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David Asman: "Banning Torture Could Spook Wall Street Outright"

Reported by Marie Therese - December 18, 2005

On yesterday's Forbes on FOX show, a panel of Forbes Magazine writers and editors discussed torture. Thank heaven for Quentin Hardy and Elizabeth MacDonald. Otherwise, I would have thrown my coffee cup at the TV screen. Victoria Barret tried to come down on both sides of the issue but Steve Forbes, Jim Michaels and Rich Karlgaard were all eager to give their imprimatur to using torture as a "tool" in the great worldwide - drum roll and stereophonic sound, please - WAR ON TERROR. Let their own words define their humanity.

Rich Karlgaard started the ball rolling by saying, "Nobody likes torture, but we need to have torture as a tool, just like we need to have a nuclear arsenal as a tool."

Calling Karlgaard's statement "preposterous," Quentin Hardy rebutted it beautifully: "Look, the President made a speech earlier this week where he admitted that bad intelligence got us into Iraq. The part he didn't talk about was that Iraq-Al Qaeda connection came from torturing someone in Egypt, who, of course, under massive amounts of pain told them anything they wanted to hear and said Iraq and Al Qaeda are in with each other. That's one of the reasons we're in Iraq. It's over a huge mistake caused by torture and torture hurts our international relations."

However, Forbes on FOX's resident neanderthal, Jim Michaels, expanded on Karlgaard's argument: "This whole thing is the biggest red herring I have ever seen. Liberal media is looking for anything to beat George Bush with and they're throwing the word 'torture' around without having the slightest idea of what torture is. Sleep deprivation is torture. Should that be made illegal? The point is I don't care if some scumbag gets roughed up a little bit if it's gonna save American lives. Torture means something different to me. It means pulling people's fingernails off, cutting their hands off. We don't do that. We never have."

During next comment, FOX flashed this caption at bottom of screen: "BAN ON TORTURE: BAD FOR OUR SAFETY & STOCKS?"

ELIZABETH MacDONALD: ... this is a really difficult issue. Look this whole war in Iraq has been a battle for the hearts and minds of the people overseas and I think when we talk about torture as a tool, it really undermines our credibility over there. And if we undermine our credibility over there - not only that - we're going to lose our souls in this debate. We're better than this.

OFF-SCREEN MALE VOICE, POSSIBLY ASMAN: But we may lose our lives if [indecipherable] ...

COMMENT: Mark 8:36 - "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

MacDONALD: Well, then you know what? Do better infiltration. How about Tora Bora in '01? Why not flood the area with military people and catch the guy? Except torture, it's goonish and it's immoral.

MICHAELS: We're not using that word 'torture.' Our enemies and our critics are using the word 'torture.' We're talking about getting a little bit rough occasionally, using psychological warfare. Nobody advocates real torture.

VICTORIA BARRET: ...there's a fine line between beating someone up, because you don't like him, and using controlled torture to get good information. And this is really complicated stuff but what you have to recognize is that, in this war on terror, information is ammuniton, I mean, it is so precious to us. And you can't just write off torture - whatever you want to call it - as a mechanism for getting information because what if you know ..

HARDY: Torture delivers bad information, Vic.

OFFSCREEN MALE VOICE (possibly Karlgaard or Steve Forbes) speaking sharply: Oh, no!

BARRET: What if, Quentin, we know that someone has information about the next 9/11. We know it because we've done our research. Do we ...

ASMAN: Hold on gang. Hold on! Let's hear from the boss. Go ahead, Steve.

STEVE FORBES: This whole thing is a torture of logic. We're not talking about, as Jim says, pulling out people's eye sockets and things like that. It's about aggressive techniques, disorienting people, breaking their morale to get information. That is perfectly legitimate. What they don't want - what our critics don't want is for us to get that information and information is critical. That's how you win wars. ...

ASMAN: ... Did the Bush administration capitulate on this?

FORBES: The Bush administration looks like it's capitulating. Congressman Duncan Hunter, who heads up the Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives, hopes to insert language to allow this kind of aggressive interrogation. If he doesn't succeed, the terrorists have won a victory.

HARDY: Look who spearheaded this move against this move against the U. S. torture. This wasn't the liberal media. This was John McCain, a Senator who was tortured in North Vietnam.

FORBES: That was real torture, not what we're doing in Iraq or elsewhere!

HARDY: Why do you think John McCain was against the U. S. doing this? Why do you think he's against the U. S. outsourcing tor ....

MICHAELS (offscreen, interrupts): He wants to run for President.

HARDY (exasperated): Look. And you talk about how we don't do violent torture! We outsource it to Egypt. We outsource it to Saudia Arabia. It comes back to haunt us. It hurts our international image. It causes terrorists to recruit.

FORBES: We're talking about army personnel, CIA personnel, doing interrogations. This puts a huge cloud over them They're gonna get in trouble if they use aggressive techniques like sleep deprivation. That is very harmful to us.

KARLGAARD: Yeah. You know when the British were fighting the IRA [Irish Republican Army*] in the 1980's, they used to stage these mock executions. They would put a - bind somebody's head and then they would take them in a helicopter and threaten to drop them out and, in fact, they did drop them out of helicopters from two feet. But there was a public outcry and the British police say they never got as much good intelligence again, so Quentin is just wrong that you can't get good intelligence using psychological warfare.

COMMENT: Hardy never said the words "psychological warfare." He said "torture." Clearly Karlgaard equates the word "torture" with the words "psychological warfare."

MacDONALD: I don't know what proof you all have that we were getting good intelligence. All you know is about Khalid Sheikh Mohammad from a Wall Street Journal editorial. Look! Torture is extremely unreliable. It corrupts the institutions that do it! I think it's really problematic.

FORBES: You insist on the word torture. Disorient ...

MacDONALD: Where's the proof? By the way, we have tortured people in our custody to the point of death and I think that's really problematic. The bigger problem here is we are undermining our credibility overseas ...

FORBES: I don't worry about our popularity. I worry about our survival

MacDONALD: We need to keep - this is a war about - over - hearts and minds

A few seconds of noisy crosstalk occurred here.

ASMAN: Hold on. Go ahead, Steve!

FORBES: This is about survival, not popularity. Using techniques like sleep deprivation is a perfectly legitimate was to get needed information from people who have it.

MICHAELS: We don't need the approbation of the German Prime Minister, a country that invented the death camps.

MacDONALD: Of course. We're not saying that. I'm not agreeing with that at all. ... I do think you're right, defining torture - it is extremely difficult to define what torture is. And we all agree that these people who disembowel and behead people are not enemy combatants and we do need to take care of them. We need to take them out!

BARRET: Liz is right. From a public relations point of view, it looks like the White House is doing the right thing because we can't be - we're the most advanced nation on the planet yet our policies towards torture are the most backward and we need to fix that.

ASMAN: Is Wall Street gonna suffer as the result of this decision?

FORBES: If we get another terrorist attack like 9/11 or what happened in London, yes, Wall Street will take a hit. That's why intelligence is critical.

COMMENT

I keep wondering how long Steve Forbes will put up with Quentin Hardy and Elizabeth MacDonald, both of whom consistently state positions completely at odds with his own. FOX News has a habit of "disappearing" strong, vocal oppositional voices. One wonders if Steve Forbes has the same employee policies.

As for Forbes' comment that another 9/11 will affect Wall Street negatively, of course, a major terrorist attack would affect Wall Street. But it would have nothing to do with the question of whether or not we tie people to boards and hold their heads under water until they think they're going to die or hang them from ceiling hooks until they pass out or outsource their pain to other nations in order to obtain largely false information.

Torture is the last refuge of a bankrupt political system or the first line of defense for sadistic one.

I leave to you, dear reader, which of these you think best describes the Bush administration.


* The IRA was the military wing of Ireland's Sein Fein, whose stated goal was the reunification of both Irelands as one country independent of England. The IRA used many of the same tactics against the British that Muslim insurgents use today, killing hundreds of British civilians, including children, in the process.]

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