Democrats & Liberals Archives

Newtonian Reformats

What is a newtonian reformat? Drop a hard drive, and you’ll find out. Hard drives, when you break them, become that much less useful for getting information off of them. Sometimes that’s a good thing.

But not when you’re interrogating a suspect. You don’t want to give them a newtonian reformat.

I actually came across this in Scientific American first.

What’s more, prolonged extreme stress impairs memory retrieval. American Special Ops soldiers have been shown to have trouble recalling things they’d learned before being subjected to food- or sleep-deprivation as part of their training. That’s because stress hormones can compromise brain activity, especially in regions involved in memory.

O’Mara notes that mildly stressful events actually facilitate recall. So simply capturing, moving and then questioning prisoners, he says, should be stressful enough to get the information flowing.




But what? First, as nice, comfortable civilians, we underestimate the stress levels one encounters in being captured, moved, and then questioned. Think back to the last time you had an awkward or unpleasant meeting with your boss. Now think back, if you can, to a test you might have taken after or during a stressful event in your life. It's common knowledge that being stressed out isn't good for most people's recall or ability to peform.

Unfortunately, we're not thinking of "enhanced" interrogation, or torture, as we called it when we found the Nazis doing it, in terms of real life. We're thinking of it in terms of the movies, where a screenwriter is sitting behind a desk trying to figure out how to get a critical piece of information out of an unwilling interrogation suspect.

I do some screenwriting on the side, so I know how difficult it is to write a decent exchange. All too often, the dynamics of an interrogation in fiction are highly simplified, highly stylized, and sometimes just plain lazily constructed. Just think about it: five minute scene, versus a two or three hour round of questioning. Of course it's easier to just have somebody haul off and beat somebody up. And of course, it's something for tough anti-heroes to do to show how dark-side they are, how expediently they operate compared to those bureaucratic slowpokes at HQ. And of course, people become used to that out of cops in movies, so the anti-heroes gradually become the heroes, and nobody gives it much of a second thought in our culture.

But movies can play by their own rules, and whatever theory the author can make plausible within the four borders of the screen goes. Folks in reality have to deal with reality.

Which, if we go with the scientific evidence, tells us torture doesn't work. In fact, it amounts to an impediment to the very things we actually need: clear recall of information. But somebody could have told you that a long time ago. In Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are, author Joseph Ledoux explores the role that neurochemicals play in neural activity. Among the subjects he treated upon: the neurological basis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

High enough stress for long enough times can rewired folk's heads so they find it hard to leave their bad memories or feelings behind. Intense memories and intense fears become ingrained in people, and folks suffer from a perpetual feedback loop of imagery and anxieties. It is all in their heads, but post traumatic stress disorder is a real thing, neurologically speaking, not merely some condition people can just snap out of if you slap them enough.

It's also terrible for the memory. investigators looking into the recall of those with PTSD found them to be worse than average in recall of events. In fact, many of their flashbacks, contrary to Hollywood myth, never happened. Their brains just seemed to reinforce certain kinds of images associated with certain kinds of fears.

Torture, and other practices that increase suggestivity have a long history of promoting something else: false confessions and reports. Hypnosis is no longer admitted in most courts I know of as testimony, because small hints or leading questions can easily result in people recalling things, like satanic baby-killing cults or UFO abductions, that don't exist. Even small kids grilled for long enough can be made to tell investigators what they want to hear. Truth Serum may loosen lips, but like other treatments of its kind, it's ability to make people suggestible undermines its ability to turn that talking to useful purposes.

I know I started out comparing humans to hard drives, so forgive me for saying this: humans are not computers, not at least in the sense of your average hard-drive bearing PC or Mac. You are not being communicated an absolute copy of what a person knows when they are talking. You're being given a subjective reconstruction.

And that reconstruction can be disrupted even under ideal circumstances. When people were shown a doctored video of an incident, about half ended up trusting that video more than their own recollection.

Memory is imperfect at best, and the evidence I've shown you indicates it only gets more imperfect when people are put under extreme stress. Even if you accept the rationalization that enhanced interrogations are not torture, given this evidence, we should still conclude that it works against our interests to interrogate people this way, and for more reasons than the dubious reputation of these techniques.

The wrong information is a waste of our time, a waste of our money, a waste of our manpower, and a waste of our commitment to protect this country. Techninques that minimize wrong or misleading information should logically be our first choice.

So why does it seem that torture is the first choice of many? Well, as I say, a lot of folks get their idea of what works from a kind of popular mythology, both fictional and non-fictional. They look to a past that they see as more rough and ready, less concerned with the niceties of political correctness, multiculturalism, and other liberal ideas. It plays towards a desire to regain control over a society that was seen in recent times as spinning rapidly out of control. Torture offers control. The life, the wellbeing, the peace of mind of the suspect in your hands. A wonderful thing to consider when somebody's trying to drop buildings on our heads, that you could gain control of them, just as they've gotten control of you.

Republicans are so quick to rationalize it because that popular image of torture being a form of pulling out all the stops on a suspect plays into a narrative where those who oppose the policy are weak-willed or worse.

But the reality? To go back to a computer metaphor, let's say that a hacker has been working off this ancient machine, and he's pulled a real nasty hack on everybody, and it's going to crash some important computers, and cost billions, or kill many people. Somebody gets frustrated with the slow progress of the good guys hacking through the computer, and at one point when it malfunctions they kick it, and keep on kicking it.

A Newtonian Reformat. Now it would have been much more useful to get the real information, rather than the garbled junk you might get out now. The desperation and the honest frustrated desire of that guy to get that computer to work matters not at all. His technique for extracting data, to say the least, is fatally flawed. He hasn't helped, even if he doesn't destroy it entirely. Lord knows what the guy might have messed up by doing what he did. Will some file be corrupted because the hard drive didn't read it right? Will it introduce a mechanical error that might not have otherwise occured?

You can sympathize with the guy who kicked the computer. But it doesn't make what he did helpful to those trying to unlock the myster of what that cyberterrorist was doing.

This is the separation we must make, between the intentions behind what we do, and the consequences of what we do. While it may be politically advantageous for some to insist on doing things the wrong way, to insist that there's no other way that things can work, we have to face reality and face the facts, and use them to determine what kind of approach we take. Whether we take an seat of our pants approach or a deliberative approach to how we investigate terrorism and other hazards out there in the world, we ought to start from the facts, and from the assumption that we can learn better by asking questions than taking our frustrations out on those we need answers from. We don't have to be nice, we don't have to be perpetually honest with them.

We do have to respect the fragility of the vessels of the information we seek, and the importance of getting it out intact.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at September 22, 2009 6:05 PM
Comment #288422
First, as nice, comfortable civilians, we underestimate the stress levels one encounters in being captured, moved, and then questioned.

There are a whole lot of things civilians don’t know, including the civilians you cite as sources. The good news is that those with civilian levels of knowledge aren’t the ones who carry out either interrogations or enhanced interrogrations, and those who do are very high level professionals who use a number of approaches in tandem, over a period of time, and then cross-check and corroborate results against a subject’s previous testimony, gathered over mulitiple sessions using different techniques, known facts, and the testimony of others.

You make it sound like all interrogators do or know how to do is break people down completely and then believe the first things they hear. It’s way, way more complex than that, and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” is not only extremely rare but used only under very narrow sets of circumstances as part of a broader interrogation strategy. Your argument is like saying that the only thing a sculptor knows how to use is a jackhammer.

I know several guys who have been through the SERE program (Survial, Evasion, Resistance and Escape), and absolutely everybody already knows that captives under severe stress are likely to say most anything, that they hallucinate, lose their bearings, become delusional. Special forces and interrogators both train in this program, and it’s no secret how the mind and body work under stress. You make it sound like this is some huge earthshaking relevation stumbled upon by yourself and civilian neuroscientists in their laboratories. It’s not. It’s freshman level stuff.

Posted by: Paul at September 22, 2009 8:27 PM
Comment #288423

I threw my computer out a fourth story window into a swimming pool.

It didn’t work any better afterward, but I did mount a Mission Accomplished sign behind my desk and smoke a nice cigar and sip some 12 year old scotch. :)

Posted by: gergle at September 22, 2009 8:56 PM
Comment #288425

All the things you constantly bring up happened five years ago and were sanctioned for only the worst of the suspects.

None of us knows how much or if the interrogations saved American lives. You are on record (correct me if I recall incorrectly) saying that it doesn’t matter whether it worked. You would still be against the harsh techniques. That is a moral issue and we need not argue it.

This is all that counts today. We have not done the things you dislike for five or more years. You say that it hurts our reputation that we have done it. So why do you keep on reminding people?

As anybody who has maintained a long time relationship knows, you don’t keep on bringing up old issues. It just poisons relationships. In private life, they have a term for people who believe in the catharsis of keeping wounds open. They call those people divorced and lonely.

Presumably, the wonderful Obama administration will never condone any such interrogations and you keep telling us Republicans are self-destructing and won’t be back any time soon, so why bring up history which demoralizes the people who keep us safe and provides a way for our enemies to keep old wounds open?

Hatred is a silly emotion. It is finished. Move on.

Posted by: Christine at September 22, 2009 10:04 PM
Comment #288426

Good work, gergle. If we don’t throw our broken computers out the window, then the terrrorists will have won.

Stephen’s post demonstrates many of the sterotypes and cliches held by those who don’t know the first thing about how these interrogators actually operate, and his references to bad screenplays in which individuals are trying to show how bad-ass they are and lay down as much pain as possible shows where it’s coming from.

So why does it seem that torture is the first choice of many?

To whom is it the first choice? It’s not even the second, third, fourth, or fifth choice, and even if you want to call enhanced interrogation torture, it’s not the interrogator’s call and has to be approved way up the chain of command and is reviewed by gaggles of lawyers. The multiple investigations into enhanced interrogation techniques revealed that only 30 people had ever been subjected to it. On the low end, an “enhanced technique” can be as minor as grabbing somebody’s shirt and giving them a shake, and only three people are reported to have been “waterboarded.” We also know that actionable intelligence was gathered from some of these cases and that terrorist plots were disrupted as a result.

And the psychoanalyzing of interrogators is downright silly, considering that they can’t even make that decision independently.

It plays towards a desire to regain control over a society that was seen in recent times as spinning rapidly out of control. Torture offers control. The life, the wellbeing, the peace of mind of the suspect in your hands. A wonderful thing to consider when somebody’s trying to drop buildings on our heads, that you could gain control of them, just as they’ve gotten control of you.

Such an understanding of how interrogation works seems to come from some very bad straight-to-DVD B gangster movie. This idea that professional interrogators don’t know how to apply all of the tools of their craft to maximum effect, as each uniqe situation dictates, and are nothing but a bunch of bloodthirsty sadists living out their pychotic revenge fantasies is nonsense.

Posted by: Paul at September 22, 2009 10:12 PM
Comment #288427

That might do it. From certain heights, it’s not much less jarring to hit water than it is to hit solid ground. It’s not the fall that hurts, its the sudden stop.

Funny thing about that. This is not my first blog entry on the subject. The title of the blog entry basically details why one such interrogator does not use such techniques: “Produces Unreliable Information.”

You take the approach of telling me that this is one tool among an artist’s greater repertoire. I’d say that for most interrogators, they’re no part of it. And that’s not an earthshaking discovery. Sorry if you get that impression. What I wanted to convey, though, to the people in your party (or among your ideological cohorts if you don’t belong to one) is that this is an empirically discredited practice, and that they should stop advocating for it for that reason.

But far too many of your people make it into a big old macho thing about being strong enough to defend the Republican, or something like that.

The reality, though, is that this is a situation where one’s strength of purpose is besides the point. Well intentioned sometimes means enthusiastically wrong.

What exactly is this hidden information you refer to what we don’t know? I’ve read about how folks lie, and how interrogators cross check their information, and come into the interrogation well-informed to start with, so they can quickly catch lies, and convince their guests that they’re going nowhere if they don’t tell the truth.

I don’t know all the tricks of the trade. I don’t share the anecdotal evidence that some use to support torture. But I doubt the civilian in question is so misinformed as you imply.

The military is not immune from the mistakes of reasoning that afflect us all. We can believe things on erroneous grounds and specious logic.

It’s funny that you mention SERE training. SERE training was a response to a need, one that developed in the face of ruthless interrogation methods. We reverse engineered the Nazi’s, Soviet’s, and Red Chinese’s torture methods. To prevent people from spilling information? No, to prepare them for the fact that these techniques would break just about anybody, get them to say just about anything, etc.

Which is what these techniques and programs (those of our enemies, I mean) were designed for. These techniques were designed to take fierce dissidents, rebels, and enemies both foreign and domestic, and teach them that lesson that the Cambodian man quoted in my earlier piece learned: that to go through the low door, you must learn to bow.

In other words, break so you can make the pain and suffering they’re inflicting on you stop. These techniques are not about leaving somebody capable of thinking clearly or remembering things from their past. They’re about rewriting the person’s personality, destroying their former selves.

Unfortunately for advocates of these techniques, even in moderation, they’re aimed at that specific effect: destroying through stress and suffering the person capable of resistance.

The trouble is, if we are an interrogator, according to this evidence, we need a person as close to themselves as we can get them. The more traumatized and distressed a person gets, the more compromised the person is as a source of information.

Or to put it another way, you have to break down the strength of a person’s beliefs to get them to talke that way. But the strength of a person’s beliefs is part of what leads them to deny a lie, and tell the truth. It’s part of what leads them to be sure one thing is true, and another is not. It’s part of what allows them to remain in the kind of stable state of mind that would allow them to remember things properly.

There’s a reason we could get Nazi Generals to talk over games of chess, and things like that. Folks like to relate to other people. If they are vain or proud, they want to boast. If they are questioning their loyalties, they might feel compelled to betray those loyalties, if somebody plays to that sensibility. If they are greedy, they might sell folks out, if the offer is made.

The point is, for one reason or another, they must want to tell you the truth, because then they’ll be focused on getting it right.

You want that person to be as much of a check on bad information as possible, rather than a source of uncertainty for that information.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 22, 2009 10:22 PM
Comment #288431

Stephen, my point is that anybody who knows how to do their job already knows everything you’re saying and takes it into account, which is a big reason why use of enhanced interrogation is exceedingly rare. A craftsman of any kind knows the resiliency of his materials and doesn’t push them beyond the point where they’re capable of delivering the results he’s looking for. The guy you mention who doesn’t use enhanced techniques because he thinks they result in bad information is probably telling the truth. All techniques can result in bad information, and the “enhanced techniques” must not be his specialty. It’s like being a doctor—many doctors use very different techniques to reach the same ends, depending on their skill sets and training.

The more traumatized and distressed a person gets, the more compromised the person is as a source of information.

Exactly right. And that’s common sense to any interrogator. If you hire somebody to remodel your house, you don’t have to explain to him the disadvantages of using dynamite to remove the drywall. If you go to the dentist for a filling, you don’t have to tell him that the first step isn’t yanking out all of your teeth with a pair of pliers. Most professionals know their trade very well and don’t need to be told that the most extreme measures shouldn’t be used as first resort.

I realize that there are very important moral dimensions here to be considered as well, and I don’t want to discount them (but to be fair, you’ve been talking about effectiveness here, not morality).

But as long as we’re talking about practicality and effectiveness, these worries about extracting “bad information” are poorly founded.

Consider how something like waterboarding would actually be put into practice by an interrogator who knows his trade.

They’re not going to haul some random guy picked up on the battlefield, strap him in, and start yelling at him to tell them everything he knows while they pour water into his nostrils. Such techniques are simply no good for fishing expiditions. The subject would only be somebody who was strongly believed, based upon a prepoderance of evidence, to be in possession of important information that he was refusing to give up after very lengthy application of conventional interrogations. If he gave up anything after being waterboarded, that information will then be thoroughly investigated and either verified or ignored. Just as anything given up using up conventional means would have to be verified or ignored. There’s no one path to gathering rock solid intelligence.

Intelligence is not assumed to be more “valid” and thus believable because it was extracted through waterboarding. It could very well be junk, just as information derived from conventional techniques could be junk. Interrogators know this, which is why they try a wide variety of things depending on their subject, and don’t go to more extreme measures until everything else has failed.

Believe me, if an interrogator thinks that he can get what he’s looking for by giving a guy a pepperoni pizza, a warm bath, and a stack of porno magazines, then that’s what will happen. These guys are very highly trained professionals who know a great deal about psychology, and not the sociopaths and sadists you seem to have them pegged for.

Posted by: Paul at September 22, 2009 11:15 PM
Comment #288432


The only problem I had with your comments was the use of “military experts” vs. civilian experts. Many of the civilian experts are ex-military or civilian consultants to the military. As I recall the discussion of the situation Stephen refers to, many actual ex-military interrogation experts pointed out that the water boarding and other torture techniques used were an indication of non productive and non-professional methods being used.

The infamous use of the TV show 24’s ticking time bomb by Cheney and others defending torture didn’t make it look any more professional.

Posted by: gergle at September 22, 2009 11:41 PM
Comment #288434


All the things you constantly bring up happened five years ago and were sanctioned for only the worst of the suspects.

You’ve got to keep in mind the lengths to which Bush Administration folks went trying to make these kinds of techniques legal under a unitary executive doctrine. You also have to look around and see just how many Republicans are willing to defend these actions using arguments not unlike yours.

I remember them saying that Waterboarding was only done three times.

Now we know that suspects were subjected to it many times more than that.

We have documentary evidence linking misbehavior in Gitmo Prison to the Debacle that overtook us in Abu Ghraib.

I don’t like beating a dead horse too much, but I don’t trust the Republicans to leave torture, or “enhanced interrogation” in the graveyard of lousy ideas. Not the way they rationalized and apologized for it.

What would happen if another terrorist attack occured? I bet you would be advocating that we do everything we have to, to use that euphemism.

So, I feel I have to provide good cause why even in an emergency, these measures are not only extraordinary, but wrong as well.

Time and rarity, though, do not impress me as reasons not to oppose something, though. If it’s both morally and practically wrong, it’s bad whether it’s five years unused with one guy, or done just yesterday on a hundred detainees.

And would it have not been still common in the prisons we run, had Abu Ghraib not blown the top off of those interrogation methods? This was not something the Administration backed off of willingly.

I don’t trust the Republicans to back off of this lightly, so I’m giving them a fundamental reason to leave off of it: it doesn’t work as advertised. It’s empirically proven to make the situation worse for what we’re trying to do, what we must do in the face of such threats.

As anybody who has maintained a long time relationship knows, you don’t keep on bringing up old issues. It just poisons relationships. In private life, they have a term for people who believe in the catharsis of keeping wounds open. They call those people divorced and lonely.

Sorry, but I never felt that close to folks on the Right. Nor do I think the Republicans are exactly running on all cylinders themselves when it comes to a healthy relationship with the opposition. If I seem more strident and insistent on things nowadays, it’s mainly because Republican recalcitrance gives me one of two choices: call out the lies, deceptions, myths and canards, or sit passively there as they flood in.

That’s not my idea of an acceptable situation.

The Republicans are self-destructing, but in my opinion, they’re dealing a lot of collateral damage in the process. I’d have long ago left them to their own devices if I didn’t think their political machinations weren’t creating bad results at one of the worst times possible for it.

It’s not hatred that drives me. It’s the fear that unchecked, the Republicans aren’t going to allow this country to recover from their bad judgment, that we will be forced, for years we cannot afford to waste, to deal with their status quo.

Quit using the craftsman metaphor. You don’t build rapport with a person by forcing them into a stress position for hours, or putting them naked in a cold cell.

“enhanced techniques” is a euphemism, created just so people advocating it could promote it as a better way to interrogate our detainees. The reality is, these are techniques used to coerce cooperation through pain and suffering that the interrogator can end if the person stops resisting their authority.

All techniques have their weaknesses. “enhanced techniques” have the problem that they do not inherently carry with them a way of testing whether the information you’re getting is a product of the technique, or the actual truth.

Or put another way: a tortured person may admit to anything, agree with anything, and there is no clear bright line, even for a professional torturer, for where that is. The person is literally not in their right mind to be answering your questions truthfully and dependably. They will take cues from leading questions you might not realize you’re providing, they might just talk to suit the perceived preconceptions of their interrogator.

Also, there’s the tough nut problem. Say you get the wrong guy, but you believe they are what you think they are. You keep on putting this person through an ordeal, trying to get them to crack. You’re sure he’s lying, so you you keep on at him until he admits it, which he will because you’re interrogating him like this.

The problem is, people put trust in information like that, and naturally distrust information that exonerates the person. Thus did a lowly, crazy driver get turned into a major al-Qaeda figure who we waterboarded over and over and over again. We went to shopping malls and stadiums, trying to run down the threats.

Nothing. Then somebody comes along and talks Qu’ran with this guy. What does that get us? Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

The low quality of intelligence from torture methods is well known. Unfortunately, folks keep digging in that manure pile, assuming there must be a pony in there somewhere. Why? Because torture is tough and it breaks the rules to save the country. Something, it seems, the Republicans glorify a lot these days.

On the subject of screenplays, I was commenting on the inaccuracy of such movies and TV shows, saying that it was basically expedient, sometimes lazy storytelling. Crush the guy’s nuts, get the lead on the Heroin shipment. Shock the guy with a car battery, get information on your kidnapped daughter. stomp on the bullet wound from the .44 Magnum you just shot him with, and you’ll get information on the girl he’s kidnapped.

I’ve read up on the real thing. I’ve read up on the policies that the Bush Administration used, and on how this stuff actually came down in practice.

What I’ve read indicates that far from being psychopaths, most people find it hard to sit through this so-called “enhanced interrogation.” But when they do get used to it, it’s documented that people can get roped into sadistic behavior, simply by the way lines of authority and rules on what can be done are enforced. When somebody from on high says this is what’s got to be done, when you are trained to “soften up” folks for the other interrogators who show up, you get situations where the lines blur awful fast.

Moral black holes, you must understand, often become black holes for morale. Nothing strips people quicker of a sense of righteousness than crap like this. Nothing undermines the sense that we are better than the enemy than seeing our people do things like that.

My psychoanalysis is mostly about those at home, who, their hands clean of actually having to do it, can cheerfully advocate for these methods, calling those who don’t believe in them cowards and weaklings.

And what’s more, its a point of view I can understand. But it’s a point of view that I temper with a blunt understanding of the realities: that it doesn’t get more and better information. That it injects deep uncertainties into the interrogation. That it serves to support enemy propaganda and undermine our sense of moral exceptionalism, and that of other countries.

This isn’t about psychotic revenge fantasies, but rather, about irrational, but entirely typical, sane impulses, to hurt those who hurt us, and the price of that indulgence, in our moral standing, our sense of purpose and righteousness, and finally to our ability to gather quality intelligence to defeat our enemies with.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 23, 2009 12:21 AM
Comment #288437

I have a very close family member who actually performed interrogations for the army in Vietnam and then for an intelligence agency for the next 20 years after that. First, he says the ticking time bomb thing never happens. This did not happen in this bogus war on terror, folks that say it has are lying. It is a bogus scenario that only happens in the movies. There is very valuable intelligence that is gathered from prisoner interrogation but this whole “ticking time bomb” thing is garbage.

Second, there is absolutely no evidence that any “enhanced interrogation” has yielded any useful information. Dick Cheney has made this claim but has no evidence to back up his claims. There is evidence to the contrary.

Third, it is illegal. We used to be a nation of laws, these laws should have applied no matter what the circumstance. Christine mentioned that torture was used only for the worst “suspects.” First, you rightly called them “suspects” not convicted, not guilty, but “suspects” - torturing and in some cases killing a suspect who, while you may have strong suspicions even evidence, have not been proven to have done anything. Which means just as in the application of the death penalty, means we have tortured innocent people just as this country has executed innocent people. Torture us a line that should never be crossed and certainly no official government policy should ever be adopted that sanctions illegal activity. It makes this country less than it should be, makes us less free, makes the liberty our ancestors fought and died for a joke. It means we stand for nothing.

Posted by: tcsned at September 23, 2009 7:33 AM
Comment #288438

I think tcsned brings up a good point: these people are suspects.

So much of the justification for using these methods rests on the notion that doing harm to terrorists is not a bad thing, and therefore we should not shed a tear for those folks who suffer in these interrogations.

Except, as many studies of who we shoved into Gitmo shows, many of these people were not Terrorists or Taliban.

It’s an authoritarian viewpoint to assume that we have the right people when we capture terror suspects, a view that trusts that the government doesn’t make mistakes.

Some Republicans take Liberal to mean a person believes that authoritarian viewpoint. I don’t. With that possibility of error comes the significant risk that when we interrogate somebody with enhanced methods, we not only risk harming innocent people through the torture of our suspect, we risk harming innocent people through the false information that inevitably comes out of an innocent person we interrogate.

We don’t just adhere to civil liberties because they are nice, but because our government is fallible, and those freedoms provide ourselves with checks on the government when it runs amok. That check also serves to force our law enforcement officials to run less on what they think might be true, and more on what can be proven true. We don’t insist on these things to weaken our government or weaken our defense. We insist on it to keep our government focused on serving the better interests of the public, rather than exercising their power simply for their arbitrary sense of what kind of order should exist in the country.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 23, 2009 10:11 AM
Comment #288439

exactly Stephen - I don’t think anyone here cares about coddling a criminal or someone who is guilty of some really bad stuff. It’s just about making sure you have someone you know for sure is guilty. How do you do that? Fair trials, plain and simple. Until someone is found guilty, you have to treat them as innocent. When we quit doing that we quit being a nation of laws and certainly forfeit any moral authority we have internally and externally. It pretty much says “this is anarchy, we’ll make the rules as we go along.”

I get pretty sick and tired of those on the right saying that we are weak or whatever other name they want to call us for believing that torturing someone is wrong. I believe that if the government doesn’t follow the law how can they expect it of anyone else? I believe it is far more courageous to actually live the values that this country was founded on even if we have to suffer a thousand 9-11’s. It is far more in keeping with the founders who said on December 15, 1791 “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” This combined with all of the legally binding treaties we have signed that all together tell us that TORTURE IS ILLEGAL! How much more plain can it be?

Posted by: tcsned at September 23, 2009 2:59 PM
Comment #288441

Tcsned, I can at least partially agree with you. Nobody should say that anyone is “weak” or call them names for thinking torture is wrong. There has not been much of a reasonable public debate about this issue.

Part of the blame, however, has to go to those who engage in histrionics and seem unable to face the issue squarely in all of its legal and moral complexity. There’s a lot of overheated rhetoric about “torture” being tossed around which seems to mean whatever somebody wants it to mean. If you want a legal definition of it—well, there is one, and torture is outlawed.

But the full rights granted to US citizens have never once been interpreted to apply to non-citizens captured on foreign battlefields. They still have rights, many of which we grant under a separate system of military justice, and many which we grant as a signatory to international treaties like the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions outlaw torture. But they also allow for enemy combatants engaged in deliberate actions against civilians (like the Taliban and Al Qaida do every day) to be shot when they’re captured after a brief military hearing, which is something we do not engage in.

You say that it would be better to suffer a thousand 9-11s than use enhanced interrogation techniques according to the strict regulations in place, and under which they are very rarely administered.

I can promise you, however, that if three million Americans die in terrorist attacks on our soil, the public will not see things like you do, and we’d be living in a state of emergency under which the entire Bill of Rights would be suspended. We’d see a lot worse than a handful of people getting water poured into their nostrils.

Nobody wants that, which is exactly why we have to take common sense steps within the rule of law to prevent things from ever getting to that stage.

Posted by: Paul at September 23, 2009 3:36 PM
Comment #288442

If you look in the historical record, you will find the Nazi’s Using many of the exact techniques we employed. Their defense? Shot down by the courts that tried them for War Crimes. We executed Nazis as war criminals over this.

You say that if we don’t allow torture, and something happens, worse breaches of civil liberties will happen.


But here’s what I think: some politicians and pundits are selling crazy and selling stupid to folks in order to raise their profile on matters, make themselves seem tougher, their opponents seem like craven weaklings, cowards and quislings.

If we become predisposed to such an outrage, it will be their relentless insistence that the answer to such problems are these extralegal, non-rule of law approaches, and their repeated insistence on means of interrogation and police action that are reminiscent of police states that will set the stage for that.

If folks like you insist again and again that such extremism is the only logical path when extreme events happen, you make it easier for people to consider abandonment of our principles of sound, freedom-preserving government when disaster strikes, as it’s bound to, sooner or later.

I want us to do what we’ve done many times before. Use disciplined, lawful procedures that preserve the rule of law, and keep the threat of a runaway government in check while they face the threats of terrorism and foreign military opposition.

That helps preserve our liberties, helps keep America’s ideals a practiced set of principles, not merely a nominal set of virtues for peacetime and easy periods.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 23, 2009 5:50 PM
Comment #288443

Also, it keeps getting neglected that it doesn’t work. We haven’t gotten actionable intelligence from torturing anyone - unless you believe proven liar Dick Cheney and he has zero evidence. Ali Soufan has testified to congress that is hasn’t worked. We waterboarded KSM 183 times and got nothing. Not to mention that having to do anything 183 times takes a long time and pretty much negates any “ticking time bomb” theory. So we have gained nothing and lost much from these policies. With the way that administration thumped its chest anytime something even remotely resembling a terrorist was captured or killed, if there was evidence we would have seen it. So, what’s the point of continuing an illegal policy that doesn’t work? Sadism?

UN definition that we signed:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Drowning someone 183 times would certainly qualify under this definition.

There is also photographic evidence that it went beyond waterboarding and went beyond a few high profile targets.

Posted by: tcsned at September 23, 2009 7:26 PM
Comment #288446

KLM was not waterboarded 183 times. He was waterboarded 5 times. 183 is the number of times water was poured on his face during all five sessions. But we quibble.

But I’m glad you brought him up because he was the mastermind behind 9-11. Admittedly there might be some who think that any treatment is too good for such an awful criminal, and who might take pleasure in the idea of him suffering. I’m not defending those whose interest is pure revenge. But “punishment” is not the motivation for enhanced interrogation by those who carry it out, and he is exactly the type who such methods shoud be (and are) resereved for.

Do you suppose that establishing the “rapport” Stephen talks about as being so vitally important was likely to work with someobdy like that? A person with so much hatred and spite in him that he coldbloodely murdered 3,000 men, women, and children? Nonetheless, it was tried, and it failed. What then? We already knew for a fact what he’d done—from numerous other sources, so it wasn’t a matter of getting a confession. Enhanced interrogation was used because there was very good reason to believe that the mastermind behind 9-11 would be someone in possession of a great many details about the activities of not only people still at large who were involved in 9-11, but who were involved in ongoing plots.

How long should the conventional methods continue to be used with such a suspect? Six months? A year? Five years, while his accomplices go further to ground and other plots continue to unfold? Do we let more men, women, and children die violently because we don’ have the stomach to pour a little water into the man’s nostrils before sending him back to his cell in time for his afternoon prayers?

Stephen, after reading your links, it appears that the Nazis enhanced methods were considerably harsher than ours, as I’ve heard nothing about our interregators administering “blows with a stick.” And it sounds like it was the Norwegians who tried these cases, not us.

This is a complete digression, but there are major problems with thinking about the post WWII trials of Axis leaders and soldiers as either legal or moral precedents. A lot of very bad folks got what they deserved as a result of these trials, but it was “victor’s justice” on steroids. Only the losers were tried, and often for things that our side was equally engaged in. Bombing London was considered a punishable crime because it targeted civilians, for example, but it was really no different (except that it was far less successful) from the Allied bombing of Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, etc. And of course, whatever interrogation techniques were used against our POWs were never looked into, much less brought to trial. I’m not saying they should have been—I’m just saying that the findings of a lot of these post-war trials have to be taken with a very large grain of salt.

Posted by: Paul at September 23, 2009 10:38 PM
Comment #288450


I agree, I feel no sorrow for KSM, he is an awful person who contributed to mass murder on a scale I hope we never ever see again in this country or in any country for that matter. However, from what Ali Soufan has said about the torture of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation is that he gave up useful information up to the point where he was tortured then it stopped, the same for KSM.

Also, calling waterboarding “pouring water onto someone’s face” is not doing the process justice. It is drowning someone, not “simulated drowning” but actual drowning. Having been swept away in the Danube River as a child, I know the feeling of drowning and it is something that will live with me forever. The Japanese called it the “water cure” in WWII when they did it to our soldiers. While I believe, contrary to some reports, we did not actually execute anyone for this crime, we did sentence at least one Japanese soldier to 15 years hard labor for it.

This leads to the questions, why do it? And who is to blame? If it isn’t effective and is illegal, why continue to do this? Because the Bush administration created a culture of lawlessness and permissiveness that anything goes as long as you stamp it “war on terror.” I am sure fear on the Bush administration’s part had a lot to do with it. For all of their attempts to blame 9-11 on Bill Clinton, it happened on their watch. They were the one’s caught with their pants down. There must have been some real fear of not wanting to drop the ball again and have several thousand more murders on their conscience. That fear can push anyone into an overreaction - torture is an overreaction. The Patriot Act was an overreaction. The War in Iraq was an overreaction. Hopefully, this was not just fear of political reprisal and was honest concern for the country and its people. Though, many of their actions lead me to believe it was both. This whole war on terror thing should stand as a lesson of how not to respond in a crisis.

Posted by: tcsned at September 24, 2009 9:11 AM
Comment #288451

You start out with the assumption that they automatically wouldn’t tell us anything.

Bad assumption. If they’ve got an ego, we can play on that ego. If they’re at odds with somebody else in the organization, we can play off of that. If they are religious zealots, we can play to that. If they hate us, we can get them to tell us all the things that in store for us, just to grind our faces into it.

Sometimes these people clam up, and clam up good. But would torture or “enhanced” interrogation necessarily improve things? No. The information tends to prove unreliable, and folks we give that treatment will mix confabulation meant to please us with any real information they may volunteer. We may even go so far as to bring about the replacement of their real memory with the confabulations committed in reaction to us.

The problem is, sometimes we want information we’re ill-advised to want- information we’re trying to get to confirm a wrong-headed theory. Torture-derived confessions, due to the fact you can torture anything out of anybody, are a ridiculously bad test of such conclusions. If you want that information, you’re going to get it, whether it’s confabulation or real. And you won’t be able to tell the difference until it’s too late. And then what do you do? You undertake the same techniques that failed to get you the right information in the first place.

What’re you going to get this time? Better information, or just another confabulation?

I think you’re defending this on partisan grounds, because this is what you’ve been told is right.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 24, 2009 10:16 AM
Comment #288453

Here’s what I would say: the main reasons why torture is immoral are also the main reasons they are impractical for the purpose of dealing with terror suspects.

It is moral to distinguish those who were really involved from those who are not, and to distinguish those who are involved but innocent, from those who are involved but guilty.

It is also practical to make those distinctions, because the uninvolved person can’t tell you much useful, the involved but innocent person might have less inside access, and the person both involved and guilty might have the most access.

The trouble with any coercive techniques that rely on suffering to compel cooperation is that they ultimately can force the person you’re questioning to agree with your conclusions if you go in assuming they’re lying or hiding something when they claim they’re not involved or claim they’re not part of the criminal organization. You can, for the sake of your interrogation, push them to the point where they’ll just admit it to please you.

What my article also points out is that the pain and suffering that are inflicted are not merely wrong because they violate somebody’s human rights. They are wrong because they make it harder to get good information out of that person, even if they are involved, much less guilty. It is both moral and practical to get information out of people in a manner that does not cause them severe torment and pain, because what violates their rights also damages their ability to recall correctly the information we want.

And if it’s a ticking time bomb scenario? Aside from the fact that this is regarded by professional military interrogators as largely a myth, what would you rather have at your disposal when you go looking for that bomb? Reliable information, or unreliable?

You might say, but shouldn’t we get that information anyways? Well, there’s no evidence that it’s any quicker to interrogate somebody this way than the other.

So, can you argue that enhanced interrogation helps clarify the status of suspects better? No, it muddles the distinction. Does it get better information? No, it does not, both because it interferes with straight recall, and because it predisposes the person to say whatever they think will get their interrogator to stop. Does it address an actual need for last minute information? No, the ticking time bomb scenario is largely a product of Hollywood imagination.

Would it achieve quicker results? No, it would not. People can deliberately lie under torture, or they can end up getting brainwashed by their interrogator, whether on purpose or inadvertantly, as the interrogator pushes them towards copping to a role they don’t have.

There is no clear, unambiguous advantage to “enhanced” techniques. They are merely what people turn to in desperation, in the unsupported belief that it would be a quicker, more direct means of finding out what we need to know.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 24, 2009 2:19 PM
Comment #288454
Paul- You start out with the assumption that they automatically wouldn’t tell us anything.

Sighs. I really have no idea how you could read my posts and think that I start with that assumpution or automatically assume it. Do you start out with the assumption that they will tell us something if sufficent rapport is established? All I’m saying is that enhanced interrogations can be effective where other methods have already failed.

I can respect an honest belief that the enhanced methods are immoral, even if I don’t agree. So that’s where I’m willing to leave it. But saying that they never work, never could work, and that they will always achieve bad results seems to be a way of having a different argument than the one you really want to have, which is about the morality of it all.

Posted by: Paul at September 24, 2009 6:51 PM
Comment #288455

>I can respect an honest belief that the enhanced methods are immoral, even if I don’t agree. So that’s where I’m willing to leave it. But saying that they never work, never could work, and that they will always achieve bad results seems to be a way of having a different argument than the one you really want to have, which is about the morality of it all.
Posted by: Paul at September 24, 2009 06:51 PM


This seems to be a private conversation between you and Stephen, but, if I may…assuming you are right that enhanced methods are moral, which I do not believe, you assume they might work sometimes, do work sometimes, and sometimes achieve good works…is it practical to use these methods for the interrogation of someone who may not be guilty, may not know the answers, and may provide totally false information because of your methods? Morality is difficult for some on the right. We are all aware of that, but, to me, practicality is also in question. I these extremes are deemed necessary, should they not reap the very best of information? If the very best of information is not gleaned…???

Posted by: Marysdude at September 24, 2009 8:13 PM
Comment #288456

The key word here is reliability. Not all information or confessions are created equal. Even the gentlest of techniques you would say would be part of the artisan’s tools work by putting the person under increased stress.

The scientific evidence is, once you get past the stress level of being captured and imprisoned, the experience starts working against accurate recall, even starts working towards increased chances of falsification.

Or put another way, we get less of what we really want out of these people, and with less quality, and less assurance that it’s actually representative of something real.

Do you suppose that establishing the “rapport” Stephen talks about as being so vitally important was likely to work with someobdy like that? A person with so much hatred and spite in him that he coldbloodely murdered 3,000 men, women, and children?

Did it fail? What I’ve heard is that the reason those guys were waterboarded, is that the Bush Administration wanted certain information out of them that it was certain they had.

Like information about a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

There is always a problem when law enforcement or intelligence starts coming to conclusions that are based more on what folks in charge want to be true than what actually is. We end up with policies and goals, reactions to perceived threats that are mismatched with reality.

Once you get into these kinds of techniques, Paul, the problem becomes that these techniques are excellent at getting people to agree with you, but you’re not always knowledgeable enough to know when it’s right for them to agree with you! And when they tell you something you find preposterous, but which is none the less true, what prevents you from just running right over that in the quest to prove your pet theory right?

You’re looking at this in terms of whether you can get somebody to talk. That’s where you might speed up things with torture. Everybody will sing pretty quickly. But if your means of getting them to talk ends up corruption the information, and you don’t even realize it, you could waste so much in the way of resources following up the false leads. As, apparently, the Bush Administration did. They applied the “enhanced interrogation” to Bin Laden’s driver, and ended up thinking that he was some sort of big kahuna, because that’s what he said under torture.

But when they really looked into it, the guy was just a lunatic. But at that point, they’d already sent agent hither and thither, to and fro, reacting to all the great intelligence this madman was creating with his ravings, as we waterboarded him, as we used the enhanced techniques.

Torture is wrong in a multi-dimensional way, not just as a moral problem, but a practical one. It’s like that tough guy in the group who turns out to be a total deadweight in the group when push comes to shove. Of course you’re being tougher with the suspect, and you’re in control, but all that exercise of power just gets you poorer results.

And I would think that a Conservative would understand that just exercizing more power over somebody doesn’t necessarily solve problems better.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 24, 2009 8:20 PM
Comment #288460

Stephen, I believe that you are using either-or reasoning based on a reductive view of two options which are actually not mutually exclusive.

The choice is not between the exclusive and inneffective use of enhanced interrogations and the effective use of conventional methods. The flip side of that is that the choice is not between the exclusive and ineffective use of conventional methods and the effective use of enhanced interrogations.

Any approach can result in “bad leads,” and the methods used to gather these leads, the unique nature of the subject, along with many other variables, will determine every outcome. The outcome is never known beforehand. And once again, you can never just simply decide that your leads are solid because of the methods you used to extract them—be those methods conventional or enhanced.

You’re right—a person may very well just tell you what he thinks you want to hear if he’s fearful or disorientated. But he may also just tell you what he thinks you want to hear if he regards you as his best friend (ever told a friend what you think he wanted to hear?) or if he believes there’s no consequences whatsoever for lying. No matter what he tells you, you can’t just simply believe it, and there’s no guarantee that you aren’t wasting your time. It’s posing a false choice to suggest otherwise.

Anyone who insists that “enhanced interrogation,” or outright no-holds-barred torture for that matter, can never work is actually making a much larger argument. They’re saying that punishment, or negative reinforcement, is always incapable of bending people to your will. This is simply false, and goes against the basic common sense of anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of human psychology.

You could sit me down in a room and play all kinds of head games with me to try and convince me to give you the passcode for my ATM card. If I don’t want to give it to you badly enough, we could play that game for days, weeks or years. Just think of how more motivated a terrorist would be to withhold the names and addresses of his buddies. But if you pull out a meat cleaver and tell me you’re going to lop off my right hand, then how do you suppose I’ll react? Maybe I’ll be so scared that I can’t remember the numbers, or just give you some false numbers because I think you want to hear them. This would be an example of what you mean by torture or the threat of it resulting in bad information—no doubt. But the thing is that after you get that info, you’re going to take my card to an ATM machine and try it out. If you come back mad and pick up the cleaver again, I’ll be more likely than before to focus my attention and try to give you good info this time. If you want those numbers badly enough, you’ll give me that time to clear my head.

The idea that enhanced interrogation or outright torture doesn’t work when other things fail is patently false. When it comes to torture, the biggest hindrance to it working is our very proper moral revulsion at using it. If we interrogated with meat cleavers, things would be sped along very nicely, thank you very much, but we’d never do it because such a thing is repellant. And it’s not repellant because it wouldn’t work but because it’s morally hideous. What is moral and what is effective are separate issues, but that doesn’t mean that either can be ignored.

Posted by: Paul at September 24, 2009 10:49 PM
Comment #288463

And, Stephen, you know by now that drowning someone over and over is NOT hidious…where is your head man?

Posted by: Marysdude at September 24, 2009 11:25 PM
Comment #288464


“Just think of how more motivated a terrorist would be to withhold the names and addresses of his buddies.”

Assuming, of course, that his buddies didn’t move the moment they learned that he was captured.

The problem with using “enhanced” methods on lower level operatives is that they really know very little in the scheme of things.
The problem with using the same techniques on the bigger fish is that they are so visible within their group that when they are removed from that group plans change, and shortly they know very little in the scheme of things.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at September 25, 2009 8:56 AM
Comment #288466

I am using utilitarian reasoning. I am asking what is the most useful approach.

The common linking thread between all forms of “enhanced” interrogation is that they create some kind of suffering without leaving marks and visible injury. They rely on that pain and suffering in order to gain cooperation. That’s why I call it torture, despite the lack of red-hot irons, iron maidens, and racks. That’s why I put quotes around “enhanced”.

The problem here is that use of these techniques inherently creates a dilemma, when compared. If somebody can use these techniques gently, like an artisan, as you say, were they really necessary in the first place? That is a valid question, especially considering torture’s other liabilities. But if you have to use them heavily, if they are necessary to crack the tough nuts, then you find yourself in a situation where the more you need to use it, the worse the results you will ultimately get, due to both the stress and confabulation factors.

Or put another way, “enhanced” interrogation, given the results regular interrogation gives, may be of little added value if you use them moderately. And if you don’t use them moderately, it gets worse the more you have to employ them.

Any approach can generate bad leads, but that doesn’t mean they’re all equally predisposed, and it doesn’t excuse using just any technique, because obviously, you don’t want to use unproductive techniques to get information.

I keep on telling you that one of the main problems with torture is that if you don’t know the outcome beforehand, you can often run right over the good information on your way to imposing your assumptions about what is right on your subject. Whether it’s about imposing a confession of guilt on an innocent person, an untrue account of events on a bystanding witness, or an inaccurate picture of events on a guilty party who might inform us differently, the problem is not merely moral in its dimensions, but practical, because bad information undermines our ability to respond properly to threats, and punish those who are really responsible for crimes against us.

When we do actual, regular interrogations, we don’t go in their ignorant of the subject. We compile as much information as possible, and also, we compile as much of the situation that we actually know as we can. When they BS us, we can then quickly shoot their BS down, and that will convince many, right off the bat, that there’s no use in lying.

We don’t just ask them questions. We can do any number of things. We can reward them, and revoke rewards if information turns out bad. We can play on the relationship, run any number of con games or other gambits. We don’t necessarily have to get buddy-buddy with everybody. We don’t have to tell them the truth. We don’t have to be nice to them. We can make them wait. We can stage things for their benefit. We can interrogate them and get nothing in the interrogation room, and then put a spy or a bug in their prison room where they’ll sing like bird, thinking their information is safe.

You assume a level of naivete and goody-goodiness that’s not there. This is a sophisticated business. You have to verify information. You have to know your subject, know the culture, know the language. It’s not simple or easy.

But at the very least, you are not introducing a whole level of uncertainty and potential untruth on top of that which already exists. You’re not muddying the waters you’re trying to peer through, getting in your own way. Good interrogation is like good Judo or Aikido: using the subjects own inclinations against them, rather than trying to defeat them with your own force.

Some guys give up information, good information for Porn. Some give it up out of compassion, when we give their moms operations. Some hate what their organization has become, what it does. Some want to screw over a colleague they’re rivals with. Some want to tell you what they’re doing, so you can admire their greatness, or wallow in your own despair.

You give an example of that meat cleaver. Let say I do chop off your hand. Lets say I come back, and say “Unless you sign a confession saying you’re the Queen of England, I’m chopping off the other one.”

Hail to the queen, obviously. You’ll tell me what I want to hear. Or it may be a more subtle distinction I want to hear from you, but it’s less an outright lie I than where my question seems to lead. And if my leading question is not even a conscious one, or one I expect you to give that answer to, I too could end up caught up in the lie, and might even go on to torture you more or ask more under duress to fill things out.

Which means that the situation becomes one, without your realizing it, of the subject lying their ass off to satisfy your curiosity of this lie they inadvertantly let out, trying to please you about your apparent hint.

That is what is most insidious about torture, really, not merely the brutality of it. It’s that with the brutality, the power of the torturer redefines memory, redefines what a person is allowed to say is true. And as such, the potential for perverse official twistings of the truth, both wanted and unwanted, becomes greater.

And then we’re literally in Orwellian territory, with the truth, as we need it to protect ourselves from outside threats, and as we need it to protect ourselves from the zealous, the corrupt, and the power-hungry. We’re literally in a position where our ability to deal with reality becomes compromised.

That is a moral issue, when it comes to our defense. Is it moral to use means that compromise the information we need, that causes us to be lead astray in our actions, that lead us to detain innocent people and not believe their protests of innocence? Is it moral to use these means if we can much more effectively manage the task of getting information from our prisoners without abusing our power over them to do it?

The morality of this issue is inextricably tied up in the practical consequences of having somebody use these methods. The false confessions, the degeneration of the subject’s memory, the replacement of true stories with the confabulations that a torturer either imposes or inadvertantly invites from the subject.

On and on. We have to remember that many things are considered morally wrong because of their consequences, because of the way they invite corruption, because of the way things tend to turn out.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 25, 2009 10:28 AM
Comment #288467
The problem with using “enhanced” methods on lower level operatives is that they really know very little in the scheme of things. The problem with using the same techniques on the bigger fish is that they are so visible within their group that when they are removed from that group plans change, and shortly they know very little in the scheme of things.

Rocky, you’ve just given two arguments that could equally be used against the idea of questioning suspects at all, using any tenchniques. They’re either so small that they know nothing or so big that plans change when they’re captured. When these things are true, it’s irrelvant what kind of interrogating you do because there’s no information to be had.

Posted by: Paul at September 25, 2009 10:29 AM
Comment #288468

>When these things are true, it’s irrelvant what kind of interrogating you do because there’s no information to be had.
Posted by: Paul at September 25, 2009 10:29 AM


Except now we’re back to the moral issue. If there are the same doubts about both methods, why torture (enhanced interrogate) to begin with?

There is NO practical justification for torture. There is NO legal justification for torture. There is NO moral justification for torture.

Other than to please our ego that we CAN torture, and use our powers of persuasion to bring culpable people along with us, thus turning regular citizens into proponents of it, what good has torture actually done?

Posted by: Marysdude at September 25, 2009 12:14 PM
Comment #288472


“When these things are true, it’s irrelvant what kind of interrogating you do because there’s no information to be had.”


What is the point?


Posted by: Rocky Marks at September 25, 2009 2:55 PM
Comment #288475

Rocky and Marysdude, your posts demonstrate (to me anyway) the problems that run so rampant in the debate about issue.

Marysdude, you begin by insisting on the use of the word “torture” and then gore your own straw man. You’re right—there is no “legal” justification for “torture” and nobody has ever tried to make one. The debate has always revolved around the definition of that word—and any definition of any word includes some things and excludes others. Torture is a word with a legal definition, and it has always been against the law. The problem you’re having is that torture is not defined as what you’d like it to be. That’s your opinion, which you have every right to, but your opinion is not the legal one and you’re tilting at windmills.

Rocky, in taking your position, you’ve said that there’s no reason to interrogate anybody ever, not even using conventional means. This would certainly come as a shock to every single law enforcement officer the world over. We might as well just do away with police departments, judges, courtrooms, and prisons.

Posted by: Paul at September 25, 2009 3:33 PM
Comment #288478

Waterboarding, for one, has been considered, by our United States government, to be torture, for several decades. Cheney/Bush is the one who decided that, because he wished to use it, that it no longer counted as such…but we quibble…if you were on the receiving end of waterboarding, would it then be considered ‘torture’? If it were done to you…enough water poured into your reclining face, in such a way as to simulate drowning, several times, might you think it possible to think, ‘these idiots are trying to drown me?’ If idiots are trying to drown you, would you consider yourself to maybe being TORTURED?

But, I’ll give you that one…waterboarding is not torture…it is ‘enhanced interrogation’, just like you say. Enhanced interrogation is just as questionable, in its effectiveness, as torture…so, the question rises its ugly head again…why do something that has proved to be of questionable effectiveness, of questionable practicality, of questionable legality, and of questionable morality? You seem to want to push the envelope for no legitimate reason.

Posted by: Marysdude at September 25, 2009 4:15 PM
Comment #288479

Marysdude, I’m not someone who wants “to push the envelope” at all, and I think that a great many who share my views about this are no different.

I think that you and those like you have legitimate concerns about this issue which should be addressed (to the extent that they haven’t been already). I’d have no problem with instituting extremely rigid rules for enhanced interrogatons, even to the point of it requiring authorization from the very top—the president himself. It’s just that there are forseeable potential situations under which I think it should be preserved as an option—an extreme option, yes, and one which would require great oversight—but an option nonetheless.

And for the record, this goes beyond the much discussed “ticking time bomb” scenario, which I don’t think needs to be addressed as a matter of law. If we actually had a situation with a nuclear bomb set to go off in Manhattan (to name one of the scenarios I’ve heard) and a suspect in custody but no time to go through the proper channels, we already know full well what would happen.

The interregotars would go absolutely medieval on the guy, if that’s what they felt was necessary, and worry about being prosecuted for it later. Do you suppose a jury would ever convict them? Perhaps, but perhaps not if their actions had saved hundreds of thousands or millions of lives. This kind of thing doesn’t need to be codified in law and probably shouldn’t be. Everybody knows that we need to have laws prohibiting certain things, but most reasonable people also know that there are times when you have to break the law for a higher good. You might have to take your lumps for it later, but we engage in this kind of moral calculus all the time and often for far less serious reasons.

Posted by: Paul at September 25, 2009 5:09 PM
Comment #288486

The problem is the One-Percent Doctrine: the doctrine of treating the very unlikely event as if it would actually happen, in order to justify heading off that catastrophic possibility.

The vulnerability there, and what actually happened with the Bush Administration policy is that this justification creeped outwards with great speed to encompass normal, everyday threats. The exceptional treatment became the standard procedure for softening up new inmates.

The disadvantage you are at in this debate, is that others have taken your positions before in policy, and the results, unpleasant as they are, were well documented.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 25, 2009 7:01 PM
Comment #288487

Dick Cheney only needs to say enhanced interrogation saved lives, he needs no evidence. Him and his followers don’t trade in evidence or facts, they trade in emotions and pulling out all the stops when necessary instead of the “spinless” liberals.

The best point to echo is the fact that these ticking time bomb situations are BS and never, ever happen. I’ve done an article on this before and many a commenter was adamant that real life jack bauers are out there saving us from terrorists. The funny part is that Keifer S. is a very peaceful guy, but has no clue the damage he’s done to the American psyche with his portrayal of an agent that personally tortures every bad guy he encounters to the beat of a counting down clock. DRAMA.


I enjoyed this and will read your stuff more often. I’m a fiction writer on the side too and want to emphasize your point about America’s confusion between the movies and reality.

Anyone who’s tried to sell fiction can tell you that you won’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making a sale unless there is conflict. As you’ve heard before, you need to put your character up in a tree and throw rocks at him all day. The point being that no one believes or wants to know that interrogating anyone effectively in reality is boring and mind numbing and goes on for a long time. Most people also have a hard time believing Jack Bauer isn’t out there somewhere crossing some cut lamp wires over someones testicles and protecting our freedom in the process.

Posted by: Fred at September 25, 2009 7:06 PM
Comment #288490

It seems to me that those with a sincere and (in my view) commendable humanitarian interest in this as a moral issue would be a little hacked off by some of the histrionics and dishonest arguments of some supposedly on their side. Joe Citizen is likely to just dismiss the whole bunch of them if so much of what’s said seems to be just scoring partisan points on an issue that is supposed to be about public safety.

Dick Cheney only needs to say enhanced interrogation saved lives, he needs no evidence. Him and his followers don’t trade in evidence or facts, they trade in emotions and pulling out all the stops when necessary instead of the “spinless” liberals.

Anyone actually following the public debate about this knows that Cheney has been agitating for the full records about what happened during enhanced interrogations to be released to the public. He is no longer in office, and it would be illegal for him to personally “prove” his point by releasing classified information. This is such an obvious point that it’s almost ridiculous to have to make it. Queuing the Darth Vader music every time Dick Cheney’s name is mentioned is getting a little old—it’s time for liberals to find a new cartoon villain.

In any case, it is not only Dick Cheney who says that enhanced interrogations have worked. Obama’s own National Intelligence Director agrees. I realize that some people may consider this source a partisan rag with no credibility whatseover, but you can read about it here.

Posted by: Paul at September 25, 2009 9:15 PM
Comment #288496


This is what Obama’s NID also said:

“The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means,” Admiral Blair said in a written statement issued last night. “The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security.”

Let’s put this in terms you can understand: yes, you can get information this way. No, it doesn’t profit it us much. It doesn’t necessarily speed things up. It has a tendency to sweep up collateral casualties. It degrades our image, endangers our soldiers, and gives aid and comfort to our enemies when it gets out, because people can use this BS to rile them up.

And, as others have demonstrated, it degrades the quality of recall for the very thing we’re looking to access.

What do we gain for its use? Don’t repeat to me what the ambition of using these techniques is, tell us what the gain is; have people really demonstrated that we must resort to these methods?

Why should I resort to inferior methods for the sake of desperation? We need to keep our edge and keep our wits about us when we confront our enemies.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 25, 2009 10:42 PM
Comment #288506

Stephen, considering the blowback from the left than ensued, it’s hardly surprising that Obama’s National Intelligence Director had to scramble to minimize and walk back his remarks after they became public. This was a clear example of an administration official who had reviewed the records failing to toe the administration’s political line. Perhaps he was afraid of being waterboarded in the White House basement?

What do we gain for its use? Don’t repeat to me what the ambition of using these techniques is, tell us what the gain is; have people really demonstrated that we must resort to these methods?

Excellent questions. Perhaps Obama should agree to make the records that would answer them public. Why do you suppose he doesn’t? Another excellent question, even though the answer is pretty obvious.

Posted by: Paul at September 26, 2009 12:04 AM
Comment #288509

>Perhaps Obama should agree to make the records that would answer them public. Why do you suppose he doesn’t’t? Another excellent question, even though the answer is pretty obvious.
Posted by: Paul at September 26, 2009 12:04 AM


I’m a reasonably intelligent individual, and can imagine many things, but I cannot know the answer to that question, and I doubt you can either. Assuming your assumption is correct, ie, there was important information gleaned from ‘enhanced’ interrogation, and those records show that. How does that change what has been said here? You still seem to be willing to push the envelope for no real gain, and much loss.

Posted by: Marysdude at September 26, 2009 7:50 AM
Comment #288510


Perhaps the reason President Obama does not open those records is that they show real criminal acts. To reveal those acts during an investigation would tarnish (perhaps nullify) the evidence prior to trial.

The above example is one reason neither of us can know why those records remain archived. There are likely many more such examples.

Posted by: Marysdude at September 26, 2009 7:54 AM
Comment #288514

The problem, Paul, is that they’ve already been released. And they don’t say, at least in the unredacted portions, anything that would support Cheney’s claims that those enhanced interrogation techniques gained that information, or was helpful in gaining it.

So, before you allege a cover-up, please make sure that the materials in question have not been distributed already, and that they actually vindicate your point.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 26, 2009 10:00 AM
Comment #288515

Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri, on the withdrawal of GOP Senators from the committee investigating our national position on torture and other shameful acts, said…

“Had Mr. Holder honored the pledge made by the President to look forward, not backwards, we would still be active participants in the Committee’s review,” the ranking Republican on the intelligence panel, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said in a statement. “What current or former CIA employee would be willing to gamble his freedom by answering the Committee’s questions? Indeed, forcing these terror fighters to make this choice is neither fair nor just.”

For one thing, President Obama did not pledge any such thing. He merely said that he preferred to look forward, not back. Wouldn’t we all? No one relishes exposure of shame and guilt to the open air…but, it’s the right thing to do…else future decisions will be based on false premise. And for another thing, if the Republicans already view those responsible for that shame as heroes, what kind of investigation could they possibly contribute to? GOP must stand for ‘heads stuck in sand’…yeah, I know, the letters don’t match up, but the idea is refined anyway.

Posted by: Marysdude at September 26, 2009 10:48 AM
Comment #288516
And they don’t say, at least in the unredacted portions, anything that would support Cheney’s claims that those enhanced interrogation techniques gained that information, or was helpful in gaining it.

Stephen, isn’t that an extremely disingenuous point to make? It’s as if a prosecutor came to court and said “There’s nothing in this surveillance tape that we didn’t delete which would support the defendent’s versions of events.” Don’t you see the problem with that?

This is obviously a politically-loaded issue in which one side has absolute control of the flow of information. There is really no explanation, except for the politics of it, for this information not to be released over eight years after the events it relates to took place.

Posted by: Paul at September 26, 2009 12:05 PM
Comment #288518

Unless you agree with Entry 288510…then the reason may be clear.

Posted by: Marysdude at September 26, 2009 2:10 PM
Comment #288522

Marsydude, if that were the reason they could just say so, but they’ve never said any such thing, which is why I discount it.

Posted by: Paul at September 26, 2009 3:20 PM
Comment #288523

Cheney probably had access to this information since 2005. He had this memo available for three years of his own administration, through a hailstorm of controversy during which this memo could have shut a lot of people up.

What does he do with it? Nothing. This memo of ultimate vindication remains, figuratively speaking in his drawer, until he no longer has the power to access it himself.

And then, power having been transferred to Obama, then he asks for it, implying that Obama’s trying to hide it when he doesn’t hop to.

Then he produces that memo, an intelligence memo, with redactions. Now you theorize that Obama had those portions redacted to avoid embarrassment. The question, though, is whether the redactions actually do include that information.

You of course can only imply the possbility, not give us reasonable likelihood. There are many things that we legitimately do not disclose, such as sources, information that could tell our enemies where we got our information, and our methods as well, among other things. These are just as likely as possible uses of that black out text.

So, we then have to ask a question here: Let’s say these documents were exonerations of those techniques. Why did Cheney not release them, even in redacted form, during his tenure in office? Like I said, he could have exonerated his approach.

Maybe he could have thought that it was unnecessary to exonerate his approach while he was in power. A bit shortsighted, but possible. Even so, that’s not a charge without ambiguity. Policy is not the only thing that has changed, so has the political alignment of the occupier of the Presidency, and in a away Cheney certainly does not like.

As valid (or really invalid) as an argument from ignorance can ever be, there is theoretically equal support for traditional and torturous interrogation methods there.

As one person put it:

It’s no wonder that in his response to the memos’ release, Cheney is reduced to playing silly semantic games that a reasonably intelligent junior high-schooler could see through. “The documents released Monday,” said Cheney in a statement, “clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda.” That’s true, but it’s totally different from Cheney’s earlier claim — that the documents would show it was the EITs themselves that elicited the information.

He could easily have challenged the redactions, just as you have. He supposedly knows what’s in there, right?

Here’s my partisan take: Cheney wants to undermine the administration’s argument against torture, so he sites this material. Faced with the actual publication of the memo, though, he has no place to go, and if he tries to claim that support for those interrogation methods were redacted, it becomes the Administration’s word against Cheney’s. Cheney could have pushed for properly cleared Republicans to see the memo in original form.

This, though would mean having other from Obama’s party and administration looking at it, and commenting at the same time. Now who could confidently speak to that? Who thinks that Cheney would resort to the quoted kind of semantic evasion if he could support enhanced interrogation on the merits? He could easily say “enhanced interrogation works, and I call on the president to declassify the redacted portions that say so.” Instead he has to go with the far less effective phrasing concerning the value of information gotten from people on whom those techniques had been used.

That’s not terribly helpful, since such techniques can fail when used on a person, where regular techniques are more successful. This, in fact, has been reported about both subjects. In fact, the CIA reports themselves indicate that, contrary to your suggestion, KSM spoke about al-Qaeda operations early on in the interrogations.

The trouble with the way the right is arguing most issues is that it’s assuming that the answers should be obvious, and arguing to defend the obvious rather than support what’s not so obvious. The difference is whether you rely on a presentation of facts or a dismissal of them, and whether you’re willing to let the evidence bring you up short if you’re wrong.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 26, 2009 5:21 PM
Comment #288525

Argument for the sake of argument is just argument. Is there a debate here?

Paul, you have fallen short here…argument for the sake of argument…

Posted by: Marysdude at September 26, 2009 7:19 PM
Comment #288528

Stephen, what’s being left out here is the nature of what was redacted and what wasn’t. The Obama administration was very happy to release materials pertaining to the internal legal deliberations the Bush administration engaged in on behalf of enhanced interrogations and the interrogation methods that were used. What has been redacted is the results, whatever benefits were or were not derived from it. But why? In short, they’ve released everything except what might confirm or refute or Obama’s political position on the matter. If it confirmed Obama’s views, why not release it when they’ve released everything else? Obama is the one who promised complete transperancy about the matter. And is willing to provide it, apparently, except in matters that might contradict him.

It’s all just very interesting. It’s made even more interesting by the fact that when Obama’s National Intelligence Director, who had reviewed the record in full, contradicted Obama’s political position, they went into crisis mode and began furiously trying to walk it back. And still wouldn’t release complete information.

It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that decisions about the release of classified information would be made—by whoever is making that decision—by weighing the costs of doing so againsts the benefits. There is a clear pattern here in the Obama administration’s release of information, and it runs in one direction—to hide or obscure the benefits that have been derived from enhanced interrogations while playing up how harsh they are.

As for why Cheney didn’t release them himself? Even though as VP he had no such authority, he probably could have used his influence to make it happen. But the same rule of thumb applied then as applies now—weighing the costs against the benefits. Cheney believes in this policy, and it was not in danger during the Bush administration. He had plenty of other things to occupy his attention besides trying to make his domestic political foes shut up about enhanced interrogatons, as if they ever would have.

Posted by: Paul at September 26, 2009 10:23 PM
Comment #288535

An argument from ignorance is invalid. You cannot prove Obama Administration cover-ups simply from the fact that you cannot find the information you want from a redacted document.

I say that to you knowing that you would likely respond that this is the entire point of the redactions. And I would respond to you by again saying that the invalid nature of that argument is compound: you are ignorant of what it originally said, so accusing the Obama administration of covering up anything else than what it has already good call to cover up for national security purposes is not supportable on the facts.

You are free to feel and speculate that this was done, and I’m free to discount this as your feelings and your speculation.

The ability to sometimes get good, valuable intelligence from a technique, doesn’t mean that the technique is a good one.

Am I making this argument absent information? No. I have presented you with information relating to what happens to people put under that stress: their ability to recall information and keep stories straight declines.

If we view this from a utilitarian perspective, that is, from what makes intelligence useful to us, then this is an immediate strike against “enhanced” interrogation techniques. Enhanced techniques should enhance something, or else the term doesn’t apply.

Do we see usefulness in the speed of the interrogation’s results? No. They seemed to have spent months dealing with these subjects, much of that time not necessarily productive. Then what’s left? Access, really. But even that is a confounded variable in this equation, because what you get access to from the prisoner, because of the suggestibility of people under that kind of treatment, could be anything. You blow the door on the safe, only to find it filled with play money.

Even if we’re pleading special circumstances, the case seems ambiguous at best. Torture doesn’t necessarily shorten interrogation times. It doesn’t prevent and can encourage dishonesty and inaccuracy from the subject. It doesn’t raise the level of recall from a subject about real matters, it drops it, making people more forgetful, less able to recall details.

When somebody says “torture doesn’t work”, perhaps what they should say is that for all the pain it brings to us as Americans, it doesn’t live up to the hype that justifies it as a valid alternative to non-torture interrogation. We simply don’t gain enough from it to justify using such techniques. We get better results from tactics we can better live with.

Cheney, like you, has bought into the fallacy of necessity and urgency justifying the use of desperate tactics, in the name of confronting our enemy with toughness, rather than weakness. They see sticking to the rules and the principles as being something that hamstrings us in our fight.

Behavior taken on in the name of expediences does not necessarily expedite results. People who panic, who rush, who operate without patience can end up doing stupid things, unwise things. We can boost ourselves up by convincing ourselves that unlike those other people, we’re doing everything to defeat our enemies, but the reality is, doing everything isn’t the same as doing the right things.

Think of it in economic terms. There is a cost for every tactic. Often, if you use torture tactics with a subject, you get worse results from regular interrogation methods. So you can’t necessarily just do both. So what do you pick? The techniques where you get in your own way, where the confessions and the information are worth less as court evidence, where you’re grinding down a person’s recollective abilities along with their resistance, or the ones that generally get better results, that can’t be knocked down by courts or other countries as the product of pain and suffering, and where the integrity of the person’s mind is preserved.

If your aim is to better understand the enemy, better confront their threat, unreliable methods do not need to be standard operating procedure.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 27, 2009 8:22 AM
Comment #288536
An argument from ignorance is invalid. You cannot prove Obama Administration cover-ups simply from the fact that you cannot find the information you want from a redacted document.

Since an argument from ignorance is as you say invalid, those who do not want to see valid arguments made have a vested interest in limiting the flow of information. Who is doing that here?

In any case, we are not operating in the complete dark about what it is in those redacted portions of the memos. CIA, Bush administration, and now Obama administration officials with full access to them have said that they show the effectiveness of enhanced interregations. We are not allowed to see this information for ourselves, however, and no plausible explanation for why has been offered—except that we know that they conflict with Obama’s partisan political stances.

Am I making this argument absent information? No. I have presented you with information relating to what happens to people put under that stress: their ability to recall information and keep stories straight declines.

I find it peculiar to state the obvious and then call it presenting information. You wouldn’t tell a carpenter that he shouldn’t use his tape-measure to drive nails. And after doing so, declare yourself a better and more knowledgeable carpenter than everybody who actually does that kind of work for a living. I have acknowledged very openly that there are additonal moral and legal questions regarding enhanced interrogations that need to be addressed, but conflating these moral quandries with blanket claims that such methods don’t work (at the same time information is being deliberately withheld about whether they do and have worked) makes for a very weak argument. The totality of the evidence—most importantly statemetns to that effect by members of both parties—suggests that they do work but that there are those who don’t want us to know it.

Posted by: Paul at September 27, 2009 11:20 AM
Comment #288545

Since an argument from ignorance is as you say invalid, those who do not want to see valid arguments made have a vested interest in limiting the flow of information. Who is doing that here?

Plausible motive and means for hiding something. An unprovable argument, though, so long as it relies on a unproven claim that the evidence exists in secret. That’s the same way people argue for UFO’s, Bigfoot, and Masonic Conspiracies: the truth is being kept from us, but believe us about what’s the truth anyways.

There are other plausible motives for redactions. Remember, this is active, ongoing intelligence work. We have agents in the field at risk. We have assets that those operatives are running. We have operations we’re keyed into, that we wanted to keep them unaware that we’ve watched or infiltrated. We have interrogation methods and interrogators, and foreign intelligence services whose confidences we have to keep.

There are plenty of other plausible motivations, and these are backed by what we actually know about intelligence operations.

I find it peculiar to state the obvious and then call it presenting information.

I don’t find it peculiar. Find good, solid, difficult to dispute points, and use them to support a valid, soundly factual argument.

Reading up on intelligence, one subject that came up was the tendency sometimes for folks in intelligence services to underestimate the value of open source, broadly available information, in favor of secrets and revealed information.

Just because I’m not always revealing something new, doesn’t mean I’m not making a good argument. I’m just adding things up for people.

Torture doesn’t work as a substitute for regular interrogation. It doesn’t offer speed, accuracy, access or anything else of value, for the black mark it leaves on our name and the aid and comfort it gives the enemy. I haven’t been saying you can’t get information by these methods. I’ve been saying it’s a worse way to get information, and as such we shouldn’t institutionalize that kind of liability, and leave it like an open sore on the face of our country.

Not everything we’re going to do to defend this country will be moral or will make us popular. That I can make my peace with. But if we’re going to give up our good name to a certain extent, I’d just as soon get something out of it, and be able to resolve the problem at hand and get it over with.

The problem with the Bush Administration was that though they were able to rewrite the rules by which American policy worked, they were unable to rewrite the rules by which people behave and information gets out, the rules by which intelligence and interrogation operate. The mistake was in assuming that the restraints and restrictions were simply there for political and ideological reasons. The Republicans, unfortunately, learned their foreign policy lessons the hard way.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 27, 2009 5:02 PM
Comment #288565

>The Republicans, unfortunately, learned their foreign policy lessons the hard way.
Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 27, 2009 05:02 PM


I’m sorry, but they did NOT learn the lesson…doing stupid, immoral things is stupidly immoral…they STILL haven’t learned it.

Posted by: Marysdude at September 28, 2009 5:40 AM
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