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Alexander vs. Cheney on Interrogation

The video embedded below features arguments presented by Dick Cheney in favor of torture (or, if you prefer, “enhanced interrogation techniques”), which are ably demolished by Matthew Alexander, a former member of the United States Air Force who served as an Interrogator in Iraq. He was part of a task force charged with determining the location of Abu Zarqawi.

There’s much more from Alexander here.

The former vice president is confusing harshness with effectiveness. An effective interrogation is one that yields useful, accurate intelligence, not one that is harsh. It speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of interrogations, the goal of which is not to coerce information from a prisoner, but to convince a prisoner to cooperate.

Finally, the point that is most absent is that our greatest success in this conflict was achieved without torture or abuse. My interrogation team found Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the former leader of Al Qaida in Iraq and murderer of tens of thousands. We did this using relationship-building approaches and non-coercive law enforcement techniques. These worked to great effect on the most hardened members of Al Qaida — spiritual leaders who had been behind the waves of suicide bombers and, hence, the sectarian violence that swept across Iraq. We convinced them to cooperate by applying our intellect. In essence, we worked smarter, not harsher.

Read the whole thing.

(video link via Andrew Sullivan)

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About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp writes about pretty much everything under the sun, including politics, art, religion, philosophy, sports, music, culture, and science.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    I would think that the fact that General Petraeus has flatly said the we need to adhere to the Geneva Convention and we need to close Gitmo and that doing so will make us safer should end this discussion.

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  2. steve says:

    Gates also. Cheney lost a lot of his influence in the administration the last 3 years. His ideas were rejected and new ones tried. Getting rid of Rumsfeld was also key.

    Steve

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  3. Tlaloc says:

    I can’t see Cheney without thinking of the villain from the old Duddley DO-rite shorts (part of the Bullwinkle and Rocky show): Snidely Whiplash.

    He’s just trying so hard to be a cartoony over the top villain. If it weren’t for certain idiots giving him real power he’d actually be a damn amusing character.

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  4. Bill says:

    Without advocating torture, enhanced interrogation, etc., and while acknowledging his points, I would say that some of what this man presents is a no-win situation.

    Specifically, I have never bought that Abu Ghraib was something related to institutionalized policies, versus terrible leadership and the personal sadism of the guards. And make no mistake, that is the biggest recruitment factor, because of the worldwide images.

    Thus, whether Khalid Sheik Mohommed was waterboarded or not is independent of a lot of what this guy is talking about. The debate has been magnified and distorted by perception. Guantanamo is viewed as some sort of torture compound, when the reality (for at least the vast majority of its history) is quite different.

    Hence, there will always be recruitment tools, depending on how salacious our media environment chooses to make the. It’s all a matter of degree, I guess.

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  5. Eric Florack says:

    Specifically, I have never bought that Abu Ghraib was something related to institutionalized policies, versus terrible leadership and the personal sadism of the guards.

    Heh. You do recognize the amount of crap that’ll be flying in your direction shortly, right?

    You’re correct of course, wherein lies the problem.

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  6. Alex Knapp says:

    Bill,

    Specifically, I have never bought that Abu Ghraib was something related to institutionalized policies, versus terrible leadership and the personal sadism of the guards.

    I’d suggest that you read the Senate Armed Services report on Abu Ghraib, along with the related testimony. It’s pretty clear that those methods were institutionalized.

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  7. G.A.Phillips says:

    Understanding Muslim recruitment for Jihad 101:They are taught to hate and taught to kill non Muslims from birth, it is the main doctrine of their religion, and the only true way to make sure you reach it’s heaven.

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  8. Tlaloc says:

    Specifically, I have never bought that Abu Ghraib was something related to institutionalized policies, versus terrible leadership and the personal sadism of the guards. And make no mistake, that is the biggest recruitment factor, because of the worldwide images.

    There’s a pretty glaring document trail leading from the OVP right to Abu Ghraib (as well as Guantanamo and other sites), Bill. Toture was a premeditated plan, enacted from the top of the chain of command and often fought by those towards the bottom (to their credit), the same people who now get the brunt of the blame as “bad apples.”

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  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    I’d suggest that you read the staments from democratic Senators, congressmen, and presidential candidates on undermining the war effort for political gain, along with the related testimony. It’s pretty clear that those methods were institutionalized.

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  10. Tlaloc says:

    Understanding Muslim recruitment for Jihad 101:They are taught to hate and taught to kill non Muslims from birth, it is the main doctrine of their religion, and the only true way to make sure you reach it’s heaven.

    People don’t hate that much without good reason. It requires a lot of energy to keep angry enough that you are willing to do things like blow yourself up just to have a chance of hurting someone else.

    Such hate doesn’t spring from nowhere and it doesn’t spring purely from religion (and I’m no defender of organized religion). It has historical basis which is then exaggerated and used to promote hate by radical clerics.

    The thing is we have a great amount of control in how successful groups like AQ are in finding people angry enough to join them. When we go stomping through the middle east kicking over the ant hills its pretty much guaranteed it will come back to bite us in the ass.

    You can only piss on people so long before they piss back. And we’ve been pretty consistently pissing on the Middle East for fifty years.

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  11. Tlaloc says:

    I’d suggest that you read the staments from democratic Senators, congressmen, and presidential candidates on undermining the war effort for political gain, along with the related testimony. It’s pretty clear that those methods were institutionalized.

    God, I hope so. As opposed to torture, undermining an unethical, poorly fought, and ultimately self defeating war is a very good idea. That they could do so and also push the idiots who started such a war out of power is a bonus.

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  12. Bill says:

    I’d suggest that you read the Senate Armed Services report on Abu Ghraib, along with the related testimony. It’s pretty clear that those methods were institutionalized.

    Read summaries of it. I’m not assuming it had no impact; but there is still a wide gulf between institutionalized “stress positions, sleep deprivation and exploiting fears of dogs” and a bunch of scumbags smearing prisoners in feces, sexually abusing them and conducting mock executions, all of which they took ha-ha funny pictures of to show the folks back home.

    This is a failure of professionalism, morals and leadership, no matter what one thinks of the “enhanced interrogation” aspects that were approved. Presumably the CIA officers who used waterboarding didn’t take polaroids of themselves smiling and point at Khalid’s junk …

    The case that Abu Ghraib brand of sadism was a top-level directive only holds a certain amount of water.

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  13. Steve Plunk says:

    I can’t help but liken the selected voices that speak against the old policies to anecdotal evidence. One person here who was an interrogator, another person who was in charge of something or another. These few voices don’t prove or disprove anything but merely keep the debate alive for political considerations.

    Bill’s posted arguments make a lot of sense and pass the reasonable and logic tests.

    Perhaps Obama will release the information Cheney has requested so we can see all the facts.

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  14. brainy435 says:

    Alex is very moved by heresy and anecdotes unsupported by actual reasoning or evidence… as long as what is being said fits his preconcieved views.

    Oh, he liked this article, too, apparantly.

    Nice, Tlaloc. Your argument is that its just dandy to cause the deaths of American soldiers through rank politics if you don’t agree with the war policy of the sitting CIC. Disgusting.

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  15. Alex Knapp says:

    You’re right, brainy, why should I listen to a guy who actually interrogated members of al-Qaeda and found the information that led to Zarqawi’s capture over the self-serving rhetoric of Dick Cheney? Silly of me.

    Bill,

    This is a failure of professionalism, morals and leadership, no matter what one thinks of the “enhanced interrogation” aspects that were approved. Presumably the CIA officers who used waterboarding didn’t take polaroids of themselves smiling and point at Khalid’s junk …

    I’d encourage you to read the testimony, because one thing that the SERE trainers and psycholgists mentioned is that this type of dehumanization is practically inevitable with the employment of the authorized techniques against perceived enemies. They testified that they advised their superiors at the DOD of this. Thus, Abu Ghraib was, in fact, a foreseeable result of authorizing illegal interrogation techniques.

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  16. cian says:

    Bill,

    I think its pretty clear at this stage that the GITMO techniques were introduced to Iraq and Afghanistan, but in an ad hoc and wholly unprofessional manner and so got out of control.

    Interrogators were told that dogs could be used, also stress positions, temperature manipulation, face slapping and ‘walling’. When you look at the photos you can see all this in action but gone AWOL, over the top, reaching dangerous levels.

    Had these soldiers been told that only techniques covered in the army’s field manual were allowed, than none of this would have occurred.

    Whatever your position on enhanced interrogation techniques (should they be used or not), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that in terms of leadership, the Bush Administration failed miserably.

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  17. John425 says:

    Alexander’s “relationship-building techniques” are all well and good if you can continue at a leisurely pace. What happens if you suspect an immediate threat? Buy brunch for the captive?

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  18. Tlaloc says:

    Read summaries of it. I’m not assuming it had no impact; but there is still a wide gulf between institutionalized “stress positions, sleep deprivation and exploiting fears of dogs” and a bunch of scumbags smearing prisoners in feces, sexually abusing them and conducting mock executions, all of which they took ha-ha funny pictures of to show the folks back home.

    I don’t think it’s a gulf, I think it’s a consequence. When your superiors are ordering you to treat people inhumanely you either refuse or you will come to see them as subhuman. One thing the military does not really encourage is cognitive dissonance.

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  19. Tlaloc says:

    Nice, Tlaloc. Your argument is that its just dandy to cause the deaths of American soldiers through rank politics if you don’t agree with the war policy of the sitting CIC. Disgusting.

    I’m arguing for not keeping our soldiers in a warzone where they are being killed to no good end. You’re arguing… well actually I’m not sure that word applies to your piddles…

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  20. Bill says:

    Thus, Abu Ghraib was, in fact, a foreseeable result of authorizing illegal interrogation techniques.

    Reasonable, debatable argument, though I would stipulate that Karpinski et al’s leadership and awareness was so bad that it very well may have happened anyway.

    Whatever your position on enhanced interrogation techniques (should they be used or not), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that in terms of leadership, the Bush Administration failed miserably.

    Also a reasonable argument.

    That said, I’ve encountered so many military personnel involved in interaction with detainees who not only did not abuse detainees, but also actively protected them from their fellow Iraqis, that I find the implication that this was systemic abuse to be contradictory to overwhelming experience.

    I think America is excessively browbeating itself, especially when you contextualize it with the incidence of atrocity in ALL armed conflicts.

    Thus, in the digital age, some form of propaganda fodder for AQ is inevitable. The fact that our politicians and media obessively pull an Arthur Dimmesdale and scourge our society exaggerates the contextual reality.

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  21. Bill says:

    And Tlaloc –

    I’m arguing for not keeping our soldiers in a warzone where they are being killed to no good end.

    Tabling discussion over the decision to invade, frankly, our soldiers are saving an exponentially larger number of lives than they are sacrificing, prior to Iraq’s security reaching acceptable levels of stability.

    I can think of few better ends.

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  22. Anderson says:

    People don’t hate that much without good reason.

    I hesitate to buy into that 100%. While taking the point that the Arabic/Muslim world has its share of genuine grievances, I would not say that, for example, the Nazis’ hatred for Jews had some good reason.

    Sometimes people hate because it’s easier and more entertaining than addressing their real problems. (See Fox News, passim.)

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  23. brainy435 says:

    You’re right alex, why would I listen to an executive who had all evidence available to him and the actual burden of helping make the right choice to protect the country over the self-serving, unsubstantiated rhetoric of a guy who only saw a small part of the puzzle and is trying to burninsh his blogging creds at a notoriously left-wing site. Silly me….

    Tlaloc, you’re arguing for undermining the CIC in a time of war. For not presenting a united face to the enemies of the nation. And you’re ok with this being done not by loyal opposition by by slander and deciet. This again shows your naievity in assuming this would have no positive effect on our enemies. Keep in mind, you agreed with the explicit statement that this was done not to protect “the troops” but for political gain. As I piddled: Disgusting.

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  24. G.A.Phillips says:

    You can only piss on people so long before they piss back. And we’ve been pretty consistently pissing on the Middle East for fifty years.

    LOL what have we ever done but giving these barbarians money, Dude Why. Oh protect ourselves and others from them from time to time.

    What you need to do as a liberal is think about your own words!

    You can only piss on people so long before they piss back.

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  25. anjin-san says:

    Wonder how long Chaney will continue to talk up terror attacks on the US. This can only embolden the terrorists…

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  26. An Interested Party says:

    Tlaloc, you’re arguing for undermining the CIC in a time of war. For not presenting a united face to the enemies of the nation.

    So I assume you are equally upset with Cheney, as he is doing the same thing…

    What’s really disgusting is that people in the Bush Administration felt is was necessary to resort to torture in some misguided attempt to keep our country “safe”…

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  27. Tlaloc says:

    Tabling discussion over the decision to invade, frankly, our soldiers are saving an exponentially larger number of lives than they are sacrificing, prior to Iraq’s security reaching acceptable levels of stability.

    I can think of few better ends.

    This presumes that we are going to keep the current level (or more) troops in country for the additional decade (or more) that will be required to actually get Iraq on the path to self management.

    I know that assumption is BS. We’re not going to do it even if we could, and really we can’t. We don’t have the man power, the funds, or the interest.

    That being the case the only question is when we withdraw and thus when it starts backsliding. We’ve already seen some uptick in violence as the sunni realize that the shia promises are empty and they start polishing all those nice shiny weapons we gave them during the “awakening.”

    So all we’re doing is prolonging the low intensity chaos before the inevitable blow up. That means we’re dragging this thing out and causing more casualties by delaying the only thing that will eventually lead to a recovery- hitting bottom.

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  28. Tlaloc says:

    While taking the point that the Arabic/Muslim world has its share of genuine grievances, I would not say that, for example, the Nazis’ hatred for Jews had some good reason.

    Well Christianity had a couple millenia to demonize the Jews in Europe. With that kind of lead time yeah you probably can manufacture hate out of thin air.

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  29. Tlaloc says:

    Tlaloc, you’re arguing for undermining the CIC in a time of war. For not presenting a united face to the enemies of the nation. And you’re ok with this being done not by loyal opposition by by slander and deciet. This again shows your naievity in assuming this would have no positive effect on our enemies. Keep in mind, you agreed with the explicit statement that this was done not to protect “the troops” but for political gain. As I piddled: Disgusting.

    There’s no war for there to be a time of. No declaration of war, no enemy state. I might as well claim the right was undermining Clinton during the “War” on Drugs.

    Words have meaning. We are not at war.

    Beyond that Bush’s asinine gunboat diplomacy was a far bigger threat in terms of encouraging our enemies. Terrorism is all about provoking a militarily superior enemy into doing stupid things so you can bleed him dry. So what’s bush’s response to 9/11? He charges across the world, pissing off allies and wasting our military and economic strength in Iraq. Undercutting that was necessary for National Security.

    Look you guys were idiots and did precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time because you enjoy being macho more than that sissy thinking thing. Now it’s time for the rest of us to fix the mess you made while you sit in a corner and think about what you did.

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  30. Tlaloc says:

    LOL what have we ever done but giving these barbarians money,

    Since there are probably a few people reading this who really don;t know anything of our history in the Middle East I’ll give an overview-

    Skipping all the crusades stuff (which granted some in the middle east can still be touchy about since our main religion was trying to commit genocide on them and all…)

    For the most part we ignored the middle east in the last century until oil became the fuel of choice and it was found there. At that point Arabs became “those damn people living on our oil” and we treated them as such. Western powers moved in to grab rights to the oil and gave back little or nothing to the people who actually owned it. In Iran they got a little annoyed at this and kicked out the western (mostly English) oil men to nationalize their oil (the gall!). We responded by overthrowing their democratic government (yep they used to be that thing we claim is the solution to all problems before we put a stop to it) and put in place a monarchist (the Shah). This lead eventually to the Ayatollah’s revolution and our enmity with Iran (which is almost entirely our fault).

    In Iraq we decided we needed a nice strong man in Baghdad. This was part of our great game with the Soviets (the same one that screwed up an awful large part of the world in all). Who did we find? Saddam Hussein. At the time he was a middling Baathist and we decided to make him our guy. So we armed hi and helped him take control in Iraq. When he massacred the Kurds Teddy Kennedy tried to get the UN and the US to take action which was blocked by Rumsfeld and Cheney and that group (the a$$holes) part of the Reagan admin at the time. Saddam was way more important to them than some stupid genocide.

    Saddam and the Iranians had themselves one hell of a bloody war (which our guy started, natch) during which Saddam also used chemical weapons (that we’d given him, natch). Strangely this didn’t endear us to the Iranians.

    Saudi Arabia is a brutal monarchy that we’ve helped keep in power because they are major oil allies. Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and of course the Palestinians have all suffered as a result of our Israel policy (best summed up as “have a crap load of guns, guys, just don’t tell us what you do with them, we don’t want to know” nod nod wink wink).

    Egypt got uppity about the Suez canal, once again because western powers were getting all the money while natives did most of the work and lived in poverty. When they tried to nationalize the English got the Israeli’s to invade so England come come in as a third party that just happened to have to take control of the canal, what a coincidence. At least we were pretty clean in that one.

    Afghanistan was another one of those great games with the soviets. The soviet’s invaded and we decided it was a great opportunity to bleed them dry so we worked with Pakistan’s ISI to train the Mujahadeen in terror tactics. Those are the same people who eventually created Al Qaeda by the way. Great job, CIA!

    All in all it’s had to find a country in the middle east that we haven’t screwed over majorly.

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  31. An Interested Party says:

    Tlaloc, why do hate America? How dare you use historical facts to explain why the people in the countries of the Middle East might have a problem with our country’s foreign policy over the years…I can’t wait to see who is the first person to call you a terrorist apologist…

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  32. Alex Knapp says:

    Brainy,

    Alexander was an actual interrogator, who actually got useful intelligence which was then used to catch actual bad guys.

    Dick Cheney is a politician, who, in a desparate bid to “look tough”, spit on 200+ years of American values and traditions and ordered the torture of innocent people in a manner that yielded no useful intelligence and put American soliders’ lives at risk.

    So yeah, I’ll take the interrogator’s word.

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  33. brainy435 says:

    “Dick Cheney is a politician, who, in a desparate bid to “look tough”, spit on 200+ years of American values and traditions and ordered the torture of innocent people in a manner that yielded no useful intelligence and put American soliders’ lives at risk.”

    So not only are you going to back whoever you want just because they agree with you, you’re going to lie and slander people in the process. Hey, its your right to be as unbalanced as your twisted mind will allow, but don’t expect it to sway rational people.

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  34. Alex Knapp says:

    Brainy –

    What lies? What slander?

    The humane treatment of prisoners is an American tradition that began with Washington’s orders as Commander in Chief during the Revolution. Humane treatment of prisoners of war was enshrined in American law during the first few sessions of Congress. It was America that led the charge for the Geneva Conventions. America that led the charge for the Convention Against Torture (signed by Reagan, no less). When the Bush Administration authorized the use of illegal treatment of prisoners, they spit on those traditions.

    Is what they did torture? That was the conclusion of the International Red Cross, which enforces the Geneva Convention, as well as the conclusion of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not to mention many, many lawyers in the JAG Corps of all the branches of service.

    That the torture did not obtain any usable intelligence was the conclusion of the CIA Inspector General in 2004.

    That the treatment of prisoners put American lives at risk was the conclusion of General Petraeus, as well as the many military and FBI interrogators who have gone on the record on the subject.

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  35. brainy435 says:

    Way to miss the argument. The argument, as you agreed to it, is that its OK to undermine the president FOR POLITICS not for any noble cause you try and claim after the fact. And what kind of unlearned, unthinking individual can point to the RESPONSE for 3000+ deaths as the CAUSE? You people had your turn, you tried your law enforcement approach to terrorism and you got thousands of American civilians killed. Your policied FAILED. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Thank God I’m not insane enough to think that going back to a failed policy would be a good move.

    And how in Gods name is AQ bleeding us dry? They have taken unsustainable losses and been driven from every major base they’ve tried to establish. They haven’t been able to launch any attacks with anything close to the scale and sophistication of 9/11 since that day… WHICH AS YOU STATED WAS THE DAMNED POINT OF THE GWOT.
    Ironic, you castigate Bush for working to fix all the problems brought about by your preferred law enforcement policy, then try and claim that going back to that same inept policy and undoing the advances will be better. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so insane.

    As to your long, anti-white man screed, you’re going to have to make up your mind. Are we supposed to NOT depose dictators, like in Iraq, or are we supposed to depose them, like you fault us for not doing in Saudi Arabia? Are we supposed to defend all democracies or all democracies except your preferred target Israel? Maybe we have to make tough decisions based on our own interrests and abilities? Nah, that couldn’t be it…

    “The soviet’s invaded and we decided it was a great opportunity to bleed them dry so we worked with Pakistan’s ISI to train the Mujahadeen in terror tactics. Those are the same people who eventually created Al Qaeda by the way. Great job, CIA!”

    Are you saying that that strategy didn’t work? Or just that Pakistan would be better off having been part of Russia and not defended by the hated USA?

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  36. brainy435 says:

    The Geneva Conventions that allow us to execute any combatant not in uniform? The ones whos EXPRESS PURPOSE was to afford protections soley to those acting EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of the terrorists we are facing? To try and limit the exact actions they are taking?

    Look, the truth is, whatever report you want to point to, we treat our prisoners better than we have to and better than any other nation. The administration bent over backwards to make sure we got the info we needed in a manner that was legal. Your lies that this was all illegal and immoral do nothing to actually further the debate, it attemptes to cloak you in moral supremacy and end the debate. It’s how 5 yr olds argure things.

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