes my decision easy.  For whatever reason, maybe residual Boy Scout indoctrination, who knows, I still believe in the idea that the United States of America represents, so I wouldn’t leave even if I could.  It helps that I don’t have a family to protect.  And I’m privileged enough that I’ll probably never have to worry about dying in a jail for dissidents or anything like that.

There are already American citizens who do have to worry about that, though, if their families are from the wrong country.  There are already American citizens, and people who by sheer chance were born in countries other than the United States of America, who are receiving the Josef K. treatment.  Until now, the Josef K. treatment was merely de facto, and potentially rectifiable.  As of Friday, the Josef K. treatment is the law of the land.


23 thoughts on “Precedent, or: What hasn’t happened yet?

  1. Jesus

    Steve, for your birthday I’m sending a scandal upon the GOP accusing them of hiding the fact that one of their own liked to cornhole underage boys. I’m sending this scandal within a month of midterm elections. Don’t move out of the US, please.

    Happy Birthday Steve. Now quit being such a downer all the time. You should be shitting rainbows!

  2. Graham

    Seriously Eeyore. Hope no one pissed in your Cheerios this morning. You have a fantastical birthday. May it be filled with donkeys and hookers and firetrucks.

  3. Jennifer

    Happy Birthday. Thank you for posting this, for bearing a tiny bit of witness.

    And thank you Ananth for shutting up for once, though I confess some curiosity about how you’d defend the right to torture.

  4. Eric

    Heckuva guy that Jesus. I still pick Santa in a fight, but whatever. And Ananth it’s Oct 3rd now. As the official representative of satan assigned to this blog we need ya to keep up the debate.

  5. Ananth

    I am not defending the right to torture. I disagree that with the end of the world as we know it that Steve is bearing witness.

    Placing feeding tubes in is a painful process. See the wikipedia article on how they are placed. These are people who use our sense of decency against us, who will behead people for simply existing, and then claim that they are the ones being abused. If they allowed prisoners to starve to death, you would also be crying bloody murder. They can’t leave the tubes in and they can’t do the other more surgical methods of feeding. This is not the Soviet Union however, and these are not political prisoner, and they are not using the feeding tubes to punish them.

    I don’t think that having more coercive techinques on terrorist subjects captured outside the United States at all equals the path to Milosevic. I don’t agree that some of things that are being allowed are denying those captured ‘basic human rights’. Basic human rights are just that, basic. The rights afforded to citizens and people under the jurisdiction of the laws of the United States are not the same as the rights afforded to outside parties in war time. Things like jury trials and innocent until proven guilty, or guilty beyond a reasonable doubt are not basic human they are extended rights the people have decided to define.

    Finally, since I don’t know Jennifer at all, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and I am going to assume she meant shutting up for once in the nicest way possible as opposed to the poeople who have opinions different than mine should not speak way.

  6. pedro


    After reading your post, I don’t understand how you can say you are still “not defending the right to torture.” The sort of “I’m not defending torture, but you know, these people are trying to kill us, so we got to do what we got to do” argument does not fly.

    If the Administration is for the spread of American-style Democracy (and that is what they claim), then it absolutely requires that we behave as the American-Style Democracy we pretend to be. Extending Civil Liberties AND THE BASIC HUMAN RIGHT NOT TO BE TORTURED seems like a great way to show the world that our way is best. That includes extending the rule of Civil Law to everyone.

    The minute you create a separate class of people and how to behave towards them, you stop being the democracy you pretend you are being. It doesn’t matter if they are not citizens (cause oh my fucking god, what if the rest of the world followed that absurdist rule of thumb?). If we are to be the shining example of liberty, then we should act like it.

  7. Ananth

    First of all, when I say I am not defending the right to torture, I mean I don’t think torture should be allowed. That being said, I disagree with the premise that all coercive techinques equal torture. Are you really going to try to make the argument that sleep depriving a terrorist subject to make him talk rises to the level of torture? Is making them stay in a colder room equals attaching electic diodes to their nuts? I think torture is a lot obscenity. People’s definition of it varies.

    Secondly, spreading American Style Democracy does require us to act like it. That doesn’t mean we need every Civil Liberty that poeple have defined for ourselves. Civil law is defined by the people, as is who is extended what rights and freedoms. Now its a perfectly valid point of view that all Civil Rights should be confered to everyone regardless of their citizenship/legal status. My point is that things we take as Civil Rights as Americans are not the same as Basic Human Rights, and that I am all for basic human rights for everyone, but I disagree with where the line for basic is drawn.

  8. pedro

    I would make the argument that sleep deprivation and freeze-out do equate to torture, but clearly they would hold no sway with you.

    I don’t know where you draw the line for basic human rights, but it’s clearly drawn way way way below my own high standards. The difference between you and me is that I’d rather you raise your standards than I lower mine.

    I think we’d all be better off if we stood a little taller and raised our standards a little higher.

  9. Ananth

    that is a completely respectable and laudable position to take. However it doesn’t work in the real world. These are not criminal offenses, these are people trying to kill as many people as possible and we need people to talk, giving them the right to remain silent just does rise to the level of basic human rights.

    See the other post to see my opinion on torture.

  10. Steve

    However it doesn’t work in the real world.

    Oh, do tell of this real world, where torture is a reliable means for getting accurate information, let alone so much more consistently reliable than all other forms of intelligence-gathering that it is necessary to betray the soul and founding principles of our country so that we may use it. Do, I pray, tell.

  11. pedro

    I can point you to a few different studies that show torture does not work to gather information. The reason why I don’t bother with it is because I doubt it will change your mind.

    You’re the one who doesn’t operate in the “real world.” Torture doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in the studies of it. It doesn’t work in Game Theory. It doesn’t work in gathering useful information.

    If it doesn’t work, it isn’t worth further ruining the reputation of this country.

  12. Ananth

    Again, your and my defintion of torture are different. Secondly where did I say torture works or doesn’t work, and where did I say it was neccessary or not? I am talking about coercive techinques , emotional and pyschological in nature on high value subjects with what could be time senstive information. You guys are the one that automicatlly assume anything that is done the is unpleasant equals torture.

    I am not even trying to have the argument with you whether torture works or it doesn’t work. Just as you can point me to studies that shows it doesn’t work, I can point to cases where it has worked, where we have gotten reliable , high value intelligence. But arguing that it doesn’t work and therefore we shouldn’t sully our reputation implies that if it did work that maybe we could, which I am pretty sure you would dismiss right away.

  13. pedro

    I’m perfectly capable of changing my opinion if the facts change. It’s a shame that most people seem to be unable to do so.

  14. Ananth

    I wasn’t implying that you couldn’t change your mind. But are you telling me that demonstrated proof of these techniques working or demonstration that torture works in some case would make you ok with it? If so, there is plenty out there saying it does.

  15. Jennifer

    Ananth, I meant it in the nice way. Thanks for clarifying your argument.

    I would like to live in a country that says “We don’t torture people, ever.” Call me a crazy idealist.

  16. Ananth

    I would also like to live in a country that says that to. I would also like to live in a world were people don’t strap explosives to themselves and try to kill as many civilians as possible because they don’t agree on interprationes of religion.

    I don’t think idealist are crazy at all. I think they are important and serve as reminder of what we all want, hope, and pray the world will end up like someday.

  17. Steve

    For the first time in human history, people exist who want to kill lots of other people. In the name of religion, no less! This unprecedented development can only be fought by ignoring human rights. Gotcha. Glad we have clear-eyed realists like you around to tell us what’s what.

  18. Ananth

    Yeah, that’s exactly what I just said and meant. Also can you add a spell checker to your blog? I am annoyed at the shear number of typos I have but I am to lazy to actually type it in word first.

    Also, as flippant as your remark may have been, for the first time in history a small or singular number of people have the ability to kill massive amounts of people are their own, and that is something that history has dealt with before. 19 hijackers managed to kill 3000 people on their own.

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