Dennis Loo

Sometimes asking for the impossible is the only realistic path

Dennis Loo

Dennis Loo
Los Angeles, California,
December 31
Professor of Sociology
Cal Poly Pomona
Author of Globalization and the Demolition of Society; Co-Editor/Author of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, World Can't Wait Steering Committee Member, co-author of "Crimes Are Crimes, No Matter Who Does Them" statement, dog and fruit tree lover. Published poet. Winner of the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award, Project Censored Award and the Nation Magazine's Most Valuable Campaign Award. Punahou and Harvard Honor Graduate. Ph.D. in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. An archive of close to 500 postings of mine can be found at my blogspot blog, Dennis Loo, link below. I publish regularly at, (link below) and also at OpEd News and sometimes at Counterpunch.

APRIL 24, 2009 10:14AM

Tugging on the Torture Thread

Rate: 53 Flag


Chris Floyd writes at Empire Burlesque “
The Fatal Thread: Torture, War and the Imperial Project:”
“You cannot disentangle the torture program from the war of aggression in Iraq – nor from the illegal wiretapping program, the corrupt war profiteering, and all the other degradations of liberty and law that have been so accelerated in the past eight years. They are all of a piece, part and parcel of a plan to expand and entrench America's ‘unipolar domination’ of world affairs with a thoroughly militarized state led by an unaccountable, authoritarian ‘Unitary Executive.’

“This is one reason why Barack Obama is so obviously reluctant to tug on the torture thread too hard. If you tear it out, with full-scale prosecutions and top officials locked up behind bars, the whole rotten skein would fall apart. Once you start genuinely subjecting government officials – including security apparatchiks and military brass – to the full extent of the law, there would be no end to the unraveling: senators, contractors, representatives, bureaucrats, generals, lobbyists, judges, corporate chiefs – the whole edifice of Establishment power would be shaken to the core as its leading lights went down, one after the other.”
Floyd is right. The
magnitude of the crimes and precedents set by the Bush regime is so immense, so deep, and so foul that, like Hercules, you’d need the Alpheus and Peneus Rivers to clean these Augean stables. Obama dare not tug on the threads of it too much or the whole cloth will unravel.


The curtain has been pulled back for a moment and behind it is revealed Torquemada, the infamous Spanish Inquisitor and inventor of waterboarding.

This scandal potentially threatens the Empire’s legitimacy to the core. The torture memos’ release has sparked a public revulsion powerful, widespread, and determined enough that public officials who have been intransigent like Obama and Sen. Diane Feinstein are at last calling for investigations and possible prosecutions. The public demands have not even approached their potential or the level that is necessary. But so far they have been enough to force Obama to back off from his original plan to “look forwards” and thereby allow the freaks and monsters to lumber off into the sunset.

From “What the US Does to Prisoners,” No Right Turn:

“This is a woodcut from Joost De Damhoudere's Praxis Rerum Criminalium, a guide to criminal law as it stood in the 16th century. The woodcut illustrates ‘the water cure," a method of interrogation. The victim is tied down, their face covered with a cloth, and water is poured into their mouth. It produces a sensation of drowning and asphyxiation, and so encourages the victim to talk. Hence the scribe, ready to take down the confession.

“According to numerous sources within the CIA, this is exactly what the US does to ‘high-value’ detainees:

“’According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

"’The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,’ said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.’

“The technique is one of six ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ used by the CIA when questioning "high-value" detainees. For the historically-minded, it was also used by the Spanish Inquisition under Torquemada - though unlike the Americans he at least admitted that what he was doing was torture (for the good of people's souls, of course).”


The wave of enthusiasm and hope that Obama rode into office is a double-edged sword for him and this system. To retain his credibility Obama must appear to be doing the right thing; his legitimacy within his social base and that of the Democratic Party depend upon this. Obama’s wildly popular, but this popularity also ironically constricts his choices.


In contrast, Bush and Cheney’s social base doesn’t expect anything but xenophobic Realpolitik, might makes right, “who gives a damn about the rest of the world, facts, truth, science, morality, foreigners, or international law? We’re Americans, goddamn it, screw the rest of you.”


Obama, it seems, miscalculated around the memos. But then, he had little choice. The ACLU lawsuit was forcing his hand and he could release the memos when he did, or he could have fought the suit longer, but eventually he’d have had to cough up the memos and would have tarnished his reputation in the process. His image has already been eroded badly among growing numbers over his war policies, his stance on civil liberties, rendition, his reserving the right to go beyond the Army Field Manual in interrogations, and his outrageous assertions of “sovereign immunity.” That erosion can only continue.


The reaction to these memos has been much sharper than he anticipated. But this is how scandals and legitimacy crises (if this does become a full-blown legitimacy crisis) often develop: through twists and turns, the unexpected and unanticipated, the perps finding that they have no good choices, only bad ones from which they must choose.


This scandal, if it proceeds - at this point it is difficult to see how it can be stemmed - will be far more devastating and dangerous than Teapot Dome, Watergate, and Iran-Contra put together. The more that comes out, the harder it will be to contain it and staunch the hemorrhaging.


Obama was recruited by the powers that be as their ace in the hole, an articulate, skillful, charismatic, black man with very little baggage who could persuade millions that he would rescue them from the horrid, disastrous, profoundly compromised, corrupt to the bone, illegitimate Bush regime. This gambit worked like a charm, until, that is, Obama had to start implementing policy and his rhetoric about hope and change had to give way to actually doing something. Then his real colors started to show.


Obama’s mission for the powerbrokers was to rescue an imperialist superpower in crisis, financially on the brink of collapse, increasingly isolated internationally, a pariah to most of the world, and enmeshed in two costly, losing wars. Obama’s task was to restore confidence and belief in the system, keep people in the fold, annihilate and/or intimidate foreign adversaries, prosecute these wars and occupations successfully, and retool the Empire in a way that would allow it to carry out its goal of unrivaled dominance.


The Stakes and the Tangled Fabric


Obama was chosen as the continuator of that which Bush and Cheney were so notorious for carrying out: a rupture from past practices, overturning sacrosanct legal principles such as habeas corpus, the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure, prohibitions against torture and pre-emptive wars (by explicitly adopting torture and pre-emptive wars as public doctrine), FISA, separation of powers, and so on, all under the rubric of the “war on terror.” These measures were and are necessary to this superpower because their goal is world domination and as such, past rules – as Alberto Gonzalez famously put it, referring to the Geneva Convention, “quaint” rules - present insuperable barriers to their grand scheme.


Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!—One; two: why, then

' tis time to do't.—Hell is murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and

afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our

pow'r to accompt?—Yet who would have thought the old man to

have had so much blood in him?

- Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act V, Scene I.


The trouble for the government is that with the exception of a handful of them such as Kucinich, both parties and their leaders especially are neck deep in felonies and crimes against humanity. The White House briefed Nancy Pelosi, for instance, in 2002 about the illegal surveillance over all of us and their waterboarding of detainees such as Zubaydah. She said nothing and when she rose to the House Speakership, she declared that impeachment and investigations were “off the table.” She had knowledge of crimes and impeachable offenses, and allowed these crimes to continue. That makes her a co-conspirator. Rep. Jane Harman, by comparison, is a smaller fish, a piranha it’s true, but not the school leader.


None of the Democrats, including Obama, did what they should have done and were obligated to do, filibuster the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that legalized torture and stripped anyone of habeas corpus rights that Bush or his henchmen dubbed “enemy combatants.” Sen. Patrick Leahy’s the only one to have objected to the other bill that Bush signed in a secret ceremony on the same day as he signed the MCA: the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 that gave the president emergency powers based on his say-so alone. In other words, it gave the president the power to suspend the Constitution, declare martial law, and the power to do so on the president’s say so alone by, if he or she wanted to, fabricating or even alleging an incident with no one to stop the president. How many people in the country have even heard of this bill, let alone know what it means?


By letting these two bills pass when they could have and should have stopped them, Congress conspired to commit and perpetuate crimes against humanity. Their ongoing funding of these illegal, unjust and immoral wars are also part of their depraved complicity.


To put it simply, the Democrats one and all have known what went on under Bush and Cheney, and what is still going on.


Redrum. Redrum. Redrum.The Shining, by Stephen King


John Yoo and Jay Bybee will be, it would appear likely at this point, prosecuted. Unlike Watergate where the White House officials all either went to jail or were disgraced and forced out of office, this torture scandal has a far larger cast of characters. Finding the scapegoats and letting the big ones go is possible, but because the paper trail is so clear and extensive, with the orders coming from the very top, and with both Bush and Cheney on record as approving of torture, it strains the imagination how they will escape ultimately. This is also true of Rumsfeld and Rice, Gonzalez and Tenet. And so on. Not a cast of thousands, as in Hollywood, but a cast of dozens at least.


Obama and Holder can try to bury the Nuremberg Verdicts, the Geneva Conventions, and the UN Convention Against Torture and try to finesse holding these towering crimes and criminals to account. But if you consider what impact these four torture memos have had so far and compare them to the even worse material that lies just beneath the surface (some of it already in the public domain, but not yet widely known) and the ongoing, explosive contradictions that this economy and this Empire face, you get an idea of the minefield that no amount of fancy dancing by Obama can entirely avoid once this process starts.


Let us begin.


Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch

Of the rang'd empire fall! Here is my space,

Kingdoms are clay; our dungy earth alike

Feeds beast as man. . . .


Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene I



Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
You are to be commended for this outstanding work. I hope that many people read it. The hard truths are emerging, I think. Our new president is loathe to prosecute the old president because of what it will reveal about the power structure.
This morning, listening to NPR, I almost put my foot through the radio. NPR kept referring to what's going on right now as a "partisan distraction." This will keep Obama from doing the real work of the administration: because prosecuting war criminals is petty, minor, means nothing. And who do they interview to affirm their talking points? Some asshole from the American Enterprise Institute. Usually, when they talk to someone from a "liberal" think tank, they identify them as such. But you'd believe that AEI represents all of us.
I feel sick.
I know those woodcuts. I have tons of them from my own studies.
Let them howl that this is partisanship and a witch hunt. Let them go on and on till their spittle runs fast and furious down their faces and chests. Let Limbaugh slap himself silly and say that this is torture.

Who the true witch hunters and inquisitors are the evidence will show.

They are like the monsters who see the villagers coming with their pitchforks and blazing torches, wild-eyed the monsters gesticulate and moan, while the people come to drive them from their lair and to destroy the hated beasts.
You state, "To put it simply, the Democrats one and all have known what went on under Bush and Cheney, and what is still going on."

That is the crux of the matter. It is the biggest impediment to a substantive call to account. Ultimately, those who should be taking the lead in bringing light to this dark chapter are themselves complicit in what occurred. They either knew and remained silent, or they approved. Either way, they bear guilt.

Our only hope is for the Justice Department to take the lead in offering immunity to the lower level implementers of the policy, in order to determine who ordered the policies to be carried out. If those who actually carried out the torture don't name names, then no immunity.
Yes, Procopius, some of the town folk leaders have been feeding and protecting the monsters in their mansion and they are, as we speak, trying to stop the villagers from marching any further up the Hill because these leaders have been the monsters' protectors.

The wild card here are the people. They need to keep marching forward and demanding justice.
Fingerlakes and BBE: Thanks for the information and commendation. I never cease to be amazed at the way that the meaning of a salon is enacted in people's comments. One can learn so much from others.
I think the Augean stables myth is so useful.

Thanks Stellaa.
Why this isn't an Editor's Pick, on the Cover and all over the internet, I don't know. America needs to wake up, learn and read the truth. I, for one, know that I can find it here with every word you write. I'm DIGGing this and every person that reads this, has a conscience and wants REAL change should too. Rated. I'm bring in the enforcements. Bravo, Dennis. (PS. FLouncing is when you threaten to leave OS and do it with a post that announces it. Promise me you won't do it. On the other hand, most people are like the boy who cried "Wolf". They come back within a few days. But I think the record is less than a few hours!)
Thanks cartouche. Flounce I won't.

Reinforcements, that's what we need!
You appear to be getting some well deserved play and attention for speaking out and saying things some of us have been saying since well before Obama even got into orifice. Good on ya, mate. Keep up the fine work.
Hear, hear, Dennis! You are absolutely right about 100% of this. If the PTB wants to stay that way and avoid the eventual true cataclysmic people's revolution that is the only denoument possible in the wake of continued stonewalling, they better prepare some sacrificial lambs, and quick. Yoo and Bybee would seem to be pretty obvious and may buy some time, but eventually it may require feeding Gonzales, Rumsfeld and Rice to the beast as well. Personally, I hope I live to see Cheney and Bush imprisoned one day, but I won't hold my breath.

Great post!
Reinforcements indeed - thank you (and many others) for documenting what's going on, especially for those of us who want to know more, but lack the time/knowledge of how to get more knowledge.
Brilliant and outstanding work here. Great job!
A standing ovation, sir. Excellent work.

As a life-long democrat, I can tell you that I have been enraged for the last 16 years by the cowardice of my own political party. Clinton was bullied into submission by an opposition congress, with little difficulty, I might add. Dem's across America stood and watch with their collective thumb up their ass while the Rep's pounded them into legal submission in 2000, with moderate difficulty, it's worth noting. But then the Dem's in Bush's Congress were bullied into submission by opinion polls whipped into a frenzy by Bush's political machine, with even less difficulty than Clinton, I'm afraid.

If only a handful of Dem's would have stood up against the rape of our civil liberties, stood their ground long enough for the frothing dogs to relax, we might not ever have gotten into this mess in the first place.

Hindsight is 20/20, sure, but anyone could see this coming a mile away.
A brilliant analysis of this, the most grim episode in the history of our country and a call to action for those of us who still retain hope for it's salvation.
We've effectively zipped right through fascism and are well into Nazi Town. Reminds me of the time I was looking to buy Shoah, the documentary. The person who helped me locate it asked me what it was about. "The Holocaust, " I said. "Oh, that was sad," she replied, "But that could never happen again." "Something just like it is starting to happen right here," I said. She just smiled and rang me up. That was years ago.
It is scary but I agree. I posted on this, too. And yet NONE of the torture posts, not mine, not FLWs, not Monte's, and NOT YOURS which is most excellent, are on the cover. A shanda, as we Jews say. A terrible shanda. It MUST unravel, lest we be morally bankrupt.

There are so many of you here now: THANK YOU ALL for coming, reading, commenting and recommending.

We are on the outer edges of a decisive storm. May it sweep away all the monsters.
May we instead create a loving community where monsters have no power, and are of no consequence.
This post has reminded me of what happened in my country...- during dictatorship! To have democracy undervalued like this is so dangerous... I totally agree with Stelaa´s words, not necessarily about the US, but about countries in general: "I think we as a people are up to our necks for letting this go on in our name. We stood by in silence."
Brilliant post Dennis, I´m happy Cartouche let us know you were here. Rated of course.
I second Dynomyte, and, as always, give you high praise Dennis.
And BBE and Cartouche.
Dynomyte: Happy to hear of your work before his election. I also was part of that crew.

Lonnie: I won’t quit on this one till Bush and Cheney get their just desserts.

Owl: as I say sometimes to my students, you don’t know what you don’t know. Exposing people to it is part of what, as Stellaa describes it, the new journalism, is and must be about.

Fireeyes – thank you so much.

BBE: how can I thank you enough for all your work and assistance?

JLee: no more evading, absolutely.

Skip Reilley: It wouldn’t have taken more than a handful of Dems to stand up, it’s true. There were a handful who came out for impeachment, but the fact that the party leadership took the path that they have is a revelation of what the whole leadership class is about now. They both support the Empire. You’re right that it could be seen coming a mile away.

Ablonde: A beautiful sentence.

Robin: I’ve run into the same thing, people saying it couldn’t happen again. People who say that don’t understand how it happened in the first place and therefore don’t see the signs now.

Lisa: Thanks for teaching me a new word – shanda. And morally bankrupt is a phrase that can’t be repeated enough.

Marcela: You are so right. Civil liberties need to be fiercely defended. As Naomi Wolf has pointed out, the early days of fascists look mostly like life as usual.

Dakini – always good to hear from you.

ApacheSavage: thanks!
Escellent and informative and scares the hell out of me. I'm passing it on. thank you. (and Cartouche for steering me in this direction)
thank you for your enlightened post. many outrages fade with the winds of time. reminding us the inquisition, shows us the depth of depravity the bush administration sunk to seeking false ideals and truths. --rated--
What an incredible sociological perspecitve - thank-you. I would have loved to have you as a prof in college. You've given me a lot to think about and discuss about these complex issues - here I thought I had it all figured out.
I am with you on this Dennis. There is too much at stake to accept the idea that "Democrats" will save us from "Republicans." Our republic has been used abused spit on and trampled.
We might still be in Vietnam if it wasnt for real journalism, words, photos and TV, showing us the daily horror. Even then, it took the people marching everywhere to force the leaders to do what we elected them to do. Today, we dont have much in the way of real journalism, so it will take pieces like this going viral to wake up sufficient mass of people to yell "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"
I am taking Cartouche's suggesting, getting a Digg account and flagging this piece.
Are you listening Big Salon?
Dennis - You're right. They'll always try to scare us out of pursuing justice. How many times are we going to buy into that fear? We've done it our entire history, and rail against them when they break the laws again. The only way polticians are going to hold people accountable is if we, the people, tell them we'll support them in doing it.

In my opinion, and I realize this will be a delicate balancing act, Obama needs to place this entirely into the hands of the justice dept. and then MOVE ON with his other agenda. He cannot let Repubs keep him talking about this. And if they keep talking about this, while he moves on and fixes the economy, healthcare, etc...they'll be the ones hurt by it.
Wow. Well done and ready for max exposure. Rated, too.
First rate Dennis, absolutely first rate.

It's pretty obvious that nobody with the power to do something about this really wants to actually do anything, as they are all to some degree complicit. I wonder if that was part of the Cheney Administration's plan - the best defense is a complicit prosecutor.

BTW - in my line of work, we have a term, "structural paint". It describes a building where the framing is rotten, but the paint is fresh, so the only thing that we can figure is holding up the building is the coat of paint. I'm starting to believe that this term very aptly describes our government.
@John Leonard: I couldn't agree with you more. The emperors have no clothes. It's time to level the building and start again from scratch.
Dennis, thank you so much for such a thoughtful, powerful and well written piece. A voice of reason! I have been waiting a long time to hear words of this nature. I try speaking to friends in the U.S. about this subject but denial is a thick blanket to cut through. I can't really add anything new to what my fellow OSers have been expressing so well so I will just thank you again. Merci.
Procopius sez:"Our only hope is for the Justice Department to take the lead in offering immunity to the lower level implementers of the policy, in order to determine who ordered the policies to be carried out..."

But the DOJ has already indicated that lower level implementers will not face prosecution. Immunity is only offered to those who DO face prosecution, so this outcome is unlikely.

Oh God, they know, and will employ every means to keep The Empire in power.
I agree, this should totally be an editor's pick!!
I need time to digest this, but so appreciate the work involved in creating your argument. I feel that we are going to find too much to ignore, despite Obama's reluctance. I lived through Watergate and it started with a break-in. We are beyond that point already.
Fabflamingo: Being scared this way and about the right things is good! LOL Thanks.

Mr. Mustard: Love the name. Depravity is a word I like to use in connection w/ these people.

Y Heron: What I like about sociology is that, unlike government, which was my undergraduate major, I can look at anything and still be using sociology. I’m so glad that what I’ve written has provoked thought…

Tim4change: You are so right that the choice is not Dems or Repugs. Too many people think inside that box. It’s a box, to borrow from the Bybee Memo, in which you can neither stand nor sit. And as for Vietnam, you are so right! Thanks for Digg’n.

Noahvose: I think that Obama may end up doing what you recommend, but not for the same reason. The issue here isn’t primarily one of partisan fights btw the GOP and Dems, although there are elements of that in the picture of course. The main issue from Obama’s perspective is: how do I carry forward the basic trajectory of what Bush and Cheney did but make it more acceptable to people? How do I keep the people’s revulsion against the monstrous acts like torture from spreading like a contagion and endangering the PTB?

Zumalicious: thanks so much. Love your handle, by the way.

John Leonard: I really like that: “structural paint.” That is an excellent metaphor for what’s rotten in the state of America…

Cartouche: Naked as the day they were born…

Kitehlips: I’ll n’ y a pas de quoi. Truth and facts have been so debased by lies and the interests of Empire, more Americans need to speak the truth. A powerful thing this is.

Wayne: Point well taken. They will use every means at their disposal. But they are, as Cartouche reminds us, butt ugly naked.

MiddleAged: Sure won't disagree with you about EP, but perhaps enough reader ratings will put this on the front page right column at least. With the help of some friends here, this may happen.

Lea: Yep. We're way, way past the break-in stage. Indeed, they have been breaking and entering all of our homes and offices since 2001.
Thanks for speaking out for those who need and want a strong and intelligent voice. I do think on so many issues and levels we are going to unravel no matter how much glossing and damage control is done. We are bursting at the seams with many messes created by the super wealthy and powerful.
All of this has been obvious for a long time, and it seems that we need more blogs like this to keep these thoughts alive because the powers-that-be are doing all they can to bury them down the memory hole.

An outstanding report. Everyone seems to think the American People are either not smart enough or brave enough to have hearing on these matters. They are full of shit. I remember Watergate, the hearings, the outrage, the resignation. I remember the Clinton impeachment. The outrage, the televised trail that everyone was glued to. Most of the congress going on T.V. after, and Al Gore saying" President Clinton will go down as one of the best Presidents in history". The American People are a hardy people, and I say to doubters, "Bring it on".
Living in Australia,we get little detailed information on US
Your article explains it fully,and succinctly.
A brilliant piece of work.
May I Email this to my friends here in Australia please?
Rated for excellence.

One of this situation's ironies is that many of the same people who are declaring that holding torturers and war criminals accountable cannot be or should not be done because it is a distraction or "great nations" don't do that (only banana republics do) or that it's too "divisive" are also saying that the American people can't take it. So, they're saying it's NOT too much for the American people to deal with the fact that their government's been torturing and killing people by the boatload, but it IS too much for them to have investigations and prosecutions of those committing those crimes!

Leonde: right on all three of your points, and Rick who makes the same point about the need for clear, informed, passionate, uncompromising, and principled voices to be heard so that those who have felt so burdened, depressed, frustrated, angry, and heartsick about all that's been going on have a pole to rally around, a light to help illuminate the path we need to take.

Several people here have been making this point and it's very true that one of the missing ingredients now and in the past several years is the presence and reach of such voices. Thanks to all for being part of meeting this need!
Peter Hilton: Of course, please email it anywhere you think it will do good!
My Mother is 85 years old, and tells me she wants to stay alive until the revolution. I have forwarded her this piece because I want her to live a while, and you will give her hope.
Great post, thank you for writing this.
Rightwing apologists, and frankly Obama, too, miss the point completely. The embrace of torture did not occur in a vacuum; it was a product of the same lack of moral compass that led leaders in government AND business to engage in many immoral acts -- and so far, few of them have paid for their acts. This lack of moral compass led them to:

(!) Denounce govt -- the only advocate of the people -- as the enemy, an offer the soulless, valueless "market" as an alternative

(2) Espouse jungle-ethic capitalism as the best and only way to promote the commonweal

(3) Deregulate financial transactions and look the other way while the greediest bastards on the planet brought down our financial system with their free-marketeering

(4) Cut taxes during wartime – an historical first

(5) Let New Orleans drown

(6) Expose a covert CIA agent

(7) Corrupt the Dept of Justice

(8) Cynically appoint people to govt posts who did not believe in the purpose or even the existence of the agencies they managed -- see the EPA and Mine Safety for the disastrous consequences

Torture is important because it is such an obvious example of this lack of a moral compass. No, we can’t legislate morality, but that's all the more reason criminality must be punished. If we do not root out and punish those responsible for torture, we will see it again – and soon.

And that is not all we will see again – and soon – if we do not punish those responsible for this evil. Any gains made in achieving Obama's laudable social aims will be only temporary unless we understand that it is as important to restore the rule of law as it is to restore the economy.
Excellent post, Dennis, as usual. You and some of the other commenters have nailed the problem: the Democratic Party is not, has never been, and never will be an entity we can count on to act in the long-term interests of anyone other than the Powers That Be. And you are so right about what Obama's role is in all this - it is to try to calm down the anger that was aroused when the Bush era's excesses (which actually started long before W was elected) finally brought the global economy to its knees, taking a lot of people's jobs and homes and health down with it. (For a provocative analysis of the roots of the current crisis, check this out (link will open in new window).)

We have to stay angry, folks, and we have to take our anger to the streets, and - most important - to the workplace. The only way to wrest control of our lives from the people who make money off our labor is to WITHHOLD THAT LABOR until our demands are met. That's a concept that hasn't had much currency in this country for a while, but it's about time we brought it back.
Notes from Joblessville: "My Mother is 85 years old, and tells me she wants to stay alive until the revolution. I have forwarded her this piece because I want her to live a while, and you will give her hope."

Oh my god, you made my day/month/year!

Scruffus - thank you.

Organian: Thank you as always. Staying angry/passionate is altogether appropriate and you are absolutely right about the critical and central importance of workers and workplace actions.

Tom: The reason I would argue that they have all been so immoral is because the doctrine that those you mention adhere to is neoliberalism and neoliberalism's moral stance is that there is no such thing as morality unless it's the morality of preserving and expanding capital. Anything else to neoliberals is extraneous, irrelevant and not worth a thing. Their god is $$$.

I make this argument (in part) in a more expanded and developed way in my book, Impeach the President, in Chapter Five: "Defending the Indefensible: Torture and the American Empire."

Thanks for your comments here and elsewhere (e.g., at Cartouche's blog). Much appreciated.
The Salon article concerning the Nuremberg trials shows, indeed, how far reaching torture investigations could go. The Nuremberg trials convicted those who admitted war crimes were committed but did nothing to stop them. Are any of us safe? I hope not.
Thanks for this post. And Tom C.: I agree!!
Hi Dennis,

I wrote the following on Blue's blog and I'll re-post it here:

"With all of these posts on water boarding, I've been trying to figure out my reticence to jumping on board the anti-torture bullet train all night. I guess it's this: if there was an evil person that knew some secret information that could stop people from being killed, why wouldn't I torture him or her to find that out to save people's lives?

Okay. I'm ready for the millions of comments I will get pounding me for that statement.

But, there seems to me a difference between torturing someone for information on a person who already did something, and torturing someone regarding something that is about to happen that you can stop.

Is this simplistic thinking?

I actually am a Catholic that thinks like a Buddhist most times, and these thoughts still come to mind. I mean, I totally believe in the laws of karma........ So, I'm not sure why I'm thinking this way.

Is it fear?"


It's not like I want to get pummeled. I want to hear your answer and you seem like a very smart guy. So, I welcome your response.


You write: "If there was an evil person that knew some secret information that could stop people from being killed, why wouldn't I torture him or her to find that out to save people's lives?"

There are a number of different ways of answering this question.

The most important one is in my April 22nd post: "The 'War on Terror' is Like Antibacterial Soap.”

That post puts the stress on the moral question which is the central one. I also address (albeit very briefly) all of the other major dimensions.

I would read that post first.

To add to that post, let's take your question.

The “ticking time bomb” scenario contains a number of fallacies. The first one is that the ones holding the suspect are CERTAIN that this suspect has knowledge about a soon to happen murderous act against many people.

Under what circumstances would anyone come upon such certain knowledge?

To my knowledge (I don't have complete knowledge, but I have familiarized myself with the issues in this matter), there has never been a case in history where such certain knowledge was possessed by someone.

It would be a different thing if you saw someone who had their hands on a triggering device that you saw was going to blow up a building or bridge where there were many people and you had a chance to stop this person, if necessary, by shooting them.

Torturing someone based on a SUPPOSITION (because that's all you would have) that they might be involved in a murderous plot is a wholly different matter. Torturing someone based on such a supposition would be morally and legally indefensible. It would also be a bad way to get information since torture doesn't produce honest answers. That is the consensus among intelligence people worldwide and the universal conclusion of those who have been tortured and survived.

The people who are justifying torture on the grounds that a "bomb" might be ticking somewhere are saying this not because they have such information - because they CAN'T have such information - they are saying it because they want to cover up what they're really doing and why they're doing it. (If someone wants to claim that an informant has told them that their suspect knows something, then you have to assume that this informant isn't lying. This is another supposition you'd have to be relying upon to justify torturing someone.)

Furthermore, if a group was actually planning a murderous terrorist attack and one of its members with critical knowledge of the plans were arrested, what would the rest of the group do? Would they still go ahead with their plans, knowing that one of theirs is in custody and could spill the beans? They would, of course, cancel the plans and disperse. This means that torturing the person in custody wouldn’t prevent an attack.

What those who torture are up to throughout history isn’t getting information. Torture is specifically designed to terrorize the individual and others. That is its purpose.

If one were to allow the exception that in some instances one may be permitted to torture someone, then what this opens the door to is anyone, anywhere, just has to SAY that they believe that the person they have in custody has info that will save many lives and that they can't find out the info without torturing them, and one would have NO WAY to determine whether or not this was simply an excuse and the torturers were using torture because they were sadistic or trying to terrorize the population and so on.

In other words, by allowing exceptions, what you have done is permit torture to become a regular, widespread practice. That would obviously produce a hellish world where any tyrants could torture without any consequences.
I've been doing some more thinking about this and I remember when Sadam Hussein was hanged, how there was absolute outrage that video had been released and how "horrible" it was to see his death, even though he had been responsible for the murders of hundreds of thousands (or was it millions) of people on his watch. Why we are not as outraged by the torture is beyond intelligent explanation to me. Any thoughts on this, Dennis?
Mt biker: Agreed!

Lairderg: Thanks very much.
Cartouche: I need a little clarification. Who was outraged that Hussein's execution was put up on YouTube? I know there was outrage, but I'm asking about the "who" because you're drawing a parallel here between those who expressed outrage about his execution being shown and the insufficiency of outrage over our government's torture policy. Are they the same people? My suspicion is that basically these are different people. Those who objected to Hussein's videotaped execution (the reason that his trial was so rushed, by the way, and the execution so swift was because the US government didn't want it to get out what Hussein had threatened to reveal, details and naming names in the long-standing close relationship of support that the US had had with him) are different than the people who haven't expressed outrage about torture.
Thanks Dennis. The "ticking time bomb" scenario is the one that keeps surfacing when I'm trying to get over *not* being outraged by waterboarding. My husband and I went over hundreds of possible scenarios last night, and you're right, we couldn't come up with a single one that would warrant or even be helped by an act of torture.

Seriously, I think that this "ticking time bomb" scenario is so present for me because I've seen too many Superman movies or CSI episodes (pick your movie or tv show). And I don’t want to minimize PTSD, but I think that to varying degrees we all suffer from it or something similar to it as a result of 9/11.

My feelings on this issue are surprising to me, because I'm a person that is adamantly against capital punishment, for instance.


9/11 was traumatic for Americans and the cultural productions that you mention such as CSI (you don't mention 24, but of course that one tops the list) have been exploiting this and promoting it.

Bush and Cheney made their regime on it. The GOP more generally and the rightwing overall bang the 9/11 drum incessantly because it suits their real agenda: a fearful population will agree to measures that they wouldn't otherwise stomach or contemplate.

The Nazis used this same technique to impose their policies.
A very good text again. Please keep up with your good work.

I think that there is still hope that publicity could help stopping the unjust wars and to stop torturing in prisons even during Obama's regime.
What a wonderful discourse you have started! Here's a tune from a brilliant group of dudes I listen to when I need to get my heart in order.

This will be my last comment, I promise. I just want to say that I appreciate your tone. You are informed and rational, and you didn't call me names, which I appreciate. My husband is a Jew and a student of the Nazis I would say, and he was having a hard time walking me through this discourse yesterday.

I hope to hear more from you;

"The only way to wrest control of our lives from the people who make money off our labor is to WITHHOLD THAT LABOR until our demands are met."

Thanks, Organian, for expressing a feeling I've long had. If we could manage to overcome our survival fears long enough, a nationwide labor strike would capture the attention of the PTB in a way few other acts would. The monsters live--are rendered capable of their deeds-- by virtue of what we feed them. Withhold it, and their system collapses. We have more power than we realize. And we need to trust we can help ourselves and each other in the wake of such a demonstration.
Dennis, your pithy comments: "Those who objected to Hussein's videotaped execution (the reason that his trial was so rushed, by the way, and the execution so swift was because the US government didn't want it to get out what Hussein had threatened to reveal, details and naming names in the long-standing close relationship of support that the US had had with him) are different than the people who haven't expressed outrage about torture,"

echoes the phony rush to invade Panama, imprison Noriega, make him unavailable to ANY media, as that would have exposed the illegal drug transshipments into the united states in return for armaments to the contras (in contravention of the Boland amendment), and probably have lead to the disclosure of how granddaddy prescott bush provided crucial support to the nazis, dooming the possibility of any further political career for ANY more bushes.

Gaddhafi, Noriega, Saddam, et al, all characterized as the hitler de jour necessary to topple to preserve our safety, when the diametrical opposite was the case; necessary to topple to conceal our continual meddling to force sovereign governments to conform to our dysfunctional view that all MUST bend to american economic and political interests, whatever lawlessness we employed to achieve our nefarious goals.
I copied this from DJohns' post that someone alerted me to earlier today. (I was going to answer his challenge but by the time I visited he had closed all comments):

"You get a lead that there is a high level member of this organization that is in the United States who is attempting to leave this country. You have him picked up and detained when he gets to the airport. You now have him in custody. Your intelligence, from multiple reliable sources, tells you that the 'chatter' is increasing and the time of the attack is imminent. You don't know where it will happen or when but you are convinced that it will take place and soon."

One of the fallacies in DJ's scenario is that the "chatter" convinces you that there is an imminent attack. Any group that is planning an attack like the one he's positing would have provisions for what to do in case one of their people gets picked up.

Even if the person was being held in custody and incommunicado, the very fact that they are incommunicado for an extended period of time would be a contingency that such a terrorist group would anticipate: anyone of us who disappears for a few hours will be assumed to have been picked up and we cancel our plans and disperse to the winds.

So even if their "chatter" and their intelligence agents are convinced that something was up, the jig is now up and there is no attack imminently coming, making the need to hurry up and torture this person for information moot.

If, assuming his scenario again, they are convinced that something might in the future happen, then they would have someone in their custody who they could question and perhaps get info from.

How then should they proceed? The appropriate way would be to

a) torture this person until he tells you whatever he thinks you want to know so you'll stop torturing him?


b) try to win his confidence and apply the time tested methods that have shown themselves to have the best chance of getting reliable info?
dijon closes all his entries when the level of his lies reaches a certain unanswerable crescendo and he finds that there is "nowhere to run nowhere to hide."
"Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide" is a good descriptor for Cheney et al right now too. These moral monsters have no leg to stand on morally, legally, or by appealing to facts or logic. Their arguments, upon thorough inspection and analysis, fall to pieces. It's up to those with a conscience and a brain to do that inspection and take them on and defeat them, for they are profoundly malignant.
Denese: You can post as many comments as you wish! And thank you for your kind words.

Thank you all in case I've missed out naming someone specifically. It's all good as people say.
First of all, I've always been amazed that Bush got in without enormous protest. In many other countries people protest what was somewhat of a coup. So the beginning is there.

Some thoughts: An advantage to using torture on "foreigners" or suspected terrorists is the fear it instills in EVERYONE to toe the line of the Powers that Be. In Nazi Germany, the "other" was scapgoated and harrassed, but the citizenry was clearly aware of the bullying might of the government.

There is no way to graciously look the other way and put this in the past. But it implicates nearly all elected officials. The immorality of the act disgraces the idea that we are leaders in this world.
Sorry...2 more thoughts:

1--Great post!

2- How is it that the Iran Contra Hearings took place, even during Reagan's term? (I listened to the entire thing at work back in the day...) What is so different now from then?
Without a paddle:

You have hit the nail on the head, in fact, you've hit two nails on the head, the first being:

"An advantage to using torture on 'foreigners' or suspected terrorists is the fear it instills in EVERYONE to toe the line of the Powers that Be. In Nazi Germany, the 'other' was scapgoated and harrassed, but the citizenry was clearly aware of the bullying might of the government."

This is precisely what I'm going to be talking about in an essay that I am working on that I started thinking about a couple days ago. What most people don't get yet - and some are never going to get - is that the objective with torture isn't security or intel, torture's designed to terrorize people generally.

And as for why there were the Iran-Contra hearings during Reagan and yet it's comparatively unbelievably difficult to get prosecutions and hearings going over what Bush and Cheney have done which is far worse: that's the topic of a longer essay. I'll have to defer answering that one for a longer exposition. The short of it is that during the 1980s there was still a socialist camp, or at least, more correctly, a rival superpower in the Soviet Union (since the USSR hadn't really been socialist for a long time) and quasi-socialism (really state capitalism with a more developed welfare state) and in the 21st century no national rivals to US power. Thus, the US rulers have had a free field to do as they please...
"What most people don't get yet - and some are never going to get - is that the objective with torture isn't security or intel, torture's designed to terrorize people generally."

Exactly, torture isn't so much a means to an end as it is the end in itself. I don't mean that the goal is to to actually torture, but to have the power to be able to with everyone so cowed that nobody will say "Boo".

This is how a police state works. There are never enough security people or amateur snitches to go around, so the security organs have to plant the idea that "They did it to him, so they can do it to me" in our minds and we all police ourselves. The threat of violence is sufficient the actuality can be used sparingly.
Thanks Dennis--glad to know this little boat floats!
I agree with the above conclusion. Torture is there to terrorize people in general. They don't torture people to gather some hidden information, but to show that they have got means to put almost anybody to confess almost anything. They are not torturing for the truth, but for hiding the truth.
This is the email I recently got from Amnesty International USA:

Momentum for an independent investigation is snowballing.
Send a letter to President Obama and Congress telling them that any investigation must be backed by the full force of law and adequate funding.

Dear Hannu,

Just as the volume of calls for investigations into the U.S. torture program reached deafening levels this week, another classified report came out Tuesday that revealed new details about the military's role in torturing detainees.

This latest report by the Senate Armed Services Committee exposes the "few bad apples" argument as a complete farce. While the Bush Administration was publically saying the horrors of Abu Ghraib were just aberrations, this report clearly shows that in fact, torture was sanctioned and even encouraged in military detention centers.

Thanks to your countless actions over the past few weeks, the momentum for investigations is snowballing. Last Friday President Obama said this was a time for "reflection, not retribution"; less than a week later, national newspapers are reporting the President is now open to an investigation.

But what kind of investigation? There's a growing risk that we may get an investigation that lacks independence, legal authority, and the adequate funding necessary to tell the full truth about the illegal, U.S. torture program.

What we need is a non-partisan independent commission, free from political influences, that has subpoena power and enough money to track down every lead.

Tell President Obama and Congress that any investigation must be independent, backed by the full force of law, and have enough funding to uncover the full truth behind the U.S. torture program.

Even with the release of this classified report, we still only know a portion of the truth. And it's only by exposing the full truth of what was done in our names, that we can once and for all move forward and restore our nation's credibility.

Let's make sure whatever investigation moves forward, it's backed by the authority and support it needs to be effective.

Please send your letter now to President Obama and Congress urging for an independent investigation backed by the full force of law and adequate funding.

In just one week, we've gone from seeing an investigation as a long shot, to talking about what kind of investigation we need. Your actions, phone calls, and visits before Congress are making an impact. We're getting closer to seeing our government actually do the right thing.

Thanks for standing with us.

Njambi Good
Director, Counter Terror with Justice Campaign

Please visit Amnesty International USA website to take an action:
Wow. This is a really incredible conversation you've created,
Dennis. And I'm with scanner, the People of the United States can handle a shakedown for government criminals. No revolution necessary.

Your comments on the real reason for torture leaves me with this question: just who are the terrorists? Remember who has the most weapons of mass destruction.
Voicegal: you are so right. The greatest terrorists are right here at home. Our invasion and occupation of Iraq has led to the deaths of 1.3 million Iraqis. How many people have al-Qaeda killed by comparison?

By the way, HG Wells' War of the Worlds was written as an effort to convey to Americans what it must feel like to be a colonized country invaded by imperialist powers.

John and Hannu thanks. John, the point you make about the non-necessity to use violence on everyone - and their inability to run the society if they had to use violence on everyone - is absolutely true.

If anyone wants to collaborate on an essay on the real reasons for torture - terror - I would welcome that. It would get written sooner and would be richer for the collaboration. I'm thinking especially of without a paddle and John Leonard since you folks posted on this theme already.
"The modern state appeals to morality, to religion, and to natural law as the ideological foundation of its existence. At the same time it is prepared to infringe any or all of these in the interest of self-preservation.

"Machiavelli does not deny that the claims morality makes on us are absolute. At the same time he asserts that in the interest of the state the ruler 'is often obliged to act without loyalty, without mercy, without humanity, and without religion.'"
--J. M. Coetzee, "Diary of a Bad Year"
Dennis Loo. Thanks for what you do. Another blogger @ OS brought You, Dennis Loo ... to readers attention. The blogger Chris Floyd was recommended. That wasn't very long ago. I bought a dang computer.
I read you, Dennis Loo. Thanks. I also recommend getting to know Chris Floyd. He cares. He has courage. Care is Courage. The Main Stream Media that tries (DC wimps know who they are, O-scum-balls, hair-balls) to keep a lid on Bush's Crimes was/is complicit. Dennis Loo. Your still articulate. You babble clear, and must eat bitter-kale greens for great post. I'm glad your here etc., The Scared DC cats are afraid of fleas. They visit a Capital Hill jackal-vet kennel parlor to be de-wormed. It's time to get to flea spray for scratchy chicken crap
'um lice bit
bigwig ants
chicken shits.