Sunday, May 03, 2009

Torture, Again

Back in 2005 Wretchard (Richard Fernandez) of the Belmont Club posted on the subject of torture:

At one level the debate over the use of torture in the War on Terror is moot. The United States military has a long operational history of forgoing possible practical advantages in favor of upholding certain national values. The most obvious modern example are rules of engagement in the use of fires. During the recently concluded assault on Fallujah and in current operations in Iraq, military restrictions on the use of firepower around mosques or populated areas are enforced with the foreknowledge that such steps will result in statistically higher casualties to troops. This practice follows long historical precedent. The policy of precision daylight bombing during World War 2; the tendency toward 'No First Strike' during the Cold War and even the restriction on political assassinations in the Carter years are all examples of unilateral renunciations of military advantage

Thinking along those lines I posted:

There are several minor points against the use of torture and I would say a
big one.


It is not very reliable. The subject is inclined to say what will end the session, i.e. what they think the interrogator expects to hear. The interrogator quite possibly does not have the means to sort this out. Since it is what the interrogator expects to hear they will give it little challenge.

Most often they will talk without torture sooner or later.

It opens our soldiers to retaliation in kind. Even if the current enemy does not a future one may do so.

It gives a motive to enemy personnel not to surrender increasing our casualties.

Allowing torture and similar activities tends to break down military discipline. Having allowed it in one case it is much harder to expect orders not to do similar things in other cases to be obeyed.

If it becomes public it creates a terrific public affairs problem and invites outside intervention into the running of our armed forces.

The Major Problem.

If we allow torture then we will sink to the level of Osama bin Laden and
his scum. Even when bin Laden loses (which he will in any case) we will lose
even more!


Andrew C. McCarthy is the federal prosecutor who prosecuted the 1993 bombers of the World Trade Center. He was invited to attend a Justice Department conference on fighting terrorism. Part of his response to Attorney General Holder declining to attend:

Moreover, in light of public statements by both you and the President, it is dismayingly clear that, under your leadership, the Justice Department takes the position that a lawyer who in good faith offers legal advice to government policy makers—like the government lawyers who offered good faith advice on interrogation policy—may be subject to investigation and prosecution for the content of that advice, in addition to empty but professionally damaging accusations of ethical misconduct. Given that stance, any prudent lawyer would have to hesitate before offering advice to the government.


When it is prudent to for a lawyer not to provide good faith advice to the government because a change in governmental policy will result in a prosecution for giving that advice; then we can be certain that governmental decisions will not be made with good legal advice, a problem that is much worse than the original problem. Either the decisions makers will be acting blind or assuming they will be prosecuted in any case will simply ignore any limits on their actions.

This kind of legal strategy will tend to put us at the same level as Osama bin Ladin which is what torture does. WE STILL LOSE

/Rant Mode=OFF

NB: I read the memos in question, it is very clear that the authors were trying to offer legal advice. There is difference between bad advice and particpation.

HT: Southern Illinois Catholics

My posts on Torture


Jeff said...

Hank - Not sure I understand your position, but if I do I'm a little disappointed. So, under no circumstances would you support tough interrogation or torture of a terrorist to abtain life saving information? Now, no avoiding by saying torture doesn't work or anyting like that, just take the question on face value and answer as if it were absoulutely going to be true. Not sure where you stand.

My point is that torture of any kind should not be our policy. But we cannot saw, nor should we publicly, that we would never resort to harsher methods if the lives of innocent Americans were on the line. My point is that there are circumstances where you must decide between the rights of one or the rights of the many. The world of moral absolutes is an abstraction for the class room not the real world. Anyway, I look forward to your answer.

Jack said...

Hank, very disappointed that you 'associate' with Jeff. I assume that Jeff agrees that under our constitution, torture cannot be used to gain information in a criminal investigation. All Jeff is saying is that if is a non-american torture is fine. In my opinion, and I hate to be so direct, Jeff is illogical and probably a bit "sick." Jack

Mike L said...

Seems to me that once Americans decide that torture is acceptable they are no long innocent, and torture would not be indicated.

Further, if you decide that torture can be used even if it is not effective, then it sounds to me like you want to torture just for the fun of it or for revenge. Which seems to be what happened at Gitmo with its number of waterboardings of one person.

If moral standards are for the classroom only, then you have no moral standards, period.

hank_F_M said...


Thank you for your question.

What are we defending?

Just the lives and property of US Citizens.

Or perhaps, the ideals on which the country was founded. I would think that if we do not take the later we are at best trading our soul for a transient tactical advantage. We do not want to lower our selves to the level of Osama bin Laden. That is a long way from where we are but we should not even be going that direction.

There is (or at least my police friends say there is) a difference between tough interrogation and torture. Granted we should not have gotten ourselves in a position where we are discussing interrogation limits in public. But if we had not gone down that road we would not be doing so.

As, inferred in my lessor points the adoption of torture, could end up costing more American lives than what ever was saved by information obtained by torture. It opens our troops when taken prisoner, in the current wars or future ones, to being tortured. How could we prosecute the enemy for doing what we do.

Military discipline is a fragil thing, it depends much on the example of the leadership. If the high command supports torture lower levels will freelance possibly with the passive or active approval of those whose duty is stop it.

And it has created a tremendous public relations problem and other people are demanding a say in how we run our armed forces.

I began with a quote from The Belmont Club: At one level the debate over the use of torture in the War on Terror is moot. The United States military has a long operational history of forgoing possible practical advantages in favor of upholding certain national values. I think we would have done well in this case to ”forgo possible practical advantages” to uphold “certain national values.” Especially since outside of the short term the “practical advantages” seem doubtful.

hank_F_M said...


Why can’t I associate with Jeff, I associate with you? :- ) Try reading his comment again.

The main point of my post was the second part. The way it is being handled is creating a situation where the rule will be do what needs to be done and don’t tell me how. This will be much worse than anything the previous administration actually did and even what they are accused of. The reason we are having the discussion on the release of the memo’s is because people were concerned enough to ask a lawyer what is permissible.

One of the interesting points is how many critics saw the torture issue as good club to hit George Bush but otherwise did not care or would even support it if their guys were in power. I am afraid we will both find the number embarrassingly large. And remember former State Senator Obama basically ignored his constituents who were the victims of renegade a Chicago Police torture squad.

I hope I'm wrong, but I think we have seen nothing yet.

hank_F_M said...

Hi Mike


Come by more often.

Jeff said...


The question is simple. Answer if you will. If you could have saved the 3000 Americans on 9/11 by applying enhanced interrogation techniques would you do it? Please don’t avoid answering, as many do, by going on about an unfair question etc, etc. The question is straight forward. Would you do it?

I approach this debate pragmatically. Failing to act ends in the needless death of 3000 people. It seems almost the height of moral cowardice to allow that to happen when you could avoid it. I can respect people who are against enhanced interrogation methods, but God please never ever allow those people to be in charge of our safety.

One day we may be faced with a WMD attack in this country. There is a real possibility. Are any of you saying you wouldn’t use enhanced interrogation techniques to save thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of lives?? As the proliferation becomes more and more of an issue this is a very real possibility. If you will, if you dare, then answer the question. Don’t dodge, just answer.

If you would allow the death of your families, your friends and many other innocent people because you prefer to preserve a terrorists “rights,” then please let us all know.

Also, I do not believe the methods used by the CIA under the Bush Administration were torture. But some sensitive souls think all tough interrogations are. I believe real torture should be banded. But not tough, or harsh, interrogation methods. We must have options to get terrorists to talk.

I agree with you Hank, this whole public discussion has damaged, not our reputation, but our ability to interrogate high value terrorists effectively. None of these methods should have been allowed in the public forum for debate. This is not a matter that should be open for public debate.

hank_F_M said...


The question is simple. Answer if you will. If you could have saved the 3000 Americans on 9/11 by applying enhanced interrogation techniques would you do it? Someone once said hard cases make bad law.

But hard cases happen, how to handle them with out making bad law.

So a CIA agent

hs positive knowledge an attack will happen in the very near future and the attack will kill thousand’s.

He has a prisoner of whom he is totally certain has sufficiently detailed operational knowledge that if revealed will enable the prevention of the attack. The prisoner is refusing to talk, and he believes that torture could induce him to talk.

But what is a poor agent to do?

Or what would I do? I don’t know.

An improbable situation, but not impossible. That is why hard cases make bad law. The allowance for the hard case ends up being used as a justification where it is not justified; possibly in the long run causing more harm than if the allowance had not been made.

A solution from an older school would be, if he chose to torture out the information would be to turn himself in and attempt to convince a jury of extenuation circumstances.

I do not think the memo’s in question were offering advice for this sort of direct situation.

Jack said...

Jeff is playing the silliest game. It's called: Can you think of a situation where you would......?

So some examples.

Could I think of a situation where I would shoot my oldest grandson (age 11)? Well , yes. Say he was about to fall on a plunger by accident that would blow up the whole family. Sure I would probably shoot him if that was the only recourse.

What if I knew a doctor was totally incomptent and he was going to do heart surgery in an hour. The hospital has been warned, but he his going ahead? Could I shoot him?

What if I was almost certain a terrorist was going to blow up a building. But I cannot find him. But I have been told that the terrorist's girlfriend's mother's boyfriend knows where he is. Can I torture all to save 200 orphan's from being blown up. Or to be sure the terrorist was planning to do the deed?

Yes, I love America. But I am also a Christian and a human being. Jeff apparently stops at just being a darn, good, ole Merican.

Hand, I saw his comment. A brief disclaimer then on with the torture.

BTW Hank. You did some great analysis on torture then "went off" on something about the Chicago police and the "last" administration." What happened???

Mike L said...

Jeff, why shouldn't this have been open to the public forum for debate? Are you saying that the American people should not have a say in how their government acts? That the Constitution of the United States should be overthrown and some form of a dictatorship installed in its place?

Jack, I think you are wrong. Jeff stopped a bit before being a "good ole Merican" and wants this to be some other country.

Hank, I think your answer is right, I wouldn't know what I would do until I actually faced the situation. The real question is can a evil act be justified if it prevents an even more evil act. Or does the end justify the means. Christian ethics says it does not, at least in theory. What I would do in practice might even depend on what I had for breakfast.

My answer is that the Bush administration's acts were not moral, they were evil and even worse, they did not prevent greater evil. The question that Jeff asks is an attempt to somehow justify that evil by presenting a scenario that never existed.

Not a silly game, Jack, but an attempt to justify evil and confuse morality. If Jeff's ideas prevail, those men that died in defending the freedom of this country shall have died in vain. Not silly at all.

Jeff said...

Hank – First, I appreciate your reasonableness in the debate.

Your position supports mine: You write:

“An improbable situation, but not impossible. That is why hard cases make bad law. The allowance for the hard case ends up being used as a justification where it is not justified; possibly in the long run causing more harm than if the allowance had not been made.

A solution from an older school would be, if he chose to torture out the information would be to turn himself in and attempt to convince a jury of extenuation circumstances.”

It should not be a policy of our government to use torture. The use of torture has been against the law for some years now. My point is that no leader shouldn’t be willing, under in extremis circumstances, to do what you have to do to save innocent people. However, if you use torture (methods not approved) you must account for your actions. That is reasonable and realistic. I agree there must be checks on actions outside the law.

People can be against torture under all circumstances. I understand that position. But they’re probably not in a position where they’re responsible for other people’s lives. My position is that outright torture should continue to be banned. We should use enhanced interrogation techniques on high value terrorist, however. I do not accept the opinion that those methods used by the CIA were torture. They were tough methods but they were warranted on hardened terrorist plotting to kill innocent civilians.

As for any other methods beyond these, I’d say if interrogators or the President are faced with an in extremis situation then they should do what you have to do to keep people safe. Of course afterward they should face a jury of their peers to determine if the actions were warranted. This is the best policy for a war against terrorist and is probably what Obama is actually going to do. He will nod yes about not torturing but he’s already leaving a loophole to allow him to do what he must under dire circumstances. He’s is right and responsible for doing so.

Jack – You avoided answering the question. As expected. Most people with extreme positions avoid answering a question that should be easy to answer if you truly believe in what you’re stating. Why? Because if you’re against torture in “all” circumstances then “yes” YOU would have allowed 3000 Americans to die rather than torture 1 terrorist. It should be an easy answer for person like you. Face reality. You either do or you don’t. The problem is that taken at face value your position shocks the conscience. People may agree openly with such high (though unrealistic ideals) but quietly, to themselves, their glad you aren’t in charge of keeping them and their family safe.

Mike L – The techniques used for extracting information should never be public. Congressional committees meet in classified briefs to decide such issues. Having some experience in interrogation methods I can tell you a big factor is “fear.” There must be a high level of uncertainty in the mind of the person being interrogated in order to tip them into talking. Discussing publicly methods used, in fact the very limits of what you can do, is utterly foolish. Go the and buy the Army Field Manual on interrogations. You’ll have full knowledge of everything our interrogators are doing to you and, more importantly, the limits of what they can do. You can believe al Qaeda has been ordering a few copies for training. This public debate and Obama’s release of those classified memo’s does, like it or not, provide aid to the enemy. By doing all this we have removed all fear. Getting information that might save innocent lives, possibly those of our neighbors, our friends and our family, is almost certainly becoming impossible or at least far more difficult to get.

Jack said...

Hank, I think Jeff is trying, but is probably too young, too influenced by Limbaugh or something to follow reason.

Basically he first tries to say can you think of a case where you might do something.Foolish and meaningless question.Can I think of a case where I might throw a baby off the Empire State Building.Well, yes I could. Anyone could.

He then goes from a meaningless question to:It is alright to throw babies off the Empire State Building. All Jeff is doing is nonsensically trying to justify torture, which he obviously approves of.All of his protestations clearly give him away.

Of course, he is trying to stretch his argument to coincide with the self-defense argument. Apparently, knowing little about law, he thinks the self defense argument goes to obtaining information, which NO, I repeat No, American court has ever upheld. (Maybe the Nazis).

I notice he did not respond to my comments on where he would stop.

He wants my answer. No, I do not believe torture should be used to gain, POSSIBLY, some information. Jeff says yes, torture is okay to POSSIBLY gain valuable information. Jack

hank_F_M said...


Thank you for your reasonable comments.

We do agree on much but I think the point on which we disagree, and are unable to persuade each other, is whether or not Water Boarding constitutes torture.

I would submit the following as anecdotal evidence:

Christopher Hitchens said water boarding is not torture. His critics challenged him to try it. He did. It seems the experience changed his mind. Now he says: Believe me, its torture

Jeff said...

Hank - I can see where you're coming from on waterboarding. But because Christopher Hitchens changes his mind doesn't, in my mind, change the reality of it. Of course Hitchens changed his mind! He was afraid! Did he think it would just make him a little uncomfortable? That is the whole reason for waterboarding in the first place. To cause fear. A fear of drowning, of dying...something Hitchens should fear, I guess, because he's going to Hell...ha ha.

Rememeber we waterboard our own military pilots as part of their survival training. It is a tough, harsh interrogation method and should be used on high value terrorist. I suspect, however, that Obama has ruined its affects by foolishly allowing this debate to go public with the release of the interrogation memos. He should have listened to those in his own staff telling him not to release those memos.

I guess the real argument is over the definition of a word: torture. No need to worry about that anymore though. It may be that the only real problem we face now is making sure we provide good food and entertainment to our detainees. "No presssure" is our new motto for captured terrorists. That should work. Certainly information is going to slow to a trickle. The chances of an attack are only going to increase.

There are costs to every "benefit," if that is how some would like to see this. But at what point do the benefits cost too much. Time will tell. I think this is another area where we may have indulged ourselves too much in fashion rather than fact or reality.

As always Hank, it is a pleasure to debate with you.

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