September 22, 2006

Defending Your Life

I've been reading some of the commentary leveled against the deal reached between the Congress and the White House to continue to use coercive interrogation techniques to extract information from certain high-value terrorists we have captured.

I left a version of the following as a comment (not yet posted) at the ABC News Blog The Blotter in response to criticism of the program there, and I think it sums things up nicely:

...the simple fact of the matter, as Brian Ross has stated in other forums, is that the six techniques advocated for by the CIA do work very effectively. Ross has stated that 14 terrorists have been interrogated using these methods, and all 14 have given up useful intelligence that has saved American lives as a result. None of these terrorists have been permanently injured using these techniques. Not one.

The White House and Congress have merely asked that these effective techniques be continued, to save the lives of our friends and neighbors.

Most Americans have a Jacksonian view of dealing with our nation's enemies. We will afford every right and privilege afforded by the laws of war to an honorable enemy soldier captured on the field of battle. If you fight America honorably, we will treat your honorably, even though you are our enemy. At the same time, if our enemy dismisses the agreed upon common decencies and rights, there are no legal moral or ethical reasons that we should treat them with kidd gloves at the expense of our own lives.

If our enemies are dishonorable, attacking innocent men, woman, and children instead of legitimate targets, then our gloves will come of as well, and we have the right to engage you in total war with all the methods at our disposal to defeat you. And yet, the United States has conducted an exceedingly restrained and honorable war against terrorists and the nations that support terrorism.

Even though we have the unquestioned capability, we have not launched the large-scale carpet bombing campaigns against cities and civilian populations that we did in the Second World War. We use precision-guided weaponry whenever possible, with protection of even enemy-sympathetic citizenry always at the forefront of our mission planning. Our honored military veterans are fully aware of the great pains we take to minimize civilian casualties, even though the pains we take to ensure the safety of innocents often puts our soldiers lives at risk in exchange. We have without a doubt, and without contradiction, the most lethal and compassionate military force that this planet has ever seen.

But even though we are compassionate, we recognize that to survive as this great and compassionate nation, we cannot be weak and cowardly, as many would clearly like us to be.

The techniques we use are unpleasant and coercive, but they are not torture, and it is both dishonest and disheartening to see our own media attempting to blur the line in such a way to make all such life-saving intelligence gathering techniques a crime.

By their own repeated, long-standing and well-documented series of abuses of basic human rights and dignities, the terrorists we have captured have forfeited any right for human treatment, and yet we consistently treat them better than we do domestic criminals in our prisons and jails.

We are clearly on moral ground here, no matter how willing many people in our own nation are willing to give that ground away.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at September 22, 2006 11:27 AM | TrackBack

Your reasoning escapes me. How would eschewing the coercive techniques you applaud be in any way giving away the moral high ground? We give away that high ground when we treat prisoners dishonorably, even if they themselves are dishonorable.

My vision of America is that we're supposed to be an example for the world, even when it's tough to do. Anyone can walk the line between right and wrong; aren't we supposed to be the moral beacon that other countries refuse to be?


Posted by: Michael at September 22, 2006 08:21 PM

It is time for people to wake up. Polls show what the pollsters wish them to show "at that moment".
Fact is we had terrorists, not just knock on our door on 9/11, but crashed through our door and killed our family.
George Bush woke up, the rest of us simply turned over and went back to sleep.
Wake up!
Put it in smaller terms, if someone broke into YOUR house and killed YOUR family, would you demand law enforcement hunt them down or find em and "talk" to them? Would you expect those that aided them, hid them, fed them, clothed them and funded them to face justice also? Or would you "ask" them to stop helping?
America is OUR house, each state is a room in that house..... The terrorists broke into our house and killed 3,000 people...
George Bush woke up and did what I would hope any one of us would do... we started hunting, we gave them a choice, with us or against us in a war on terror.
When are the rest of us going to wake up?
I might not agree with every single decision made, but I back them because "I" am not the one that had to make that decision, Bush was.
For the record, I am a democrat and have been all my life, I did not vote for George Bush, but if given the option today... I would vote for him in a heartbeat.
He stuck by his guns, despite the "polls", he stayed consistent depsite the "polls", he showed backbone and spine, despite the "polls".
Wake up America and either stand behind one of the few people that is trying to keep us as safe as we can be, or shut up, sit down and stay the hell out of his way. Let him do the job that others are incapable or unwilling to do.
Wake up, this is not a dream or nightmare, this IS a war and we did not start it, but we damn well better be the ones standing at the end of it.
Wake up!

Posted by: Susan at September 22, 2006 09:29 PM

I just don't get it. Why are those who sould be the first lined up in the soccer stadiums to be decapitated by these facists so adimently defending them?

Posted by: doug at September 22, 2006 10:38 PM

I just don't get it. Why are those who would be the first lined up in the soccer stadiums to be decapitated by these facists so adimently defending them?

Posted by: doug at September 22, 2006 10:39 PM

The democrats should be really happy about this deal. They were on the hook for the next attack onb the country by providing aide and comfort to the enemy for the past 5 years. Now McCain and company will have to share the responsibility for thousands of deaths. Why didn't they just go to Iran, stick a gun to the head of a few hundred American soldiers and shoot them. It will have the same effect and the blood will now be on McCain and company's hands along with the democrats.

Posted by: Scrapiron at September 23, 2006 12:11 AM

If the interrogation methods elicted useful information from 14 out of 14 detainees, all I can say is keep doing what works. Think of the innocent lives saved, by thwarting future plots.

Posted by: Tom TB at September 23, 2006 07:04 AM

Let's expand the discussion. Suppose that the authorities find out that a group of high school kids is going to pull off an attack on their classmates. Not farfetched; it has happened more than once. In order to save lives, do the cops have your okay to use these same "alternative interrogation techniques" on the suspects?

Posted by: Michael at September 23, 2006 08:41 AM

You live in a rosey world that will likely never be challenged in a real manner except for the weeds growing in your front yard. In the real world bad things happen. Their is no "high ground". Cops do elict information from suspects using coercive techniques. Grow up.

Posted by: David Caskey at September 23, 2006 10:27 AM

Michael lives in a world where if someone aims a gun at a police officer, the cop is supposed to shoot the gun out of the bad guy's hand....hitting only the gun and not the hand....

Posted by: Specter at September 23, 2006 11:03 AM

Thanks, everyone, for telling me what world I live in. Now have the balls to answer the original question.

Also: try to spell correctly. Have some pride.


Posted by: Michael at September 23, 2006 02:28 PM

Moral high ground? Moral beacon? I worked at two 110 story towers in lower Manhattan that employed people from all over the world; it was called the World Trade Center, and was a beacon, and was destroyed by sub-humans that kill until they are killed first. What part of this story don't you understand?

Posted by: Tom TB at September 23, 2006 06:31 PM

Well, Tom, I'm guessing that I'm understanding more of the story than you do, judging by what you've written.

If the enemy's actions make them disgusting to us and worthy of contempt the world over--as they do--then why on earth are we proposing to be contemptible in return?

When we caught Nazi war criminals, we tried them and, when they were convicted, they were executed. Note, however, that we didn't put them into prison camps, perform experiments on them, and starve them to death. We didn't sink to their level. That would have been repulsive.

In this country we bring hundreds of thousands--perhaps millions--of evildoers to justice each year without resorting to torture.

If I do the same things that I condemn the enemy for, then I am no better than the enemy.

Anyway: you don't see the U.S. as a moral beacon for the world? Why do you hate America?

Posted by: Michael at September 23, 2006 07:37 PM

They create a wasteland and call it progress.

--Celtic proverb

Posted by: anne johnson at September 23, 2006 08:26 PM


How about if somebody grows some balls and actually answers the question?


Posted by: Michael at September 23, 2006 09:07 PM

Michael, using your example of the high school students, what methods of interrogation would you approve? If your methods failed to produce results and the attack occurs, what would your response be to the parents of the kids that are killed or injured?

The methods listed by the administration are harsh, but they aren't "torture".

You've condemned the current list of interrogation methods, I think we really need to know how far apart we are before deciding whether any further attempt to discuss this with you is worthwhile, or just a waste of time.

Posted by: SouthernRoots at September 23, 2006 10:48 PM


Thanks for the civil reply. I disagree with you, however--the question is still what methods you (or, if you're not a supporter of pseudotorture techniques, those who are) would approve.

Can we cut the kids' fingers off one at a time until they talk? No? But what if that will give us the names of the others in the plot? What if we have medical supervision? Okay, skip that. What about slipping bamboo shoots under the fingernails? That's an oldie but a goodie.

Do the ends justify any means? Any at all?

What we tell the parents is that we couldn't get any information out of the kids, but that we'll keep trying. That excuse worked for a long, long time--right up until the current administration stepped over that line and then used its media blitz to justify it.

In the past, people understood that there were things that The Bad Guys did to elicit information that we wouldn't--that's one of the things that made them the Bad Guys. That useful mark of delineation no longer exists, or it has been blurred.

I haven't condemned the gamut of interrogation techniques that are being used. That's the point. There's a whole bunch of stuff out there that has been used successfully for years. Why push the envelope while simultaneously making ourselves less than we were as a society?

I'm still shaking my head at the contempt with which Tom TB dismissed the idea of our doing the right thing in this world because that's what the United States is supposed to stand for. There used to be a list of things that we represented that, in our hearts, raised us above the level of the shmoes who populated the rest of the world. Now all we're about is kicking ass. That's not as lofty, nor as stirring to the soul.

Posted by: Michael at September 24, 2006 09:08 AM

Michael, we are doing the right thing in the world; the Kurds in Iraq no longer have to fear being hit by nerve gas. Al-qaeda is stateless, Osama bin-Ladin was stripped of his citizenship, as were many other members. The Nations of their birth don't want them back! We have to treat them as pirates, armed and always presumed dangerous.

Posted by: Tom TB at September 24, 2006 09:43 AM

Michael, we are at an impass. Every time you are asked about what methods you would approve, you ignore the question and jump right into cutting off fingers, bamboo under the fingernails, etc.

You seem to feel that there aren't any effective interrogation methods short of torture and that the United States will always skip these tough interrogation methods and head straight for the torture. Every post you made has jumped to this conclusion.

Until you acknowledge that there are effective interrogation methods that are not toruture, and that we have a right to use those methods to try to gain critical information for the protection of our citizens, we are very far apart on finding any common ground.

Posted by: SouthernRoots at September 24, 2006 09:55 AM

SouthernRoots, your point is well taken. There are all kinds of things that we all accept: sleep deprivation, good cop/bad cop, et cetera. I know it's against the law, but, in certain circumstances, I can even see allowing interrogators to rough the subjects up to a certain extent.

At the other end of the spectrum are the things I've mentioned. The reason I keep going there, though, is that I don't hear people repudiating them. All people say when dismay is expressed at things like waterboarding is, "What world do you live in?" and "What part of this don't you understand?" These folks seem to feel that anything--literally ANYTHING--goes in the name of getting information. I don't see or hear anyone drawing the proverbial line in the sand beyond which we as a society will not go.

The Administration continues to move the line and then say, "This is okay."

Where do you draw the line? What is not okay?


Posted by: Michael at September 24, 2006 11:04 AM

Michael, I think you are wrong. Many people have said that they do not condone torture. There has been dispute over what exactly constitutes "torture". As O'Reilly has pointed out, only being allowed to ask "Name, rank, and jihadi number" is unacceptable in efforts to stop the next attack. Causing severe or permanent physical pain or injury is not acceptable either. What the debate has been about is, "What is legal between those extremes?"

There are "hardliners" that would like to see more extreme measures and there are "softliners" that would like to see virtually no coersion methods at all.

Personally, I'm not big on torture, but attacks on our financial, governmental, or military institutions, large (or small) scale bombings of shopping malls, destruction of loaded airliners, and biological or nuclear attacks on our cities is more unacceptable to me than the discomfort of known terrorists captured (not "arrested") in war zone.

Posted by: SouthernRoots at September 25, 2006 12:45 PM