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War and the Implications of Enhanced Interrogation

Editor’s Note: This is a long piece and I do apologize for that.  I needed to understand from where exactly do the proponents of enhanced interrogation form their reasoning that either torture is okay or that “enhanced interrogation techniques” do not constitute torture.  How could anyone argue this stance?  Yet I have trouble attributing diabolical intent to anyone (perhaps a defect on my part).  I assume that most on either side of the political isle have the best of intentions.  And this particular issue is as volatile as the abortion, death penalty, and gun control debates, for that matter, with the country pretty much evenly divide, but with either side taking absolutist positions.  I hope what follows can, at the very least, constitute an honest inquiry.  It is a bit long winded, but I hope that most will be able to stay with it….

This is the entire essay without the links.  For all sources, please go to

I for one am glad it was this president and not the former who got Osama bin Laden.  This is not because I’m a hater of George W. Bush (I’m not) but because it is good for Americans (some more than others) to see a young, liberal Democrat with Marxist friends, and who ran on an anti-war platform, carry out an invasion of a sovereign country and claim what is rightfully ours.

President Barack Obama deserves a huge amount of credit for finishing the nearly ten-year hunt for America’s number one enemy, Osama bin Laden.  The American President carried out an essentially flawless execution of an audacious raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  The President was even directly involved in the Pentagon’s planning, pushing the brass for a larger force and a “fight your way out” option should the mission go bad.

Obama felt that the special operations COA, or course of action, was too risky. Under the COA at that time, only two helicopters would enter Pakistani airspace, leaving little backup if something went wrong. “I don’t want you to plan for an option that doesn’t allow you to fight your way out,” the President told operational planners at the meeting….

So the plan was revised. Ultimately, four helicopters flew into Pakistani airspace, including two refueling helicopters that carried additional personnel. In the end, the extra forces didn’t need to fight their way out of the compound, but a backup helicopter did play a key role in the operation. One of the two primary assault helicopters, an HH-60 Pave Hawk lost its lift, landed hard and had to be destroyed. The backup landed to lift its passengers to safety.

President Obama showed not only his will and his courage to make a risky decision and live with the consequences, but also his obsessive attention to detail that in the end, aided the mission itself.

Now the fallout begins.  It would seem that the American military has reestablished itself as the preeminent world power.  It is very hard to imagine an elite unit from Russia, China, France, or even Great Britain carrying out the type of a successful raid that the Navy SEALs did in taking out bin Laden.  The idea of a “post-American” world—at least in terms of military strength—would seem a bit exaggerated.  Decline may be a choice after all.  Military scholar Victor Davis Hanson recently made this point:

The world must now realize that the domestic antiwar movement is dead, kaput; it cares not a whit whether we assassinate bin Laden or a son of Qaddafi or go into Libya. Everything is on the table now and there are no self-restraints, no snickers on The Daily Show, no quirky insider winks on Letterman, no Barbara Streisand crazy faxes. A Nobel peace laureate is now the Left’s totem and he can send quite deadly Americans on quite deadly missions as he sees fit—and without worry about a New York Times op-ed barrage or an ACLU lawsuit. That gives the U.S. newfound advantages, a veritable blank check, from keeping Guantanamo open indefinitely to using a Cheney “assassination” team and valuable water-boarded intelligence wherever it wishes to.

And so the details of what led to locating Osama bin Laden once again brings us back to an important debate which will one day, one way, have to be settled.  This is the question of whether or not torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT) result in honest and actionable intelligence.  And even if EIT does work, should it still be employed?  This is the debate once again in light of the bin Laden killing, with proponents on the right and opponents on the left weighing in regularly.  For the record, only three detainees were ever waterboarded and only two were waterboarded repeatedly: Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) 183 times; Zayn al Abdeen Mohammed Hussein (known as Abu Zubaydah) 83 times.  EIT includes not only waterboarding, but also attention grasps, facial holds, sleep deprivation (maximum of four consecutive days), exposure to extreme temperatures, nudity, water dousing, placing detainees in painful stress positions, tummy slaps, facial slaps, and a diet of liquid Ensure (reportedly the CIA also told KSM that they would kill his children if America was attacked again; they also supposedly held power drills and pistols close to his head to intimidate him).  None of these techniques are designed to kill or injure the subject (thought that is always a remote possibility); rather these techniques are intended only to frighten the subject and to wear him down.  Former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said of EIT, “playing high school football subjects you to more danger than these techniques.”  In contrast, those who have actually volunteered to take part in EIT, allowing themselves to be waterboarded to feel for themselves (as Christopher Hitchens has), will tell you, “if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”

The politicization of the death of Osama bin Laden is unfortunate but to be expected.  Obviously, both the Obama and Bush administrations deserve praise for the many years of intelligence work that eventually brought us to May 1, 2011.  Surely, there is more than enough credit to go around.  President Obama made finding the terrorist leader a priority of the CIA immediately upon taking office.  And it was under President Bush that the CIA implemented Operation Cannonball, which put more CIA case officers on the ground in Pakistan specifically to find bin Laden.  There are several Bush-era protocols that President Obama has left in place (i.e.: extraordinary rendition, unlimited detention, Patriot Act, Guantanamo prison, military commissions, drone strikes, state secrets doctrine, Middle Eastern democracy); and there are new protocols created by the current commander-in-chief (detainees now get lawyers and Miranda rights read to them).  There are many officials and advisors from the Bush administration that have been held over in the Obama administration as well.  On the War on Terror, the most outstanding disagreement between the two administrations—and now apparently between most Republicans and most Democrats—is how we should interrogate captured terrorists.  Most recent polls have shown that Americans as a whole remain equally divided on this subject as well.

First I want to address the hypothetical.  Proponents of EIT often employ the “ticking bomb” scenario in which case our intelligence would point to an imminent attack on the United States (say a nuclear bomb planted in a major city) with officials believing that one or more detained terrorists may have information that could help us stop the attack and save countless lives.  Would EIT be justified then?  I would submit that even President Barack Obama would at least seriously consider torturing a terrorist to reveal such information, should there be evidence that torture could produce valuable results.  And there are many legal scholars who support giving the president this power, including Alan Dershowitz, Walter Dellinger, Philip Heymann, Philip Bobbitt, and Sanford Levinson.  When President Obama issued his executive order ending EIT and requiring adherence to the Army Field Manual for interrogations, CIA Director Mike Hayden asked White House counsel Greg Craig to add the words, “unless otherwise authorized by the president.”  (In fact, the CIA had already ended waterboarding under Bush, however, they wanted to keep their interrogation methods secret from the enemy so that al-Qaeda could not train their members to resist.  Also, they wanted to keep the fear of being tortured alive.  When President Obama issued the executive order requiring adherence to the Army Field Manual, he not only banned techniques, some of which could not be defined as torture, but he also eliminated the uncertainty that had made so many captured terrorists talk.  The Army Field Manual can be found in its entirety online, and so al-Qaeda now knows exactly what the limits of any interrogation will be.)

Opponents to EIT consider the “ticking bomb” scenario a “utopian fantasy” and an “intellectual fraud,” but Barry Gewen points out the obvious:

It’s not hard to imagine a situation in which the head of Homeland Security rushes into the Oval Office and tells the president that police are “pretty certain” a bomb is set to explode and they’re “fairly confident” they have a man who knows where it is.  And it’s probably the case that any president—whether George W. Bush or Barack Obama—confronted with such a choice would approve the use of torture rather than risk a catastrophe.  And almost certainly a majority of Americans would support the decision.

Regardless, the “ticking bomb” scenario remains for now only a hypothetical, and its impossible to know what all the variables would be in such a scenario.  So, for this essay, I will ignore it for the most part and instead focus on the reality at hand.  Finding Osama bin Laden was a very slow process of putting together may different pieces of information over a long period of time, and this is how the effectiveness of EIT should be addressed practically.

On the flip side, opponents of enhanced interrogation regularly point to the Geneva Convention and even claim that the policies of indefinite detention and rendition are in violation.  They object to the classification of terrorists as enemy combatants.  But the Geneva Convention was not set up to protect soldiers primarily.  It was set up to protect civilians, particularly women and children.  It is an incentive for soldiers to follow the rules of war and not target civilians.  Thus soldiers once captured are prisoners of war and are afforded the protections guaranteed by the convention.  Terrorists, on the other hand, deliberately target civilians.  To award a terrorist the status of POW therefore undermines the Geneva Convention, it legitimizes the targeting of innocent civilians within the rules of war.  If you are not going to obey the rules of the Geneva Convention then you should not get the privileges of the Geneva Convention, hence this essay will ignore it as well.

Opponents also make the claim that if the United States tortures, it will endanger our own soldiers of being tortured.  But does anyone truly believe al Qaeda won’t torture any captured American soldier, not even to get information, but just to glorify in the infliction of pain, to terrorize?  Perhaps it puts American soldiers in danger of being tortured by a yet unknown enemy in some future conflict.  Perhaps it would increase the amount of recruits to al Qaeda.  These are legitimate points and must be considered as part of the trade-offs.  But there are certainly other trade offs to consider as well, as will be discussed later on.

Also, I do understand the frustration of revisiting this subject, as many on the left are upset with its reemergence.  International law (specifically the Convention Against Torture) sees EIT as torture and torture is illegal, hence the case is closed, they say (though illegal cannot be an argument against because that is the debate: whether or not it should be illegal).  Perhaps it is a bit unseemly to even debate torture (Who could possibly be for it?), and discussing EIT again does take away from the joy of a successful mission. Dahlia Lithwick writes at Slate:

That the only reason we are having this discussion at all is because we have tortured people. That's the problem with doing stupid things: You spend the rest of your life trying to convince yourself that maybe they weren't so stupid after all. Had we not water-boarded prisoners eight years ago, nobody would be making the argument that water-boarding "worked."

Well, we did waterboard and now there may be evidence that it did produce valuable intelligence, and so we will discuss it further since there is new evidence to debate.  An honest inquiry is required.  To just not talk about it seems a bit adolescent if not irresponsible.

Many argue that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were approved for the CIA do not constitute torture.  There is some legitimacy to many of these arguments (though John Yoo’s reasoning that the Constitution gives the president the authority to torture children should cause even the most ardent supporter of EIT to cringe).  For the sake of this essay, I will assume that EIT is at least close enough to torture to be debated as the same.  Perhaps most can agree that there are different “levels” of torture, but EIT certainly fits into one of those levels.

Finally, I will preface this analysis with the following.  We must start with the declaration that torture, at least in the abstract, is simply immoral and unbecoming of a nation that identifies itself as the leader of the free world and champions democracy and human rights across the globe.  (There were undoubtedly many innocent people who were subjected to EIT and so perhaps they deserve some form of compensation.)  Torture is a betrayal of everything for which we are supposed to stand and this imperative alone is enough to warrant the end of enhanced interrogation.  However, I would also say the same for the policy of assassination, which has actually increased under President Obama.  This is what we did to Osama bin Laden and what we now regularly do to his subordinates via predator drone strikes—this instead of capturing enemy combatants for interrogation which requires more boots on the ground.  I am also against the death penalty for similar reasons (I despise being in an exclusive club with China, North Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia).  So, even if torture can be proven to work, perhaps it should not matter.  But this is a sort of high-minded idealism and so I must be practical enough to acknowledge that there may be some scenarios—not only the “ticking bomb” scenario—where some form of enhanced interrogation could be the only way to save innocent lives (and the same could be said for assassination).  More pertinent to this subject is the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the CIA agents who performed EIT during the Bush years, for if those defendants’ actions did save lives, then that fact must be part of the body of evidence.  There is also the question of how we should interrogate any terrorist detainees that we do happen to capture.  The Obama administration seems to avoid the controversy of interrogation altogether by choosing to assassinate senior terrorist leaders (not only bin Laden) rather than capture them.  But even if this policy, and the lack of intelligence that could result, does not lead to a catastrophic attack, we must still acknowledge the likelihood that some future conflict may once again bring us back to this very debate.  It would be extremely naïve to assume otherwise.  For these reasons and for the sake of honest inquiry we should still investigate and analyze the effectiveness of EIT based on the facts at hand.  Only then can we begin to determine if some future hypothetical scenario could ever warrant its employment.

Does Torture Ever Work?

This is the alpha question, for if the answer is no, then the entire issue is moot.  Critics claim that EIT is counterproductive and that non-coercive techniques are more effective.  Torture results in unreliable intelligence because the subject will say anything just to stop the pain.  Again, if this is always true, then the debate is over.  If not, then the debate must move forward.

One of the main problems with the question of whether or not torture works is that there is no way to ethically test its effectiveness.  Moreover, there is no consensus, not even among experts, on what exactly constitutes torture.  So we are left only with the option of studying the history of torture.  And this long history suggests that torture does work, not all the time, but consistently enough that it should shake the confidence of those who would claim otherwise.  In his World Affairs article, “The Grey Zone: Defining Torture,” Barry Gewen concluded that “the evidence, anecdotal though it may be, comes from too many sources covering too many situations over too many historical eras to be dismissed.”

From anti-Hitler resistance groups in Berlin and the French underground in World War II, to opponents of French colonialists in Algeria, to the use of torture by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, to the CIA’s use of torture to track down the perpetrators of the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon—all point to its effective use.  To imagine any resistance group telling its members, “Don’t worry if you get caught, because torture doesn’t work anyway,” is absurd.

Henceforth, we move on to the next question.  Did EIT lead to finding Osama bin Laden?  The timeline of events suggests that the Bush administration’s early policy of EIT at the very least did lead to the first clues that lead to finding bin Laden:

In a secret CIA prison in Eastern Europe years ago, al-Qaida's No. 3 leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, gave authorities the nicknames of several of bin Laden's couriers, four former U.S. intelligence officials said. Those names were among thousands of leads the CIA was pursuing.

One man became a particular interest for the agency when another detainee, Abu Faraj al-Libi, told interrogators that when he was promoted to succeed Mohammed as al-Qaida's operational leader he received the word through a courier. Only bin Laden would have given al-Libi that promotion, CIA officials believed.

If they could find that courier, they'd find bin Laden.

The revelation that intelligence gleaned from the CIA's so-called black sites helped kill bin Laden was seen as vindication for many intelligence officials who have been repeatedly investigated and criticized for their involvement in a program that involved the harshest interrogation methods in U.S. history.

The first clue came in 2004 when Hassan Ghul, a Pakistani captured in Iraq and detained in a CIA “black site” in Poland, was subjected to EIT (though he was not waterboarded). Eventually, he gave up the nom de guerre of an al-Qaeda courier named Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a man who had access to several high-level members of the terrorist organization.  Ghul told the CIA that al-Kuwaiti was a close associate and protégé of two other detainees: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (the mastermind behind 9/11) and Abu Faraj al-Libi.  Both of these men were being held at Guantanamo Bay, and when questioned they denied any knowledge of the courier.  Mohammed’s denial, however, was especially telling.  It was obvious to the CIA interrogators that he knew this al-Kuwaiti and was shielding the identity of a man who might lead investigators to Osama bin Laden.  They were on to something:
Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier. When the Americans ran the man’s pseudonym past two top-level detainees—the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; and Al Qaeda’s operational chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi—the men claimed never to have heard his name. That raised suspicions among interrogators that the two detainees were lying and that the courier probably was an important figure.

And so both Mohammed and al-Libi were subjected to some very harsh interrogation techniques.  After numerous sessions, they gave in and told their interrogators everything they knew about Osama bin Laden’s personal courier.  It was not until Summer 2010 that al-Kuwaiti was found when he made a phone call to someone being monitored by U.S. intelligence.  Once there was a face to match the name of al-Kuwaiti, the CIA began tailing him until he led them straight to Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

As with most things in life, it was trial and error that brought down bin Laden, with necessary action and adjustments taking place in both the Bush and Obama administrations.  It was interrogations (some coercive and some non-coercive) along with high-tech surveillance, eavesdropping, and just good ole fashioned investigative spadework that led the Navy SEALs to Osama bin Laden’s hideout.  There was no single policy, order, or interrogation technique that specifically led to finding Osama bin Laden.  It was a compilation of many different things, including luck. Whether or not we could have yielded the same intelligence without any use of EIT, we can never know for certain.  Perhaps we would have come to the same result, if even a few years later.

However, a former CIA official involved in the internal debate over EIT summed up the controversy this way:

I think the issue has been mischaracterized on both sides … The people who say “enhanced interrogation techniques” directly led to catching bin Laden are wrong, and the people who say they had nothing to do with it are also wrong.

It is clear that within the mosaic of intelligence that came forth over the last decade, the information obtained via enhanced interrogation was valuable and some of it may not have been obtained otherwise.  At the very least, EIT provided agents with the first clues used to identify the al-Qaeda courier, al-Kuwaiti, and thus initiated the beginning of the end for Osama bin Laden.  Could al-Kuwaiti's name and role been extracted from Ghul, Mohammed, and al-Libi without subjecting them to coercive interrogation?  Interrogators spoke specifically of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s resistance to both standard and enhanced interrogation as “superhuman,” so the idea that he would have volunteered this information via standard interrogation alone seems a bit absurd.  And KSM provided the most valuable intelligence of all the detainees.  No one knew he was the mastermind behind 9/11 until he told them months later.  According to intelligence reports, after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed finally decided that 183 waterboard sessions was enough, he explained everything to his interrogators, literally holding

classes for CIA officials, using a chalkboard to draw a picture of al Qaeda’s operating structure, financing, communications, and logistics.  He identifies al Qaeda travel routes ad safe havens, and helps intelligence officers make sense of documents and computer records seized in terrorist raids.  He identifies voices in intercepted telephone calls, and helps officials understand the meaning of coded terrorist communications (Marc Thiessen, p. 6).

During the Bush administration era, there were over 80,000 captured detainees, of which 800 were put in Guantanamo Bay and 100 were brought to CIA “black sites.”  Of all these detainees, only 30 were subjected to enhanced interrogation and only 3 were waterboarded, those deemed to be concealing valuable information on planned terrorist attacks.  In the end, KSM showed agents how all the pieces of intelligence fit together, but before being waterboarded, KSM would only say to his interrogators, “Soon, you will know,” which was believed to be a reference to future attacks.  This turned out to be correct.

KSM’s divulgence after being waterboarded led to over 6,000 intelligence reports and the thwarting of several planned attacks, including a plan to blow up seven flights over the Atlantic Ocean that would have killed 1,500 people.  The intelligence gained from KSM led to a joint U.S.-British raid in a northeast London suburb and the arrest of two dozen al Qaeda suspects.  One suspect had a flash drive with precise security details for Heathrow airport and information on seven trans-Atlantic flights scheduled to take off within hours of each other on September 11, 2006 (5th anniversary of 9/11).  Agents also found bomb making materials and martyrdom videos already prepared for al Jazeera to broadcast.  (Subsequently, this is why you can no longer carry more than three ounces of liquid in your carry-on luggage when flying.)  And this is only one of the many intelligence success stories that proponents of EIT regularly cite.

EIT and Religious Fundamentalists

Opponents, including Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic, who object to the effectiveness of EIT are pointing to this one fact as validation:

Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.

In fact, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who was waterboarded 183 times, repeatedly misled his interrogators and even mocked them during the procedure by counting down with his fingers how many seconds were left in the session (he had determined through repeated sessions that interrogators were only allowed to waterboard him in 40 second intervals).  It wasn’t until after his waterboarding sessions ended, that he started to cooperate.  Opponents see this as proof that EIT does not work.  On the contrary, it proves that it did work, at least in the case of KSM.  Too many really don’t understand the motive behind waterboarding Islamic radicals.  The fact is that “enhanced interrogation techniques” are more likely to work on a religious warrior for specific psychological reasons.  Marc Thiessan is probably the most knowledgeable defender of the program and his explanation can be summarized as follows:

Islamists believe themselves to be doing the will of Allah.  They believe that their faith is the one true faith and that they are destined to win over all infidels (nonMuslims).  Victory is inevitable, a historical certainty.  EIT exploits this faith.  Jihadists believe it is their duty to carry out their mission, and if captured, they are to resist interrogation for as long as possible.  However, they also believe that they do not have to hold out indefinitely.  Once they reach a threshold, they are allowed by their faith to capitulate and release information.  A good jihadist will resist for as long as he can, and once he can resist no longer, he is relieved of the responsibility; he has done God’s will and may now talk without guilt, for they the Islamists are going to win anyway.  We know this to be true from the Islamist fighters themselves, who literally thanked their interrogators and told them to “do this to all the brothers.”  EIT allows an Islamic terrorist to save face.  The enhanced interrogation program was literally designed to give the jihadist something worthy to resist.  It is a necessary stage for the faith warrior.  The jihadist can be proud of his resistance even as he divulges information.  The fact that KSM mocked his interrogators once he figured out they were only allowed to waterboard him for forty-seconds, and still gave up valuable information after tiring of the process, proves its effectiveness.  This is a unique vulnerability in the particular enemy that we face, and we should ignore it only if we are certain that no loss of life will occur due to its dismissal.

The credibility of coercive interrogation lies not with its application but with the subject to be interrogated.  It is less likely that EIT would work effectively on say a captured right-wing militant like Timothy McVeigh, or a drug cartel kingpin, or a Nazi soldier in World War II.  Rather, it is most effective against Islamists, the religious faithful.

No one ever screamed out, “Osama is in Pakistan!” in the middle of being waterboarded.  In fact, no interrogation ever took place during a waterboard session; interrogations came afterward, once the subject had demonstrated cooperation.  Interrogators determined the level of cooperation by first asking questions to which they already knew the answers.  After reaching the point of “no more!” the detainee would become completely cooperative and no further waterboarding was ever necessary after that point.  They would talk freely and even draw charts and diagrams for their interrogators.  A former intelligence official said,  “Once KSM decided resistance was unwise, he started spilling his guts to the agency and started providing lots of info, like the noms de guerre of couriers and explaining how al-Qaeda worked.”  This was no loss of conscience, but rather a fulfillment of duty: resisting for only as long as possible, and then letting go.  The illusion of a destined victory by the will of Allah provides the necessary relief.  So the fact that KSM talked about Osama bin Laden’s courier several months after being waterboarded is exactly the point and proves that enhanced interrogation techniques worked in this case and probably in many others.


Consider this fact: Osama bin Laden was shot assassination style, once in the chest and once in the head.  It had to have been a quick kill.  Officially, the Obama administration says that the order from the White House was to capture if surrendered.  However, an earlier report from Reuters stated that the order was to kill and not to capture.  This makes one wonder: if Osama bin Laden had been captured, that this would have presented a major political challenge for the president’s position against EIT.  The leader of al-Qaeda would have been an obvious treasure trove of intelligence on the entire terrorist network.  But under the current policy, interrogators would only have been allowed to ask him polite questions and could not even offer something like better living conditions in exchange for information (these interrogation rules are more prohibitive than those adhered to by domestic police).  The Navy SEALs met light resistance in that room, but bin Laden was not armed, it has been confirmed.  Surely the SEALs could have captured him had they been given more explicit orders to do so.  Does President Obama believe that assassination is more moral than torture?  And how does he make that judgment, considering the utilitarian benefit of extracting information from the leader of al-Qaeda?  Granted, prior to entering the Abbottabad compound, it was believed that Osama bin Laden was at least somewhat cut off from the al-Qaeda network.  The material intelligence found within the compound, however, suggests that the terrorist leader was still actively involved in planning new attacks.  Bin Laden’s death is also a lost opportunity to gain more information on the terrorist network.

Still, it seems reprehensible to me is to characterize President Obama as reckless or endangering American security out of some ideological zeal.  It is equally reprehensible to attribute to President Bush and his administration some sort of diabolical intent to create a police state and torture all suspected terrorists no matter what.  Politically, the left wants to characterize the right as racist, inhuman warmongers; and the right wants to characterize the left as Marxist, weak, naïve peaceniks.  In truth, the difference between their two positions on EIT is divided by only a hair, and the similarities in overall policy between the two administrations is a testament to this fact.

What seems most unfortunate to me is the amount of sanctimony coming from the left.  Opponents to EIT proclaim an inherently politically safe position.  It is easy to say, “I’m against torture,” as it is to say, “I’m against war,” or “I’m for the children.”  And so many opponents to EIT are driven further to make the sanctimonious statement, “I’m against enhanced interrogation techniques and it doesn’t work anyway,” but that is an equally convenient and unlikely supposition.  The proponents of EIT are the politically brave ones, saying, “Yes enhanced interrogation is ugly, and I don’t want to do it, but I feel I have to do it to save lives, even if I may go to prison for doing it.”  Former CIA Director Michael Hayden made this point in an interview:

So the point I would make to folks who say, "I don't want you doing this, and it doesn't work anyway," I would point out, "Whoa. Stop. The front half of that sentence, you can say; that's yours, you own that, “I don't want you doing it.” The back half of that sentence is not yours. That's mine. And the fact is it did work. So here is the sentence you have to give. “Even though it may have worked, I still don't want you doing it.” That requires courage. That requires you going out to the American people and saying, “We're looking at a tradeoff here folks, and I want you to understand the tradeoff.” I can live with that tradeoff. I can live with the person who makes that tradeoff. Either way. That's an honorable position. But I felt duty-bound to be true to the facts.

It should therefore be noted that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney, along with their entire administration, have publicly stated their knowledge of and support for enhanced interrogation techniques, this despite ongoing efforts by the far left to prosecute high-ranking administration officials, not just CIA agents, for their complicity in torture.

Of course, the Obama administration is not that fanatical, despite efforts by some right-wingers to paint it as such.  However, the Obama Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder to this day still seeks to prosecute the CIA agents who carried out “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  In light of the new evidence, I believe this is now much closer to being unconscionable.

Directly after Osama bin Laden was killed, President Obama praised the CIA: "We give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who've worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome."  The very next day, CIA Director Leon Panetta specifically gave credit to the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on suspected terrorist detainees, which led to tracking down bin Laden.  The timeline of events also fits with this narrative: coercive interrogation of KSM and others provided the essential first clues that led to finding one of the greatest threats to civil society in the history of the world.  Documents released by the CIA have also backed up the Bush administration’s claims that EIT may have thwarted other terrorist attacks.  Could this intelligence have been garnered with non-coercive interrogation?  Perhaps, but that is a hypothetical in retrospect.

Unbeknownst to most of the public, EIT has been endorsed by a number of experts, including the following: former CIA Director George Tenet, former CIA Director Mike Hayden, former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnel, President Obama's Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, President Obama's CIA Director (soon to be Defense Secretary) Leon Panetta, President Obama's Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan, and many others.

On January 22, 2009, less than forty-eight hours after swearing the Oath of Office, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13491, officially closing the CIA program believed to account for more than half of the intelligence obtained thus far in the War on Terror.  The executive order directed all further interrogations to follow the techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual, which is available for anyone (including terrorists) to read online.  Then in August 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a prosecutor to investigate alleged interrogation abuses by the CIA, this after career federal prosecutors had already concluded an investigation into these same allegations and recommended no further action or investigation was necessary.  Obama originally suggested there would be no investigation into CIA interrogations, but when his position shifted, CIA Director Leon Panetta was reportedly enraged and even threatened to resign.  Eric Holder promised that his investigation would be over in short time, but it continues to drag on to this day.  Before the evidence of what led to locating Osama bin Laden was made public, the Justice Department’s CIA investigation already looked like grandstanding to a global audience.  Now it just looks stupid.

From the very city targeted by al-Qaeda, the New York Daily News has already summed up the investigation for Mr. Holder, “It matters not whether the agents in question contributed a little or a lot to Bin Laden's death. They did their best at a time when the United States was horrified by the prospect of another attack to safeguard their fellow Americans.”  It’s time to end this political charade.  The Justice Department should end its prosecutions now.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Post it here or don't post all . . . (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Citizen, trumpeter, aoeu
  •  Copy and paste it here (0+ / 0-)

    with a link back to the original. That shouldn't piss off Google.

  •  geneva (0+ / 0-)

    Hi, I find this paragraph problematic:

    On the flip side, opponents of enhanced interrogation regularly point to the Geneva Convention and even claim that the policies of indefinite detention and rendition are in violation. They object to the classification of terrorists as enemy combatants. But the Geneva Convention was not set up to protect soldiers primarily. It was set up to protect civilians, particularly women and children. It is an incentive for soldiers to follow the rules of war and not target civilians. Thus soldiers once captured are prisoners of war and are afforded the protections guaranteed by the convention. Terrorists, on the other hand, deliberately target civilians. To award a terrorist the status of POW therefore undermines the Geneva Convention, it legitimizes the targeting of innocent civilians within the rules of war. If you are not going to obey the rules of the Geneva Convention then you should not get the privileges of the Geneva Convention, hence this essay will ignore it as well.

    I would agree that it was in part to set up to protect civilians.  You then proceed to knock that part of the justification down.  But it does not knock down the rest of the reasons for the Geneva Convention.  Chiefly among them, the part about protecting soldiers, but also the overall societal benefit of categorizing non-Geneva behaviors as out of bound, which protects against slippery slope arguments of various (worse and worse) behaviors becoming (more and more) accepted over time.

    •  On Geneva (0+ / 0-)

      That is perfectly valid point, and I could have worded this paragraph better.  I was attempting to explain my reasons for ignoring Geneva in this essay, and concentrate on the effectiveness of EIT alone, that is whether it could ever be justified (not just in a "ticking bomb" scenario).  Obviously, the international consensus is that EIT does constitute torture and in violation of Geneva.  But again, saying its illegal can't be the sole justification for abandonment, because the debate is whether or not it should be illegal or always illegal to begin with.

  •  Suppose it depends on where you're coming (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    from.  My sig line says where I'm coming from so probably all I need to say.  And I did review your essay.

    S.A.W. 2011 STOP ALL WARS "The Global War on Terror is a fabrication to justify imperialism."

    by BigAlinWashSt on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 03:07:38 PM PDT

    •  I have no theology to come from. (0+ / 0-)

      It is easy to say "I'm against war," or "I'm against torture," and "I'm for the children."  And simple answers are always more attractive.  But this is the problem with theologies.  Any argument against is labeled by the left as "imperialist propaganda" or labeled by the right as "Satan's influence."  Certainly, the complexity of the world would seem to suggest that no ideology--be it Marxism, Christianity, neoconservatism, liberal interventionism, realism, neorealism, etc.--could ever encompass a total solution, a panacea to save the world.  Christopher Hitchens, a radical in his own right, illustrated this problem with the left's theology and its response to 9/11:

      •  Not sure how you confused my sig line with (0+ / 0-)

        the status quo left.   It certainly isn't a status quo opinion on here.  And what is the left's response to 9/11 according to Hitchens? Acceptance of the government story?

        S.A.W. 2011 STOP ALL WARS "The Global War on Terror is a fabrication to justify imperialism."

        by BigAlinWashSt on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 03:40:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  article (0+ / 0-)

    I should say I find the article very interesting, and I respect the attempt to use logic and causal logic to analyze the issue, even though in such a big issue it's virtually certain you will miss some elements that could change the entire understanding of the system.

    The question of EIT leading to bin Laden, when phrased in causal logic terms, is interesting.  In causal logic, there are three types of relationships.  Whether a cause is sufficient to create an effect, whether a cause is necessary to create an effect, and whether something is a contributory cause.

    It's the contributory cause part that crosses everyone up.  A contributory cause is something that is neither sufficient nor strictly necessary, but still has an impact on the effect.

    EIT was clearly not sufficient for finding bin Laden - too many other elements were necessary.

    The question is whether EIT was necessary towards finding bin Laden, or if it was merely a contributory cause.

    Ruling EIT out as a contributory cause would require proof that every bit of intelligence gathered by EIT was also gathered through EIT-free methods, before bin Laden was captured.  I think it's pretty well established that that hasn't happened, so we can accept that EIT was at least a contributory cause.

    Then the question is whether that EIT intelligence could have been gathered through EIT-free methods, or, if finding bin Laden through other means was possible.  If the answer to this is "no", then EIT was necessary for finding bin Laden.  If the answer is "yes", then EIT was not necessary.

    I think this is where a lot of the debate lies.  Is the "cost" of not practicing EIT worthwhile if it leads to effects like bin Laden being found under different circumstances, or later in the timeline, or never being found at all?  For many of us on progressive side, the answer is definitely "yes".  Some might find that reckless as it is impossible to predict what other negative effects might happen from him being at large for longer periods of time (some possibly devastating), but on the other hand there was reason to believe his influence and ability was diluted compared to 2001.

    The thing is, you dismiss the question of finding the necessary intelligence through non-coercive means as "hypothetical in retrospect".  It is true that it is hypothetical in retrospect, but the only reason that is true is because we practiced EIT, and robbed ourselves of the alternate reality where it wouldn't be hypothetical.  It shouldn't be dismissed so quickly, because the question is at the crux of the debate.

    It's a very well-argued piece that asks for honest debate, and I wish we had more of this controversial-but-thought-provoking writing on sites like this.  I do think, though, as I mentioned above, that the whole side of the argument summed up as "It may work, but we still shouldn't do it" has been given short shrift in the piece.  You have to look at societal cost, philosophical cost, and possible negative effects in the future.  It's hard to do, but if your other supporting data (stats of how many of our prisoners have been subjected to waterboarding, etc) are actually true, then you've shown a remarkable ability to uncover the kind of data that would be valuable to that side of the debate.

    •  by the way (0+ / 0-)

      in my last paragraph, I mean the societal/philosophical/negative effects of practicing EIT.  For instance, is torture contagious?  Does a society that practices torture on the highest level of government also see a statistical increase in torture being practiced in other society institutions, like police forces?  Or among criminal enterprises and gangs?  I think I would expect that as an effect.  There might be others.

      •  Costs of EIT (0+ / 0-)

        Thank you for this very thoughtful response.  It is true, there are plenty of obvious reasons to be against EIT, not limited to the ones you listed, but I meant the essay to be a contrarian piece and so focused on the politically less safe position of supporting EIT.

        My personal hope is that EIT is no longer needed in this conflict, that al Qaeda has been sufficiently neutralized, and that other global issues warrant our attention.  However, I must assume that this debate will raise its ugly head again in some future combat (the history of torture and indeed the history of the world makes it impossible to assume otherwise).

        We are in agreement that EIT was at the very least a contributory cause to finding bin Laden.  I would also suggest that EIT was a necessary cause in breaking up the planned fifth anniversary attack to 9/11.  I addressed this briefly in the essay, but here are further details:  We know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed only became cooperative after being waterboarded 183 times.  He then described to agents a plan known as the “Bojinka plot” formulated with his nephew Ramzi Yousef to blow up a dozen airplanes over the Pacific Ocean.  This was planned around 1994 and failed.  However, because of the details learned in this interrogation alone, CIA officers years later, in 2006, noticed the activities of a British al Qaeda cell that seemed to match the description of the 1994 cell that KSM provided to agents.  The 2006 cell was broken up and plans for the same style of attack as the 1994 cell was confirmed, planned for the fifth anniversary of 9/11.

        I cannot say that this planned attack would have been successfully executed, only that there was indeed a plan, that it was broken up before it could be carried out, and that the cause of the breakup was based solely on intel gained via EIT on a detainee whose resistance to EIT was described as “superhuman.”  The idea that he would have revealed this information without any EIT seems highly unlikely.  We didn’t even know that he was the mastermind behind 9/11 until he told us after EIT.

        Does the use of EIT numb us to its moral implications?  Is it contagious?  The fact that it was used only on a fraction of detainees would suggest that it is not.  But, on those who it was used, some were innocent and carrying no information.  This is perhaps the highest and most dangerous cost of torture, and a very good point.

        I would say that Eric Holder's criminal investigation into the CIA's techniques now seems absurd, especially considering the amount of experts (both Republican and Democrat) who endorse EIT.  It seems like grandstanding to a global audience.  And while world opinion should be taken into consideration, it should not be the basis for a criminal investigation.  The fear of another attack immediately after September 11, 2001 was enough to justify the extreme measures the CIA took at the time, especially considering the amount of headlines that came out accusing both the Bush and Clinton administrations of being lackadaisical or even complicit in the attacks.  At that time the potential costs of using EIT were arguably less than the potential costs of not using EIT.  As of this date, however, I would say the reverse.  And of course I hope every day in the future is like today … but I certainly cannot guarantee that it will be so.

        By the way, "Damn My Eyes" is an excellent track.

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