Missing The Point: It Doesn’t Matter If Torture “Works”

The debate over "enhanced interrogations" has been renewed by the bin Laden mission, but whether it "worked" or not isn't the question.

The first political battle resulting from the successful mission to track down and eventually kill Osama bin Laden involves the return of the now nearly decade-0ld debate over the effectiveness and propriety of what the Bush Administration called “enhanced interrogation,” and what others have called torture:

WASHINGTON — Did brutal interrogations produce the crucial intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden?

As intelligence officials disclosed the trail of evidence that led to the compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was hiding, a chorus of Bush administration officials claimed vindication for their policy of “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding.

Among them was John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who wrote secret legal memorandums justifying brutal interrogations. “President Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success today,” Mr. Yoo wrote Monday in National Review, “but he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration.”

But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times — repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.

The discussion of what led to Bin Laden’s demise has revived a national debate about torture that raged during the Bush years. The former president and many conservatives argued for years that force was necessary to persuade Qaeda operatives to talk. Human rights advocates, and Mr. Obama as he campaigned for office, said the tactics were torture, betraying American principles for little or nothing of value.

Considering that we’re barely 72 hours away from the point at which SEAL Team Six departed Afghanistan for Abbottabad, it seems rather foolish to try to draw conclusions so quickly but, we live in political culture that demands instant gratification so that means both sides have already started gearing up their arguments for and against the proposition that torture was the key element in getting the information that helped us find bin Laden. Former Bush Administration official John Yoo, for example, argues in the Wall Street Journal that the successful mission completely vindicates the Bush Administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques, (hereinafter EITs) and his argument has been picked up and repeated by several conservative bloggers who have essentially accepted his facts as true and adopted an “ends justify the means” position.

It seems to me, though, that Yoo and those who are repeating his argument completely miss the point.

First of all, the actual role that waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” played in the years long process of piecing together the information that led to that walled compound at the end of a road in Abbottabad is, to say the least, not clear at all. Initial reports seemed to suggest that it played a crucial role:

A crucial break appears to have come on May 2, 2005, when Pakistani special forces arrested a senior al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Faraj al-Libbi, who had been designated bin Laden’s “official messenger” to others within the organization. Libbi was later turned over to the CIA and held at a “black site” prison where he was subjected to the harsh methods that the George W. Bush administration termed “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Libbi and other detainees pointed CIA interrogators to another messenger with close ties to the al-Qaeda leader. U.S. officials said they started only with the mystery courier’s nom de guerre, and that it took four years to uncover his actual identity, his approximate location in Pakistan and ultimately the compound where bin Laden was found.

However, it now appears that “harsh treatment,” which may include interrogation methods that fall short of the Bush era EITs, played a minimal role at best in uncovering the information that made it possible to find bin Laden:

In 2002 and 2003, interrogators first heard about a Qaeda courier who used the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, but his name was just one tidbit in heaps of uncorroborated claims.

After the capture in March 2003 of Mr. Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he was subjected to the most harrowing set of the so-called enhanced measures, which included slamming prisoners into walls, shackling them in stress positions and keeping them awake for as long as 180 hours. Like two other prisoners, he was subjected to waterboarding.

According to an American official familiar with his interrogation, Mr. Mohammed was first asked about Mr. Kuwaiti in the fall of 2003, months after the waterboarding. He acknowledged having known him but said the courier was “retired” and of little significance.

In 2004, however, a Qaeda operative named Hassan Ghul, captured in Iraq, gave a different account of Mr. Kuwaiti, according to the American official. Mr. Ghul told interrogators that Mr. Kuwaiti was a trusted courier who was close to Bin Laden, as well as to Mr. Mohammed and to Abu Faraj al-Libi, who had become the operational chief of Al Qaeda after Mr. Mohammed’s capture.

Mr. Kuwaiti, Mr. Ghul added, had not been seen in some time — which analysts thought was a possible indication that the courier was hiding out with Bin Laden.

The details of Mr. Ghul’s treatment are unclear, though the C.I.A. says he was not waterboarded. The C.I.A. asked the Justice Department to authorize other harsh methods for use on him, but it is unclear which were used. One official recalled that Mr. Ghul was “quite cooperative,” saying that rough treatment, if any, would have been brief.

Armed with Mr. Ghul’s account of the courier’s significance, interrogators asked Mr. Mohammed again about Mr. Kuwaiti. He stuck to his story, according to the official.

After Mr. Libi was captured in May 2005 and turned over to the C.I.A., he too was asked. He denied knowing Mr. Kuwaiti and gave a different name for Bin Laden’s courier, whom he called Maulawi Jan. C.I.A. analysts would never find such a person and eventually concluded that the name was Mr. Libi’s invention, the official recalled.

Again, the C.I.A. has said Mr. Libi was not waterboarded, and details of his treatment are not known. But anticipating his interrogation, the agency pressured the Justice Department days after his capture for a new set of legal memorandums justifying the most brutal methods.

Because Mr. Mohammed and Mr. Libi had both steered interrogators away from Mr. Kuwaiti, C.I.A. officials concluded that they must be protecting him for an important reason.

It’s worth noting that, even after having been waterboarded 183 times and subjected to other brutal interrogation methods, Khalid Shiekh Mohammed still lied to investigators about what he knew about this courier. Fortunately, though, investigators had obtained information about the courier through non-EIT means that led them to think that he was someone significant because of the fact that KSM was trying to throw them of the trial. Perhaps, based on this, you could argue that EITs helped in this manner because they realized that this information was so significant that KSM was willing to lie even after having been subjected to them (although it’s worth noting that he was at Gitmo at this point and that EITs were apparently never employed at that location). That’s a far cry, though, from saying that but for waterboarding or other forms of EIT, we would not have found bin Laden, which is the argument that the pro-torture right seems to be making right now.

Added to this debate are the comments that Donald Rumsfeld made yesterday, which he appeared to walk back during a Fox News appearance last night, and these comments from CIA Director Leon Panetta:

 

BRIAN WILLIAMS: I’d like to ask you about the sourcing on the intel that ultimately led to this successful attack. Can you confirm that it was as a result of waterboarding that we learned what we needed to learn to go after bin Laden?

LEON PANETTA: You know Brian, in the intelligence business you work from a lot of sources of information, and that was true here. We had a multiple source — a multiple series of sources — that provided information with regards to this situation. Clearly, some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees. But we also had information from other sources as well. So, it’s a little difficult to say it was due just to one source of information that we got.

WILLIAMS: Turned around the other way, are you denying that waterboarding was in part among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission?

PANETTA: No, I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I’m also saying that, you know, the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.

WILLIAMS: So, finer point, one final time, enhanced interrogation techniques — which has always been kind of a handy euphemism in these post-9/11 years — that includes waterboarding?

PANETTA: That’s correct.

Some have taken Panetta’s words as confirmation that waterboarding was indeed used to obtain information that led to bin Laden, but it seems to me that the words “open question” make Panetta’s response ambiguous at best about the role that EITs played here.

More importantly, though, it seems to me that the question about whether or not torture played a role in uncovering information here completely misses the point. It may be relevant from an historical point of view, and it is perhaps worth finding a definitive answer to this question at some point, but, as Professor Stephen Bainbridge notes, the fact that waterboarding may “work” in some sense doesn’t mean that it is either legally or morally acceptable:

I don’t care whether torture works or not. As a lawyer, I find it significant that the Anglo-American tradition, according to the great English jurist William Blackstone, includes a “prohibition not only of killing and maiming, but also of torturing (to which our laws are strangers).” As a Catholic, I find it significant that Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World explicitly disapproved of mutilation and torture as offensive to human dignity. In my view, even if torture works, we ought to abstain from torture because a prohibition of torture is part of the moral and legal heritage we are fighting to defend.

Glenn Greenwald makes much the same point:

Even if it were the case that valuable information were obtained during or after the use of torture, what would it prove? Nobody has ever argued that brutality will never produce truthful answers. It is sometimes the case that if you torture someone long and mercilessly enough, they will tell you something you want to know. Nobody has ever denied that. In terms of the tactical aspect of the torture debate, the point has always been — as a consensus of interrogations professionals has repeatedly said — that there are far more effective ways to extract the truth from someone than by torturing it out of them. The fact that one can point to an instance where torture produced the desired answer proves nothing about whether there were more effective ways of obtaining it.

This highlights what has long been a glaring fallacy in many debates over War on Terror policies: that Information X was obtained after using Policy A does not prove that Policy A was necessary or effective. That’s just basic logic.

(…)

And those causal issues are, of course, entirely independent of the legal and moral questions shunted to the side by this reignited “debate.” There are many actions that the U.S. could take that would advance its interests that are nonetheless obviously wrong on moral and legal grounds.

That last part seems rather obvious. For example, 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.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Intelligence, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jay Tea says:

    Well, then, if we’re going to use the legal model here, then all the intelligence gathered from KSM and others who were “tortured” should have been discarded immediately, instead of acted upon. “Fruit of the poisoned tree” and all that. Then, we go back to them, with a lawyer present, of course, and try to get them to repeat all the info we just tossed.

    God forbid we do ANYTHING without lawyers’ approvals.

    J.

  2. john personna says:

    Well, it was always a “1-2” argument. Most would acknowledge that harsh treatment was wrong, but their backup position was “but it was needed” or “but it works.”

    That’s why torture fiends lined up this week to make the “but it works” claim.

    Of course, if it turns out that it didn’t matter, wasn’t instrumental, it again takes away that weak, back-up argument.

    But you’re right. the first part of the argument, that torture is wrong and antithetical to American values was never in question.

  3. jwest says:

    Let’s hope the CIA is lying to us. After all, that’s what they’re paid to do.

    What sense does is make to release a story that the CIA gained information from interrogations, followed leads of the courier and found Bin Laden on their own when it would be more valuable to say they received three separate tips from informants in Pakistani intelligence and see who ends up dead?

    What sense does it make to say we found a “treasure trove” of information and computer files when it could have been more valuable to say Bin Laden’s sole computer was rigged to self destruct and that all data would be unrecoverable?

    We can only hope that the CIA has a reason to tell the story that is coming out other than to evoke a “feel good” moment for the U.S., and that whatever they are saying is designed to make it easier to track and kill the operational side of Al Qaeda. For years Bin Laden has only been important in the sense of being a figurehead, more a fundraising tool than an operational leader. Killing him was valuable for the world’s perception of U.S. power, but the ongoing fight is more important than taking a few bows now.

    (reprinted from a previous thread)

  4. legion says:

    THIS.
    Hells yes, Doug. It does not matter if torture works – in fact, it’s the possibility that it _could_ work that makes it such a seductive evil. But the point is, it’s not the _only_ method. In fact, there are numerous studies showing that it’s not actually a very effective method. Quite simply, the only reason to choose torture over other methods is the desire for revenge – the need to inflict horrific pain and suffering on some representative of ‘the other’. It’s not for the benefit of anyone other than the one who orders the torture.

    We can choose to use other means to get information. The decision of whether or not to use torture is about as close to an objective question of choosing ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ as one can get in this world.

  5. john personna says:

    Jay, maybe you’d be happier in Syria or Zimbabwe or something. They don’t worry about the lawyers so much there. Hell, they might even kill them if they get in the way.

  6. John,

    the first part of the argument, that torture is wrong and antithetical to American values was never in question.

    I don’t think the pro-torture right would agree with you, or if they do they manage to compartmentalize their morality sufficiently to say it’s okay to do in these circumstances. I believe that’s called Situational Ethics.

    Not every conservative agrees with this, of course. Professor Bainbridge is “of the right” and his position against torture is well-stated. However, I can already anticipate how many of my conservative “friends” will react to this post.

  7. Jay Tea says:

    Personna, don’t be ridiculous. There are happy mediums, places where lawyers don’t rule.

    My favorite example is the US, just a few decades ago.

    We are so severely over-lawyered, it’s downright crippling.

    How about we send some of ours to Syria or Zimbabwe, to try to balance things out?

    J.

  8. anjin-san says:

    So let me see if I understand the conservative position. The government is bad, possibly evil. It is corrupt and out of control. It is an enemy of freedom. They have betrayed the lofty ideals of the founding fathers.

    And we must green light them to use torture. absolutely. It’s a no brainer.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

  9. john personna says:

    I don’t think the pro-torture right would agree with you, or if they do they manage to compartmentalize their morality sufficiently to say it’s okay to do in these circumstances. I believe that’s called Situational Ethics.

    When I was growing up there was a bright line. I was kind of surprised to read a younger girlfriend’s college textbook and see torture by native Americans described more-or-less as “ok for them.” I suppose that kind of cultural relativism could come around to bite a people …

    But I’m going to say no, there is no previous body of writing or precedent supporting torture by Americans. If you look back to our history or even our ficition, it was what the bad guys did.

    In all those movies we made to define ourselves, it was the Germans, or the Japanese, or the Koreans, or the Vietnamese. They did it.

    To outsource:

    There is a reason why, throughout western literature and popular culture, those who would torture individuals within their custody have been portrayed as weak, as cowards, as fools — in short, as significantly less than just.

    Think only for a moment, and vile characters come rushing in. Recall Olivier’s SS dentist Szell, the White Angel of Auschwitz, in Marathon Man; the grinning North Vietnamese prison guards in The Deer Hunter; Dostoevesky’s rich exploration into the degradation derived of mundane (but necessarily cruel) torture in the name of absolute state power; Robert Jordan’s descent into the tortuous hands of Hemingway’s doctrinaire captors amidst the horrors of war in For Whom the Bells Tolls; Edgar Allan Poe’s vivid and perverse villains engaging in slow, painful murder, inspired by Poe’s own research into the methods of the Spanish Inquisition; the tribal torture of English prisoners in James Fenimore Cooper’s French and Indian Wars (so deftly captured in Michael Mann’s terrifying 1992 adventure Last of the Mohicans — indeed, who can forget Daniel Day-Lewis’s Hawkeye ending the agonies of the British Major Duncan with a well-placed bullet from his long rifle); the revulsion against torture embodied in John Wayne, strikingly filmed by John Ford in The Searchers. Torture is the realm of Sauron and Mordor in Lord of the Rings and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars, the two pop film trilogy classics of the genre.

  10. john personna says:

    Jay, you take a weak-tea line, trying to defend torture by distracting the argument to “lawyering” …

    and you ask me not to be ridiculous? Seriously?

  11. Three items:

    1. Many have argued that enhanced interrogation techniques don’t work. Well, clearly they do, at least sometimes. The question of their legality or moprality is legitimate, but let’s not conflate the two. I can abhor the need to use enhanced interrogation techniques and seek to limit their use in many ways without thinking that they must never be used under any circumstances, perfect, good, enemies and all that. References to the “pro-torture right” are generally specious and insulting, but I suppose that’s intentional.

    2. The use of enhanced interrogation techniques to get actionable information from known bad guys who possess it isn’t in the same moral sphere as torturing anyone for a confession or other sadistic reasons. I realize some will disagree with this, but I still don’t lose much sleep over the three, count ’em three, people known to have been waterboarded as part of the fight against the terrorism.

    3. I find President Obama’s choice to just kill terrorists rather than capture them to avoid the thorny moral issues … interesting.

  12. anjin,

    So let me see if I understand the conservative position. The government is bad, possibly evil. It is corrupt and out of control. It is an enemy of freedom. They have betrayed the lofty ideals of the founding fathers.

    And we must green light them to use torture. absolutely. It’s a no brainer.

    That does seem to be the argument, doesn’t it?

  13. john personna says:

    angin, yes that irony has alway been astounding.

    We don’t trust the government with our tax dollars, but give them a secret room and modern Igors … no problem.

  14. Drew says:

    This is pathetic: “…the pro-torture right…” and makes about as much sense as the label put on pro-abortionists as “…pro-death..”

    The issue, and the points of view held and expressed on each side, are much too complex for childish descriptions such as this.

  15. john personna says:

    I guess that’s why you didn’t tackle a single serious issue there, Drew.

  16. Ron says:

    “I believe that’s called Situational Ethics.”

    And believe that’s called “Sneering in Text”.

    Let’s take this simply:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you think “Killing is Wrong”.

    Now – can you, in the uncomfortable and potentially mellow-harshing places of your mind that you don’t like to look at, imagine an instance in which YOU, personally, might be faced with the decision to kill someone – do so – and probably be able to be okay with it?

    Welcome to “Situational Ethics”.

    You sleep safe in your bed because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do you harm.

    And it sounds like that’s a good thing for you.

    – Ron

  17. LaurenceB says:

    JayTea’s opening salvo is a deep dive into the absurd.

    Then he takes a break from The Crazy to rebuke Personna for being “ridiculous”.

    And then – Boom! We get a full second helping: Let’s “send some of our [lawyers] to Zimbabwe.”

    There should be some kind of Andrew Sullivan award for that kind of lack of self-awareness.

  18. john personna says:

    Ron, that was an epic fail.

    What you did there was say “since there are hard questions, this particular question is also hard.”

    Hell, since “rough men stand ready in the night” then cops should be free to beat confessions, right?

    That’s the argument you made. Since things can be tough, any violence is on the table.

  19. anjin-san says:

    Ron…America managed to exist for over200 years without rough men employing torture as an extension of government policy. The Nazis and soviets had rough men who were quite good at torture. Americans correctly called them barbarians and made destroying them a priority.

  20. jwest says:

    Ron,

    “America managed to exist for over200 years without rough men employing torture as an extension of government policy.”

    Anjin-san is a liberal, therefore too naïve to understand what people have done for this country over the past 200 years in order to maintain our security. They devalue the word “torture” and diminish the memory of those who underwent actual torture in defense of our country.

    Although liberals offer little more than interpretive dances that show how sad the little birds and forest animals would be if people fought, their contribution to the discussion of doing whatever is necessary for national defense is at least amusing.

  21. steve says:

    I think the important point to remember is that torture might work sometimes, but conventional methods have a much better track record of gaining useful information. Torture yields a higher percentage of useless information. The most effective interrogators for the US and Germany in WWII did not use torture.

    On the downside, torture elicits significant blowback. It is used an instrument of terror for totalitarian regimes, but is often one of the state tactics that leads to those governments being overthrown. It is not a tactic employed by successful, stable long term governments. As was pointed out above, it continues to amaze me that the right embraces this most totalitarian of state tactics.

    On the moral side of the issue, there is no debate about torture. It is wrong. Thank God for Prof. Bainbridge being willing to take such a stand. It probably means the end of any hopes he may have ever harbored for a SCOTUS appointment.

    Steve

  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    Who is committing torture like what the Nazi and the Communists did? Huh? Breaking someone is not torture.Breaking a terrorist leader, a moral imperative!

  23. legion says:

    GA,

    Sure! Find me a guy who has “terrorist leader” on his business cards, and I’ll fully support any little thing you want to do to get medieval on his ass.

    Unfortunately, Real Life(tm) doesn’t work that way. We don’t have a bunch of people we _know_ are terrorists in a box someplace – not even GITMO – just chock-full of actionable intelligence we can’t get at because we haven’t broken the right finger yet. We have people someone, somewhere thought might be connected to a bad guy, and got rounded up & sent away. Shall we torture every one of them? Here’s a little moral-equivalency exercise for you – why not just round up & torture everyone on the no-fly list?

  24. Rick Almeida says:

    Breaking a terrorist leader, a moral imperative!

    Spoken like a true Christian.

  25. Muffler says:

    Strong societies and republics contain laws which are adhered to strictly. The loss of respect and support for these laws leads to the wither of the republic. Corruption of the laws lead to corruption at all levels. No republic can survive this corruption.

    Since this republic has harbored the “no torture” laws for a very long time the reinterpretation of the laws to suit the moment was in itself a level of corruption.

    There is no proof at this time that waterboarding led to any lead. What additionally is within the scope of enhanced techniques has been debated for years and not clarified. So to put enhanced techniques in the same sentence as torture is irresponsible.

  26. Rob in CT says:

    Agreed, Doug.

    Another point some have made that I think has merit is this: even if it’s true that torture can work in certain situations, and that in certain (vanishingly rare) situations it might be justifiable (the ever so popular in movies & tv shows “ticking time-bomb” scenario), then it’s entirely possible for a patriotic American interrogator to decide to break the law in this instance and then face the music afterward. Torture as *policy* is a terrible mistake.

  27. Rob in CT says:

    “Who is committing torture like what the Nazi and the Communists did? Huh?”

    Apparently, we were. Our top leadership took the SERE program – designed, as I understand it, to help US soldiers resist (or at least get through) torture used by North Korea (and China?) – and, strangely enough, decided that was a good basis for getting intel out of suspected terrorists. That’s certainly where “waterboarding” came from (note: our government prosecuted waterboarders for torture in the past). Backup:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/22/us/politics/22detain.html

  28. sam says:

    The question is for me, in the end, this: Even if I think torture is immoral, would I, in extremis, employ torture if I sincerely believed it was the only way to get the information I need?

    In my case, I think the answer is yes. The real moral question would be, What would my feelings about the act be after its commission? Agamemnon is not condemned by the Chorus for sacrificing Iphengenia. He was acting under the command of God. He was condemned for conforming his feelings to the necessity that compelled the act. He executed his daughter with no more feeling than as if she were a mere animal. He killed her without remorse.

    I would like to think of myself as someone who could perform the act, and condemn myself for performing the act, as someone who would not conform his feelings to necessity. How successful I would be, I do not know.

  29. An Interested Party says:

    Well, clearly they do, at least sometimes.

    Where is the evidence to support this claim?

    The use of enhanced interrogation techniques to get actionable information from known bad guys who possess it…

    When you find a real world example of the Jack Bauer scenario, do let us know…

    I still don’t lose much sleep over the three, count ‘em three, people known to have been waterboarded as part of the fight against the terrorism.

    Well of course you wouldn’t…

    I find President Obama’s choice to just kill terrorists rather than capture them to avoid the thorny moral issues … interesting.

    Did you find it equally “interesting” when done under the previous administration?

    re: Ron Wednesday, May 4, 2011 11:45

    I suppose it was inevitable that someone would eventually trot out the Colonel Jessep defense…

    They devalue the word “torture” and diminish the memory of those who underwent actual torture in defense of our country.

    Written by someone who devalues the ideals this country was founded on and diminishes the principles we supposedly believe in…

  30. cb says:

    so what, jwest. you posted a link to a purely polemical rant based on a completely willful misreading and misinterpretation of events. even a quick reading of the guy’s rant tells you that hes not interested in actual analysis of what happened, but only of using it to bludgeon liberals.

    not very convincing.

  31. cb says:

    oops, wrong thread. apologies.

  32. Ron says:

    Sure – no – go ahead.

    Be peaceful, be productive, live your lives in such a way that you could only ever be hurt by accident.

    The country needs you, too.

    And don’t worry, when the wolves come – as they inevitably do – there will be sheepdogs to protect you.

    – Ron

  33. Rock says:

    I like the Obama solution … instead of interrogating the suspect, blow his face off and use the body for shark bait.

  34. G.A.Phillips says:

    legion, me and you got two different definitions of torture and I damn sure don’t want anyone tortured with mine.

    Do I think about catching me a terror leader and putting his a$$ in a salty iron maiden,Well yes..Is it wrong, yes. would I do it or want it done for real, no.

    I see all of this water-boarding equals torture talk as a failed effort to undermine the Bush administration and sad to say effective effort, albeit, I hope unintentional effort to undermine its war on terror for political gain, I think I might have said this here a few dozen times.

    Break them if they show promise, Break them day and night for ever if they are terrorist leaders or are known to have immediate knowledge of clear and present danger.

  35. TG Chicago says:

    Also from the Greenwald piece Doug linked, I thought this was an interesting analogy:

    When Donald Trump recently suggested that we should simply take Libya’s oil and that of any other country which we successfully invade and occupy, that suggestion prompted widespread mockery. That was the reaction despite the fact that stealing other countries’ oil would in fact produce substantial benefits for the U.S. and advance our interests: it would help to lower gas prices, reduce our dependence on hostile oil-producing nations, and avoid having to degrade our own environment in order to drill domestically. Trump’s proposal is morally reprehensible and flagrantly lawless despite how many benefits it would produce; therefore, no person of even minimal decency would embrace it no matter how many benefits it produces.

  36. An Interested Party says:

    re: Ron Wednesday, May 4, 2011 13:48

    So much straw to dig through…putting aside your false choices, protecting this country and its citizens doesn’t require the use of torture…

  37. Davebo says:

    And don’t worry, when the wolves come – as they inevitably do – there will be sheepdogs to protect you.

    Spoken as someone who’s afraid of the elastic in his underwear.

    Torture is for cowards, and we obviously have no shortage of those these days.

  38. G.A.Phillips says:

    I like the Obama solution … instead of interrogating the suspect, blow his face off and use the body for shark bait.

    It works good for super villains with computers full of Intel laying around.

  39. Rick Almeida says:

    I see all of this water-boarding equals torture talk as a failed effort to undermine the Bush administration…

    You realize, don’t you, that the US government has executed soldiers (as war criminals) for waterboarding our military personnel? What you see as “a failed effort to undermine the Bush administration”, moral beings see as upholding long-held principles of conduct.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/29/politics/main3554687.shtml

    So what’s next, G.A.? “It’s ok when we do it”?

  40. hey norm says:

    Rob in CT hits it on the head. What is truly un-American is the institutionalizing of torture under Cheney and his minions like Yoo.
    Someone else posted: “…You sleep safe in your bed because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do you harm…” Yes. The biggest role for government is to protect me from that which I cannot protect myself. There is a big leap from that to torturing people in my name.
    Look – KSM was waterboarded 183 times. 183. That’s not a ticking time-bomb scenario. That’s Cheney watching torture porn and diddling himself.
    And finally – i have been ignoring jwest posts for obvious reasons but he posted this about liberals: “…their contribution to the discussion of doing whatever is necessary for national defense is at least amusing…” evidently he has no idea of the irony given the events of sunday. again – consider the source.

  41. john personna says:

    Ron, I can live with a total ban on torture. I can hold up my head, and be unafraid.

    Who’s scared? Not me.

  42. anjin-san says:

    Ron… so your position is that you would much rather live crawling away from the principles that are country was founded on then die standing for them. I can only imagine the level of content is the average grunt in WW2 would feel for you.

  43. anjin-san says:

    Sorry… contempt

  44. PD Shaw says:

    sam: Interesting comment

    Agamemnon is not condemned by the Chorus for sacrificing Iphengenia. He was acting under the command of God. He was condemned for conforming his feelings to the necessity that compelled the act. He executed his daughter with no more feeling than as if she were a mere animal. He killed her without remorse.

    I too think this gets to the heart of the moral question. The reason that waterboarding is not “torture” under U.S. law* is because the term contains a very particular requirement about the actor’s mental state. Two actors could be performing nearly the same actions, but the one whose mind is deformed either with passion, hate or lust, or who is specifically seeking to exact severe pain is guilty of torture. An actor performing waterboarding in a dispassionate, reserved, antiseptic fashion, believing that the pain is not severe, is not. Who is the ideal actor in this situation? Animal? Human? Mineral? Unfortunately, it’s probably man, who has a well developed defense mechanism of separating “self” from contemporaneous experiences. What is the morality of assisting a fellow citizen in developing and employing such mechanisms? Is it any different from society employing an executioner or someone who trains soldiers to resist waterboarding? What would the chorus say?

    * The Yoo memorandum’s definition of “torture” has been accepted by the federal courts in amnesty cases, including those under Holder; this ship has sailed. If someone wants a different definition, they need to amend the law.

  45. Drew says:

    If you have something to say about my position, jp, please do. Otherwise, back to your snarking, whining and light commentary, like a bitter old washwomen.

    I stand behind my remark. Complex issues such as the subject of this thread, or abortion, should not be simplistically reduced to trivial punch lines like “pro-torture” or “pro-death.”

    If such shallowness fills your expectations, so be it. But I’ve read far too many of Doug’s essays, and have far too much respect for him, to think this was anything more than an ill thought out, shoot from the hip brain cramp.

  46. Ever get the feeling some people now feel deprived of the opportunity to decry the waterboarding of Osama bin Laden?

  47. mattb says:

    I too think this gets to the heart of the moral question. The reason that waterboarding is not “torture” under U.S. law* is because the term contains a very particular requirement about the actor’s mental state. Two actors could be performing nearly the same actions, but the one whose mind is deformed either with passion, hate or lust, or who is specifically seeking to exact severe pain is guilty of torture. … What would the chorus say?

    The chorus might remind that the person who was waterboarded by far the most was the highest ranking Al Quiada officer in custody and the person who was widely credited as the “mastermind” behind the single greatest terrorist event to take place on US soil.

    At what point did it stop being about information…?

  48. mattb says:

    Drew,

    I realize that “pro-torture right” is a reduction. That said, there’s definitely a strong grouping of people on the right (including on this forum) who are advocating two pretty broad points in all of this:

    1, Waterboarding isn’t torture. (as some other threads have demonstrated, this is much like Clinton’s “Blowjobs aren’t sex” defense).

    2. Even if Waterboarding is torture, and we’re not saying it is, it still was justified in these cases and is a practice that should continue.

    It’s difficult to not consider those two positions together (and ultimately anyone who holds position 2) not “pro-torture.”

    In the same way, I have to admit that if pushed to take the hardest of stances, I am ultimately pro-abortion. I’m not sure how you can ultimately escape having to take a stand one way or the other.

    As Jay Tea correctly identified in a different thread, the far more difficult thing to do is attempting to draw a line between what is and what isn’t torture. But again, as I argued in that previous thread, there’s really no way NOT to include waterboarding as torture if one objectively looks at current US statute.

  49. anjin-san says:

    Drew, I would be interested to hear your opinion on the topic. You do a lot of sneering, and you like to tell everyone how juvenile and pathetic they are, but once you wander beyond discussions about business I see very little substance or maturity coming from you.

  50. john personna says:

    I think you are carefully not having a position there Drew. And for some reason you think that’s praiseworthy. Go figure.

    And no, I won’t fall for it and invent a position for you in the middle of your sea of gray.

  51. john personna says:

    BTW, I did say above my position pretty strongly:

    I can live with a total ban on torture. I can hold up my head, and be unafraid.

    The irony of your response is noted.

  52. Wiley Stoner says:

    The problem with lawyering is they expand the meaning of torture to all manner of things which in the classical sense wouild not rise to the level of torture. Once you establish an act as torture idiots like Anjin make outrageous claims about its use. If waterboarding is torture, why are they allowed to use it in training of our troops? Anjin I hope you are one of the future victims of acts that would have been averted had enhansed techniques been used on your terrorist friends. You know what cannot be made up? The absolute fact you always criticize that which would benefit our nation but never ever offer a solution of originality.

  53. john personna says:

    If waterboarding is torture, why are they allowed to use it in training of our troops?

    Because it is commonly used torture? Now that said, there is a key difference between training and when done by an enemy, isn’t there? In training you can be pretty sure they don’t want to kill you. If they do, it’s a screw up. On the other hand, I’m sure part of the impact when the enemy does it is that they may not give a sh*t. They’ll certainly be telling you they don’t, and that this time you die.

    As rough as this training is, it’s only preparing you for part of the real deal. They can’t simulate the “we don’t particularly care, if you live or die.”

  54. anjin-san says:

    I can live with a total ban on torture. I can hold up my head, and be unafraid.

    Well said.

  55. mattb says:

    If waterboarding is torture, why are they allowed to use it in training of our troops?

    It has in the past — pre-9/11 — (and I’ve had this confirmed by a few people) been included in training to help recruits understand how they might be tortured. And it was specifically introduced to these people (typically those is some sort of special forces unit) as an example of torture.

    BTW, we also typically expose even low level recruits to things like gassing. And I’ve also heard lots of stories about official and unofficial taserings and pepper-spraying that go on in many Police Academies.

    So it’s not unheard for recruits to have things done to them in training that are torturous, if not patently illegal, outside of those circumstances. That’s part of the fun of giving the body over to king and country.

  56. Rick Almeida says:

    If waterboarding is torture, why are they allowed to use it in training of our troops?

    Because…they consent to it? Because a very small number of volunteers, er, volunteer for specialized training where they are exposed to very bad things that very bad people might do to them?

    I increasingly suspect that this crop of trolls are paid astroturfers. There is nothing beneath the superficial talking points.

  57. steve says:

    “If waterboarding is torture, why are they allowed to use it in training of our troops? ”

    They use it on our troops to prepare them for torture, ie, waterboarding. Our troops are also waterboarded by people who care about them. Think sex vs rape.

    Steve

  58. anjin-san says:

    I increasingly suspect that this crop of trolls are paid astroturfers. There is nothing beneath the superficial talking points.

    Yea, I think I am done with this topic. bin laden’s death was a huge win for our country, but the desperation from the right to change the narrative is palpable…

  59. PD Shaw says:

    steve, I don’t think rape fits well into the definition of “torture” used in the Convention; the ruling at the international level aren’t very consistent.

  60. PD Shaw says:

    Legally, when operating with a definition that allows the infliction of non-severe pain, but prohibits “severe pain,” you haven’t outlawed anything specifically, you’ve just framed the terms of an argument. Law enforcement training does include experiencing macing and tasering because if the issue ever comes up in a court, it’s very persuasive for the officer to say that he’s experienced it, ergo it’s not severe and the question is whether it’s proportionate to the circumstances.

  61. G.A.Phillips says:

    moral beings see as upholding long-held principles of conduct.

    Once again who is torturing people like the Nazi, the Communist , or the unholy WW2 Japanese?!?!?!

    Waterboard who, and why and how makes a big difference.

    moral beings, lol, some more gobbledygook.

  62. tom p says:

    we also typically expose even low level recruits to things like gassing. And I’ve also heard lots of stories about official and unofficial taserings and pepper-spraying that go on in many Police Academies.

    I work at FLW-MO…. I once watched a whole bunch of trainees run thru a gauntlet while totally blinded by mace…. It was funny to watch them flail at imaginary enemies…. and very sad. Some were so blind, they couldn’t find their shoes. I understood the purpose of the exercise, but whatever else it was, it was not torture as they could always opt out..

  63. jukeboxgrad says:

    PD Shaw:

    The Yoo memorandum’s definition of “torture” has been accepted by the federal courts in amnesty cases, including those under Holder

    Baloney. You’re making the same bogus argument that was presented years ago by Andrew McCarthy. Someone else making that claim is here. Scroll down to see my response.

    =======================
    Stoner:

    If waterboarding is torture, why are they allowed to use it in training of our troops?

    Because what we did in SERE is fundamentally different from what we did to prisoners: “the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant.”

    Aside from, we don’t “use it in training of our troops.” We used to.

    =======================
    G.A.Phillips:

    Once again who is torturing people like the Nazi, the Communist , or the unholy WW2 Japanese?!?!?

    We are. There’s a long history of US courts treating waterboarding as a form of torture. When are we going to apologize to all the people we prosecuted for waterboarding? We called it torture when the Japanese (and others) did it. And we prosecuted them accordingly. See here:

    http://www.pegc.us/archive/Articles/wallach_drop_by_drop_draft_20061016.pdf

    The OLC memos said nothing to acknowledge this history of waterboarding being prosecuted by US courts. This tells us everything we need to know about the honesty of those memos.

  64. jukeboxgrad says:

    Doug:

    the actual role that waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” played in the years long process of piecing together the information that led to that walled compound at the end of a road in Abbottabad is, to say the least, not clear at all

    I think we already have enough information to understand that torture failed. I explained this here.

  65. G.A.Phillips says:

    I can live with a total ban on torture. I can hold up my head, and be unafraid.

    Me too.

    And say what you want about the poor guy, as long as it’s true, I will once again, I just don’t feel like it, not at this moment in history.

    OBAMA ROCKED that other day, HE SHOOK UP THE TERRORIST WORLD!!!!!

    We are.

    dang bro., man.

    P.S.James, can we get a nice music contest to chill every one out for like 10-15 min? Best song of 2010? 🙂

  66. Neil Hudelson says:

    P.S.James, can we get a nice music contest to chill every one out for like 10-15 min? Best song of 2010? 🙂

    🙂

  67. john personna says:

    More that torture is wrong AND doesn’t work here.

  68. ken says:

    Reading the torture apologist in America today must be a lot like what folks went through in Japan or Germany after they lost their wars of aggression and then listened to old time war apologists defend indefensible actions.

    Fortunate for them they had imposed upon them an American occupation that did not tolerate such thinking. Indeed war criminal were tried and punished. This effectively stamped out the aggressive militarism that so dominated certain segments of the these populations. The results speak for themselves. No one can imagine either power taking belligerent action against their neighbors again. .

    We may need something like that in this country. Those responsible for torture from Bush on down probably should be brought to justice and punished. Without punishing the perpetrators of evil (in a court of law) we risk allowing their brand of evil another chance at power. I fear it is more likely than most of us want to admit.

  69. freedomlover says:

    The attempt at rewriting the history of the G.W. Bush Administration has reached a new low. This “torture is what got the information that led to the elimination of Osama bin Laden” is probably more pathetic than the deliberate misnaming of torture as “enhanced interrogation.”