A Small Silver Lining in the Very Black Torture Cloud

Well, the Senate torture report is out and it is every bit as bad, perhaps worse, than expected.   There are summaries all over but this one seems as good as any.  And here. Essentially the CIA:

  • Tortured and detained more people than they ever admitted
  • Were more brutal than they ever admitted
  • Were more haphazard and incompetent than can be believed (losing suspects, outsourcing torture to a couple of outside psychologists with no interrogation experience or credentials)
  • Achieved far less than they bragged from the torture, with results that now appear to approximate zero
  • Lied about everything to everyone, up to and including Congress and the President

The CIA needs a forced enema of its own, though I am skeptical they will get it.

I will say that there is nothing really particularly surprising here to a libertarian.  This sort of lawlessness often occurs in fairly transparent government agencies (think VA) so it should be no surprise that it occurs in an agency like this that has zero accountability (because it can yell "classified" as the drop of a hat).  An agency empowered to hide stuff and keep secrets is going to hide stuff and keep secrets.  I am not even sure that if we really could turn the CIA upside down that this would be the worst thing we would find.

At the risk of diluting the totally appropriate horror with which this report should be received, I will observe a couple of positives:

  1. Three cheers for partisanship and divided government.  They get a bad rap because gridlock, but without confrontational, competitive, even polarized rivals for power, this sort of thing would never have come out.  You can see pretty clearly from the minority comments that Republicans would have buried this had they controlled the Senate.
  2. One cheer for American exceptionalism.  Yes, the hubris and arrogance that often accompanies American exceptionalism went a long way to contributing to these errors.   But there are not many countries in the world that would publish this report.  Forget for a minute Russia or China or Mali.  Even among western democracies there are not many countries that would voluntarily call for penalty strokes on themselves.  I can't imagine, for example, France ever making such an admission (and not, I think, because the DGSE's hands are particularly clean).


  1. mlhouse:

    BS....who cares if a bunch of radical Muslim prisoners suffered some discomfort. I am really crying for them.

    Here are facts: "torture" works. Anyone who claims it does not is foolish. They arent trying to force a confession out of the subject, but find actionalble intelligence. ANd they did get actionable intelligence. Most of the top terrorist leaders were completely broken by the interrogations.

    The case in support of torture is open and shut. Any criticism is ridiculous and counterproductive. Any PRESIDENT who is not willing to waterboard a terrorist liek Khalid Sheik Muhammed is not fit to be President of the United States because he cannot properly protect the country from terrorism.

  2. Matthew Slyfield:

    The real fact is that given sufficient amounts of torture, you can get anyone to tell you what ever you want to hear in order to make it stop. To resort to torture, you have to already be in a position where you don't believe what the subject is telling you, so you are unlikely to stop before you reach the point where they will say whatever it takes to make you stop.

    The proper question for determining effectiveness is not did they receive some actionable intelligence, but what was the ratio of actionable intelligence to worthless junk?

  3. mahtso:

    This shows that you cannot trust the government, which is the dilemma here: why should I have any faith that the report is accurate?

  4. bigmaq1980:

    I'm not willing to take these things off the table completely (as in, the imminent danger of significant/mass casualty and we have our hands on a plotter), but, even within these bounds, it is a steep slope that is awfully slippery if this gets justified for less. The ONLY safeguard is transparency.

    We can now assume, if we did not before, that any agency involved will lie to us (or their overseers) about what transpired, the value it received/achieved, and the level of distress/pain they inflicted and methodology.

  5. bigmaq1980:

    It is more about the veracity of what was originally reported. Without transparency what can be believed?

  6. mlhouse:

    You are mistaken. YOur views on "torture" are warped by watching too many Hollywood movies were the good guy is forced to confess to a crime. These interrogations were not meant to get an individual to confess. Getting informaiton is much different. If they just give you misinformation you go back, compare it to the known facts, and get them to give you real information.

    Again, KSM and most of the captured terrorists were completely broken. They gave valuable intelligence that protected the country and helped destroy the existing terrorist cells. ONLY AFTER Obama became President and we stopped using these effective techniques did new terrorist organizations like ISIS become a threat.

  7. Bruce:

    The Democrats say torture does not work, so it must be true!

  8. Matthew Slyfield:

    Some of them gave valuable intelligence. How many did they torture and not get any useful information from? If you think we will ever know the answer to that you are a fool.

  9. J_W_W:

    I am wondering what school that trains psychologists has a particular "implementing torture" psychology specialty track.

    I find that "but the psychologists didn't have experience with torture" argument to be a little off. I can't imagine any psychologist specifically trains about how to execute torture. However, I do believe they have a value in estimating the effects of torture, but that has nothing to do with being specifically trained for it.

  10. Andrew_M_Garland:

    Obama publicly condems torture and enhanced interrogation. Those actions are not like us. He condemns past Republican administrations as lawless criminals. But, the fine print allows flexibility in the future.

    === ===
    [edited] The Obama administration says that the cruelty ban applies wherever the United States exercises governmental authority. This would apply to Guantanamo.

    This appears to exclude places like the former “black site” prisons where the C.I.A. tortured terrorism suspects during the Bush years, as well as American military detention camps in Afghanistan and Iraq during the wars there. Those prisons were on the sovereign territory of other governments.
    === ===

    I see the argument that enhanced interrogation is inhumane and doesn't work. If it is inhumane, then saying it doesn't work is a strange follow-on. It shows how weak is the humanitarian resolve of the government.

    The US military drone program, death from the skies, kills many civilians (20?) for every terrorist targeted. Obama doesn't think that is inhumane, because it kills terrorists. It works.

    Our government would not stand on humanitarian principle in dire situations. An immenent terrorist attack would cause the approval of torture. No matter what the retrospective opinion, governments will go to war and torture in the future.

    Politically, we will always object to torture, and we will always use it in sufficient situations. That is our and Obama's current position. That is only what I observe in life.

  11. mlhouse:

    I guarantee you that 100% of them did. Why? Because it works. Even John McCain knows this. Every captured airman in Viet Nam gave up information under torture. No matter how much they fought back they still gave up the information. Most of it wasnt important, but that is not the point. Another example is the when the Iranians took the US Embassy hostage. They had no problems getting information, such as the codes to locked safes by torture or the threat of torture. The Iranians beat the hostages on the bottoms of their feet and that is incredibly effective because of the pain it inflicts. Even the high level CIA agents just caved in.

    And again, the claim that they will just spew anything is also bogus. If the "torturer" knows what they are doing that will last one time. False information is usually easily disproved by the lack of corroboration. Remember, this isnt the movies were the bad cops are just trying to coerce a confession to a crime. This is trying to protect the nation by gathering actionable intelligence. True information is the goal, and they got tons of it by breaking KSM and other terrorist leaders with the enhanced techniques.

    The pre-Obama al Queda was essentially destroyed as an organization. Only by not following up with the same diligence has allowed the follow on groups like ISIS to prosper,

  12. TruthisaPeskyThing:

    Somewhat confusing . . . I thought there was common knowledge years ago that the techniques obtain actionable information, but Senator Feinstein said today that no useful information was obtained. Since the current CIA will please its boss in the White House, I do not expect anything trustworthy from the current CIA on that question.
    Also, I have not read the report, but I got the impression from Senator Feinstein that the torture was much more psychological that physical brutality.

  13. kidmugsy:

    "Lied about everything to everyone, up to and including Congress and the President"

    Is there any reason to believe that? I mean to believe the "about everything".

  14. Titan28:

    I'm surprised and disappointed you can't see this report for what it is, a political document. The Republicans on the committee had nothing to do with it, and you accept the Democrats' reasons as to why this is the case? Republicans are evil and in the bag for a runaway CIA and it is we, we brave few, eh, who stand between America and the ruin that was Rome. Good Lord. The Times is in the middle of an orgy on its front page, slamming into the CIA with everything it has: "a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend." I'll give you a portrait of depravity: Diane Feinstein's whole ignorant life. Is it her husband, or Pelosi's, who stands to make millions out of the train to nowhere? Integrity? Probity? Honor? Surely, you jest Mr. Feynman.
    Every once in a while, libertarians show why they shouldn't be allowed to run things. You just did. You live in a dream world, peopled by paper tigers and gum drops, or baskets of abstractions. Even you, whose intelligent commentary I've come to look forward to, fell down on this story. Why? Was it a case of the narrative you wanted to hear, like what happened with Rolling Stone and UVA, or decades earlier, the day-care Salem witch hunt, in which not one single person was guilty of a crime? You think the CIA is bad? And now you got confirmation, from a Democratic committee? Quelle surprise.
    I'll tell you one thing. I want the CIA between me and the evil bastards, and not you. You say they were haphazard and incompetent. Come on! Talk about Monday morning quarterbacking. Heat of battle, real time--and you, or maybe Harry Reid or Diane Feinstein, or heck, Biden or that tool Obama could have done better?
    Employees in the CIA put their lives on the line. And you want to second guess them? Who do you think they were dealing with? Monks? These terrorists deliberately attack civilians. We're supposed to read them their rights?
    You need to read very carefully what the Times said in its article. There's almost nothing new in it; it's mostly a rehash of known information. Count how many times certain elements of the story are repeated (98 vs. 118; why do you think that's important? they murdered 3,000 Americans!). Here's something else.
    Any time you, or any other sagacious libertarian you know, finds yourself siding with the likes of Feinstein, whose stupidity gives stupidity a bad name (Times: she acted out of 'a certainty that history would judge,' a woman so self-serving she's practically venomous), or Reid or Pelosi or Obama, or any of the overeducated numskulls who respond to these absurd stories in the Times, you know, the ones who would call you a 'denier,' stop what you're doing. Then start again and do it over.
    And when you get a chance, read The Looming Tower.

  15. mesocyclone:

    As a Vietnam War airman, I went through EIT in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school (SERE). This is the program from which the CIA derived its methods. We were taught then, by experts, many of whom had been Korean War POW's, that torture works ("You will break. You will give up all the classified information that you know.")

    From that perspective, I find the outrage against this program to be very wrong, for two reasons: (1) it works and we know that and anyone who knows history know that; and (2) we went through the experience voluntarily, so screw those who are whining about subjecting murdering terrorists to the same experience in the hope of stopping future murders.

    Screw these previous moralizers.

  16. mesocyclone:

    Actually, they probably had the most experience any American could get: they were involved with the SERE program, where American soldiers were subjected *to the same techniques* as part of our training.

  17. bigmaq1980:

    Maybe the Army said this just for fun...

    "...the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear" - US Army Field Manual on Interrogation - FM 34-52


  18. ben:

    I come back to efficient breach. Exceptional circumstances might justify breaking the law. By (hopelessly inadequate) analogy, it would be crazy to wait for a red light on an empty street to change with your wife in labour. But the system only works if those who break the law are held to account. That is why this report is important.

  19. ben:

    I haven't read the report but I hope data has been retained that allows a PhD or two to be written forensically testing efficacy of torture: more signal or less?

  20. Nehemiah:

    I like your post Titan28. Pretty much my view of the issue. Give me Jack Bower running interrogation and I'll sleep a lot better.

  21. Nehemiah:

    I'll not believe the democrat Senators who told us we could keep our doctors or our insurance or that our costs would go down. They'll say and do whatever is politically expedient. This report is just another example.

  22. Nehemiah:

    Well said and thank you for your service.

  23. ColoComment:

    Before anyone sets his opinion in concrete after reading ONLY the SSCI report released yesterday (Feinstein's report), please spend some time over at lawfare.com blog. There you'll also find not only the minority report and the CIA response that the mainstream media seems to be ignoring, but also they are combing through all three documents and comparing and contrasting the information provided, and the processes by which the same was obtained.
    It's worth a click or two & some reading time. If that information confirms your opinion, then well and good. OTOH, you might find some fodder for re-evaluating what you think you believe.
    This link will take you to Part 2 (as much as they've completed so far), which also includes a link to Part 1.

  24. mesocyclone:

    Of course it works. But it doesn't work every time, it isn't perfect, it can yield bad information, and, as we have seen, interrogators can overstep their bounds. But... overall, it produces more information than without it.

    As for the Army manual... since it is for training interrogators who are not allowed to use these techniques, of course they aren't going to teach that the techniques work. And, the intended audience of that manual would not be trained in and thus not be successful at using them.

    The FBI also claimed that they didn't work. But... the FBI interrogators are not trained in these techniques, and are justifiably proud of their abilities to get results without EIT, so it is hardly surprising that their not-expert opinion is that they can do just as well without the techniques.

    There are several points on the morality of this: it isn't just stopping future murder - it is stopping future mass murder of innocents; also, the targets of EIt are not our citizens, and they shouldn't be unless there is a really clear "ticking bomb scenario."

    Unlike some, I think Americans should treat our citizens preferentially, and use tactics against foreigners that we would not use on our own citizens.

    What is rarely mentioned in this discussion is the nature of threats that were actually feared by the CIA. It wasn't some small scale attack. They believed they were potentially preventing a WMD attack. We had apparently been attacked with Anthrax already, and Al Qaeda was known to be experimenting with such agents. The 9-11 attack produced WMD-scale deaths. At the time, there was also serous concern about Russian loose nukes, and potential Islamist access to them from Muslim provinces.

    Those sorts of threats require an especially high level of intelligence gathering (which is why they spent about 470 billion *just* on bio-terror protection).

    Also, consider a related question of morality: the WW-II decision by Churchill to not warn the residents of Coventry that they were about to be subjected to an unprecedented, punitive bombing attack. Churchill knew it was coming due to the Ultra decrypts, but that source of intelligence was considered so sensitive that he did not pass along the warning. Fortunately, although the Nazi's tried hard, they failed to kill a high percentage of the residents. Churchill could not know that ahead of time. Thousands of allied troops died unnecessarily at the Anzio landings because, while the general was given good intel, he chose not to act on it because he was not given the source (Ultra).

    War makes for very hard choices. Whether we choose to be or not, we are at war.

  25. bigmaq1980:

    But that is a huge part of the point. Who to believe without some transparency?

    The officials who oversaw this stuff under BOTH GOP and Dem administrations, who have an agenda and a collective backside to cover?

    The elected representatives who have an agenda and are biased?

    As far as Dem Senators lying on this one, would it not be hard/near impossible to credibly manufacture evidence given the incentive of the officials to counter?

    Let's face it, neither can be fully trusted. So what to do?

    Might we not, as citizens have an obligation to be somewhat skeptical and biased against government's (nontransparent and questionable accountability on it's) monopoly use of force?

    If we are going to sanction these methods, what is wrong with advocating much better accountability and transparency in all this, given that nobody can be fully trusted?

  26. KenG453:

    Lordy, what a pantywaist you can be. Not only is this a political document, it documents activities conducted against sworn enemies of the USA. These terrorists are responsible for the deaths of Americans, and their compatriots continue to advocate "Death to America." What part of "War is Hell" eludes you?
    I guess you prefer the thousands dead from the drone war...

  27. bigmaq1980:

    The challenge of determining that "it works" is how does one prove it? How do they verify it?

    And, then the next is determining just how valuable was the information? How does one measure that?

    Followed by, incrementally, with each incident of EIT, what was the value?

    We are to trust people who get the benefit of obscurity, working in secret, and believe that their manuals are incorrect (or were intended as misdirection) and that other LE organizations somehow don't "get it" because they never been shown how to correctly use EIT and are too proud to admit so?

    Yes, hard choices need to be made. Yes, there is some context here that folks forget about that allows for some latitude. But why can there not be some process that we can believe has integrity, accountability, and transparency?

  28. mesocyclone:

    The CIA is *not* an LE organization. It is an intelligence agency, directed outwards towards Americas enemies. By necessity, it must operate in secret.

    In this case, there was pretty good transparency. Not perfect, but pretty good. Congress approved of the actions. The only reason we are hearing all the fuss today is because it became politically important for Democrats to paint the Bush administration as devils, and they chose to use the EIT program for that purpose. That meant they had to deny their own approval of the program. By only using selected paperwork,. and not interviewing *any* of the participants, they are able to deny the absolute fact that they not only approved of the program, but even asked if more should be done.

    Government is a difficult beast. We have to have it to protect us, but then we complain when it isn't perfect. Libertarians deal with that problem by claiming that we don't really need much government, that all the problems we have in the world are our own fault, and that peace will come if we only run around collecting unicorn farts. That position is remarkably close to that of the hard left in the US.

  29. bigmaq1980:

    The "unicorn farts" seem to emanate from the thinking that we can trust the government on these issues and not abuse them. How do we think we end up with the IRS and NSA scandals?

    It is easy to call out "security" and "protection" as the reason to support this, as it is a concern for all. What we cannot seem to get our heads around is looking past that top tier umbrella statement and get down to what are the limiting principles? how do we make sure it won't be abused?

    Right now, the conservative response seems to be "trust them", and leave the discussion at that, inconsistently diverging from all the prior heated talk about the abuses from the IRS and the NSA.

    Five years after these events, and six years of Obama at the helm, and now it is "politically important for Democrats to paint the Bush administration as devils"? Doesn't ring true. Why so long? Six years of a Dem president, who didn't make any changes to this, kind of makes him "own" the problem too. Makes one wonder just how transparent all this was to the Congressional overseers from day one?

    The "hard left" is a mixed bag. Some are pacifists and isolationists - but are happy to demonstrate/riot for their "cause". So, some "theoretical" libertarians arguably are indistinguishable in that direction, perhaps without the rioting. The rest/majority - true lefties - are advocates of big government - the kind that would use power like this to drive their own agenda. Oh...reminds one of the IRS scandal again, doesn't it?

    We need government. But, we have seen government encroachment from many angles. Here is yet another angle. Is it not worth a critical discussion on just what are the principles and oversight in place now, and could it be improved?

  30. mesocyclone:

    As a libertarian-leaning conservative, my view is that there are a few functions for which we have to have government, and this is one of them. It isn't about trust - we all know governments screw up. This is an example: in spite of careful constraints on the program, a few people went beyond them. Surprise? Not at all. Does this make the program wrong? Not at all. You want some grand limiting principle. Good luck and welcome to the real world.

    But it seems to be Libertarians who rely in unicorns as they consistently underestimate the defense needs a country has in the real world. Ron Paul is a complete loon on that and other subjects. Rand Paul is now having to walk back what are relatively modest positions, for a Libertarian, because he knows he won't be elected president if people perceive him as having those views. Libertarianism is a fringe because the American people have too much common sense to allow it into the mainstream.

    Libertarians put their dislike and distrust of government above all else. Libertarian-conservatives recognize that government is a very dangerous instrument, to be employed minimally, but that it does need to be used for the defense of the same liberties that Libertarians cherish.

    As for the NSA, I don't consider their activities to be abuses. I see them as government doing a surprisingly good job of what we hire them to do: guarding against evil while (in this case) being remarkably careful about protecting civil liberties (including oversight by all three branches of the federal government). I think the difference between NSA and IRS is organizational culture and focus. The NSA really is about defense and has always been outwardly focused. The IRS is about domestic affairs, and does not have an ethic about defending the public, rather viewing us as an adversary. I find it unfortunate that we live in a world that requires the NSA to do what it has done, but I am clear on the dangers of this world, even as Libertarians and many others put their heads in the sand.

    You misunderstand the Democrat motive. It had been politically important for Dems to portray Bush as a devil, back when he was president. Hence, Democrat hypocrites like Pelosi, Feinstein and Kerry started publicly denouncing Bush for the very programs they had (secretly) approved of. Unfortunately for them, the narrative they created now requires them to get up on their moral high horses and raise hell about "torture." They are trying to balance that need with their previous hypocrisy and support for the program, hence this farce of an "investigation." After six years, what is important to them is not making Bush out to be a devil, but covering their own rears for the treacherous activity they engaged in years ago when he was president, while placating their base by condeming the CIA. That's why they did not talk to a single CIA official - if they had, those officials would have mentioned the briefings they gave to the hypocrites, and that would have made it into the official record. You can't allow such truths to be known or the ass-covering purpose of this travesty would fail.

    Where Libertarians are utopians, modern progressives are puritans. Allowing their supporters to feel morally superior to others has replaced socialism as their highest goal, and the conflict between the two goals is what gives Elizabeth Warren her niche.

  31. bigmaq1980:

    No doubt the Dems are providing a one-sided view. That they somehow want to exonerate or distance themselves from their earlier support seems weak, given that six years of Obama at the helm, and them in continued elected Congressional positions, has passed (with little to show for it on this count, let alone for how long it has taken to get the info to mount such an "attack on Bush"). With Obama's and their tenure, not sure this all doesn't also rub off on him. But we cannot discount the underlying argument based exclusively on the motives of the messenger.

    Wish we had a political system where discussion would be purely around objective facts and around objective comparisons of policy. Won't happen. But, our political structure is designed to take that into account. Each side plays to their base. It does not mean there isn't an issue and that there is nothing to discuss around it.

    What is clear from real world history is that without limiting principles and a structure to support that (what might the Geneva Convention be about? - it is not a pipe dream), there is no stopping the abuse of such tactics. We all know government screws up, but that is no excuse to say we don't need to question this, particularly if we know that it has in this case.

    Again, why do we keep harping on the IRS about, if we truly believe that limiting principles are superfluous? Just because their jurisdiction limits them to different targets, does not mean we should give these organizations a "pass" because, "hey, they're fallible" - then we don't have accountability. Foreign focus or domestic focus, accountability must exist. Without that there are no limits.

    As for the NSA, they have not lived within their limits, or their limits have been intentionally construed by them to give them much broader latitude than originally intended. However, that is only another example to debate, but it illustrates how "foreign" and "domestic" can easily intermingle within "rubber" limits.

    In a country where we can have asset forfeiture without criminal charges, darn right we ought to be concerned as conservatives/citizens, even if the targets are foreigners. There is always seems to be a "rationalized" motive to stretch the boundaries and abuse the powers they are given.

    To give a knee jerk reaction because of who the messenger is and the bias they have without considering the context of these specific powers and the history of government going beyond the original intent, or misusing, or mismanaging its powers - having shown a propensity to do so at a greater momentum - is to kid ourselves. We need to be vigilant.

    We do ourselves no service by automatically jumping to the defense every time the Dems criticize something. Context weighs heavy, but does not absolve us of taking a critical eye to this.

    Seems like there is an opportunity for the GOP to address some of the shortfalls they see in this report. Once the GOP are in majority in January, why don't they open up the study with a *bipartisan* committee to collect what was missing and then come up with recommendations? At least all sides will then be considered. That's a start.

  32. mesocyclone:

    "without limiting principles and a structure to support that (what might
    the Geneva Convention be about? - it is not a pipe dream), there is no
    stopping the abuse of such tactics."

    If this is true, then there clearly was a limiting principle in action. The CIA did not go all out - they limited their tactics severely. No fingernails were torn out, nobody was whipped bloody, no hot pokers burned flesh. I suggest that the limiting principle was two-fold: (1) basic American decency, and (2) an intent to stay within the law.

    As for having yet one more report... why not just let it drop. We all know what happened - we don't need to study it to death. We already are badly crippled in our war against irregular combatants by law-fare, of which this is an example.

    You characterize my response as "knee jerk." If by that, you mean unthinking and reflexive, I disagree. I've thought about these issues a long time. Going through SERE school at a young age and being subjected to these techniques tends to do that.

    The knee jerking I see is the reflexive moral posturing and the expressions of horror. It's pathetic.

  33. bigmaq1980:

    I'd be on the same page if there was evidence that it clearly provided actionable information that itself alone, or as a key link between other disparate information, prevented a major imminent catastrophe.

    It is far from clear from anything publicly produced. Even the CIA Director was not clear on the value...

    " ...let me be clear: We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs
    within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from
    detainees subjected to them. The cause and effect relationship between
    the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the
    detainee is, in my view, unknowable."

    "...there is no way... to know whether or not some information that
    was obtained from an individuals who had been subjected at some point
    during his confinement could have been obtained through other means"

    "I believe effective, non-coercive methods are available to elicit such
    information; methods that do not have a counterproductive impact on our
    national security and on our international standing. It is for these
    reasons that I fully support the president’s decision to prohibit the
    use of EITs"


    So while he says EITs "...provided information that our experts found to be useful and valuable in our counterterrorism efforts", taken his statements as a whole, he is essentially admitting that it is speculation to say that 1) it was necessary to use EITs to gain that same information, and 2) that the information was not the lynch pin that prevented any identifiable imminent catastrophe (i.e. that is, it fails the imminent danger standard).

    As for the war...

    What crippled the war effort is mission creep and interference from DC on how to prosecute the war. Somehow Rumsfeld wanted to do it with a limited force. Somehow he was allowed to continue that approach even in the face of failure. Somehow the mission changed into "nation building". Somehow we could even negotiate an extension on our "status of forces" agreement.

    Seems like the lesson is we should only do a quick in and out, using overwhelming force. We'd get much more respect for that than the morass that we are now left with.

  34. mesocyclone:

    Okay, so the program is all right iif and only if we can *prove* that it produced actionable intelligence.

    That's preposterous. As the DCIA said, there is no way we can prove it one way or the other. We do know that detainees, most notably KSM, became very cooperative after these techniques.

    Naturally the current CIA head supports the President's non-coercive approach: he has no choice - he works for the guy and was chosen for the spot by a President knowing about this issue ahead of time.

    I would suggest you look at this through a different lens - the one that was active at the time the program was started. In that, we have just been attacked in a way where a score of terrorists were able to kill thousands of innocents at once, attack the headquarters of our military, and almost succeed in attacking the Congress or White House. The attacks on the WTC were WMD attacks by any definition. Then, shortly after that, an unknown party or parties attacked us with Anthrax, killing some, scaring many, and requiring expensive and disruptive responses. We had reason to suspect that this was a test run for a much large biological weapons attack. We had (faulty, apparently) intelligence that the 9-11 style attacks were to be repeated on the West coast.

    Our intelligence and defense agencies were under extreme pressure to prevent these further attacks. Even under this pressure, they sought legal guidance to determine how far they could go in their measures. That advice said that they could use coercive interrogations, up through water-boarding, on terrorists where necessary. All of these means judged to be legal were at that time in routine use on our own troops in SERE training. I had experienced them myself decades earlier at SERE (Warner Springs, CA). It was not known if these would be effective (SERE training is, after all, training, just highly realistic). But it was reasonably thought that they would be, based on history including that of our own troops when subjected to various forms of coercion by actual enemies - which included real torture, not this sham torture.

    We also just barely avoided further atrocities. The underwear bomber and the shoe bomber were both attempts to blow up airliners over large cities. Another plot was broken up by British intelligence that was on the verge of execution, and which was far worse: they were going to simultaneously detonate about a dozen large airliners over US cities. Think of how this debate would look today had they succeeded.

    Given that background and legal framework, and the apparent success of our efforts to prevent another 9-11, just how far should we go in condemning those who put this program together?

    You know my answer.

  35. bigmaq1980:

    Conflating cause and effect is not an argument.

    The fact that catastrophic events did not happen is not proof that these techniques were "needed". Being "cooperative" after the techniques does not (without some other evidence provided) lead to the conclusion "was necessary".

    "In 2009 [Ali] Soufan [an FBI agent, one of the joint FBI/CIA team of interrogators] testified before Congress that his FBI team was removed from Abu Zubaydah's interrogation multiple times, only to be asked to return when the harsher interrogation tactics of the CIA proved unsuccessful." ... "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." ... and much more here:

    The deputy chief of the CIA's interrogation program at the time concluded: "...that the waterboarding of Mohammed 'has proven ineffective'..."

    "Even the accurate intelligence the CIA received came from detainees [***]before they were subjected to torture [***], the report found....That includes Hassan Ghul, who provided the key intelligence that led American officials to Osama bin Laden — the knowledge that the Al Qaeda leader was likely in Peshawar in Pakistan, and that he had a courier named Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti....When Ghul was handed over to the CIA, he wasn’t tortured at first. 'He sang like a tweetie bird,' said one CIA official familiar with the initial interrogations. 'He opened up right away and was cooperative from the outset.'"

    Being waterboarded 83 times does not strike one as an effective approach. (same link as above).

    Like I said, if they have evidence to the contrary, will be happy to reconsider. Right now, it is basically an article of faith that the officials in charge of this are correct in their assertions that it was effective and worthwhile.

    But, as it stands, there is enough doubt from and info provided by people rather close to this that it does bring it all into question.

    The road to h**l is paved with good intentions, as they say. No doubt most involved in the front lines had the intention to do right by what we all feared might happen. They were operating in a murky area of policy with a high level of urgency pushing them.

    The issue is not so much about condemning these people, but in getting it right going forward, protecting our liberty from potential abuse, and protecting our standing internationally.

  36. mesocyclone:

    Ignoring the likelihood that the cause and effect are correct is unconvincing.

    As to the FBI interrogator... you citi Wikipedia? Yeah, that's really convincing. I have addressed the FBI interrogator claims before. He has claimed that FBI techniques work and the CIA's don't. Don't you smell a bit of self interest there? FBI interrogators are not allowed to use EIT and are not trained in them. It would be surprising if at least one of these guys didn't make the claims you cite.

    The focus on which intelligence led to UBL's killing is a narrative that is good at distracting from what is important. Even if we believe the claims that the enhanced interrogation did not lead to his capture (and I most certainly do not - more later), this doesn't mean that these techniques were not important in saving lives. Getting UBL was a symbolic issue, not important in the broader sense,. The focus on that as the test of this program is silly.

    But... I doubt that the UBL hunt was not helped by these techniques. EIT was used very early in the WOT, when we knew little about AQ. Not long after that, we knew a whole lot about EIT, and credible sources have said that much of this came from EIT, including a lot of what was gained from KSM.

    Right now, it is basically an article of faith that the techniques did not work - a faith that requires not only ignoring history and human nature, but also a belief that the much better informed officials are lying. It also requires ignoring the officials who have, in the last few days, come forward with first person knowledge, including Jose Rodriguez, who was in charge of the program, and three CIA chiefs under both Democrat and Republican administrations.

    The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. I have seen
    vast damage wrought by over-sensitive (and over-politicized) Americans
    who have greatly damaged our defense capabilities and have cost hundreds
    of not thousands of lives of American soldiers. We are so sensitive now
    that soldiers in Afghanistan are dying regularly because of lawfare and
    the resulting rules of engagement that are extremely one-sided. In the
    past, the Church committee's reaction to a few Vietnam War abuses
    crippled the CIA and gravely hurt our defense. In the '90s, over-sensitivity led to the Gorlich rule, which prevented FBI counter-intelligence and FBI law enforcement sides from sharing critical intelligence. Without that rule, 9-11 almost certainly would have been stopped. It was not an accident that Gorlich was on the 9-11 Commission where she could white-wash the effects of this stupid rule.

    I think protecting our people against death and destruction trumps, overwhelmingly, "protecting our standing internationally." Our standing internationally is enhanced among the people that are most important when we effectively defend ourselves. I could give a fig what effete European intellectuals think about us. Their international standing with me is zero. I would be happy if the UN fell into the river and the ICC vanished in a puff of smoke.

    I think too many Americans have for too long lived in a safe bubble where the realities of the world rarely intrude. Sitting in this comfort, they find it difficult to properly weigh the arguments on this sort of issue.

  37. Daublin:

    There's a feeling that the CIA was ordered to Do Something Right Now without really being prepared or capable, and thus they responded by overstepping all normal bounds. Here's a quote from the CIA director in one of the linked articles:

    "The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists. "

    It reminds me of Obamacare, where Obama himself seems only dimly aware of what he has caused to come into being. He issued a proclamation to do something big, expensive, and intrusive, and he didn't much care what it was. Dutiful underlings were more than happy to do it.

    In both cases, a program with poor fundamentals could not be fixed by shere degree of effort by the people implementing the idea. If we're not actually under major threat from Muslim attackers, then no amount of interrogation or bombing is going to substantially improve our security. Similarly, if there's not anything lacking in the ability of people with jobs to obtain reasonable amounts of health care, then no program is going to improve on things unless it just gives out funding to those in need.