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November 12, 2011

Debating Torture
Posted by James Lamond

Tonight's coverage of terrorism and the legal issues surrounding it was particularly  disappointing. First was Michele Bachmann’s lecture on her view of the issues, where she said that: Water boarding is not torture; There are no prison for terrorism suspects; There are no CIA interrogations; Its as if we are losing the war on terror; and that the ACLU is running the CIA. Sadly, with the exception of Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman most of the other candidates agreed. Lets take a look at each of these points of arguments: 

"There are no prisons for terrorists:" 

This is clearly a manufactured GOP talking point. In the National Review yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham writes that “We remain a nation without a viable jail in the War on Terror.” With such terrorists as the East Africa Embassy bombing perpetrator; Ramzi Yousef, for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park pipe bomber; Najibullah Zazi, who plotted the attack on the New York City subway; formerly Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber; and most recently Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, all behind bars, it is not fully understood why it is we don’t have a prison for terrorists. 

“There are no CIA interrogations:”

In 2010 President Obama formed the High-value Interrogation Group (HIG) to interrogate terrorism suspects deemed as “high-value”. The group is made up of intelligence professionals from several branches of the U.S. government including the CIA, as well as the FBI and the Pentagon. It is run under the auspices of the National Security Council.  The HIG is credited with successfully interrogating Faisal Shazad and Mohammed Warsame, gaining actionable intelligence from both cases. 

“It’s as if we are losing the war on terror:”

This is particularly surprising as the successes against al Qaeda under the Obama administration, including the bin Laden raid, are numerous. John Brennan, a career CIA officer who is currently deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism and homeland security recently said: 

"We have affected al-Qa'ida's ability to attract new recruits.  We've made it harder for them to hide and transfer money, and pushed al-Qa'ida's finances to its weakest point in years.  Along with our partners, in Pakistan and Yemen, we've shown al-Qa'ida that it will enjoy no safe haven, and we have made it harder than ever for them to move, to communicate, to train, and to plot. Al-Qa'ida's leadership ranks have been decimated, with more key leaders eliminated in rapid succession than at any time since 9/11.  For example, al-Qa'ida's third-ranking leader, Sheik Saeed al-Masri-killed.  Ilyas Kashmiri, one of al-Qa'ida's most dangerous commanders-reportedly killed.  Operatives of AQAP in Yemen, including Ammar al-Wa'ili, Abu Ali al-Harithi, and Ali Saleh Farhan-all killed.  Baitullah Mahsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban-killed.  Harun Fazul, the leader of al-Qa'ida in East Africa and the mastermind of the bombings of our embassies in Africa-killed by Somali security forces.  All told, over the past two and half years, virtually every major al-Qa'ida affiliate has lost its key leader or operational commander, and more than half of al-Qa'ida's top leadership has been eliminated."

“Water boarding is not torture.”

This is perhaps the most outcomes of the debate. Not only did Congresswoman Bachman say so, but going down the line, almost all of the candidates agreed. That waterboarding is not torture and that it is okay to do it. Malcom Nance, a former instructor at the U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) – where the waterboarding techniques were derived, told congress “The SERE community was designed over 50 years ago to show that, as a torture instrument, waterboarding is a terrifying, painful and humiliating tool that leaves no physical scars and which can be repeatedly used as an intimidation tool. Waterboarding has the ability to make the subject answer any question with the truth, a half-truth or outright lie in order to stop the procedure. Subjects usually resort to all three, often in rapid sequence.” 

This is not without damage to our overall security, Matthew Alexander an former Air Force interrogator who led the team that found Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq through the use of traditional interrogation techniques, recently wrote

But to understand the question "Does torture work?" one must also define "work." If we include all the long-term negative consequences of torture, that answer becomes very clear. Those consequences include the fact that torture handed al Qaeda its No. 1 recruiting tool, a fact confirmed by the U.S. Department of Defense's interrogators in Iraq who questioned foreign fighters about why they had come there to fight. (I have first-hand knowledge of this information because I oversaw many of these interrogations and was briefed on the aggregate results.) In addition, future detainees will be unwilling to cooperate from the onset of an interrogation because they view all Americans as torturers. I heard this repeatedly in Iraq, where some detainees accused us of being the same as the guards at Abu Ghraib.

The more you think about, the less sense torture makes. U.S. allies will become unwilling to conduct joint operations if they are concerned about how detainees will be treated in U.S. custody (an argument made by the 9/11 Commission, among others). And future enemies will use our actions as justification to torture American captives. Torture also lowers our ethical standards to those of our enemies, an ugly shift that spreads like a virus throughout the Armed Services; witness the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the recent murders of civilians in Afghanistan.

“The ACLU is running the CIA:”

This is my personal favorite. I imagine David Petreaus would be surprised to find out that the ACLU is running his agency. I amagine that since that the ACLU represented Anwar al Awlaki's family in a  lawsuit to remove him from the “kill list,” it too would be suprised to find this out.  

Jon Huntsman actually offered up a good breakdown of how to think aboutthese issues: Our moral leadership is projected by our values around the world. Torture denies this. 

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Debating Torture

In 2010 President Obama formed the High-value Interrogation Group (HIG) to interrogate terrorism suspects deemed as “high-value”.

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