Wednesday, September 20, 2006

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.


Blogger Doug said...

I don't approve of phonies like Lindsey Grahm taking chances with my family's and my country's future.
A Dishonest Balancing Act that is beneath contempt if ever there was one.
Let those who claim GWB is too Ruthless be Ruthlessly exposed.
Link Help from Link Sausage

9/20/2006 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9/20/2006 08:43:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

McCain Caved, Not the White House

The Drive-By Media covers for McCain's miscalculation and total about-face...
(American Thinker: The Moral Exhibitionism of John McCain)

According to the Arizona Senator, if we try terrorists we have to give them access to all evidence against them even if it is top secret. It isn’t good enough to share secret evidence with dedicated military defense lawyers who have the appropriate security clearance. We have to share it with the defendants themselves. Senator McCain’s sense of propriety demands no less.

Never mind that we have learned from experience that detainees can communicate with their fellow terrorists around the world under cover of attorney/client privilege by using treasonous or gullible private attorneys. This means that any secret information shared with a detainee is compromised.
But what is national security when weighed in the balance against John McCain’s moral vanity?
The same calculus mandates that we expose CIA interrogators to liability for using any interrogation technique the “international community” might deem degrading.

It isn’t good enough for interrogators to stop short of torture and McCain doesn’t want to decide what is good enough.
He doesn’t want Congress to define by statute what Americans understand to be the limits of acceptable interrogation.
Those limits have to be as vague as possible so anti-Americans at home and abroad have every opportunity to claim we have violated them
he stated justification for McCain’s exaggerated concern with terrorist rights is incandescently idiotic and impossible to take seriously. McCain and his merry band tell anyone who will listen that we have to adhere strictly to the most expansive interpretations of the Geneva Conventions because if we fail to do so our soldiers will be abused when they fall captive.
This defies rational response. McCain might as well be arguing that if we follow the course he proposes the Easter Bunny will bring us lots of treats.

9/20/2006 08:51:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Sad to say, it is increasingly evident that the esteemed Senator from Arizona has suffered the long-term effects of the abuse he received, either from his North Vietnamese captors... or his compatriots in the Senate.

Either way, his mental processes are clearly unsound.

9/20/2006 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger John (Useful Fools) said...

The arguments against coercive interrogation are so absurd that some of their famous promoters are either treasonably dishonest or dumb as rocks. I keep running into:

"...the danger that our enemies will not treat our troops well."

John McCain should know better, but Mr. Arizona Narcissist (who graduated near the bottom of his Anapolis class) has never been too bright. The only opponent of consequence we have fought who sort-of paid attention to the Geneva Conventions was Nazi Germany - and they didn't do a good job of it. The argument is amazingly specious, and it shows Colin Powell is a dishonest SOB, John McCain is an idiot, the MSM are on the other side (well, we knew that anyway)...

" will bring us down to their moral level."

So a little waterboarding or other ccercive techniques (which we use in training on our own troops, myself included) brings us down to the moral level of 7th century savages who behead reporters, intentionally kill thousands of civilians, and in general behave as the spawn of the devil?

" doesn't work."

Anyone who has been to SERE school in the last 40 years knows better. Anyone who has paid attention to the patterns of our successes against Al Qaeda knows better.

"...we will lose support in the world."

Support? What support? If our friends only support us when we hobble ourselves at great cost in American lives, then I suggest they deal with Islamofascism and Jihadism all on their own. Screw 'em.

" starts us down a slippery slope."

Every moral choice involves drawing a line on a slippery slope - only the moral coward insists on staying comfortably back from the edge.

"...sadists torture people. Dictators torture people. We will be just like them."

Errr... oh really? That passes for logical thought in elite eastern schools these days? (not to mention that we aren't talking about torture).

" constitutes cruel and unusual punishment."

You say, what? We don't interrogate as punishment. Come back when you learn what the issues are.

" ignores international law."

Well, a European judge held that Common Article Three requires each prisoner have a private toilet (among other things). Is THAT a law we want to be party to? Europe may be suicidal, but only half of America is. We certainly don't want our American interrogators under threat of having such logic turned on them (as McCain and Powell find so important).

9/20/2006 09:48:00 PM  
Blogger Zionist Bootlicker said...

Good post, Wretchard, but you need not go over-wobbly on the point. I would be neither a dentist nor an executioner, but thru private and public funding I gladly support these folk to do my dirty work.

King David couldn't build the temple because he had to do dirty work (shedding of blood). But yet he was a man after God's own heart.

CH Spurgeon said that he didn't worry about being consistent with himself, only about being consistent with God's Word.

9/20/2006 10:47:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

"not to mention that we aren't talking about torture"

- john

Though there's no longer any use pointing this out to those who insist that coercive interrogation, as well as some non-coercive approaches, are synonymous with torture.

The fact remains that the threat of coercion is in most cases more effective in weakening or breaking resistance than its employment. But the threat is not credible when sources are aware, as often they are, that coercion is strictly limited or completely out of bounds in questioning.

We have so telegraphed our good-guy intentions in this regard that a potent psychological tool has been diminished and, in many circumstances, forfeited altogether.

9/21/2006 05:20:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

This is the flip side of 'chickenhawk' -- the willingness to send those who protect us to the ramparts with hands tightly tied behind their backs, blinkered intelligence and naive constraints, all of which serve not to defend an ethical standard, but to protect a phony sense of self-righteousness.

Oh, and, of course, under these strictures, we'll expect them to keep us safe and uninconvenienced.

9/21/2006 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...


How does an interrogator know he has the right person to be 'coercing'? What is the result of torturing a person who doesn't know what you think they know? Do you quit after some point? Or does the person die without divulging what he doesn't know? Who gets prosecuted for torturing the wrong person? The torturer? The agent who captured the guy and told everybody that he knew what he didn't?


9/21/2006 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

We should never ask any American agent to do what we would not do ourselves.


Isn't that why we pay taxes, so as to pay gov't agents to go to nasty places and deal harshly with mean people, so that we don't have to do it ourselves?

The sheeple who have some semblance of understanding of what the operators are up against don't have any qualms about interrogation techniques. That so many do is evidence of the huge disconnect in perceptions of reality between the flock and the sheepdogs.

9/21/2006 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Fabio said...

"we can go this far and no further" has a problem tho: it tells the enemy what's the worse they can expect. And they can at least try to harden themselves against it.

It would be better to keep things more vague.

9/21/2006 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Ash said...


It is immoral to torture a person. That's it fullstop.

Even if you reject the notion that it is immoral to torture someone because the are 'guilty' (i.e. they are in fact a terrorist) you end up torturing innocent people because there is no due process to determine their innocence or guilt.

Are you ok with torturing American citizens? How do you feel about torturing an individual who has committed no crime but might have knowledge of the comings and goings of a person of interest? As a poster in another thread asked 'does the information desired trump the innocence of the person to be tortured'?

9/21/2006 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger El_Heffe said...

Fernand_Braudel (and ash): The existence of these thorny questions (and others like them) is not the problem. The failure to have ready answers for these questions is the problem.

Cannoneer: you seem to be talking past Wrechard's point. It's wrong to set up an interrogation policy that makes us feel good, while expecting those charged with carying it out to deliver results that can only come from violating the policy.

Fabio: We don't need to give our playbook to the bad guys. But we DO need to have a playbook.

ash said "It is immoral to torture a person. That's it fullstop."

To which I respond, I am glad that you live in a world of black and white. Where some things are absolutely wrong, and others are absolutely right (though I am not certain we agree on which is which).

However you seem to be having some issues with your visual acuity. This issue is not composed of a solid mass of either black or of white. There is a more intricate pattern here to be discerned. Uncross your eyes and perhaps you will see it.

9/21/2006 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...


Torture is against the law. As ash would say, "That's it fullstop." It is against the law for ALL intelligence officers and other US personnel. This was the case before 9/11. It is the case now. It shall in all likelihood remain so in the future.

So in a way, the questions as phrased are moot.

Coercive questioning can and frequently does have its own problems but coercive questioning, as permitted under the US Code, is not torture.

9/21/2006 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

We need to imagine ourselves at war with ourselves. All rights and responsibilities accorded to ourselves would be accorded to the enemy.
The Geneva accords and the Laws of Land Warfare are obstacles to victory.

9/21/2006 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

"The Geneva accords and the Laws of Land Warfare are obstacles to victory."

No. The obstacles to victory are in not allowing us to pursue all that is in fact permitted under our own laws and treaties. And that's where we are.

9/21/2006 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

Ash wrote:

"It is immoral to torture a person. That's it fullstop."

If you are part of a group that kidnaps my wife or child, I will have no moral inhibition about causing you severe, crippling pain to find out where they are. If you do the same thing to my relatives' or friends' and their kids, the same holds.

Once someone crosses that line and begins to violently violate people's rights, the rules change.

Thats it, fullstop.

There are people out there that have no conscience and zero empathy that live to take and kill. The only way to reach them is through pain or deadly force and sometimes not even then.

Its very dangerous to apply humane standards to those who are not humane. In fact, its immoral.

9/21/2006 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Hard as it is to imagine, Ash could only come out sounding even more foolish if he tried to respond to that, RR.
Well Put.

9/21/2006 07:13:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

I just want to be on record. If responsible authorities believe that the safety of any American soldier or of any innocent non-combatant depends on beating the $%&+ out of a captured terrorist, then that is what he should do, and without further liability or question.

I do not believe that gratification of the sadistic impulses of an investigator is proper. But I can find no problem with the use of physical coercion to obtain intelligence in the war against terror.

9/21/2006 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger Ash said...

Well doug, based on Red Rivers logic, he would (should) have no problem if I tortured him, his wife and his child if I believed he had anything to do with the abduction of my wife or child. Pretty silly wouldn't you say?

9/22/2006 06:34:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Grey said...

Torture is immoral, even torture of the guilty, even torture that works to prevent the death of my wife and children.

Yet, if such torture IS done, and DOES prevent the death of my wife or other innocents, I don't think I'd have much harsh punishment against the torturer.

Yet, if such torture IS done, but DOES NOT prevent any deaths, or any crimes being committed, I would favor harsh punishment against the torturer.

It's usually not possible to know in advance what the outcome will be. So torture should never "be allowed" -- but the Col. who blasted his gun near the head of a terrorist to get info, and GOT info, should not be punished.

In any discussion of right and wrong an important issue should be how much punishment for the guilty on our side.

However, any interrogation technique that is firm, but NOT torture, should be allowable.

There should be a test, e.g. if 100 SEALS/ Green Berets can accept that interrogation technique, without permanent physical harm, it should be allowed.

Maybe this isn't the best "test" -- but one of the issues that should be discussed more is what IS a good test to differentiate unallowable torture from acceptable firm interrogation.

9/22/2006 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...

What I was leading to in my previous comment is the same thing I said about this issue many months ago:

(1) Certain war crimes exist (like nuclear terrorism) which merit the use of torture on suspects to prevent.

(2) Torture of the innocent is immoral.

(3) Intelligence gathering is imperfect and what may appear to be a terrorist suspect from (1) may in fact be a innocent from (2).

(4) The synthesis of (1), (2), and (3) above requires that an interrogation system exist wherein an interrogator who believes that a war crime is about to be committed and believes that torturing a suspect is the only way to prevent it in time may perform (1) if and only if he is willing to stand in the dock for the crime of committing (2) if it turns out in court that he tortured an innocent person, or a person who never had the information that could prevent the war crime.

With such a law, interrogators would have to document their actions in (1) and would have to weigh the personal risks of (2) even as they did their duty to the country. A jury would have to weigh their personal safety in avoiding (1) even as they did their moral duty to convict and punish when (2) was committed.

This kind of law would put torture issues under a case-by-case basis and under the review of the people as represented by the jury.

-- This is how I resolved the moral dilemma months ago, and I remain convinced of it's morality and security benefits to this day.

9/22/2006 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

Ash wants us all to join him and dance on the head of the pin:

"Well doug, based on Red Rivers logic, he would (should) have no problem if I tortured him, his wife and his child if I believed he had anything to do with the abduction of my wife or child. Pretty silly wouldn't you say?"

I'd have a big problem with it because I would never do such a thing. And so would you.

There is a big difference between grabbing random people off the street and catching someone red-handed.

Just this week some pervert was showing pornography to some kids in a park. When a mom saw it, she screamed. The creep ran and some men caught up with him.

What do you think happened?

Did they read him his Miranda rights? Did they argue about whether it was right or wrong to judge him?

No, they beat the shit out of him and held him for the police.

I was at a cafe and a bunch of us heard it over the radio. We all laughed out loud. F-A.

Can you imagine what would have occured had the creep been caught doing something much worse?

Care to defend that Ash?

Care to continue to defend the abuse of the weak and innocent by the strong or the crazed?

That is what this is about.

9/22/2006 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger trish said...

There is a common assumption that, in a pinch, torture is not merely effective, but time-saving.

Fact of the matter is, some of these guys LIKE pain. It will spur further resistance in many who don't, as it quickly becomes a game of simple endurance. And the endurance of most far exceeds what we would consider likely.

A source in acute pain is far more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to "read." Statements made under extreme duress take longer to validate as they require, as a PRACTICAL matter, more corroboration.

Usually, if you can rattle someone's cage, so to speak, you're three quarters of the way there. And there is a potentially limitless number of ways to do this.

Interrogation operations and intel collection are not easy, especially when no one's wearing uniform and rank. Torture, though pleasing to some for reasons other than efficient questioning, won't make it easier or faster.

9/22/2006 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger trish said...

As for the idea that interrogators and other intel personnel should and will take the law into their own hands - and suck up whatever consequences - it's not only untenable and undesirable, but extremely unlikely.

No matter what Joe Biden thinks.

9/22/2006 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

"Interrogation operations and intel collection are not easy, especially when no one's wearing uniform and rank. Torture, though pleasing to some for reasons "

Yes and no.

Its not about pain.

All humans share certain basic body-mind fears that are deeply ingrained and tied to autonomic physical and psychological responses.

Having a bight light shined in your eyes or having a big hairy thing jump out at you will cause the same reaction in all people.

The key is to tap into those deep anxieties such that the faculty of judgement is removed.

Anyone who has seen livestock panicking or worse, people losing it, can understand this.

This has nothing to do with pain of any kind. People can be quite lucid in a panic state, but are incapable of self-control.

Inducing a panic state in someone for specific intel taskings under controlled situations according to due process is justifiable if it can be shown that the EPW has information that will save many lives.

I don't think it should be used on most people, but for the masterminds and top operations people, yes.

Is it cruel? Yes.

Is it wrong? It depends on the crime and intent to commit. In the case of the top terror leaders - it would be wrong not to use it.

9/22/2006 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

I'm printing bumper stickers:

Have You Hugged An Interrogator Today?

9/22/2006 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...


Good ol' P and E Down works a charm even on the fully committed AQ. Sometimes it's not enough - sometimes it's exactly the wrong approach - but you've gotta know your source.

There really is no one-size-fits-all. There never is.

9/22/2006 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

"Inducing a panic state in someone for specific intel taskings under controlled situations according to due process is justifiable if it can be shown that the EPW has information that will save many lives."

How do you think that info is obtained, considering...

Everyone swears to Allah that he/she is simply a student, a merchant, a farmer, a cook, a vendor, a street sweeper, a pilgrim.

9/22/2006 09:24:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

If you renove the faculty of judgment, Red, you have nothing to deal with. Might as well have a catatonic or comatose - or deceased - source. Doesn't do you any good.

9/22/2006 10:57:00 PM  

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