Sunday, May 3, 2009

My Facebook Debate on Torture

Here is an ongoing debate about torture I'm having on Facebook. Tom is from Dallas, Texas, the state that elected George W. Bush several times. Sean has an advanced physics degree and works for a government lab. I don't know Evan.

Sean: Mr. Obama claims the enhanced interrogation techniques are a "recruitment tool that Al Qaeda . . . used to try to demonize the United States and justify the killing of civilians." However, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Khobar Towers bombing, the African Embassy bombings, the Cole, and 9/11 all happened before George W. Bush waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubayda, or Abd al-Rahim Al Hashiri.

Evan: What an amazing perspective. So, you're trying to say that chronology matters when discussing these issues? Hmmm.... Bold. Very bold.

Me: The fact that some terrorists were anti-American years before 9/11 does not preclude the idea that our inhumane conduct towards prisoners increased the size and the intensity of terrorist threats. Look at it this way:

1. I've hated apples since 2001.
2. Yesterday, an apple truck dumped applesauce all over my lawn, causing me to pay 100 dollars to clean it up.
3. Now, I hate apples even more, and thanks to the apple company's negligence, it's easier for my neighbors to see why I hate apples, and also harder for pro-apple people to defend their product.

Under your theory, you would argue the apple company's negligence had no impact whatsoever on sentiment, credibility, and the safety of the next apple truck. Common sense tells us otherwise. And you're not seriously arguing that Abu Ghraib had no impact whatsoever on anti-Americanism and the terrorists' ability to influence more recruits, are you?

Evan: I would ask you, what did you do to Apple farmers to get the truck dumped all over your lawn? Did you, you know, go kill an apple farmer's whole family? Burn down his house? If you did neither, than your analogy falls apart. If you did either, or something similarly horrific, either your neighbors will see why it happened or are likely to also share your hatred and support your horrific acts.

I mean... seriously, neither 9/11 nor any of the actions and policies taken against Muslim extremists were accidents. But, one was first. And, actually, saying 9/11 was first is not even correct, as pointed by Sean in the original comment.

These extremists are not rational, either. So, using standard analogies on them is really fruitless as well. It just doesn't hold up. Next thing I bet we hear is the people who went after the financial funding of the terrorist orgs will be prosecuted, because the terrorists have kids too and those kids are hungry and the UN doesn't want kids being hungry.

Tom: Suppose you know the apples are coming for your lawn again. You have a senior apple in custody at a time when apple chatter is similar to the apple chatter that preceded the last major lawn event. You have reason to believe the senior apple has information that will save lawns. Shouldn't you squeeze that information out of the senior apple, if it is the best you can get and it will save lawns?

Me: Some radicals think they have plenty of support for a "blowback" theory--the overthrow of the Shah, support for Afghanistan fighters during the Cold War, "bribe" money to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, etc.--but I wasn't referring to a "blowback" theory. Anyone can point to an event at a certain point in time and use it to further his or her agenda. Intelligent people look beyond chronology to determine whether an action or response makes sense.

Torture (squeezing the apple) has not been shown to produce viable information. The FBI has already said this (see Ali Soufan). Thus, if you are pro-"squeezing the apple," you're going against the current U.S. administration, the FBI, and the U.N.--in other words, you're on the fringe, b/c credible people with more information than you are telling you torture doesn't work.

Me: Oops, meant overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq, not the Shah (see "Operation Ajax"). Anyway, on a separate note, check out the story of Iran Air Flight 655. Neither example is necessarily relevant to 9/11, b/c the 9/11 attacks were caused mainly by Saudi/German residents.

Tom: Thanks for pointing out what intelligent people do and think. It is beyond consideration that anyone who disagrees with you might also be intelligent. Please pass the word that anyone who plans to think a thought should pass it by you before wrapping themselves in the mantle of intellect. Thank you, great one. Please continue to protect us from ourselves.

Sean: I don't believe for one moment that even a single Al Qaeda recruit ever decided on news of waterboarding at Guantanamo to pack his bags and head for the nearest training camp. They have a preexisting proclivity to hate us. They despise the United States for our culture and envy us for our power. The United States is a constant reproach to them: We are rich to their poor, strong to their weak, vigorous to their idle, can-do to their sit-and-wait. If we were weak, we would not be hated. If we were poor, we would not be hated.

Furthermore, this notion that the enhanced interrogation techniques applied to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubayda, or Abd al-Rahim Al Hashiri didn't produce actionable intelligence and foil plots to kill Americans is a shibboleth of the left.

Did anyone else notice the Mr. Obama failed to rebut Mr. Cheney's point about what the enhanced interrogations yielded? All indications are that they were spectacularly successful.

Now that he has declassified and released details of the enhanced interrogations themselves, Mr. Obama should declassify and release the results of those same interrogations so we can all judge for ourselves whether or not they are worthwhile.

Tom: Furthermore, assuming Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water boarded 183 times (as erroneously and repeatedly reported; there were up to 183 'pours' that occurred in about 20 sessions) I have a hard time finding a problem with it. If the first instance was the only fruitful one, and the rest were for sport, he was still a planner of the 9/11 attacks. I don't care if he was gang raped by giraffes 183 times. Don't try to mess up my cities.

Evan: The 'aggressive interrogation is not proven to get accurate information' is a tough pill to swallow. Interrogation is, really, an art, not a protocol. It is an extremely personal and emotional task, something that is difficult to actually study. And, when you mix in the counterintelligence that Bin Laden's followers have been trained to deploy, and it gets very murky. Show me a sample group for that study that matches up well to the Jihadists that we're up against. I'm going to guess that the 'aggressive interrogation doesn't work' data comes from po-dunk cops that went overboard. Our guys trying to get info to save our country from Jihad are so far beyond your everyday cop.

Also, remember, there are journalists who have volunteered to be waterboarded. They probably saw video of it and figured "wow... that's mean, but I could handle it"... you don't see journalists volunteering to have their eyes poked out or legs broken, repeatedly. Waterboarding is different.

Me: A couple of quick points--first, chronology itself is not meaningful without studying the actual details of the events themselves. For example, if I kicked you ten years ago, it may have nothing or everything to do with whether you kick me fifteen years later. More information is necessary to determine the relevance, if any, of the events, especially when reviewing events that occurred years apart. [i.e.,] Details of events themselves are necessary to determine the relevance of the dates of the events. This statement seems so clear, it is surprising anyone even tried to refute it. Tom, I notice you attacked me personally on the issue of chronology and didn't address the actual points I made regarding the actual issue--and no else did, either. Tom, I make no comment regarding your intelligence--your own failure to address the actual content of my statement speaks for itself.

Let's move on to Evan and Sean. First, I agree with Sean that the American people should be able to review the results of the interrogations at some point, hopefully soon. But Sean, your next statement--"All indications are that they were spectacularly successful"--is based on speculation. No one here knows whether the interrogations were successful or unsuccessful because we don't have evidence. We do know, however, that an FBI agent and our administration have told us torture does not yield good information, and the administration has access to the interrogation results. I also notice that no one commented on the NY Times article I linked to.

Evan, you make an excellent point; however, other countries have used torture against terrorists for years--just look at Egypt, Syria, and Israel. These countries haven't published/disclosed results of their interrogations. Without evidence, we cannot speculate. There is a reason speculation is inadmissible in a U.S. court of law. I agree that interrogation is an inexact science. But what we've done--waterboarding, dogs, insects, stripping, etc.--seems designed more to humiliate than to get information. That makes no sense to me. I want good information, and most interrogation experts agree torture doesn't work. Threatening torture against a weak, disconnected individual might produce some information--but there are miles between a threat and the actual torture itself. Here's a good article on interrogation--note the absence of waterboarding, insects, etc:

There is a diff btw torture and coercion. Where do we draw the line?

Sean: I'm pretty sure the line is drawn between what Syria, Iran, Saddam's Iraq and Egypt do and what we do. I think that's one way to tell the difference between torture and intense interrogation.

Tom: It was not a personal attack to simply note your arrogance. I didn't comment on chronology, as you seem to be arguing a specific point that is both simplistic and inconsistent with the original point of the status. Chronology is important. No claim was made that nothing else was important. Therefore, strenuous arguments about how chronology is not the only thing to consider are largely irrelevant. Consequently, my disregard was mistaken for the absence of a meaningful response.

Evan: I say +1 with Tom... And, about the FBI agent and the administration. The FBI is always straightforward, and the Administration, this administration, is obviously straightforward on everything. That's why the whole administration spent the day covering the disaster that is Biden's mouth... Yeah, that administration. I think there is proof that the... Read More interrogations were successful in the fact that we haven't been attacked since 9/11, even though we've been 'provoking' people to do just that with our 'horrible foreign policy' (I use quotes because I believe provoking is actually preventing, and 'horrible foreign policy' is actually a strong foreign policy) Once again, the chronology seems to add up.

Me: The American people have voted against Bush and the very policies you support. I am just sad it took eight years and an economic collapse to get there. At the end of the day, we are all Americans, and I think most Americans can at least agree that the last eight years have been torture :-) While I cannot understand people who advocate torture/waterboarding, I am quite pleased we are able to have a civil discussion that may, in time, cause us to broaden our horizons.

Update: the debate continues, and now it's reached 61 comments. I will include the most recent snippets:

Me: The next time an American soldier gets captured and tortured by foreign enemies, I will contact all three of you and ask you to write an apology to the families of the Americans. You ideology will hurt Americans. If I ever contact you, don't shirk away--man up and apologize for indirectly hurting Americans and for directly harming America's reputation, which has served us so well from Eisenhower until Clinton. Traitors don't know they're traitors. No traitor ever does. That's why it's important to analyze one's beliefs and evaluate whether they will harm the nation, its civilians, and its soldiers. Over 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq post-9/11, fighting in a country that had no connection to 9/11. We fought a war based on what we now know were speculative threats. We engaged in torture in Abu Ghraib as a result of Americans like you playing around with the definition of torture. Americans are now less safe, if only b/c the economic consequences of war have harmed us.

You are calling me a traitor? Unbelievable. You seem to have a very narrow definition of diversity. It's beginning to be very offensive.

Me: I did not call you a traitor. Read my comment carefully. It's a general comment, not a specific one, and it could conceivably apply to myself. There's at least one thing, however, that definitely separates us--the next time an American soldier gets tortured, waterboarded, beaten, and deprived of sleep, I will have the moral ground to protest--you won't. That doesn't mean you're a traitor--it does mean your beliefs indirectly endanger Americans by blurring the line between acceptable conduct and unacceptable conduct. Your refusal to condemn torture and its inevitable slippery slope during times of war means you have no standing to protest or condemn anyone when abuse of American soldiers occurs. You are consciously trading off America's right to condemn torture of its soldiers in exchange for having a pro-torture policy that *might* produce relevant information. I refuse to make that trade-off when no reliable study has shown that torture produces reliable results.

1 comment:

Adam Rogoyski said...

If the government knocked on your door, accused your daughter of being involved in a terrorist plot, and planned to water-board her for 183 hours to gain information, would you be OK with it? I doubt the other participants would be either.
If they allow this for their daughter, then they are not fit to be parents. If they allow this of others, then they are not fit to be American. I don't see what part of all men being created equal permits certain men to be subjected to cruelty.