While You Were Freaking

On April 16, like me, you were probably paying attention to the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, waiting breathlessly for intrepid journalists at CNN, the New York Post, and Reddit to implicate a series of innocent people in a manner suggesting the involvement of a doctor with a flashlight. If your attention wandered from that, you may have become preoccupied by a tremendous explosion in Texas, one not preceded by the traditional local incantation "hey, hold my beer." Then you probably looked back at Boston for a two-day chase involving stolen SUVs and grenades and gunfights and boats. It was a very American week in the media.

I know I was paying attention to all of that. Oh, and the kids were being the kids, and I was busy at work, and I was irritable.

Maybe that's why I didn't notice the release of a detailed report explaining how America has tortured people since 9/11.

Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture.
This finding, offered without reservation, is not based on any impressionistic approach to the issue. No member of the Task Force made this decision because the techniques “seemed like torture to me,” or “I would regard that as torture.” Instead, this conclusion is grounded in a thorough and detailed examination of what constitutes torture in many contexts, notably historical and legal. The Task Force examined court cases in which torture was deemed to have occurred both inside and outside the country and, tellingly, in instances in which the United States has leveled the charge of torture against other governments. The United States may not declare a nation guilty of engaging in torture and then exempt itself from being so labeled for similar if not identical conduct. The extensive research that led to the conclusion that the United States engaged in torture is contained in a detailed legal memorandum attached to this report. It should be noted that the conclusion that torture was used means it occurred in many instances and across a wide range of theaters. This judgment is not restricted to or dependent on the three cases in which detainees of the CIA were subjected to waterboarding, which had been approved at the highest levels.

But, of course, it was necessary, right?

There is no firm or persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. forces produced significant information of value. There is substantial evidence that much of the information adduced from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable. There are, nonetheless, strong assertions by some former senior government officials that the use of those techniques did, in fact, yield valuable intelligence that resulted in operational and strategic successes. But those officials say that the evidence of such success may not be disclosed for reasons of national security.

The report is lengthy and detailed. I'm still reading it. A report condemning the government is no more worthy of automatic belief than a statement supporting the government. My evaluation of the report would be aided by critical reviews, both pro and con, both in the "mainstream media" and amongst bloggers. I'm not holding my breath for it. Consider how little it's been reported during this tumultuous week. I could try to be outraged or smug about that, but the truth is that it is entirely possible that I will be distracted by other, simpler, funnier things.

This is how most of us have decided we are willing to live.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    A LOT of news got swept under the rug this week, this not least of all. I have skimmed it and it seems pretty damning. But even before the news went crazy, everyone seemed content to ignore it. It's like a don't-ask don't-tell policy about our national honor.

    PS – Is it my imagination or did you change your byline from just "Ken"

  2. Brunstock Thickwad says

    Are you trying to get us to stop calling you Ken Popehat? You won't succeed.

  3. eigenperson says

    On topic: for what it's worth, I think the report got swept under the rug because it tells us what all thinking people already knew to be true: detainees were tortured, people in power knew about it and encouraged it, and it basically did not produce any useful intelligence, with possibly a few exceptions that no one can actually identify or prove.

    Sadly, the majority opinion of the country seems to be that torture is basically a venial sin when it's done on behalf of the State. I'll gladly sign onto the dissenting opinion, but we don't seem to have convinced enough people.

  4. a_random_guy says

    " the majority opinion of the country seems to be that torture is basically a venial sin when it's done on behalf of the State"

    I think you are much too generous. The majority opinion seems to be "America is the good guys; so anything we do is good". Moral relativism at its worst.

    But, really, Ken said it best: "distracted by other, simpler, funnier things." When you have lol cats videos on YouTube, is torture really that important? Nah…

  5. dogfox78 says

    While acknowledging the horrible facts of the Boston Marathon bombings, I remarked to my wife that people were also being blown up elsewhere about the world, yet it was impossible to get news of these and other world matters via American broadcast and cable television. Instead, we had hours of bombing video loops and senior talking-heads vainly filling otherwise dead air by endlessly restating what we had seen and heard dozens of times before. It was not hard to predict that nothing new or reliably factual about the bombing would be forthcoming soon. Only internet foreign news feeds provided a measure of world perspective.

    I guess I had long since made up my mind as to whether the US had used torture following 9/11, and I was not at all surprised by the first summary of the torture report.

    Likewise, when early reports of the West, Texas, plant disaster had storage of anhydrous ammonia as the explosive, I guessed that it was, instead, ammonium nitrate that had principally been at work. As a 12-year-old, I remembered contemporary reports and movie newsreels of the 1947 Texas City TX ship explosion that destroyed the city and killed and maimed many hundreds. We somehow seemed to get those reports rather quickly, 200 miles east in Louisiana. Even the first atomic test in New Mexico some 2 years earlier was reported to some degree seemingly soon after the occurrence. And of course, we had all followed every bit of available news about World War Two throughout its course.

    I'm still a news junkie; I wish I were not. I recognized immediately and laughed at the expat character in John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany," who could not stop thirsting for American news 20 years after becoming a Canadian citizen. I felt kinship also that his rantings about American policy and politics of the era were much like mine had been at that time. And I, too, loved Owen Meany.

  6. Speed says

    The autopsy gave a spare account of how the 52-year-old man died. He suffered blunt force injuries on his torso and legs, and abrasions on his left wrist indicated he had been tied or shackled down. One of his neck bones was fractured. Death came "as a result of asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to strangulation," and it was ruled a homicide.

  7. Another Woman says

    Like dogfox78, I had the thought that – horrible as this was – this sort of thing seems to have become Life As Usual in places like Irag, Pakistan, etc. I believe there was a coffee shop bombing this past week in Iraq with a much higher death toll than Boston's – but those events get little attention here anymore. I wonder how much general outrage and attention (outside those whose lives have been ripped to shreds by the bombing events) these now receive in those countries. Even our news has (it seems) nearly weekly reports of such waking nightmares, but the disgust and horror are weakened by the repetition. We need to be on-guard about complacency about terror and torture in both directions.

    The willingness of so many to turn their faces from the Wrongness of torture by our government may be due to the fact that so many here are willing to practically fling abridgment of our own rights at the government in the name of Protection from Terror. Fear does funny things to people, and they do not always stop to think that what may be done to Someone Else, can easily and equally be applied to them (or their child) at some point in the future. This is why those like Lindsay Graham are so very wrong to talk about suspending the basic rights of citizens (thank you for that post about Miranda – very illuminating to know what it really means) and declaring them 'enemy combatants' when no link to any actual group has yet been established. It is important to continue to follow due process now and always or who knows what might be considered an offense significant enough to declare someone an 'enemy combatant' in the future.

    I DO wish more people would stop and really think instead of just reacting. whimper. I can feel the need for a Personal News Moratorium coming on…

  8. Speed says

    CDC data from 2010 shows that on average, 312 people per week are victims of homicide in the good old US of A. But I know it wouldn't interest anybody … outside of a small circle of friends. Certainly not CNN, the New York Post or Reddit.

  9. AlphaCentauri says

    It's not just that Americans are apathetic — there are a large number who are strongly in favor of torturing anyone the government labels as a "terrorist." They'll argue it in person, very angrily, and accuse you of being a bleeding-heart liberal tree-hugger if you argue against using torture.

    When our church hung one of those "Torture is Wrong" banners outside, the middle-schoolers in Sunday school were rolling their eyes about us putting up a sentiment that obvious. But within a couple weeks, the banner got stolen. Probably by good Americans who think being a patriot is waving a flag instead of respecting a constitution.

  10. Nicholas Weaver says

    It also plays poorly to desired narratives as it indites both the Bush and Obama administration: The Bush administration for torturing and the Obama administration for complicity in covering it up. So all the republicrats out there will see this report as an attack on their own guys and ignore it.

    And it also, in many ways, isn't news. Waterboarding, to take just one example, has always been regarded as torture when done by anybody but the United States. The US prosecuted Japanese soldiers in WWII for war crimes for, amongst other acts, torturing captives with waterboarding.

    The news is really that the news media went along with it. That the New York Times, the FUCKING NEW YORK TIMES would only call it "enhanced interrogation" was, to my mind, an abdication of journalistic responsibility. And, if there is a heaven, something that the editors will have to answer to when standing in front of Saint Peter.

  11. Lucy says

    "… good Americans who think being a patriot is waving a flag instead of respecting a constitution."

    That, and lolcats, funnier simpler things…

    Reflecting on my personal reaction, the first thing I notice is that it's just simply too painful. It's horrible. Additionally, the country I love is broken. It's systems that were put in place to protect against harm are manipulated to cause harm. Authorities are mean, authorities lie, and the machine is to big to keep track of all the details anymore.

    After all that, it breaks down to "The government broke the law and covered it up? You don't say."

    Now we will all get on with our daily personal business, which also is at levels so tense as to keep a whole class of citizens run into the ground and exhausted just to keep their heads above water.

    We are desensitized. That is sad too.

  12. En Passant says

    dogfox78 wrote Apr 21, 2013 @11:16 pm:

    … As a 12-year-old, I remembered contemporary reports and movie newsreels of the 1947 Texas City TX ship explosion that destroyed the city and killed and maimed many hundreds. We somehow seemed to get those reports rather quickly, 200 miles east in Louisiana.

    Hmm, lessee, speed of sound in an ideal gas at STP, square root of gamma times p over rho, convert to English units, about 3 feet per meter, 5280 feet per mile, multiply by 60, carry the 3, or something… I'd say you got report of the explosion about 16 seconds after it happened. Unless you were on the phone with somebody closer to Texas City.

  13. En Passant says

    Ugh. Make that about 16 minutes after explosion. Wetware glitch threw in an extraneous factor of 10. But it didn't survive a sanity check.

  14. Jeremy says

    …This is how most of us have decided we are willing to live…

    And this is why I weep for the future of this nation.

  15. Frank Ch. Eigler says

    "There is no firm or persuasive evidence […]"

    Lazy passive voice … it should have said "We know of no firm …" or "We will publish no firm …" to admit that the authors cannot prove the non-existence of information outside their reach.

    "officials say that the evidence of such success may not be disclosed for reasons of national security. "

    … and there's of course one reason why not.

  16. says

    @Frank Ch. Eigler:

    > "There is no firm or persuasive evidence […]"

    Lazy passive voice

    I rebut thusly:



    2. Any use of "to be" (in any form) constitutes the passive voice.

    The passive voice entails more than just using a being verb. Using “to be” can weaken the impact of your writing, but it is occasionally necessary and does not by itself constitute the passive voice.


    A passive construction occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence.

    forms of “be” are not always passive, either—”be” can be the main verb of a sentence that describes a state of being, rather than an action. For example, the sentence “John is a good student” is not passive; “is” is simply describing John’s state of being. The moral of the story: don’t assume that any time you see a form of “have” and a form of “to be” together, you are looking at a passive sentence.

    In the sentence you quoted the word "is" is describing the evidence's state of being (specifically, it's non-existence).

    In short: no, this is not an example of the passive voice; you're wrong.

  17. Frank Ch. Eigler says

    Yes, not literal passive voice, but in the sense that the sentence obscures the subject (who is it that doesn't have the information), it is a close kin.

  18. Dan Weber says

    I've defended Reddit here on many times, but they were an absolute clusterfuck from Monday through Thursday. If I were any kind of admin at the place, I would have pulled the plug on the whole server the second time they falsely identified someone and replaced the entire site with a static webpage.


  19. says

    Dan, I confessed on Twitter to entertaining one of their theories.

    Identifying suspected criminals and posting their information isn't doxxing, right? :)

  20. AlphaCentauri says

    I wouldn't say we're on some sort of downward spiral. We started with legalized slavery, ignored SCOTUS and conducted the genocidal relocation of the Cherokee, shot civilians herded in a pen at Wounded Knee and made picture postcards featuring their frozen bodies, used babies on bayonets to play lacrosse at Sand Creek, incarcerated Japanese American families in WWII, dropped napalm on civilians in Viet Nam, etc. When we feel frightened for ourselves and our own families, people can reveal very primitive rules of morality regarding people they regard as outside their own clan/ethnicity. And governments often use that fact to spread fears and to stoke up anger against people who are no threat to us at all.

    I think if anything there is now at least more awareness that this is morally wrong, whereas it was previously accepted as the responsibility of White Christians to take over any resources under the control of others.

  21. Bill says

    It's worthwhile to have firm findings that the US engaged in torture, but to me this issue already peaked a few years ago when the Obama administration granted immunity to every American who engaged in torture.

    It doesn't matter how many times it's proven that the US engaged in brutal acts of torture that, in some cases, literally led to someone being tortured to death. The government will never seek any sort of justice or consequences for those acts.

  22. joe pullen says

    With NDAA passing and CISPA in the funnel and recent events in Boston, you have to ask at what point can an exception to any protected right be so broad that technically it’s no longer an exception, you simply no longer have that right.

    I watch the sheeple file through the scanners at any local airport and listen to them say they have no issues with police barging into their homes to search for a suspect because it was all in the interest of public safety and oh, terrorism.

    So yeah, I’m freaking out. But it’s not because I’m afraid of some unknown bogeyman, it’s because I’m afraid of where our government is headed or more to the point where they alread are.

  23. Chris R. says

    I'm glad that people who can't show us any evidence and have nothing but their word can assure us so emphatically that our constitution is so 1700's and doesn't need to be taken into account when people are scared. We live in a country whose government maintains the right to:

    1. Maintain warrantless wiretaps on you.
    2. Encourage third parties to share your information with them.
    3. Secretly enter your house and search for any evidence.
    4. Detain you with no judicial oversight for any length of time necessary.
    5. Torture you for information.
    6. Kill you via robotic airstrike if you run.


  24. James Pollock says

    The fact that American forces tortured people is not news, in the sense that pretty much everyone already knew this; what we have here is a report on just how often it happened.
    Here's why it didn't get big coverage… for one portion of the populace, ANY torture is too much, and once you've surrendered the moral high ground, it's too late to recapture it. These people don't want to know how often it happened because the choices were "never, too much" and they already knew it was "too much".
    Another portion of the populace is just fine and peachy with torturing terrorists, because of course they deserved it anyway. This portion of the populace would be just fine if the amount of torture actually went higher, because there remain unpunished terrorists; this group also isn't interested in just how often people were tortured under U.S. authority, either.
    So… no one cares really how often people were tortured under U.S. authority, and the report of how often people were tortured under U.S. authority falls with a dull thud, heard in the background of other, more pressing news.

  25. David says

    @Jamed Pollock: we are talking about "torturing terrorists", but in most cases we are talking about torturing suspects for the sake of being able to label them as terrorists.

    One of the problems of Guantanamo Bay is that if years and decades of torture and dentention don't manage to get anywhere, one has to find a place to offload the victims. And if they had no good or traceable reason to hate the imperialistic U.S. with a vengeance before, God knows they have it now.

  26. James Pollock says

    "we are talking about "torturing terrorists", but in most cases we are talking about torturing suspects for the sake of being able to label them as terrorists."
    The pro-torture portion of the population cares not a whit about this distinction, for the most part… which I suggested in the tone of that part of my comment. (How many seasons did 24 run?

  27. Andrew says

    Thank you for writing this article. I remember my concern at the rhetoric after 9/11 and being concerned as to where it would lead. I had this vague hope that the courts wouldn't allow the country to erode the law. Sighhh.

    Sadly, the UK's only defence is that it wasn't as bad as the US, but it still isn't putting things right, or prosecuting the perpetrators of torture.