Overstatement of the Day – Torture Edition

“It appears that waterboarding – a torture technique popularized by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney – has been picked up overseas.” –  Andrew Sullivan

Now, look, I’m opposed to torturing suspected terrorists.  But the United States Government waterboarded a grand total of three of them during the Bush-Cheney tenure.  So let’s not pretend it was somehow a favorite pastime of the administration.

Moreover, as Andrew himself has reminded us on numerous occasions, waterboarding has a long, long history.  Not only were much more severe forms used during the Spanish Inquisition and  by the Khmer Rouge and the Gestapo, but there’s been a long use by police, military, and intelligence agencies.  Including by the United States.

Further, it’s not as if Bush and Cheney hatched up a plan on how to best interrogate prisoners and Cheney turned to his boss and said, “Let me tell you about this thing called waterboarding. . . .”  Rather, professional interrogators decided what techniques would work best and were on this side of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340-2340A as described to them in the so-called Bybee Memo, written by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee to his boss, then-AG Alberto Gonzales in response to a request from the CIA for guidance as to where the lines were.

Beyond that, do we really think Scotland Yard never engaged in dubious interogation techniques before now?  Or that they relied on the Bush administration for clues?

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Terrorism, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PD Shaw says:

    The last I read, the 2007 Kennedy bill banning waterboarding had still not been passed.

  2. kvc says:

    Maybe the world will pick up on the most popular torture method used in the US, “waiting for congress to do anything!” Republican or Democrat. When I am feeling good and want to change that, I tune in C-Span. What a waste of tax dollars, the double talk and much a do about nothing, then doing nothing when it needs to be done.

  3. anjin-san says:

    Moreover, as Andrew himself has reminded us on numerous occasions, waterboarding has a long, long history.

    So does genocide. Does that somehow make it ok?

    Beyond that, do we really think Scotland Yard never engaged in dubious interogation techniques before now?

    And this has what to do with the matter at hand? You argument here seems to be “The Brits probably have done something wrong too at some point, so we are kind of off the hook”. Weak.

  4. Matthew Stinson says:

    Great straw man you’ve got going on there, anjin-san.

    What matters in this case is that Sullivan blames Bush for spreading torture when in fact Bush’s big fault is allowing torture to come here. That alone is an insult to American ideals enough to heap scorn on Bush, but Sullivan has to go the extra mile and make shit up — just like when he said the British didn’t torture Nazis and even got Obama to reference him, a claim that turned out to be false.

  5. legion says:

    PD,
    Torture was outlawed in the Geneva Conventions the US signed quite some decades ago. By any standards outside of Rush Limbaugh’s frat house, waterboarding is torture. Ergo, waterboarding – for any reason – was illegal long before the Kennedy bill was a glint in a staffer’s eye.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    Joe Biden proposed his own bill specifically banning waterboarding too. I wonder how that is going.

  7. G.A.Phillips says:

    Rush Limbaugh’s frat house

    Oh ya thats why I love water boarding. Oh the memories……but your right I feel bad about the 3 terror leaders we did that too, you should only do it to each other if it gets you off.
    Maybe I should have chosen a different path in place of my conservative studies, and volunteered my time to help out at an abortion clinic, so I could have formed a better moral compass.

  8. Eric Florack says:

    (Sigh)
    Never let mere reality step in between a liberal and his talking points.

  9. Steve Hynd says:

    There’s an old British joke I first heard in the late 70s which speaks to the likelyhood of this being something only imported from Bush’s US.

    “Q: How many London coppers does it take to crack an egg?

    A: None. It fell down the stairs, Sarge.”

    Andrew’s overindulging himself on this. That said, it’s amazing how fast this story, on the heels of the G20 debacle, is creating a bipartisan outcry in the UK. Both sides there freely admit waterboarding is torture, though.

    Regards, Steve

    PS: Eric, is that really you or did you contract your comments out to Zagdorff today? You’re in danger of becoming a charicature of yourself.

  10. Barry says:

    James: “But the United States Government waterboarded a grand total of three of them during the Bush-Cheney tenure. So let’s not pretend it was somehow a favorite pastime of the administration.”

    Considering that most of what went on is still unknown, and that the Bush administration is a pack of hard-core liars, your statement is not justified.

  11. LaurenceB says:

    Sullivan was indeed over-the-top. But…

    For defenders of “enhanced interrogation”, what exactly is the argument against using waterboarding in criminal interrogations, as well as terrorist interrogations? Or do they see nothing wrong with what the British police did?

    I’d love to hear just one of them address that.

  12. floyd says:

    KVC;
    C-Span is not supported by tax dollars. PBS…Now there’s a waste of tax dollars![lol]

    Legion;
    Waterboarding is torture, but partial birth abortion, and even infanticide, is not murder?
    Fortunately the left doesn’t get to decide right and wrong!

  13. Eric Florack says:

    For defenders of “enhanced interrogation”, what exactly is the argument against using waterboarding in criminal interrogations, as well as terrorist interrogations?

    The answer to your question centers on the loss of life potential. Mere criminal investigations don’t come up to that level… which is one reason I’ve always insisted it’s stupid to move terrorists into a criminal court. There’s a bright line between the two situations and should be.

  14. hcantrall says:

    Thank you Barry for pointing out that politicians are liars, who knew?

  15. LaurenceB says:

    The answer to your question centers on the loss of life potential.

    Hmmm… That’s kind of what I expected. Not to be rude, but that argument is so full of holes I wouldn’t even know where to start.

  16. LaurenceB says:

    Erick,
    I’m sorry, I just realized you were “Bithead”. Please ignore my previous reply, I’d really rather not have a dialogue with you. Don’t take it personally, I’m just not interested.
    Thanks

  17. legion says:

    Floyd,
    Torture is explicitly illegal. Abortion is currently legal.
    Neither you nor the terrorist slime that killed Dr Tiller gets to define ‘infanticide’; the law does that itself. If you are under the impression that your personal religion gives you the right to murder people you disagree with, the FBI would like to have a word with you.

  18. floyd says:

    legion;
    Waterboarding has yet to be defined legally as torture, and has therefore only been performed legally.
    In my comment I recognized abortion and infanticide as separate issues.
    I get to define infanticide as the willful killing of babies outside of the womb.
    Your last sentence was unfounded nonsense with no point of reference.

  19. The Strategic MC says:

    “By any standards…waterboarding is torture”

    Please cite these standards.

    Do not conflate waterboarding techniques, as were used on KSM and the two other AQ dudes, with water-torture and the water-cure, as were used by the IJA, PLA, NK and the Khmer Rouge. And yes, as practiced by the U.S. Army in the Philippines.

    FWIW: Yesterday, I spoke with a Force Recon MGySgt who, as part of his training, has been through SERE and has been waterboarded more than once. His opinion is that waterboarding, while a “bitch” is not “torture.” But he’s a Marine, he voted for McCain and like most Marines, he’s a masochist.

    But. Unlike most of those who offer a comment on the subject (including myself), he’s actually been there. I take experience over half-informed opinion every time.

    Funny, I’ve yet to meet a SERE graduate (I know lots) who has endured waterboarding and will call it torture.

    For me, someone in this debate has a real credibility issue.

  20. PD Shaw says:

    LaurenceB: There would be no problem under U.S. law if the British used waterboarding to coerce a confession from an American citizen which was later used in a U.S. court for a criminal conviction. The jury would consider the confession, the circumstances in which it was received, and whether there was any corroborating evidence.

    Why? There are legal lines, of course, but ultimately there are issues of practicality in the difficulty of obtaining and controlling evidence from overseas, as well as the reinforcing values of community shared among citizens.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    Funny, I’ve yet to meet a SERE graduate (I know lots) who has endured waterboarding and will call it torture.

    Perhaps you should meet this gentleman…or this one…or even this one