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Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
I'm sometimes available to some degree as a paid writer, editor, researcher, or proofreader. I'm sometimes available as a fill-in Guest Blogger at mid-to-high-traffic blogs that fit my knowledge set.
If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
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"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
CIA VETS AGAINST TORTURE. Some of this is old stuff, but Jason Vest has a round-up.
Some perennially high-profile retired CIA officers like Bob Baer, Frank Anderson, and Vincent Cannistraro recently spoke out to Knight Ridder about their opposition to torture on practical grounds (Cannistraro said that detainees will "say virtually anything to end their torment"). But over the past 18 months, several lesser-known former officers have been trying, publicly and privately, to convince both the agency and the public that torture and other unduly coercive questioning tactics are morally wrong as well.
Speaking at a College of William and Mary forum last year, for example, Burton L. Gerber, a decorated Moscow station chief who retired in 1995 after 39 years with the CIA, surprised some in the audience when he said he opposes torture "because it corrupts the society that tolerates it." This is a view, he confirmed in an interview with National Journal last week, that is rooted in Albert Camus's assertion in Preface to Algerian Reports that torture, "even when accepted in the interest of realism and efficacy," represents "a flouting of honor that serves no purpose but to degrade" a nation in its own eyes and the world's. "The reason I believe that torture corrupts the torturers and society," Gerber says, "is that a standard is changed, and that new standard that's acceptable is less than what our nation should stand for. I think the standards in something like this are crucial to the identity of America as a free and just society."
The moral dimensions of torture, Gerber adds, are inextricably linked with the practical; aside from the fact that torture almost always fails to yield true or useful information, it has the potential to adversely affect CIA operations. "Foreign nationals agree to spy for us for many different reasons; some do it out of an overwhelming admiration for America and what it stands for, and to those people, I think, America being associated with torture does affect their willingness to work with us," he says. "But one of my arguments with the agency about ethics, particularly in this case, is that it's not about case studies, but philosophy. Aristotle says the ends and means must be in concert; if the ends and means are not in concert, good ends will be corrupted by bad means."
A similar stance was articulated last year by Merle L. Pribbenow, a 27-year veteran of the agency's clandestine Directorate of Operations. Writing in Studies in Intelligence, the CIA's in-house journal, Pribbenow recalled that an old college friend had recently expressed his belief that "the terrorist threat to America was so grave that any methods, including torture, should be used to obtain the information we need." The friend was vexed that Pribbenow's former colleagues "had not been able to 'crack' these prisoners."
Pribbenow sought an answer by revisiting the arcane case of Nguyen Van Tai, the highest-ranking Vietcong prisoner captured and interrogated by both South Vietnamese and American forces during the Vietnam War. Re-examining in detail the techniques used by the South Vietnamese (protracted torture that included electric shocks; beatings; various forms of water torture; stress positions; food, water, and sleep deprivation) and by the Americans (rapport-building and no violence), Pribbenow reached a stark conclusion: "While the South Vietnamese use of torture did result (eventually) in Tai's admission of his true identity, it did not provide any other usable information," he wrote. In the end, he said, "it was the skillful questions and psychological ploys of the Americans, and not any physical infliction of pain, that produced the only useful (albeit limited) information that Tai ever provided."
But perhaps most noteworthy was Pribbenow's conclusion: "This brings me back to my college classmate's question. The answer I gave him -- one in which I firmly believe -- is that we, as Americans, must not let our methods betray our goals," he said. "There is nothing wrong with a little psychological intimidation, verbal threats, bright lights and tight handcuffs, and not giving a prisoner a soft drink and a Big Mac every time he asks for them. There are limits, however, beyond which we cannot and should not go if we are to continue to call ourselves Americans. America is as much an ideal as a place, and physical torture of the kind used by the Vietnamese (North as well as South) has no place in it."
Retired since 1995, Pribbenow spends most of his time writing on Vietnam War history and translating Vietnamese works. With the exception of participating in a documentary series on the Vietnam War, he has never spoken to the press. But last week in an exclusive interview with National Journal, he revealed that part of what prompted him to write his piece was his own experience in Vietnam, where as an interpreter participating in CIA interrogations, he had occasion to interact with South Vietnamese torturers and their victims.
"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," he said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said -- echoing Gerber's comments -- "torture becomes an end unto itself."
Pribbenow also said he was moved to write down his thoughts out of concern for the current generation of intelligence officers. "I don't personally know of any cases where an agency officer ever [tortured] anyone; that was always taboo, something we just didn't do," he said. "But I had been seeing stuff in the news, on TV, TV commentators, that sort of thing, in favor of torture, and I thought, 'I know there are a lot of new intelligence officers, new guys who don't have a lot of experience,' and thought maybe something like this will help them make their own decisions as to how to handle themselves in these situations, especially when people in authority are saying things that are unclear."
Indeed, Pribbenow, Gerber, and other veterans interviewed all noted that one of their greatest worries is that the proposed exemption to McCain's legislation will institutionalize something that has historically been an exception in CIA culture: CIA officers actually doing physical harm to interrogation suspects. One longtime case officer asks, "Are there instances throughout history when we have known, and in some cases, at least, turned a blind eye to, that allied or friendly intelligence services are torturing people? Yes," he says. "Is it something our own officers have done? Almost never." What has many veterans worried, he said, is the fact that while case officers aren't actually trained in interrogation techniques ("I'm not sure I ever knew anyone who was a 'professional interrogator' in the agency," says Pribbenow), in recent years officers have been getting the worst combination of no training plus ambiguous signals from management on the ethics of interrogation.
Of course, the CIA is nothing but a frothing mass of crazed leftists and softies, as we know, so pay no never mind.
In an interview published Monday in USA Today, Goss reiterated the Bush administration's defense of its interrogation practices in the war against terrorism.
''This agency does not do torture. Torture does not work,'' Goss said. ''We use lawful capabilities to collect vital information and we do it in a variety of unique and innovative ways, all of which are legal and none of which are torture.''
Without elaborating, Goss suggested that some techniques that would be restricted under McCain's bill have yielded valuable intelligence. He said it was important that the United States have flexibility in dealing with terror suspects in other countries.
''An enemy that's working in an amorphous network that doesn't have to worry about a bunch of regulations, chain of command, rule of law or anything else has got a huge advantage over a stultified, slow-moving bureaucratic, by-the-book'' organization, Goss argued. ''So we have to, within the law and within all the requirements of our professional ethics in this profession, develop agility. And that means putting a lot of judgment in the hands of individuals overseas.''
Like Osama bin Laden, Nguyen Tai was a sophisticated, intelligent, well-educated man from a prominent family. His father, Nguyen Cong Hoan, was one of Vietnam's most famous authors. Tai's uncle, Le Van Luong, was a member of the Communist Party Central Committee and the second-in-command of the communist Ministry of Public Security (Vietnam's espionage, counterespionage, and security organization, patterned after the Soviet KGB).
Tai joined "the revolution" in 1944 at the age of 18. By 1947, when he was only 21, he was Chief of Public Security for French-occupied Hanoi city.3
Following the communist victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and the communist takeover of North Vietnam that followed, Nguyen Tai rose quickly in the hierarchy of the communist Ministry of Public Security. One aspect of his rise was said to have been his assistance in the prosecution of his own father for anti-regime statements.5 In 1961, Tai was appointed director of the Ministry of Public Security's newly reorganized counterespionage organization, the dreaded KG-2--Political Security Department II [Cuc Bao Ve Chinh Tri II].6
In that capacity, he directed double-agent operations against South Vietnamese and American forces, including the successful effort to capture and double back US-trained spies and saboteurs dispatched into North Vietnam by parachute and by boat during the early-to-mid-1960s.7
Tai was also responsible for a ruthless crackdown on internal dissidents and directed the initial investigations that resulted in the infamous "Hoang Minh Chinh" affair, a purge of senior communist party "revisionists." The operation sought out allegedly pro-Soviet and pro-Vo Nguyen Giap elements--including members of the party's central committee and the cabinet, and several army generals--opposed to the policies of then-Communist Party First Secretary, Le Duan.8
In 1964, leaving his wife and three young children behind, Tai was sent south to join the struggle against the Americans in South Vietnam. He became the chief of security for the Saigon-Gia Dinh Party Committee in 1966.9In one respect, at least, Tai's assignment made sense: He had extensive experience at running a similar clandestine security/intelligence/terrorist organization behind enemy lines from his work as Chief of Hanoi Public Security during the war against the French. However, Tai carried in his head some of North Vietnam's deepest, darkest secrets--including the fact that all the US and South Vietnamese "spies" in North Vietnam were now working for the North Vietnamese; the identities of communist spies in South Vietnam's leadership; specific points of friction in North Vietnam's relations with the Soviet Union and Communist China; and internal splits and factionalism within the North Vietnamese leadership. Therefore, sending him to operate covertly behind enemy lines was a tremendous risk for the Hanoi regime.
After an initial interrogation and physical beating by South Vietnamese security personnel, Tai shifted to his fallback position to avoid being forced to reveal the location and identities of his personnel in the area. He "admitted" to being a newly infiltrated captain from North Vietnam. When the interrogation became more intense, he "confessed" that he was really a covert military intelligence agent sent to South Vietnam to establish a legal identity and cover legend before being sent on to France for his ultimate espionage assignment (which he claimed to have not yet been fully briefed on).13 Each time he shifted to a fallback story, Tai made an initial show of resistance and pretended to give in only when his interrogator "forced" him to make an admission. He did this to play on the interrogator's ego by making him think that he had "cracked" his subject's story and to divert attention from the things that Tai wanted to protect--such as the location of his headquarters, the identity of his communist contacts, and his own identity and position.
Tai's effort succeeded in buying time for his colleagues and contacts to escape to new hiding places and in diverting his "enemy's" attention onto a false track. But his claim to be a covert military intelligence agent ensured that he would receive high-level attention. Instead of being detained and interrogated by low-level (and less well-trained) personnel in the Mekong Delta, Tai was sent to Saigon for detailed questioning by South Vietnamese and American professionals at the South Vietnamese Central Intelligence Organization's (CIO) National Interrogation Center (NIC).14
The South Vietnamese set to work to force Tai to admit his real identity, the first step in breaking him. They began confronting him with gaps in his story and tortured him when he maintained he was telling the truth. They administered electric shock, beat him with clubs, poured water down his nose while his mouth was gagged, applied "Chinese water torture" (dripping water slowly, drop by drop, on the bridge of his nose for days on end), and kept him tied to a stool for days at a time without food or water while questioning him around the clock. But Tai held to his cover story.
After showing Tai's picture to the large number of communist Public Security prisoners and defectors then in custody, the South Vietnamese quickly learned Tai's true identity as the chief of the Saigon-Gia Dinh Security Section. They began to confront him with informants, former security personnel who knew him and identified him to his face as the chief of Saigon Security. One of these informants was a female agent who, according to Tai's account, had planted a bomb at the South Vietnamese National Police Headquarters on Tai's orders.17 Tai continued to maintain his cover story, and his attitude toward his confronters was so threatening (when combined with his past reputation) that he thoroughly terrified his accusers, one of whom reportedly committed suicide shortly afterward.18
What conclusions can we draw about the efficacy and appropriateness of the interrogation techniques used by the South Vietnamese and the Americans in the Tai case? While the South Vietnamese use of torture did result (eventually) in Tai's admission of his true identity, it did not provide any other usable information. The South Vietnamese played the key role in cracking Tai's cover story, but it was their investigation and analysis that put the pieces together to make a solid and incontrovertible identification of Tai, not their use of torture, that scored this success. A sensitive, adept line of questioning that confronted Tai with this evidence and offered him a deal--like the offer by his torturers to exchange admission of his identity for consideration in a notional prisoner exchange--would almost certainly have achieved the same result. Without doubt, the South Vietnamese torture gave Tai the incentive for the limited cooperation he gave to his American interrogators, but it was the skillful questions and psychological ploys of the Americans, and not any physical infliction of pain, that produced the only useful (albeit limited) information that Tai ever provided.
Pribbenow's remarks remind me of something Salman Rushdie said at the end of the recent PEN lectures on detainee abuse. Rushdie said: "We must not let the United States become a nation of torturers."
I agree: even passively allowing such practices corrodes a society. That awful Volokh thread where the majority of commentors sneered away abuse shows that some of us have gone rather further than passive acceptance.
God, I wish some of these so-called conservatives would read Burke on America and India, where over and over again he insisted that abuses abroad corrupt society at home.