Deep Stupid


Today’s winner is former Reagan and Bush official, David Rivkin.  Rivkin argues that waterboarding, etc., cannot be torture because the detainees never feared imminent death.  How does Rivkin know this?  Well:

I’ve read lots of memoirs of people languishing in gulags … One thing that emerges very clearly is actually how, despite their horribly grim circumstances, the prisoners actually welcomed interrogations. As a way to break the oppressive monotony of the cell or working conditions. So they always welcome even the most sadistic and unpleasant interrogators. And to the extent that you’re worried about being shot eventually, during interrogations you’re not worried about that. We’re all fairly rational beings, isn’t that a rational point?

I’ve read probably a dozen memoirs, from Solzhenitsyn to [inaudible]. While they’re trying to elicit information out of you, while this is going on, they’re not going to take you out and put a bullet to your head. They’re at least going to keep you alive for the interrogation. It gives you a sense that for a while nothing ‘s going to happen to you … the way human beings perceive their odds of remaining alive, the way the anxiety level rises post-interrogation about their ultimate fate is certainly a probative factor that goes into your analysis of what is your mental pain and suffering, associated with interrogations.

It probably doesn’t occur to Rivkin that, by his definition:

  1. We tortured every single prisoner we didn’t interrogate on a regular basis, because they feared imminent death for years on end, without relent.
  2. We tortured every single prisoner we did interrogate on a regular basis, even by conventional means, because of the post-interrogation fear of death we induced by not actually, you know, killing them during the interrogation, when they were least expecting it.

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7 Responses to “Deep Stupid”

  1. michaellasley Says:

    Well….I remember reading this book called The Longest Walk about a Polish guy who escaped from a gulag prison and walked his way to India, which took something like 15 months to do. And at times when, say, he hadn’t eaten in weeks or was watching his friends die while crossing the Gobi desert or when he was climbing the Himalaya’s without shoes , he’d think to himself, “I wonder if I’d be better off living in the middle of Siberia and getting beaten every couple of weeks.” So there. Take that Rivkin. A guy who not only “always welcom[ed]” a good torture-like session but when he looked back on it later in life –when he was free, no less — THOUGHT HE MIGHT LIKE TO RETURN!

  2. urbino Says:

    Doesn’t that support his argument?

  3. michaellasley Says:

    Well….hmmm…I meant it smart-alecky. Because there’s no way anyone who has read The Longest Walk could actually think that the writer thought anything about his experience in the gulag was anything other than absolute torture. But. You could argue that the thought actually returning had actually crossed his mind. Because, I guess it did cross his mind. It didn’t *seriously* cross his mind…it crossed his mind only long enough for him to make a point about how bad the starving/freezing/shoeless condition of his escape was.

    Or maybe I’m Deep Stupid?

  4. urbino Says:

    Probably I misread your comment. I was thinking of how Rivkin would respond to it, and irony is lost on these people. If it weren’t, they wouldn’t be making the arguments they’re making. I think he’d just read your comment and say, “See? This guy preferred his harsh treatment to walking barefoot over the Himalayas, so clearly it couldn’t have met the legal definition of torture. And what we did was way milder than what went on in the gulags, so…”

  5. michaellasley Says:

    My brain is toast today….my smart-alecky-ness might not be shining as I’d hoped.

    Also: It’s interesting that Rivkin uses Solzhenitzen to help him define torture and defend our interrogation practices. Because Solzhenitzen is the writer best known for exposing the secret prison system that Russia had established. No one really knew that Russia had secret prisons until Solz.’s memoir came out in the early 70s.

    I mean….it’s a stupid way for Rivkin to justify interrogations or define torture or whatever he’s trying to do here. Seems you’d want to bring in an example of someone who hadn’t been a) imprisoned by our Cold War enemy in b) a secret prison in which c) a nation held its enemies for long periods of time without formal charges and without any sort of a legal system.

  6. urbino Says:

    I feel ya.

  7. michaellasley Says:

    Read this Harper’s link and thought of Rivkin’s statement, since it seems the prisoners would’ve maybe been wise to fear imminent death from the torture.

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