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Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Two Cents on "Torture's Terrible Toll".

In a fight to the death, would you restrain from hitting your opponent in the groin? Or would you pull out all the dirty tricks - fishhooking, eye-gouging, pressure points, biting, ear-tearing, etc.?

That is a question that I think one has to ask themselves in light if the article that is in the November 21st issue of Newsweek written by Senator John McCain.

Don't get me wrong, he is absolutely right when he states that painful torture is an unreliable and ineffective way to extract information, as I learned when I spoke to an instructor of the U.S. Army's SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school a few years back. Nor am I advocating the beating and physical abuse of captured enemy combatants. The reports of physical abuses and the abuse in Abu Ghraib, were initiated by dumb soldiers rather than professional interrogators, and more often than not investigated and dealt with by the military on their own initiative. Yet one has to ask themselves, "what would I do if I was interrogating a terrorist that possibly has information that could thwart an attack? Will you say, "whatever it takes to get a reliable answer"?

A military interrogator's job is unlike a law-enforcement interrogator's job. In a law-enforcement role, an interrogator is attempting to find out an event that has already occured. There might be evidence, there might be witnesses, and the suspect's testimony which can collaborate or contradict the other factors resulting in his percieved guilt or innocence. The intelligence interrogator does not have the luxury of a crime scene or witnesses, because he is trying to determine the facts of future events. All he has to go on is previous intelligence, possibly information contained on a laptop or other materials found where the subject was. From this he is basically attempting to predict events that have an effect on peoples' lives, using only what can be found inside another's head. As you can see, his job is inherently more difficult.

Sure, there are moral and ethical considerations and their impact on out efforts in the War on Terror. Senator McCain makea a good case for a high level of restraint, but even his arguments are largely ideological:

Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops who might someday be held captive. While some enemies, and Al Qaeda surely, will never be bound by the principle of reciprocity, we should have concern for those Americans captured by more traditional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.
To me, the conflicts down the road are irrelevant; if you cannot win the conflict today, you increase the likelihood of a future conflict. Plus - as this war has proven - there is no guarantee that our next enemy will be as humane as we have been in a previous war.

Many objections to McCain's legislation in the Senate do not amount to a justification of actual torture, but an objection to who defines what practices are necessary to extract intel that may stop the next 9/11 or 7/7. McCain addresses this point:

In such an urgent and rare instance...the public would surely take this into account when judging his actions and recognize the extremely dire situation which he confronted. But I don't believe this scenario requires us to write into law an exception to our treaty and moral obligations that would permit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. To carve out legal exemptions to this basic principle of human rights risks opening the door to abuse as a matter of course, rather than a standard violated truly in extremis. It is far better to embrace a standard that might be violated in extraordinary circumstances than to lower our standards to accommodate a remote contingency, confusing personnel in the field and sending precisely the wrong message abroad about America's purposes and practices.
I deeply respect Senator McCain's service and admire his strength in surviving those years as a POW. However I think he is looking at this issue from a political angle rather than a practical angle. His argument is essentially the old proverb that says, "It is better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission". While that may work when one takes initiative in day-to-day life, it would not give our interrogation experts any comfort to know that even if they prevent the next 9/11, they will still be subject to being dragged before a Senate hearing to face an inquisition where they will surely be used as pawns to further some bureaucrat's political agenda.

Bureaucratic oversight into military matters have often caused ideological and political considerations to trump common sense and practicality. Some within the intelligence community argue that Congressional and Presidential involvment - such as the Church Committee and President Carter's executive orders - have weakened our ability to maintain Human Intelligence (HUMINT) sources and indirectly contributed to 9/11. In Vietnam, our planes were not allowed to bomb North Vietnamese anti-aircraft sites because the enemy had deliberately placed them near schools and hospitals, even though that act negates the Geneva Convention ban on attacking those buildings. One wonders if Senator McCain would have been spared those terrible years in captivity if he wasn't shot down over Hanoi, indirectly due to this policy.

So who should we trust to make decisions concerning the validation of interrogation techniques in order to prevent the next 9/11? Keep in mind that any hardcore terrorist we find may have knowledge or a clue of future attacks or knows someone who might. Should the bureaucrats in Washington make these decisions? Or do we trust our professionals in the intelligence community make the call as to whether the value of any information that a potential enemy combatant has will justify the use of sleep deprivation or women's underwear? This is not an easy question, nor is there a perfect answer, but we must essentially ask ourselves, "what would I do to win the War on Terror?"

Post Script: I want to reiterate to you all that I am not coming out in defense of beatings or other forms of pain-inflicting torture (as I stated above). What I am talking about above is in reference to techniques such as sleep deprivation, leashes, putting them in cold dark rooms, using "smell hoods", making them wear women's underwear, calling them names, calling mommy names, water dripping on faces, "monstering" etc.; basically stuff you'd expect at a frat hazing.

Let me also point out that 'sinking to the level of the terrorists' involves beheadings.