Does it matter that torture “doesn’t work”?

On Sunday The Washington Post published yet another commentary by a former interrogator arguing that torture doesn’t “work”. This one is by a pseudonymous Air Force veteran who led a team of interrogators in Iraq from March to August 2006. To his great credit, he describes the use of torture as repugnant and unAmerican. He refused to go over to the dark side and instead insisted that interrogations be conducted according to the Army Field Manual.

However his argument that torture should be rejected in part because it’s “ineffective” – that is, it produces unreliable testimony and is counterproductive – ought to trouble more people than it appears to do. Sure, we all ought to be able to agree that torture produces a farrago of dysinformation (typically whatever the victim thinks the torturer wants to hear in order to stop the torment). But so what? Is it reasonable to measure torture by the yardstick of “effectiveness”? Would torture be more acceptable if it produced more reliable testimony?

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George Bush finally has a regret

Just one, however. Throughout his presidency Bush has denied that he regrets anything he’s said or done, or failed to do. Unlike nearly every other American, he has always expressed a serene – some might say clueless – confidence in the course of his leadership.

But in an interview to be aired on the ABC nightly news, Bush finally confesses to having a regret about something. That’s pretty remarkable, you say? Well, not so much perhaps. It’s just a single misgiving after all and, predictably, what Bush regrets is that other people were wrong and ruined their own reputations.
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“Why didn’t we see this coming?”

Paul Krugman talks of economists’ dismay that they didn’t foresee the impending collapse of US financial institutions. The truth is, however, that it was foreseen by people who hadn’t taken leave of their senses.

Some people say that the current crisis is unprecedented, but the truth is that there were plenty of precedents, some of them of very recent vintage. Yet these precedents were ignored.

Just as regularly occurs every generation, an irrational exuberance brought with it complacency. Whether it was deregulation, or the housing bubble, or the mortgage Ponzi scheme built upon it, or the substitution of leveraging for reserves, or the ability of the Federal Reserve to act as a firewall, or the supposed “resilience” of the financial system – financial wise guys saw only what they wanted to see. Whatever evidence didn’t fit into their complacent view of unlimited horizons of wealth, got ignored or dismissed.
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Giving Thanks and Gratitude

[This gracious essay by shirah was published at unbossed on Thanksgiving three years ago. In that long ago time I wasn't even aware of 'Fort Ancient', and perhaps some of you still have never seen this thoughtful tribute to the people who made us who we are.]

Some may call me a self-made person. They’ll tell me I should be proud I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. And maybe I could feel that way about myself, but I’d be a liar, if I did. The only way I could feel that way would be if I were blind.

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A random collection of 100 films

This is as good a demonstration as you could want of what is wrong with French cinema. It’s a newly compiled list of the 100 best movies of all time, drawn up by 76 French film critics for the Cahiers du Cinéma. The result is about as random a collection of movies as you could imagine being published.

It tends to favor European, especially French pictures. Yet it’s not remotely as parochial as the (moronic) list compiled in 1998 by the American Film Institute. So the Cahiers list doesn’t even have national pride as an organizing principle. Indeed, the inclusions and exclusions of French pictures seem pretty arbitrary. Three Godards but only a single Becker? C’mon. Is there anybody who’d take Pierrot le Fou in preference to Grisbi?

It feels like a core of brilliance has been surrounded with a menagerie of stray bits and bobs, as if far too little thought was put into what the goal was and how to achieve it. In that sense, it’s a splendid representation of so much modern French film-making.
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The Just-Following-Orders defense

Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under George W. Bush, offers appallingly bad advice about what to do in regard to “the Bush administration’s harsh, abusive and illegal interrogation program”. His solution: Let whatever investigations now going on run their course and then forget the whole matter. No Congressional hearings, no special commission, no DOJ task force, no special prosecutor. Just wind down the pitiful few investigations that have occurred, publish some of the documents they turn up, but make sure to turn the lights off when you’re done.

The main reason that law-breakers should not be prosecuted, in his estimation, is that the people involved won’t take it well. They’re already quite unhappy at the prospect of being held accountable, you see, given that they were just following orders.
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