Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Finally! A Phony Scandal

I'm not sure why the new Senate "torture" report is such a big deal.

Congressional leaders of both parties have known about this for a long time, and raised no objections when the CIA briefed them on this.

What we did to al Qaeda captives did not rise to the level of "torture" in my opinion, and was done to only a small number of high level captives.

If we feel so safe from our jihadi enemies now, we are free to ban types of questioning--as we always have done--without defining them as torture.

So why this lengthy attempt to define what we did to a few very bad guys as "torture" rather than simply push to ban that type of coercion?

It's almost like the objective isn't to stop torture but is to harm our ability to defend ourselves.

And as long as I am at it, it is wrong to say that actual torture doesn't work. It does.

That wrong statement takes a related truism--that routine torture of people swept up in dragnets is less than worthless because people who know nothing will confess to anything to stop the torture--and misapplies it as a general rule.

It is not the same as saying that torturing someone who you believe knows something because of other evidence will not work. That does work.

UPDATE: Note that this is not to say that we didn't do things that in retrospect we shouldn't have done. We can correct such mistakes going forward. But we didn't know an awful lot about our enemy at the time and didn't even have a handle on the scope of what we didn't know. It is war. Stuff happens.

Stuff happened in the "good war" of World War II, truth be told. But we did not publicize it at the time. Have some confidence that we are better than our enemies and deserve to win even if we went too far in some cases, and try not to do their work of making us seem no better than them.

More important thoughts.


UPDATE: And, of course, the smart diplomacy angle:

One key concern was that the report’s details could burn bridges with allies, in particular those that cooperated with the US by hosting “black sites” for terror suspect interrogation. ...

Another worry was that the report’s revelations of past misdeeds could dampen allies’ willingness to cooperate with the US now in the fight to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State.

Ya think? Allies might worry that help now deemed good will in the future be a reason to condemn them when the situation changes?

I guess our allies will have pray for hope and change: they have to hope we don't change our mind, eh?

UPDATE: More on the issue.

To be clear, I don't think terrorist captives "deserve" to be subject to harsh measures, whether or not you believe those measures rise to the level of torture.

And it is wrong to treat prisoners that poorly as simply a condition of their captivity for no other purpose than to be cruel. That is wrong and counter-productive.

Although I'd like to know why any such behavior on our part didn't prompt anguished self-loathing amongst our foes about "why do they hate us?"

But in rare cases where we believe from other information that a captive has information that is vital to know to save innocent lives, I am willing to resort to it.

If our government truly believes that the level of threat is so much reduced from those post-9/11 days that we don't need to resort to extreme interrogation methods, simply say so and restrict our methods to a scale appropriate to the current threat.

And subjecting our people and our allies to retaliation years after these measures were deemed necessary and legal by our government, our opposition legislators, and our allies, is plain stupid.