Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 6, 2011

THE TORTURE APOLOGISTS WON'T QUIT.... The issue of torture was apparently raised in last night's Republican presidential candidate debate, with three of the five featured candidates -- Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain -- saying they'd waterboard terrorist suspects under certain circumstances.

Pawlenty went further, insisting that President Obama should be "asked to explain" his opposition to torture "if" abusive techniques contributed to bin Laden's death. (Pawlenty said two years ago that waterboarding does damages "not only to the individual but to our values more broadly.")

As this GOP rhetoric continues, despite evidence that torture played no meaningful role in the successful mission in Abbottabad, it's worth touting this wise New York Times editorial.

Even if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify Mr. Bush's decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard.

This was not the "ticking time bomb" scenario that Bush-era officials often invoked to rationalize abusive interrogations. If, as Representative Peter King, the Long Island Republican, said, information from abused prisoners "directly led" to the redoubt, why didn't the Bush administration follow that trail years ago? [...]

The battered intelligence community should now be basking in the glory of a successful operation. It should not be dragged back into the muck and murk by political figures whose sole agenda seems to be to rationalize actions that cost this country dearly -- in our inability to hold credible trials for very bad men and in the continued damage to our reputation.

Dahlia Lithwick also had a terrific piece on the subject this week.

The folks who think otherwise are now using half-facts and unverifiable assertions to ask another question: Does torture work? Unsurprisingly, they claim that it does. That's nice. Let's ignore them. As former interrogator Matthew Alexander explains, even if it did work, we still wouldn't do it -- because it's immoral and leads to all sorts of false claims and wasted time. The answer to question No. 1 -- should America torture? -- has nothing to do with the bogus questions being raised today.

In short, if you are being led by a handful of torture apologists to "reconsider" the efficacy of torture, ask yourself whether you have yet heard even one credible account that water-boarding led us to Bin Laden. I haven't. At most, I have heard that it may have played some very small part in a vast tangle of intelligence and surveillance and patient detective work, all of which is unproven and -- more important -- impossible to disprove. A handful of cynics may want to relitigate the efficacy of torture based on facts not in evidence. The rest of us should continue to remind them that they have been answering the wrong question all along.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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I read some of Matthew Alexander's comments. The best argument I've heard in a while is that we don't use chemical weapons on the battlefield -- chemical agents are very, very effective, but we don't use them.

We don't use them because it's just wrong to do so. Torture is on the same level as chemical weapons for me -- it's cruelty for the sake of cruelty.

The problem is not that some people think it's necessary -- the problem is that some people enjoy it.

Posted by: zmulls on May 6, 2011 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

This is what you get from a "look forward, not back" approach, and not holding war criminals accountable for crimes against humanity (and yes, torture is a 'crime against humanity').

They need to pay for their crimes.

Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki on May 6, 2011 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

For any person, in any way, advocate or apologize for torture renders said person to the status of an immoral heathen, or worse. Period.

Posted by: Bobfr on May 6, 2011 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

As a friend of mine said about a similar plan long ago, if we were to do this, what would make us any different from our enemies?

America should stand for something, it should mean something more than a country with a terrific army and an impressive array of consumer products.

Posted by: Rathskeller on May 6, 2011 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

These are the same people who will tell you McCarthy was right, that Vietnam was a "noble cause," and that Ronnie the Ray-Gun "won" the Cold War. And in the alternative universe known as Wacko World, it may even be true. And arguing facts with these people will get the same result as pissing into a strong headwind.

Posted by: TCinLA on May 6, 2011 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Chemical weapons on the battlefield are subject to "which way the wind blows"- as both sides in WWI quickly learned!

Bringing the discussion forward to another war, the air force learned to use "chaff' as a means to confuse enemy radar.

And currently the Republican party has discovered another use for chaff- throw handfuls in the the air, hoping some of it will distract the media from covering the important events of the day.

Condi Rice filled the MSNBC studio with clouds of it last night!

Posted by: DAY on May 6, 2011 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

There is a fourth question that has to be asked in order to understand the torture issue. The first three are alluded to in Benen's post:

1. Does torture work? (Undoubtedly, it does sometimes.)

2. Does it result in false information and false leads, to the degree that it becomes inefficient to rely on torture?

3. Even if effective, is it morally wrong to use torture?

4. Even if torture yields useful information, could we obtain that information by other interrogation methods?

We should always remember that much of the intelligence community believes that they can get the same results most of the time with lawful and humane interrogation methods. Therefore, even if critical information to the ultimate killing of bin Laden was, in fact, obtained through torture, it's quite possible--even likely--that we would have gotten the same information through other means.

Posted by: DRF on May 6, 2011 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

It's possible that the GOP have painted themselves into a corner by denouncing everything that Obama does as sinister and un-American. Obama is against torture? Well, that must mean that torture is a true blue American value. Who will be first to claim that the Founding Fathers approved of it, or to defend it from the pulpit as a core Christian value? Who knows? Perhaps it's protected by the First Amendment, or implied by the Pledge of Allegiance.

Posted by: davidp on May 6, 2011 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

We need to go further than reminding people that they are "asking the wrong question". The strongest possible moral opprobrium should be brought to bear on such people, who are, simply, disgusting. I wouldn't want to be in the same room with a torture advocate, and anybody who has actually tortured somebody should be in jail. Could we get the folks who do the ads against meth that show addicts grinning through rotten teeth to get on the torture issue? Maybe a nice picture of TPaw with blood dripping from his hands standing over an agonized victim?

Posted by: jhill on May 6, 2011 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

I'll believe torture works when the supporters convince me that all of the time wasted chasing down the false leads given by those being tortured did not delay the ultimate apprehension of OBL.

Oh, and why they personally grovel before all of the non-terrorists who have been tortured and locked up because of GWB's odious policies, including the ones Obama has continued.

Not that those scum could ever convince me torture should be used.

Posted by: martin on May 6, 2011 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

I think any gain from enhanced interrogation in the GWOT should be weighed against the deaths that probably resulted from its use. It seems a reasonable claim that torture has led to violence against US soldiers, in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of that violence resulting in the death of our soldiers. Does a tidbit of information, most likely obtainable via other means, justify such deaths?

Posted by: Luis on May 6, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Don't miss the ultimate torture apologist, Marc Thiessen, talk in the WaPo op-ed. "It is time for a public apology" to the CIA interrogators.


Posted by: Jason on May 6, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Every member of the senior management group in the Bush administration is liable for prosecution as an international criminal. They were either direct participants, co-consipirators or enablers of activities counter to international treaties signed by the US. Treaties which, by the way, under the Constitution carry the same force in law as the Constitution itself.

That they will never be brought to justice in this country is a given. That they will ever be brought to justice in any country is beyond imagining. The best we can hope for is that the threat of indictment will be enough to keep them all sequestered and that they will eventually wither and pass into the night without embarassing the nation any further.

Posted by: Mike Allen on May 6, 2011 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Aside from the points that torture is illegal under U.S. and international law and that torture is immoral and that torture, according to interrogation experts, does not work...

What justification(s) for torture have ever been presented that others could not use to justify the torture of Americans, including military captured on a battlefield or kidnapped?

Why do these torture advocates hate our military personnel?

Posted by: AngryOldVet on May 6, 2011 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

And there happened to be a couple of candidates who said no to torture and their names are Gary Johnson and Ron Paul.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on May 6, 2011 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe these pukes should themselves be tortured and asked why they are ASSHOLES ...........

Posted by: stormskies on May 6, 2011 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

I've always been of the opinion that people who advocate torture do so because they know it would work on THEM. Which should tell you something about whether or not they should be given any degree of power in Washington.

Posted by: slappy magoo on May 6, 2011 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

What a bunch of dicks. What they don't get is that intelligence is NOT like the show 24.

Also, they hate it that the black guy kicked Osama's ass and not them. They hate being shown up.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on May 6, 2011 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Serious discussion:
What are the consequences of bin Laden's death?
What intelligence assets worked and how can we improve them?
How does this affect our relationships with Pakistan and Afghanistan?
How does this affect our troops in theater?
Do we have a window of opportunity to bring the war(s) to a close?
Can we create an opportunity for a the Afghan's to create a viable (i.e. not corrupt, not Taliban) central gov't?

Not serious:
Torture worked!!! Indeed, that discussion effectively closes the window of opportunity that the defeat of Osama bin Laden created. It's just opening old wounds and putting our troops in danger--all out of sheer pettiness....and it really didn't work...

Posted by: golack on May 6, 2011 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I've always been of the opinion that people who advocate torture do so because they know it would work on THEM. Which should tell you something about whether or not they should be given any degree of power in Washington.

Torture works on EVERYONE. the question is, is what's gained accurate? (leaving aside the moral question which in my mind is beyond debate)

Interrogators in those situations are often looking for something in particular. If you don't have what they want, they continue on until you give something up - and often you'll give them something, anything, just to make it stop.

So torture, immoral and often counter productive. Real intelligence is hard work - but we know how to do it and we're good at it. The end.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on May 6, 2011 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Conservative Maxim # 2:
When you've done something this inhuman and abhorrent, the only way to justify it is to continue to support doing it until it is no longer considered to be inhuman and abhorrent.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on May 6, 2011 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

The attempts to validate torture using the OBL kill/capture isn't even about torture per se. These scumbags are just trying to cover their asses, because they know that the specifics of what went on in Iraq/Afghanistan and Gitmo will come out eventually. When that happens, the people involved will be pariahs; and their legacies(which is all those self-interested bastards care about) will be destroyed.

Posted by: Holmes on May 6, 2011 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile, we have John Yoo speaking way up here in Fairbanks, Alaska. They spread their poison far and wide.

Tortured logic doesn't make it right.

Posted by: seems2me on May 6, 2011 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

re Holmes...

Sorry Holmes. We have to move forward and not look backward!

Signed - Barrack Obama / Eric Holder

Posted by: SadOldVet on May 6, 2011 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Wonder if Peter King would have been ok with the Brits torturing suspected IRA terrorists?

Posted by: Werewolf on May 6, 2011 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Well, at least they aren't demanding the President's college transcripts for the moment. This GOP Presidential field is the sorriest bunch of losers and liars ever presented to the voters. And John Yoo belongs in an orange jump suit in the same federal prison with the other war criminals from the Bush Administration.

Posted by: max on May 6, 2011 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

I dont believe the GOPT is arguing that "torture works" in order to continue to use torture. I believe that they KNOW that it will never be a policy after the Bush Debacle. Instead, i think these sorry ass people (the GOPT politicians and the voters) make the 'argument' as a indirect means of driving public policy so that Shrub, Darth, Yoo, etc are not subjected to warcrimes.

Posted by: Foobar on May 6, 2011 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

I would really love to hear someone ask the sanctimonious Santorum how he reconciles his support of torture with the teachings of Jesus as laid out in the New Testament.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on May 6, 2011 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Dahlia Lithwick summarizes this week's pro-torture apologists with, effectively, yet another example of Underpants Gnome logic.

We tortured.


Bin Laden's Dead!!!

Posted by: RusL on May 6, 2011 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

@ SadOldVet, I'm with ya on the looking forward nonsense. Politically it might have made sense in the short term, but it ultimately left a vacuum that the scumbags were more than happy to fill.

But what I meant about coming out eventually is that it will get leaked at some point. The specifics will reach a wider audience, and the public will learn that water boarding wasn't even close to the worst thing they did to detainees.

Posted by: Holmes on May 6, 2011 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Why is it that I see so many posts / comments appearing, in word and/or tone, to start from the premise that maybe torture actually did have something to do with finding OBL; maybe they're right this time"?
When was the last time "they" were right about anything?
I would bet very, very large amounts of money that torture had nothing whatsoever -- a Kelvin zero -- to do with it. And I'd give odds.

Posted by: smartalek on May 6, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

1) Does torture work?
"They're on Dantooine."
2) If torture is OK because it works, how are you on torturing a man's children before his eyes? Surely that must work even better!
3) How many Arab Spring activists are going to see Peter King on the teevee and decide they want nothing to do with the US? How much has Peter King put back the cause of democracy in the Middle East?

Posted by: pbg on May 6, 2011 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Why is everyone here starting from the premise that waterboarding is torture?

News flash children, every one of our service members who went through SERE-C went through worse. And they seem to be doing ok. I've been waterboarded, I was in more danger of drowning at a high school swim team practice.

Coercion does not equal torture.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled barking moonbat asshattery.

Posted by: ThatGuy on May 6, 2011 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

"I've been waterboarded"

No you haven't you lying cheeto munching mommies basement dwelling ass hat.

Posted by: SnarkyShark on May 6, 2011 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

ThatGuy, you are absolutely full of shit. Waterboarding is torture, and has been torture for a very, very long time.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on May 6, 2011 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

Squeaky and Snarky,

It's only torture when they do it to us -- that's why we put the Japanese waterboarders on trial, for torture. But, when we do it to them, it's no big deal and definitely not torture. We're exceptional that way, doncha know.

And, Snarky, you're maligning That Guy. Of course he had been waterboarded; it's quite obvious he had been. It may have been just virtual waterboarding (on his mommy's basement computer), but it scrambled up his brains all the same.

Posted by: exlibra on May 6, 2011 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK
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