Was getting bin Laden a sufficient justification for torture?

An "enhanced interrogation" scene in "Zero Dark Thirty."

An “enhanced interrogation” scene in “Zero Dark Thirty.”

I raised this somewhere in this earlier thread, but I was reminded of it when I saw this story in The Washington Post this morning, which addressed one of the first questions that occurred to me when I saw reports about the torture findings yesterday: The report said torture was ineffective, but didn’t it lead us to bin Laden?

That’s just a question, not an argument. I don’t think we should have used torture whether it led to bin Laden or not. I’m with John McCain on this one (by the way, the Post also had a piece this morning about how for once, McCain and Lindsey Graham were in disagreement).

The Post reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee report directly refutes the story we’ve heard in the past, which was dramatized in “Zero Dark Thirty” (the credibility of which took a hit yesterday along with the CIA’s). The report says torture did not lead to bin Laden, or at least that its role was greatly exaggerated. The CIA continues to say otherwise:

In a detailed response to the committee report, the CIA rejected the study’s interpretation of events leading to the killing of bin Laden. It reiterates that coercive measures helped, saying the tactics led two detainees in agency custody, Ammar al-Baluchi and Ghul, to provide important clues to the courier.

It was “impossible to know in hindsight” whether interrogators could have obtained the same information that helped locate bin Laden without using enhanced techniques, the agency said.

“However, the information we did obtain from these detainees played a role — in combination with other important streams of intelligence — in finding the al-Qaeda leader.”

But here’s my BIG question: Even if torture was necessary to get bin Laden, was torture justified?

I say not. Partly because it was wrong, but also because it wasn’t that essential that we find him and kill him — and therefore not worth setting morality aside, if that is ever justified.

As much of a sense of justice, or closure, as it may have engendered in American hearts, as much as it told those who would kill innocent Americans, We will find you, and exact retribution, it was never necessary to the war effort, and it certainly wasn’t conclusive. It was a great coup de main, an exhibition of American arms and prowess (and as I’ve said, sound decision-making by the president in deciding to send in the SEALs, and not tell the Pakistanis we were coming). And bin Laden certainly had it coming.

But it wasn’t like catching the snitch in Quidditch. It didn’t win the game. The conditions that engender terrorism still exist. ISIL has morphed into something more dangerous than al Qaeda ever was, despite its one great coup.

The only thing that would solve the problem is systemic change in the region — cultural, economic, political change. Which is why some of us favored reshuffling the deck by taking out Saddam Hussein, in addition to tossing out the Taliban, overthrowing Qaddafi, and pressing allies in the region to liberalize their societies to the extent that is possible.

President Obama can kill bin Laden and every other identifiable terrorist in the region, with drones where commando raids aren’t feasible. Others will take their place, unless the conditions that produce them change.

But this nation lost its appetite for nation rebuilding several years back. The purpose of this post is not to try to reverse that trend. The point is to say, things being as they are… was it worth using torture to get bin Laden? If that’s even what we did…

The mission that took out bin Laden was a bravura performance by the Navy. But was it worth using torture to bring about?

The mission that took out bin Laden was a bravura performance by the Navy. But was it worth using torture to bring about?

68 thoughts on “Was getting bin Laden a sufficient justification for torture?

      1. Juan Caruso

        “Was getting bin Laden a sufficient justification for torture?” The administration’s U.S. torture self-expose and Sen McCain claim torture is not an American “value”.

        One unfortunate impact of the report is that it will helpf jihadist recruit more fanatics to for the Islamic State.

        Journalists and their readers have missed the most profound implication. I am not convoinced this administration (intended or not) missed what was not stated:

        Were non-lethal tortures an acknowledged American value, such methods may eventually be used to interrogate not only ordinary U.S. citizens accused of seditious crimes, but D.C. POLITICIANS, as well.

  1. Mike Cakora

    Getting bin Laden was certainly one of the objectives in interrogating captured al Qaeda members, but it wasn’t the only one or the primary one. One interrogates captives to find out whatever they know about intentions, capabilities, organization, other bad guys, specifics on planned operations, etc.

    As for the search for Osama, some analysts connected a nugget from one guy along with a nugget from another, coupled them with other information, probably put out a request for any information on this or that, and came up with a probable location for Osama.

    Was torture used? No eyeballs were ripped out, no appendages were chopped off, no permanent damage was done to those interrogated. Nor did we decapitate the colleagues / cellmates of those being questioned. (We in fact sent their cellmates to the Bahamas, Uruguay, and other miserable places.)

    1. M.Prince

      As I pointed out in the other string on this topic, you are simply wrong to question whether the techniques used on detainees constituted torture. They have been defined as such by international custom and treaty. The International Committee of the Red Cross, one of whose missions is to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions, says in its report on detainee treatment:

      “…the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment.”

      Both torture as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are illegal under the Third Geneva Convention. They are also illegal under the 1984 Convention Against Torture and under the War Crimes Act of 1996.

      These may seem like mere legalisms to you, but they are the glue that holds things together. The fact that someone or group does something bad to you does not give you the right to do likewise to them. Moreover, I would suggest that much of what was done likely occurred more to quell the desire for retribution than out of any need to obtain information. It’s the keenness to appease powerful, ugly emotions that we have to guard against. And that’s the purpose of law.

      The US Army recognized the problematic nature of detainee mistreatment when revamping its Field Manual For Intelligence Collection Operations, which “explicitly prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment…. To make this more imaginable and understandable to our soldiers…we have included in the Field Manual specific prohibitions. There’s eight of them: interrogators may not force a detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner; they cannot use hoods or place sacks over a detainee’s head or use duct tape over his eyes; they cannot beat or electrically shock or burn them or inflict other forms of physical pain—any form of physical pain; they may not use water boarding, they may not use hypothermia or treatment which will lead to heat injury; they will not perform mock executions; they may not deprive detainees of the necessary food, water and medical care; and they may not use dogs in any aspect of interrogations…”

      When asked whether these procedures might prevent interrogators from obtaining useful information, Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said:

      “I am absolutely convinced the answer to your first question is no. No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.
      And moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility. And additionally, it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can’t afford to go there.“

  2. Bryan Caskey

    “Was getting Bin Laden a sufficient justification for torture?”

    Well, your question assumes that the methods used are “torture”. Whether that’s the case or not is endlessly debatable, and reasonable minds can disagree. However, since it’s your hypothetical, we’ll assume it to be true that the interrogation methods are “torture”.

    Our President seemed to be pretty fired up about getting Bin Laden, but you raise a good point. Killing Bin Laden did not suddenly cause radical Islamists to just throw down their arms and go home. It didn’t end the conflict. We’re still fighting them. But no one expected it to produce that result. Killing Bin Laden was as much about showing radical Islamists (and our own countrymen) that the United States does not forget.

    Certainly, killing Bin Laden had some value. You can’t put it into an Excel spreadsheet and balance it against “torture”, but killing him was certainly a victory that closed a chapter. If however, you are to assume that our interrogation methods were torture, and by that you mean immoral, unethical, and out of the bounds of what belligerent countries should do, then no, it was not justification.

    (But hey, I can argue the other side, like any lawyer ought to be able to.)

    Alternatively, one could argue that there are no limits in war, and that nothing is out-of-bounds. You could take Sherman’s view of things: “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”

    There’s a truth to that. That’s not a pretty truth, but it is true.

    War is cruel. What we are doing with drone strikes is killing people. It’s fairly sterile on our end of things, but it’s death. Approaching a war with half-measures and restraint is a sure-fire way to lengthen the war, and engender more casualties. Perhaps we should strike swiftly, viciously, and show no restraint in war so as to end the war quickly.

    1. Doug Ross

      “Perhaps we should strike swiftly, viciously, and show no restraint in war so as to end the war quickly.”

      Also known as the “Nuke ’em all and let God sort them out” strategy.

      A wise computer once said, “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?”

      1. Silence

        Oddly enough, after the Confederacy surrendered, there wasn’t a protracted guerilla style insurgency bombing union occupation troops all over the South. If there was, please bring it to my attention. Yes, Lincoln did get assasinated, but that was an isolated incident.
        Germany and Japan were defeated in a brutal and total warfare campaign in WWII which included the firebombing of Dresden, and the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all three were civilian-heavy targets. The brutality and totality of the campaigns broke the will of the Germans and Japanese people. After they surrendered they did not start civil wars or start blowing up occupying soldiers with IED’s and mortars.
        If anything, the “shock and awe” that we utilized in Afghanistan and Iraq caused the governments (or Taliban leadership) to topple, but did not break the will of the population to fight. Thihngs were over too quickly, and the majority of civilian casualties came later, after the actual combat operations ended, during the insurgencies.
        We don’t have the stomach for killing like we used to.

        1. Doug Ross

          Shock and awe can’t work against terrorists. It may have worked against countries with standing armies, infrastructure, etc. but there is a moral price to pay for such actions. The U.S. killed thousands of women and children to achieve its military goal. I’m not in the “ends justifies the means” camp.

          Thinking that what worked before will work again is a mistake.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            “Shock and awe can’t work against terrorists.”

            Well, not against religiously motivated ones, anyway. God kind of has the trump card on “shock and awe”.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Actually… shock and awe doesn’t work all that well against noncombatants, in the sense that I think you mean.

            As a military tactic, also known as “rapid dominance,” it can have its value, in the sense of gaining the momentary initiative. Knock the enemy back on his heels, and maintain the initiative, and maybe you can attain your objective before he’s had time to get his bearings. On a very small scale, the use of flash-bangs in taking a confined space can have a useful effect. Knock down the door, toss in the flash-bangs, and then be standing over your adversary with a gun trained on him before he’s had time to say “WTF?” On a larger scale, essential decapitate the enemy force by destroying communications capability, and you’ve accomplished something similar.

            But in terms of having the strategic value of demoralizing a population, not so much. I know I quote Dave Grossman’s book On Killing a lot, but that’s because I learned a lot from it. And one thing I learned is that civilians subjected to, say, the Blitz in England in 1940, are less likely to suffer PTSD than soldiers who come into face-to-face contact with the enemy. Grossman’s conclusion is that it’s not being in danger yourself that causes the stress; it’s being expected to kill. Civilians being bombed may be terrified and in terrible danger, but they are free of the responsibility to DO anything about it, so the long-lasting shock is lessened…

            1. Silence

              Not sure shock and awe ever actually worked against any population. It does seem to be capable of rendering governments and militaries ineffective, though.

            2. Doug Ross

              I think wars should be fought from the top down. Rather than waging campaigns pitting large groups of men against each other, the primary objective should be to target the leaders and their families (yes, I said that). That would provide greater incentive to avoid war.

            3. Bryan Caskey

              Rather than waging campaigns pitting large groups of men against each other, the primary objective should be to target the leaders and their families (yes, I said that).

              So you’re against pouring water on a captured combatant’s head to simulate drowning. Ok, fine. But you’re in favor of “targeting” (by which I assume you mean killing) the families of leaders, who are themselves completely non-combatants?

              Square that circle for me.

            4. Doug Ross

              Squaring the circle:

              If war is unavoidable, we should employ techniques that minimize the number of casualties to innocent people. Our current policy has killed thousands of innocent people and children that we brush off as “collateral damage”. Let’s make war “real” for those who think it’s the right option.

            5. Brad Warthen Post author

              Doug, you just described the policy of the United States — to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, while going after the actual bad guys.

              President Obama’s drone policy is a pure distillation of that approach. But no approach is perfect, and there are collateral casualties from using drones.

              It doesn’t matter how smart our drones are, when there’s somebody else in the room.

              The best way to avoid innocent casualties, of course, is to put boots on the ground — expert boots, worn by the most skilled killers in the world. People who do what Sonny said in The Godfather: “What do you think this is the Army, where you shoot ’em a mile away? You’ve gotta get up close like this and – bada-BING! – you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit.”

              Yet still, in that most surgical approach, there are noncombatant deaths — people who get in the way and are shot because the Special Forces guy can’t take a chance in that instance…

              And unless you’ve been in their boots, I don’t think it’s fair to judge who are right there, in the enemy’s bedroom, because the ideal of NO collateral casualties is not always achieved.

              In the raid that killed bin Laden — about as successful an operation as you are likely to find — bin Laden was one of five killed. There were three other men, including one of his sons, and a woman who was killed in the crossfire.

              You go in to kill a guy, there’s always the chance you’re going to kill others.

            6. Doug Ross

              And then’s there’s Hiroshima… Or any other missile, bomb dropped by mistake on the wrong location. Or napalm dumped on wide areas… America has always used an “ends justifies the means” excuse for killing innocent people because America is great and good. We don’t torture. We don’t enslave. That’s just some rogue actors.

            7. Brad Warthen Post author

              You’re several decades out of date there. I’m describing the policies of this country NOW, when we have technology that enables us to be more selective in targeting, although as I say, it’s impossible to be perfect in the sincere effort to avoid civilian casualties.

              When you say something like “America has always…” that includes the present day. Which means your statement is false.

              Hiroshima reflected the moral calculations of the day. Estimates — highly credible estimates — were that invading and subduing Japan with boots on the ground would lead to a million casualties, and to far more civilian casualties than dropping that bomb. Our experiences at Iwo Jima and Okinawa — where entire families jumped off cliffs rather than live to see American rule — gave us every reason to believe that.

            8. Doug Ross

              Amnesty International disagrees with you.

              “A toughly-worded report by the group focused on 10 incidents between 2009 and 2013 that it said saw 140 civilians killed during U.S. military operations. Amnesty said the vast majority of family members it interviewed said they had never been interviewed by U.S. military investigators.

              Most of the incidents involved airstrikes and night raids carried out by U.S. forces. Both tactics have sparked heated criticism from Afghan civilians and the government who say the U.S. doesn’t take enough care to prevent civilian deaths.”

            9. Doug Ross

              It is also current policy to deny, deny, deny any civilian casualties.

              This is from last week… or is that also not “present day”?


              “Of the 15 likely airstrikes examined for this report that allegedly caused civilian casualties, seven took place on days when U.S. forces alone carried out missions or where the United States has claimed sole responsibility for an attack. Reports from independent monitors indicate that 49 or more civilians may have died in such attacks.

              Three local Syrian residents, for example, have described to Human Rights Watch the deaths of seven women and children in a U.S. cruise missile strike in Syria’s Idlib province on Sept. 23, which allegedly targeted the Khorasan Group. Centcom continues to deny any confirmed civilian casualties from the attack.”

            10. M.Prince

              “…the primary objective should be to target the leaders and their families”

              I hate to burst your bubble, but, actually, this would be in violation of a series of Executive Orders (not reversed by any act of Congress) expressly prohibiting the assassination of foreign leaders, the last of which reads:

              “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination

            11. Brad Warthen Post author

              Of course, since presidents issue executive orders, a president can rescind them.

              And aren’t this president’s drone attacks a form of assassination?

              Killing bin Laden certainly was…

            12. M.Prince

              Nope, assassination only applies to state leaders(ship), not non-state actors like your average Joe on the street. So, no, OBL doesn’t count.

              Gaddafi is a kind of grey zone case. Assassination only applies in situations in which there is no active state of war. Once states go to war, then state leaders can be targeted — just not the way that was suggested (as a one off kind of thing that leaves the rest of the population in peace).

            13. Brad Warthen Post author

              Well, technically, “Assassination is the murder of a prominent person or political figure by a surprise attack, usually for payment or political reasons.”

              But I take your point that a head of state should be a particularly sacrosanct person to someone who respects the rule of law.

              Still, that’s a fuzzy thing these days. For instance… the head of ISIL, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He claims to be the head of a real state — which we don’t recognize… So… legitimate target or no?

            14. Bryan Caskey

              Bryan’s test to determine if a place is an actual country or not:

              Do you get to participate in the Olympic “Parade of Nations”? If you do, congratulations.

            15. M.Prince

              “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi … legitimate target or no?”

              As far as the ban on assassination is concerned, he’s not covered. So yes, legit.

        2. M.Prince

          “We don’t have the stomach for killing like we used to.”

          There are many people around the globe who would strongly disagree with you on that.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Another theme in Grossman’s book addresses your point.

            It’s true — we DON’T have the stomach for killing in this country. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen in our name. (As Gary Oldman’s character said to the president’s daughter when she said her father didn’t kill people, “Why? Because he does it in a tuxedo with a telephone call and a smart bomb?” It’s a treat to hear him say “smart bomb” in that accent.) But there’s nothing inconsistent in that. It follows the usual pattern.

            Grossman documents that the farther one is removed from personal, specific responsibility for killing, the less likely you are to suffer the natural psychological stresses associated with taking another human life. Machine gun crews find it easier to kill than riflemen on the front lines because they’re farther away, and they share responsibility with their crewman. Sniper teams also. Artillery crews even more so. They are all far more likely to fire accurately at the enemy than a rifleman, and less likely to suffer psychic pain for doing so.

            Bomber crews, even more so. I would say the same would be true of drone operators.

            So it is perfectly consistent that a civilian here in the USA can be extremely squeamish about violence, either for moral or other reasons, but not be bothered because a soldier he doesn’t even know is killing someone in Afghanistan. He’s far less involved in it, psychologically, than a person watching violence in a movie.

            Sure, there are people whose moral sense on this point is so sensitive that they find it intolerable that this violence occurs on their behalf, and they do something like join the Carolina Peace Resource Center folks out in front of the State House on Wednesday evenings. This accomplishes nothing, and the people who are less sensitive see that, and that further convinces them that there’s nothing they can do to prevent that soldier from killing that Taliban fighter, and therefore they feel even less responsible — assuming they ever even think about it…

            1. M.Prince

              Well, my comment was more in response to what I saw as the typical American self-absorption reflected in the comment I was responding to: the lack of awareness of or concern about what we do abroad or how it affects others — though I suppose your/Grossman’s point sort of parallels that. The whole debate about torture and the larger issue of terrorism reflects this same self-centeredness on our part, because it places us at the center of the narrative — even though we are not really the main attraction, far less the main victims of terror. According to a report just out, in November alone the number of those killed by extremists were as follows: 1770 Iraqis, 786 Nigerians, 782 Afghans, 693 Syrians, 410 Yemenis, 216 Somalians, 212 Pakistanis, 50 Filipinos, 50 Kenyans, 39 Libyans, 15 Cameroons, 13 Indians, 5 Egyptians, 1 Nigerien and 1 Bangladeshi.
              But not one American.

            2. M.Prince

              Responsibility, yes. But what form should that responsibility take? If I thought that having the US going back in a big way militarily would do the trick, I’d be for it. But as we’ve discussed in another string, experience has shown that it is, at best, a stop-gap measure.

            3. Brad Warthen Post author

              Well, pulling up stakes and abandoning the country is NOT meeting the responsibility.

              Creating a security vacuum into which ISIL can flow is not meeting the responsibility…

          2. M.Prince

            You insist on equating taking responsibility with having a sizable (and I assume actively engaged) military presence on the ground. I, by contrast, believe that there are real means of engaging the problem that do not involve this degree of re-involvement. I would also point out that direct military involvement comes with certain downsides that have to be balanced against what good it might accomplish. And in that regard I would suggest you overestimate (in contradiction to historical experience) what our presence can or could achieve that would have a self-sustaining effect — in the sense of not requiring our military engagement virtually in perpetuity. The conflict there remains to a large extent sectarian – Shiite vs. Sunni – that works, alongside a number of other internal fractures, to keep the country from coming to rest. We could perhaps do what we did before: paper over those differences. But we cannot bridge the underlying divide.

            I may be a democracy-spreading, nation-building Wilsonian at heart. But as a former student of international relations, I absorbed enough of the realist school for my head to tell me that blindly following every impulse of the heart will inevitably involve certain pitfalls.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I think that in this case, yes, maintaining a military presence there would have prevented ISIL from taking huge chunks of the country. And probably would have prevented Maliki from being such a sectarian to the extent that it encouraged the rise of ISIL.

              As I probably mentioned in one of our previous discussions, I’m a firm believer that our military has to be somewhere, and it might as well be somewhere that its presence has a salutary effect…

        3. Brad Warthen Post author

          “Oddly enough, after the Confederacy surrendered, there wasn’t a protracted guerilla style insurgency bombing union occupation troops all over the South.”

          That’s because the South was led by gentlemen. Lee had surrendered, and his men — including the enlisted ranks, not just the officers — sufficiently respected Marse Robert that they wouldn’t dream of besmirching his honor by continuing hostilities by other means.

          At least, not initially. Then there was the KKK during Reconstruction. But who ever called Forrest a gentleman?

          1. Bryan Caskey

            Forrest was “new money” in the 1860s, having been born essentially dirt poor. Lee was was entirely the opposite, being from one of the most prominent families in Virginia.

            They’re both extraordinarily interesting people.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              It’s awesome. It’s way better than it sounds. When it came out, it actually got praise from historians for its sincere, thoughtful treatment of how a victorious South might wrestle with the slavery issue postwar…

              The future of slavery is the core issue in that presidential election. Guess which candidate is all for keeping it as it is…

      2. Bryan Caskey

        Love that movie.

        In the case of a similarly armed opponent, yes, you have mutually assured destruction. However, I think you would have to agree that if the United States chose to launch a massive nuclear strike against the middle-east and turn all that sand into glass, there would be very little, if anything, that the poorly armed middle eastern countries could do in retaliation. Obviously, there would be moral outrage, but sticks and stones, right?

        “Also known as the ‘Nuke ’em all and let God sort them out’ strategy'”

        I like to think of it as the “Rubble don’t make trouble” gambit.

        Disclaimer: I am not advocating for a massive nuclear strike against the middle east at this time. I’m simply saying we could do so with relative impunity.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, you know, in a similar situation, I’d probably behave the same.

      Assuming that I was in charge of all this, and that I truly believed that the torture was necessary, I’d still be really uncomfortable about being questioned about it.

      Not everyone can be as phlegmatic about it as Dick Cheney…

      1. Otter - Director of CIA House

        Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our Muslim party guests – we did.

        But you can’t hold the whole Central Intelligence Agency responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the Director of National Intelligence? And if the Director of National Intelligence is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our government in general?

        I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!

  3. John

    If I rephrase Brad’s question to read “Does the pursuit of justice justify torture?” the answer is pretty clearly no. If I rephrase it “Are (were) we angry enough at Bin Laden’s co-conspirators to torture them to get him?” then a lot more people shift over to the yes side. But is important to note that the latter involves giving up external moral absolutes/human rights in favor of relativism. A few repetitions of Alice’ Restaurant should help you understand the failure of moral relativism.

    Re the discussion if whether or not the actions in this report sunk to the level of torture – I’m pretty sure if you did these kind of things to your neighbor you would end up in jail or a mental institution.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m picturing that neighbor scenario:

      “Officer, I invited him over for a cookout, for hot dogs and beer, and he wouldn’t EAT! So obviously, I had no alternative, as a host, but to resort to rectal feeding…”

  4. Bryan Caskey

    Doug’s Proffered War Doctrine: “If war is unavoidable, we should employ techniques that minimize the number of casualties to innocent people.”

    Seems like that doctrine would allow for torture of captured enemy combatants.

    CIA Officer: “Hey, we’ve got this guy Mohammed here who we captured yesterday. He was doing the ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ thing after we kicked in his door. Anyway, he might know more about his friend’s plot to take down a civilian airliner that we heard about on that signal intercept from last week. What should we do?”

    CIA Supervisor: “Well, I’ve got this memo from President Doug Ross that says we should ’employ techniques to minimize the number of causalities to innocent people’. Alrightly then. Go fetch me my waterboard and five gallons of water.”

    CIA Officer: “Sure thing boss. Wow, President Ross really doesn’t mess around, does he.”

    1. Doug Ross

      Since you gave me one extreme hypothetical, let me give you one.

      CIA Director: “President Caskey, we picked up this guy outside a house where we think a guy lived who knew the brother of a cousin of Bin Laden’s uncle. I’d like to get your authorization to hang him by his wrists to a post for 48 hours and feed him rectally to see if he will give up any information. If that doesn’t work, we’ll strap him to a board and pour buckets of water into his open mouth until he blacks out. If THAT doesn’t work, we’ll stick strip him, put him in a diaper, and stick him in a cell where he can’t stand up straight. And if all that doesn’t produce any useful information, well, we’ll just leave him in Guantanamo indefinitely. Are you okay with that?

      President Caskey (takes a long swig from his tumbler full of whiskey): “Is that legal?”

      CIA Director: “Why, of course. ”

      President Caskey: Book ’em, Dano!

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Ha! Having me drinking on the job is my favorite part of that hypothetical. By the way, treatment of terrorists would be the least of people’s concerns under a Caskey administration.

        Honestly, I don’t think that we interrogated people without a good faith basis that they had intelligence. We did this stuff to people like KSM – the guy who was the principal architect of 9/11, and other people we knew to have intelligence about al-Qaeda.

        Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I just can’t see us doing these (granted) extreme things to random people we happened to come across, just for jollies.

        The more confident I am that you know something important, the more leeway I’m willing to give your interrogator. In your hypothetical, I’m not too confident that detainee knows anything. Accordingly, I wouldn’t ask “Is that legal?” I’d ask, “Why do you think he knows anything significant?”

  5. Silence

    What’s not being talked about, is that the guy who’s out there defending the CIA isn’t Bush’s guy, it’s Obama’s guy. The current CIA director John Brennan is an Obama appointee, and he’s out defending the program. What’s also not being discussed is the Congress’ failures of oversight, if this really was torture, and if this was really not a valuable program.

    1. M.Prince

      First of all, yes, it really truly honest to goodness cross-my-heart was torture.

      Secondly, what looks here like regret in hindsight is just that. But, hey, that’s the way things work. Brennan is still giving us the how-it-looked-then view, while the report is offering us an ex post facto perspective. That’s the way judgments are made: historical or otherwise. If history’s first draft were all there were, then, well, there’d be no need for reexamination — or even examination, for that matter.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Ok, what’s your definition of “torture”? Can we make them sleep on a hard floor with no pillow? Can we make them watch “Howard the Duck” on a continuous loop? Can we threaten to stomp on the Koran? Can we threaten to send them to Detroit?

        Oh, and the report isn’t giving us the ex post facto. It’s politicians disclaiming responsibility for what they asked CIA to do.

        Actual quote from Senator Feinstein in 2002“the threat is profound” and “that we have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”

        If she was saying stuff like that to the NYT in public, can you imagine what she was saying in closed-door intelligence briefings? Now, Feinstein (and others) are trying to act like they had NO IDEA what was going on.

        Right. You can say that we tortured, and that it was bad. That’s fine. But don’t sit there and tell me that you had NO IDEA we were doing it.

        Again, decorum prevents me from saying what I think of the politicians who produced this report.

        1. M.Prince

          You could make the effort to look this up yourself, but, ok, I did it for you (not that I expect it’ll make any difference):

          “The United Nations (UN), in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
          or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) in 1984, adopted the following

          For the purpose of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which
          severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on
          a person for such purpose 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 (United Nations, 1995, pp. 294-300).

          This definition has been universally accepted by the 146 countries that have currently
          ratified the Convention. In summary, torture is defined as a political act inflicted by a
          public official, with the intent and purpose of extracting a confession or information,
          punishment, intimidation, coercion, or discrimination. The most important criteria in
          the definition of torture are the intention and purpose, not the severity of the pain. In
          addition, torture occurs during detention when the prisoner is powerless and under the
          control of authorities. The use of force and the infliction of pain under these
          circumstances violate the principle of proportionality, forbidden by international law.”

          As for the Feinstein quote, I see that it’s getting a lot of circulation in right-wing blogs, Fox and other such fora, but if you take the time (and given your lack of interest in looking up the definition of torture, I don’t expect you will), then you will see that in the original context (NYTimes report) it is not at all clear she is referring to torture or anything of that nature. It appears instead that she was talking about a need for beefing up the national security apparatus at home.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            I am aware of the UN definition of torture, and I am aware of the US definition of torture. I would note they are similar, but they are not identical.

            I’ve been called many things, but I’ve never been accused of being too lazy to obtain information. I was merely asking what the M.Prince definition of torture is. It appears you have adopted the UN definition. And that’s fine.

            To me, the word “severe” is a real squishy part of the whole definition. What may be severe to one person may not be severe to another.

            As for Feinstein, if you want to defend her, that’s certainly your prerogative. The whole Senate Report reminds me of a scene in a movie. No, it’s not “A Few Good Men” which everyone seems to bring up. For me, it’s “Clear and Present Danger”.

            I’ll probably do a whole post about that tonight over on my digital corner of the internet, and afterwards continue listening to Shelby Foote’s second volume on the Civil War. There may also be bourbon involved. No torture, though.

            I’ll give a free, one year, Gold-level subscription to my blog to anyone who can correctly guess the scene I’m thinking of.

            1. M.Prince

              And as for what your or my definition of torture might be, that’s irrelevant — which is precisely the point: WE can’t make up our own definitions. That’s like saying we should be allowed to make up our own definition of murder to suit our circumstances:
              “Gee, judge, you say it was murder, but I say he really deserved what he got.”

            2. Bryan Caskey

              No one, huh? Time’s up.

              Don’t get too riled up, M.Prince. I’m a litigator, so I really enjoy arguing, and the debate here is lively. It’s good practice for work. It’s not personal. 🙂

              Enjoy your weekend, friends in a box.

  6. Bart

    To paraphrase one of my favorite lines from MST3000, “it is amazing how their memories are uncluttered by their very own words and actions of the past” when they were for, “doing some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves”, before they were against it well after the fact, almost 10 years after EITs ceased.

  7. Barry

    Bin Laden is a red herring.

    Was torture ok with me after 9/11 in an attempt to protect America from other attacks in our own soil.

    Sure. Have no problem with it.

    When the simple fact that American women wearing bikinis in public can anger extremists enough to want to kill us, I’m ok with torture to protect us.

    1. Barry

      I take the Diane Feinstein approach before she changed her mind

      Feinstein for her part knew what the CIA was up to. In 2002, she said the 9/11 attacks meant the United States would “have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.” Only after the gory details made the front page of the New York Times did Feinstein seem to find a conscience.

      Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2014/12/13/3869649_malthis-boychuk-redblueamerica.html?sp=/99/168/&rh=1#storylink=cpy

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