Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The “Torture” That Isn’t Torture

From FrontPage Magazine, commentary on the recently released “torture” memos:
[One of the Obama administration’s mistakes] was to endorse the view, promulgated by the Left, that the techniques described in the memos deserve to be called “torture.” Even a cursory examination indicates otherwise. Indeed, so far from being “brutal,” as the New York Times has reported, most of the interrogation techniques are remarkable in their mildness. That is why all of the techniques described in the memos – with the exception of one innovative tactic involving an insect – were also used on some members of the military during their survival (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) training. Far from being licensed to abuse detainees, moreover, CIA interrogators were instructed to make sure that their tactics never caused serious physical or even mental harm – even though their subjects were hardened terrorists avowedly committed to killing as many Americans as possible.

Take the insect “torture.” Specifically designed for al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, a confidant of Osama bin Laden’s with a fear of spiders, it involved placing Zubaydah in a “cramped confinement box” with an ostensibly stinging insect. Except that the insect would actually be harmless caterpillar. No physical harm whatsoever was meant to come to Zubaydah himself and, in any case, the tactic was never used. As evidence of “torture,” this is far from compelling.

One interrogation technique that was used is sleep deprivation. Importantly, however, the memos reveal that the emphasis was always two-fold: to obtain intelligence and cooperation but only insofar as no lasting physical or mental harm came to the detainee. To that end, they stipulate that if the detainee were to be denied sleep then “personnel with medical training” had to be available to intervene “in the unlikely event of an abnormal reaction.”
We really have trouble viewing as “torture” something that Marquette students voluntarily subject themselves to!
Even greater precautions were taken as part of a tactic called “walling.” In this technique, interrogators grab a detainee and slam him into a wall. That may sound brutal in theory, but in practice it was anything but. The wall into which subjects would be slammed, for instance, was to be “a flexible false wall.” In addition, the memos explain that when an individual hits the wall, “the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash.” The effectiveness of walling was not in the physical impact, which was minimal, but rather in the intimidating sound that the detainee would hear upon hitting the (again, fake) wall.

If the intent was truly to “torture” these detainees, it’s hard to see why interrogators repeatedly tried to avoid inflicting serious harm.

This inconsistency may explain the obsessive focus with the most controversial of the interrogation techniques used, waterboarding, which entails placing an individual on an inclined bench, covering his forehead and eyes with cloth, and saturating the cloth with water for up to 40 seconds to simulate drowning. Particular outrage has greeted this week’s revelation that the CIA waterboarded two al-Qaeda operatives – Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – a total of 266 times. By all accounts, waterboarding, which was used on only three detainees, is an intensely unpleasant procedure, and reasonable people can disagree about the legitimacy of its now-suspended use by the United States. But several points are worth bearing in mind.

First, as with other government-approved interrogation tactics, waterboarding was carefully monitored to avoid causing severe physical and mental harm. The procedure was not to last beyond 20 minutes at a time, and medical experts were required to be present throughout. In Zubaydah’s case, special care was taken to prevent physical injury, because at the time of his interrogation the al-Qaeda lieutenant was nursing a wound – sustained while fighting against U.S. troops in Pakistan – that his interrogators did not want to exacerbate.

Second, waterboading seems to have been effective, yielding vital intelligence in the War on Terror. According to ex-CIA chief Michael Hayden, Zubaydah revealed critical intelligence information – such as details that led to the capture of senior al-Qaeda agent Ramzi Binalshibh – only after interrogators began using techniques like waterboarding. The same was true for Khalid Shiekh Mohammed (KSM). A May 30, 2005 memo notes that as a result of interrogation techniques like waterboarding, KSM revealed information that led to the discovery of a terrorist plot to crash a hijacked airliner into a Los Angeles building, the disruption of a 17-member Indonesian terrorist cell, and the capture of an Indonesian terrorist and al-Qaeda liaison known as Hambali, among other successes. More broadly, the memo points out that thanks to enhanced interrogation techniques, “KSM and Zubaydah have been pivotal sources because of their ability and willingness to provide their analysis and speculation about the capabilities, methodologies and mindsets of terrorists” (emphasis added). Not surprisingly, the memo reports that the CIA viewed these techniques as “indispensable” to the task of uncovering “actionable intelligence” on terrorist organizations.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of that last fact. The same documents now being denounced as proof of American “torture” represent the U.S. government and the CIA’s best efforts to prevent the repeat of a devastating attack that killed 3,000 Americans. It’s a shame that the Obama administration has chosen to portray those efforts – undertaken with studied caution and a powerful awareness of the consequences of failure – as a betrayal of American ideals. What these officials have received is political absolution for a crime they did not commit. What they deserve is profound thanks for keeping the country safe.
The simple fact is that the left, which will overlook any gross violation of human rights coming from their own side, has latched onto this issue simply because of their hatred of George Bush. What we have here is not genuine moral revulsion, but rather a pretext to attack a man and an administration against which they harbored an irrational, culturally-based hatred.


Blogger Matt Wion said...

You are now endorsing water-boarding Dr. Mccadams, and forced feeding? Look, this is not about George W. Bush it's about human dignity and rights.

Why don't you subject yourself to these "techniques" as you call them, and then decide if they are torture. You're opinion will be quite different if it happens to you. Or perhaps you would feel very different if some other country, like say Iran, did it to American prisioners?

I don't think that simulating drowning, force feeding those on hunger strikes, slamming people into walls, placing them in coffins with rats and/or insects, starving them, forcing them to stay away for 11 days in a row, can be called anything but torture.

We called it torture when Japan did it.

Shame on all of those who attempt to justify this!

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Does this mean you think the United States should apologize for prosecuting German and Japanese soldiers for war crimes for waterboarding U.S. soldiers during World War II? How about the U.S. soldiers who have been court-martialed for the same practice (most recently in 1968 during the Vietnam War)?

1:49 PM  
Anonymous gus said...

People need to wise up.
Wbat anyone else thinks. He believes he is popular enough to get what he wants AND QUICKLY.
The man has no conscience or any sense of bipartisanship?? None.
Obama is a narcissist and he will do whatever he wants UNTIL HE IS STOPPED.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

I generally agree with the "not torture" conclusion, but I really wonder about the effectiveness of a technique that has to be used hundreds of times.

7:13 AM  
Blogger TosaGuy said...

We did not try and convict German and Japanese soldiers for mere waterboarding. We tried and convicted them for medical expirimentation, live vivisection, prolonged starvation, outright murder and other similar acts. To compare what the US did in a heavily monitored and limited fashion featuring significant oversight and justice dept review is pure partisanship and demonstrates a deliberate ignorance of the issue. If you actually read the memos that were released they show a careful, calculated, deliberate process that targeted specific high-level individuals and made significant precautions to prevent physical injury. It wasn't a bunch of sadists getting their rocks off for the pleasure of Darth Cheney.

Also, for you Obots out there, please shift your attention to our base in Bagram, Afganistan, which is about to become Obama's Gitmo. While I find some of your views on this issue to be rather naive, I do look forward to you being consistent in your criticism and outrage.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Matt Wion said...

Tosa Guy,

1. "Pure Partisanship." Did I say we should only convict one party or the other? Did I say Obama was guiltless? If we find Obama Authorizing torture he must also be prosecuted. In fact, for refusing to prosecute those who did, I think Obama is to be blamed and perhaps even prosecuted himself.

You apparently think I'm 1) a democrat and 2) an Obama water carrier. I'm neither. On my own blog I've often been quite critical of Obama many times. And I am not a democrat either, I don't indentify myself with a political party.


2. you need to read what I actually wrote. I said nothing about how we prosecuted the Germans and Japanese. What I said was

"We called it torture when Japan did it."

That is all that I said. And we did, That is not naive that is simply correct.

Futhermore, it was not water-boarding alone that was the issue. I I specifically said:

"I don't think that simulating drowning, force feeding those on hunger strikes, slamming people into walls, placing them in coffins with rats and/or insects, starving them, forcing them to stay away for 11 days in a row, can be called anything but torture."

Should we try these people for murder? Of course not as no one here was murdered. But people need to be held accountable.

Do they need to be treated like Nazi War Criminals? Of course not! But they must still be prosecuted for what they did do.

We do not only mete out one penalty. The penalty should fit the crime. And we don't only prosecute one kind of person.

To be blunt you have a stereo-typed conception of what "liberals" think and believe, and you assumed I fit this stereotype. I do not think you paid any serious attention to what I actually wrote.

I have a cousin who just told me he thinks we have to torture terrorists for our own protection. I think he is horribly wrong. But at least he is honest. At least he calls it for what it is ... torture. He does not pretend that it is nothing more than a fraternity hazing.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Waterboarding was one of the crimes German and Japanese soliders (as well as U.S. soldiers) were tried and convicted for. Just because waterboarding isn't as extreme as, say, having your fingernails pulled out doesn't mean it isn't torture.

If a U.S. soldier were captured tomorrow by a hostile nation or group and subjected to waterboarding, conservatives would condemn it and if the individuals reponsible fell into U.S. hands said conservatives would support their prosecution.

justice dept reviewYou mean "review" by the likes of John Yoo?



Surely you're joking.

You either condemn torture or you condone it. You can't have it both ways.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...


The bias in favor of permitting torture may easily be concluded from a footnote in one of the memos. In that footnote, the author, now-federal judge Jay Bybee, declines to characterize such notorious medieval torture techniques as the thumbscrew and the rack as "torture."This must be an example of the "justice dept review" TosaGuy was referring to.

Tell us, TosaGuy, what's your position on the thumbscrew and the rack? Torture or not?

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

A May 30, 2005 memo notes that
as a result of interrogation
techniques like waterboarding, KSM
revealed information that led to
the discovery of a terrorist plot
to crash a hijacked airliner into
a Los Angeles building
The planned attack on L.A. was
uncovered in 2002.

KSM wasn't captured until 2003.

You do the math.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...


One Of Zubaydah's Interrogators Sets The Record Straight

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

As with the foiled plot involving the Library Tower in L.A. that I referred to in a previous comment, Soufan points out how torture apologists are lying about the timeline of events:

Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Errol Morris created a great documentary entitled "Standard Operating Procedure" that does a pretty fair job of depicting the interogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib. I'm not quite sure how anyone can claim any moral high ground after admitting that they have simulated the drowning of a man over 100 times? What ever happened to good old, "What Would Jesus Do?". Waterboard? Luckily for the Bushies, the repubs effectively eliminated all oversight of the lawyers who wrote such rediculous justifications for torture in the first place (April, 2005 I believe).

6:56 PM  

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