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"Produces Unreliable Information"

One of the big troubles with saying that “enhanced” interrogation techniques are not torture, is that these very techniques were reverse engineered from training that’s supposed to teach our soldiers what torture is like.

This is one of the things Malcolm Nance will say when he testifies to Congress. Not to mention telling them that Waterboarding is indeed torture.

A trove of accumulated institutional familiarity with torture led to a slide that Nance shares, from an old (and unclassified) SERE PowerPoint presentation to trainees. It asks outright, "Why Is Torture The Worst Interrogation Method?" The first answer: "Produces Unreliable Information."

We've all seen the scenes in movies, where the edgy cop extracts perfect information from a suspect by threatening to blow off a kneecap, or by beating the crap out of them. It has the virtue of cutting down screentime, showing the tough, uncompromising nature of the person in question. It also has the virtue of being easy cheap writing. You don't have to plot or figure out the beats on an intellectual level, or explain why the character's taking their time to figure things out. This is what we do in the real world, right? Nope, it's nothing more than lazy and/or expedient writing.

The fantasy runs into the reality. Torture is about breaking the will to resist the interrogator. Unfortunately, there are many inhibitions that torture breaks, and one of them is to lie to save your own skin.

On a Mekong River trip, I met a 60-year-old man, happy to be alive and a cheerful travel companion, who survived the genocide and torture … he spoke openly about it and gave me a valuable lesson: “If you want to survive, you must learn that ‘walking through a low door means you have to be able to bow.’” He told his interrogators everything they wanted to know including the truth. They rarely stopped. In torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia. He was actually just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French. He remembered “the Barrel” version of waterboarding quite well. Head first until the water filled the lungs, then you talk.

What is the point of an interrogation? If I as a screenwriter were to present the opposing values, it would be pretty easy: Ignorance vs. Knowledge. The complexities of an interrogation would depend on one particular set of facts: what do the parties to this interrogation know? But for torture, there are another set of values: dignity vs. submission. The person will either stand up to the interrogators, or they will be forced into submission. The Hollywood fantasy is that the person who is forced into submission is stripped of the inhibitions that allow them to lie. What many don't realize is that this is a rather narrow interpretation. The person is forced into survival mode, which means that any inhibitiion that stands in the way of survival will go by the wayside.

That includes an inhibition against lying, or telling the interrogators just what they want to hear to make the torture stop. Just ask John McCain.

Obviously, to defeat our enemies we need intelligence, but intelligence that is reliable. We should not torture or treat inhumanely terrorists we have captured. The abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort. In my experience, abuse of prisoners often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear-whether it is true or false-if he believes it will relieve his suffering. I was once physically coerced to provide my enemies with the names of the members of my flight squadron, information that had little if any value to my enemies as actionable intelligence. But I did not refuse, or repeat my insistence that I was required under the Geneva Conventions to provide my captors only with my name, rank and serial number. Instead, I gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, knowing that providing them false information was sufficient to suspend the abuse. It seems probable to me that the terrorists we interrogate under less than humane standards of treatment are also likely to resort to deceptive answers that are perhaps less provably false than that which I once offered.

That last line is important. We're not merely trying to get these people to talk, we're trying to get them to tell the truth. If we don't know an awful lot, even if the torture is well-intentioned, we're putting ourselves in a situation where we don't know when to stop, other than to follow our suspicions or the stories that seem compelling. Take it from me, a student of the movies, compelling doesn't mean a story is true. Plausible does not mean real.

Torture is meant to break the will. People easily become liars to save themselves, or even just to stop the pain. The main function of torture is not to enlighten the interrogator, but to give the interrogator the power to force the person in question to do what they want them to do. If the interrogator doesn't know what they want them to say, they could easily run over then back the car up over the truth and not even know it. If they do know the information, then not only is the interrogation unnecessary, it could be counterproductive. If you know the particulars of a crime, and are trying to confirm somebody's involved, torture can make anybody admit to that. If it happens to be an innocent person, you'll only have won when you've got them making up crap to satisfy your notions of things.

When we can't tell truth from lie, actual terrorist from somebody who's just saying things to get us to stop hurting them, then there really is no intelligence value to "enhanced" interrogation. As for it's moral value? Is this technique indeed torture?

Later in McCain's Editorial:

For instance, there has been considerable press attention to a tactic called "waterboarding," where a prisoner is restrained and blindfolded while an interrogator pours water on his face and into his mouth-causing the prisoner to believe he is being drowned. He isn't, of course; there is no intention to injure him physically. But if you gave people who have suffered abuse as prisoners a choice between a beating and a mock execution, many, including me, would choose a beating. The effects of most beatings heal. The memory of an execution will haunt someone for a very long time and damage his or her psyche in ways that may never heal. In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.

The professional SERE instructor, Malcolm Nance takes this one step further:

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.

Controlled Death. Though one could quibble about word choices (What do each of them mean by drowning?) Both the tortured veteran and the instructor in torture survival agree: It is torture, and it is meant to take somebody to the verge of death and back. So does the former Bush Administration official who underwent this "enhanced" interrogation method, and then got shoved out the door for calling it what it is.

There is no way to win with torture. Not for the interrogators, not for the victims, not for the Soldier who fight, or for the folks back home everybody's trying to protect, and least of all for our country

Let's start with the interrogators. When those at the top fail to give proper guidance, they end up the scapegoats for the failures of the policy and the strategical setbacks that result With torture, we wouldn't know what was worse, the impulse to keep it secret, or the impulse to justify it The only real way to avoid the dilemma of having torture be an ugly secret, always ready to degrade our nations image, or having our country identified with the practice as we justify it openly, is to just avoid torture, period.

The victims of torture are the most obvious party at a disadvantage, but it bears repeating: innocent people can be made to admit to crimes they did not commit. But it's not just our victims, however we justify it, it's the victims of other countries torture policies. When others can say "America tortures those they believe are potential terrorism threats or threats to national security, why can't we?" or "America doesn't consider this torture, so don't say we're torturing.", there are many innocent people who are going to suffer and die, with America impotent to do anything about it due to its policies.

These practices and this policy also put the soldiers at risk. Plainly put, we should expect our soldiers to get the treatment we give combatants. Torture inflicted on enemies will justify torture inflicted on them. Making these the norm also endangers the peace of mind of our troops, both in captivity and out of it As McCain wrote:

I've been asked often where did the brave men I was privileged to serve with in North Vietnam draw the strength to resist to the best of their abilities the cruelties inflicted on them by our enemies. They drew strength from their faith in each other, from their faith in God and from their faith in our country. Our enemies didn't adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them unto death. But every one of us-every single one of us-knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or approving such mistreatment of them. That faith was indispensable not only to our survival, but to our attempts to return home with honor. For without our honor, our homecoming would have had little value to us.

The enemies we fight today hold our liberal values in contempt, as they hold in contempt the international conventions that enshrine them. I know that. But we are better than them, and we are stronger for our faith. And we will prevail. It is indispensable to our success in this war that those we ask to fight it know that in the discharge of their dangerous responsibilities to their country they are never expected to forget that they are Americans, and the valiant defenders of a sacred idea of how nations should govern their own affairs and their relations with others-even our enemies.

What exactly are we defending, are we fighting for? Is America just about power over our enemies, or something else better than what generations of tyrants were willing to send soldiers to their deaths for? For America, it should be the latter, rather than the former.

And what about America as a whole? Are we to be yet another nation that gives lip service to freedom, civilization and human rights, but which turns around and justifies atrocities at its own hand that it criticizes coming from others? Is America to represent hypocrisy and expedience, rather than courage and virtue? Are we to let the fear of the terrorists, who even in the worst of times will only attack us on rare occasion, and who can never truly destroy America itself, turn this country into a dark parody of itself?

The choice we are often given is between betraying our principles and letting our fellow Americans die. Every decision is given the weight of the world. We are told that we must be constantly vigilant, and time after time we see extraordinary and sometimes absurd lengths taken to secure this safety.

Is this the way to fight terrorism effectively? No, say many experts. Sometimes, America will simply be unlucky. There's no preventing all misfortune, no keeping all terrors and dangers at bay. A strategy that takes every potential threat seriously may have it's bureaucratic rear end covered, but it will not necessarily do much good for the Average American.

Even the most economically powerful nation has a limit to it's resources, and its ability to prioritize on matters like this without impoverishing other important priorities. Moreover, not everybody has the proper expertise to know what they're looking at. If we're treating every threat, not matter how improbable, as if it were a certainty, we will improverish ourselves, exhaust ourselves, and reduce our ability to pay attention selectively to truly important data. We can't win by becoming ruthless and paranoid. Granted, we don't need to adopt a 9/10/01 approach to security, with excessive complacency, but neither do we need free floating anxiety and profligate spending on one false alarm after another. We don't need people becoming burned out on false alarms, demoralized by abuses of the system, and disillusioned by the absurdity or injustices of the measures.

Torture might give us information that is true, but it's much less reliable than regular, un-enhanced interrogation. Quick and wrong is still wrong. Desperate and wrong is even worse. In a ticking time-bomb scenario, torture-derived information could be worse than useless. More to the point, a real emergency of a threat could be ignored for the sake of information gained by these unreliable means. The uncertainty of information discovered under torture undermines the moral arguments for the expedient disregard of our Democratic principles. If you can't guarantee results, the costs of torture far outweigh the benefits, no matter how macho it makes some of its advocates feel about the lengths they will go to protect America.

Those who take pride in the lines they are willing to cross should understand that some lines, when crossed, produce the opposite results of what are intended. Many value their own intentions, and believe others don't have good intentions themselves because of the limits they impose on themselves. However, our nation was founded on those who indeed set limits on themselves, and on what the government could do. The spirit of our revolution was not one that the framers trusted to create a just government. Instead, they put limits on what their government could do, righteous spirit or not.

Iraq's a good example. We broke all kinds of rules with the intention of striking back at the terrorists, and ended up doing little right, and making our terrorism problem worse. Others continue to self-congratulate themselves on their support for this war, believing they are supporting the fight against terrorism, but their actions aren't doing what their intentions show they desire.

It is a common theme of this Administration: great intentions, epic sensibilities, but sordid, humiliating consequences, which are spun around by the politicians and the pundits to justify continuation of the policies, despite their obvious blowback. As much as some would present these torture methods as evidence of the zeal of their party and political movement to defend this country, their mythologizing cannot hide the ugly truth: that these are the former means of our former enemies, and that they do not do anywhere near enough good to justify the evil they bring upon us.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at November 9, 2007 8:34 AM
Comment #237935

After WW@ we sent Japanese soldiers that had waaterboarded American prisoners to prison for 15 years for it. If waterboarding is not torture then we owe them reparations and an apology.Any wing-nuts think that is a good idea?

Posted by: BillS at November 9, 2007 12:20 PM
Comment #237948

The US should not be engaged in torture, but we should dispel this idea that torture doesn’t work.

It DOES work, and works very well when employed by an expert in this particular “dark art.” Read any histories of agencies such as the Gestapo and KGB and that will be extremely obvious.

Stephen raises a good point about the usefulness of torture but then misapplies it.

If an interrogator wishes to extract a “confession,” then yes, torture can easily yield false results. A subject will say anything he believes his torturer wants to hear. But in such cases (as in persecution of “heretics” in the middle ages, the KGB show trials, or what happened to John McCain), the confession is the GOAL of the torturer. He doesn’t care if the confession is “true” or not—in fact he probably knows it’s not. The propaganda value of the false confession is the true objective, and once he gets it, torture can be said to have worked for it’s intended purposes.

Look at what happened to McCain. He DID finally confess to what he was being asked to confess to. He never would have done so if not tortured. So while it’s correct to say that the torture did not work for revealing the “truth,” it certainly did work for gaining the lie that was its aim, even if it did take an extremely long time. But the length of time it took was a result of McCain’s strong personal fortitude and resolve—certainly not as a result of him being willing to confess if only he’d been dealt with without the use of torture.

Alternatively (and this is Stephen’s error), when you’re looking for INFORMATION as opposed to a confession, then the “survival mode” that a torture subject finds himself in simply has to be managed differently. It’s incredibly naive to assume that an expert interrogator would not be fully aware of the danger of getting bad information as a result of misapplying torture and not adjust his techniques accordingly. Done effectively, “the survival mode” of the victim is exactly what what makes the torture work.

For example, imagine an interrogator who wants to learn the location of a weapons stash from someone he suspects knows this information. Torture would probably not be the first technique he’d try—but even if it was, the principle still applies. If you tortured the guy and he gives you names and locations, he still remains in custody. You KNOW that perhaps he was lying to avoid further torture, so you investigate the information he gave you. If it doesn’t pan out, then the torture becomes FAR more severe during round two. And so on. It may not be quick, and it certainly isn’t pretty, but torture DOES work.

Of course, it’s always possible that the subject doesn’t know what you think he does, or that he will hold out no matter what is done to him. In such cases, however, it’s not torture itself that has failed as a technique but (1). the failure of your own side’s intelligence going in, or (2). the fact that you have a totally unbreakable subject, someone willing to suffer terribly and even die in order to keep secrets. But when confronted by either of those scenarios, no other interrogation techniques will ever work either, hence torture is not the problem.

These are ugly things to think about, and repellent to almost all of us; but my point is that it’s extremely naive to say (especially when compared with other techniques) that torture doesn’t work. Because it does.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at November 9, 2007 1:58 PM
Comment #237949

You mean, in the past, the US punished those who did its citizens harm? Imagine that. Thats refreshing to hear.

And reparations and an apology? About as useless, unfair and dumb as doing it for anything else.
Sorry, but I don’t feel guilty about being an American any more than I feel guilty about being white.

Posted by: kctim at November 9, 2007 2:06 PM
Comment #237950


You’re wrong. It doesn’t. And every expert in the field agrees it is ineffective.

Posted by: Max at November 9, 2007 2:18 PM
Comment #237952

All of the arguments made in this Stephen’s post are undoubtedly true, but they are equally true about conventional interrogation, just more so. No prisoner intends, when questioned, to give information that is helpful to the enemy. It is probably safe to assume that no prisoner will give useful information in the face of simple, polite questioning. The tougher the questioning gets, the more likely it is that some prisoners will be unable to continue to refuse to answer or to lie.
It is that increased chance for getting useful information that makes intensive interrogation effective. To be sure, most prisoners will continue to stand mute or to lie. But, some will break.
The problem is, as Stephen points out, that the interrogator will have a hard time knowing which prisoner broke and told the truth and which prisoner continued to lie, unless, of course, the interrogator knew the truth already, in which case why ask questions in the first place. But, hard as that problem may be, it is not insurmountable: some of the questions the interrogator asks are questions to which he does know the answer. From the answers he gets to these questions, he is in a better position to know whether the prisoner is telling the truth in answering other questions.
Senator McCain is obviously convinced that he tricked those silly North Vietnamese with his clever answers. But, likely as not, he didn’t trick them at all. They may have gotten the information they needed from another prisoner, so they could give up on McCain. They may have decided that the information he might have was not really of any use to them. They may have decided that he was likely to be too hard a prisoner to break, so they gave up on him and went after others. The point is that under extreme interrogation, one prisoner may lie…even most may lie…but sooner or later one will tell the truth. If you can figure out who lied and who told the truth(and, you can figure this out, sometimes), the interrogation technique served its purpose.
I also think Stephen is right about the moral costs of torture, to the indivuals doing it, to the arm of government that authorizes it, and to the nation as a whole. We are all diminished if we are citizens of a country that authorizes torture. That said, it is important to remember that we are not a country that authorizes torture. Our Presidents have said so (yes, including the current President), our Attorneys General have said so, our generals have said so, and Congress has said so in speeches and in statutes. But, I am not a pollyanna. I have read enough statements from former servicemen to know that we used questionable interrogation techniques in WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, and, unless I miss my bet, at times in between those wars. We used them under “good” Presidents and under “bad’ ones. We used them in knowing violation of our own principles, laws, and treaties. I hope and pray that when we used them, we got what we needed and prevented death and destruction. If we did, I can live with that. I suspect many, if not most, Americans can live with it, too.

Posted by: Steve at November 9, 2007 2:25 PM
Comment #237953

We’ve executed a terrorist before. Getting his day in court didn’t prevent him from having his nice, warm and fuzzy lethal injection. The folks who blew up the truckbomb in WTC back in 1993 ended up on the inside of a jail as well.

We don’t need to be defiling ourselves for their sake.

We punished them for doing what we were doing, and we clearly described taking these actions as war crimes. Do you like the idea of America as a nation of hypocrites?

Nobody’s saying torture can’t work. It’s just not reliable. Since reliability is a crucial element of intelligence, Torture has limited value.

The unreliability does not get better when you’re looking for information. When you get somebody into that suggestible state, their memory will become unreliable. Any leading or loaded question you ask might influence the answer they give, under threat of torture.

What’s extremely naive is to think that people are like computers to be hacked. Memory, by its nature, is a matter of reconstruction. In general, it is best to allow people to recall events naturally, when they have a sound mind and sound body. Stress interferes with memory, and the states of suggestibility can not only lead people to hand you BS to satisfy you, it may also lead them to have false memories.

Torture is like hypnosis: it’s an altered state of mind that disables a person’s internal censors and inhibitions. Consider that similarity in the case of information sought regarding Child Abuse and Satanic cults, UFO’s and Government conspiracies. Mild psychological problems became attributed to outlandish and unlikely scenarios of human sacrifice and unholy abuse. Episodes of hypnagogic hallucinations, dream-like episodes from people just awakening, get turned into encounters with aliens.

There’s a reason hypnotic regression is no longer considered admissable in many court rooms: people in these suggestible states confabulate, and there is no practical way to prevent the questioner from setting that in motion. The law of unintended consequences becomes writ in false memories.

Some of these guys will talk for pornography. Some will talk for money. Some will talk if you get mom an operation. Some will talk if you play on institutional jealousies. Some will talk if you get somebody to talk to them about how sinful terrorism is, according to the Quran.

Everybody’s got their weaknesses, their price. It’s better to play interrogation as a game of wits, rather than a game of wills. In the end, we want the right information, and we want it on a dependable basis. We also don’t want blowback from the operations which will undermine the good the approach is supposed to do. Torture simply doesn’t cut it.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 9, 2007 2:42 PM
Comment #237954
Some of these guys will talk for pornography. Some will talk for money. Some will talk if you get mom an operation. Some will talk if you play on institutional jealousies. Some will talk if you get somebody to talk to them about how sinful terrorism is, according to the Quran.

So your assumption is that interrogators don’t know this? If a carpenter has a screwdriver in his tool-belt, does that mean he’ll stop using his tape-measure and saw and try to do everything with the screwdriver?

LO- Nobody’s saying torture can’t work. It’s just not reliable. Since reliability is a crucial element of intelligence, Torture has limited value.

Limited value—yes. But compared to what? Absolutely no method is “reliable” in these matters. Certainly not asking nicely, bribery, porn or quoting for the Koran. You’re trying to dismiss the effectiveness of one technique by holding it to a standard that NO technique can attain.

Not saying it’s what we should happen, but I’d guarantee you that an interrogator with only thumb-screws would get far more results (I’m not saying perfect results—just more of them) than a guy with only a girly mag. That is, if you want to just compare techniques for their ability to get “valid” results.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at November 9, 2007 2:58 PM
Comment #237957

You’d be surprised. Some al-Qaeda prisoners broke simply because they weren’t given the torturous treatment they thought they would get.

People are prepared to resist a tough interrogator, but not necessarily a polite one. They’re prepared to deny things to somebody who’ll treat them like crap, but not necessarily to somebody who flatters them, or their sensibilities.

They might talk if you convince them that others have talked, if you act like you know something. They might talk if they think you can’t possibily do anything about it. They might talk if they’re brought to the conclusion that what they did was wrong. They might talk if they’re envious of others in the network. They might talk if you reveal or seem to reveal a dark secret about what the others in the organization did.

When it comes to interrogation, working smarter is more productive than working harder. Torture makes things more difficult on many levels, makes evidence more difficult to use in criminal cases. There are all kinds of liabilities to using it. Why do that then? If somebody felt they had no other choice, okay, then, but making acts of desperation in an emergency permanent policy? That’s just asking for trouble.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 9, 2007 3:08 PM
Comment #237959

“We punished them for doing what we were doing, and we clearly described taking these actions as war crimes.

Yes Stephen, we told them waterboarding Americans was a war crime, but I seriously doubt we waterboarded Americans as they did.

And, we gave them 15 years for doing that to our people. I wonder what kind of justice they gave Americans for doing things to their people? Probably death huh.

The world probably hates us for giving them 15 years too. Just like they hate us for Gitmo and AG today. Maybe we should just do what Americas enemy do, and make videos showing us sawing off heads? Think the world would then approve of us and find somebody else to place the blame on, like they do the terrorists?

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but most of the time, one of them is worse. And placing the blame on the biggest, easiest target isn’t always right.

“Do you like the idea of America as a nation of hypocrites?”

Not one bit, but I’m trying to get used to it. 50+ million of them will be voting for hillary afterall.

Posted by: kctim at November 9, 2007 3:16 PM
Comment #237961

You avoided the point ,as usual. Point is if it was criminal for interrogators to use the same tecnique on US soldiers then it is criminal for the US to use the same on anyone else.

Again I would submit the Isreali solution. They have much more experience in this that we. Torture is forbidden by law.,both legal and religious.If it is a real case of immediate danger to innocents they break the law and accept the consequences but it is NEVER legitamated by some bogus finding.

Posted by: Bills at November 9, 2007 3:19 PM
Comment #237962

Stephen Daugherty

I would suggest to all those who profess Torture,

directly, or indirectly, to find a link on the

Mental Status and Understanding of those who are

afflicted, by Torture and those who do the Torturing.
Their are serious problems with those in both

Categories. I believe that after a little

Research, I doubt we will hear any more from those

who profess doing Torture on any one.

Posted by: -DAVID- at November 9, 2007 3:32 PM
Comment #237973

We exclude the use of these “tools” for a reason. We’re a nation that builds its reputation on it’s freedoms and its rights, and not merely for its citizens. It’s customary to extend those rights to non-citizens, as it reflects on us poorly when they endure appalling treatment. The whole raison d’etre of “enhanced interrogation” was not to substitute non-torture for torture, but instead to inflict pain and suffering in ways that would not leave evidence. It’s not torture the same way a wifebeater gutpunching his wife is not domestic abuse.

Regular means of interrogation have been shown to get much better information, and since information is the whole point of all this trouble, torture seems a rather poor tool to include in the box. It might do wonders for conservative egos to advocate torture, but that won’t make it more effective than legitimate methods, and if it’s not effective, the downsides make a persuasive argument for its non-employment.

Not everybody will sell out their comrades for pornography, But then, I’m not saying that’s the only means we should be be employing. I’m for what’s effective and not counterproductive. We can’t use every approach, and some will get better results than others. We shouldn’t waste time using undependable methods to get information, especially when it makes us look like scum.

So Waterboarding is only a crime when they do it to us? That’s crap. We either hold it true for everybody, or our application of the law is a farce. In WWII, we didn’t torture people, as a general rule. I’m sure there must have been some isolated cases, but people did not go out of their way to justify such uncivilized behavior on the basis of what somebody else was doing.

We are either better and more principled than these people, or we’re not. We’re either able to stand up to these people as Americans, with American values, or we’re not. To equivocate about what’s right serves their cause, because they’re looking to make us look like the bad guys. The more we fulfill that image, the more recruits we send their way. Torture has damaged America’s image, and its fight against this evil. The short term information is not worth it, even if it saves lives, because the counterproductive results of the policy will end up swallowing that profits of souls in the bloodbaths the torture helps to inspire.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 9, 2007 5:36 PM
Comment #237976

Finally, somebody being truthful on what all this is really about. Thank you!

WE, should not use these techniques because others may look at us unfavorably.
Saving American lives is not worth looking bad in the eyes of the world.
And, we create more people who hate us by using these techniques.

Now, would you please share with us why the world and half of our own country, view America as being the worst of the worst, but yet, our enemies have committed and continue to commit, far worse atrocities?
You guys don’t speak out against them the same way you do America. They murder innocents and saw off heads, and you guys call for understanding.

What is so hard in America calling for Americans to understand that sometimes, our govt must take drastic measures to protect its people?

No matter where, at any given time, “uncivilized behavior” is always going on. And acting like they won’t do it if we don’t do it, is totally naive and ignores reality.
So, if our “uncivilized behavior” prevents their “uncivilized behavior” from happening to us, I feel it is justified.

Posted by: kctim at November 9, 2007 6:16 PM
Comment #237980


That’s like saying Saddam Hussein was an okay guy for having his enemies hung, since real mass murderers like Hitler killed millions of people. Maybe a local car thief’s actions are fine because he looks nice compared to a serial killer. There will always be someone worse than us. America at least in the past was often considered the most principled country on the planet. I don’t want us to be just better than Al Qaeda. Saying that any “drastic action” is fine if it’s for national security is what dicators and fascists use to justify their methods.

Posted by: mark at November 9, 2007 7:40 PM
Comment #237985

People expect the terrorists to be bloodthirsty sadists. When folks hear that they decapitate people, it’s not too far away from blowing them up, shooting them, etc.

We, however, have standards to uphold, being a civilized nation that has long professed the virtues of freedom and civil liberties. It is legitimate to hold us to a higher standard.

They aren’t left off the hook. They just have few people left to disappoint! Or put another way, nobody hopes to redeem the terrorists, whereas we can do better than what we’re doing.

The day they become resigned to America doing these kinds of things will be a sad day. The day they simply expect us to be as bad as the terrorists will be a sad day.

As for Drastic measures? Good heavens. First, let’s try doing the not so drastic things that get results! Drastic measures are a measure of desperation, and continued desperation is hardly a workable long-term strategy.

We need means we can live with, which won’t leave us a dark parody of our former selves.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 9, 2007 8:54 PM
Comment #237986

The ONLY reason not to torture is that it’s morally wrong. And that’s more than enough reason.

It won’t make us “look better in the eyes of the world” because no matter what we do, we will be accused of torture. If we treated our prisoners like guests at a bed-and-breakfast and gave them therapeutic massages at bedtime they’d still say they were tortured in US captivity. Doing so is called for in the Al Qaida training manual. And the media (especially the international media) would still report it as the truth.

It will NOT spare our soldiers from such treatment at the hands of enemies. Especially not our current enemies.

Further, for the reasons I’ve described earlier, torture DOES work. And that makes our decision not to use it even more of a moral decision.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at November 9, 2007 9:50 PM
Comment #237987
Of course, it’s always possible that the subject doesn’t know what you think he does…however, it’s not torture itself that has failed as a technique…hence torture is not the problem.

Sorry LO

I took the liberty of putting three of your assertions together and in the same order without the fluff in between. And I can’t bring myself to agree with your logic.

Posted by: Cube at November 9, 2007 10:38 PM
Comment #237991

Cube, your abbreviated version doesn’t differ one bit from what I intended to say. Looks fine to me. Care to explain what part of that isn’t working for you?

I wasn’t talking about the morality of torture—because I think it’s immoral. Is that all you’re objecting to, because if so, we’re actually on the same page.

What I’m saying is that if you torture somebody for information they don’t have, you’ll never get that information.

It’s the same as if you tried to dig a well in a place where there’s no water. You could set up your equipment perfectly, execute the operation to perfection, but you’re simply not going to find water because there’s none there TO be found.

The reason for your failure wouldn’t be that digging wells is a futile and ineffective activity to begin with or that there was something wrong with your technique. To put it another way, the problem was with the WHERE, not with the how.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at November 9, 2007 11:36 PM
Comment #237996

It has become common practice among your fellow Republicans to justify the immorality for the sake of expedience, to justify it as a necessary evil because it is effective.

The moral objection is well-known, and doesn’t need to be belabored. The objection here is that in the real world it is impossible to absolutely know whether you’re pushing somebody into saying something that’s not true. With torture of any kind, whether you’ve got their guts on the floor or just water in their lungs, you’re going to get what you want to hear out of that person, Whether it’s true or not. If you get somebody to talk willingly, they will be more likely to correct you than somebody who you’ve made damn sure thinks you’re going to kill them or torture them if you contradict them.

The point is to stay out of your own way as much as possible, letting the real world, not the one in your head, shape as much of the information as possible. Torture requires a kind of omniscience to avoid error that nobody really has.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 10, 2007 1:15 AM
Comment #237997
The objection here is that in the real world it is impossible to absolutely know whether you’re pushing somebody into saying something that’s not true.

Just as it’s impossible to “absolutely know” that anything anybody tells you is true when they talk willingly. The human will is funny that way. That is, in the real world you talk so much about.

If that’s your standard—metaphysical certainty that you’re being told the truth— best not ask any questions of anybody ever. Could be that they’ll grin in your face and lie. And keep lying and lie even more the more you ask. After all, why shouldn’t they?

The thing about torture, as evil as the practice is, is that it deals in a very simple way and direct way with the practice of lying.

In all of your oversimplified scenarios, you persist in imagining a torturer who indiscriminately lays on pain before first trying all of the softer methods that you and I both would prefer. And you imagine that while he’s laying on pain, in his bloodlust he can’t tell lies from truth, has only one thing he wants to hear, and lacks the ability to refine his methods or test the information he receives. The insidious practice of torture is far more sophisticated than you seem to believe. The history of the Gestapo and KGB are prime examples.

I”ll spell it out for you:

An expert interrogator who employs torture will stop torturing when his victim gives him something that could be actionable information. The victim will be sent back to his cell. The information he gave will be acted on. Was he lying? Could be that he was. If the information proves false, he gets to meet the torturer again. Out comes the blowtorch. Perhaps he loses some fingers. Does he lie yet again? Maybe so. Rinse and repeat. Back to the cell. Act on the information he gave this time. More bad info? More fingers. That doesn’t seem to be doing the trick? Bring in his family. Perhaps torturing them before his eyes will make him sing a different song. If none of that works, running the whole gambit from gentle cajoling to the chamber of horrors, then you have somebody on your hands who doesn’t know anything or has secrets that NO methods will ever convince him to give up.

Torture works. Like a charm. And we don’t do it simply because it’s morally repugnant.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at November 10, 2007 2:02 AM
Comment #237998


In your defense of torture as a way to extract viable information from a captive, I made the mistake in believing that you were also supporting the use of torture. Hence when your final assertion is: “hence torture is not the problem.” I would strongly disagree, because I believe the torturing of a human being is a problem. Especially when our track record in intelligence, the intelligence we would use in choosing whom we would torture, has not been exemplary the past few years.

So I would disagree in that torture would not be a problem, especially when we can assume that if we ever rationalize the use of torture, that innocent people will eventually be subjected to it. Also the scenario most cited, has been the potential “ticking time bomb.” Where there is a very small amount of time to discover what a captive knows about an imminent threat. While slowly dismembering a captive may eventually force this person to tell all he/she knows, and many things he/she doesn’t know. The time factor allowed in this case wouldn’t allow the careful checking of facts a torturer would need.

Posted by: Cube at November 10, 2007 2:52 AM
Comment #238006

Here’s what you don’t get: the interrogator has to believe its actionable. And actionable still doesn’t mean correct.

Why can’t you take the word of somebody who actually taught about torture for a living? Right up there: Malcolm Nance. Taught it for twenty years.

Or how about Stuart Herrington?

I served 30 years in the U.S. Army as an intelligence officer, which included extensive experience as an interrogator in Vietnam, in Panama and during the 1991 Gulf War. In the course of these sensitive missions, my teams and I collected mountains of excellent, verified information, despite the fact that we never laid a hostile hand on a prisoner. Had one of my interrogators done so, he would have been disciplined and most likely relieved of his duties.

He goes on to say that in thirty years of service, he’s never been faced with a ticking time bomb scenario, that it’s a Hollywood invention for the most part. I wouldn’t doubt it. When I was taking my screenwriting class, it was called a time lock, an element to the story that generates suspense by raising the stakes and providing an inevitable progression in the plot. In the case of the ticking time-bomb scenario, the time lock is literal. But first, you have to know or find out that there’s a ticking time bomb!

Then you have to find out what the timer reads. To keep up the suspense, it would have to be something that your average bomb squad or military munitions engineer couldn’t crack.

The problem with torture is that if our bomber is sufficiently malicious, he can keep on stalling us and lying to us, even under torture. Or he can tell us how to defuse the bomb in such a way that we set it off. As Herrington points out:

Once this moral frontier is crossed, captives on the receiving end of such treatment respond to their survival instincts. Spurred by cunning and fueled by the hatred stoked by their tormentor’s brutality, they respond as our American aviators responded in the Hanoi Hilton, showing their contempt by lying, invention, stalling — anything to stop the abuse — or by accepting death before dishonor.

Torture can work. But not dependably. You will waste time chasing after the false leads that this person you’re torturing is glad to give you. The Jihadist might even exult at the sacrifices you take from them. These were people willing to risk torture and death in their own homelands to acheive their aims.

And that’s if you got the right person at all. Under a torturer’s ministrations, anybody can be made to confess, guilty or not. Every innocent person you torture not only constitutes a crime against humanity, but also an intelligence dead end that you will continue to follow until you realize the person doesn’t really know anything. Meanwhile, the bad intelligence makes your counterterrorism efforts more inefficient.

Knowledge feeds knowledge, and good information is much more likely to to better information. Herrington says you get to know your subject inside and out, and you treat them better than they expect to be treated. Don’t fulfill the stereotypes, undermine them. Undermine their sense of you as an opponent. Sure, they can lie to you, but even somebody being tortured can lie, and get away with it for a time. With time-sensitive events, they probably know that if they resist you long enough, you’re screwed.

Good information is what will save lives. Torture is not as reliable at getting good information . Given that and other moral issues with it, It’s use, or the use of “enhanced interrogation” (really torture techniques designed not to leave incriminating marks), are morally repugnant on any number of levels. It’s worse than a sin, it’s a mistake.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 10, 2007 10:25 AM
Comment #238026


If torture produced 100% reliable results would you it be ok to employe it?

Posted by: Rob at November 10, 2007 5:39 PM
Comment #238037
The folks who blew up the truckbomb in WTC back in 1993 ended up on the inside of a jail as well.

Well, some of them. Certainly not those who funded and helped organize the plan… Which is, I think, the real problem with touting WTC I as a success.

In fact, if it weren’t for dumb luck (and I really do mean DUMB) I doubt we would even have caught those involved.

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 10, 2007 10:13 PM
Comment #238038

Rob, Stephen’s been pretty clear that he doesn’t think it’s okay on moral grounds. And I agree.

The breakdown in logic (and Stephen is far from the only person who refuses to contemplate the issue beyond it’s moral dimension) comes in thinking of the issue as an either-or choice on the practical level.

It’s like saying that to be a good carpenter, you should decide whether to show up at the job with either your hammer or your saw because otherwise you might use the wrong tool in the wrong situation. Fact is that a good carpenter, like a good interrogator (and I use the word “good” not in the moral sense) is perfectly able to tell which technique or tool fits the job at hand.

Stephen points out (accurately) that torture is not always dependable. True, but neither is “undermining their sense of you as opponent” always dependable either. In some cases, one technique would work better. In another case, a different one would. A professional knows the difference. Some seem to believe, however, that an interrogator who had the option of using torture would ALWAYS do so whether it suited the situation or not.

It’s like saying that if a carpenter is given a hammer, he’ll try to use it to saw wood.

Even more illogical than that, it’s like saying that because he might be so foolish as to attempt sawing wood with a hammer, he shouldn’t be allowed to carry a hammer at all and should be required to drive nails with his saw.

Fact is that a professional of any kind is result-oriented and knows how to do his job. In the case of torture, on moral grounds we have to restrain the professionals from doing the best possible job that they otherwise might. We accept that the results won’t be optimal, but it would be foolish for us to pretend that the moral limitations we place on ourselves also yield the best practical results.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at November 10, 2007 10:15 PM
Comment #238039

If we have only olive leaves to give, there would be no way to use threats.
It is illogical to say that the fear of torture itself will cause someone to talk when you are touting a ban. Wouldn’t they know you are full of bull and therefore refuse to give information?

Posted by: Kruser at November 10, 2007 11:05 PM
Comment #238054

If torture produced 100% results, there’d be no need for our justice system. There’d be no question of its justice. Criminals could be made to confess, Terrorists to spill the beans on everything. So yes. If all that were true, I would be okay with it. But the world in which torture works reliably would be an unrecognizeable one for us, and there would be a lot of other things that are different.

We got just about the entire cell. As for dumb luck? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. The terrorists make mistakes and do stupid things, too. We give them too much credit when we ascribe superhuman perfection to their behavior, to their ability to resist regular interrogation.

This is a position based on the free-floating fear that if we play fair, we’ll lose.
Here are some of the positions I’ve heard:

1)If we don’t torture, they’ll simply stonewall us.

2)If we arrest them and try them in our courts according to our due process, they’ll get off on a technicality.

3)If we require warrants for surveillance of calls that involve Americans, it’ll deprive us of the ability to snoop on the terrorists.

And so on, and so forth. In practice, though, things haven’t turned out so scary. The underlying thought, though, is that our system isn’t authoritarian enough to protect us. But the irony is, authoritarian societies not only can’t protect everybody (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan prove that), but they also become a danger to the innocent, foreigner or citizen.

There is no perfect security in the real world, no perfect means of extracting information from suspects. It is the irrational fear that without extraordinary powers, we won’t be able to stop the next 9/11 in time that drives this push towards torture.

My argument would be that while speed and urgency are important, we need to have the patience to get things right, because bad information wastes time and resources. There is no perfect defense, so we might as well remain true to our principles. The added bonus here is that by keeping our integrity, we actually keep to a more dependable means of extracting intelligence.

Look, the practical dimension is part of my moral argument. It’s immoral, in my opinion, to use a less dependable means of extracting information in the place of a more dependable one, especially one that vindicates the worst slander from our opponents, and thus helps them recruit those who will kill more of our fellow citizens, and justify the hesitation of those who won’t cooperate in stopping them.

As part of a family that does a lot of DIY work, I’m familiar with basic carpentry. Different tools and materials perform differently. If you use nails on a fence not coated to prevent corrosion, your fence will fall apart, soon enough. If you use warped wood, it won’t get better as it dries. If you use a reciprocating saw rather than a circular on the wood, you’ll get a pretty ugly looking cut. Might be quicker, but speed is not the only virtue for building a fence or cutting the two-by-fours for a wall. If you don’t get things straight and true in the right places, they won’t be straight and true in the rest of the structure.

With torture, we take a shortcut in interrogation that is problematic on several levels. Many moral standards we hold to deal with underlying complexities in the situation, where what is right becomes a counterintuitive matter. It might seem right that it’s simply a matter of forcing the bad guys to tell us what we want to know to save lives, but neurological and psychological realities cloud the issue. Empirical evidence shows that despite the impression that it’s too slow, too “gloves-on” actually out-performs the other paradigm of interrogation. You talk about having all the tools we need available to us, but that’s just confusing open-mindedness on the matter with being uncritical. If we consider the real evidence on the matter, rather than simply recapitulating the question over and over again in the face of the matter, traditional interrogation methods are simply better at extracting reliable information. If a tool does a better job at something, you should prefer that tool above the others. There’s no point in making things more difficult for ourselves.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 11, 2007 10:55 AM
Comment #238077
We got just about the entire cell.

Just about, but not all. AND we didn’t get who financed and controlled the cell. This has been my compaint with trying to deal with terrorists in the past, we get member of a cell without doing what we needed to do to stop the larger organization from being stopped or activating another cell.

As for dumb luck? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

I don’t. But I also know that we were not doing what we needed to combat terrorism at the time. If the one member of the cell hadn’t tried to get the deposit on the truck used in the bombing, we may never have caught a single one of them. Yay that he was stupid and we caught him, but our METHODS of combating terrorism were ineffectual and by not understanding that while trying to claim success we further our failures.

The terrorists make mistakes and do stupid things, too.

I agree. But I don’t want to base our anti-terrorist policies on the terrorists being stupid. Note: I am not condoning torture, but I am most definately not supporting bad policy concerning terrorism either.

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 11, 2007 4:09 PM
Comment #238099

May never have caught them? The thing is, we had a VIN number on it. There were likely clues we could have used.

The thing is, though, regular policework can work. No terrorist is perfect, and even the smart terrorist can be stopped if we handle critical control points correctly.

Our problem on 9/11 wasn’t that we couldn’t stop them, it’s that we weren’t organized right to do it. We still aren’t. Unfortunately, a fearful few have set the focus on what can be done to terrorists we already know (or think we know) are terrorists. They claim that if they don’t have the power to run roughshod over any obstacle that would prevent them from seeing and doing whatever they want, the terrorists would get away.

In reality, a good investigation takes patience, creativity, and an openness to what the evidence tells you, as opposed to what you tell yourself.

What was ineffectual about our system was mostly communication. Information was not flowing around well enough. Many pieces of the puzzle were out there, and even without knowing the whole plot, just knowing some things about what was going on would have helped.

If we simply tack on additional powers without doing the critical thinking to figure out how well the techniques and practices work we could simply end up piling dangerous on top of ineffectual on top of badly organized.

We need to be smarter about this. The terrorists will not be merciful in their efforts, we cannot be foolish in ours, for they will take advantage of opportunities if we leave them open.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 11, 2007 10:22 PM
Comment #238108

Are combatants allowed access to our courts? there is a difference between peaceful, civic courts and those who make war on the US.

According to the Ex parte Quirin a supreme court finding during WW2, the commander in chief has a legal right to hold them for tribunals instead.

“By universal agreement and practice, the law of war draws a distinction between the armed forces and the peaceful populations of belligerent nations and also between [*31] those who are lawful and unlawful combatants. Lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by opposing military forces. Unlawful combatants are likewise subject to capture and detention, but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful. The spy who secretly and without uniform passes the military lines of a belligerent in time of war, seeking to gather military information and communicate it to the enemy, or an enemy combatant who without uniform comes secretly through the lines for the purpose of waging war by destruction of life or property, are familiar examples of belligerents who are generally deemed not to be entitled to the status of prisoners of war, but to be offenders against the law of war subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals.

Accordingly, we conclude that Charge I, on which petitioners were detained for trial by the Military Commission, alleged an offense which the President is authorized to order tried by military commission; that his Order convening the Commission was a lawful order and that the Commission was lawfully constituted; that the petitioners were held in lawful custody and did not show cause for their discharge. It follows that the orders of the District Court should be affirmed, and that leave to file petitions for habeas corpus in this Court should be denied.”

I might add that the recent finding on Club Gitmo had to do with determining the soil. Since the prisoners there hadn’t invaded the US under guise and were not in a foriegn country. We should have held them for trial on their own soil either by our military tribunal or their own government if one existed. They thought Cuba would be “foriegn” enough to have the tribunals there. The court determined that since we had a treaty for the land that it had to be included as soverign territory of the US so the use of our courts applied to them.

You really need to seperate civil courts and laws from combatants.

This doesn’t exempt our military form discretionary practice though. It is simply a completely different atmosphere.

Posted by: Kruser at November 11, 2007 11:54 PM
Comment #238136

The American Bar Association’s opinion on the matter is that the Geneva convention says that even unlawful combatants must be afforded the same rights as any accused citizen. Ex Parte Quirin said that the tribunals in question were legal, but that was before we signed and ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention supercedes Ex Parte Quirin.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 12, 2007 10:12 AM
Comment #238197

That is only partially true though.
Bush calling American citizens unlawfull combatants may be debatable.
The convention did give criteria to determine the difference between the two.
Aliens do not have access to our courts from outside the US either by law.
The real issue that is before us isn’t the treatment of prisoners. It is if these guys should be allowed back out in the population. Theirs isnt a loyalty that will simply be bitterness in a peaceful land when they go back as is demanded of all Geneva Convention POW’s. They have an ideology that will cause them to return and murder or suicide bomb innocent people. This is main reason for designating them as enemy combatants. We need the ability to detain them for a long time to protect the civil population. If you don’t believe in the death penalty by tribunal then this is our only alternative.

Posted by: Kruser at November 12, 2007 10:53 PM
Comment #238218

Follow the link, and you’ll get this paragraph:

The Quirin case, however, does not stand for the proposition that detainees may be held incommunicado and denied access to counsel; the defendants in Quirin were able to seek review and they were represented by counsel. In Quirin, “The question for decision is whether the detention of petitioners for trial by Military Commission … is in conformity with the laws and Constitution of the United States.” Quirin, 317 U.S. at 18. Since the Supreme Court has decided that even enemy aliens not lawfully within the United States are entitled to review under the circumstances of Quirin, that right could hardly be denied to U.S. citizens and other persons lawfully present in the United States, especially when held without any charges at all.[9]

Remember, this is our national organization of legal experts.

As with torture, the motivation for this seems to be a free floating anxiety about the terrorists, and about preventing attacks. We have to face that no defence will be absolute, and that there is a cost for committing acts like holding people incommunicado and torturing them. One cost is that we lose the moral authority to criticize those who use such means for their own ends.

Yes, we might let a terrorist go, and we may regret that. But should we not regret the innocent people who will be denied their ability to establish that they’re not terrorists?

As for what you said about their ideology? Well, if they actually are terrorists, and we can prove this, we can dump them in a prison for the rest of their lives, or even execute them. The Fourth Geneva Convention, though, requires that they not be held incommunicado or denied counsel.

But if we can’t prove they’re terrorists, then we could be wrong about them, and we could be doing ourselves little to no good keeping them there forever.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 13, 2007 9:29 AM
Comment #238285

I have a few conclusions:
You are right, torture is wrong.
The issue however is being misapplied. George Bush and company are all decent humans like ourselves. They are not tyrants. It isn’t possible since we have term limits and they will all be out in a year or so and a democrat could be using the same laws. The premise that they are interested in violating peoples rights is a false one. The motive is pure and as far as the details that we hash out, their staffs and legal council have analyzed them further than we possibly could and have come up with the best solutions according to the law and circumstances as any concerned citizen would.
The issue of torture and detention is simply a way to incite “believers” against the “enemy” using a broad subject.
I have studied this principle out and been a victim of it myself; the similarities between so called religions, philosophies, ideals and politics. They all follow the same patterns. (This reasoning can be found in the federalist papers)

Here is a pattern of reasoning;
torture is wrong unless there are extreem circumstances.
Abortion is wrong unless there are extreem circumstances.
torture is up to professional discretion
abortion is up to professional discretion.
Torture is morally wrong regardless
abortion is morally wrong reguardless.

They abuse conformation hearings this way; only insert abortion for supreme court nominees.
It is all inappropriate due to the wide range of opinions and study required. No answer could be completely accurate.

The blogs on the specifics of these subjects are enlightening though.

Posted by: Kruser at November 13, 2007 11:02 PM
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