The opponents of “torture”

During the Bush administration, opponents of torture* were making absurd claims about how torture does not work. These claims were absurd because there was no way the people making the claims could know if torture worked or not. Some blogger claiming “torture does not work” is like me claiming “hash arrays are relatively inefficient in C++ programming.” Just because I know the definition of every word in a sentence that states a technical problem does not mean that I know the answer to that technical problem.

Now that Obama is in charge, I do not hear people saying that torture does not work.

Maybe these people are delusional or optimistic enough to believe that no one is being tortured. Ha.**

These same people probably think there are no extraterritorial prisons besides the one or two they know about. Ha.

Now that Bush is out of office, I do not hear those people saying torture does not work. Instead, they want to imprison Bush administration officials. The people who once took the moral high ground now reveal themselves to be proponents of rule-by-law, and the subjugation of the court system to political revenge.

Instead, I know hear opponents of torture say that torture can work. But, they say, the only case where it would need to be used is to save an American city from a nuclear bomb, and in that rare event, it would be fine to force some guy to commit criminal acts and send him to prison, because, after all, he would be a hero.

These opponents of torture suffer from the delusion that victims of terrorism would be sympathetic to the guy who is trying to save them.

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Instead, imagine that a terrorist has planted a bomb, which will likely kill some black children. Not many. Say four. Maybe this is happening in Sudan in some attempt to save the Darfuris. Or Somalia, in an attempt to protect an anti-pirate village. Or Alabama.

And it is some guy’s job to keep this from happening. Some guy who is professional, who is trained, and does not particularly care for the people he has to protect. He would die for his mission, of course. But not put his career at risk in a fit of zealousness.

He is too well trained for that.

So this guy captures the terrorist who planted the bomb, and has very few minutes to determine where it is. Or four kids die. And they’re not even the same race of the American — they are just black — so it’s not like a career-ending decision is going to be made here.

This is what the torture debate comes down to. Not college-age rallies against 24. But a boring, real case, of the kind that you would even hear about.

Because you have better things to do than keep up with acts of violence against black kids.***

Or acts of violence that save them.

Opponents of torture say that the right of the terrorist to avoid painful interrogation techniques trumps the right of those four black kids to live, and the power of the guy whose job is to save them.

They are fine with that logic.

I am not.

[ * By “torture,” read “painful interrogation techniques.” Every recent Administration has been forceful in its condemnation of “torture,” whatever that is.]

[** By “ha,” read” the opinions of these people are ridiculous. ]

[*** If you disagree, what are the name of the last four black kids killed by violence in Darfur? Or Omaha? ]

9 thoughts on “The opponents of “torture””

  1. “Now that Obama is in charge, I do not hear people saying that torture does not work.”

    I’m hearing them. I thought that’s what this whole Cheney memo controversy was all about. It seems like there’s a pretty robust debate over torture’s efficacy both inside and outside the “technical” community.

  2. Interesting details have been discussed about the torture of KSM and others. Experienced interrogators who have successfully foiled terror plots and retrieved information from terrorists without torture have been making some exceptional points in recent days.

    For example, its is considered that KSM had to have known about the Madrid train bombing plot as well as other European cells that he was in charge of in his position in AQ, but he did not give this information to his torturers.
    He gave them what expert interrogator Matthew Alexander (the AF guy whose team interrogated their way into finding Zarqawi’s whereabouts in Iraq) calls the “bare minimum to make it stop” during his torture.

    I am not blaming Cheney and his ilk for incompetence in causing the Madrid train bombing to occur, but if I were the Spanish I would be pissed because its within the realm of the possible KSM could have given up the information about Madrid under expert interrogation rather than torture. We know from the experiences of interrogators who did not torture that they foiled as many, if not more, terror plots and got entirely more information (something the FBI director and even Porter Goss, the former CIA head seem to agree about) without torture than with it.

    So what am I saying?

    I have in the past allowed that torture should be a tool the CIA or others could use in emergency circumstances, provided afterward they face a jury of their peers (not citizens off the street but professional peers and relevant experts) who weighs the evidence of whether it was necessary or not. It appears Britain, France and Israel have used some variance of this in the past to some extent. I will admit this position came about after discussions with you and reading Phillip Bobbitt’s chapter on this in “Terror & Consent”. It is also a highly unrealistic scenario given there have yet to be any viable “ticking time bomb” scenarios according to the FBI director and relevant documents we are aware of now.

    However, it is becoming more doubtful as to whether torture is the best tool anytime. It seems that one could say torture works in some circumstances, but it does not work as well as an experienced interrogator (given that very few of these torture incidents seem to have occurred with an experienced interrogator on the scene). As such, it may be like using a putter for a long drive. It may hit the ball and get it moving forward, but not with the accuracy or distance of the other equipment.

    Also, I would support criminal charges against certain officials since instead of changing the law so they would not be breaking it, they broke the law and tried to justify it with poor legal reasoning that a first year law student couldn’t get away with.

    That said, I would rather they be professionally discredited (the lawyers and doctors involved) by their relevant associations and let history take care of the rest.

    Paulson and Geithner’s crimes are more important to the country right now than a few lawyers who didn’t have the professional courage to give the VP and his supporters answers they would not like.

  3. Of course it doesn’t help this debate or understanding the issue when torture advocates resort to lying and half-truths, as the CIA and the VP’s supporters have repeatedly. For instance,

    “Details on what interrogators actually got from techniques like waterboarding are sketchy. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has said that the first man the U.S. waterboarded, an al-Qaida operative named Abu Zubaydah, was unhelpful until the rough stuff began.

    The FBI remembers it differently. The bureau says it took just two weeks for Zubaydah to provide information on Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, without the use of aggressive tactics. Rohan Guaratna agrees. He’s an al-Qaida expert who has worked with both the CIA and the FBI and is very familiar with Zubaydah’s case.

    “Abu Zabaydah told the name of KSM before the enhanced techniques were used,” says Guaratna.”

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103792752

  4. “Opponents of torture say that the right of the terrorist to avoid painful interrogation techniques trumps the right of those four black kids to live, and the power of the guy whose job is to save them.”

    However, in the case of the terrorist, it would be a government mandate that is taking away their right to avoid painful interrogation techniques. In the case of the children, it is the terrorist that is taking away their right to live (to which they are mandated to be punished for doing so).

    I have heard gun control advocates say that a person’s right not to get shot “trumps” a person’s right to own a gun. Again, the form involves an individual entity taking away a right (again, to which they are to be punished for doing so), and the later involves the government, and what entity is to punish the government if they take away a right?

    You could argue that the government is by de facto taking away someone’s right by not taking action that would void someone else’, and I would not necessary disagree, but I just wanted to show you why you should empathize with the anti-torture position (despite empathy not being a popular word on the right these days).

  5. Adam,

    Interesting!

    Do you have links to any technical discussions of the efficacy of torture? Or, alternative, the relative efficacy of different torture techniques?

    Eddie,

    We know from the experiences of interrogators who did not torture that they foiled as many, if not more, terror plots and got entirely more information (something the FBI director and even Porter Goss, the former CIA head seem to agree about) without torture than with it.

    This argument is fallacious. And possibly intellectually dishonest, as we have gone over it before.

    You have a censored data set. Those who report success without using torture are cited as heroes. Those who would report success with torture rationally fear persecution, such as you advocate.

    Yet you act as if the sample you have to work from is not biased, and is not censored.

    If you are into making up meaning from a meaningless pattern of observations, why not just save a lot of time and divine from chicken endtrails?

    That said, I would rather they be professionally discredited (the lawyers and doctors involved) by their relevant associations and let history take care of the rest.

    Would this be before, or after, you professional discredit defense lawyers as a class, as they routinely make absurd legal arguments? Indeed, they have a professional obligation to do so, as the whole purpose of the legal proefssional in the common law system is to provide parties with the ability to use the law as a shield in the way that they could, if they were knowledgeable of the law.

    Paulson and Geithner’s crimes are more important to the country right now

    At least we agree on this! 🙂

    sonofsamphm1c.,

    I am not sure what you are referring to?

    Jeffrey James,

    Good point. I think the situation can be furthered occupied by the responsibility of occupying powers to protect (R2P). Still, the difference between violence at the hands of the state and violence at the hands of criminals is philosophically important, at least.

    Again, your point is very important. The anti-“torture” crowd is most coherent when they abandon the pretense that the world would be a better, happy, calmer, or more just place if they were to prevail.

  6. I’d be curious as to what context (referring to Jeffrey’s comment) the term “right” entails? (and I;m not referring to the political connotation.)

  7. Eddie — For example, its is considered that KSM had to have known about the Madrid train bombing plot as well as other European cells that he was in charge of in his position in AQ, but he did not give this information to his torturers.
    He gave them what expert interrogator Matthew Alexander (the AF guy whose team interrogated their way into finding Zarqawi’s whereabouts in Iraq) calls the “bare minimum to make it stop” during his torture.

    This seems suspiciously like the argument that because capitalist liberal democracy has not yet produced utopia it is a worthless and corrupt system that should be replaced by socialism (done the “right” way unlike all those previous attempts which were done the wrong way).

    People tell lies and clam up during interrogation. Under enough duress, people will talk. Figuring out if they are lying is part of the regular interrogation process of comparing their answers with other information. Sometimes finding out what people are lying about is useful information.

    Because refusing to talk is a much better tactic to avoid giving information that could damage your cause than telling lies, that is always what defense lawyers recommend.

    That does not address the issue of morality, but it seems silly to pretend that these techniques never work. Back when the left was pushing a different set of talking points, I remember some Central American leftist saying that all they could ask of their members was to hold out for 48 hours before talking in order for other members of the movement to escape if one of their members was picked up. Back during SEE training when I was in the Army, I witnessed a fellow eagerly telling all the stuff that they had told us not to say during the previous lectures in order to avoid additional unpleasantness.

  8. Jay,

    Good question.

    Jeffrey, response?

    Mark in Texas,

    Brilliant points:

    That does not address the issue of morality, but it seems silly to pretend that these techniques never work. Back when the left was pushing a different set of talking points, I remember some Central American leftist saying that all they could ask of their members was to hold out for 48 hours before talking in order for other members of the movement to escape if one of their members was picked up. Back during SEE training when I was in the Army, I witnessed a fellow eagerly telling all the stuff that they had told us not to say during the previous lectures in order to avoid additional unpleasantness.

    I wish I could read similarly thoughtful arguments from the anti-“torture” crowd.

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