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 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 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 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 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 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 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  

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