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April 26, 2009

Comments

Brendan your point is valid but I worry about this line of argument. It implicitly concedes that if it were to be demonstrated that torture DID 'work', then it would be OK. Or at least that opponents would have to fall back weakly on a secondary set of arguments.

It's preferable, ethically and tactically, to concentrate on the fundamental reasons why torture is unacceptable EVEN IF IT DOES WORK. That avoids the smoke and mirrors that will inevitably confuse the discussion once the relevance of effectiveness is acknowledged.

To engage in any argument about torture's effectiveness is to imply that the ends justify the means. If the ends justify the means, there's no point stopping at even the less brutal of the torture methods. Go back to bamboo shoots, physical harm, drawing and quartering, etc.

Torture can work, but mostly is not effective based on information I've read. Regarding the ethical dilemma, the end would justify the means in a few cases where you knew a large number of civilians would be killed if you didn't use it. Open-ended torture(he knows something about something) does not pass ethical standards for a democracy. Also, changing the name enhanced interrogations is also an afront. Bottom-line, I would bet the CIA has tortured people since WWII. It should be the exception and very few people should do it or know about it.

Stuart Taylor, no conservative, wrote:

...there is a body of evidence suggesting that brutal interrogation methods may indeed have saved lives, perhaps a great many lives -- and that renouncing those methods may someday end up costing many, many more.

Taylor is too careful a lawyer to conclude that brutal interrogation definitely did save lives. His point is that the facts should be fully examined.

Brendan argues that those supporting the effectiveness of torture can't prove whether the same suspected terrorists would have provided the same information under conventional interrogation in the same amount of time. I disagree with that argument, for two reasons:

1. I think it's likely that conventional interrogation would have been tried, and not succeeded, before harsher methods were resorted to.

2. What I know about fanatical terrorists does not suggest that they would readily help us prevent other attacks simply because we asked them politely.


"Taylor is too careful a lawyer to conclude that brutal interrogation definitely did save lives."

I don't think one needs to be that qualified to fail to reach that conclusion.

That we can't reach that conclusion is sufficient in and of it itself to not reach that conclusion. The fact (or their absence) speaks for themselves.

The conclusion seems to be that the ends aren't needed at all - simply the possibility of being justified sufficiently justifies them.

As we can't know what we may learn from brutal interrogation unless we do employ it, what reason is there that we shouldn't employ it (nor that we should expect it shouldn't be used by others who believe that their own ends justify it)??

(edit, for clarity)

"Taylor is too careful a lawyer to conclude that brutal interrogation definitely did save lives."

I don't think one needs to be that qualified to fail to reach that conclusion.

That we can't reach that conclusion is sufficient in and of it itself to not reach that conclusion. The facts (or their absence) speak for themselves.

Some seem to take the position that the ends really aren't needed at all. Simply the possibility of their being ends is enough to justify the means.

And, as we can't know what we may learn from brutal interrogation unless we do employ it, what reason is there that we shouldn't employ it (or hold that it shouldn't be used by others - who believe that their own ends justify it)?

Howard, I may have been unclear. Taylor's point was that we cannot reach a definite conclusion that harsh interrogation saved lives based on information made public to date. However, he seems to believe that we will be able to reach a definite conclusion if more facts are released to the public.

In my view, opposing harsh interrogation because it doesn't work is a weak argument. There's simply too much evidence that it does work. There are strong arguments that we shouldn't use harsh methods whether or not they work. That's a better way for opponents of these methods to argue, IMHO.

There's simply too much evidence that it does work.

Strangely, you never present any of this evidence to prove your point.

And the obvious counterargument is that, when you torture someone who doesn't have any answers, the result you get is guaranteed to be lies.

In fact, even when you torture someone who does know the answers, what you typically get is lies.

The history of torture is that it is used to humiliate one's enemies and to extract "confessions", not to gather intelligence.

Lies get the torture to stop. That's why so many "witches" confessed in Salem, despite the fact that there were never any witches at all.

Jinchi, my link above did present evidence that harsh methods had been effective:

the people with the most-detailed knowledge... say that the coercive interrogation program was highly effective.

Michael Hayden, Bush's last CIA director, and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently wrote, "As late as 2006, fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of Al Qaeda came from those interrogations." Former CIA Director George Tenet has said, "I know that this program has saved lives. I know we've disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than [what] the FBI, the [CIA], and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us." Former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has said, "We have people walking around in this country that are alive today because this process happened."

You assert that harsh questioning methods have never been effective, but where is your evidence?

As I said, you can make a good argument against the use of harsh questioning methods even acknowldeging their effectiveness. E.g., if torture became so widespread as the hundreds of years of European witch trials, then the harm done might be far greater than the value of the intelligence we have gained.

A Washington Post article also presents evidence that enhanced interrogation techniques worked.

Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques "led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the 'Second Wave,' 'to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into' a building in Los Angeles." KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. The memo explains that "information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemmah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the 'Second Wave.' " In other words, without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.

The memo notes that "[i]nterrogations of [Abu] Zubaydah -- again, once enhanced techniques were employed -- furnished detailed information regarding al Qaeda's 'organizational structure, key operatives, and modus operandi' and identified KSM as the mastermind of the September 11 attacks." This information helped the intelligence community plan the operation that captured KSM. It went on: "Zubaydah and KSM also supplied important information about al-Zarqawi and his network" in Iraq, which helped our operations against al-Qaeda in that country.

David, forgive me if I don't instantly believe the word of people who were directly complicit in the use of and cover up of torture as to it's effectiveness. I'd no sooner believe Hayden, Mukasey, Cheney or Tenet in this case than I'd believe the leaders of the Inquisition on their certainty that torture had defeated heresy.

"to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into' a building in Los Angeles" Any plot using a hijacked airliner post 9/11 would probably have failed as Flight 93 failed. The information was probably not reliable or up-to-date. A quick google search of "efficacy of torture" shows plenty of studies and analysis that refute the effectiveness of torture. Moreover, it's next to impossible to determine the accuracy or truthfulness of intelligence gathered from torture, even after the fact.

Jinchi and Eskimohorn, it's easy to retain one's world view if one simply refuses to believe any evidence against it. There may be evidence that Tenet, Hayden, et. al. were incorrect, but I haven't seen any so far.

Eskimohorn, in some cases it was easy to determine the accuracy of the intelligence gathered through these methods. In particular, when the intelligence led to the capture of another terrorist, who turned out to indeed be a terrorist.

David, The people you're citing are already on the record lying about torture to serve their own ends.

First they claimed they couldn't believe that anyone would do such horrible and illegal things. Then they fiercely denied that the United States ever officially sanctioned it (and prosecuted and convicted "a few bad apples" to prove their point). Then they claimed that the memos were merely thought experiments which higher ups never saw. Then they claimed that torture only happened at Abu Ghraib. Then they claimed that there were no black sites. Then they claimed that waterboarding wasn't really torture (even though we prosecuted people for it in the past) and was only used on a couple of really bad guys and was almost immediately stopped.

And now they tell us that it works just great and Obama is risking all our lives by discontinuing it.

These people are habitual liars and it makes perfect sense to "simply refuse to believe" a word that comes out of their mouths.

Jinchi, who would you would believe regarding the usefulness of harsh questioning methods? Would you believe Bill Clinton? His adminoistration practiced a program of "special rendition", which transferred our prisoners to other jurisdictions, presumably so that they could be questioned using harsh methods. I think Clinton wouldn't have approved this program if he didn't think it would produce useful intelligence.

Can you name some people who you would trust on this topic? That is, people in a position to know whether or not harsh questioning had produced useful intelligence.

Simply because torture worked once or twice is not sufficient to determine it effective.

Torture is not OK, ever. If you believe that, you're as inhuman as what you fight. If you want to go there, you're on your own.

No David, I wouldn't believe Bill Clinton.

Do you ever ask yourself, why, if torture is so effective, we're still searching for OBL 8 years after he attacked the World Trade Center? Or why we're mired in two wars with no end in site? Or why the Taliban is as strong as ever? It's because the leadership on our side didn't know what it was doing.

Torture isn't effective as a strategy for collecting intelligence, it's a tool for forcing capitulation. That's how its been used throughout history. That's how it was used by everyone from the medieval Church through the Soviet Union and why it was used by Pol Pot in his re-education camps.

And its why opponents of torture can argue against it based on a long history of false confessions and advocates of torture argue based on episodes of 24.

John Yoo said that before he could answer the question on whether it would be okay for the president to crush the genitals of a child, in an effort to get his parent to "talk," he'd want to know why the president thought he needed to do that. There are actually people like this is in the world, and they don't really care if you question their humanity. That argument doesn't move them at all. Now, if you want to meet them where they live, you find a way to argue that torture just isn't effective in getting accurate information. So, yes, there is a place for such an argument. Quite simply, if someone were doing the above to your child, what would you tell them? Answer: whatever they wanted to hear, just as long as they stopped.

Jinchi, I don't necessarily agree that the effectiveness of torture can be measured by our success in the War on Terror. We've done a great many things in addition to water boarding a handful of terrorists. However, you should note that we (and our allies) have indeed been effective. Al Qaeda has been substantially demolished.

rone, that line about being as inhuman as what we fight sounds good, but it fails to distinguish degrees. Taken literally, that argument would imply that Bill Clinton, who authorized special rendition, is as inhuman as OBL.

Raleighite, your example is doubly wrong IMHO. First of all, al Qaeda will torture your child if they get a chance regardless of how we behave. Blameless behavior by us won't deter al Qaeda in the least, so it won't protect your chlid.

Second, if the US waterboards a few high level al Qaeda terrorists, your child won't be among them. Your child is safe. On the contrary, the intelligence gained might avert an attack, thus protecting your child. In fact, if your child lives in the vicinity of the Library Tower in LA, water boarding may already have saved your child from being wounded or killed.

David, I think you're completely missing the point. We can easily cite case after case of torture eliciting false confessions. Can you cite any examples in history of torture being used effectively as an interrogation tool?

Your reply to Raleighite likewise makes no sense. Our ethics are defined on our own actions not relative to how evil our adversaries are.

Killing the child of a child murderer isn't an acceptable course of action, nor is torturing the child of a torturer. That was explicitly what John Yoo claimed the president had the power to order and it's both obscene and absurd.

You keep bringing up the Library Tower, though there's no evidence that any such attack was ever active other than through the self-serving comments of men like Dick Cheney. I'm sure Cotton Mather likewise slept quite soundly, satisfied with his role protecting Salem from its scourge of witches.

"rone, that line about being as inhuman as what we fight sounds good, but it fails to distinguish degrees. Taken literally, that argument would imply that Bill Clinton, who authorized special rendition, is as inhuman as OBL."

And what if he is? Is it OK because he did it for the fiction we call a country versus OBL's fiction of Al Qaeda?

A few excerpts from Sowell's article at RCP:

"What if it was your mother or your child who was tied up somewhere beside a ticking time bomb and you had captured a terrorist who knew where that was? Face it: What you would do to that terrorist to make him talk would make water-boarding look like a picnic.

"Whatever the verbal fencing over the meaning of the word "torture," there is a fundamental difference between simply inflicting pain on innocent people for the sheer pleasure of it-- which is what our terrorist enemies do-- and getting life-saving information out of the terrorists by whatever means are necessary.

"The left has long confused physical parallels with moral parallels. But when a criminal shoots at a policeman and the policeman shoots back, physical equivalence is not moral equivalence. And what American intelligence agents have done to captured terrorists is not even physical equivalence."

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