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Jim

GOP to waterboard Cheney

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..or something to get him to shut up. Especially considering:

 

Ali Soufan, an FBI special agent from 1997 to 2005, told members of a key Senate Judiciary subcommittee that such "techniques, from an operational perspective, are ineffective, slow and unreliable, and harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda."

 

His remarks followed heated exchanges between committee members with sharply differing views on both the value of the techniques and the purpose of the hearing itself.

 

Soufan, who was involved in the interrogation of CIA detainee Abu Zubaydah, took issue with former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has said that enhanced interrogation techniques helped the government acquire intelligence necessary to prevent further attacks after September 11, 2001.

 

The techniques, which were approved by the Bush administration, are considered torture by many critics. Watch analysts discuss harsh interrogations and torture

 

"From my experience -- and I speak as someone who has personally interrogated many terrorists and elicited important actionable intelligence -- I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as the 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' " Soufan noted in his written statement.

 

Such a position is "shared by many professional operatives, including the CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation."

Soufan told the committee that within the first hour of his interrogating Zubaydah, the suspected terrorist provided actionable intelligence.

 

But once the CIA contractors took over and used harsh methods, Soufan said, Zubaydah stopped talking. When Soufan was asked to resume questioning, Zubaydah cooperated. After another round of more coercive techniques used by the contractors, however, Soufan said it was difficult for him to re-engage Zubaydah.

 

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Question is......is torture illegal? yes or no. Is waterboarding illegal? Yes or no.

 

 

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..or something to get him to shut up. Especially considering:

 

Ali Soufan, an FBI special agent from 1997 to 2005, told members of a key Senate Judiciary subcommittee that such "techniques, from an operational perspective, are ineffective, slow and unreliable, and harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda."

 

His remarks followed heated exchanges between committee members with sharply differing views on both the value of the techniques and the purpose of the hearing itself.

 

Soufan, who was involved in the interrogation of CIA detainee Abu Zubaydah, took issue with former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has said that enhanced interrogation techniques helped the government acquire intelligence necessary to prevent further attacks after September 11, 2001.

 

The techniques, which were approved by the Bush administration, are considered torture by many critics. Watch analysts discuss harsh interrogations and torture

 

"From my experience -- and I speak as someone who has personally interrogated many terrorists and elicited important actionable intelligence -- I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as the 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' " Soufan noted in his written statement.

 

Such a position is "shared by many professional operatives, including the CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation."

Soufan told the committee that within the first hour of his interrogating Zubaydah, the suspected terrorist provided actionable intelligence.

 

But once the CIA contractors took over and used harsh methods, Soufan said, Zubaydah stopped talking. When Soufan was asked to resume questioning, Zubaydah cooperated. After another round of more coercive techniques used by the contractors, however, Soufan said it was difficult for him to re-engage Zubaydah.

 

What's the Obama admin's final word on interrogations? I seem to remember them rhetorically and nominally outlawing "enhanced interrogation techniques," except in those cases where the president specifically authorizes them. Has this changed?

 

"Obama’s War on Terror May Resemble Bush’s in Some Areas"

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/us/politics/18policy.html

 

"Moreover, the nominee for C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, opened a loophole in Mr. Obama’s interrogation restrictions. At his hearing, Mr. Panetta said that if the approved techniques were “not sufficient” to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for “additional authority.”

 

To be sure, Mr. Panetta emphasized that the president could not bypass antitorture statutes, as Bush lawyers claimed. And he said that waterboarding — a technique that induces the sensation of drowning, and that the Bush administration said was lawful — is torture.

 

How about Military Tribunals?

"U.S. May Revive Guantánamo Military Courts"

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/02/us/politics/02gitmo.html

 

Et....cetera.

 

"Obama Considers Detaining Terror Suspects Indefinitely"

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124223286506515765.html

 

"Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool"

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/washingtondc/la-na-rendition1-2009feb01,0,4661244.story

"Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.

 

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism -- aside from Predator missile strikes -- for taking suspected terrorists off the street."

 

"Obama Moves to Block Release of Detainee Abuse Photos"

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june09/photos_05-13.html

"President Obama has decided to bar the release of photos showing U.S. personnel mistreating detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan amid concerns the backlash could jeopardize troops abroad."

 

------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Note that I'm not criticizing the Obama administration's approach here. The correct mix of politically deft symbolism and pragmatism IMO.

 

However - the chorus of non-indignation that's greeted these moves by the erstwhile principled opponents of all of the above is sufficient to confirm what their true motives have been all along.

 

I'll also add that despite the fact that I think that the Obama administration has made the right strategic moves on this front - all of this fretting about water-boarding the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad is a bit precious and bizarre in light of the fact that pulping women, children, and other innocents with explosives while targeting suspected terrorists with missiles, bombs, artillery shells, etc is considered a regrettable but necessary tactic, and seldom if ever inflames public sentiment in the same fashion that "enhanced interrogations," etc have. That's a mysterious aspect of conventional morality that I'll leave it for others to figure out.

 

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Wow, not a single mention of Taliban placing women and children in harms way using them as a human shield while targeting legal American combatants.

 

Another mysterious aspect of the culture being propagated here in the think tank.

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I'll also add that despite the fact that I think that the Obama administration has made the right strategic moves on this front - all of this fretting about water-boarding the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad is a bit precious and bizarre in light of the fact that pulping women, children, and other innocents with explosives while targeting suspected terrorists with missiles, bombs, artillery shells, etc is considered a regrettable but necessary tactic, and seldom if ever inflames public sentiment in the same fashion that "enhanced interrogations," etc have. That's a mysterious aspect of conventional morality that I'll leave it for others to figure out.

 

No argument there. Regarding the Taliban using folks as human shields - what's the point? That's not ethical and neither is torture. Is this a race to the bottom rung?

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Wow, not a single mention of Taliban placing women and children in harms way using them as a human shield while targeting legal American combatants.

 

Another mysterious aspect of the culture being propagated here in the think tank.

 

I'm not opposed to using bombs, missiles, artillery, etc to kill terrorists. Provided that we are talking about people who strive to intentionally kill as many civilians as possible, using whatever means they can get their hands on, using all of the above to kill them while striving to minimize civilian casualties strikes me as immensely regrettable but necessary.

 

Having said that, in ethical terms, killing suspected/confirmed terrorists with explosives seems much worse than detaining and waterboarding (or whatever other tactic that the US has used) them. Killing non-terrorists in the vicinity, even while striving to minimize these deaths, seems infinitely more so.

 

What puzzles me is why waterboarding a sack like Khaled Sheikh Mohammad generates so much breast-beating, gnashing of the teeth, etc, while blowing him - and anyone around him - to pieces with a JDAM would have elicited little more than a shrug.

 

 

 

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I'll also add that despite the fact that I think that the Obama administration has made the right strategic moves on this front - all of this fretting about water-boarding the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad is a bit precious and bizarre in light of the fact that pulping women, children, and other innocents with explosives while targeting suspected terrorists with missiles, bombs, artillery shells, etc is considered a regrettable but necessary tactic, and seldom if ever inflames public sentiment in the same fashion that "enhanced interrogations," etc have. That's a mysterious aspect of conventional morality that I'll leave it for others to figure out.

 

No argument there. Regarding the Taliban using folks as human shields - what's the point? That's not ethical and neither is torture. Is this a race to the bottom rung?

 

Now Jim, I think you'd agree that there's plenty of room for making distinctions between various alternatives in the "not ethical" category.

 

The most important question in ethics, IMO, is "Compared to what?"

Seems like there are many cases where the luxury of choosing between what appear to be genuinely good and bad options is absent, and we're left with choosing between alternatives that - in more ideal circumstances - would fall squarely onto the "not ethical" side of the moral ledger.

 

 

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there is a big difference between pulling a lever and dropping a bomb vs. torture.

 

cartoon20090513.jpg

 

Per your judgment - what's the critical moral difference, for whom is this most significant.

 

I'd probably find it easier to launch a missile at a house containing KSM from a fighter jet than waterboard him, but that does nothing to render the former more moral than the latter in any moral analysis that's anywhere close to honest and rigorous.

 

I'm very interested in how you understand and analyze these things, so I hope that if you respond, you'll take the time to put forward something more substantial than a glib one-liner.

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Another case where Obama and his pragmatism were destined to disappoint. I keep pointing out that he came up baely skirting Chicago politics and there is no way to survive that doing anything radical or standing on too many principles. You probably wouldn't want to know what still passes for 'police interrogation' in Chicago when the chips are down.

 

So far he's been pretty predictable relative to making no sudden moves on the environment, indian affairs, healthcare, and finance reform, but even I have to admit Obama isn't even meeting my low expectations on the Bush legacy front. This is why it's best not to elect traitors and felons to high office in the first place - it's culturally hard to undo their actions.

 

Every time we as a nation fail to fully prosecute wrong doing in high office we open the door to Constitution-bending shennanigans. Obama's politically self-preserving stance on prosecuting Bush administration officials is realistic, but deplorable with serious consequences for our nation.

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In the bigger picture, what about the impact on those we are asking to do this work, what is it to them? Someone has to do it. Torture is a methodical, sadistic operation performed face to face with the enemy strapped down and defenseless. Dropping a bomb from a high flying plane, or maneuvering and sending a missile in with a drone controlled half way across the world is much different. This is how warefare has been modernized. But even back in the old days of hand to hand combat only there was a distinction between warfare and torture.

 

Heck, we have rules about "cruel and unusual punishment" for our own citizens, don't we? Why do you think that is?

 

FWIW here is the glib comment you've been waiting for: I leave the glib comments for you. They seem to be your specialty.

 

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I think Porter has captured the essentials - there are always moral ambiguities on the battlefield but the general idea is to get the bad guys as best as possible without harming innocents - once you are a prisoner, guitly or not, there are laws and definitive moral obligations. That seems very clear.

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In the bigger picture, what about the impact on those we are asking to do this work, what is it to them? Someone has to do it. Torture is a methodical, sadistic operation performed face to face with the enemy strapped down and defenseless. Dropping a bomb from a high flying plane, or maneuvering and sending a missile in with a drone controlled half way across the world is much different. This is how warefare has been modernized. But even back in the old days of hand to hand combat only there was a distinction between warfare and torture.

 

Heck, we have rules about "cruel and unusual punishment" for our own citizens, don't we? Why do you think that is?

 

FWIW here is the glib comment you've been waiting for: I leave the glib comments for you. They seem to be your specialty.*

 

I'm one of the many people who was already aware of the mental and physical differences between the two acts for the person who commits them.

 

It's not clear to me that it's obvious that the guy who drops the firebombs on Tokyo is going to sleep any easier than the guy who waterboards KSM or an equivalent - that would seem to depend on the fellow's individual constitution and the historical circumstances in which the act took place, how his peers and society at large viewed the conflict and his actions, etc.

 

Anyhow - now that you've taken the time to restate the what we both understood from the beginning, I hope that you'll eventually follow that up with an argument that makes it clear why waterboarding terrorists to prevent additional terrorist attacks on civilians is less ethical than slaughtering them (and anyone who happens to be in the vicinity) with explosives to prevent additional attacks on civilians.

 

*Glib - maybe. One liners - much to the dismay of many here - no.

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I think Porter has captured the essentials - there are always moral ambiguities on the battlefield but the general idea is to get the bad guys as best as possible without harming innocents - once you are a prisoner, guitly or not, there are laws and definitive moral obligations. That seems very clear.

 

Those are the rules, I think that they're important, and I'm glad that we have them - but I don't think I'm alone in recognizing the fact that there are situations where the conventional rules no longer provide a reliable path to the most ethical outcome.

 

The fact that the Obama administration has quietly added an loophole that allows the president to authorize "additional measures" if the conventional interrogation techniques don't generate the information we need to contend with a particular crisis seems to be a tacit concession of this point.

 

It's also worth adding that the fact that we have specific rules of conduct and obligations that we assign to the handling of captives does nothing to clarify the questions concerning the relative morality of waterboarding vs missile strikes.

 

Having said that, I think we're in agreement that it's bad PR, that the strategic damage it does generally exceeds the value of the intelligence that it generates, that there are probably ways to get the same information from captives that are more clever, less cruel, and more reliable, and that the Obama administration has generally gotten things right on this front.

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I thought most of the discussion has centered around the legal issue of torture and not moral one. Both the killing of civilians and torture are indefensible by any reasonable standard of morality.

 

Point is, if we hung people at Nuremberg for the exact same acts our government sanctioned. We should then apply the same standards to ourselves. Unfortunately, as JosephH stated we continue to disregard the constitution and rule of law in favor of political gains and cronyism.

 

As for protectionism, I think both parties can be found equally guilty. Even the ole Gipper.

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Sorry jay, you're on your own cloud with that train of thought. But carry on the coversation... I'm interested as to where it will take you. It's a lot of theoretical talk you're on too if you think anything was prevented by the torture, and plenty to suggest the it served well in our enemies recruitment.

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I thought most of the discussion has centered around the legal issue of torture and not moral one. Both the killing of civilians and torture are indefensible by any reasonable standard of morality.

 

Point is, if we hung people at Nuremberg for the exact same acts our government sanctioned. We should then apply the same standards to ourselves. Unfortunately, as JosephH stated we continue to disregard the constitution and rule of law in favor of political gains and cronyism.

 

As for protectionism, I think both parties can be found equally guilty. Even the ole Gipper.

 

Let's set the record straight. I don't think the gravity of water boarding holds quite the same weight as a systematic death camp.

 

However, even Chuck Yeager admitted that if the Axis had won the war, and applied our legal rational to ourselves in terms of indiscriminate air strikes OUR guys would have been looking at the gallows.

 

I say let's make a rational decision regarding the best way to elicit intelligence and then let sleeping dogs lie.

 

Hell, most of the concerned citizens now screaming for legal vengeance are the same ones screaming for blood on Sept 12 2001. You want to open pandora's box then prepare for some bloodshed and bullshit. War is a bitch, wear a helmet.

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I agree, Serenity, that waterboarding is not as bad as killing and that indiscriminate air strikes are war crimes.

 

I also agree that we should make a rational decision regarding the best way to elicit intelligence but many if not most experienced interrogators say that torture is rarely the way to get good intelligence and, even if some believe it may work in a particular case, that rational decision must also be based on a broader set of factors and not just immediate expedience. Even if one out of X number of guys tortured will disclose useful intelligence that couldn't have been obtained any other way, it still may not be worth it if it erodes our image as a nation that respects our treaty obligations, feeds terrorist recruiting, and provides justification for others to torture our guys.

 

As to letting sleeping dogs lie and that bit about concerned citizens who want blood now being the ones who wanted it on September 12? There was a lot of rage and bluster in the aftermath of 911, to be sure, but there were also a lot of people saying that war was not the answer. From day one I argued that our invasion of Afghanistan was a bad idea and that Bush was using 911 as an excuse for war. I am pretty sure that, even on September 12, most Americans would have said that we should not in the wake of that tragedy abandon the Geneva Conventions. Arguing that we should let sleeping dogs lie is arguing that we should not hold those responsible for national security accountable.

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Sorry jay, you're on your own cloud with that train of thought. But carry on the coversation... I'm interested as to where it will take you. It's a lot of theoretical talk you're on too if you think anything was prevented by the torture, and plenty to suggest the it served well in our enemies recruitment.

 

Purely a moral analysis. I've just been arguing that killing members or AQ - let alone any non-terrorist bystanders - with high explosives is actually a greater moral transgression than using waterboarding and whatever other forms of torture were used to extract information from KSM and other "high value" captives. Consequently, anyone who is unwilling to endorse "enhanced interrogation" of known or suspected terrorists under any and all circumstances for moral reasons should be calling for rules that categorically rule out using airstrikes to kill them.

 

I can understand the strategic and PR reasons for doing so, since torturing OBL in an effort to extract information about ongoing terrorists plots after capturing him would inflame world opinion much more than blowing him and anyone within a 100 meter radius to pieces in an airstrike, but those are practical considerations, not moral ones. I'd agree that there are a great many practical reasons that support the Obama administration's policy on this issue - "special circumstances" and all - but let's not kid ourselves about our moral status while we're still willing to drop JDAM's on houses containing terrorists to achieve the same ends.

 

 

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I thought most of the discussion has centered around the legal issue of torture and not moral one. Both the killing of civilians and torture are indefensible by any reasonable standard of morality.

 

Point is, if we hung people at Nuremberg for the exact same acts our government sanctioned. We should then apply the same standards to ourselves. Unfortunately, as JosephH stated we continue to disregard the constitution and rule of law in favor of political gains and cronyism.

 

As for protectionism, I think both parties can be found equally guilty. Even the ole Gipper.

 

The fact that we wouldn't get nearly as worked up when discussing whether a president authorized jaywalking as a necessary expedient for prosecuting the GWOT suggests to me that the moral dimension here is more central than the legal one.

 

With regards to warfare, we've had this discussion before on this board, and there are very serious people who are prepared to argue that using physically equivalent means - such as dropping large numbers of bombs on population centers - to prosecute a war renders both sides of the conflict morally equal to one another. Given the respective ends that the Axis and Allied powers were using force to pursue, and likely implications for humanity in the event that a particular side prevailed, that's a very difficult argument to make - but I'd be interested in reading what you have to say if you choose to pursue that argument.

 

With regards to protectionism (way different conversation) I used the term as shorthand for the government using it's power to create cartels that it insulates from competition, and which are accordingly free to force consumers to buy their goods when they wouldn't otherwise do so, or pay a higher price for them than they would if competitors - both foreign and domestic - were not subject to the various sanctions that the government imposed on them. Neither party has a perfect record on this, but if you are prepared to argue that the Republican party is just as likely to endorse economic policies that are consistent with this practice I'd certainly be interested in reading the case that you put forward.

 

 

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I'm not sure what you're getting at, Jay. One cannot voice an objection to torture if they don't voice equal objection to bombing? Hogwash. Those who complain about torture don't complain about civilian casualties? Really? Somebody here argued that we were just as bad as the Nazi's in WWII? When?

 

And protectionism? Say what?

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