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Let's Just Go Ahead and Assume that, Torture or Not, Waterboarding is A-O.K. The Very Bottom Line? "Torture is Essentially Useless"

I don't make this stuff up.  Read Pray and Tell from the American Prospect Online Edition by Jason Vest, excerpt below and full article here.  

ON MAY 13, 2004, AS THE WORLD MEDIA WERE IN full serum over Abu Ghraib, an FBI agent who had spent time interviewing terrorism suspects at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, fired off a gloomy e-mail to a colleague. Venting about what had happened in Iraq and expressing his fears that, despite the scandal's coverage, nothing would change, much of the agent's angst had to do with post-September 11 notions that treating terrorism suspects as human beings was neither necessary nor useful.

"From what CNN reports, [General Janis] Karpinski at Abu Ghraib said that [General Geoffrey] Miller came to the prison several months ago and told her they wanted to 'gitmoize' Abu Ghraib," he wrote. "If this refers to [intelligence] gathering as I suspect, it suggests that he has continued to support interrogation strategies we not only advised against, but questioned in terms of effectiveness ... we were surprised to read an article in Stars and Stripes, in which [General] Miller is quoted as saying that he believes in the rapport-building approach. This is not what he was saying at [Guantanamo Bay] when I was there."

One among tens of thousands of official documents pried out of government hands under the Freedom of Information Act (thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union), this one, like so many others, never found its way into anyone's story. But from a review of thousands of documents--e-mails, still-unreported communiqu6s, and other pieces of paper--certain themes have become increasingly apparent. Among the most consistent: FBI agents issued repeated objections to the use of torture against foreign terrorism suspects. And from this theme emerges a conclusion that future presidential administrations, and all American citizens, would do well to remember: For the purpose of prying actionable information from suspects, torture is essentially useless.

Comments (3)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
michael webster - March 9, 2008 11:46 AM

It would be nice if the difficult moral problem would simply vanish into a utilitarian calculus of efficiency.

But I suspect the problem is much harder. What might explain the right to silence in a criminal case may not help us when we are only looking for information to extract.

In a work of fiction, Frederick Forsyth, writes about an effective torture technique in "The Fist of God."

The Iraqis have captured two American airmen, and need to know why they bombed a particular site. Importantly, the information taken from each of them must be corroborated. A single confession will be useless.

Both are physically tortured. One pilot may confess, but he has been beaten so badly he may die first. The other airman doesn't seem close to breaking.

The commander tells the second airman that he has survived the torture, and it is all over for him.

"But you friend, he is not so lucky. He is dying now. So we can take him to the hospital, clean white sheets, doctors, everything he needs. Or we can finish the job. Your choie. When you tell us, we rush him to the hospital."

The airman explains the mission, and the other pilot hearing the truthful details also corroborates the story.

Torture likely produces false confessions, which is why most countries have some sort of right to silence in their criminal legal system.

But I doubt there is such an easy answer with respect to compelling information from our enemies.

Vickie - March 9, 2008 8:13 PM

As always, there are no easy answers. But see The Torture Myth from the Washington Post here

Excerpt below:

. . . . Army Col. Stuart Herrington [is] a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq during Desert Storm . . . and who was sent by the Pentagon in 2003 -- long before Abu Ghraib -- to assess interrogations in Iraq. Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply "not a good way to get information."

In his experience, nine out of 10 people can be persuaded to talk with no "stress methods" at all, let alone cruel and unusual ones. Asked whether that would be true of religiously motivated fanatics, he says that the "batting average" might be lower: "perhaps six out of ten." And if you beat up the remaining four? "They'll just tell you anything to get you to stop."

Worse, you'll have the other side effects of torture. It "endangers our soldiers on the battlefield by encouraging reciprocity." It does "damage to our country's image" and undermines our credibility in Iraq.

That, in the long run, outweighs any theoretical benefit. Herrington's confidential Pentagon report, which he won't discuss but which was leaked to The Post a month ago, goes farther. In that document, he warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees in Iraq, that their activities could be "making gratuitous enemies" and that prisoner abuse "is counterproductive to the Coalition's efforts to win the cooperation of the Iraqi citizenry."

Far from rescuing Americans, in other words, the use of "special methods" might help explain why the war is going so badly.

Michael Webster - March 10, 2008 9:53 AM

From the article: "Meet, for example, retired Air Force Col. John Rothrock, who, as a young captain, headed a combat interrogation team in Vietnam. More than once he was faced with a ticking time-bomb scenario: a captured Vietcong guerrilla who knew of plans to kill Americans. What was done in such cases was "not nice," he says. "But we did not physically abuse them."

Well, I guess I would like to know what "not nice" meant in this context.

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