Lederman’s Critique of Bellinger’s Speech and an Interview with an Interrogator

Lederman’s Critique of Bellinger’s Speech and an Interview with an Interrogator

Over at Balkinization, Marty Lederman has posted a thorough critique of John Bellinger’s recent speech. Lederman takes a nuanced view of what it is the Administration has said, versus what was forced upon the Administration by the Supreme Court and finds that Bellinger’s speech sometimes reads more like an alternate -reality of what might have been had the State Department won more inter-agency debates earlier on. Another great piece by Lederman.

And, while you’re at it, you may want to listen to this interview from the Leonard Lopate show from WNYC. (Scroll down to the specific segnment.) Lopate interviewed Tony Lagouranis, a former Abu Ghraib interrogator and author of the memoir Fear Up Harsh. Besides debunking the ubiquitous “ticking timb bomb” scenario, towards the end of the interview (ironically at about minute 24) he said:

We were trained according to Geneva and now we were being asked to be creative and torture people. So we turned to the only source we had for that which was television programs” like 24.

Chilling.

The rest of the interview from that point takes apart one argument after another supporting torture and physical abuse of detainees with a particulalry interesting comparison to US interrogation techniques in World War II.

Admitting your wrongdoing and setting the record straight. Now that is bravery.

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Troy
Troy

But he didn’t say “24” did he. Make sure that’s your addendum. Assuming he’s telling the truth and not grinding an ax — if he’s watching TV that is the very definition of “not creative”. Besides — humans for millennia were doing this sort of thing — and have never seen a TV.

While I wouldn’t condone the Abu Ghraib scenario much less institutionalze it, I’m not much crying either — especially when comparing it to Egyptian tactics, Pakistani ISI, Khmer Rouge, NVA, Viet Cong, Japanese Imperial Army, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, etc., etc. Actually read and study what real torture is — that way, when you rail against “torture” (rightly I might add) your voice will carry weight and not sound like a tizzy. Not all rough interrogation is analogous and you do a disservice to real victims by pretending any and all rough interrogation is in fact, “torture”. Maybe “legally” it is (and our folks should comply — which is why the law should be changed or clarified) but legal definitions often do not comport with reality.

Kevin Heller
Kevin Heller

Actually, he did say “24.” And forgive me if I find little comfort in the knowledge that we’re better than the Khmer Rouge, the NVA, and al-Qaeda — little more than a difference in degree at this point, as recent revelations that American borrowed techniques from the Nazis makes clear.

J Hall


Admitting your wrongdoing and setting the record straight. Now that is bravery.

Ah, well, um yes. But trying to make a bundle of money by writing a book full of unfounded accusations of serious crimes isn’t exactly “admitting your wrongdoings.” And “setting the record straight” generally involves giving names and dates to a prosecutor, not to a radio host while promoting your book.

Am I cynical to suggest that, if Mr. Lagouranis were traducing movie stars or civil rights leaders instead of American soldiers, then the press (and this blog) might be slightly more critical?

The NewStream Dream
The NewStream Dream

Even if the ticking time-bomb scenario is unrealistic, it still is a useful thought exercise as to why we either do or do not condone torture. I don’t think you can dismiss the important implications of the hypo.

Will
Will

Nice to see a full-throated response for a change. I think it’s important that Bellinger plays the role he does, but I think Marty makes a good point also. Far too often we see well-intentioned academic courtesy extended to losers in the administration’s internal debates which just provides cover for the Cheney-Bolton faction, whose pugnacious views are far more inimical to IL than Bellinger.

There are reasonable parts to Bellinger’s speech which deserve proper consideration, but other parts are just the better angels of the OLC and State putting a good face on the incoherent and implacable views of the administration. Whilst you can’t sustain the charge that, holistically, this administration is never using or upholding IL, it’s also dangerous to downplay or avert our eyes away from the significant hostility to IL that exists in the upper echelons of the administration. In this regard, the treatment of the Court’s approach to CA3 as an administration position, is particularly damning.

Bellinger does not represent the administration, people like Yoo and Addington do, and pretending otherwise just repeats the intellectual distance which allowed the Iraq war to happen in the first place.