George H. Blackford, Ph.D.

 Economist at Large

 Email: george(at)


It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble.

It’s what you know for sure that just ain't so.
Attributed to Mark Twain (among others)



Economic Papers
Political Essays


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Some Notes on Republicans and Torture (2009)

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The logical efficiency of torturing terrorists is compelling.  If you arrest just two people from the names obtained from each terrorist you torture, the first yields two more who give you four more who give you eight and in the course of just three rounds of torture you have rounded up 15 terrorists from which to extract all the information you want.  And who could doubt they are all terrorists?  Virtually all have confessed, and those who have not have been implicated by those who have. 


The practical efficiency of torturing terrorists is not so compelling.  Torturers don’t start the process with people who are terrorists. They start with people they think are terrorists.  As a result they inevitably end up torturing an unknown number of innocent people—people whose only crime is their inability to defend themselves against the torturers—who can only give the torturers made up information and the names of more innocent people to torture.  (Mayer)


Even when the torturers get their hands on an actual terrorist the information they get is just as apt to be false as true, and the names they get are just as apt to be of innocent people as of terrorists.  What’s more, when they do get the name of an actual terrorist it is among the names of so many innocent people, and in the midst of so much false information it is virtually impossible to tell which is which. 


This is the way a policy of torture works in the real world.  Torture provides little useful information compared to what can be obtained by professional means, and innocent people are inevitably tortured en masse while the population that is vulnerable to the whim of the torturer is subjected to a reign of terror.  At the same time, the system is self reinforcing as the torturers accumulate a mass of evidence—some true, but most erroneous—that feeds their delusion of being effective, and in the end the entire sordid process is horrific.  (Mayer)


This is why torture is banned by international treaties throughout the civilized world and why it is against the law in the United States, and this is why the Bill of Rights and the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” are such integral parts of our Constitution, and why from the very inception of our country, the United States has, until the Bush/Cheney Administration, stood without reservation against torture. 

Issues in the Torture Debate

Those who are responsible for this policy of torture want to debate their right to torture people.  They wish to bully their opponents into accepting the issues as they, the torturers, frame them.  They start by trivializing the idea of torture, using euphemisms such as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ and then blatantly deny these techniques are torture.  They challenge the integrity of anyone who objects to their policy of torturing people by asking whether it is permissible to torture someone when there is a ticking bomb somewhere in the belief that answering this question in the affirmative justifies their policy of torturing and terrorizing innocent people.  They claim it is permissible to torture “high-value” detainees who might have “high-value” information that is “likely to save lives.”  (Krauthammer)


With this kind of twisted logic they try to keep their opponents off balance and keep them from asking questions of substance—questions like what does a hypothetical example of torturing an imaginary terrorist and saving an imaginary world have to do with torturing and terrorizing innocent people in the real world in violation of our most sacred beliefs?  Are we supposed to believe all the people they tortured were “high-value” or knew about ticking bombs, that no innocent people were tortured, and that it was all worth it just because they say so? 


The people who defend their right to torture look us straight in the eye and tell us their enhanced interrogation techniques aren’t torture even though there is no question in the mind of anyone who has looked at these techniques they are torture.  (Mayer)  These are the same people who looked us straight in the eye and told us they believed in less government and then increased the size of government when they came to power.  They told us they were going to cut taxes on ordinary people and then funneled virtually all of their tax cuts to their wealthy friends.  (Krugman)  They told us deregulating the financial markets would lead to economic growth and prosperity.  The result of their deregulation was wide spread fraud and corruption, hundreds of billions of dollars profit for their friends, and a worldwide economic catastrophe for the rest of us.  (Blame)  They told us we have to invade Iraq because Saddam had WMD and connections to al Qaida and 9/11.  After we invaded Iraq we found there were no WMD or connections to al Qaida or 9/11, and the result of their invasion was tens of thousands of American casualties, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, trillions of dollars wasted, and more billions of dollars of profit for their friends.   (Mayer N Klein Chandrasekaran Isikoff Ricks Miller White Krugman)


In other words, these people have lied to us over and over again.  They cannot be trusted to tell us the truth about anything, let alone about their torture program.


Those who brought us to this point tell us they have kept us safe and that if we just declassify a few reports all of the good their program of torture yielded will be proved.  This is, no doubt, a good place to start.  These reports should be declassified and carefully examined. 


The first thing we must look at is the actual regimen of torture applied to their victims.  We know what the torturers say they did.  What did they actually do?  Next we must find out how much of the evidence for the good the torturers claim to have accomplished is verified only by people they tortured, and how much of their evidence can be established independent of the testimony they tortured out of their victims.  We must then find out how many innocent people they tortured to obtain the results they claim to have found.  Was it in the hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands?  (Mayer


After we have established these facts we must examine to what extent their torture program has provided a recruitment engine for religious extremist throughout the world, and how much this has made the situation in Iraq and throughout the region worse.  And, yes, we must also examine whether the same or better results have been obtained without torture.  These are only a few of the gut wrenching facts that must be established to put this matter to rest. 

How Republicans Defend Torture

Republicans who defend their right to torture people see all of this as irrelevant and believe there is no need to establish these facts or answer these questions.  They tell us their policy of torturing people is justified because the world is a dangerous place, and to survive in a dangerous world we have to fight fire with fire.  If we don't torture people we won't be safe.  We can't let terrorists have rights or they will attack us again.  We have to be tough and make the hard decisions necessary to keep us safe.  Fuzzy minded liberals are soft and weak and don't understand that it’s a hard, tough world out there, and we have to be just as hard and tough as our enemies in order to survive. 


They have been telling us this sort of thing for over forty years now, and when I hear them using this drivel to justify their torturing people it turns my stomach.  It just reeks of Himmler's infamous oration at Posen where he praised the SS for becoming “hard” and at the same time remaining “decent” as they went about their sordid tasks of torture and murder and piled up bodies by the millions. (Himmler) The men of the Third Reich who piled up those bodies along with the other despicable men of history who have resorted to torture and murder to achieve their ends did not become “hard” as they thought themselves to be. They became callous, and they did not remain “decent,” they were and remained sadist.  


None of the great leaders of our country—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Wilson, Eisenhower—believed in torture.  Churchill did not believe in torture.  Even George S. Patton did not believe in torture, and none of these great men resorted to torture.  Who are the men who have resorted to torture?  Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, the militarists in Japan, Franco, Pinochet, the military junta in Argentina . . . .  The list of despicable people who resorted to torture goes on and on.


Are those who turned our country into a nation of torturers suggesting we should ignore the great men of history listed above and follow the lead of the despicable men who have resorted to torture?  Not only are they suggesting we do this, they actually did this, and in the course of doing so they violated international law, United States law, the Constitution of the United States, and they are now in the process of vehemently defending their right to having done this.  None of this should be a surprise to anyone who knows anything about the rise of National Socialism in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s and has been observing the rise of the Republican Party in the United States for the last forty years.  (Shirer Bullock Altemeyer Frank)


Virtually all of the Germans of the Nazi era either claimed they didn't know what was going on, they were just following orders, or they knew but there was nothing they could do about it.  These were the “Good Germans” of that era, many of whom were held accountable for their actions in spite of these defenses, and all of whom were devastated in the end when the Nazis took control of their country and destroyed their entire society.  (Shirer Altemeyer Bullock)


Those who were in charge within the Nazi Party, however, did not resort to these defenses.  Instead, they defended the “decency” of the Third Reich and their right to murder and torture people to the very end.  Why is it surprising that those who were in charge in the Republican Party who were willing to ignore international law, domestic law, and the Constitution, torture innocent people and terrorize entire populations to achieve what they consider to be a greater good—namely, to keep America safe—are willing to defend their right to do so to the very end?  Why would we expect Republican's to believe in their cause any less than the Nazis believed in theirs?  (Mayer Altemeyer Westen Krugman Hayek Mises Friedman)


True Believers in the Republican Party

The Obama Administration seems to think that simply declaring to the world we are not going to torture people anymore is enough.  That we should move forward to a better world and not look into the past to bring out the truth and hold those who turned us into a nation of torturers accountable for their actions.  Obama seems to think he can deal with this situation by calming it down, appeasing the Republicans, and pursuing a bi-partisan approach to solving our problems.  He has absolutely no chance of succeeding at this. 


Obama seems to think those who turned to torture just made a mistake, and if we put the past behind us this problem will be forgotten and go away.  The people who turned us into a nation of torturers did not do this by mistake.  When someone makes a mistake they own up to it.  The Republicans are defending their right to torture innocent people to the end.  They truly believe in their right to torture people just as they truly believe the unions, socialists, intellectual elitists, liberals, foreigners, and blacks are the cause of all of our problems.  They truly believe that the economic catastrophe the world is facing today—a catastrophe caused by a bunch of rich, white Republicans—was caused by a bunch of poor, black Democrats in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  (Utopian Blame)


These people cannot be appeased or calmed down as Obama seems to think they can, they must be stopped, and the place to stop them is when they start torturing people.  There is only one legitimate response to those who torture and wish to debate the issue as well as to those who wish to defend the right of their friends to torture people: 


We are Americans.  Americans don’t torture people.  Torture is clearly defined as criminal behavior in both international law and the law of the United States.  The rule of law requires that those who torture as well as those who are responsible for implementing a policy of torture must be held accountable for their criminal acts. 


For anyone who believes in the fundamental principles on which our country was founded this is where the discussion of torture must begin, and this is where the discussion of torture must end.  That torture is wrong is a self-evident truth that is non-debatable for anyone who holds our institutions dear, and no clearer line can be drawn between those who believe in what America stands for and those who do not. 


The place to debate the finer points of torture is in a court of law where there is some hope of the truth coming out, not in the public square where the fear and hate mongers can inflame the mob and bully their opponents into submission.  After all, today’s Republicans aren’t ordinary people.   They think they have a right to torture people, and they are trying to justify torturing innocent people in the name of keeping us free!  Think about that! 


It's time for men and women of good will to wake up.  This isn't rocket science we are talking about.  This is very simple stuff:  Republicans think they have a right to torture people!  Red flags don't come any redder than that.  It's not as if we have to wait until they lie to get us into a war, loot the federal treasury to profit themselves and their friends, convert our nation from the largest creditor nation in the world to the largest debtor nation in the world, destroy the manufacturing sector of our economy by sending our high paying jobs abroad, create a financial crisis that brings the world financial system to its knees and threatens to destroy the world's economy, arrest and hold people without charge, wiretap without warrants, ignore the law and the Constitution whenever it gets in their way, and start torturing people before we can make up our minds.  They have already done these things. 


The time to stop them is now, before it’s too late.  It is time to stand up and speak out against these people.


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[1] See It makes Sense if You Don’t Think About It and How Propaganda Works.

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