Who do you think should be waterboarded?

Friday, May 6th, 2011

I’ve honestly been pretty disgusted in the last few days by the torture apologists who think that everything done in this war on terror has been vindicated because we finally got Osama Bin Laden.

(Personally, I’ve been a little confused on the photo debate….No, I don’t think releasing them would quell any conspiracy theories, but I’d still like to see some visual proof. Not because I have some carnal desire to see a bloody picture of a corpse and feel like revenge has been found…but because I very much believe we deserve to and need to see the results of our government’s actions, no matter how vile or difficult to swallow they may be, and in fact, especially because of those reasons. There’s nothing moral about murdering a murderer. I wish we would have captured and tried him and tried to bring real justice, but that will have to remain an unfulfilled wish. But if we’re going to have leaders that do kill in the name of our country, and  have people celebrating that man’s death, we also need to see what that looks like, to understand that our actions have real consequences. )

But to get to the point here….I’m assuming you’ve heard that the nom de guerre of the courier that eventually got us to Bin Laden was provided by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj Al-Libi while they were in CIA custody. It took another 4 years to figure out the courier’s real name, and through the NSA and operatives on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they eventually tracked him thanks to one fatal call that put him on the radar and after which his now tracked license plate led us to the mansion sized compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (That’s a really shoddy summary, but I figure it will do for this purpose).

But at the end of the day, waterboarding, was not what led us t0 Osama Bin Laden. I’ll give you links to a few good pieces here, here, and here that breakdown the timelines and details. This hasn’t stopped a number of former Bush officials and Republicans from claiming torture was indeed the golden ticket.

My question, is even if it had been torture that led us to Bin Laden…does that make torture right? moral? Does that mean we never should have had the founding principle that torture is wrong? It’s one the first President of this country espoused.

So while you may be pondering those questions….FOX News has decided to ask it’s viewers the following: (I didn’t know how to insert the video–technically challenged—but it’s worth a click)

Who Do You Want Waterboarded?

When did that become an acceptable question?

And on that note….in last night’s first presidential debate for the GOP primary, Tim Pawlenty said he supports waterboarding in “certain circumstances”, and then said Obama should be challenged on his views on enhanced interrogation techniques.

Is that how far we’ve come? That it’s now completely alright to support torture in a mainstream televised political debate? And to even challenge those who oppose it?

I feel confused and lost and shocked.

What do you guys think?


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84 Responses to “Who do you think should be waterboarded?”

  1. #1 |  Aresen | 

    @ C. S. P. Schofield | May 6th, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    I have read a fair bit of history of the various WWII resistance movements: The French Resistance, BoPa in Denmark, The White Rose in Germany. Each of these organizations assumed that once one of their members was captured, they would eventually be ‘broken’ and the information that they had would become known to the Nazis. There were a heroic few who endured torture and did not reveal the information, but they were a minority.

    But the Nazis were very calculating torturers and realized the potential for false confessions or deceit. They were careful not to ‘prompt’ their victims and cross checked the information they got. In reality, the Nazis got much more information from conventional surveillance, paid informants, and regular investigative procedures.

    The Mossad, who many consider the world’s best intelligence organization (despite some notable failures), almost never tortures. They rely on insightful interviewers who, through patient conversation, get their subjects to open up.

    My point is twofold: 1) Torture can get you information, provided you are careful how you go about it. 2) There are usually better ways to get the information and the other ways are much more reliable.

    example: Assume Mohammed Atta had been captured and tortured for intelligence purposes in July 2001. Would that have prevented 9/11? Possibly. But the simple fact was that the organizational clusterfuck that was the US intelligence community at that time already had sufficient information to have prevented 9/11 and did not use that information properly.

    Finally, there is the fundamental question: Do we want to be the kind of people who torture others for any reason?

  2. #2 |  BamBam | 

    the ends justifies the means …. sick thinking

  3. #3 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    (1) they fight for, work with, give support and aid to, or have allied themselves with an organization or movement that fights against the United States, conventionally or asymmetrically, without uniforms and who otherwise does not qualify under the actual Geneva Convention of 1949 and its Addenda.

    Did NOT nail it. This is the wording states use to torture anyone they want.

    I would drop that moral belief and do anything to save my child.

    Which is why we don’t put people personally involved in charge of the suspect.

  4. #4 |  Robbo | 

    A better question is: ‘who shouldn’t be waterboarded?’
    Answer: (1) persons apprehended in the U.S., and (2) persons apprehended in combat wearing uniforms and otherwise abiding by the Geneva Conventions.
    There are other situations, but the people I am talking about are ‘outlaws’, outside the law, they don’t have laws protecting them.
    For example, if you get caught trying to fire up an IED on US troops in a combat zone, and you’re not wearing a uniform, stand by for some nasal irrigation.
    Come on, I learned these lessons watching WW2 movies with my dad on Saturdays: captured not in uniform=shot as ‘spy’.
    How hard is this?

  5. #5 |  Robbo | 

    Oh, and combatants in civilian clothes endanger civilians. The protection and treatment of POWs incentivizes playing by the rules to protect civilians.
    Wear a uniform => get care packages
    Don’t wear a uniform => get waterboarded

  6. #6 |  Otto | 

    I got into it over at Amy Alkon’s blog. It’s pretty sad how many people are willing to just ignore, or worse – support torture.

  7. #7 |  kidseven | 

    “it’s in their interest for people to think he’s dead so that no one tries to extract him.”

    Umm…who, exactly, is going to “extract” Bin Laden from the U.S. Special Forces’ custody?

  8. #8 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 


    My fear is that, unless we manage to get behind a limited war by limited means for limited ends (you know, what Bush started), what will happen is we will blunder along until we are on the receiving end of a serious terrorist attack (say, ten times the casualties of 9/11, which frankly was a fizzle). And then we will severally and collectively lose our temper. By the time we regain it, the country will have changed beyond recognition. The only point that cheers me up at all is that, long before we calm down and have to start dealing with the aftermath, all the Islamic Terrorists that we haven’t outright killed will have been chased so far out into the desert or up into the mountains that they will have to have daylight sent in by parcel post.

    But i’m a grouch.

  9. #9 |  SIV | 


    You ought to wear latex on Russia Today. I’d watch every show!

  10. #10 |  Waste93 | 

    This is a rather complciated question. Firstly the claim that waterboarding did not lead to this info may or may not be true. While KSM may not have given up the information during a waterboarding session, its use may have broken him enough that he gave up the information and other information. That is a question we really will never know the answer to since the only one that can truly answer it is KSM.

    Secondly the Japanese did not water board. They used water torture. There is a bit of a difference. Waterboarding simulated drowning but no water actually enters the lungs. Water torture the water enters the lungs and is what the Japanese did during WWII. May seem like a technical difference but the difference is huge.

    Thirdly for all those that call waterboarding torture. We use this during military training on our own soldiers. I think it’s part of the escape and evasion course. That has continued even under this administration. So should we also charge this admin and the military for torturing our own soldiers for decades? If it is torture than should we not also prosecute for doing it on our own soldiers?

    There is a fine line that we are talking about here. Physical torture is usually fairly self evident. But what about psychological torture? There were some who called what we did to Noriega during the Panama invasion as torture. Was it?

    It seems sometimes that torture is like beauty. It’s in the eye of the beholder. And also seems to depend on ones poltical persuasion and who is sitting in the White House at the moment.

    Just saying that we should try to be consistent and some things are not always black and white. No matter how much we wish they would be.

  11. #11 |  Andrew S. | 

    Now that’s some great apologist thinking, Waste93.

    No, things aren’t black and white. But many things are clear. That waterboarding is torture is one of those things. To excuse it as “we do it to our own soldiers!” and “what the Japanese did in WWII is worse!” is ridiculous and insulting.

  12. #12 |  Nick | 

    Anybody who says water-boarding isn’t torture, should be.

  13. #13 |  Steve Finlay | 

    Is waterboarding torture? I trust Christopher Hitchens. In order to answer that question, he had some experts do it to him – and it was. Waste93 should do the same, and then his answer might be more credible. Also, the reason why waterboarding is used in training soldiers is to prepare them for withstanding -guess what? – torture. So waterboarding has to walk like a duck and quack like a duck, or else it would be of no use for such training.

    It is ridiculous to think that, somehow, it is not worth bothering to behave according to principles if the other guy does not. If everyone thought that way, would the world have seen ANY improvements in civilization, liberty and justice over the past thousand years? Think about it. It seems to me that the only events that ever moved us out of the dark ages were those times when someone said: “I don’t care if everyone else thinks that this is OK; I (or we) won’t do it.”

  14. #14 |  Les | 

    If not causing lasting physical harm, or even pain, means that something isn’t torture, does that mean we can start raping our enemies?

  15. #15 |  Bill | 

    As some have already pointed out, there seems to be some disagreement, even from government sources, as to whether this information was obtained as a result of “enhanced interrogation” or AFTER enhanced interrogation, but while the source was still in custody-in other words, just maybe long after torture was abandoned and other, more ethical and better methods were used.

    The next problem for those who use this instance as a justification for torture is that saying “it works” based on the belief that we obtained a piece of actionable information by using it doesn’t mean that it works better than, or even as well as, other methods. If I want to find out what time it is, I could ask you, or I could jump on you, beat you half to death and take your watch. If successful, either way I learn the time, but the complications that arise from using the second method might make me late for my appointment. And it may very well be that complications that arose from our use of torture–for instance, the lack of trust and therefore cooperation from sources not in our custody–may have delayed us in finding bin Laden.

    Beyond that, the end does not justify the means. Getting bin Laden no more justifies torture than winning World War II justified internment of Japanese-Americans, or spreading Christianity justified the Spanish Inquisition.

  16. #16 |  Bill | 

    One final objection to the use of torture, which particularly applies to the “ticking time bomb” type of discussion. The problem is that when one sets up these hypothetical scenarios, the parameters are already laid out: the person being posed with the question already “knows” that the terrorist IS, in fact, a terrorist, that there IS, in fact, a “ticking time bomb”, and that the terrorist has the information you need to stop the bomb. Further, there is the strong implication that if you don’t torture him, you have no other means of getting that information, and if you do, you will succeed.

    This is no more grounded in reality than the Riddle of the Sphinx.

  17. #17 |  zevgoldman | 

    One of my son’s, while serving in the U.S.Navy, was waterboarded and subjected to harsh interrogation as a routine part of his training.

    His take on the issue when I asked him about it was, “Dad, it’s damned unpleasant but it damned sure isn’t torture.”

    There is a great expanse between damned unpleasant and torture. I don’t believe the United States engaged in the latter.

  18. #18 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #59 zevgoldman

    One of my son’s, while serving in the U.S.Navy, was waterboarded and subjected to harsh interrogation as a routine part of his training.

    His take on the issue when I asked him about it was, “Dad, it’s damned unpleasant but it damned sure isn’t torture.”

    I would agree that being voluntarily waterboarded by fellow countrymen, whom you know won’t hurt you, is probably not torture. Being voluntarily blindfolded and hung off the side of a 10 story building by trusted fellow soldiers is probably not torture.

    But, when you are close to total mental and physical collapse and it’s being done by an enemy who has been threatening you for days or weeks and then add the utter terror of not knowing whether you’re seconds or minutes away from death, then it’s torture.

  19. #19 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    #60 – Exactly, Dave. For a woman’s husband to tie her up and enact a “rape” scenario with her can be terribly exciting, but for a stranger to do the same thing is horrifying. Consent changes EVERYTHING.

  20. #20 |  Joe | 

    There is a lot of hypocrisy when Holder and Obama opposed waterboarding, but then basically order OBL to be killed so they do not have to deal with issues of holding him in custody.

    This is how interrogations should be done. Note: No waterboarding.

    But we are at war, so despite the likely motivations of the President on this, it is probably okay to just kill OBL (you can question the judgment of it). It is a legal order if you are at war, it is an illegal order if you are not. That is the decision that the President made. I wish the comments after were: “We killed OBL, we buried him at sea, no further comments.” We pray over anyone executed, so praying over OBL is no big deal. I have no problem they did it, I also think it should not be emphasized. They should have also done a limited viewing to third parties.

    Personally I would have ordered capturing if possible, interrogation for a few years, then a military tribunal (but with due process) and likely execution. I am not a big fan of capital punishment, but in some cases it is justified.

  21. #21 |  Joe | 

    Waterboarding is certainly torture. You are triggering involuntary panic of drowning to break a person’s will. It is a limited form of torture, but it is still torture.

    Torture probably works to some extent. Otherwise people in power would not be doing it for ever. The question is whether we should do it.

  22. #22 |  Joe | 

    Intelligence work is hard. Torture is for the lazy. I agree with the comments about the Mossad above. Hard work, cross referencing and playing on the psychologial weaknesses of a detainee get results. And you can do it without waterboarding.

  23. #23 |  Joe | 

    Here is Hugh Hewitt interviewing Col. Herrington in that link I did above:

    HH: Col., I’m getting a couple of standard questions. Number one, from pilots who have gone through water boarding training in their survival courses, why do you consider it torture?

    SH: Well, water boarding is very much like another technique that was used during the Vietnam War by the Vietnamese, where they put a poncho over the head of the person, and then poured water through the poncho into the mouth, simulating drowning. It’s an inhumane…it’s inhumane treatment, it’s the kind of treatment that is essentially trying to extract information from someone by creating a fear of imminent death, not unlike and analogous to mock executions. We will have made progress in this arena when people realize that the way you get information from someone is to outsmart them, and use guile and stealth and chicanery to trick them into information, or secondarily, and the best way, is to persuade the person that it’s the right thing to do to talk.

    HH: Is it effective? Is water boarding effective?

    SH: Boy, you know what? I can’t tell you that. I’ve never practiced it. I consider it to be abhorrent, a practice that shouldn’t be practiced by any professional interrogator, and you’re going to have to ask someone other than me. But I, generally speaking, know from experience that when you levy brutality against a person in order to get that person to talk, even if the person hasn’t got anything to say, or doesn’t know what it is that you want, they’ll come up with something to say just to get you to quit doing it.

  24. #24 |  Law Prof | 

    If I can shoot (and KILL) the enemy, why ought I quail at waterboarding?

    I’ve been a military officer. If it would save even 1 of my soldiers’ lives, it would be worth it. I’d order it without a second’s contemplation and with no regrets. Just like I’d order a sniper to kill that enemy combatent popping up on the ridgeline 500 meters away.

    Now, lest you think I draw no lines, taking three information sources to 1000 feet in a Huey (as the ARVN would do) and throwing one, then a second out in order to get the third to talk, is wromg. But doing the same thing at 12 feet, as US forces would do, is OK. The information is just as good and no one gets seriously injured.

    Same thing for waterboarding.

  25. #25 |  Joe | 

    It is an argument Law Prof.

    It is okay to say, no, this is what we do not do. And not do it.

    And it is okay to argue against it.

    I just wish these arguments happened openly and without all the BS posturing and nonsense.

  26. #26 |  Matthew House | 

    Let’s start with a few key points.

    1. Interrogation is the process, torture is -a- tool, used in interrogation. You lot are confusing the two, much like trying to claim that a socket wrench ( the tool) is ‘automotive repair’ ( the process. ).

    2. None of you know anything about ‘torture’. Seriously, You do not know anything about the subject, or how it is done. Yet, you all feel perfectly qualified to discuss how effective it is or is not, or how ‘good’ or ‘evil’ it is.

    So, you’re unable to define the process vs the tools, and you cannot even define the intent of the process, either. But still, you’re qualified to render judgement on the process.

    Here’s a couple of tips.

    The goal of interrogation is to extract information not previously known, and to confirm suspected, but unproven, information already held.

    Torture, or ‘agressive interrogation’ if you like, is a tool used in interrogation. The process for using this tool is complex, and delicate.

    The questions and the delivery of the questions must be carefully calculated. Simply pulling someone’s fingernails out while demanding they admit to being a terrorist is stupid. Of -course- they’re going to admit to being a terrorist.

    Which is why most people say ‘oh, torture doesn’t work.’ It doesn’t work, because you’ve handed a moron a graphing calculator, and expect him to know how to use it.

    Adding insult to injury, what you people think is ‘torture’ is laughable. I know people in real life who -pay good money- to be treated far worse.

    I’d lay solid money that if your life was on the line, or your families life was on the line, you would reach for the waterboard faster than you can say ‘jack robinson’.

    Fact of life. There are nasty people out there who want to hurt us. They do not play ‘fair’. If we play ‘fair’ with them, and handle them with kid gloves, we will die. Would you torture someone to prevent, oh, say….New York City from being nuked? Because that is a very real future possibility.

  27. #27 |  Matthew House | 

    Addendum –

    I make no claims to torture being morally right. I’m pointing out that those who insist on absolute moral purity will lose to those who do not.

  28. #28 |  Michael Ejercito | 

    Our troops should not torture.

    But we can not control what vigilantes do.

  29. #29 |  Les | 

    If I can shoot (and KILL) the enemy, why ought I quail at waterboarding?

    Would the answer to that be that you can shoot an enemy when he is not in your custody and a clear and present danger?

    Would you kidnap your enemy’s family members and threaten them if it would save 1 of your soldiers’ lives? No one would get seriously injured. Would you rape or threaten to rape your enemy’s wives or sisters if it would save 1 of your soldiers’ lives? No one would get seriously injured.

    These are sincere questions.

  30. #30 |  Joe | 

    That is an excellent distinction Les. We would consider shooting unarmed prisoners a war crime. It is wrong to torture them when they are in your custody.

    That said, when Col. West (now Congressman West) took an Iraqi insurgent and threatened to shoot him if he did not disclose where the enemy positions were (they were in the middle of a battle), I thought that was excusable given the circumstances. He did not shoot him and the prisoner did devulge positions that saved American lives.

    But to acutally torture (and waterboarding is torture) is something I do not believe we should do.

  31. #31 |  albatross | 

    CSP #45:

    Thankfully, the Obama administration appears to have stopped using torture, so we can’t find out what fraction of Democrats’ moral objections to torture were simply partisan posing. In other war on terror areas, where Obama has followed about 90% of Bush’s lead, it’s become clear that many partisan Democrats’ objection to those war on terror excesses was simply that they were being done by a Republican. (This is more-or-less the mirror-image of the Republicans whose deep commitment to small government and balanced budgets was forgotten between 2001-2008, and then resumed.)

  32. #32 |  albatross | 

    Chris in AL:

    I think the main distinction you’re making there is between torture that leaves scars and torture that doesn’t leave scars. When there is a political or legal reason not to leave scars, torturers may find it necessary to use forms of torture that don’t leave them. That doesn’t change what’s going on. Water torture, suffocation, rape, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, etc., don’t have to leave any scars, and yet are apparently truly horrible to experience.

    How horrible? I think that’s really hard to quantify, short of some kind of Mengele-worthy experimental setup. What we know historically is that corrupt police have managed to use beatings with padded rods/hoses (to avoid leaving scars), suffocation, rape from other prisoners, and threats to get people to confess to murder, knowing they’d spend the rest of their lives in prison as a result. No scars left, but if you can make a big, tough hardened criminal sign a confession for a murder he didn’t commit, and condemn himself to life in prison or death row, what else would you call it but torture?

    It’s worth noting that many users of torture explicitly *want* the scars on their victims, because their goal is to keep their local population too scared of the secret police to revolt.

  33. #33 |  albatross | 

    It’s worth noting that there is no real moral distinction between:

    a. Torturing a suspect you think is a terrorist.

    b. Torturing his wife and kids to get him to break.

    In either case, doing it on a large scale, you know you will torture innocent people in fairly large numbers. It’s just a matter of how many.

    Indeed, think about OBL being captured. By most accounts, he was a sick old man. Probably, beating answers out of him would just kill him. But there he was, with his wife and some kids. Assuming the ticking time bomb argument, there’s a pretty obvious way to extract information from him in this situation. But somehow, I rarely see the torture apologists proposing it. I wonder why not.

  34. #34 |  Dave | 

    I went through training in the mid 60’s as an 18 year old who thought that the military was just and right, after all, it is America. During my training I was tied between two poles both wrists and ankles were wired up to an old hand crank telephone generator. I yelled and screamed for what seemed like an hour. They burnt all the hairs off of my arms from wrists to shoulders, they were black with soot. They then took me over to a log and tied my legs to the post. Pushed me down to the ground and began kicking me in the middle of my lower spine. Then tried pouring a canteen of water up my mouth and nose all while being continuously kicked and beaten by the 10th SF group. We all think that this is form of arduous training. When you have a broken back or you want to kill someone who falsified your medical records to cover-up what happened to you, start to question is this the type of training that you would like your sons and daughters to go through or do you think that as intelligent men new methods of training should be developed. Think about it I didn’t talk but I learned to hate my fellow American soldiers and a Corrupt Veterans Admin.