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vulture
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Torture and the U.S. Intelligence Failure article at Stratfor. Article below, just for good measure:

(Incidentally, heard a snippet on BBC radio yesterday that one high ranking AQ suspect was subject to waterbording 180 times in one month. Being drowned 6 times a day is a pretty intense introductory experience...)

quote:

The Obama administration published a series of memoranda on torture issued under the Bush administration. The memoranda, most of which dated from the period after 9/11, authorized measures including depriving prisoners of solid food, having them stand shackled and in uncomfortable positions, leaving them in cold cells with inadequate clothing, slapping their heads and/or abdomens, and telling them that their families might be harmed if they didn’t cooperate with their interrogators.

On the scale of human cruelty, these actions do not rise anywhere near the top. At the same time, anyone who thinks that being placed without food in a freezing cell subject to random mild beatings — all while being told that your family might be joining you — isn’t agonizing clearly lacks imagination. The treatment of detainees could have been worse. It was terrible nonetheless.
Torture and the Intelligence Gap

But torture is meant to be terrible, and we must judge the torturer in the context of his own desperation. In the wake of 9/11, anyone who wasn’t terrified was not in touch with reality. We know several people who now are quite blasé about 9/11. Unfortunately for them, we knew them in the months after, and they were not nearly as composed then as they are now.

Sept. 11 was terrifying for one main reason: We had little idea about al Qaeda’s capabilities. It was a very reasonable assumption that other al Qaeda cells were operating in the United States and that any day might bring follow-on attacks. (Especially given the group’s reputation for one-two attacks.) We still remember our first flight after 9/11, looking at our fellow passengers, planning what we would do if one of them moved. Every time a passenger visited the lavatory, one could see the tensions soar.

And while Sept. 11 was frightening enough, there were ample fears that al Qaeda had secured a “suitcase bomb” and that a nuclear attack on a major U.S. city could come at any moment. For individuals, such an attack was simply another possibility. We remember staying at a hotel in Washington close to the White House and realizing that we were at ground zero — and imagining what the next moment might be like. For the government, however, the problem was having scraps of intelligence indicating that al Qaeda might have a nuclear weapon, but not having any way of telling whether those scraps had any value. The president and vice president accordingly were continually kept at different locations, and not for any frivolous reason.

This lack of intelligence led directly to the most extreme fears, which in turn led to extreme measures. Washington simply did not know very much about al Qaeda and its capabilities and intentions in the United States. A lack of knowledge forces people to think of worst-case scenarios. In the absence of intelligence to the contrary after 9/11, the only reasonable assumption was that al Qaeda was planning more — and perhaps worse — attacks.

Collecting intelligence rapidly became the highest national priority. Given the genuine and reasonable fears, no action in pursuit of intelligence was out of the question, so long as it promised quick answers. This led to the authorization of torture, among other things. Torture offered a rapid means to accumulate intelligence, or at least — given the time lag on other means — it was something that had to be tried.
Torture and the Moral Question

And this raises the moral question. The United States is a moral project: its Declaration of Independence and Constitution state that. The president takes an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. The Constitution does not speak to the question of torture of non-citizens, but it implies an abhorrence of rights violations (at least for citizens). But the Declaration of Independence contains the phrase, “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” This indicates that world opinion matters.

At the same time, the president is sworn to protect the Constitution. In practical terms, this means protecting the physical security of the United States “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Protecting the principles of the declaration and the Constitution are meaningless without regime preservation and defending the nation.

While this all makes for an interesting seminar in political philosophy, presidents — and others who have taken the same oath — do not have the luxury of the contemplative life. They must act on their oaths, and inaction is an action. Former U.S. President George W. Bush knew that he did not know the threat, and that in order to carry out his oath, he needed very rapidly to find out the threat. He could not know that torture would work, but he clearly did not feel that he had the right to avoid it.

Consider this example. Assume you knew that a certain individual knew the location of a nuclear device planted in an American city. The device would kill hundreds of thousands of Americans, but he individual refused to divulge the information. Would anyone who had sworn the oath have the right not to torture the individual? Torture might or might not work, but either way, would it be moral to protect the individual’s rights while allowing hundreds of thousands to die? It would seem that in this case, torture is a moral imperative; the rights of the one with the information cannot transcend the life of a city.
Torture in the Real World

But here is the problem: You would not find yourself in this situation. Knowing a bomb had been planted, knowing who knew that the bomb had been planted, and needing only to apply torture to extract this information is not how the real world works. Post-9/11, the United States knew much less about the extent of the threat from al Qaeda. This hypothetical sort of torture was not the issue.

Discrete information was not needed, but situational awareness. The United States did not know what it needed to know, it did not know who was of value and who wasn’t, and it did not know how much time it had. Torture thus was not a precise solution to a specific problem: It became an intelligence-gathering technique. The nature of the problem the United States faced forced it into indiscriminate intelligence gathering. When you don’t know what you need to know, you cast a wide net. And when torture is included in the mix, it is cast wide as well. In such a case, you know you will be following many false leads — and when you carry torture with you, you will be torturing people with little to tell you. Moreover, torture applied by anyone other than well-trained, experienced personnel (who are in exceptionally short supply) will only compound these problems, and make the practice less productive.

Defenders of torture frequently seem to believe that the person in custody is known to have valuable information, and that this information must be forced out of him. His possession of the information is proof of his guilt. The problem is that unless you have excellent intelligence to begin with, you will become engaged in developing baseline intelligence, and the person you are torturing may well know nothing at all. Torture thus becomes not only a waste of time and a violation of decency, it actually undermines good intelligence. After a while, scooping up suspects in a dragnet and trying to extract intelligence becomes a substitute for competent intelligence techniques — and can potentially blind the intelligence service. This is especially true as people will tell you what they think you want to hear to make torture stop.

Critics of torture, on the other hand, seem to assume the torture was brutality for the sake of brutality instead of a desperate attempt to get some clarity on what might well have been a catastrophic outcome. The critics also cannot know the extent to which the use of torture actually prevented follow-on attacks. They assume that to the extent that torture was useful, it was not essential; that there were other ways to find out what was needed. In the long run, they might have been correct. But neither they, nor anyone else, had the right to assume in late 2001 that there was a long run. One of the things that wasn’t known was how much time there was.
The U.S. Intelligence Failure

The endless argument over torture, the posturing of both critics and defenders, misses the crucial point. The United States turned to torture because it has experienced a massive intelligence failure reaching back a decade. The U.S. intelligence community simply failed to gather sufficient information on al Qaeda’s intentions, capability, organization and personnel. The use of torture was not part of a competent intelligence effort, but a response to a massive intelligence failure.

That failure was rooted in a range of miscalculations over time. There was the public belief that the end of the Cold War meant the United States didn’t need a major intelligence effort, a point made by the late Sen. Daniel Moynihan. There were the intelligence people who regarded Afghanistan as old news. There was the Torricelli amendment that made recruiting people with ties to terrorist groups illegal without special approval. There were the Middle East experts who could not understand that al Qaeda was fundamentally different from anything seen before. The list of the guilty is endless, and ultimately includes the American people, who always seem to believe that the view of the world as a dangerous place is something made up by contractors and bureaucrats.

Bush was handed an impossible situation on Sept. 11, after just nine months in office. The country demanded protection, and given the intelligence shambles he inherited, he reacted about as well or badly as anyone else might have in the situation. He used the tools he had, and hoped they were good enough.

The problem with torture — as with other exceptional measures — is that it is useful, at best, in extraordinary situations. The problem with all such techniques in the hands of bureaucracies is that the extraordinary in due course becomes the routine, and torture as a desperate stopgap measure becomes a routine part of the intelligence interrogator’s tool kit.

At a certain point, the emergency was over. U.S. intelligence had focused itself and had developed an increasingly coherent picture of al Qaeda, with the aid of allied Muslim intelligence agencies, and was able to start taking a toll on al Qaeda. The war had become routinized, and extraordinary measures were no longer essential. But the routinization of the extraordinary is the built-in danger of bureaucracy, and what began as a response to unprecedented dangers became part of the process. Bush had an opportunity to move beyond the emergency. He didn’t.

If you know that an individual is loaded with information, torture can be a useful tool. But if you have so much intelligence that you already know enough to identify the individual is loaded with information, then you have come pretty close to winning the intelligence war. That’s not when you use torture. That’s when you simply point out to the prisoner that, “for you the war is over.” You lay out all you already know and how much you know about him. That is as demoralizing as freezing in a cell — and helps your interrogators keep their balance.

U.S. President Barack Obama has handled this issue in the style to which we have become accustomed, and which is as practical a solution as possible. He has published the memos authorizing torture to make this entirely a Bush administration problem while refusing to prosecute anyone associated with torture, keeping the issue from becoming overly divisive. Good politics perhaps, but not something that deals with the fundamental question.

The fundamental question remains unanswered, and may remain unanswered. When a president takes an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” what are the limits on his obligation? We take the oath for granted. But it should be considered carefully by anyone entering this debate, particularly for presidents.


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Lobo
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Another article for some additional context.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124018665408933455.html

====================
The four memos on CIA interrogation released by the White House last week reveal a cautious and conservative Justice Department advising a CIA that cared deeply about staying within the law. Far from "green lighting" torture -- or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees -- the memos detail the actual techniques used and the many measures taken to ensure that interrogations did not cause severe pain or degradation.

Interrogations were to be "continuously monitored" and "the interrogation team will stop the use of particular techniques or the interrogation altogether if the detainee's medical or psychological conditions indicates that the detainee might suffer significant physical or mental harm."

An Aug. 1, 2002, memo describes the practice of "walling" -- recently revealed in a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which suggested that detainees wore a "collar" used to "forcefully bang the head and body against the wall" before and during interrogation. In fact, detainees were placed with their backs to a "flexible false wall," designed to avoid inflicting painful injury. Their shoulder blades -- not head -- were the point of contact, and the "collar" was used not to give additional force to a blow, but further to protect the neck.

The memo says the point was to inflict psychological uncertainty, not physical pain: "the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action."

Shackling and confinement in a small space (generally used to create discomfort and muscle fatigue) were also part of the CIA program, but they were subject to stringent time and manner limitations. Abu Zubaydah (a top bin Laden lieutenant) had a fear of insects. He was, therefore, to be put in a "cramped confinement box" and told a stinging insect would be put in the box with him. In fact, the CIA proposed to use a harmless caterpillar. Confinement was limited to two hours.

The memos are also revealing about the practice of "waterboarding," about which there has been so much speculative rage from the program's opponents. The practice, used on only three individuals, involved covering the nose and mouth with a cloth and pouring water over the cloth to create a drowning sensation.

This technique could be used for up to 40 seconds -- although the CIA orally informed Justice Department lawyers that it would likely not be used for more than 20 seconds at a time. Unlike the exaggerated claims of so many Bush critics, the memos make clear that water was not actually expected to enter the detainee's lungs, and that measures were put in place to prevent complications if this did happen and to ensure that the individual did not develop respiratory distress.

All of these interrogation methods have been adapted from the U.S. military's own Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (or SERE) training program, and have been used for years on thousands of American service members with the full knowledge of Congress. This has created a large body of information about the effect of these techniques, on which the CIA was able to draw in assessing the likely impact on the detainees and ensuring that no severe pain or long term psychological impact would result.

The actual intelligence benefits of the CIA program are also detailed in these memos. The CIA believed, evidently with good reason, that the enhanced interrogation program had indeed produced actionable intelligence about al Qaeda's plans. First among the resulting successes was the prevention of a "second wave" of al Qaeda attacks, to be carried out by an "east Asian" affiliate, which would have involved the crashing of another airplane into a building in Los Angeles.

The interrogation techniques described in these memos are indisputably harsh, but they fall well short of "torture." They were developed and deployed at a time of supreme peril, as a means of preventing future attacks on innocent civilians both in the U.S. and abroad.

The dedicated public servants at the CIA and Justice Department -- who even the Obama administration has concluded should not be prosecuted -- clearly cared intensely about staying within the law as well as protecting the American homeland. These memos suggest that they achieved both goals in a manner fully consistent with American values.

==========================

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TomDavidson
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quote:
The four memos on CIA interrogation released by the White House last week reveal a cautious and conservative Justice Department advising a CIA that cared deeply about staying within the law.
Hm. I've read those memos, and don't draw the same conclusion. I suppose it's unsurprising.
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KnightEnder
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quote:
President Obama says it's up to attorney general to prosecute Bush lawyers who OK'd tactics

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The Drake
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quote:
All of these interrogation methods have been adapted from the U.S. military's own Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (or SERE) training program, and have been used for years on thousands of American service members with the full knowledge of Congress. This has created a large body of information about the effect of these techniques, on which the CIA was able to draw in assessing the likely impact on the detainees and ensuring that no severe pain or long term psychological impact would result.
That's a pretty hard conclusion to draw. The military personnel undergoing SERE training know that their captors are not going to permanently harm them. Also, SERE training lasts three weeks - not seven years and counting.
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RickyB
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266 waterboardings of two people. Wasn't that supposed to break you within minutes? Not that I care much that a vermin like KSM got abused, but it's quite shameful that we needed 83 waterboardings of a certified raving lunatic like Abu Zubaydah before we realized that this billygoat ain't givin' no milk.
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kenmeer livermaile
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I do.

"Inazzmuch as ye duzz it to the least of yezz, yezz doin' it unto me." Popeye the Christly Man

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G2
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quote:
Originally posted by The Drake:
quote:
All of these interrogation methods have been adapted from the U.S. military's own Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (or SERE) training program, and have been used for years on thousands of American service members with the full knowledge of Congress. This has created a large body of information about the effect of these techniques, on which the CIA was able to draw in assessing the likely impact on the detainees and ensuring that no severe pain or long term psychological impact would result.
That's a pretty hard conclusion to draw. The military personnel undergoing SERE training know that their captors are not going to permanently harm them. Also, SERE training lasts three weeks - not seven years and counting.
You really aren't that sure of such a thing. It's pretty realistic, not everyone makes it.
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Omega M.
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:

quote:
The four memos on CIA interrogation released by the White House last week reveal a cautious and conservative Justice Department advising a CIA that cared deeply about staying within the law.
Hm. I've read those memos, and don't draw the same conclusion. I suppose it's unsurprising.
Am I the only one who finds one-line replies like this annoying? Surely for any conclusion one draws, there are others who "don't draw the same conclusion."
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kenmeer livermaile
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"President Obama says it's up to attorney general to prosecute Bush lawyers who OK'd tactics "

That's how I see this stuff playing out. Obama will stay out of it as much as possible until the proper moment to bring the bully pulpit to bear. Staying out of such things increasing his partisan neutrality and makes the wagon to which congress-critters and the like might hitch their star more easy to do so because of minimal ideologically charged baggage.

('baggage/hitch to wagon': sometimes mixing metaphors makes them more not less unified)

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The Drake
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quote:
Originally posted by G2:
You really aren't that sure of such a thing. It's pretty realistic, not everyone makes it.

I don't know what you mean by the first sentence. And yes, SERE is very hard for those who go through it. They are not instantly captured and exposed to simulated torture, they do a survive and evade segment first. And they still have it easier than the innocent goat herders we've been waterboarding.
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Lobo
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More info:

WASHINGTON (CNN) – In a previously undisclosed private memo, President Obama's intelligence director told colleagues that enhanced interrogation techniques used by the Bush administration yielded important information that helped America deal with the threat of terrorism.

"High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country," the Director of National Intelligence, retired Admiral Dennis Blair, told colleagues in the two-page memo April 16.

That sentence was not included in a shorter one-page statement Blair's office gave to the media last Thursday, the same day Obama released previously top secret Bush administration memos laying out Republican lawyers' rationale for why they believed the interrogations were legal. Obama officially banned the techniques during his first week in office, with his aides charging it amounted to illegal torture.

Republican officials who provided the Blair memo to CNN are alleging the failure to include that sentence suggests the Obama administration deliberately did not tell the public the whole story about the potential benefits of the interrogations last week, a charge hotly disputed by Blair spokeswoman Wendy Morigi.

Morigi told CNN the memo and the media statement were two entirely different documents and there was nothing nefarious about the sentence being left out. She also released a written statement by Blair suggesting that while the interrogations did yield some valuable information, it was outweighed by the negative aspects of the tactics.


"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means," Blair said in the prepared statement. "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

Blair added that he supported the release of the Bush memos, as well as Obama's decision to officially ban the interrogations. "We do not need these techniques to keep American safe," he said.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney this week called Obama's release of the Bush memos "disturbing" and charged the administration is sitting on other CIA memos that would show that the interrogations helped stop terror attacks.

"They didn't put out the memos that show the success of the effort and there are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity," Cheney told Fox News on Monday. "They have not been declassified."

In his private memo, Blair stopped short of agreeing with the contention pushed by Cheney and other former Bush officials that the information gleaned from the enhanced interrogations yieled intelligence that actually prevented terror attacks.

Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs side-stepped whether other memos referred to by Cheney actually exist, and said the former Vice President's request for de-classifiation is a continuation of a long battle on substance.

"That policy disagreement is whether or not you can uphold the values in which this country was founded at the same time that you protect the citizens that live in that country," Gibbs said. "The President of the United States in this administration believes that you can."

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JoshCrow
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I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I'm with Cheney on this one. Not because I approve of torture, but because if you're going to take a stance against torture, you should have the balls to do it in the face of a positive outcome from a torture session.

I think Obama is opening a door that should stay shut. No good will come of prosecuting Bush-era events in this way. However one feels about torture, I don't think anybody but the extreme left feels that it was done frivolously or in a fashion that was not attempting to protect the U.S. This is a big mistake, and a black mark for the prez.

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kenmeer livermaile
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Money quote (emphases mine)

"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means," Blair said in the prepared statement. "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

I've been ****ing my dogs in the ass the past week to improve the local Spokane economy. Report yesterday said the Spokane real estate market experienced its biggest uptick in history during Feb/March.

Screwing the pooch works!

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kenmeer livermaile
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"Am I the only one who finds one-line replies like this annoying? Surely for any conclusion one draws, there are others who "don't draw the same conclusion."

It's a polite way of saying 'Sez You'. Considering that what it rebuts was phrased as fact not opinion, it's good counterpoint.

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kenmeer livermaile
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"You really aren't that sure of such a thing. It's pretty realistic, not everyone makes it."

Dumbest Comment of Week Award.

Beyond stupid, veering across the event horizon of raw WTF?!?????

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cherrypoptart
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It's too bad we can't find out who all the people were who were saved because we waterboarded terrorists and stopped the NYC bridge attack and the L.A. building attack that would have come with the second wave.

Then instead of waterboarding terrorists, we could round all those people up and burn the ones from L.A., or throw them off of a building, and then personally watch the people from New York die by drowning instead of pouring water over the heads of known terrorists.

An ACLU spokesperson said specifically that it doesn't matter if the waterborading stopped attacks. Obama seems to agree because he refuses to release the information Dick Cheney says proves emphatically that the harsh interrogation techniques did exactly that.

Well, the good thing is that if another attack happens, we'll be able to look on the internet and see the names and faces of all the victims just like we can for the victims of 9-11, and we'll know that when we waterboarded we didn't get killed, and when we stopped, we did. And we'll know exactly the people to blame.

------------------------------------------

On that day, people will wonder if the whole point wasn't to get us hit again, on purpose, by someone on the inside at the highest levels doing everything that person could to disarm America, starting with attacks on the integrity and honor of veterans, then emasculating the CIA, and finally investigating, bringing to trial, and imprisoning the people who kept us safe so far for all these years after 9-11. Until that day.

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TomDavidson
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1) We aren't just waterboarding known terrorists.
2) If your logic is that we have done evil to prevent greater evil, wouldn't it make more sense to do greater evil to prevent even greater evil? Why stop at waterboarding? Why not threaten to nuke Mecca?

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kenmeer livermaile
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That this debate is consistently revived, and by the same predictable entities, is one of those things that makes me confront the fact from which I would flee:

we have met the terrorists and they be us.

Crazy crazy ****.

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kenmeer livermaile
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I wonder how this:

"An ACLU spokesperson said specifically that it doesn't matter if the waterborading stopped attacks. Obama seems to agree because he refuses to release the information Dick Cheney says proves emphatically that the harsh interrogation techniques did exactly that."

interfaces with state secrets privilege claims?

Also, I wonder on what basis rests cherry's premise that there IS evidence that would prove it?

If you reread Blair's statement, you see that we are in the position of proving a negative, because once you've gone for torture first there's no going back to see if another method would've worked on the guy.

I DO know that I'm glad my auto mechanic doesn't follow torture logic just because he doesn't have the manual for that model.

Hammering the thing with a ballpeen won't fix it.

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kenmeer livermaile
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"Why not threaten to nuke Mecca? "

Now you;re talking, and I'm slightly serious. In other words: if you gonna be badass about it, be BADASS!

These halfway creepazoid measures are wimpy and ineffective and ickypoo.

Kick a man's ass, KICK IT!

Buncha whiners...

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cherrypoptart
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Who was the guy who wasn't a terrorist that got waterboarded?
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TomDavidson
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Google is your friend, cherry. There's at least one prominent court case about this.
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The Drake
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So, among the claim is that waterboarding led to information that broke up a cell that was planning an attack in Los Angeles.

First, with new flight restrictions, how could this have been successful? Would we have been able to stop such an attack without the torture?

Second, all these guys were picked up shortly after 9/11. CIA claims waterboarding was only used on three individuals - which I have my doubts about. Are we going to attribute our safety over seven years to people who had no operational contact that entire time?

Third, how many resources were wasted chasing down the other 265 leads from the other times KSM was waterboarded?

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Wayward Son
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Keith Olbermann makes a strong case that waterboarding is torture--period.

I especially like the one commentator who, while slapping his palm on the desk, declares: "This is America! We don't torture!" Does anyone recognize who that was?

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MattP
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If it's the video I saw recently it's Shepherd Smith from Fox News.
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Wayward Son
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Thanks, Matt. I knew it was one of those pinkos who want to destroy our country in any way possible... [Smile]
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vulture
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An article from today's 'Independent' (UK newspaper, for those who don't know)

quote:

Torture? It probably killed more Americans than 9/11

A US major reveals the inside story of military interrogation in Iraq. By Patrick Cockburn, winner of the 2009 Orwell Prize for journalism

The use of torture by the US has proved so counter-productive that it may have led to the death of as many US soldiers as civilians killed in 9/11, says the leader of a crack US interrogation team in Iraq.

"The reason why foreign fighters joined al-Qa'ida in Iraq was overwhelmingly because of abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and not Islamic ideology," says Major Matthew Alexander, who personally conducted 300 interrogations of prisoners in Iraq. It was the team led by Major Alexander [a named assumed for security reasons] that obtained the information that led to the US military being able to locate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq. Zarqawi was then killed by bombs dropped by two US aircraft on the farm where he was hiding outside Baghdad on 7 June 2006. Major Alexander said that he learnt where Zarqawi was during a six-hour interrogation of a prisoner with whom he established relations of trust.

Major Alexander's attitude to torture by the US is a combination of moral outrage and professional contempt. "It plays into the hands of al-Qa'ida in Iraq because it shows us up as hypocrites when we talk about human rights," he says. An eloquent and highly intelligent man with experience as a criminal investigator within the US military, he says that torture is ineffective, as well as counter-productive. "People will only tell you the minimum to make the pain stop," he says. "They might tell you the location of a house used by insurgents but not that it is booby-trapped."

In his compelling book How to Break a Terrorist, Major Alexander explains that prisoners subjected to abuse usually clam up, say nothing, or provide misleading information. In an interview he was particularly dismissive of the "ticking bomb" argument often used in the justification of torture. This supposes that there is a bomb timed to explode on a bus or in the street which will kill many civilians. The authorities hold a prisoner who knows where the bomb is. Should they not torture him to find out in time where the bomb is before it explodes?

Major Alexander says he faced the "ticking time bomb" every day in Iraq because "we held people who knew about future suicide bombings". Leaving aside the moral arguments, he says torture simply does not work. "It hardens their resolve. They shut up." He points out that the FBI uses normal methods of interrogation to build up trust even when they are investigating a kidnapping and time is of the essence. He would do the same, he says, "even if my mother was on a bus" with a hypothetical ticking bomb on board. It is quite untrue to imagine that torture is the fastest way of obtaining information, he says.

A career officer, Major Alexander spent 14 years in the US air force, beginning by flying helicopters for special operations. He saw combat in Bosnia and Kosovo, was an air force counter-intelligence agent and criminal interrogator, and was stationed in Saudi Arabia, with an anti-terrorist role, during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some years later, the US army was short of interrogators. He wanted to help shape developments in Iraq and volunteered.

Arriving in Iraq in early 2006 he found that the team he was working with were mostly dedicated, but young, men between 18 and 24. "Many of them had never been out of the States before," he recalls. "When they sat down to interrogate somebody it was often the first time they had met a Muslim." In addition to these inexperienced officers, Major Alexander says there was "an old guard" of interrogators using the methods employed at Guantanamo. He could not say exactly what they had been doing for legal reasons, though in the rest of the interview he left little doubt that prisoners were being tortured and abused. The "old guard's" methods, he says, were based on instilling "fear and control" in a prisoner.

He refused to take part in torture and abuse, and forbade the team he commanded to use such methods. Instead, he says, he used normal US police interrogation techniques which are "based on relationship building and a degree of deception". He adds that the deception was often of a simple kind such as saying untruthfully that another prisoner has already told all.

Before he started interrogating insurgent prisoners in Iraq, he had been told that they were highly ideological and committed to establishing an Islamic caliphate in Iraq, Major Alexander says. In the course of the hundreds of interrogations carried out by himself, as well as more than 1,000 that he supervised, he found that the motives of both foreign fighters joining al-Qa'ida in Iraq and Iraqi-born members were very different from the official stereotype.

In the case of foreign fighters – recruited mostly from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and North Africa – the reason cited by the great majority for coming to Iraq was what they had heard of the torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. These abuses, not fundamentalist Islam, had provoked so many of the foreign fighters volunteering to become suicide bombers.

For Iraqi Sunni Arabs joining al-Qa'ida, the abuses played a role, but more often the reason for their recruitment was political rather than religious. They had taken up arms because the Shia Arabs were taking power; de-Baathification marginalised the Sunni and took away their jobs; they feared an Iranian takeover. Above all, al-Qa'ida was able to provide money and arms to the insurgents. Once, Major Alexander recalls, the top US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, came to visit the prison where he was working. Asking about what motivated the suspected al-Qa'ida prisoners, he was at first given the official story that they were Islamic Jihadi full of religious zeal. Major Alexander intervened to say that this really was not true and there was a much more complicated series of motivations at work. General Casey did not respond.

The objective of Major Alexander's team was to find Zarqawi, the Jordanian born leader of al-Qa'ida who built it into a fearsome organisation. Attempts by US military intelligence to locate him had failed despite three years of trying. Major Alexander was finally able to persuade one of Zarqawi's associates to give away his location because the associate had come to reject his methods, such as the mass slaughter of civilians.

What the major discovered was that many of the Sunni fighters were members of, or allied to, al-Qa'ida through necessity. They did not share its extreme, puritanical Sunni beliefs or hatred of the Shia majority. He says that General Casey had ignored his findings but he was pleased when General David Petraeus became commander in Iraq and began to take account of the real motives of the Sunni fighters. "He peeled back those Sunnis from al-Qa'ida," he says.

In the aftermath of his experience in Iraq, which he left at the end of 2006, Major Alexander came to believe that the battle against the US using torture was more important than the war in Iraq. He sees President Obama's declaration against torture as "a historic victory", though he is concerned about loopholes remaining and the lack of accountability of senior officers. Reflecting on his own interrogations, he says he always monitored his actions by asking himself, "If the enemy was doing this to one of my troops, would I consider it torture?" His overall message is that the American people do not have to make a choice between torture and terror.


How to Break a Terrorist: The US interrogators who used brains, not brutality, to take down the deadliest man in Iraq, by Matthew Alexander and John R Bruning (The Free Press)



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Kuato
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Like I said, we should have used honey.
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