Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: Reductio Ad Absurdum

May 22, 2009


Yeah, yeah, yeah… The debate rages about Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT). And as with all too many debates (no matter how stupid), the answer can be found via “reductio ad absurdum” – the debating technique that destroys a particular opinion by looking at the necessary ramifications of that position.

So let’s say that we catch Bin Laden. Obviously, he’s going to be a treasure trove of info about terrorist activity. I think it’s safe to say that no one will debate that. And once again, it’s obvious that immediate national and global security issues are hanging in the balance. So what do we do to get info out of him? (All you liberals out there… What would you do?) Should we play nice? Keep him warm safe, fed, and well-cared for? Or should we scrape the intel out of the piece of excrement come discomfort or high water (pun intended) and in doing so perhaps save tens of thousands of innocent lives?

Look… If you say that we don’t use future EIT (like waterboarding which we use on our own United States Navy Seals by the way) on folks like Bin Laden, so be it. I think that you’re nuts… But so be it.

On the other hand, if  you do condone EIT’s future use on UBL, but condemn its past use on slime like Khalid Sheik Mohammed (mastermind of 9/11 and braggart who boasts of cutting off reporter Danial Pearl’s head)… Well… Your debate has been reduced to the absurd.


Alan Speakman

The Democrats’ Waterboarding Problem

May 13, 2009


Hard on the heels of my last post comes this interesting take from Legal Insurrection:

“Many Democrats in Congress have pushed for release of documents and the holding of hearings on waterboarding and other interrogation methods. Putting aside for now whether the release of such information should take place, it appears that Obama started the ball rolling down hill by releasing the interrogation memos. Barring active intervention by Obama, there will be some further level of document release, Congressional investigations, and public hearings.

This presents a problem mostly for Democrats. Republicans who were briefed on the interrogation methods at least will be consistent, for the most part, in maintaining that the methods were lawful and useful. No Republican is going to be harmed politically by the revelations because most Americans support these methods against people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed…

For Democrats, however, the damage could be significant. Nancy Pelosi already has lost a great deal of credibility from her changing stories. Dozens of other Democrats, including such senior Senators as Jay Rockefeller, apparently also were briefed on the interrogation methods and either were silent, approved, or encouraged the policy.

This whole issue is a game-changer, and I expect that we’ll be seeing an invisible backlash on it — invisble in the same sense that the Tea Parties were invisible to many: with little to no media coverage, mockery and name-calling by clueless celebrities, a President in denial… 

Quietly, we may see the trend drift toward new faces contesting the firmly-entrenched insiders in the 2010 elections; we may see many of the old guard decide it’s time to “spend more time with the family” rather than face re-election; we may even see a few more party switches a la Arlen Specter (yes, Olympia Snowe, I’m talking about you!). In the long run, these are all good things.

The Legal Insurrection piece ends with a prediction, which sounds just about right to me:

Here’s my prediction of what will happen if Democrats push the investigation to the bitter end causing damage to national security, a political death match with the CIA, and Democrat-on-Democrat finger pointing:

Stenny Hoyer, Speaker; Jane Harman, Majority Leader; Nancy Pelosi, Chair of the House sub-committee on fresh water fisheries; Republicans, unexpected gains in 2010 mid-term elections.

Time will tell, but I sure like the mental picture of Nancy Pelosi on the sub-committee on fresh water fisheries. After all, how much harm could she do there?


Is Waterboarding Torture?

May 2, 2009

You’ve heard the question umpteen times… Is waterboarding torture?

Perhaps the more pertinent question is, “Do we torture our military recruits and civilian prisoners?

The simple fact is that we use techniques akin to (if not identical to or even worse than) waterboarding on our own special forces recruits. I went to college with a retired Navy Seal, and he described one of the training exercises used on him:

The instructors would seal him in a large drum and fill it full of water leaving just a few inches of air. As long as my buddy would stand on his tip toes and keep his head cocked backward, he could breath in the darkness. If he didn’t keep his act together, he’d start to drown – for real. (The deal was that if the instructors heard thrashing inside, they’d wait a minute, drain the container and drag out the trainee.) Was that torture? No. Extraordinarily uncomfortable and frightening? Absolutely.

Rough interrogation? Screaming? Sleep deprivation? Physical abuse? Welcome to USMC boot camp. (The exercise in which recruits are locked in a shed and forced to endure tear gas is particularly harsh and gross.) But still, it isn’t torture. What’s more, I’d bet dimes to donuts that 99% of all “Devil-Dogs-To-Be” would much prefer being locked in box with a bug than being locked in a shed with tear gas.

And what of harsh treatment where there is no free will whatsoever? Four words: “western civilization penal systems”. But that’s still not torture. (Though being tasered or worse yet stuck in solitary confinement repeatedly would tend to dent one’s karma.)

In short, we need to be very careful about tossing around the word “torture” for a given set of procedures when we as a culture use those exact same techniques (or worse) under a myriad of conditions on our fellow citizens without even conjuring the word. There’s an intellectual disconnect afoot.

No, methinks that those who protest the stuff of waterboarding protest too much. In the case of Nancy “Selective Memory” Pelosi and her ilk, I’d bet the heart of the matter is politics. For others it’s probably unthink – those who put the activities in American prisons and boot camps into a different cognitive box. But there is no doubt, that there is a significant and disturbing bunch who just don’t like America, and will follow virtually any agenda that aids in the self-flagellation for past national sins (both real and contrived), and at the same time swim the “oh so warm” waters of smug intellectual superiority.

Bottom line? Are acts like waterboarding torture? Considering the simple fact that we put many of our own through equal or worse (for whatever reason), of course not. Unpleasant in the extreme for sure, but not torture. And therefore those acts are certainly not torturous as we apply them to an enemy determined to annihilate our entire culture… right down to every man, woman, and child.


Alan Speakman

Selective Outrage, Faux Moral Indignation

April 23, 2009


Waterboarding. Sleep deprivation. Nudity. Loud noises. Flashing lights. Stress positions.

Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like any college dorm on a Saturday night, especially if you substitute “beer bonging” for waterboarding?

Not to make light of what is, to be sure, a serious subject, but honestly. Does anyone really believe that harsh interrogation techniques were all that secret? We’re talking DC here, don’t forget, a town where everybody knows everything.

To quote from the TV show West Wing: “There is no group of people this large in the world that can keep a secret. I find it comforting; it’s how I know for sure the government isn’t covering up aliens in New Mexico.”

Who knew these techniques were being used? The Wall Street Journal is reporting that lots of people knew:

“It was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.”

 The Washington Post also reported on this back in 2007:

Yet long before “waterboarding” entered the public discourse, the CIA gave key legislative overseers about 30 private briefings, some of which included descriptions of that technique and other harsh interrogation methods, according to interviews with multiple U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge.

With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).

Individual lawmakers’ recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing,” said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. “And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.” [emphasis mine]

Why the sudden outrage? Why the push for trials and investigations into actions approved — and encouraged — by members of Congress? Do they really think that memories are so short; that Americans are so stupid? Speaker Pelosi should tread very carefully here with her talk of hearings and “truth commissions” and the like.

Her constituents might not like the things she approved back then. And then where would she be?

UPDATE: I must be channeling RightWingSparkle — she just posted on the same topic.