Terrorism

Rumsfeld vs. Panetta on The Value of Torture in Finding Bin Laden

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Former Bush Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells Newsmax:

"The United States Department of Defense did not do waterboarding for interrogation purposes to anyone. It is true that some information that came from normal interrogation approaches at Guantanamo did lead to information that was beneficial in this instance. But it was not harsh treatment and it was not waterboarding."

He adds:

"No one was waterboarded at Guantanamo Bay. That's a myth that's been perpetrated around the country by critics."

Eh, not sure how much the location of U.S.-administered or -approved torture matters and that sort of detail makes me think that Rummy is already justifying various levels of deception in the playgrounds of his mind. Read more here

And then there's current CIA director Leon Panetta, who told NBC News:

"We had multiple series of sources that provided information with regards to this situation… clearly some of it came from detainees [and] they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of those detainees," he told NBC anchor Brian Williams.

When asked by Williams if water-boarding was part of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," Panetta simply said "that's correct."

Read more at The Daily Caller. And watch Panetta here, where he immediately follows up with the qualifier that it's "an open question" whether un-"enhanced interrogation" techniques might have yielded the same info.

Without getting into the question of whether torture is justified, there's the more basic question of whether it occurred in this instance. You've got to assume that Panetta is the better source in this situation given that he's currently part of the nation's security and foreign policy team and hence more likely to have inside information. By the same token, the confusion emanating from the White House and its furious rewriting of the details surrounding Bin Laden's death is hardly confidence-building on that or any other front.

One thing seems fully clear: However the info was gotten, this wasn't a ticking-time-bomb scenario that was regularly and ritualistically invoked to promote torture in the early days of the Global War on Terror. Apart from intelligence gathering going back years, the operation on the Pakistani compound where Bin Laden was holed up started last August by all accounts. He wasn't about to slip away into the mists of the night, thus necessitating an immediate interrogation of an unwilling target.

The debate over torture in this case and as a larger matter is important. Mark Bowden's 2003 Atlantic story "The Dark Art of Interrogation" is an essential starting point. Bowden concludes,

As long as it remains illegal to torture, the interrogator who employs coercion must accept the risk. He must be prepared to stand up in court, if necessary, and defend his actions. Interrogators will still use coercion because in some cases they will deem it worth the consequences. This does not mean they will necessarily be punished. In any nation the decision to prosecute a crime is an executive one. A prosecutor, a grand jury, or a judge must decide to press charges, and the chances that an interrogator in a genuine ticking-bomb case would be prosecuted, much less convicted, is very small….

The Bush Administration has adopted exactly the right posture on the matter. Candor and consistency are not always public virtues. Torture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced. Those who protest coercive methods will exaggerate their horrors, which is good: it generates a useful climate of fear. It is wise of the President to reiterate U.S. support for international agreements banning torture, and it is wise for American interrogators to employ whatever coercive methods work. It is also smart not to discuss the matter with anyone.

If interrogators step over the line from coercion to outright torture, they should be held personally responsible. But no interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed awake, cold, alone, and uncomfortable. Nor should he be.

I don't agree with Bowden's closing argument but I do think he perfectly captures the unabashed ambivalence that many Americans, especially those well-informed and in positions of actual power, feel about torture and its use in certain situations. That's why the issues he raises (and the material he synthesizes in his award-winning story, which catalogues in detail the limited amount of good information that actually comes from brutalizing captives) are important to discuss. That his article was written in 2003, however, should give pause to torture enthusiasts who assumed that its widespread use and wink-wink-nudge-nudge tolerance would speed along the finale ultimo in the war on terror.

As those of us who were appalled by George W. Bush's foreign policy and are equally troubled by Barack Obama's can tell you, foreign policy and all its attendant concerns—including torture, the waging of war, and executive power—are where philosophical consistency and principle go to die. Arguably more appalling is the speed with which the supporters of each flip sides on important questions. They don't even need to be pushed very hard, much less tortured. Too many partisans are quick to switch sides on supposedly uncrossable barricades simply because it's their bastard dialing up the juice, or applying the stimulus (however defined). Long after the question of whether torture lead to the killing of Bin Laden (may his worst nightmare be his eternal damnation), we'll be dealing with the ugliness of that glimpse into the human soul.

NEXT: Reason Morning Links: Who's Tortured, Lobbyists Rub Their Hands, Feds Spook States Over Pot

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  1. The fact is that most Americans don’t give a rat’s ass if you torture terrorism suspects. That is an ugly reality. But it is reality. And it puts lie to the idea that America has somehow been corrupted by the war on terror. America hasn’t changed one bit. It never would have had a problem with waterboarding KSM.

    1. I agree with you 100%. My only quibble is that waterboarding is borderline. Beatings, electric shock, fingernail pulling, I’m not sure we did any of those things as a matter of policy. Were they done? Probably. And they were done in the past, long before Bush/Rumsfled/Cheney. Not condoning it, but I agree most Americans don’t really care very much, and thus not much has changed, except the fact that it has been disclosed.

    2. Which represents the overarching reason to denounce the War on Terror at every turn. If the US is willing to do anything to prosecute this war, including torture, warrantless wiretaps, creeping intrusion into the lives of its citizenry, and off-battlefield assassinations, then it becomes the bad guy, and it’s not worth defending. Particularly if the executive does whatever it wants, and is ignored by the people and praised by the elites.

      1. Then go join the other side Hugh. Good luck with that. We tortured people and leveled cities during World War II, do you think people should have denounced that at every turn? If not why not?

        1. Dropping bombs /= torture John, but that was a nice try.

          Rationalize it all you like, but a government that can’t jump the relatively low bar of treating prisoners in its custody like human beings with rights isn’t a government worth defending.

          1. We tortured the hell our of prisoners during the second world war and often shot them. So stop dodging the question and answer it. The allies were clearly guilty of things you find objectionable. So was their cause not worth supporting?

            And moreover, I would say fire bombing Dresden is a lot worse than waterboarding KSM.

            1. If torture was a necessary means to achieve that end, then no, the cause was not worth defending. But something tells me that the Allies could have pulled it off while still treating prisoners of war like people.

              And I’m not saying that firebombing or collateral damage that inevitably results from it is better than or worse than torture. I’m saying that they are different circumstances, and not morally equivalent.

              1. If torture was a necessary means to achieve that end, then no, the cause was not worth defending.

                The morality of the situation is contextual. If the person WAS withholding viable information regarding a plot to kill innocents, then it is reasonable to use torture to prevent the plot. The problem is that we don’t always know whether the person being tortured has such knowledge. Acknowledging this reality and still agreeing that we should perform this act, drives one down the utilitarian path where atrocities are acceptable so long as they can be “calculated” to be less wrong than what they portend to prevent.

                1. The morality of the situation is contextual. If the person WAS withholding viable information regarding a plot to kill innocents, then it is reasonable to use torture to prevent the plot.

                  I don’t think it is reasonable. Yes, context matters, but to be reasonable (even on a purely utilitarian basis) the action would have to have a better chance of producing the desired outcome than other readily available means. There is just not any evidence that torture is effective on a practical level to a degree that it’s efficacy outweighs the morally dubious nature of the act itself.

                  1. I don’t think it is reasonable. Yes, context matters, but to be reasonable (even on a purely utilitarian basis) the action would have to have a better chance of producing the desired outcome than other readily available means. There is just not any evidence that torture is effective on a practical level to a degree that it’s efficacy outweighs the morally dubious nature of the act itself.

                    Under the scenario described above I would argue it is, since the person is directly involved in a plot to kill innocents. By such actions, he/she is complicit in their deaths and cannot claim innocence. Whether this is efficacious or not, it would not be immoral to harm one who intends to harm others.

                    1. Whether this is efficacious or not, it would not be immoral to harm one who intends to harm others.

                      Nah, I don’t buy it. They are complicit, sure, but direct violence against them is moral only if that direct violence prevents harm to the innocent. While me shooting you may prevent you while you are actually physically harming or trying to harm someone, the torture is not equivalent unless it has a similar chance of preventing that harm.

          2. Tell that to the kids with third degree burns writhing in pain until death releases them. They might disagree. By the way, I’m totally OK with the bombing during WWII.

            But to your point, this country, with all its faults is very much worth defending. As for the people who really don’t bellieve that, I think that’s the other side John is talking about.

            1. If you can’t see the situational distinction between the indiscriminate killing of dropping bombs from airplanes and the measured brutality of hooking someones nutsack to a car battery while he’s tied to a chair, I’m not sure I can find a way to explain it to you.

              As for the other side that John mentioned, I’m really not clear who that is.

              If your side is the one that defends the US policy of brutalizing helpless people, then I’m already on the other side.

              If your side is the one that rushes to the defense of the US, no matter what rat bastard thing it does, then I guess I’m on the other side of that one too.

              1. If your side is the one that defends the US policy of brutalizing helpless people, then I’m already on the other side.

                So that’s what the enemies of America look like.

                If your side is the one that rushes to the defense of the US, no matter what rat bastard thing it does, then I guess I’m on the other side of that one too.

                What, not a team player?

                (~_^)

              2. The other side is the side that says that the US is not worth defending because it does some rat bastard things. See what I did there? I dare you to say you’re on the other side now.

                1. The other side is the side that says that the US is not worth defending because it does some rat bastard things. See what I did there? I dare you to say you’re on the other side now.

                  Why not double dare?

                  FWIW, the rat bastard things the US does are not worth defending.

                  See what I did there? I double-dog dare you to say that the Rat Bastard things are worth defending because they are done by the US.

                  (~_^)

                  1. Well since there is no triple-dog-dare (you skipped double-dare you rat bastard), I will say no. But I never actually even intimated that yes was an option to your question.

                    1. But I never actually even intimated that yes was an option to your question.

                      True enough.

                      So, how about this?
                      I triple-dog-dare you to say that the US should note be condemned for the rat bastard things it does, because it’s positive actions outweigh the negative actions, overall.

          3. If your making money in the US and paying taxes then you are supporting the US government. I’d suggest you quit your job and move to an island.

        2. which other side? the side against torture?

        3. Then go join the other side Hugh. Good luck with that. We tortured people and leveled cities during World War II, do you think people should have denounced that at every turn? If not why not?

          Why is this an either or scenario? The government tortured people and leveled cities during WWII. They also imprisoned German and Japanese-Americans. They also suppressed information, promoted false information and threatened those who spoke out against them.

          Why is it wrong to denounce injustice? It is not wrong to fight against aggressors. It is wrong to use the cause as a justification to become unjust also.

          I do agree that most people support torture. The average person imagines detainees as violent criminals; guilty of heinous acts against innocents. The reality is that we have no clue if any of those tortured were innocent (which may likely be the case). If you round up a large enough selection of the population and torture them, you may find information that could prevent a bad event. The average American wouldn’t like this if we were talking about Los Angeles, but is perfectly fine with it if we are talking about some Middle East town they can’t even pronounce.

          History shows that majorities support all manner of atrocities.

      2. Anybody who thinks that the US is the bad guy because we conduct “off-battlefield assassinations” or torture is in need of a moral compass.

    3. The fact is that most Americans don’t give a rat’s ass if you torture terrorism suspects.

      If 20% is most Americans your statement makes sense.

      “Roughly one in five Americans believe those techniques were torture but nonetheless approve of the decision to use those procedures against suspected terrorists,”

      http://politicalticker.blogs.c…..echniques/

  2. In a strange way this sort of debate is why they had to kill Bin Laden. Nobody from Obama back to George Bush wanted to produce the evidence, not even in a military tribunal. Now all of it can stay classified for 50 years and the Nick Gillespies of the world are left to parse tea leaves.

    1. He admitted to being behind 9-11 on that video they found in Afghanistan in 2001. You know the one SNL did the parody on? They could have easily convicted him. But why go to that expense when you can just shoot him and no one will care?

      1. It might have been nice had we captured him, to have a photo of him in his skivies with his hands up hiding behind his wife and piss running done his leg.

  3. Apart from intelligence gathering going back years,

    But MNG says we only started looking when we elected Barry Soetoro, the Smartest Man on Earth, and the only man who could personally piece together the clues needed to find OBL.

    1. Bush might as well have had Brownie from FEMA looking for him.

      1. That is just full retard. I thought Bush was an evil genius out torturing people and killing everything that moved? Now he didn’t do anything?

        1. You must embrace the contradicitons or a full Jedi you will never be.

          1. BTW John that Brownie comment was meant to be ironic.

            1. Ok. sorry to be dense.

    2. But MNG says we only started looking when we elected Barry Soetoro, the Smartest Man on Earth, and the only man who could personally piece together the clues needed to find OBL.

      It’s true! When you thought Obama was golfing in Rio he was actually tracking down clues! And they paid off!

      1. I helped him while I was looking for the real killer!

        By the way, Barry’s pretty good at golf, but his gloves are too small.

  4. As those of us who were appalled by George W. Bush’s foreign policy and are equally troubled by Barack Obama’s…

    Why does the Shrub get an “appalled” but Barry only get a “troubled”?

    Also, everyone knows that America should only torture those who deserve it. Why doesn’t anyone but me understand that?

    1. Because no one but you cares.

      1. Because no one but you cares.

        Because the majority is never wrong and might makes right.

    2. so will our guys “deserve it”? and before u respond w the cliche “but they will torture our guys anyway”, please provide tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers

      1. Yes because the past is no indication of the future. Our people have only been tortured after being captured in every war since World War I. But I am sure things will be different next time. They have to be right?

        1. so our enemies’ conduct defines ours?

          1. No, but that wasn’t the point he was addressing. If they are going to torture our guys regardless of what we do — the evidence seems to support that conclusion — then trying to justify opposition to torture because of the negative impact it will have on our guys who are captured is fatuous.

            1. Don’t bother, NEM – OO’s idiot armor cannot be pierced by any logic.

            2. fair enough. let me stipulate that some of our guys will be tortured. again, does that justify our using torture?

              1. See what I mean?

              2. You guys are so talking past each other. And purposely so. You cannot justify torture because our guys will get tortured. You cannot argue against torture on the basis that it will impact how our enemy will treat our guys. It’s really quite simple.

    3. FoE asks, “Why does the Shrub get an ‘appalled’ but Barry only get a ‘troubled’?”

      No matter. The adverb “equally” bumps “troubled” up to mean the same thing as “appalled.”

      1. I don’t like it. It’s a clever technicality designed to trick me.

  5. Osama in Gitmo awaiting trial would have been capable of turning Obama’s hard left base against him. He’d have had a Ralph Nader primary challenge or some other loon who would got third party and drain 4-8% of his popular support.

    1. I would have made Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan his defense team.

  6. Obama is indeed a “magical negro,” for he can act like Bush while looking like Clinton.

  7. Obama is indeed a “magical negro” for he can act like Bush and emerge like Clinton.

    MI CASA NO ES SU CASA.
    http://libertarians4freedom.bl…..rians.html

    1. I’ve never seen a black unicorn.

  8. Photo issue. I’d like to see it for grins. I think most of the people who are saying it is necessary to “prove” he’s dead really want to see it for grins also. Honestly, I think Clinton and Gates are right on this. Everybody knows he’s toast, and the only people who will question it are only doing it for propaganda, which they would do even if they did see the picture. Maybe they can just show it to me. I’ll confirm it.

    1. Re: grins

      I bet there would be some great photoshop opportunities. “I can haz mah virginz?”

      1. As Andy Levy said last night, because he was buried at sea, he only gets 72 sturgeons.

    2. Plug “deathers” into The Google. Idiots just can’t help but compare that to “birthers”, for some unfathomable reason.

      1. Heh, heh. You said “unfathomable” in a comment related to burial at sea. Nice!

    3. But, seriously… just show the fucking pics already. Fuck worrying about upsetting the barbarians.

  9. lol, Donald “Dumbsfeld” is an idiot, nothing new there now is there?

    http://www.real-privacy.es.tc

  10. burial at sea? gimme a break. he’s in some basement in one of the ‘stans having his balls shocked for intel on Pakistan insiders.

    1. What is he, a fish?

    2. No, but he’s sleeping with them.

  11. “They can’t get inside you,” she had said. But they could get inside you. “What happens to you here is forever,” Obama had said. That was a true word. There were things, your own acts, from which you could never recover. Something was killed in your breast: burnt out, cauterized out.
    But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved George Bush.

  12. Let’s say torture did give us OBL. So what? For the last 6 or 8 years the argument was whether or not he was even alive. If no one could tell he might as well have been dead all along. We feel better, sure. But we torture folks so we can feel better?
    Unless Obama now brings home troops and calls off the TSA goons, noting has changed.

  13. John|5.4.11 @ 9:39AM|#

    Then go join the other side Hugh. Good luck with that. We tortured people … during World War II, do you think people should have denounced that at every turn? If not why not?

    Staying on topic…yes, people should have denounced that torture during WWII. Your argument boils down to “people tortured in the past, so it’s okay now too.” Pathetic.

    1. You are pathetic NM. My God you are stupid. Hugh said the WOT was not worth supporting because we torture. My response is that if that is true, then why was our cause in WWII worth supporting. The argument is not about torture. It is about whether torture undermines the entire cause.

      I mean really NM are you that stupid? Can you just not follow subtle arguments. You are just pathetic.

      1. Since you have trouble following your own subtle arguments, I’ll break it down for you.

        If the US is willing to do anything to prosecute this war, including torture, warrantless wiretaps, creeping intrusion into the lives of its citizenry, and off-battlefield assassinations, then it [i.e the US] becomes the bad guy, and it’s not worth defending.

        Here is the argument you are responding to. You are saying that the US is not the bad guy when it does these things now because it was not the bad buy when it did these things during WWII. But, when it did these things during WWII, it undermined its moral authority to claim to be the good guys in the fight. The argument he is making now is just as valid when applied to WWII. When the US uses immoral means to achieve an (arguably) good end, it becomes the bad guy and loses any claim to be acting on the side of good and right.

        To defend those immoral acts because you incorrectly perceive them as acceptable to most Americans, to defend them because you see our “team” as on the side of right no matter what they do is what makes your argument pathetic.

        1. The argument is not about torture. It is about whether torture undermines the entire cause.

          And the answer is, yes, yes it does.

          A note on “subtle arguments.”: When you try and use WWII as an example of a “good cause” that was unimpeachable despite torture (and internment camps, and…) you ask your reader to gloss over much of the nuance involved in making a moral judgment of the validity of the US cause in WWII. Your argument is about as subtle as a cudgel.

    2. Torture is a part of war. It’s good as long as the good guys are doing it and only as a means to save the lives of the good guys and bring them victory.

      1. I have some vague suspicion that this is a troll posting as Cytotoxic to make him look stupid, but really, what’s the difference?

  14. I love Reason and Nick Gillespie’s writing, but the photo for this article is 0 shitty journalism.

  15. I don’t care if they waterborded terrorists but pretending they didn’t is unwise. If it works, say it.

  16. What does it say about MNG that he’s so odious that I’m linking things favorable to Shrub just to rub it in his face?

    Pelosi thanks President Bush for his role in bin Laden’s demise

    1. Wow – Pelosi is actually less of a partisan hack than MNG!

      1. the operation on the Pakistani compound where Bin Laden was holed up started last August by all accounts. He wasn’t about to slip away into the mists of the night

        Uh, sez who? We never laid eyes on OBL in that compound; the notion of his presence there was based totally on conjecture and probability. For whatever it’s worth, he could have easily slipped away.

  17. John, I expect you to post this in tomorrow’s morning links:

    7 Minutes Vs. 16 Hours: How The Media Reports Delay
    …On the other hand, after Obama was told (most likely for the fifteenth time) that the CIA was really, really, really quite confident that Osama bin Ladin was at that compound in Abbottabad, he decided he needed to sleep on it.

    Sixteen hours later (hours during which Osama might have fled– bear in mind, his courier’s name had just been outed by WikiLeaks), he made up his mind….

  18. Should cops be allowed to waterboard someone suspected of kidnapping?

    1. “don’t waterboard me bro”

    2. If you mean, should someone be waterboarded to find a kidnap victim that is buried an possible still alive, I would say yes. But then, I carry a Smith and Wesson 44 magnum, model 29, which would blow your head clean off.

  19. If you mean, should someone be waterboarded to find a kidnap victim that is buried an possible still alive, I would say yes. But then, I carry a Smith and Wesson 44 magnum, model 29, which would blow your head clean off.

    So because you carry a gun you support police brutality?

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