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Republicans For Waterboarding

One of the most notable exchanges during Saturday night’s debate came when National Journal’s Major Garrett asked Herman Cain about the use of torture, and then the other candidates started chiming in:

We have an email question I’m happy to say, emailed into the National Journal. And it comes from Stephen Schafroth (PH) of Odell’s (PH), Oregon. And I’d like to address this question to Mr. Cain. Stephen writes, “I served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. I believe that torture is always wrong in all cases. What is your stance on torture?”

HERMAN CAIN:

I believe that following the procedures that have been established by our military, I do not agree with torture, period. However, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture. That is the critical consideration.

MAJOR GARRETT:

Mr. Cain, of course you’re familiar with the long-running debate we’ve had about whether waterboarding constitutes torture or is an enhanced interrogation tech– technique. In the last campaign, Republican nominee John McCain and Barack Obama agreed that it was torture and should not be allowed legally and that the Army Field Manual should be the methodology used to interrogate enemy combatants. Do you agree with that or do you disagree, sir?

HERMAN CAIN:

I agree that it was an enhanced interrogation technique.

MAJOR GARRETT:

And then you would support it at present. You would return to that policy.

HERMAN CAIN:

Yes, I would return to that policy. I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.

Michele Bachmann agreed with Cain:

If I were president, I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information (CHEERING) for our country. And I– and I also would like to say that today, under Barack Obama, he is allowing the A.C.L.U. to run the C.I.A. You need to understand that today– today we– it– when we– when we interdict a terrorist on the battlefield, we have no jail for them.

We have nowhere to take them. We have no C.I.A. interrogations anymore. It is as though we have decided we want to lose in the War on Terror under President Obama. That’s not my strategy. My strategy will be that the United States will be victorious in the War on Terror.

Rick Perry was similarly supportive of the idea of returning to the use of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and one suspects that Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney would agree with them if the question had got to them. In fact, of all the candidates on the stage, the only ones who spoke out against the use of such techniques were Ron Paul, obviously, and Jon Huntsman, who put it this way:

We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project which include liberty, democracy, human rights, and open markets when we torture. We should not torture. Waterboarding is torture. We dilute ourselves down like a whole lot of other countries. And we lose that ability to project values that a lot of people in corners of this world are still relying on the United States to stand up for them.

The exchange has generated much attention since Saturday night including, most unusually, the President himself who addressed the exchange during a press conference at the conclusion of the APEC Summit. John McCain also addressed the matter this morning on Twitter where he said he was disappointed by the candidates who endorsed waterboarding, which he described as torture. It’s also generated no small degree of comment from the punditocracy.

Steve Benen takes note of what it says about the GOP:

In light of the Cain and Bachmann responses, it’s worth keeping a couple of things in mind. First, in GOP circles, support for torture remains painfully strong, even now. Post-Cheney, it’s become practically a party norm to support torture techniques that America used to consider unthinkable. Though Rick Santorum didn’t comment on this last night, it was just this summer when he said John McCain “doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works,” because the former prisoner of war opposes torture.

And second, Republican debate audiences continue to be a legitimate story in their own right. Over the last few months, we’ve seen GOP audiences cheer the execution of 234 people, cheer letting the insured die, boo an American soldier who happens to be gay, and now applaud torture.

It’s worth noting that Paul and Huntsman also drew applause for their comments against waterboarding, although it probably is far to say that the comments by Cain, Bachmann, and Perry reflected the views of the audience in the room. Unfortunately.

Andrew Sullivan makes a similar point:

The days when the GOP could be credibly seen as having more concrete and solid judgment on foreign affairs than the Democrats have long since disappeared into the memory hole. The last Republican president did more damage to American soft and hard power in eight years than any president in history, and, on top of that, besmirched this country permanently with the scar of torture as an instrument of state, something the West had decisively put behind it centuries ago, something that once helped define the United States as a civilized country. But now we have a motivational speaker who knows nothing about foreign affairs, Herman Cain, telling us that he is against torture but also in favor of torture, and then saying he would defer to the military leaders. Well, torture is barred from the military services, period, so consultation with them would be redundant. And this ignorant creep is at the head of the pack. Michele Bachmann apparently thinks that Obama has allowed the ACLU to run the CIA, which would come as some surprise to both. Her statement is so insane, so utterly removed from reality, that it would disqualify someone from a high school debating tournament. But again, this preposterous woman is a serious candidate for this farce of a party.

Even the supposedly “sane” candidates on the stage seemed to have gone off the rails, though. Though he didn’t directly answer the waterboarding question, Mitt Romney made more than one comment — on Iran, China, and the assassination of Anwar al-Alwaki — that makes one wonder what happened to the realpolitik foreign policy that epitomized the GOP during the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 41 years. With two exceptions, the men and woman on the stage Saturday night seemed to be determined to prove to the base that they were “tougher” and more willing to engage in risky, if not insane, foreign policy prescriptions. Whether they’d actually do any of these things if elected, they at least seem to think that going down this rabbit hole is the best way to win the Republican nomination. There’s something deeply troubling about that.

There were moments of sanity during the debate, of course. Huntsman provided more than one, especially during an exchange about trade with China when he gently reminded Mitt Romney that he couldn’t take China to the WTO over currency manipulation because the treaty doesn’t allow it. Rick Santorum even provided one when he criticized the other candidates who were talking about taking a more bellicose stance towards Pakistan, reminding them that we cannot afford not to have a relationship with that country for or own good and the good of the entire region. For the most part, though, it was things like this waterboarding exchange that dominated the discussion.

There is no reasonable argument that waterboarding is not torture. We prosecuted Japanese officials at the end of World War II for using the technique on soldiers. It was a technique favored by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, and was used extensively by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Saying that it’s “not torture” is just semantic nonsense designed to soothe us into believing that we weren’t doing something wrong during the War on Terror. More importantly, as I pointed out in the wake of the death of  Osama bin Laden, the argument that torture “works” is irrelevant to whether or not it is wrong:

It may be theoretically possible that we could break a suspected terrorist by placing him a room with his child while a CIA operative put a loaded gun to the child’s head, threatening to kill them unless the suspect revealed what they knew. We could revive the medieval torture processes of the Inquisition. Those methods might even prove highly effective in getting a particularly difficult person to crack. That doesn’t mean we should do those things, however, and the fact that the debate has suddenly moved into “ends justify the means” territory should concern anyone who believes in the rule of law.

Even if we accept the argument that enhanced interrogation techniques  “worked”  in this case, that says nothing about whether they should be done, and the extent to which people are willing to throw morality out the window when it’s convenient is profoundly disturbing.

Moreover, to the extent that the utilitarian argument matters, there’s plenty of evidence that it doesn’t work at all. The person who was waterboarded the most, Khalid Shiekh Mohammad, laughed at his interrogators when they used the practice on him. Moreover, we learned through traditional intelligence techniques that Mohammed and other al Qaeda detainees were lying to interrogators even after being subjected to waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These supposedly fool proof techniques didn’t break them and may have actually caused them to take a harder line.

Of all the exchanges during Saturday’s debate, I’ve got to agree with Sullivan that it’s the waterboarding discussion that was perhaps the most troublesome.  It was Ronald Reagan himself who, in the midst of signing the 1984 Convention Against Torture provided the reason why it is something that we just don’t do:

“The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention . It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

As Sullivan notes, Reagan wasn’t trying to use weasel words to define what is and wasn’t torture, he was talking about anything that could be considering inhuman treatment, which certainly includes something like waterboarding. As with so many other things, though, the “Party of Reagan” has left their namesake behind and gone off in a very disturbing direction.

Update: A friend on Twitter passes along an interesting story about the Reagan Administration prosecuting a Texas Sheriff who waterboarded prisoners:

George W. Bush’s Justice Department said subjecting a person to the near drowning of waterboarding was not a crime and didn’t even cause pain, but Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department thought otherwise, prosecuting a Texas sheriff and three deputies for using the practice to get confessions.

Federal prosecutors secured a 10-year sentence against the sheriff and four years in prison for the deputies. But that 1983 case — which would seem to be directly on point for a legal analysis on waterboarding two decades later — was never mentioned in the four Bush administration opinions released last week.

The legal standards for actions by Federal officers may be different, obviously, but given that it occurred a year before the 1984 convention was signed it puts Reagan’s comments at that time into an interesting context.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    “Whether they’d actually do any of these things if elected, they at least seem to think that going down this rabbit hole is the best way to win the Republican nomination.”

    And this is a surprise to you because…?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  2. @Moosebreath:

    It really doesn’t

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  3. legion says:

    You know, if more people stopped treating these children like sane, rational adults, maybe crap like this would start to fade away…

    I can dream, can’t I?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  4. Franklin says:

    I agree with everything you say here, Doug, but I was nearly laughing out loud at the stupidity of Bachmann:

    “My strategy will be that the United States will be victorious in the War on Terror.”

    What is this? I don’t even …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  5. mantis says:

    I can’t say it any better than Charles P. Pierce:

    Somehow, as though most of them already hadn’t revealed themselves to be abject moral algae on the subject, it came up again. Again, Ron Paul voiced an objection, which gave Perry an opportunity to leap in with both feet. Alas for him, neither of them was in his mouth this time. He was clear, precise, and totally batshit:

    “Waterboarding is not torture… and I’ll be for it until the day I die.

    This is precisely, and in every respect, the position taken by several Japanese military officers in 1945. They felt exactly the same way, which is why we f*cking executed them.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 1

  6. Captain Spaulding says:

    What drives me crazy in the response to this on Saturday, and in the media coverage of this issue since 2009, is that the Bush Administration’s use of waterboarding ended in 2003. The policy changed and no one bothered to tell Dick Cheney. I am no fan of Bush, but the second term interrogation policy, and overall foreign policy, changed substantially. That people running for president saying they would waterboard and “change the Obama policy” is insane. Bush ended waterboarding but couldn’t tout it because it would put the people who participated in it in legal jeopardy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. PD Shaw says:

    The Reagan administration sold joining the Convention of Against Torture as having little impact on the U.S. and that any attempt to expand the understanding of torture would fail to due to “void for vaguness” constraints under the due process clause:

    In short, the Reagan and Bush Administrations sought to construct a sharp
    dichotomy between horrific acts that amount to torture and other forms of
    conduct. Torture would become a category with few gray areas, because it
    would encompass only the worst of the worst—conduct that everyone assumed
    was not only already illegal but also almost never practiced in the United States.
    In the process, more debatable categories of conduct would be shunted aside
    and apparently relegated en masse to the lesser category of cruel, inhuman, or
    degrading treatment. At the same time, both Administrations also sought to limit
    the scope of the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment category—which they
    reasonably viewed as ambiguous. The result of their efforts was to take some of
    the conduct that arguably would fall within the Convention and place it outside,
    at least under the United States’ understanding of its obligations. Put differently,
    the Executive Branch sought to raise the bar for establishing that either torture
    or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment had taken place.

    . . .

    Consider first the infamous “torture memo” of August 2002, issued by the
    Office of Legal Counsel (“OLC”). Many commentators have stressed the
    ways in which that memorandum goes beyond the ordinary parameters of
    reasonable legal argument in many of its conclusions. Few have been willing
    to recognize that aspects of the memorandum—such as its focus on specific
    intent, its insistence on a narrow definition of torture, and its stress on the
    distinction between torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment—draw
    on the compromises written into the Convention Against Torture, stressed by the
    Reagan and Bush Administrations during ratification and memorialized in the
    Senate’s resolution of advice and consent. That is, the goal of retaining legal
    discretion to use coercion, which was so central to ratification of the Convention
    and the ICCPR, finally bore fruit.

    Torture Nation, Torture Law

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  8. Hey Norm says:

    The ignorance shown during this debate was laughable. Most of the positions taken were based on factual errors, narrow-minded conclusions, and an almost totalitarian desire for violence. These positions would do great harm to the security of the United States.
    This debate made clear that the only acceptable GOP candidate for President is Huntsman…Romney having previously taken the stand that waterboarding is not torture…and it is equally clear that the GOP is rejecting Huntsman.
    Ipso Facto…a Republican President being inaugurated in January of 2013 would be an un-acceptable risk to our Nat’l Security.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  9. legion says:

    @Captain Spaulding: Well, perhaps the people who participated in it _should_ have been put in legal jeopardy. Keeping crimes against humanity secret to protect the rep of one’s employer is pretty much the same argument Paterno and McQueary are using, after all…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  10. Moosebreath says:

    Doug,

    “It really doesn’t ”

    Then why do you say on the outside tease that this was the most disturbing? If it’s entirely necssary for a group of Republicans politicians trying to play to their base, and you are not sure if they would actually do it, this strikes me as commentary on the Republican base, not on the candidates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. I think it’s possible for something to be both unsurprising and disturbing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. sam says:

    I’d like to pose a question that I once asked of Bithead: How many times do you think those maroons would have to waterboarded before they agreed that waterboarding is torture?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  13. Rick Almeida says:

    @sam:

    It’s only torture when it happens to Americans. Duh.

    Also, too, G.I. Jane was waterboarded, so it’s totally ok.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    You know how in a zombie movie there’s always the guy named Joe who is one of our heroes, and then he gets bitten by a zombie, and slowly he turns, and the main hero has to explain to Joe’s wife and kids that, “Joe, isn’t Joe anymore, he’s a zombie.”

    And then they put him out of his misery and feel bad about it?

    This is no longer the GOP, kids, it’s a zombie that just happens to look kind of like the GOP. The GOP is dead. All that’s left of it is incoherent moans and a hunger for human flesh.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 1

  15. Hey Norm says:

    @ Sam…
    I will bet a months salary that Dick Cheney…the biggest pu**y in a GOP full of pu**ies…would start singing before they poured the first drop of water.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  16. Moosebreath says:

    Doug,

    “I think it’s possible for something to be both unsurprising and disturbing.”

    In a theoretical sense, maybe. On the other hand, it seems that you are surprised that politicans during a primary will play to their base, which seems as suprising to me as the sun rising in the East tomorrow.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. In fact, of all the candidates on the stage, the only ones who spoke out against the use of such techniques were Ron Paul, obviously, and Jon Huntsman, who put it this way

    Of course if Joyner had his druthers, neither Paul nor Huntsman would have been at the debate to begin with, since it’s a waste of time to let them participate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. jukeboxgrad says:

    Doug, thank you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. ponce says:

    Just watching these debates is torture.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  20. jukeboxgrad says:

    Captain:

    the Bush Administration’s use of waterboarding ended in 2003

    Yes. It ended right around the time of the invasion.

    And it’s important to notice that the torture worked. Torture is good for one thing: eliciting false confessions. There’s more than a trivial amount of evidence that we tortured specifically in order to elicit false confessions for the purpose of selling the war. And we were successful in using torture to elicit false confessions, and those false confessions were indeed used successfully to help sell the war.

    Once these missions were accomplished, there was no further need for torture, so it stopped. We were never really using it to prevent future attacks. If that had been the purpose, we would have kept doing it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  21. rodney dill says:

    No, they didn’t endorse torture, they endorsed waterboarding, which they don’t consider torture.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 8

  22. mannning says:

    TTB Syndrome is an ancient argument that relies on several events:

    1. A Ticking Time Bomb placed in a very crowded area such as Times Square, but unknown to the interrogators;
    2. Capture of the person that set the bomb, or knew where it was to be placed, and the time of detonation.
    3. Refusal under soft interrogation to tell where it was and when the bomb will go off, though it must be rather soon.

    The interrogators are under extreme pressure to find out the location and timing from the captive, since thousands or tens of thousands of people are in jeopardy of their lives.

    Those who have used waterboarding claim that it would suffice in this scenario to discover the where and when of the bomb with high reliability.

    What should the interrogators and their superiors do?

    a. Use waterboarding
    b. Use only soft techniques and hope.

    I do not like any of the answers, but there must be one for the sake of the many, many people in jeopardy.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 19

  23. rodney dill says:

    I’d like to pose a question that I once asked of Bithead: How many times do you think those maroons would have to waterboarded before they agreed that waterboarding is torture?

    I think they would support whichever view would make the waterboarding cease.

    It’s only torture when it happens to Americans. Duh.
    Also, too, G.I. Jane was waterboarded, so it’s totally ok.

    If waterboarding were the worst “torture” that our captured troops were ever subjected to I would be ecstatic.

    I will bet a months salary that Dick Cheney…the biggest pu**y in a GOP full of pu**ies…would start singing before they poured the first drop of water.

    You lose. Haven’t you heard his voice? Nothing coming out of his mouth would ever sound like singing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. matt b says:

    @mannning:
    The falicy of the “Ticking Time Bomb” and waterboarding is that there was no ticking time bomb. At best there was the spectre of a ticking time bomb.

    However, we must seriously ask how easy it is to create that spectre — remember the DHLS Color Alarm Chart?

    As with so many issues of security/law enforcement, I again find myself asking how conservatives who consistently express the opinion that government (in particular federal) cannot do anything right or successfully create anything are among the first to give that same government the right to torture or kill their own citizens.

    Of course the answer is “because we only apply this to the guilty ones.” Though the evidence tends to suggest that there have been a lot of innocent people who have gotten caught up in these systems.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  25. matt b says:

    @rodney dill:

    No, they didn’t endorse torture, they endorsed waterboarding, which they don’t consider torture.

    And these are the same people who use Orwell to discuss how “liberals” game language.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  26. Hey Norm says:

    More Manning Mis-information…
    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was subjected to 183 instances of waterboarding…hardly a TTB scenario. He told the Red Cross that he had provided a lot of false information, which he supposed the interrogators wanted to hear, in order to stop the mistreatment. Terrorism experts, as opposed to Fox News readers, will tell you that TTB scenarios rarely, if ever, happen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  27. rodney dill says:

    And these are the same people who use Orwell to discuss how “liberals” game language.

    I guess that would depend on whether they say its legal now, regardless of its current legal status, or if they think it should be considered legal, contrary to the current consensus that it is torture.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. mannning says:
  29. Ron Beasley says:

    @Hey Norm: I was an interrogator for the DIA in the late 60′s and early 70s. When I went through interrogation school the first two things we were told was:
    1) Torture is illegal (and yes water boarding was considered torture)
    2) Torture doesn’t work (it’s good for false confessions, nothing else.
    People don’t tell you the truth when tortured, they tell you what they think you want to hear.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  30. mannning says:

    The TTBS is rare, of course, but not so rare that we haven’t come very close to it several times.
    So what if it is rare, once you are in it, and it is possible to be, then you must react.

    You are trying to avoid the conclusion that in some circumstances, waterboarding could well be useful. That is a shady act, if not rather immoral.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  31. David M says:

    @mannning: Or we could follow the law, and be decent human beings. Torture is illegal and immoral in any and all scenarios.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  32. mannning says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Two points: You may be right, and you may be wrong, but there is only one way to find out in the TTB scenario.

    Otherwise, let it go boom!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 13

  33. mannning says:

    @David M:

    I hope such a scenario doesn’t catch any of your loved ones in proximity to the bomb. I believe it is moral to save the lives of thousands by using whatever may work.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 18

  34. Rick Almeida says:

    @mannning:

    Please list the “several times” we have “come very close” to it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  35. PD Shaw says:

    @mannning: A bi-partisan concensus has essentially accepted some variation of a ticking-timebomb scenario because waterboarding has only been banned by executive order, which means Obama could set it aside with a stroke of his pen. That’s probably close to majority views as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  36. Hey Norm says:

    “…The TTBS is rare, of course, but not so rare that we haven’t come very close to it several times…”

    Several is defined as more than two…but not many. So let’s call it three. Provide three examples that we have encountered an actual ticking time bomb scenario.

    Your mis-information lies in the charachterization of the ticking time bomb scenario as a credible argement for an immoral action. It isn’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  37. David M says:

    @mannning: Do you support retroactively pardoning the people we convicted in the past of waterboarding?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  38. David M says:

    @Hey Norm: The TTBS would actually have to happen first for the evidence to exist, so I hope you’re not holding your breath.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. Vast Variety says:

    Waterboarding is torture and America is supposed to be above that sort of crap.

    Besides… The Mythbusters covered this all ready.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFFslAjUyj4

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  40. steve says:

    By my readings, nearly all military interrogators are opposed to torture, including waterboarding. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a ticking time bomb scenario. A clever bomber would have a plausible lie to tell. One of the problems with torture, one of the reasons it is unreliable, is that people give it undue weight when making decisions. It often leads to time wasted on false leads.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  41. Franklin says:

    mannning, two points:

    1) I guess my main problem with the TTBS argument is – who is the judge of whether it’s really a TTBS? If it can’t be reviewed, then just anybody any any country, friend or foe, can claim, “well I just thought it was a TTBS, so I went ahead and tortured the guy.”

    2) Regardless, it should still be against the law. And if some well-intentioned interrogator truly feels that it’s a TTBS, then they should be willing to accept the consequences in order to save lives. I’m not trying not to say “laws are made to be broken” but rather “laws are made to make you think hard about what you’re about to do.” And if that interrogator really ends up saving a thousand lives, somehow I think the prosecutor is going to “accidentally” f— up the case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  42. Ron Beasley says:

    @steve:

    One of the problems with torture, one of the reasons it is unreliable, is that people give it undue weight when making decisions. It often leads to time wasted on false leads.

    Precisely – people are chasing phony leads while the real TTB ticks away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  43. matt b says:

    Those who have used [and are cited in conservative media about] waterboarding claim that it would suffice in this scenario to discover the where and when of the bomb with high reliability. [There are also a number of experts who have used waterboarding and know quite a bit about enhanced interrogation that would disagree... see Doug's initial article].

    Fixed that for you mannning.

    Again, I find two problems in your addendum to the TTBS. The first is that, to take a page from Conservative critique of Climate Science, there seems to be no consensus on this issue. So at that point we must way the costs with the benefits. Admittedly I come down on the side of the potential abuses of this system outweigh the benefits.

    I had a hard time seeing how one can argue against taking action to stop CAGW but support torture in order to prevent the TTBS.

    The second problems of the TTBS is that it is in fact the ultimate in slippery slopes. At what point is it too much if there is even remotely the promise of stopping the event? Why should we stop at waterboarding. Why not move to things we all can agree are torture? At that point we can only ask, well, what constitutes a true TTBS? An attack on a city? Sure. What about an attack on a military base? What about an attack on a shopping center? Or perhaps the bombing of a bus? Where do we re-draw that particular line?

    And if you say, this cannot be legislated, that it must be a call of people on the ground, then should those people be allowed to be prosecuted if it turns out to not be the TTBS? I suspect the answer, if one has been supporting the scenario is far is of course “No — as that might have a chilling effect and cause us to fail in a TTBS.”

    The net result is the granting of near unlimited powers to a government that most conservatives say does not work in order to protect their safety (which one might already argue they are incapable of doing).

    Or if it one does believe that government can protect us from terrorist attack, then why not employ waterboarding and these rules in cases of domestic TTBS that are not caused by terrorists?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  44. matt b says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Provide three examples that we have encountered an actual ticking time bomb scenario.

    Note for anyone doing this, what is critical to fulfill this is:

    a. That we know that an attack is imminent.
    and
    b. That we have an invidivual already in custody that is known or believed to have the knowledge to stop the attack.

    So for example, 9/11 was not a ticking timebomb in that we didn’t know it was going to happen in the immediate future and we didn’t have the people necessary to provide the information to stop it (or didn’t know that they had the information).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  45. matt b says:

    @mannning:

    You are trying to avoid the conclusion that in some circumstances, waterboarding could well be useful. That is a shady act, if not rather immoral.

    So does that mean that conservatives who claim we should not take any action of ACC (let alone CAGW), even though there may be a number of levers that can be pulled to alleviate the long-term trends are being immoral?

    We do have scientific data (from people who have direct experience) that suggests actions to take. Granted there is no concesus, but that seems to be the case with waterboarding.

    And for that matter, one could argue that CACC will have a far greater potential to harm the world (socially and economically) than any isolated TTBS. Note, for better or worse we recovered from 9/11.

    Of course, such an action actually impinges on something that conservatives care about and therefore logical or moral consistency goes out the window.

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  46. jukeboxgrad says:

    franklin:

    if some well-intentioned interrogator truly feels that it’s a TTBS, then they should be willing to accept the consequences in order to save lives. I’m not trying not to say “laws are made to be broken” but rather “laws are made to make you think hard about what you’re about to do.” And if that interrogator really ends up saving a thousand lives, somehow I think the prosecutor is going to “accidentally” f— up the case.

    Exactly. This is the best answer to the TTBS nonsense.

    The jury is going to be quite sympathetic to you if your crime results in saving many lives. So if you’re really that sure that your crime will save lives, then go ahead and commit the crime. And if you’re not sure, that means it’s not really a TTBS, and/or you’re not really confident in the magical effectiveness of torture.

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  47. Liberty60 says:

    In reading about dictatorial regimes such as certain Latin American countries, Stalinist Russia, and so on, what comes across in the writings of political prisoners is that the regime was inevitably both brutal and incompetent.

    Brutality and incompetent were not coincidently connected.

    Torture and summary executions are far easier than serious intelligence gathering and detective work.
    Far easier to round up the usual suspects, torture one to get a confession, and execute some number of prisoners.

    It allows the security staff to proudly claim they have “interrupted a plot” or “captured a high-value terrorist”, without having to actually produce results.

    What if the real bomber is allowed to escape while an innocent man is killed, and a second bomb goes off?

    Ah hah, the security apparatus says, a NEW gang of plotters! The usual suspects are rounded up, and the process begins all over again.

    Torture is used, not IN SPITE of getting false confessions, but BECAUSE it gives false confessions.

    Torture forces the suspect to tell the interrogator what the interrogator wants to hear, nothing more.

    Is Mr. Smitth a fellow plotter, or is it Mr. Jones? Is Abigail Goodwife a witch, or is it Prudence the herbalist?

    The pain doesn’t end until the interrogator hears what he believes to be the truth, since he really has no way of knowing what is the truth or not.

    If he did, there wouldn’t be any reason for the interrogation.

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  48. pylon says:

    if some well-intentioned interrogator truly feels that it’s a TTBS, then they should be willing to accept the consequences in order to save lives. I’m not trying not to say “laws are made to be broken” but rather “laws are made to make you think hard about what you’re about to do.” And if that interrogator really ends up saving a thousand lives, somehow I think the prosecutor is going to “accidentally” f— up the case.

    Exactly. Smeone who breaks the law but saves a thousand lives is quite likley to (a) not be charged or (b) get a pardon.

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  49. PD Shaw says:

    “Torture” works. When I was in school working for a death penalty defender’s office, the primary case I was assigned to was one involving an American tortured by a foreign government that had detained him. Since the Constitution only limits actions by the American government (or its agents), the resulting confession was not barred by the Constitution. The judge held a reliability determination to decide whether the confession, given its circumstances, was reliable enough to present in the case. The judge found that it was reliable based upon corroborating evidence obtained as a result of the confession. (Those familiar with “fruit of the poisonous true” issues will see this as a complete opposite concept) The confession was read to the jury at trial and a conviction was obtained that withstood the initial round of appeals.

    Most people who believe that torture can never work are usually pinned to a single black and white question of personal culpability. The importance of an interrogation can also be the circumstances and details and the opportunity to find evidence identified.

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  50. An Interested Party says:

    No, they didn’t endorse torture, they endorsed waterboarding, which they don’t consider torture.

    Perhaps Jerry Sandusky didn’t consider what he did to be rape…

    TTB Syndrome is an ancient argument that relies on several events

    something that exists on TV shows but not so much in the real world…

    Happy to be of help…

    That is a shady act, if not rather immoral.

    That’s quite amusing from someone who thinks that waterboarding could ever be justified…check out a mirror before throwing around accusations against anyone else…

    I hope such a scenario doesn’t catch any of your loved ones in proximity to the bomb. I believe it is moral to save the lives of thousands by using whatever may work.

    And I only hope that such a scenario doesn’t catch any of your loved ones as a suspect behind the bomb. Or maybe you would think it moral to waterboard your wife or child if those doing the waterboarding thought that would supposedly save the lives of thousands…

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  51. An Interested Party says:

    “Torture” works.

    Why do you put the word torture in quotes? And even if torture might work sometimes to elicit credible information, is this really a policy you want to be endorsed by our government…

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  52. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Hell, the only problem with waterboarding is that it’s not harsh enough. Believe you me, were I in charge of things terrorists would be pining to be waterboarded.

    That said, this rapidly is becoming a moot point. The adults who actually run the Rambobama administration obviously have decided that incinerating terrorists and suspected terrorists with Hellfire missiles from unmanned drones is preferable to capturing them and then sending them down to Gitmo or rendering them elsewhere to be interviewed. Reasonable minds can differ whether the KSM method over the long haul would be more efficatious, but the reality at this juncture is that there’s not a major need for waterboarding, since burnt carbon remains of people can’t be waterboarded. Obama is very likely to be reelected, which means the vaporize in lieu of interrogate approach will continue at least through 2017. The next president is unlikely to change that policy, whether Democrat or Republican. Ergo we’re merely arguing hypotheticals.

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  53. steve says:

    “Most people who believe that torture can never work are usually pinned to a single black and white question of personal culpability. ”

    Few who write on torture think that it never works. The problem is that it is unreliable. You dont really know when it is working. Factor in the knowledge that people place undue weight upon intel gathered through torture, when it should be the opposite, and you have a poor method for gaining useful intelligence. It appeases tough guys who want to beat people who are helpless (see previous post), but it is not a good intelligence tool. Those interested might want to read The Fight For The High Ground by interrogator Major Douglas Pryer. When you understand interrogation, its history and dont have the need to prove how tough you are, you tend to reject torture.

    Steve

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  54. steve says:

    Loyalty, Duty, Respect. Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. The core Army values. How do they fit with torture?

    Steve

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  55. mannning says:

    @Liberty60:

    Just how do you know that the waterboarded person ONLY tells the interrogator what he wants to hear?

    I small another fallacy.

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  56. mannning says:

    @steve:

    In 999 cases out of 1000 I agree with you, but in the TTBS there is no time to be lost in obtaining useful info to act upon.

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  57. David M says:

    Governments, including ours, have time and again used torture in situations not even close to a ticking time bomb scenario. Likely when such actions were clearly illegal, and definitely brought shame upon them and their country. Why on earth would anyone advocate making torture legal and greatly increasing the likelihood that it will be used as a routine matter.

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  58. mannning says:

    In the ancient TTBS, if waterboarding is used, and that produces a lead or two, or three, and those leads turn out to be false and the bomb goes off killing thousands, then what? Well, you tried, and you gambled, and you failed. But, just suppose one of the leads is successful, what then? Well you tried, you gambled, and you succeeded in saving thouands of people. Should you be punished for either or both outcomes? If waterboarding is illegal, and is classified as torture, you have committed a crime, but with all the best intentions in attempting to prevent a great loss of life. I believe that any higher authorities or court officers would find it very difficult to prosecute this offense, as others have pointed out, in either case.

    It is almost amusing to read the evasions people come up with when faced with the TTBS. They run from TTBS doesn’t exist, to TTBS is rare, to TTBS is a fallacy, to TTBS has never happened, and never will. The truth is that in any terrorist bomb situation a TTBS can well occur. It takes one set of loose lips. The terrorists themselves know this and take steps to prevent it!

    The next evasion is that waterbording doesn’t work, it provides many false leads, it is immoral and should never be used (even to save thousands!), or it is a slippery slope leading to higher forms of torture in an ever widening scope. The truth is that waterboarding does work when properly applied. That I can attest to personally and emphatically! Whether it sees expanded use is actually a problem of command and discipline, which involves strict supervision.

    The bottom line is that attempting to save many, many lives by using waterboarding to discover the bomb before it goes off is a laudable moral act.

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  59. mannning says:

    A final comment: The government position can always be that torture is illegal. No one needs to advocate torture as a policy for the government, any more than advocating war as a policy. But, both will occur.

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  60. David M says:

    Just when I think I’ve watched too much 24. Waterboarding is torture, and as such is illegal and immoral. Writing laws for a situations that is clearly unlikely to ever occur seems to be a bad idea, but then again, I’m not “conservative”. And torture as the “laudable moral act”, that has to be the best plea to never again be taken seriously I’ve ever seen.

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  61. sam says:

    What’s interesting to me, from a clinical aspect, is in any other context, say, raising taxes on the wealthy to fund the welfare state, Manning would howl with rage and reject out of hand any kind of utilitarian justification.

    Oh, and

    The truth is that waterboarding does work when properly applied. That I can attest to personally and emphatically!

    Forgive us if we’re not inclined to take your word for this.

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  62. matt b says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Most people who believe that torture can never work are usually pinned to a single black and white question of personal culpability. The importance of an interrogation can also be the circumstances and details and the opportunity to find evidence identified.

    I don’t think anyone is saying that it doesn’t work (or they shouldn’t). There is a question as to how consistently reliable it is.

    But the larger question seems to me to be an issue of law. As I continually repeat, my question to defenders of the TTBS as justification for waterboarding, at what point does the TTBS trump all law? Should there be any line drawn? Or do we accept that John Woo’s arguments were correct — that under this sort of scenario anything goes?

    And again, Manning, you continually talk about the reality of TTBS, again can you speak to any one that we have actually been in? And what differentiates TTBS from other attack scenarios?

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  63. Franklin says:

    @mannning: Well that’s basically what I’m saying with my point #2, so of course I’m inclined to agree.

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  64. Rob in CT says:

    You do not build policy around something that almost never happens. TTBS is a theoretical scenario most commonly found on TV shows and in movies.

    It’s used, quite cynically I believe, to allow torture apologists to get a foot in the door. As others have said, if there was a true TTBS, an interrogator could chose to cross the line. That’s not what torture apologists want. They want torture to be policy.

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  65. matt b says:

    @mannning: To some degree, I understand this position. However, the idea of cheering for it — rather than understanding and trying to work with it’s problematic ramifications — is identity politics at its worst.

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  66. anjin-san says:

    Perhaps we should create a Department of Torture & hire some former KGB interrogators to run the show. Because there might be a situation where torture could possibly get us information we need. And there might be a situation where torture produces reliable results. You never know.

    Conservative America. A shining city on the hill with a torture chamber in the basement…

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  67. Rick Almeida says:

    I note for the record that mannnning has not provided ANY real-life examples of the “ancient” ticking time-bomb scenario.

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  68. mannning says:

    @sam:

    Forgive you? Why should I forgive an accusation that I lied? I do not lie, so you can just go to hell.

    If you have never had the experience, you have no idea what it feels like and what utter panic takes hold of you and makes you wish for it to stop in any way possible. My experience was induced by an ENT doctor as part of an operation, which he described as entirely equivalent to waterboarding, and my panic was quite understandable. Of course, I was not being interrogated, but “just” operated upon in that manner.

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  69. sam says:

    @mannning:

    Forgive you? Why should I forgive an accusation that I lied? I do not lie, so you can just go to hell.

    Oh, stuff it. You made an assertion. I merely said that your assertion, by itself, was insufficient. Here is what you wrote:

    The truth is that waterboarding does work when properly applied. That I can attest to personally and emphatically!

    And here is your, after the fact, “evidence”:

    If you have never had the experience, you have no idea what it feels like and what utter panic takes hold of you and makes you wish for it to stop in any way possible. My experience was induced by an ENT doctor as part of an operation, which he described as entirely equivalent to waterboarding, and my panic was quite understandable.

    How is that in any way proof that waterboarding works? As a matter of fact, if anything, it could count as evidence that under torture a person will say anything he or she believes the torturer wants to hear to bring cessation to the torture.. As you yourself say,

    utter panic takes hold of you and makes you wish for it to stop in any way possible

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  70. EMRVentures says:

    I remember John McCain giving a interesting response during the campaign about what he would do in the face of the TTB situation. After noting that the scenario is in fact a fever-dream of people who watch too much 24, he said that torture should be illegal. But if TTB ever occurred he would do what needed to be done, then publicly declare what he had done along with his letter of resignation, and put his judgment in the hands of the American people.

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  71. steve says:

    “It is almost amusing to read the evasions people come up with when faced with the TTBS.”

    We know that people overvalue information gained from torture. In a TTBS it is very likely that information gained from torture will lead to time wasting goose chases. However, if it was a stupid bomber, it could work. Since I dont think I stated it clearly, I think that while we should not have official policy which supports torture, if a trained interrogator, not the kind of inexperienced chumps that were hired by the Bush administration, thought it was worth a try, I would support not prosecuting them for the effort.

    Steve

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  72. mannning says:

    @sam:

    “sam the accuser”

    Why, of course, I would have answered any and all questions posed to me as quickly and unreservedly as I could in that panic, that I can be certain of, if I had answers at all. The fear of that procedure is such that I never want to go through with that again, that is also very certain. The thought that someone had it done to them 183 times is absolutely horrifying to me.

    I do not like delving into my private medical situation here, and I do not appreciate your attitude at all. But I brought it up because it is at the very heart of my conviction that weaterboarding works.

    So you stuff it!

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  73. jukeboxgrad says:

    The thought that someone had it done to them 183 times is absolutely horrifying to me.

    The fact that we did it that many times should be enough to tell you that it didn’t work on him, even though it would work on you. And he’s an actual terrorist and you’re not, so the reality of what happened with him is a lot more important than your own experience.

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  74. Anderson says:

    @Captain Spaulding: Unfortunately, the emphasis on waterboarding leads to neglect of other torture methods that, AFAIK, we are continuing to use to this day.

    Forced standing for 24+ hours and sleep deprivation being two of the most effective. The NKVD got plenty of confessions with those, and they have the advantages of (1) leaving no marks and (2) being supported by rubes who say “aw, I pulled an all-nighter once, that’s not torture!”

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  75. liberty60 says:

    Shorter Mannning;

    Heck I had an extremely uncomfortable experience at the doctor once so I totally know what torture is like!

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  76. anjin-san says:

    @ liberty60

    I was at a party once where they played an entire Michael Bolton record. I certainly know what torture is like…

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  77. mannning says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    The fact that we did it that many times should be enough to tell you that it didn’t work on him, even though it would work on you.

    Well, I cannot go along with your assumption that the multiple WBs is a testament to the fact that WB doesn’t work, and for a number of reasons:
    1. An interrogation such as this one is a multipart or multiphase exercise, where you garner certain statements from the captive, and then attempt to validate them through corrollary sources, and to use other methods on the captive either before or afterWBing to elicit information, or
    2. A statement leads to discovery of a new realm of information that must be explored and also validated,
    3. Which can lead to reWBing to go into more detail that was initially given on either the original statement or on the new area, and so,
    4. Repeat as necessary to develop the fullest picture possible and validate it through other sources where possible.
    5. This could take lots of time to both develop the information and to use other sources to validate the information.
    6. When other sources tell a different story, then reWBing might open up a more accurate picture, or confirm that is a pack of lies.

    At some point, however, I wonder if the captive might become enured to the WB process and cease to be a useful source. WBed 183 times just might get to that point.

    @liberty60:

    My reference was very specifically related to the waterboarding type of interrogation, and not to torture in general. It is obvious that you have never been close to such an experience, or you would not be so cavalier about it. You are playing to the monkey gallery.

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  78. jukeboxgrad says:

    This could take lots of time to both develop the information and to use other sources to validate the information.

    Except that the whole concept of a TTBS is that you don’t have “lots of time.” And the whole idea of waterboarding is that it allegedly cracks the person within seconds and then you never need to use it again, because now they’re going to be instantly cooperative and they’re going to stay cooperative.

    So when you have a torture situation that’s taking “lots of time,” that’s not a TTBS, by definition. And it also means that the torture isn’t working the way we were told it’s supposed to work. Let’s review some of the things we were told (link):

    Less than five minutes. That’s the total amount of time the United States has waterboarded terrorist detainees. … reports suggest that Zubaydah lasted between 30 and 35 seconds, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed lasted the longest — between 90 seconds and three minutes.

    And here:

    … interrogators poured water on his face … Within just 30 – 35 seconds, Zubaydah’s attitude changed. “It was like flipping a switch … A short time afterwards, in the next day or so … he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate because his cooperation would make it easier on the other brothers who had been captured. And from that day on, he answered every question, just like I’m sitting here speaking to you.”

    And here:

    KSM stayed mum for months … Interrogators eventually waterboarded him — for just 90 seconds. KSM “didn’t resist … He sang right away. He cracked real quick.” Another CIA official told ABC News: “KSM lasted the longest under water-boarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke, it never had to be used again.”

    Of course now we know that all these claims are false. What a surprise that people whose morality permits torture also have no problem making false claims.

    I highlighted some important words. Notice this key claim that was made often: that after a few seconds, there’s no further need, because the person has “cracked,” so the torture will never need “to be used again.” Once you use it for a few seconds, “from that day on” he will answer “every question.”

    So your scenario about why torture would be used repeatedly is completely at odds with these fairy tales we were told. Your story doesn’t match what we were told, and it also don’t match what actually happened. Back here in the real world, the result of torturing KSM repeatedly is not that we developed “the fullest picture possible.” The result is that we got denials and disinformation (link). So if you’re trying to find proof that torture works, you need to keep looking.

    What we learned from this experience is that torture doesn’t work, and that people who torture also lie.

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  79. mannning says:

    Thank you for supporting my point that use of WB in TTBS could be timely and effective, given that the info you found proves to be true. You should recognize my shift to suggesting a rationale for multiple waterboardings of a captive to garner a wider scope of information, rather than dwelling on TTBS alone.

    Emptywheel is a biased source, of course, associated for so long with FDL, so I am not surprised that the view they give is negative.

    Of course now we know that all these claims are false. What a surprise that people whose morality permits torture also have no problem making false claims

    This sweeping statement demands to be shored up with unimpeachabe sources for every detail, or else it is merely the ravings of anti-WB leftwingers from potentially inaccurate info.

    You may well be misled. Why would the full details of a secret interrogation ever be released? Would it not be quite appropriate to mislead both the public and the enemy as to the results in both blatant and subtle, yet believable, ways? There could well be on-going efforts involved that must not be compromised. You are also using two of three known cases of WB and the statements of the interrogators, which were quite possibly meant for show, as were the statements of KSM. You do recognize the old syndrome of “I know that he knows that I know that he knows, that…” on and on.

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  80. jukeboxgrad says:

    Thank you for supporting my point that use of WB in TTBS could be timely and effective, given that the info you found proves to be true.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. This is a tautology. ‘Torture is effective because if the information found proves to be true then the torture has been effective.’

    Emptywheel is a biased source

    Her claim is documented.

    Why would the full details of a secret interrogation ever be released?

    Nobody said they would be or should be. The problem is that enough details have been released to demonstrate that the torture didn’t work.

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  81. mannning says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    References! Lots of them. You declarations are insufficient.

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