A little dose of reality can change your mind pretty damn quick.

Conservative radio-host Eric “Mancow” Muller has long claimed that waterboarding isn’t torture on his show. He recently decided to put his money where his mouth was and agreed to being waterboarded himself. He went into it thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal and he’d be able to hold out for 30 or 50 seconds—he lasted a mere six seconds after which he declared it’s definitely torture. Keith Olbermann had him on to talk about his experience in an interview:

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It’s worth pointing out that Mancow didn’t even experience what the detainees in Gitmo have had to endure. The cot he was laying on was even and not at a head-down incline, he wasn’t restrained, and he had the ability to stop it at any time. It was done to him once for a total of six seconds. Compare that to the 83 waterboardings in a month that Abu Zubdaydah was subjected to. Hell even Christopher Hitchens went through it twice before confirming it’s torture.

Six seconds. That says a lot about how quickly you can change your mind when you experience it for yourself. I love that Sean Hannity, who boastfully claimed he would be willing to be waterboarded for charity a few weeks back, called up Mancow and told him “It’s still not torture.” Hannity doesn’t have the balls to try it himself and find out.

Found via Thing Progress.

Frequent church goers more likely to approve of torture.

So much for religion providing the moral high ground:

WASHINGTON (CNN) —The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week—54 percent—said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

I’m not happy that 42 percent of “seldom to never” respondents also think it’s often or sometimes justified, but at least it’s not a majority.

Which group do you think most approves of torture? Com’on, it’s easy!

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified—more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

Consider that for a moment: Evangelicals, a group which often lays claim to being morally superior to all others, are the most likely to support torture whereas people unaffiliated with any religious organization, the so-called Godless heathens, are the least likely.

Doesn’t surprise me at all. These people worship a God that sees nothing wrong with tossing people into a pit of everlasting fire to be tortured for all eternity. Why should they be bothered by a little torture here on Earth? At least here there’s some glimmer of hope it’ll end for the poor bastards experiencing it. If it’s good enough for God then it’s good enough for America!


Rachel Maddow on what we know now about Bush’s torture program.

We’ve had bits and pieces of information what the Bush Administration was up to back when they were in office, but only now that they’re gone and Obama is releasing some of the classified documents on it is the scale of it all becoming clear. I used to entertain the idea that the torture program Bush and friends set up was an paranoid outgrowth of the events of 9/11, but it appears that they set it up in advance of even that:

Hearing stuff like that makes Obama’s repeated statements that he won’t prosecute the people involved in these programs all the more maddening. At the very least Rumsfeld, Cheney, and probably Bush himself should be tried for war crimes along with any of the lawyers who came up with the bullshit arguments in defense of these programs. If they’re allowed to get away with this then the next time they get into power they’ll feel like they can do it again and they probably will.

I love my country, but I’ve never been more ashamed of it than I am today with the revelation of just how far we’ve gone in breaking the principles we once stood for. These people need to be brought to justice and made to answer for what they’ve done.

On the subject of torture in “World of Warcraft.”

So I managed to ding to level 80 the other night with my main character, a dwarven hunter named Balfour, and along the way I’ve done several hundred quests one of which stuck in my head.

As it turns out it’s stuck in a few other people’s minds as well. Folks like Richard Bartle who blogged about it and started quite the discussion across various gaming websites. The name may not mean much to most folks, but Richard was one of the people instrumental in the development of the precursors to Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGS) as we know them today. He was one of the guys who developed the first Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) game which was entirely text based and the coolest shit on the Internet back before everyone and their cousin started using it. You can read a little of his background here. His work laid the foundation for what was to come and for that gamers everywhere owe him at least a beer or two.

The quest Richard blogged about comes fairly early in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion that Blizzard just put out, or at least it does if you start in the Borean Tundra zone, and it involves torturing a bad guy for info on the location of another NPC. The title of the quest is The Art of Persuasion and the quest text reads as follows:

It is fortunate you’re here, <race>.

You see, the Kirin Tor code of conduct frowns upon our taking certain ‘extreme’ measures – even in desperate times such as these.

You, however, as an outsider, are not bound by such restrictions and could take any steps necessary in the retrieval of information.

Do what you must. We need to know where Lady Evanor is being held at once!

I’ll just busy myself organizing these shelves here. Oh, and here, perhaps you’ll find this old thing useful….

At which point you’re given an item called the Neural Needler which has a text description of: Inflicts incredible pain to target, but does no permanent damage. Now take a moment to consider what this quest is requiring you to do. If you’re playing an Alliance character, which I am with this toon, then you’re a “hero” or “the good guys” and you’ve just been asked to torture someone to retrieve urgent information.

It’s the first time I’ve ever paused to consider the quest I was about to undertake as I was surprised by it. Richard was as well:

I’m not at all happy with this. I was expecting for there to be some way to tell the guy who gave you the quest that no, actually I don’t want to torture a prisoner, but there didn’t seem to be any way to do that. Worse, the quest is part of a chain you need to complete to gain access to the Nexus, which is the first instance you encounter (if you start on the west of the continent, as I did). So, either you play along and zap the guy, or you don’t get to go to the Nexus.

I did zap him, pretty well in disbelief — I thought that surely the quest-giver would step in and stop it at some point? It didn’t happen, though. Unless there’s some kind of awful consequence further down the line, it would seem that Blizzard’s designers are OK with breaking the Geneva convention.

Well they may be, but I’m not. Without some reward for saying no, this is a fiction-breaking quest of major proportions. I don’t mind having torture in an MMO — it’s the kind of thing a designer can use to give interesting choices that say things to the players. However, I do mind its being placed there casually as a run-of-the-mill quest with no regard for the fact that it would ring alarm bells: this means either that the designer can’t see anything wrong with it, or that they’re actually in favour of it and are forcing it on the player base to make a point. Neither case is satisfactory.

Now I admit that I didn’t have quite the same reaction as Richard. I was taken aback, but I did the quest and moved on and didn’t really think about it much until later. I suppose you could claim that the countless hours I’ve spent killing zombies, Nazis, and thugs in horribly violent video games over the years has desensitized me, but I don’t buy that because out of the hundreds of quests I’ve done on the way to level 80 this one sticks in my mind in an uneasy way. Why? Because it’s completely out of context and the fact that you can’t progress the quest line without doing it.

I’m not saying that torture shouldn’t be depicted in a video game. WoW has other quests that involve torture, murder, and even genocide and while a good chunk of them are on the Horde side there’s a few on the Alliance side as well. The difference is the context. For example if you start a Death Knight, the one new class with this expansion, during the course of your first two levels you’re under the control of the Lich King and are technically a villain. There’s a long quest line that eventually has you freed from the Lich King and along the way you’ll have to do a quest, amusingly titled How To Win Friends And Influence Enemies, that has you beating several NPCs to death with red hot pokers until they give you the information you need. I had no problem with that quest because I was, at that point, playing a baddie and torture is something baddies do. It fit the context. In comparison my dwarven hunter is a hero and has done many heroic things in the course of the game and as such the torture quest seemed really out of context and not the sort of thing my hunter would do at all. Even if you went with the Bush Administration’s flimsy rationale for torture sometimes being necessary, the threat of immediate catastrophic harm, there’s nothing in the quest line to suggest that would apply in that case. It basically boiled down to a lazy NPC turning to me to do the dirty work he wasn’t willing to sully his own hands over.

Now it’s possible the quest designers at Blizzard were trying to make a larger point about torture and I, and other folks like Richard, are failing to see it. If that were the case then I’d feel a little better if the torture weren’t successful in extracting the needed info. Torture never works in the real world and while I know that WoW, and wherever it is the Bush Administration governs from, isn’t The Real World it’s still annoying that torture works there in the same way that it’s annoying that it works every time Jack Bauer does it in the TV show 24. In a game as well written as World of Warcraft this one quest seems particularly jarring to me otherwise I doubt I’d still be thinking about it after so much time has passed from doing it.

Ultimately I would be pleased if Blizzard decided to modify the quest in some way, but I won’t quit playing WoW if they don’t. It is just a game, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be had in discussing things like this.

Christopher Hitchens has himself voluntarily waterboarded.

Christopher Hitchens is one of the more interesting atheists out there for me because as much as I agree with him on most religious issues I also disagree with him quite a bit on his politics. Awhile back in an article for Slate.com he appeared to be defending the practice of waterboarding. He basically repeated the Republican talking points that claimed waterboarding is an “extreme interrogation technique” but not really torture. A lot of folks called him on it and suggested that if it’s not torture then perhaps he should give it a go himself to prove it.

To his credit that’s just what he did. He writes about it in a new Vanity Fair article titled Believe Me, It’s Torture:

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.

You can see for yourself how long he lasted in the video they filmed of him undergoing the procedure, but it’s definitely worth reading the whole article as he tells us that he makes a second attempt at it. It’s one thing to read about people who have experienced this process, it’s entirely another to watch it happen and realize that our government has been doing this to people for some time now and doesn’t rule out doing it again. The fact that President Bush has condoned and authorized such a practice should be grounds for impeachment by itself.

The right wingers who continue to insist that waterboarding isn’t torture should be invited to partake of this exercise as well so they can see first hand just what it actually is. I know I’d pay good money to see pundits such as Rush Limbaugh, who has repeatedly equated waterboarding to being “no worse than frat-house hazings”, undergoing the process a few dozen times. I doubt he has the balls to put himself to the test the way Hitchens has.

Link found via Boing Boing.

If America doesn’t torture then why did we hide it from the Red Cross?

Here’s a news item that’ll boil your blood. Newly released documents reveal that our government, which claims it doesn’t torture, went to some length to hide detainees from the International Red Cross to avoid being called out for torture:

“We may need to curb the harsher operations while ICRC is around. It is better not to expose them to any controversial techniques,” Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, a military lawyer who’s since retired, said during an October 2002 meeting at the Guantanamo Bay prison to discuss employing interrogation techniques that some have equated with torture. Her comments were recorded in minutes of the meeting that were made public Tuesday. At that same meeting, Beaver also appeared to confirm that U.S. officials at another detention facility — Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan — were using sleep deprivation to “break” detainees well before then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved that technique. “True, but officially it is not happening,” she is quoted as having said.

A third person at the meeting, Jonathan Fredman, the chief counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, disclosed that detainees were moved routinely to avoid the scrutiny of the ICRC, which keeps tabs on prisoners in conflicts around the world.

“In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD (Defense Department) has ‘moved’ them away from the attention of the ICRC,” Fredman said, according to the minutes.

[…] It’s unclear from the documents whether the Pentagon moved the detainees from one place to another or merely told the ICRC they were no longer present at a facility.

Fredman of the CIA also appeared to be advocating the use of techniques harsher than those authorized by military field guides “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong,” the minutes report Fredman saying at one point.

Am I reading that right? Are they suggesting that if someone doesn’t die from it then it’s not torture?

Not everyone involved was blind to the possible repercussions of what they were doing:

The administration overrode or ignored objections from all four military services and from criminal investigators, who warned that the practices would imperil their ability to prosecute the suspects. In one prophetic e-mail on Oct. 28, 2002, Mark Fallon, then the deputy commander of the Pentagon’s Criminal Investigation Task Force, wrote a colleague: “This looks like the kind of stuff Congressional hearings are made of. … Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this.” The objections from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines prompted Navy Capt. Jane Dalton, legal adviser to the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, to begin a review of the proposed techniques.

But Dalton, who’s now retired, told the hearing Tuesday that the review was aborted quickly. Myers, she said, took her aside and told her that then-Defense Department general counsel William Haynes “does not want this … to proceed.” Haynes testified that he didn’t recall the objections of the four uniformed services.

Of course he doesn’t recall the objections. No one in this administration ever remembers being told what they were doing was probably illegal. Not that it matters, he should have known they were illegal and not needed objections from anyone.

Here’s the interesting part: We train our soldiers on how to resist being tortured. Guess what they did in order to develop their own “harsh interrogation techniques” for use in Guantanamo. That’s right, they checked in with the folks who train our boys to resist torture:

Officials in Rumsfeld’s office and at Guantanamo developed the techniques they sought by reverse-engineering a long-standing military program designed to train U.S. soldiers and aviators to resist interrogation if they’re captured.

The program, known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, was never meant to guide U.S. interrogation of foreign detainees.

An official in Haynes’ office sought information about SERE as early as July 2002, the documents show. Two months later, a delegation from Guantanamo attended SERE training at Fort Bragg, N.C. Levin said, “The truth is that senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality and authorized their use against detainees.” The documents confirm that a delegation of senior administration lawyers visited Guantanamo in September 2002 for briefings on intelligence-gathering there. The delegation included David Addington, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney; Haynes; acting CIA counsel John Rizzo; and Michael Chertoff, then the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and now the homeland security secretary. Few of the Republicans at Tuesday’s hearing defended the Bush administration’s detainee programs. Guidance provided by administration lawyers “will go down in history as some of the most irresponsible and shortsighted legal analysis ever provided to our nation’s military intelligence communities,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C..

Of course this all makes America look like a nation of hypocrites when the Bush Administration has the gall to chastise countries like China on their civil rights abuses. How can we claim the moral high ground when we’re acting no better than the countries we’re berating?

How the hell any of these people in the Bush administration will walk away without being tried and convicted for war crimes is beyond me.

Justice Deparment’s infamous torture memo finally released.

Call it Bush Administration Fatigue, but I find it hard to get outraged about the following story:

Memo: Laws Didn’t Apply to Interrogators – washingtonpost.com

The Justice Department sent a legal memorandum to the Pentagon in 2003 asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes.

The 81-page memo, which was declassified and released publicly yesterday, argues that poking, slapping or shoving detainees would not give rise to criminal liability. The document also appears to defend the use of mind-altering drugs that do not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.”

[… ] Sent to the Pentagon’s general counsel on March 14, 2003, by John C. Yoo, then a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the memo provides an expansive argument for nearly unfettered presidential power in a time of war. It contends that numerous laws and treaties forbidding torture or cruel treatment should not apply to U.S. interrogations in foreign lands because of the president’s inherent wartime powers.

“If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo wrote. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.”

Interrogators who harmed a prisoner would be protected by a “national and international version of the right to self-defense,” Yoo wrote. He also articulated a definition of illegal conduct in interrogations—that it must “shock the conscience”—that the Bush administration advocated for years.

We’ve long known about this memo and I’ve even written outraged entries about it in the past, but seeing the full version of it now just makes me shake my head. The fact that John C. Yoo to this day still tries to defend the memo as being just and correct just shows me how corrupt the people in the Bush Administration are, but that’s not a surprise either. Additionally the fact that the President believes we’ll look back on his presidency in 30 or so years and say he was right all along shows how far into his own little fantasy world the man has retreated.

I can’t get angry about it anymore. All I can do it look forward to that cold day next January when he’s finally gone for good and hope to hell that the next person we get in the White House does what he or she can to undue the damage done by the current occupant.

President Bush: The Torture President.

It’s a slow day at work today so I’m getting caught up on my current events. Events such as the recent passage of an anti-torture bill by Congress which Bush promptly vetoed. Congress was unable to get the two-thirds majority needed for an override ensuring that while Bush likes to keep claiming that his administration doesn’t torture the fact remains that it has in the past and will continue to be able to do so in the future:

The Bush administration has opposed taking any interrogation options off the table, saying that to do so would rob U.S. investigators of important tools. In a statement after the vote, Press Secretary Dana Perino said, “The bill would have eliminated the legal alternative procedures in place in the CIA program to question the world’s most dangerous and violent terrorists.”

Water boarding isn’t legal. We tried, convicted, and executed several Japanese military people for doing it to our troops during WWII, what’s changed over the decades that makes it legal when America does it?

In his veto message Saturday, Bush said: “The fact that we have not been attacked over the past 6 1/2 years is not a matter of chance. It is the result of good policies and the determined efforts of individuals carrying them out.”

That may or may not be true, but it doesn’t provide a compelling argument that water boarding and other forms of torture are legal and should be available as interrogation techniques. There’s been no evidence outside of anecdotal claims by the Administration that any terrorists attacks have been thwarted thanks to the use of water boarding. It’s just another example of how Bush is perfectly happy to lie to your face and then keep on doing whatever the hell he wants to do. Just a shame there’s not enough politicians in Congress with the balls necessary to stand up to him.

Bush racking up the achievements for history

Bush will already be known throughout history as the “Terror President” (though of course his opponents may think of another type of terror than his supporters). Now he’s well on his way to also becoming known as the “Torture President”. In addition to all we already know (and all what even the White House doesn’t even bother denying anymore!) about official policy on torture, Bush is now set to use his executive powers to veto both House and Senate to prevent a bill that restricts the CIA from using torture to extract information.

There we are, in 2008. A president who will go against popular opinion, against his own legislative branch to protect the CIAs right to scar people bodily and mentally. Go, freedom and liberty!

PS: McCain was tortured in Vietnam. Any bets whether he will take a stance on this, or weasel his way out?