The Los Angeles Times is running duelling op-eds on torture today, one by a computer scientist and one by a former CIA operative. You can guess which one is for it.
The computer guy, David Gelernter, from what I’ve seen of his bio, has no experience with spying or war. He’s a computer guy. His knee-jerk argument is that those who support the McCain Amendment are knee-jerkers.
But of course you don’t have to be “pro-torture” to oppose the McCain amendment. That naive misunderstanding summarizes the threat posed by this good-hearted, wrong-headed legislation. Those who oppose the amendment don’t think the CIA should be permitted to use torture or other rough interrogation techniques. What they think is that sometimes the CIA should be required to squeeze the truth out of prisoners. Not because the CIA wants to torture people, but because it may be the only option we’ve got.
McCain’s amendment is a trap for the lazy minded. Whenever a position seems so obvious that you don’t even have to stop and think â€” stop and think.
But if you are ignorant of the subject at hand, even a smart guy can think all day long and still be wrong. People with experience (see the previous post) say that what you squeeze out of prisoners is unlikely to be truth. Gelernter doesn’t acknowledge even the possibility that tortured people will say anything to stop the torture. Nor does he address larger concerns about the residual effects of torture–that it creates new enemies and dehumanizes the torturer. Gelernter presents a mathematical equation–torture applied to bad guys equals useful information–without showing how he arrived at his “solution.”
Those who defend McCain’s amendment and attack Cheney and Bush feel a nice warm glow, as if they’re basking in virtue, as in a hot tub, sipping Cabernet. But there is no virtue in joining a crowd, even if the crowd is right â€” and this one isn’t.
McCain is a bona fide hero. But there’s nothing courageous in standing firm with virtually the whole cultural leadership of this nation and the Western world, under any circumstances. It’s too easy. To take a principled stand that you know will make people loathe and vilify you â€” that’s what integrity, leadership and moral courage are all about. This time Cheney is the hero. McCain is taking the easy out.
That’s the weenie’s whole argument–people who oppose McCain’s Amendment do so because they are noble and courageous, never mind that it’s unlikely either Cheney or Gellenter will ever be required to dirty their hands with torture personally. People who favor the McCain Amendment are intellectually lazy and don’t understand the harsh realities of the world. This includes ex-POW John McCain who (Gelernter implies) is just too emotional on the subject of torture to understand it.
Gellenter hasn’t noticed that his own argument is entirely emotional. He offers no data or evidence to back up his assumptions. Instead, he puts himself on the pedestal of righteousness and smears the opposition. A true rightie.
On the other side, ex-CIA operative Larry Johnson offers information, not emotion.
If you inflict enough pain on someone, they will give you information, but what they tell you may not be true. You will have to corroborate it, which will take time. And, unless you kill every suspect you brutalize, you will make enemies of them, their families, maybe their entire villages. What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust â€” even with a terrorist, even if it’s time-consuming â€” than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets, who believed that national security always trumped human rights.
And that’s the point. We should never use our fear of being attacked as justification for dehumanizing ourselves or others….
… am not advocating that terrorists be given room service at the Four Seasons. Some sleep deprivation â€” of the sort mothers of newborns all endure â€” and spartan living conditions are appropriate. What we must not do is use physical pain or the threat of drowning, as in “waterboarding,” to gain information. Tough, relentless questioning is OK. Torture is not.
Thankfully, several Republican senators, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are defying Cheney’s campaign for a torture loophole. Cheney’s plea to permit CIA officers unrestricted interrogation methods would be the death of the CIA as a professional intelligence service and another stain on the reputation of the U.S.
This is from the Knight Ridder article discussed in the last post:
Advocates for flexibility argue that, in fighting terrorism, sometimes the stakes are so high that repugnant measures are justified.
One is the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario, in which a captured terrorist has information on an imminent attack that could kill hundreds or thousands of civilians.
Two administration officials, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak to the press, said Cheney had described such a scenario several times, in which interrogators using generally approved methods can’t pry the particulars out of the prisoner in time to prevent an attack.
Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz has argued that in such cases, torture should be used as a last resort, openly, with approval by the president or a Supreme Court justice.
But intelligence officers and other U.S. officials said the scenario was more likely to be found in James Bond films than in the real war on terrorism.
Asked how he’d handle it, McCain replied: “It’s a one in a million issue, and if something was one in a million situation, I would support whatever needs to be done. But that’s a one in a million situation.”
“If you have exceptions, then there’s more exceptions and more exceptions and more exceptions,” he said.
It tells you something when those with real-world experience of an issue are lining up on one side, and those on the other learned all they think they know from watching movies.
John Cole Tim F. at Balloon Juice.