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What distinguishes conspiracy nuts from the rest of us? Why are they so crazy?

Table that question for now. Let me ask another one: Does the government think we are nuts? Or does it just not understand how it comes across?

Here’s why I ask that question. Some time back the news got out that the CIA or some other agency had waterboarded the 9/11 mastermind 183 times. Maybe it was 187. Or maybe the combined total for the mastermind and another prisoner was 187. The numbers for the two prisoners together were so high you couldn’t keep track. I looked up the names and numbers once – you can find them on the internet. The mastermind’s name has Shiekh in it, I believe. You used to see his picture online all the time. He needs a publicist to get him a better picture.

Now we step over to the debate about torture, or enhanced interrogation techniques as Dick Cheney and Antonin Scalia like to call them. All the leaders who address this subject speak with one voice: we use these techniques because they’re essential for national security. We gain information from these techniques that we can obtain no other way. We extract actionable intelligence from highly placed al Quaeda operatives with these methods. If we do not use these interrogation methods, people will die. Waterboarding has a proven track record for producing good information – intelligence that helps us prevent new attacks. For naive enemy sympathizers who oppose waterboarding and similar techniques, the blood of new victims is on your hands.

So now we need to ask: what intelligence did you expect to obtain the 183rd time you waterboarded this guy that you did not obtain the first time you waterboarded him? Did you think that the actionable intelligence he gave you the 183rd time would be superior to the information he gave you after the first time, the second time, or the third time? If waterboarding is such an effective interrogation technique, why did you have to waterboard him 183 times to get the information you needed?

The argument that we waterboard prisoners to obtain actionable intelligence is absurd. We waterboard prisoners for the same reasons that torturers have always practiced their craft: to control, punish, deter, intimidate, force confessions, get revenge, make people talk. The truth of what prisoners say after they’ve been tortured is immaterial. The torturers know prisoners will say anything to make the torture stop. That’s the point: make the prisoner say what you want them to say. That’s the power you have over them.

Let’s returned to the question that opens this argument. Why are those conspiracy nuts so crazy? They believe almost anything, and we can’t explain it. Now consider who asks questions like that. People who agree with the government’s version of events! The very people who side with Cheney and Scalia are those who dismiss citizens who say they want to learn the truth about what happened on 9/11. People who side with Cheney and Scalia on matters of torture are not in a position to call other people nuts because they care about the truth. People who side with Cheney and Scalia on matters of torture have no claim to anyone’s trust, and therefore no claim to say anything about truth, whatever the context.

More broadly, when the government tortures people, then justifies its evil acts with absurd lies, it has no claim to trust or legitimacy. To place faith in anything government says after it defends waterboarding is crazy stupid. To believe what it says about 9/11 or any significant event, given the evil it perpetrated after 9/11, is to misplace your trust radically. The prima facie response to anything government claims after its post-9/11 behavior is to believe the opposite.

The same kind of thing happened with the Catholic church before the Reformation. The church acted with such disregard for moral principle, people just stopped believing anything it said. They stopped believing – or caring – what it said even when it said something true. Yet nearly a century and a half of disbelief passed before people undertook a moral response that overturned the church’s authority – before they decided the church’s authority was illegitimate, and they weren’t going to tolerate it anymore.

We don’t have that much time, folks. We cannot let our country cruise along for 150 years with a goverment that tortures people and lies about it. We cannot live with a government that thinks it’s okay to waterboard prisoners, then offers up preposterous justifications for its behavior. Change may not move faster now than it did in the Middle Ages, but we have better communication. We can use improved communication to protect ourselves from governments that torture, or we can let governments that torture use improved communication to exert enhanced control over us. You make the choice.

Ask yourself if you’d like to be tied to a board with a cloth over your face, and have water poured down your nostrils because government has declared you an enemy of the state. Ask if people who object to that kind of behavior are actually naive. Ask if people who disbelieve government’s claims about its behavior are nuts.