Filed Under: Well…yeah

Harsh interrogation techniques work (/surprise)

The only surprise here is that President Obama’s own DNI admits that, well, yeah, that stuff seemed to work. At least according to another memo leaked from a White House that apparently has more holes in it than the colander I use to drain noodles…

President Obama’s national intelligence director told colleagues in a private memo last week that the harsh interrogation techniques banned by the White House did produce significant information that helped the nation in its struggle with terrorists.

High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country,” Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the intelligence director, wrote in a memo to his staff last Thursday.

It's not waterboarding, but it still sucks.

It's not waterboarding, but it still sucks.

Of course it works. Pain hurts. Now, granted, some of the senior operatives are well trained in withstanding torture and spreading dis-information under the guise of cracking under pressure (so says some books I’ve read). But I would argue that people like Abu Zabayda are few and far between. As such, it’s important to keep tools such as these methods in the tool box because they ARE effective.

It’s even more important to not let the rest of the world know what else is in the toolbox. I understand the arguements that say the release of the interrogation memos is good for transparency, to prove to the world that what we did is not torture (provided you agree that it wasn’t torture), but there’s something to be said for the enemy not knowing how far you’ll go to get information.

That’s why these techniques work. They feel like they’re in danger and then begin divulging. If you know going in what the outer limits of your interrogator’s methods are, you can mentally prepare yourself to withstand it.

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8 Responses to Filed Under: Well…yeah

  1. Niall says:

    Without seeing the actual evidence, it’s hard to know whether the torture techniques used by our government were “effective”. It also leaves wide open the question of whether torture was the only way these results could have been achieved. I think that would take a lot of proving.

    The real problem here is that torture is illegal, and we have engaged in it systematically. The other problem with torture is that it corrupts those who practice it, making them lazy. Then there’s the well-documented problem of people under torture confessing to just about anything to make the torture stop.

    The use of torture by the Bush administration was both unnecessary and illegal, and those responsible for authorizing it should be prosecuted.

  2. fastnav says:

    You make some good points, Niall.

    Here’s an interesting article regarding the use of turture.
    http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20090420_torture_and_u_s_intelligence_failure

    It highlights many of the points you make regarding how those who use it become comfortable with it, as well as the necessity of it’s use.

    I agree with you, but I agree with the article on a major point that you don’t. I think that torture has its place. The problem becomes when you begin to rely on it. After all, when you’ve got a big hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

    But I don’t think any of us know what we would do to get information we knew someone had if it would save lives.

  3. Niall says:

    Just a couple of points in response:

    Being “effective” is not the sole factor we use in determining whether a particular form of warfare is good or desirable. Poison gas has been shown to be very “effective” when used properly; yet we still ban its use. Because we realize that its dangers outweight its benefits.

    The other problem with your argument is that you’re assuming that torture can be carefully controlled and restricted only to certain very narrow, surgical uses. Can you give me an example of this being successful? We’ve seen in our own military and intelligence services how quickly it got out of control and ceased to be subject to any real restrictions (Abu Ghraib, etc.). Torture is like heroin or crystal meth. Once you start, you can’t stop, and history bears eloquent evidence to this truth.

  4. fastnav says:

    I wouldn’t say that I’m assuming torture can be controlled. I actually agree with you that, once you allow it’s use, the ease of which information comes from it will encourage its further use.

    But what I *am* saying is that it has its time and place.

    For example, someone has your child and is threatening to kill him or her. If you had a person in your custody who knew exactly where your child is, I would almost guarantee that there’s nothing you wouldn’t do to get your child back.

    Is this on a national scale? No. Is it an example of establishing policy? No. I’m merely saying that in certain circumstances, I think we’d all cross some moral lines.

    So imagine you were the one charged with protecting every life in the country. What would you do if you believed there was an imminent threat?

  5. Niall says:

    The problem with your example is that it assumes everything it purports to prove. In a real situation I wouldn’t know for certain whether the person in custody knew where my child was, though I may suspect he does. That’s the whole point. And I would have absolutely no guarantee that using torture on this person would produce the information I need. I met get the same information by offering him a cigarette and a prostitute. Who knows? So I don’t think your example really advances your argument.

    And to say that torture “has its time and place” is also to say there times and places when it should not be practiced. Which I think enforces my earlier point that you think the use of torture can be comfortably limited to “edge” situations, and excluded from others.

    But if this is not possible, as you also seem to admit, how can we say that, in practical terms, it “has its time and place”?

  6. fastnav says:

    Indeed, I think this whole thing is a fascinating conundrum. I may not have advanced my position much, but I don’t think you have either. If anything, I think what you’ve stated highlights the complete lack of absolutes in this situation.

    You say maybe giving the guy a cigarette and a prostitute may get you the info you need. What if you try that and it doesn’t work, do you advance up the ante or do you try some other, equally benign tactic? My point being that there are any number of ways to extract information. I think that expediency plays a part in the determination of the method you use. Do you have time to play quid pro quo? If not, maybe you break a finger to move things along.

    I agree, you won’t know for certain whether the guy has the information or not. Those who favor extreme measures will point out that when they get what they needed, it was due to the success of the tactics. Detractors will point out that you could have gotten it other ways. If the information needed ISN’T received, detractors will point out that the measures needlessly injured an innocent. It’s a no-clear winner for either side because for every situation demonstrating one side, there will be one for the other as well.

    I’m not sure there *IS* a correct answer on this one. But I do think that there’s something to be said for the enemy knowing that you’ll go to some extremes to get information. I think (pure speculation on my part) that when they don’t know how far you’ll go to get what you want, you’ll find they cave in much sooner, thus eliminating the need to go to extremes.

    But when you release memos saying we won’t do this or that, you begin placing bounds on what you’ll do, and begin defining expectations for the enemy to deal with.

  7. Niall says:

    My whole argument has been based on decentralizing the notion of “effectiveness” you appealed to at the beginning to justify the use of torture. The appeal to “effectiveness” establishes nothing, because any number of techniques may be effective in different circumstances, and we don’t know beforehand which ones will in fact be effective, or even if they have been effective long after they have been applied.

    Which is why you have to exclude certain techniques on the grounds of immorality and barbarism, and their tendency to corrupt the organization that uses them. Just as we exclude the use of poison gas, even though it can certainly be as effective as other weapons we allow ourselves to use.

    It’s difficult to understand how saying waterboarding is torture in 2009 is placing “bounds on what you’ll do”, since waterboarding has been defined as torture for more than century in the Army field manula, and forbidden on this basis. We’ve been stating for most of the 20th century that we won’t use waterboarding – doesn’t seem to have hurt us, has it?

    And, following your logic, we shouldn’t say that we won’t use chemical or biological weapons because it ties our hands. That’s the whole point of making certain weapons and tactics illegal, isn’t it? So what is the problem?

  8. fastnav says:

    I see your point regarding effectiveness, but I believe we can appeal to effectiveness as a defining characteristic in the sense that we know somethings will be effective and some won’t. But for that very reason we should have them all available to choose from. That said, I see your point regarding limiting techniques based on moral grounds from the outset.

    You keep citing the Army field manual as labeling waterboarding as torture. I haven’t seen said manual, so I can’t be sure, but I don’t think it matters because I can find a Navy manual that says “colored sailors” are more difficult to work with. It was a sign of the times, and (thankfully) times do change. My point being, just because it’s written in a book doesn’t account for much in my opinion. Especially an Army Field Manual from who-knows-when.

    I still maintain that these techniques have their time and place. And right after 9/11, when faced with an imminent and imposing danger to the country, their time had come. Once the danger had passed, or at least subsided, their time had passed and they should have been rescinded, not allowed to continue until they became entrenched as Standard Practice.

    But, I think to look back now and judge the decisions made outside of the situational context in which they were made is being disingenuous to the national hysteria that was going on at the time. Those who participate in this 20/20 hindsight evaluation of the situations always seem to do so from a perch built of a self-righteous sense of superior morality.

    I also think Lex has a great input into this idea.

    “Thus are those who, in an uncertain time, faced with previously unimaginable threats, sought to define exactly what torture “is” so that agents of the state might avoid tripping over that line while exploring the scope, capabilities and future intentions of those threats labeled “torturers.” The very act of defining torture in a legal context makes one a torturer, since what is to one man an “aggressive interrogation technique” (or resistance training method for naval aviators and special warfare operators), is in another man’s eyes “torture.”

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