Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Quick Notes, Issue Two

Welcome back to another issue of the critically acclaimed Quick Notes. Once again, here are a few bullet points for your general information, enjoyment, and to spur your mind:

Approval Ratings – Bush 34.3 %, Congress 25.0 %.

Waterboarding—A retired CIA agent has spoken publically about the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah. Zubaydah was the first “high level” Al – Qaeda terrorist captured after September 11th. During the interrogation, the CIA decided that Abu Zubaydah was not going to cooperate with conventional interrogation methods. The interrogators asked and received permission to waterboard him. According to the retired agent, Mr. Kiriakou, Abu Zubaydah broke in about 35 seconds. From that moment on he was described as cooperative. Mr. Kiriakou said that the intelligence gained from this terrorist directly lead to the saving of American lives.

This is as close as we (hopefully) get to a real world example of the “ticking time bomb scenario”. In this case, I think the CIA did the right thing. And while we are speaking of waterboarding…

What did she know, and when? It turns out that Democratic and Republican law makers were briefed in 2002 on waterboarding. The list of those present include current Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Washington Post article that broke this story said that the reaction of Mrs. Pelosi was not recorded. However, the reaction of those briefed ranged from muted acceptance to encouragement to go further. This sounds like a far cry from the indignant outrage the Speaker uses in today’s world to discuss this same topic.

Omaha. The shooter who killed eight last week before killing himself said he was going to be famous. To date, it seems the media is willing to go along with his plans. Just as the Virginia Tech shooter wanted fame, so to did this disturbed individual. The media needs to stop releasing the names and photos of these people. While it may not stop all of them, taking the “famous” incentive away from these murders seems an easy step to take.


Steve said...

The question we have to ask on waterboarding isn't, "If you knew that the prisoner had key information on an active (and deadly) terrorist plot would you waterboard him"

The answer to that is obvious but doesn't represent the real situation in the field.

The real question we have to ask is if you DON'T know for sure would you be willing to waterboard 999 innocent civilians, all of who have brothers, sisters, fathers sons and friends, in order to find the one person who MIGHT know something useful.

Yes even in this scenario you might save American lives in the short term but in the long term you only create more enemies.

Andy D said...

I don't argue in favor of waterboarding 999 innocent civilians. I don't even argue in favor of waterboarding one innocent civilian. I am in favor of waterboarding high profile terrorist who are known to have useful information. I don't believe it should be employed in every interrogation. However, I do believe it should be in the tool bag if an interrogator needs it.

familyman said...

I wonder what God/Jesus would say about water boarding. Does your religion inspired moral compass tell you that sometimes it's OK to torture people?

Maybe it is sometimes the shortest route to get information. And maybe sometimes lives are saved thanks to water boarding. But those are the short term gains. Just because something solves an immediate problem doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

Andy D said...

That is a very good comment Familyman. Not being a religious expert, I can only give you what my personal faith tells me.

First, I don't believe waterboarding is torture. However, let's put that aside and for the sake of this discussion I will allow that you do. How does my faith handle this?

Waterboarding is acceptable because of the reasons I would allow it. I would only allow it in situations where the interrogator felt there was a high probability of the information gained saving lives. I don't believe it is right to stand by and let innocents die simply because some believe we should give civil law enforcement rights to terrorist.

Remember, I only believe it should be used on high value terrorist who we believe have information that could directly save American lives. Even then, it should only be one tool. If the interrogator believes there are better methods, then he or she should use those methods.

familyman said...

It's a very slippery slope Andy. Once we start to do things that we've condemned other governments for doing we start to become like them.

Who do we entrust with drawing the line that tells us who's OK to water board and who isn't? And if water boarding can get the info we need and save some American lives then what if we find another method that's just a little bit worse but works even better? Maybe we should try that if it will save lives right? Just about anything can be justified if the criteria is that it gets the suspect to talk and saves some lives.

familyman said...

Oh, and your posting of approval ratings for Bush and Congress - is that just to keep us updated?

I hope it wasn't intended as some sort of vindication of Bush.

Because all it really does is show that they are both in the toilet.

Andy D said...

My approval rating post was to keep things in perspective. The Democrats in congress tell us what a terrible leader Bush is, however, the American people approve of the job the President is doing more than Congress.

Who do we trust to decide who is ok to waterboard and who isn’t? I believe there needs to be policies in place that provide guidelines, and then the decision needs to come from pretty high up in the chain of command. The interrogator should make the request, but shouldn’t get the ultimate decision.

I think the “how far do we go” scenario you are trying to paint is a good one. Our interrogation policy should draw a line as to how far we are willing to go. I believe a sensible person with knowledge of interrogation methods would put waterboarding on this side of that line. If we found another technique that was a little better, a little closer to the line then use it if necessary and in very limited amounts. If we find another one that crosses the line? Don’t use it.

familyman said...

Well, just to put it in perspective a little bit more, that approval rating for congress also reflects on the performance of the Republicans in congress not just or even primarily on the Democrats. That rating for congress could just as easily represent the public's frustration with the Republicans continuing efforts to support Bush's policies against the wishes of the majority of the country in addition to the democrats inability to do what people put them there to do.

And I'll just say one more thing about the water boarding issue that you haven't directly responded to.

There was a time when our government denounced water boarding as torture and as a violation of the Geneva Conventions. And as long as we took that position we had the moral authority to denounce the practice by other countries. We had the high ground. Now in the eyes of the world, we have compromised our integrity by lowering ourselves to the level of people we once denounced as immoral. So, while water boarding someone may give us some short term gains, it costs us dearly in the grand scheme of things.

Andy D said...

On the approval rating, I think to a certain extent you are correct. Personally, I would support a measure to remove all of the Representatives and Senators from both parties. Let’s start over. However, I don’t think it is accurate to think that the rating reflects voter’s frustration that Republicans continue to support Bush. Democrats campaigned on doing something different in Iraq. If the Democrats really felt the majority of voters wanted out of Iraq under any cost, they would make it happen. I think voters are frustrated with the members of Congress from both parties because they really aren’t doing anything right now. Personally, the less they do, the less they can mess up our lives…

I don’t know the history well enough to know what our exact position on waterboarding over the years has been. However, let me grant that you are 100% correct in your summary. I have two thoughts:
First, terrorist don’t get Geneva Convention rights. Period. They don’t abide by the Conventions, they don’t wear a uniform, they are terrorist. Which leads me to..

Second, our moral high ground hasn’t done anything for our captured soldiers. From WW II forward, our enemies have never cared how we treat their prisoners. They have always elected to torture them as they wish. And when I say “torture” in this sense, I am talking about the real thing, not waterboarding.

familyman said...

Water boarding was used by the Inquisition in the middle ages. It was used by the Japanese in WW2. It was used by the Khmer Rogue. The Colonial British powers used it in occupied Palestine in the 1930s.

So, I guess we should be proud of the company we're keeping.

Andy D said...

In the words of Sherman, "War is all hell". We are in a war right now that is ugly. You list other countries off that have waterboarded and say we are the same as them by association. Playing that game, why not list off every nation that has ever been at war and say we are the same as those countries?

The countries you list waterboarded as much out of a desire to hurt their enemy as anything else. We used waterbaording to gain information to save lives. We used it very sparingly. The very fact that this is the worst interrogation method we can discuss in conjunction with our government sets us apart from the groups you listed.

familyman said...

It's not the worst interrogation method we're using. Take a look at the Abu Ghraib pictures. And how about the destroyed CIA interrogation tapes? I doubt they were destroyed because they show water boarding - something everybody knows we are water boarding. More likely they were destroyed because they show something worse that's not being talked about.

You're right war is hell. During a time of war more than any other it's important for us to be true to our countries ideals. It's easy to be virtuous during peace time. The true test is to be virtuous during war time.

familyman said...

Even the assertion that Abu Zubaida was worthy of water boarding has been called into question.

In today's Washington Post there is an article about FBI agents close to the case that question if "enhanced interrogation" actually accomplished anything worthwhile.

An excerpt -
...FBI officials, including agents who questioned him after his capture or reviewed documents seized from his home, have concluded that even though he knew some al-Qaeda players, he provided interrogators with increasingly dubious information as the CIA's harsh treatment intensified in late 2002.

In legal papers prepared for a military hearing, Abu Zubaida himself has asserted that he told his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear to make the treatment stop.

Anonymous said...

C'mon Andy, how do you know we used waterboarding sparingly?

Or how often we killed subjects of interrogation?

How often we kiledl subjects of interrogation who had committed no crime?

If it's up to your side, we'll never know. We're letting the people who destroy emails, videotapes, and evidence investigate themselves.

And if war is hell, then what would we call people who are cheerleaders for going to war? Including wars like Iraq that were launched based on falsehoods. Hint: I don't think we'd call them "angels of light."

Andy D said...

Family, I read your article. Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds like the FBI is debating the CIA’s account of things. We were told by an official present at the waterboarding what happened. When the dust settles, we will have to see whose story holds up. From reading your story, I still tend to believe the CIA’s account. The FBI wasn’t at the actual session because they didn’t believe they were allowed to be.

However, this discussion also goes to the heart of Anonymous’ complaints. He argues that we don’t know when waterboarding is or isn’t used. He also pulls out the specter of innocent people being killed without our knowledge (I am sure that anonymous would also invoke the name of Bush, Halliburton, Rumsfeld, or even Rove). However, he misses the point familyman has cited. The FBI disagrees with the CIA’s account of things. The FBI has gone public with that information. Do you really think that he CIA would be able to torture and kill innocent people without seemingly a care in the world and no one would call them on it?

familyman said...

"Do you really think that he CIA would be able to torture and kill innocent people without seemingly a care in the world and no one would call them on it?"

Is that a rhetorical question?

Anonymous said...

You can read about some of the people tortured to death by the U.S. here.

Interesting that nobody seems concerned about killing the guy who, as Andy puts it, knows about the "ticking bomb." (how can they tell us about the "bomb" if they're dead?)

Which is one reason I think torture-apologists really don't believe in the ticking bomb scenario. They instead believe in what some cognitive scientists call "strict father morality." I.e. when "daddy" gets tough with "bad boys," daddy is always right, even when he's wrong.

familyman said...

Dilawar, the Afghan farmer turned taxi driver who was detained by US troops on December 5, is found dead in his cell at Bagram. The pathologist who records his death, Maj. Elizabeth A. Rouse, writes on Dilawar’s death certificate that he died from “blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease.” She marks “homicide” as the cause of death. Months later, New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall learns of and investigates Dilawar’s death and confirms the death certificate’s authenticity with the US military. She also interviews Dilawar’s family and friends who describe the 22-year-old taxi driver as being young and inexperienced. “He had never spent a night away from his father and mother,” his brother says. Dilawar was married and the father of a 2-year-old girl. [New York Times, 3/4/2003; Washington Post, 3/5/2003; BBC, 3/6/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; Independent, 3/7/2003; New York Times, 9/17/2004] A military investigation will later find that after his arrival at the base, he was shackled by Sgt. James P. Boland, a guard from the Army Reserve’s 377th MP Company from Cincinnati, with his hands above his shoulders, and was denied medical care. [New York Times, 9/17/2004] Dilawar was then beaten by guards and interrogators, some of whom stood with their full weight on top of him, concentrating on his groin. [Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004]

That's just one story that managed somehow to get documented.

There is a documentary about this story called "Taxi to the Dark Side"

David Weisman said...

This brings up several interesting questions. You would only approve waterboarding certain select prisoners, despite your assertion that waterboarding is not torture. Even though terrorists don't get treated by according to the Geneva convention, you still wouldn't waterboard most of them.

So we have three levels of treatment

1. Torture (Suppose waterboarding doesn't work on someone, would the arguments you use to justify it also justify what you would consider real torture?)

2. Waterboarding (While you don't consider this torture, you don't approve using it on all prisoners who might conceivably have information which might possibly save one or more lives)

3. Interrogation techniques routinely used on prisoners.

Given your premises, during the Vietnam war, although some North Vietnamese did torture captured American soldiers, others made the humane choice to waterboard them instead. We never acknowledged the distinction, referring to it all as torture. Do you think we owe any Vietnamese officers who used waterboarding so they didn't need torture an apology?