The Brits Tortured Too

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winston-churchill_portrait_1941.jpgBarack Obama’s press conference last night punctuating the ritualistic 100-day review of new presidencies showed this President at his best I think — thoughtful, human, willing to take quite a roster of questions, and well. . .wonky.
But Guardian US editor at large Michael Tomasky found a pretty significant error in Obama’s commentary last night. It’s always sort of exciting to be able to correct a President.
I had this chance when listening to Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address and heard:
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.
Well, because Grover Cleveland gave the oath twice, there were really just 43 Americans. It interests me that this historical inaccuracy will live forever in Obama’s inaugural text — and there seems like there is nothing one can do about it.
But Tomasky’s catch is far more significant.
Obama recounted how he had read that even at the height of the blitz, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused to allow German prisoners to be tortured.
Well, Tomasky counters with the facts. Regrettably and sadly, even the Brits tortured.
When reality punctures the myths we hope are true, it’s not really something to be too glad about — particularly in this case.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

32 comments on “The Brits Tortured Too

  1. joe says:

    To rich; 1st post
    you’re kidding right regarding ‘humane treatment’.
    The Allied airforce pounded German civilians deliberately with terror bombing to break their will in 1945.
    Purposes of ‘terror’ alone.
    Don’t hide from the truth and get into ‘well they started it first’ while trying to sound noble. It was a blood for blood war.
    And your point regarding ‘german pows being treated humanely’while kept in pow camps in the Deep South…. ask Black American vets who were stationed in nearby camps felt when they saw the POWs treated immensely better than them by the military and locals.
    Furthermore German POWs captured in Germany at war’s end by the western allies went through a short period of hell in terms of how they were kept caged in masses.

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  2. joe says:

    Listening to Keith Olberman tonight. I usually like his insights -not so much his drama queen antics, but tonight he slammed O Reilly’s criticism of Obama’s Churchill claim. This time Olberman is off his mark and O Reilly wins. Changing historical facts was a stupid ploy by Keith.
    1.He assumes captured nazi agents weren’t tortured.
    In fact they were threatened with execution commonly if they didn’t give info. And German agents were executed. Allied agents were tortured, executed and sometimes sent to concentration camps.
    2.Keith said Chuchill was noble because he was questioning the destruction of Dresden, Germany and massive civilian casualties. Errr, Keith that was happening at the end of the war 1945…. the Brits were bombing German cities from 1940 with Churchill’s blessing!!!!
    3.Keith makes up excuses that the reference Churchill used about using poison gas on German civilians ‘wasn’t the lethal kind’….. Keith- don’t be a sap -> it’s torture bombing.
    4.Keith stated Churchill only asked about poison gas bombing of German industrial areas in 1944. Wrong Keith – first people are in those industrial areas and many of then european slave labourers.
    Secondly, Churchill demanded poison gas be used in 1940-> in retaliation for the horrific German air bombing of the British city of Coventry. He was ONLY talked out of it by his own airforce commanders.
    5. Churchill as colonial secretary after WW1 was for poison gassing kurds in Iraq -even kurd villages to repress their anti-colonialism activities – fact.
    Poison gas that was meant to be non-lethal but could kill however. Being subject to poison gassing is torture Keith- don’t try to ‘nice it up’.

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  3. decora says:

    You need to go easy on Obama. He went to Harvard, not exactly the best school in the country.

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  4. Mr.Murder says:

    Captcha ate anothe rpost.
    Churchill was working for BP at the time he was occupying Iraq. Richard Halliburton was such a believer in the cause there he volunteered for the British RAF as an American pilot. Quite rare indeed. Richard flew the first King Faisal over that land to view surface topography for determining likely oil sources.
    Writing of the time for production purpose indicate huge seeps and wells producing then record amounts of oil at depths of shallow as 20 to 50 feet. Mostly in areas surrounding Tikrit, which also was a final destination for a trans Turkish railroad from the recently fractured Ottoman empire.
    Not to worry, Iraq did have Kuwait sliced off of it by the crown during its rule there, though Churchill remained convinced the land would never welcome western mores or governbment.
    Go ahead and read Halliburton Family Letters. It has pictures of him standing on Bas Relief buildings in Babylon and flying Iraq’s king in a RAF plane.
    “The British have learned” … a lot about Iraq and how not to occupy it.

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  5. rich says:

    Of course not all Brits made the mistake of torturing. Some, tougher and as Obama noted working under the ultimate ‘ticking time bomb’ — knew torture to be ineffective and rejected it as a useful tactic — delivering greater success and turning Nazi spies into useful assets.
    He made a massive contribution the Allied victory over Germany. But he never laid a finger on his prisoners.
    Note: The Brits’ variable use of torture should be examined based on their results, and the contexts in which they deployed torture or refrained from using it. The conclusion is not ‘the Brits used it, so it must be ok’ — but rather that when the Brits used it they lost a colony. When they didn’t use it, they turned spies into invaluable intellligence assets that earned victory at Normandy and beyond.
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/ben_macintyre/article729216.ece
    “The terrifying commandant of Camp 020 refined psychological intimidation to an art form. Suspects often left the interrogation cells legless with fear after an all-night grilling. An inspired amateur psychologist, Stephens used every trick, lie and bullying tactic to get what he needed; he deployed threats, drugs, drink and deceit. But he never once resorted to violence. “Figuratively,” he said, “a spy in war should be at the point of a bayonet.” But only ever figuratively. As one colleague wrote: “The Commandant obtained results without recourse to assault and battery. It was the very basis of Camp 020 procedure that nobody raised a hand against a prisoner.”
    . . . . .
    Stephens cared not for morality but for results, and these were extraordinary. Once a prisoner in Camp 020 realised he was safe from physical violence, he tended to sing all the louder. Many became double agents, secretly working for the British and sending false information back to Germany. This could never have happened if they had been tortured. The double-agent system, in which Stephens played a vital role, was probably the greatest espionage coup of all time, culminating in the strategic deception over the D-Day landings, when the Germans were successfully fooled into believing Britain would attack in the Pas de Calais rather than Normandy.”
    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/04/churchill-vs-cheney.html#more

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  6. silver slipper says:

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That sounds like a terrible time in history. I didn’t know the story as presented in your links at all. The quote I used was from the report about President Obama removing the bust from the Oval Office.

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  7. rich says:

    silver slipper,
    I wasn’t gonna bring Churchill & Kenya up. But there had to be more than a little irony in Obama citing Churchill.
    It’s enough to make you wonder if he wasn’t sending a message.
    Take the time to read both links in detail:
    http://harvardmagazine.com/2005/03/10-downing-streets-gulag.html
    32 whites = 100,000 Kenyans
    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n05/port01_.html
    The only surprise is that British atrocities in Kenya appear to be unexpected news to the Brit & American researchers quoted in the links. That info has always been available in the U.S., back as far as the ’80s, as was the Brit colonialist eagerness to demonize a few killing on the part of African nationalist freedom fighters.

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  8. silver slipper says:

    Why does President Obama even bring Churchill up? He obviously has no respect for him. As soon as he came to the Oval Office, he had the bust of Churchill removed (the news article states it’s with England’s ambassador). See the article at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/4623148/Barack-Obama-sends-bust-of-Winston-Churchill-on-its-way-back-to-Britain.html . There’s an interesting link of Britain to Kenya and to President Obama’s ancestors. “It was during Churchill’s second premiership that Britain suppressed Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. Among Kenyans allegedly tortured by the colonial regime included one Hussein Onyango Obama, the President’s grandfather.” Maybe President made this statement to cause persons like Mr. Clemmons to discuss openly Britain’s use of torture rather than he the President appearing unseemly to do so.

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  9. ... says:

    kotzabasis, cheney would be proud of you… he has consistently offered up the same bullshit…

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  10. Paul says:

    Steve — You are right on here. A country either tortures or it doesn’t. If it does torture, then it cannot prosecute others as war criminals if they torture except as an exercise of “victor’s justice”, which the US has abjured at Nuremberg and ever since. What’s very troubling here is that the Allies apparently prosecuted Japanese personnel after World War II for torture, including waterboarding.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/04/AR2006100402005.html

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  11. Kathleen G says:

    Jesus Mary and Joseph…help us.
    The “every body does it” argument. The British have been fucking others up for centuries.

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  12. arthurdecco says:

    kotzabasis said: “Look at this photo of Churchill…Churchill has the irreducible mien of a verily true statesman…”
    That look came about because Karsh, the photographer, had just snatched Churchill’s cigar from his fingers. The look you mistook for “true” statesmanship was instead the look of a rather pissed off smoker deprived of his crutch.

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  13. arthurdecco says:

    Au contraire, kotzabasis, it’s the “mindset” of psychopathic, posturing weaklings, entranced by savagery. There’s nothing remotely strong or realistic about any of those who support torture.

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  14. kotzabasis says:

    It’s the “mindset” of the realists and the strong, not of the pampering fools and the weak.

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  15. ... says:

    welcome to the mindset of those who find ways to justify torture……a quote from kotzabasis ‘extreme dangers’ basically explains the thinking…..

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  16. kotzabasis says:

    Ah, what a telling contrast in photos! Look at this photo of Churchill and look at the photos of Obama, especially the one in which he was given his cap-gift by the FBI. Churchill’s has the irreducible mien of a verily true statesman, and Obama’s has the irreducible mien of a misplaced clown in the position of statesmanship. Incidentally, Obama’s FBI photo has all the reflex features of a toddler that has been given as a present an ugly gift.
    On the issue of torture that even the British were doing it under the sagacious leadership of Churchill, one enters the labyrinth of the ever arcane practices of statecraft in times of war with implacable enemies. Nothing will change these practices that rise from extreme dangers, least of all by the wet dreams of a politically “adolescent” Obama.

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  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “It’s always sort of exciting to be able to correct a President”
    Well, if you’re going to do that, why don’t you correct the posturing fraud by telling him we’re only a “nation of laws” if we enforce them.

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  18. stevelaudig says:

    “It’s always sort of exciting to be able to correct a President.”
    How sophmoric. Or is it sophmoronic.

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  19. arthurdecco says:

    …I hope somebody with some influence is paying attention to the thinking going on here at TWN.
    To quote my kid: “U people are awesome!”

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  20. arthurdecco says:

    This exchange has been fascinating.
    Art and Substance everywhere I looked.
    Brilliance even poked in for a peak.
    …This is why you get paid the big bucks, Mr. Clemons – you’re as good a catalyst as can be imagined.

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  21. Mr.Murder says:

    Winston Churchill:
    Wrong about torture, wrong about Iraq.
    History repeats itself?

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  22. samuelburke says:

    http://original.antiwar.com/worthington/2009/04/29/torture-to-achieve-a-political-objective/
    Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: the tortured lie that underpinned the Iraq war
    In case anyone has forgotten, when Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the head of the Khaldan military training camp in Afghanistan, was captured at the end of 2001 and sent to Egypt to be tortured, he made a false confession that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi later recanted his confession, but not until Secretary of State Colin Powell — to his eternal shame — had used the story in February 2003 in an attempt to persuade the UN to support the invasion of Iraq.
    It’s wise, I believe, to resuscitate al-Libi’s story right now for two particular reasons. The first is because, when he was handed over to US forces by the Pakistanis, he became the first high-profile captive to be fought over in a tug-of-war between the FBI, who wanted to play by the rules, and the CIA — backed up by the most hawkish figures in the White House and the Pentagon — who didn’t. In an article published in the New Yorker in February 2005, Jane Mayer spoke to Jack Cloonan, a veteran FBI officer, who worked for the agency from 1972 to 2002, who told her that his intention had been to secure evidence from al-Libi that could be used in the cases of two mentally troubled al-Qaeda operatives, Zacarias Moussaoui, a proposed 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and Richard Reid, the British “Shoe Bomber.”

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  23. Clay Thorp says:

    Samuel,
    You make a profound point. That very ideal – it seems to me – was the unspoken motive for the whole TSP. Not to take credit in any way, but I did mention this back in 2004 2005 during my “conspiracy days” before I started school. It’s very fulfilling for this idea to finally come full circle. This should be a major part of the DOJ’s case against Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush.

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  24. rich says:

    Having adopted torture methods used by Japan and Germany, Yankee ingenuity refined those techniques to produce quantum-level damage.
    Distinguished historian Alfred McCoy:
    http://www.news.wisc.edu/11995
    “The origins of the Abu Ghraib scandal and the Guantanamo controversy can be traced very directly to the 1950s, when the Central Intelligence Agency launched a massive mind-control project that discovered psychological torture. This proved an unheralded scientific breakthrough, indeed, the first real revolution in five centuries in the cruel science of pain,” McCoy says.
    “He goes on to say that the CIA spent the next 30 years spreading these sophisticated techniques throughout the world by training anti-communist allies, police and military in the developing world to use methods of psychological torture.
    “By the end of the Cold War, these torture techniques had become so embedded in the American security apparatus that congressional legislation enacted to abolish these practices instead legalized them,” he says.
    The genesis of the book began in 1986, he says.
    “I started studying the impact of the CIA’s psychological torture paradigm on the Philippine Armed Forces, looking at the way in which it ruptured the Philippine army. The use of the CIA techniques produced six violent coup attempts against the Philippine state.

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  25. samuel burke says:

    http://original.antiwar.com/worthington/2009/04/29/torture-to-achieve-a-political-objective/
    Since the publication last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report into detainee abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo (PDF), much has been made of a footnote containing a comment made by Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment’s Combat Stress Control Team, who, with two colleagues, was “hijacked” into providing an advisory role to the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo.
    In his testimony to the Senate Committee, Maj. Burney wrote that “a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”
    In an article to follow, I’ll look at how Maj. Burney — almost accidentally — assumed a pivotal role in the implementation of torture techniques in the “War on Terror,” but for now I’m going to focus on the significance of his comments, which are, of course, profoundly important because they demonstrate that, in contrast to the administration’s oft-repeated claims that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” foiled further terrorist attacks on the United States, much of the program was actually focused on trying to establish links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that would justify the planned invasion of Iraq.

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  26. samuelburke says:

    Ray McGovern, former senior analyst at the CIA, discusses the emotional aversion CIA agents developed for their own torture tactics, the moral bankruptcy of torture apologists, the barriers to an effective Senate Intelligence Committee torture investigation and the reemergence of long time cover-up artist Warren Rudman.
    http://antiwar.com/radio/2009/04/25/ray-mcgovern-16/

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  27. Xanthippas says:

    Great link. We should be accurate in our
    historical comparisons. And of course nothing the
    British have done justifies or excuses anything
    we’ve done, but the whole truth counts for
    something.

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  28. erichwwk says:

    Thanks, Steve, for understanding that truth matters, especially on the (mis)treatment of human beings. I see torture and war as flip sides of the same coin. As the Milgram experiments suggest, torture is more about asserting alpha rights (obedience)than it is about obtaining information.
    It is easy to demonize those you don’t know into enemies, and idolize those with whom one is familiar. Lies and distortions are an absolutely necessary condition for war. A small drawing I treasure of my mother shows two dogs snarling at each other. I translate the Spanish proverb’s caption from German to English as:
    “When the one will not,the two cannot fight with one another.”
    There is NEVER an innocent party to a conflict that spreads into war. The recent discussion of the Milgram experiments reminds us how easy it is for a leader to advance his career by debasing others, creating an enemy and to instigate a war by goading others. ALL major wars have SHARED fault, and occur when EACH side is represented by a willing warrior. It is no more possible to disentangle fault in such a conflict than it is to determine how economic output should be shared in a purely joint production process. In both cases, attempts to use marginal product to assign output to input are delusional.
    Churchill himself loved to kill, writing about seeing the Zulu’s mowed down by the thousands in Africa as a “thrilling” experience.
    In the first of his post WWII memoir’s he wrote that:
    “One day President Roosevelt told me he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once “The Unnecessary War. There was never a more more easy to stop than that which has wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.”
    I also find POA’s point of immense importance. Obama did not claim that Churchill denied torturing, only that Obama had READ that SOMEONE WROTE that Churchill had denied torturing.
    That type of language parsing keeps wars (and torture) alive. I recently read the 2006 version of Elie Wiesel’s “Night” for a writing class. I was astonished at the cleverness of the same techniques to give the impression that Elie was overcome by the use of human beings (often the impression is that they were alive) as fuel for fires, while not actually saying that.
    What many see “Night” as an attempt to make sure Gestapo tactics are not forgotten I see it being used to set the stage for cruelty being okay if they are used by Zionists. The Ubermensch is verbotten, but not the chosen race. The ghetto in Warsaw is bad, but a ghetto in Gaza is okay.
    While the German side of WWII would not have been possible without a leader on that side wishing war, it also would not have been possible without using language and authority to create illusion.
    While I have no desire for a public hanging of U.S. War criminals, I do feel that some sort of public airing is an ABSOLUTE necessity if we have any desire to avoid unnecessary wars. To not try my neighbor Donald Rumsfeld as a war criminal is to send the message that his behavior is acceptable, that one can be too big to fall under rule of law. It merely sweeps the problem under Obama’s rug, ensuring it will emerge under another President’s watch.
    Rumsfeld and Cheney came to power as a direct consequence of Ford’s pardon of Nixon. Haven’t we learned that failure to prosecute, while perhaps avoiding CURRENT fights, leads to an even more troubling FUTURE?
    However, if found guilty, the maximum penalty should be to strip him of any ill-gotten gains (sorry giving “some” land back to public use is not enough for the severity of the crime), and perhaps to incarcerate him for life (I even struggle with that as being to much about revenge, were he to provide community service).
    http://tinyurl.com/d62g7r

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  29. ... says:

    the unholy allaince – usa and britian… you see it in the bank collusion with the fed and the boe… war= profit…

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  30. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Obama recounted how he had read that even at the height of the blitz, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused to allow German prisoners to be tortured”
    Actually, didn’t Obama say…
    “Churchill said we don’t torture….”
    See Steve, theres no difference, politicians were liars then, and they’re liars now. Of course Churchill said “we don’t torture”. But they did. And like now, no one was held accountable in public trials, or hung in public hangings. A pity that. Perhaps a few hanging politicians would be quite an incentive for people following in their stead to toe the line.
    Personally, I think it would be immensely constructive for our future, and possibly even the future of mankind, to see public trials that result in a set of gallows on the White House lawn, with Dick Cheney being the main attraction. But unfortunately, we are going to have to settle for snorts and grunts from the likes of Conyers, followed by complete and total inaction on the part of Holder, Congress, and this posturing fraud Obama.

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  31. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    The way President Obama’s administration has taken its start of transmogrifying the Bush legacy has been by all means a worthy inception since the Obama administration seems to have taken a proactive management-attitude both at domestic and foreign fronts.

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  32. rich says:

    Of course the British tortured. They tortured the Irish in the 1970s, and they tortured the Americans in the 1770s.
    And we should thank them for it; without their skill and lack of restraint, there’d be no American nation today. Or at least, not one adamantly opposed to the same torture we suffered in the crucible of our nation’s birth, the same torture that motivated able-bodied men to bear arms and oppose tyranny.
    But Tomasky & Clemons don’t acknowledge Obama’s central point — that our more humane tactics were a significant factor in defeating Germany & Japan, and are the reason Americans were met with cheering throngs and “greeted as liberators.” Churchill may’ve said it because it was GENerally true.
    I don’t care what Churchill said, because we don’t need to look to the British for moral leadership. History does not support the notion–as George Washington knew firsthand–that the Brits cannot play that role. WE are that moral exemplar, no matter how much Bush & his predecessors have forgotten since 1945.
    A more apt example was the American treatment of German POWs during WWII. We shipped them to the Midwest to work farms — and gave them food and a place to sleep. No guards, no fences, no dogs — no torture.
    Throughout the 1980s & early 1990s, busloads of ex-POWs toured the farmland they’d worked, from Iowa to Nebraska to Wisconsin. They came to see the land they’d learned to love, one last time: tears rolled down their face as they recalled their gratitude. See, they expected to be tortured. Instead they were given work, bed and board and a place to wait out the war.
    Pres. Obama’s point is well-taken, simply because our stance on torture has paid hard-power dividends, and that payoff in Realpolitik terms is priceless. We’ve forgotten that central, foundational insight, even though it dates to 1776.
    Britain was attacked by Germany. Germany used ‘pre-emptive war’ and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. The question America faces is whether adopting both of those tactics will cost us the ability to fight on the right side of political causes and military campaigns. Which has and will cost us military victories. Those methods have cost us a great deal of hard power, even when we overmatched our opponents. As George Washington knew, it’s easier to win a military campaign because people will fight for what’s right. But install a policy of torture, and you generate resistance, and rightly so. You become the thing you presume to fight.
    Obama was right, and right to use Churchill: I have no doubt Churchill lied, but he sought to police a high standard of general behavior, and that is the relevant point.
    He sought to save the country from external threat by first saving the country from an internal breakdown of basic humanity. You can’t have one without the other. That internal threat was even greater than the Third Reich, and Churchill knew you could not have military victory without summoning our better nature, without which we have no real strength or courage. America seems to’ve forgotten the central and irrefutable insight of Washington & Churchill.

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