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 |  Reformed Republican | 

    I do not believe there would be any more justice if Bin Laden was captured. Any trial he might have had would have been a farce and full of grandstanding, and just another media distraction for more important issues.

    I do think a fair trial would have been better than assassination, but I do not believe he could have ever had one.

  2. #2 |  B | 

    Note also that the threshold for torture apologists has gotten a lot lower. It used to that they argued from the “ticking bomb scenario”, i.e. that torture is justified if an attack is imminent. Now they are saying that it was completely justified because it (maybe) led to us kill OBL…eventually.

  3. #3 |  Michael | 

    Remember how the strongest justification for torture was “It will SAVE lives!”
    Well, showing how it allowed us to kill someone is not a shining example of saving lives…

    Sure, you could say lives were indirectly saved. You could also say lives are indirectly saved by installing Stop signs. Those aren’t the “savings” that were promised. We were promised that torture would directly help prevent attacks on innocent people.

    What’s next, “Disneyland expands to middle east! Information taken from Guantanamo prisoners made it happen! Torture now justified?”

  4. #4 |  JS | 

    I think foxnews does some things just to provoke people. It’s good to remember that the US government prosecuted the Japanese for warcrimes for waterboarding:


  5. #5 |  JS | 

    Oh and by the way, you might want to consider posting a pic when you do a blog post.

    I mean, just so we don’t confuse you with Dave Kreuger or anything.

  6. #6 |  Dante | 

    Torture is NEVER acceptable. Period.

    We prosecuted, and executed, people after WWII for torture. We prosecuted some of our own troops who tortured Vietnamese soldiers.

    There is no grey area here. Just like child molestation, there is no place for it in our world, and those who condone or practice torture are criminals.

    Are you listening, W? How about you, Dick Cheney?


  7. #7 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    There was an interesting business management article years ago studying the impact of Capts. Kirk and Piccard on US managers. During each captain’s reign, you could see US management styles match the captains. When ST-NG went off the air a concern came up that people might be morally rudderless. Well, I guess so.

    Star Trek NG answered the issue about torture with “Chain of Command”.

    “There are FOUR LIGHTS!”

    @#2 The US also protected Japanese and German torturers (and worse) in exchange for their notes. The state is a f*cking horror show.

  8. #8 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Nice try, JS.

  9. #9 |  A.G. Pym | 

    For the record, when that waterboard question was asked at last night’s debate, 3 of the five raised their hands – but NOT the two libertarians of the group – Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.

  10. #10 |  JS | 


  11. #11 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Sean Hannity

  12. #12 |  TomG | 

    Torture is never good, never justifiable, in my opinion. The argument that there are a (very very very few) cases where torture gets answers in time just has not been proven.
    More importantly, what does it say about a politician’s character that they defend using these methods?
    I feel strongly that the use of torture by agents acting for the US government is highly immoral and degrades those who use it, and those who defend its use. This country will always have a certain level of risk from enemies, and it is better to just say “hey, because of our commitment to freedom, liberty, and decency, we refuse to use torture. This means that it’s possible that attacks will take place that we didn’t learn of in time, but you know what? That is the price we pay for living the way we claim to believe.”
    Two closing thoughts: 1) How many politicians claim to be Christian, and yet argue for war and/or the use of torture?
    2) some politicians claim that America is an “exceptional” nation. How does this special “exceptionalism” fit in with condoning the use of torture? I would say the two are in total conflict.

  13. #13 |  Pablo | 

    The U.S. also declined to prosecute some horrific torture cases of WWII because the perpetrators’ cooperation was needed to ensure that the resulting information did not fall into the Russians’ hands. Google Unit 731.

  14. #14 |  Chuchundra | 

    Yes, torture is never acceptable and never justified…ever.

  15. #15 |  Salt | 

    Who do you think should be waterboarded?

    Absolutely no one.

    I find it the height of hypocrisy when I hear these fake Christian types end their speeches with “God bless you and God bless America.”

    Attempting to validate dehumanizing others in ways that are unimaginable to the general population is appalling second only to the acts themselves.

    Descending to the depths of depraved conduct that is labeled enhanced interrogation signals that those advocates have assuredly lost their way as civilized humans.

  16. #16 |  Highway | 

    We were arguing this yesterday at lunch, and I took up the same position as people on this thread: torture isn’t justified. Not retroactively, not with ‘imminent threat’, not in ‘hey we got these bad guys later’. If your argument is “hey, we were able to catch a monster”, but you yourself became a monster in the process, how does that make it acceptable?

    Especially with the very questionable effectiveness of torture. These apologists think, much like the Inquisition, that the moral rightness of their cause will burn the evil spirits out of the ‘bad guys’, and if that takes literally burning or drowning them, well, that’s a nice macho fantasy, isn’t it.

    If torture’s so great, cause you can figure out what people are hiding, why don’t we just subject everyone to it, at random or even regularly? Maybe we’d get some more leads on terrorists that way…

  17. #17 |  Dave Krueger | 

    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.


    The default position in a free society should be that the pictures must be released. The only permissible reason for not releasing them would have to be because it poses some immediate definable national security risk (like divulging troop movements, etc).

    The idea that it’s ok to keep the public in the dark unless someone can prove that the public has a need to know absolutely sickens me. And people wonder why the government has so goddamn many secrets and ignores so many FOIA requests…

    The debate about whether the pictures might spawn ill will toward the U.S. is utterly laughable given our profligate use of military force on other countries. I know it’s a tough connection to make, but bombing other people tends to generate ill will.

    Exactly when did our right to know become contingent on whether or not it might offend those in other countries?

  18. #18 |  JS | 

    Highway ” If your argument is “hey, we were able to catch a monster”, but you yourself became a monster in the process, how does that make it acceptable?”

    Yea I kind of think that when a nation gives up that kind of moral high ground it’s not recoverable, ever.

  19. #19 |  Uno Hu | 

    Who do I want waterboarded?

    Anyone non-regular combatant (including unofficial staff “officers”) who is reasonably suspected of having life-critical information (information that will save the life of an American) who meets both of these two conditions:
    (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.
    (2) they or groups they are affiliated with have tortured and/or murdered captured American civilians or military personnel.

    Note that this would not normally apply to the uniformed military personnel of a nation with which we are at war. I realize this is not doing unto your neighbor as you would have him do unto, but I firmly believe that in some circumstances doing to your neighbor as he as done unto is both appropriate and necessary. And no, I don’t consider that “lowering myself to his level”, I consider it to be providing notice that you don’t want to treat our people badly because we will not forgive. There are those who interpret our unwillingness to do this as weakness, and weakness attracts both contempt and agression.

  20. #20 |  freebob | 

    torture is always wrong. unless someone knows something and won’t tell you.

  21. #21 |  Mattocracy | 

    The problem is that there are plenty of people who don’t think waterboarding is torture. And you’ll never convince them otherwise. Cause those of us who do think it’s torture are a bunch of pussies.

    It’s only a matter of time before we start waterboarding teenagers so we can figure out who they buy pot from.

  22. #22 |  Pete | 

    On the photo – my belief is that any video or photos depicting the events immediately prior to the fatal burst of gunfire that killed Osama will show him surrendering with clearly empty hands, probably on his knees or with his back turned – a clear posture of abject and unconditional surrender. I believe it is likely the SEAL team had clear orders to kill him no matter what, and they did. No one in a position to worry about it wants to release photos or video showing a US combat operative executing a compliant and secured enemy.

    I obviously have only gut feeling in this, after reading what information is available, but I think it most likely. I know I could be totally wrong, and it’s possible he had a weapon and was intent on resisting or not being taken alive.

  23. #23 |  Jason | 

    Let’s start with waterboarding those want to authorize waterboarding.

  24. #24 |  Jason | 

    Let’s start with waterboarding those who want to authorize waterboarding.

  25. #25 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    America has been covertly pro-torture for a long time– look at police practices.

    As nearly as I can figure it, Dirty Harry made things somewhat worse– the movie vividly portrayed the idea that a good guy could and should torture, if it didn’t make him happy, it was an emergency, and he was operating outside the system.

    A great many Americans became overtly pro-torture after 9/11, led by their government. The tv show 24 made things somewhat worse.

    I’m a little surprised that you’re shocked, but what you notice when is something of a random process.

    I was shocked at the Abu Graib pictures, but later noticed the pre-existing pro-torture aspects of American culture. At this point I’m horrified, frightened, and enraged.

  26. #26 |  Dan | 

    I now rest much more soundly knowing if terrorists ever travel to the Spokane, WA airport, torture will not be much of an issue. Especially now that airport police carry assault rifles.


  27. #27 |  Tom Sullivan | 

    I honestly don’t know what is worse in this whole debacle: the fact the debate has reached this point; or the fact that torture being wrong has to be explained at all. Just sad…very sad.

  28. #28 |  Tim Vande | 

    didn’t Reason ask that question a couple years ago? didn’t you answer Woodrow Wilson?

  29. #29 |  BladeDoc | 

    That’s actually only part of the story. In many instances the argument against waterboarding in particular and torture in general was 1. it’s wrong, and 2. IT DOESN’T WORK ANYWAY. I saw this from Greenwald among others. I think the torture apologists are trying to assert that 2. isn’t true, now let’s talk about 1.

  30. #30 |  Curt | 

    Saying “torture is always wrong” is too simplistic of an answer. The challenge is in defining torture. That’s a very grey area.

    Breaking someone’s finger (torture), taking pictures while pointing at their junk (degrading, but torture?), and forcing someone to listen to Celine Dion (legal torture?) show various parts of that spectrum of grey. I think there is moral and legal room to employ some forms of “enhanced interrogation”. But, the government is blatantly deceitful when they use that euphemism to describe something like waterboarding (in my book… torture).

    I’m not trying to justify doing the things our government has done… I’m just pointing out that there are shades of grey.

  31. #31 |  JS | 

    Nancy Lebovitz “America has been covertly pro-torture for a long time– look at police practices.”

    Nailed it! I think the connection between domestic police practices and the miltary is worth a lot more attention that it gets. When you have a public that will put up with routinely being beaten up, tazed and even murdered by police aren’t going to get too upset when their military tortures.

  32. #32 |  Dave Krueger | 

    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.

    Do you have solid information from a reliable source that we found bin Laden as a result of torture? And I don’t mean the U.S. government. I mean a credible source.

    Personally, I intend to reserve judgment until I get the facts (maybe from some massive communications document leak facilitated by some outfit like Wikileaks).

    As for torture, I’m against it. And I’m highly opposed to the kind of foreign policy that generates so many enemies that we even feel the need to even consider the use of such tactics. Unfortunate though it may be, we are our own worst enemy. Keeping poking a stick in the face of people you believe are powerless and it’s only a matter of time before you discover that they are not powerless at all.

  33. #33 |  MikeZ | 

    Uno Hu,
    I can understand that position, but wouldn’t you have to have a trial first? How do you prove (1) and (2) without a public trial? and by then would the information gained still be life-critical? I rather doubt that the average Al-Queda operative carries around his membership card.

    I’d also point out your ‘affiliation’ clause makes your points overly broad. As a U.S. citizen I’m affiliated with the US Government so if an Iraqi used your definition for their torture policy, they would be justified in torturing me (thanks Abu Ghraib, and various pro-waterboarding stances). Then I’d guess they’d be tortured when my corpse was recovered even though they might not have been affiliated with the original torture event. How does it stop exactly?

  34. #34 |  kidseven | 

    I find myself wishing this was a black and white issue, but I confess to seeing some gray. The asymmetric warfare is where I get hung up. Our refusing to torture ever, in any circumstance, somehow brings to mind the British in their bright red coats fighting in rigid formation from the moral high ground, while the Americans ambushed and shot from behind trees like a bunch of dirty scoundrels.

  35. #35 |  Carl Weetabix | 


    Not at you, but those who support torture. Whether it works is a red herring.

    Maybe raping Osama’s widows might yield actionable information? So should we do that? It might “save” American lives after all.

    Cutting off the hands of suspected criminals might reduce crime. Banning all guns might save a crap-load of American lives too.

    Turning the middle east to glass could work too.

    The list goes on. There’s a million completely wrong things we could do that could be “effective” and/or save American lives. So the question isn’t whether it works, it’s whether it’s right or wrong.

    And it’s wrong.

  36. #36 |  Curt | 

    The other interesting part of the question is what kind of Ends justifies the Means.

    If the justification is that it got us to OBL and we were able to exact revenge on him… that doesn’t justify pushing the boundaries with our methods of getting that info. If the justification is that it enabled us to prevent future attacks (a laughable justification, but one I’ve heard), that would justify pushing the boundary a little further. Preventing an imminent, immediate threat would justify pushing a little further.

    If breaking someone’s fingers gives you the information to save hundreds of lives, does that justify it? I’m conflicted and really don’t know what I think.

    I recall a story from about 5 years ago where an army colonel was charged and, I think, discharged from the military for a similar incident. His unit caught an Iraqi fighter. The colonel put a pistol to his head and then fired a shot just over his head. The guy coughed up info about an imminent ambush and the information allowed his unit to prepare for and defeat the ambush. Don’t quote me on those details because I’m going from memory.

    Regardless, was his action justifiable? Did he deserve punishment?

    Again, I am absolutely not trying to justify the shit our government has done, I’m just suggesting that the issue isn’t as black and white as some people are making it.

  37. #37 |  Chris in AL | 

    First, regarding releasing the picture: My first response is that our government has lost the credibility to be taken at their word. Period. I believe he is dead, no conspiracy theories here, but our government does not have the reputation of honesty needed to have us just believe them when they make an announcement. Sorry. Do I think they are lying about OBL? No. Do I think they would lie about it if they thought it suited their purpose? Yes. I have no more respect for the US government than that. Falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies are all considered perfectly acceptable practices by our government and therefore they are relegated to the same credibility of an anonymous internet poster…Pics or it didn’t happen.

    Second, I am always offended by the idea that we the public can’t handle certain images or certain information. that it must be omitted or censored for our consumption. But somehow the ‘gatekeepers’ who did have access to all the original images were strong enough to handle it. That the guy that puts the little black boxes on the ‘bad’ parts of the pictures before they are shown to me somehow has a stronger will and fortitude than I do. I don’t care for the ‘faces of death’ crap. But if the people that have seen the pictures can handle it, so can I. So, as others have said, show us the unedited, unsoftened, uncensored results of what our government has done in our name. You insult the strength and fortitude of the American people when you hide it.

  38. #38 |  Danny | 

    I don’t think there is a single situation in which I could support waterboarding, even though there are extreme situations in which I could legally excuse torture.

    Waterboarding was shown to be, by its American perpetrators’ own accounts, useless for getting true information quickly. The most even its defenders can claim is that it kind-of-sort-of made people eventually talk and say things that were true and other things that were not true.

    The only type of situation in which I could see legally excusing torture are so extreme that they are nearly impossible, but not quite. The serial killer HH Holmes reportedly killed people by locking them in an airtight bank vault. If I had to rescue a victim from that vault, I would probably get extremely medieval on HH Holmes right away to force him to give me the combination to the lock. But in that situation, waterboarding would be useless. You would probably have to use burning or flaying or “true” suffocation or some other extreme and probably mutilating or life-threatening method to force out the info fast.

    I don’t see why people use these stupid “ticking time bomb” scenarios. If there is a time bomb, and it is ticking, and you don’t know where it is located, waterboarding is going to be useless.

    Also, I don’t think it really matters how many lives are at stake. If a single innocent person is slowly suffocating to death inside a bank vault, I think torture could be legally excused to the same extent as with the threat of a bomb that might kill many people.

  39. #39 |  kidseven | 

    Nice post, Chris. Well said.

  40. #40 |  lunchstealer | 

    Who do I want waterboarded?

    Anyone who thinks waterboarding isn’t torture. Until they admit that it is. And maybe just to confirm for them the reliability of information gained that way, also until they confess to various unsolved crimes in the local area, and name some co-conspirators in their crimes.

  41. #41 |  MikeZ | 

    Personally I don’t think a photo of OBL would add any evidence that the US really killed him. It would also be a just about the worst example of something showing the “true cost” of the war. If you want ‘true cost’ you need to see photos of the lives ruined leading up to the end goal of killing OBL, not the goal itself. How many bomb strikes killed civilians when we were aiming for AlQueda targets? That is where the majority of the the cost of the war lies, not the targets themselves.

    I’d take the refusal to show the OBL photo not that the Americans can’t handle it, but that it is disrespectful to OBL’s family. In this particular circumstance I’m for releasing the image because fuck him it’s OBL and maybe I don’t care what his family thinks. In general though I’m not sure that all death photos that Government has should necessarily be released to the public. Should the government use a photo of your grandmother to show why people shouldn’t smoke? or how about a photo of your sister warning about the dangers of drunk driving (google “porsche girl”). To me the photo doesn’t add any proof, and doesn’t show the ‘cost’ so I don’t need to see it.

  42. #42 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    MikeZ: OBL’s family repudiated him a long time ago. There is no reason I’ve heard of to think that his behavior is in any sense their fault.

    I expect there are people who knew him as a child and are still trying to figure out what happened– those people have my sympathy.

    I don’t have a strong opinion about releasing the photograph.

  43. #43 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    (a) It’s Fox news. Fair and Balanced! (snirk)
    (b) Easy answer – whoever came up with the idea for the poll.

  44. #44 |  Move Along | 

    Waterboarding is not lethal, it’s barefly harmful. I had worse things done to me for lesser reason when growing up. Three people were waterboarded — it ain’t pretty but get over it and move on.

  45. #45 |  Aresen | 

    Who do you think should be waterboarded?

    lunchstealer @ May 6th, 2011 at 4:06 pm beat me to it.

  46. #46 |  B | 

    Chris in AL, FTW.

  47. #47 |  h4x354x0r | 

    Who do I think should be waterboarded? Everyone who wants to do it on someone else, that’s who.

  48. #48 |  Chris in AL | 

    Regarding the torture question. It is wrong and I am against it. I think we should be able to find less barbaric ways to further our investigations.

    Having said that, if I suddenly found myself in a situation where my child was about to die an agonizing death and the person who could prevent it was in my custody and refusing to talk I would drop that moral belief and do anything to save my child. I would die for my kid. I would kill for my kid. I would torture for my kid. And no matter how fanatically you deny it, so would the vast majority of people, no matter how morally opposed to torture they are. You can hide behind the fact that it is a ridiculous premise that you will never have to face and therefore claim that you would, in fact, let your child die rather than torture their killer, but we all know better.

    Now, that is a far cry from claiming, or justifying, that it should be a regular practice for gaining information. We must be the kind of society that looks for, and believes, that it is wrong. We can condemn the people that would advocate its use anytime it suits us to get what we want. But to pretend that it is ALWAYS wrong no matter what is on the line and that it should NEVER be used no matter the consequences when most of us could, in fact, be convinced to do it (or at least let someone else do it) under certain circumstances is disingenuous. It is a question without a perfect, black and white answer and we cannot pretend otherwise.

    On another note, I think the question of what is torture is also not quite so clear. Torture is a broad spectrum these days, and gets broader as we progress as a species. Which is a good thing. But I think that there are clearly different levels of torture. We can debate whether or not waterboarding is torture (or perhaps not as someone already made the determination that it is and anyone who thinks otherwise is basically evil) but none the less it definitely cannot be put in the same category as the rack, the pear of anguish or any of the other types of torture of old. Sorry, but giving someone the sensation of drowning without any actual lasting physical harm is not the same thing as pealing their skin off in strips, breaking bones, red hot pokers etc…

    So if you want to call that torture (and i am okay with that, as it is using fear to gain cooperation) that is fine, but the fact that it is not as terrible (and it isn’t) as though other tortures is exactly why more people would be willing to use it if something of great enough importance was on the line.

    Here is a hypothetical question. If we had a terrorist in custody with information we needed, and we knew they had a crippling fear of heights, would it be considered torture to put them on a Ferris Wheel and stop it at the top until they were willing to talk?

  49. #49 |  Miko | 

    This is why constitutional government doesn’t work: the state is inherently unconstrained in its power, and only espouses principles that forbid it from doing something or other for as long as it doesn’t really want to do those somethings anyway. The second it wants to, we get a rapid shift of opinion justifying the action.

    Re: bin Laden death photos

    The reason that they aren’t releasing these is either: a) because he isn’t dead, or b) because they don’t want people to know that he’s dead. By “people” I don’t mean the general public, as the government doesn’t care what the public thinks, but members of foreign intelligence services and terrorist groups. If he’s alive and in custody, it’s in their interest for people to think he’s dead so that no one tries to extract him. If he’s dead, it’s in their interest for people to think he’s alive so that terrorist groups will be worried that he’ll talk about their upcoming plans. Similarly to how the government will never admit to having broken a code, developed a new technology, etc. until circumstances force them to do so, it’s just not in their interests to release compelling evidence that Osama is either alive or dead.

  50. #50 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    How about we start with all members of Congress, in alphabetical order? not to find out anything, mind, just on general principals.

    In general I am not in favor of extending legal protections of status like U.S. Citizenship or Geneva Convention Combatant to people who do not qualify, simply so that Citizenship or being signatory to the Geneva Convention has value. That said, I also think that whatever Law of War DO apply should be rigorously followed.

    Where does that leave me on Waterboarding? I simply don’t know. My experience of the segment of the Political Left that was so up in arms about “torture” under George Bush is that they are far more interested in smearing the Right than they are in getting their facts straight. Consequently – fairly or not – I tend automatically to discount anything they say on the subject as so much bushwa.

    On the other hand the history of post OSS espionage work by the U.S. government has included far more than a reasonable proportion of Cowboys, Whack-jobs, and James Bond Wannabes.

    On the gripping hand, when we are talking about scrofulous camel pesterers, I’m not sure I can make myself care. And therein lies the trap. We aren’t going to be overwhelmed by these lice. But we ARE going to be changed, for the worse. And it is slight comfort that they will like the change far less than we will.

  51. #51 |  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?

  52. #52 |  BamBam | 

    the ends justifies the means …. sick thinking

  53. #53 |  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.

  54. #54 |  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?

  55. #55 |  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

  56. #56 |  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.

  57. #57 |  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?

  58. #58 |  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.

  59. #59 |  SIV | 


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

  60. #60 |  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.

  61. #61 |  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.

  62. #62 |  Nick | 

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

  63. #63 |  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.”

  64. #64 |  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?

  65. #65 |  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.

  66. #66 |  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.

  67. #67 |  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.

  68. #68 |  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.

  69. #69 |  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.

  70. #70 |  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.

  71. #71 |  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.

  72. #72 |  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.

  73. #73 |  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.

  74. #74 |  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.

  75. #75 |  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.

  76. #76 |  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.

  77. #77 |  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.

  78. #78 |  Michael Ejercito | 

    Our troops should not torture.

    But we can not control what vigilantes do.

  79. #79 |  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.

  80. #80 |  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.

  81. #81 |  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.)

  82. #82 |  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.

  83. #83 |  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.

  84. #84 |  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.