04 May 2009

On Waterboarding & Torture (UPDATED)

One of the most frequent topics of discussion with my liberal friends regards the efficacy & necessity of extraordinary interrogation techniques like waterboarding. They believe that when you torture someone--they insist that waterboarding is torture--that they will "tell you anything" to get you to stop. Because of this, we can't trust the intel we get from them.

This understanding of interrogation belies an almost complete misunderstanding of intelligence gathering.

In the first instance, the intent of interrogation (at least these types) is not to determine guilt--"are you a terrorist or aren't you!?!!"--but to gather actionable intelligence which will help save lives.

Once someone like KSM tells us whatever he tells us under the duress of waterboarding (he is one of only 3 terrorists who have been waterboarded since 9/11, none since 2003), we can then take that intel and check it against the intelligence we already have. If he tells us that there is a weapons cache or a terror cell or whatever, it is a pretty simple thing to discover if what he says is true.

American intelligence services have been dealing with intelligence of questionable origin for a long time. We know how to fact-check.

The "he'll tell you whatever you want to hear just to stop being waterboarded" argument is a bad one. It's not that hard to find out if the terrorist is lying.

All of this is my over-long introduction to an article by Clifford May entitled "Torture TV." May recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and discussed torture, waterboarding, etc. His article is the best single explanation of the ins & outs of interrogation I have ever read.

Jon Stewart: But answer my question: Is waterboarding torture? Yes or no?

Cliff May: Defining torture is not easy. A simple legal definition is that it “shocks the conscience.” Cutting off Daniel Pearl’s head on videotape — that shocks my conscience. Sending a child out as a suicide bomber — that shocks my conscience. People jumping off the World Trade Towers because they’d rather die that way than by burning — that shocks my conscience. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 atrocities, gagging for a few minutes and, as a result, providing information that saves lives, then going back to his cell for dinner and a movie — no, my conscience is not shocked by that.
Anytime I see an image of the twin towers or even walk the streets of the city where they once stood, I get a sick and sad feeling. I remember watching video footage of people jumping from the towers. I cannot erase those images from my head.

In my opinion, anything we can do--like waterboarding--to gather intelligence which will save lives, ought to be done. Of course there ought to be limits to the techniques employed by the interrogators, but eliminating things like waterboarding and sleep deprivation and not allowing interrogators to bombard terrorists with hour after hour of Britney Spears (who wouldn't cave?) is ridiculous.

How would we feel if lives are lost--losses which could have been easily prevented by gathering intel using rather tame interrogation techniques such as these?

UPDATE 7 May 2:53am BST: Sebastian D. emailed me a link to another good blog post about waterboarding. (content warning) The whole thing is worth reading; one part in particular stood out to me because it was a meme I hadn't addressed: that waterboarding just recruits more terrorists. This is one of my favorite/funniest meme's of the loony left--essentially everything results in the recruitment of another jihadist.

Uh huh, right.
I heard some author talking about how, sure, these interrogations may have saved lives, but on the other hand, the absolute awfulness of waterboarding only caused more people to be recruited in the fight against us. That is such utter and complete horse[crap] that I’m having a hard time understanding how anybody with two brain cells capable of creating friction could actually believe that.

You mean to tell me that if you’re living in a 3rd world hole, and you’ve been taught every single day of your life that the reason your country sucks by your Mullahs is because of Israel and the Great Satan, and you live in a culture of complete and utter violence, where history has been so rewritten by the powers that be that you actually believe the Holocaust is Israeli propaganda, and you swallow hook line and sinker all of the nonsense about the Great Satan that you’re willing to sacrifice your life in fiery suicidal jihad to get your 72 virgins, but you’ve just been holding back strapping on that bomb vest… until you discovered that some other crazy Muslim you’ve never heard of was threatened with a box of caterpillars. Because that is just the final straw! BOOM!
(edited for content because this is, uh, a family-friendly blog)

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