Monday, February 8, 2010

Not a compelling argument

When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called "Underwear Bomber," was arrested, howls of outrage came from many on the right. What? We read this guy his Miranda rights? We put him in jail? Now he would never talk--he wouldn't, without the threat of "enhanced interrogation," ever be inclined to cooperate with the United States Government. No, he would sit in prison for years if necessary, closemouthed and silent, laughing at us for not having the intestinal fortitude to torture the truth out of him.

Well, now he's talking, and you'd think that this would be embarrassing for the pro-waterboard crowd. It's not--not for Marc Thiessen, anyway, who argues that by not waterboarding Abdulmutallab, or at least using some methods of enhanced interrogation on him, we wasted five whole weeks:

The mishandling of Abdulmutallab’s questioning is an intelligence failure of massive proportions. And it highlights the problem with the Obama administration’s approach to terrorist interrogation. The administration’s approach is built on a law-enforcement model unsuited for the challenges of the war on terror. Here is why:

In law enforcement, interrogators generally question terrorists after an attack (or in the case of Abdulmutallab, an attempted attack) has occurred; their goal is to extract a confession in order to secure a conviction. In such circumstances, patience is a virtue. The wheels of justice turn slowly, and interrogators have all the time in the world to build rapport with the criminal, or use the plea bargaining process to get him to talk.

But in a time of war, speed is of the essence. Interrogators must get information from the terrorist quickly, before an attack occurs. Their goal is not to secure a conviction; it is to stop the terrorists from striking in the first place. In such circumstances, patience is not a virtue; patience can be deadly. And time is on the side of the terrorist withholding the information. The longer he drags the interrogation out, the better the chance that he can buy enough time for his comrades on the outside to carry out the attack or at least cover his tracks. His incentive is to hold out as long as possible, and then to provide nominal or outdated information, so he can appear like he is cooperating when he is in fact lying to cover up the important details as long as he can.

This is pretty amazing. Thiessen is arguing that in wartime we can suspend the regular rules in order to interrogate quickly; he's also arguing that all scenarios are ticking time bomb scenarios. He's arguing that even someone like the Underwear Bomber must necessarily be privy to so much crucial information about imminent attacks that we simply can't afford to wait five weeks for him to decide to start cooperating with law enforcement. In a sense, he's arguing that even if a terror suspect doesn't, in fact, know anything at all outside of the plot he was attempting to carry out (which, from what I understand about how terror cells operate, might actually be the case), we have to inflict pain first and--fail to apologize later.

Compare that to what seems to me to be a much saner view:

White House critics had been complaining for weeks that the administration's decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab in civilian court, to read him his Miranda rights and provide him a lawyer was a typically soft-hearted liberal capitulation to terrorism. Once Mr. Abdulmutallab was read his rights, they claimed, he stopped cooperating and robbed the U.S. of any chance of gaining useful intelligence from him that could be used to disrupt other plots.

Apparently not so. News reports this week say Mr. Abdulmutallab has resumed cooperating with authorities, in part because his interrogators worked hard to establish a psychological rapport with him and in part because they had the good sense to enlist his family in efforts to convince him to talk. Mr. Abdulmutallab's father, a wealthy banker in Nigeria, had contacted the American embassy there last year to warn officials his son was drifting dangerously into radicalism. No doubt the father's presence here helped persuade the young man, described as lonely, isolated and deeply insecure, to value his family ties over those to al-Qaeda.

Since then, Mr. Abdulmutallab reportedly has identified his handlers in Yemen and others involved in the plot, as well as provided information that led to the arrest last week of 10 people linked to a terrorist cell in Malaysia. That's exactly the kind of actionable intelligence officials need in order to save American lives.

But would Mr. Abdulmutallab's parents have been so willing to help if the United States had thrown their son into Guantanamo and commenced waterboarding him? Probably not.

We're told time and again by pro-waterboarding types that we have to be willing to torture, at least a little bit, because it "works." Apparently, bringing someone's family in to talk sense to him can work, too. Marc Thiessen says we can't afford to wait five weeks to get intelligence information from a suspected terrorist, that it's worth setting aside our moral principles to use enhanced interrogation right away. For those of us wrestling with the morality of this issue, that's not a very compelling argument.

14 comments:

  1. Marc Thiessen says we can't afford to wait five weeks to get intelligence information from a suspected terrorist, that it's worth setting aside our moral principles to use enhanced interrogation right away.

    To be fair, Thiessen doesn't say we should set aside our moral principles. He says different moral principles apply in different circumstances.

    He's talking nonsense, of course, but he seems to be sincere in his consequentialism.

    St. Augustine, by the way, offers this description of patience: "The patience of man, which is right and laudable and worthy of the name of virtue, is understood to be that by which we tolerate evil things with an even mind, that we may not with a mind uneven desert good things, through which we may arrive at better." I don't think such patience ceases to be a virtue in a time of war.

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  2. You're right, of course, Tom. It's just like his insistence that we don't torture, because the prohibition against torture doesn't forbid waterboarding.

    It's frustrating that in a situation where the terrorist is now talking freely, encouraged by his family to cooperate, without any "enhanced interrogation" at all, we have an "enhanced interrogation" apologist telling us that five weeks was way too long to wait.

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  3. "It's just like his insistence that we don't torture, because the prohibition against torture doesn't forbid waterboarding.

    I thought Barry signed the executive order that ended all enhanced interrogation? The USA does not torture. Are you guys saying that Barry did not prohibit waterboarding and other things that we do to terrorist that get you so worked up?

    Does the USA still torture people or not. Confused.

    As to the panty boy bomber, I have no use for him or any like him. If the administration wants to coddle him, have at it. When the next panty guy is successful, that administration will be toast along with the guys private parts and then we can get back to seriously defending our country against these nut jobs. It will then be confirmed again for all time that you do not turn the presidency over to democrats because they are weak. I would say Cheney will at that point be the top person in the USA polls.

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  4. This isn't an either/or situation. We can use information from people we've caught in acts of terrorism to stop those planning future acts of terrorism.

    After all, it seems to me that Abdulmutallab's information on the terrorist network would be a lot more reliable than that of random people pulled from a battlefield.

    He might lead us to those who are making the plans. We might be able to follow the chain right up to the top.

    It's at least as likely with someone known to be a terrorist as with someone merely suspected of being a terrorist.

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  5. Are you guys saying that Barry did not prohibit waterboarding and other things that we do to terrorist that get you so worked up?

    I have no idea what grave evils the Obama Administration is prepared to do in order that good may result. I'm not even sure they know what they're prepared to do.

    Still, I pray that God grant us Americans the moral vision and courage to make Torture 2012 unthinkable.

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  6. But Richard posted that Barry signed this executive order..

    From Executive Order 13491, signed January 22, 2009:
    Effective immediately, an individual in the custody or under the effective control of an officer, employee, or other agent of the United States Government, or detained within a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or agency of the United States, in any armed conflict, shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual 2 22.3

    So looks to me that we no longer have an issue with torture and you guys can rest easy and close down this blog. No more torture. And now we can see how well this policy works along with trying terrorist in civilial courts and bringing terrorist to NY. See if it matches the Bush Cheney record of no more attacks on our soil after 9/11...Oops, guess we already have had some with the guy shooting up the base. But of course that is not a terrorist according to the Barry administration. Right now the best thing we have going to prevent attack is prayer because we certainly have a weak administration defending us.

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  7. "So looks to me that we no longer have an issue with torture and you guys can rest easy and close down this blog."

    The issue is certainly not over, as there is still a significant amount of people who seem to think that being complicit in an intrinsic evil is just fine and dandy if you do it for a good cause. This executive order does not stop the consequentialism that is still running rampant amongst Catholics, even on EWTN.

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  8. That is because most people do not agree with you on torture. I would hardly call EWTN wrong on Catholic issues. My husband has been posting also on this and he works for the local Dioceses office about 50% of his time and finds that most there agree on this issue. Torture is not depriving of sleep or even waterboarding. Torture is what was done to McCain in Vietnam and what Saddam and his sons were doing on a routine basis in Iraq that many of you think was just fine to leave in place. Seems like only if America is defending ourself you guys have an issue.

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  9. Greta,

    So, had the North Vietnamese waterboarded John McCain, it wouldn't have been torture? What exactly would it be?

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  10. Some day, Americans who say "Torture is what bad people do" may come to understand that that's a major reason other Americans don't want Americans to torture.

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  11. Leo, if you read the McCain book, you would understand what torture is for he got torture full bore for years as did all of our prisoners who by the way were uniformed soldiers in war, not terrorist. There is a difference. Did the British torture the IRA members when they captured them? Absolutely and they took the position they were not prisoners of war, but terrorist. Your damn right they tortured the IRA, especially if they knew they had information to save lives.

    Tom, we have not tortured from anything I have seen proven to date. We waterboarded KSM, the scum who planned 9/11 and got from him information that saved lives. Some of you have said you do not get good information from these type of techniques, but we did with KSM and others. Torture is what bad people do as we saw with the torture chambers in Iraq that Sadaam used regularly and of course at the Hanoi Hilton as Leo so wisely noted above.

    In fact, I would like to know who the US has fought against who has not used torture as a weapon on prisoners? War does not produce the best in mankind. The USA is frankly the best of all time in how we care for prisoners at least after the US civil war where prisons were bad on both sides. Lincoln threatened to do the same to southern prisoners if black soldiers from the north were hanged or sent back to slavery.

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  12. "Leo, if you read the McCain book, you would understand what torture is for he got torture full bore for years as did all of our prisoners who by the way were uniformed soldiers in war, not terrorist."

    You didn't answer my question. If they had waterboarded him in Hanoi Hilton, would it have been torture?

    "There is a difference."

    Please explain the difference to me. Is it merely consequentialism? Because good can be gotten from doing bad, it is not bad any more?

    I hold to the Catholic churches teaching that the ends don't justify the means. So I do not find this a compelling argument. If what you are pruposing is something other than consequentialism, please explain.

    "In fact, I would like to know who the US has fought against who has not used torture as a weapon on prisoners? War does not produce the best in mankind."

    And they were wrong to do so, just as we are wrong when we use torture, regardless of whether it is a uniformed soldier or terrorist.

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  13. You did not answer the comment that what McCain had done to him was torture. Waterboarding would have been a walk in the park compared to what they did to him or what the Nazi or Japs did to our troops or the Chinese or Koreans or anyone else we have fought in a war.
    In my view, the church issue applies if we capture a legitimate soldier dressed in uniform in a war and torture them for no reason. A terrorist has no rights as far as I can see because they do not observe any moral law or legal law in fighting without uniform and not only without regard for innocent life, but in fact to target innocent life. They give up their rights at the door when they do these types of things.

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  14. "You did not answer the comment that what McCain had done to him was torture."

    I have never said that McCain was not tortured. I'm sure he was.

    "Waterboarding would have been a walk in the park compared to what they did to him or what the Nazi or Japs did to our troops or the Chinese or Koreans or anyone else we have fought in a war. "

    Well, regardless of how severe the pain of other torture techniques may have been, you still haven't answered my question. If John McCain was waterboarded, would it have been torture? If not, what would you call it?

    "In my view, the church issue applies if we capture a legitimate soldier dressed in uniform in a war and torture them for no reason."

    That's interesting, because nowhere does the Church say that the prohibition against torture only applies to uniformed soldiers. In fact, the Vatican (and the US, for that matter) are signatories on the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits torture of any person, not just uniformed soldiers.

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