14 Nov

The Waterboarding Issue is Moot

                                       

"However long we are keepers of the public trust, we should never forget that we are here as public servants," Mr. Obama said. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama, speaking at the APEC News Conference, responded to statements made by GOP presidential candidates at Saturday’s NJ debate:

KAPOLEI, Hawaii — President Barack Obama says the interrogation technique known as waterboarding constitutes torturing, disputing Republican presidential candidates who say they would reinstate the practice.

Obama called waterboarding “torture” and said it was “contrary to America’s traditions” during a news conference at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Republicans Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann said during a Republican debate on Saturday that they would reinstate the technique that former President George W. Bush authorized and Obama banned.

Waterboarding was discontinued in 2006 as a CIA EIT practice under Bush’s watch (and the last time an HVT received waterboarding treatment was in 2003) as its effectiveness was compromised when its usage as a technique to interrogate HVTs became common knowledge (applied to only 3 HVTs). President Obama’s 2009 EO signed upon his first day in office banning all EITs was basically redundant on the torture issue, since President Bush essentially said much the same in his 2007 EO.

The media is reporting that both Cain and Bachmann would reinistate/support waterboarding, if elected. That’s not exactly what they said, but it’s not much of a distorted conclusion to arrive at, based upon their answers to the question posed.

If they meant they would have supported waterboarding at the time it was used, and that it did not rise to the level of definition for torture, then I think those are valid positions to hold. If, however, they do advocate for bringing it back specifically and not just reviving the EIT program in general, then I have to quibble.

What made waterboarding- and all the EITs in the CIA program- effective as tools against HVTs who were trained to resist standard interrogation practices, was in the not knowing. In the secrecy. Because of all the media attention and President Obama’s decision to release the OLC “torture” memos describing the techniques, the Houdini psychological power of these techniques have been all but effectively nullified.

The CIA program should probably be revived; but now that the magic tricks have been revealed to its al Qaeda audience, demystifying the EITs, HVTs know that what they have to train against is the smoke and mirrors of simulated torture, and not real torture. So what techniques would a revived CIA interrogation program that goes beyond the Army Field Manual have to entail? Whatever they come up with, we the general public should not be privy to.

Transcript from the debate:

Major Garrett: I don’t need to tell the people on this stage that presidential politics is interactive business. And, of course, this debate is interactive as well. And we have an email question I’m happy to say, emailed into the National Journal. And it comes from Stephen Schafroth (PH) of Odell’s (PH), Oregon. And I’d like to address this question to Mr. Cain. Stephen writes, “I served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. I believe that torture is always wrong in all cases. What is your stance on torture?”

Herman Cain: I believe that following the procedures that have been established by our military, I do not agree with torture, period. However, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture. That is the critical consideration.

Major Garrett: Mr. Cain, of course you’re familiar with the long-running debate we’ve had about whether waterboarding constitutes torture or is an enhanced interrogation tech– technique. In the last campaign, Republican nominee John McCain and Barack Obama agreed that it was torture and should not be allowed legally and that the Army Field Manual should be the methodology used to interrogate enemy combatants. Do you agree with that or do you disagree, sir?

Herman Cain: I agree that it was an enhanced interrogation technique.

Major Garrett: And then you would support it at present. You would return to that policy.

Herman Cain: Yes, I would return to that policy. I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.

Major Garrett: Congressman– congresswoman Bachmann, your opinion on this question that our emailer asked.

Michele Bachmann: If I were president, I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country. And I– and I also would like to say that today, under Barack Obama, he is allowing the A.C.L.U. to run the C.I.A. You need to understand that today– today we– it– when we– when we interdict a terrorist on the battlefield, we have no jail for them.

We have nowhere to take them. We have no C.I.A. interrogations anymore. It is as though we have decided we want to lose in the War on Terror under President Obama. That’s not my strategy. My strategy will be that the United States will be victorious in the War on Terror.

Major Garrett: Congressman Paul, my spidey sense tells me we have a debate about to get launched here. I know you have an opinion you’d like to weigh in.

Ron Paul: Yes. Tor– torture is illegal. And– by our laws. It’s illegal by international laws.

Major Garrett: How do you– how do you define torture, sir?

Ron Paul: Well, waterboarding is torture. And– and many other– it’s ill– it’s illegal under international law and under our law. It’s also immoral. The– and it’s also very impractical. There’s no evidence that you really get reliable evidence. Why would you accept the position of torturing 100 people because you know one person might have information? And that’s what you do when you accept the principal of a– of– of– of torture. I think it’s– I think it’s uncivilized and prac– and has no practical advantages and is really un-American to accept on principal that we will torture people that we capture.

Major Garrett: And that’s time, thank–

Michele Bachmann: Major– Major, I have to bring it up. I have to say–

Scott Pelley: Give– you know, let’s– let’s allow–

Michele Bachmann: I– I– I have– I have to say something on this, Major.

Scott Pelley: –let’s– I’m sorry, Congresswoman, just a moment if you would, please.

Michele Bachmann: I– I– I–

Scott Pelley: Let’s give– let’s give– Governor Huntsman an opportunity to take 30 seconds on that question.

Jon Huntsman: Thank you. Gets a little lonely over here in Siberia.

Rick Santorum: Tell me about it.

Jon Huntsman: First of all, let me thank the sailor on the ship. I have two boys in the United States Navy. And all they wanna do is go on to fight, protect, and defend the great freedoms that we share in this country. This country has values. We have a name brand in the world. I’ve lived overseas four times. I’ve been an ambassador for my country three times. I’ve lived overseas and done business.

We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project which include liberty, democracy, human rights, and open markets when we torture. We should not torture. Waterboarding is torture. We dilute ourselves down like a whole lot of other countries. And we lose that ability to project values that a lot of people in corners of this world are still relying on the United States to stand up for them.

From the Romney camp:

After the debate, Romney aides told CNN that he does not believe waterboarding is torture, but that he “is not going to spell out what he would employ.”

Some might say Romney is sidestepping the question; or that he’s not saying what he’d employ because he doesn’t know. But, honestly, it’s the smartest answer to the question I’ve heard from these GOP presidential candidates.

This entry was posted in Barack Obama, CIA interrogation program, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, Politics. Bookmark the permalink. Monday, November 14th, 2011 at 9:28 am
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10 Responses to The Waterboarding Issue is Moot

  1. Indigo Red says: 1

    Of course, waterboarding is torture; so what?

    Of course, torture doesn’t work; that must be why it’s been used for thousands of years by every society.

    Torture particularly doesn’t work on Islamic terrorists because Mohammad said to withstand torture, threat of torture, or even the thought of torture for as long as possible and then spill the beans because one will have then fulfilled one’s obligation to thwart the enemy.

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  2. jim s says: 2

    These same folk would probably consider just locking someone in jail to be torture…. so I guess we just let everybody out.

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  3. Wordsmith says: 3

    And now of course McCain has to pipe in:

    Republican Sen. John McCain criticized statements by some of the 2012 Republican nominees for president Monday, tweeting, “Very disappointed by statements at SC GOP debate supporting waterboarding. Waterboarding is torture.”

    My post regarding why I think McCain is wrong on the issue.

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  4. Indigo Red says: 4

    As you pointed out, Word, in that previous post, McCain did break and spilled his guts to his interrogators torture the purpose of which was to humiliate and discredit the victim and his country, not to elicit information, true or false.

    I’ve long been fascinated by the different way America has prosecuted wars, the aftermath, and treatment of internees and spies. After nearly every war, other nations have pursued a path of prolonged violence that has often resulted in more death than the primary conflict. It’s almost like they don’t know when or how to stop killing. There’s a little remembered document from 1775, The Declaration to Arms, written by John Dickinson, an ancestor of mine, that sums up America’s position on war in particular and nation violence in general:

    “We fight not for glory or for conquest. We exhibit to mankind the remarkable spectacle of a people attacked by unprovoked enemies, without any imputation or even suspicion of offence. They boast of their privileges and civilization, and yet proffer no milder conditions than servitude or death.

    In our own native land, in defence of the freedom that is our birthright, and which we ever enjoyed till the late violation of it — for the protection of our property, acquired solely by the honest industry of our fore-fathers and ourselves, against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before.”

    Now, this was written to King George in hopes of averting a revolution, but it it can also apply equally to America in 1941 and America in 2001 and just about any time in between. When war ended, the killing stopped – for the most part – there was no Inquisition or Reign of Terror or Pogroms or general lopping off of tens of thousands of heads. The killing stopped and building began.

    Interrogation and war have purposes to which, for whatever the cause, America has hewn and seldom wavers. When it does, a great round of self recrimination follows as reservations, internment camps, and Abu Graib. None are more critical of America than Americans.

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  5. Russell says: 5

    What bull. You have zero evidence that waterboarding is more effective when the subject knows ahead of time. In fact, it was traditional for torturers to inform victims ahead of time, and show them what was in store, since that itself was part of the process.

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  6. Wordsmith says: 6

    @Russell:

    What bull. You have zero evidence that waterboarding is more effective when the subject knows ahead of time. In fact, it was traditional for torturers to inform victims ahead of time, and show them what was in store, since that itself was part of the process.

    The SERE-inspired waterboarding as carried out by the CIA wasn’t “traditional” nor did the interrogators nor their leaders who approved the use of EITs consider the CIA interrogators to be “torturers”. If they did, they would not have carried it out; because as the critics like to say in regards to torture, “It goes against our values”; nor would the CIA have carried through with the program without legal cover.

    Sure, someone like Christopher Hitchens might still give up, even knowing he’s not actually being drowned. But having detailed knowledge about the program and the strict limitations placed upon CIA interrogators empowers al Qaeda operatives to train against it. They know where the line in the sand has been drawn. Sure, it’s still tough and unpleasant. KSM was tough. He was also smart and figured out just how long the pours would last until he was allowed to take in breaths (he’d even use his hands to countdown).

    But the techniques chosen for enhanced interrogation were designed to make things appear to be worse than they actually were for the detainee. Take “walling” for instance:

    For walling, a flexible false wall will be constructed. The individual is placed with his heels touching the wall. The interrogator pulls the individual forward and then quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall. It is the individual’s shoulder blades that hit the wall. During this motion, the head and neck are supported by a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash. To further reduce the possibility of injury, the individual is allowed to rebound from the flexible wall …[T]he false wall is in part constructed to create a loud sound when the individual hits it, which will further shock or surprise the individual. In part, the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem much worse than it is.

    Knowing this in advance, is there really any point to “walling” as an EIT anymore? It’s effectiveness was in the pretense.

    Waterboarding was a tough procedure. All but 3 of 100 HVTs sent through the CIA program became candidates for waterboarding- the toughest of the EITs being used. But as carried out by the CIA, it was not the same as the water torture done by the Japanese military, by the Spanish Inquisition, or even the same as the waterboarding of our soldiers in SERE training.

    But its power and effectiveness is diminished by knowledge that Americans do live by legal and moral constraints not to cross a line. That they aren’t really being drowned.

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  7. You let a terrorist set off a dirty bomb in a large school/downtown in a major city and a lot worse than waterboarding will be used on the terrorists that get caught, and may have knowledge of another one that could kill 200 more kids. And do I care if they do? No not really. Those three sailors screams for help could be heard by other sailors, but the escape hatch was damaged from the explosion, so the water had to rise up the ladder to the hatch. Thats where the three bodies were found. the terrorist live to talk about their “ordeal” the victims are in parts, scattered across the floor of the ocean, and or buried six feet down under. They really drowned, not just water up their nose. So excuse me if my inner child is nowhere to be found today. Maybe tomorrow the little fart will show up to antagonize me.

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