What'll it be?
Hotair has a video of ABC chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross describing what his CIA contacts told him about coercive interrogation. Not surprisingly, it turns out that the technique was able to extract useful information. One of the most pernicious fallacies peddled in the debate over coercive interrogation -- or torture -- as you would have it, is that duress is absolutely useless is providing any kind of intelligence. According to this point of view, coercive interrogation is just pointless cruelty. And those who advocate it are simply looking for excuses to engage in fruitless sadism.
But the real moral dilemma arises from the fact that coercion can produce intelligence information. If it were useless, as some commentators claim, there would be no dilemma. It is precisely because innocent lives can occasionally be saved by recourse to coercion that this problem is the devil's own. Therefore the correct approach must be to acknowledge the fact that we will have to pay in blood and treasure for not using certain techniques. And if we are prepared to accept that payment then we may willingly forgo these techniques. However, if we are unwilling to pay the price of those risks, we cannot honestly promise the public safety without lying to them. It is the therefore the task of policymakers to inform the public what the tradeoffs are and get them to accept those risks.
If I wanted to advocate a strict adherence to the limiting interrogatory questions to "name, rank and serial number" and provide all terrorist suspects with US Constitutional Rights, I would say: "it is true we are unlikely to get much information under such constraints, except as we may obtain from other methods, like wiretapping or other methods of espionage. But we value our religious and moral beliefs so high that we are willing to endure losses to preserve those principles. And look, our soldiers will lead the way. Even if their life and limb depend on finding an IED planted along a route and the bombmaker were in their custody, they would hazard the journey rathar than ask him roughly, because that is the American Way." Otherwise I could argue that "having considered our duty to preserve life and balanced it against our need to preserve our religious and moral beliefs, we believe we can go this far and no further", believing we can legitimately get information using a limited amount of duress without fatally compromising our standards. It is a balancing act against competing claims.
I think either approach is morally superior to arguing that we will uphold an absolute prohibition against any coercive interrogation without apprising the public of the risks -- that in fact we will not even discuss what such coercive acts might be -- because if the need really arises then we trust that some military or intelligence professional will do the right thing and throw himself under the proverbial bus and torture someone on his own authority. But see, our hands are clean! No they are not clean. We should never ask any American agent to do what we would not do ourselves. And we should never hold the safety of any American or allied civilian less valuable than the safety of our children; expect an American agent to throw himself "under the bus" because the target is Washington DC, therefore important and yet refrain when the target is merely an Army private from a small town in the Southwest. Pontius Pilate certainly knew the meaning of "clean hands" in that context.
Nothing argued above is advocacy for torture or even coercive interrogation. It simply lays out the problem facing anyone who must pay a very high price for something needed equally badly. Do we need information about our enemies? Then unfortunately we must resort to skullduggery, some degree of coercive behavior, wiretapping, espionage and deceit -- none of them gentlemanly activities -- to obtain this information. Do we find the price too high? Then very well, we will refuse to pay and take our chances. Or take such chances as we feel we can risk. But never, never should we deceive ourselves into thinking we can fight the enemy without war or question him as we would a guest at a dinner party.