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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On Torture

Good answers so far. And, I want to reiterate that I'm not proposing what caheidelberger describes as a Jack Bauer Hollywood scenario as an effective means of extracting information. Changing the topic to describe differing reasons for torture does not answer the question of what would you do if faced with the situation below.

There has been much discussion of torture of terrorists in an effort to extract information that some say saved American lives and others say saved no one.

There has been a lot of discussion on blogs about what is torture; is it wrong?; and the U.S. is an evil state for the actions of the past administration.

Okay. You are the President of the United States:

You have captured a terrorist whom your best intelligence people tell you knows of a plan to kill thousands of United States citizens.

Extracting the information will save thousands of innocent lives.

Now, we're all pretty smart out here on the lone prairieee. So, without discussing the pros or cons of torture, share with us here what YOU would do to convince a fanatic terrorist to spit out information that will prevent future carnage.

Here is one possible method:

Bring the terrorist and one of his compatriots to a small room containing two chairs.

Line the chairs up so that the terrorist who knows the most is seated behind the other.

Ask that terrorist what he knows, and allow him to answer.
A.) If he answers, return the two to their cells and explore the truthfulness of his answer.
B.) If he refuses to answer, unholster a .45 cal. weapon, place the barrel firmly between his eyes and discharge the firearm, making sure the decedent's brains, blood, skin, hair and bone soil the other terrorist.

Advance to the other terrorist, gently place the barrel of the gun between his eyes without bruising or scratching and calmly ask: "Did you have something you wished to share?"

There is no torture. The first terrorist dies instantly without pain or prior knowledge or suspicion that he is about to meet his virgins. The second terrorist witnessed a messy execution, which he has likely seen before.

I'm not proposing the method above be used. It is extreme, I understand. But when faced with the Geneva Convention's rules of interrogation, it seems to me that it is the duty of the U.S. to allow thousands of innocents to die.

Not so? What would YOU do? What would YOU authorize? Rather than bitch about what others in this position have done, or what the current administration may not be doing, let's come up with REAL solutions – ones that are worthy of the great minds of the high plains – so we can dutifully forward to a grateful administration.


caheidelberger said...

Whatever solution I propose for practical policy, I do not base it on fantasies that I'm Jack Bauer. I do not base it on absurdly narrow hypotheticals like the artifical situation you compose to forward your screenplay sensibilities.

But let's play your game:

If my intelligence people say the guy I have in custody knows of the plan, I order my best people to interrogate him within the bounds of U.S. law and the Geneva Convention. I also tell them to use effective methods for getting information, which do not include torture or any of the other manly-man games you want to enact.

At the same time, I ask my best intelligence people how they know the captive knows about the plan. I then order my best intelligence people to go follow those leads to find the people who are not in our custody and stop them from carrying out the plan. I then turn to my Secretary of State and ask for updates on our diplomatic activities with the countries who appear to be connected with the plan in any way. We discuss policy options to encourage those countries to help us stop future plans. I contact my Congressional leaders to see if there's a way to tighten controls on the weapons or other materials the terrorists are using without doing damage to the Constitution. I also look for ways to increase funding for education to support more foreign language and technical training so the government has a larger pool of talented specialists to hire 5-10 years from now.

There's no creative wonder solution here, no one magic moment that makes a great Hollywood scene. Protecting America is about long-term, diligent, conscientious intelligence-gathering and police work, not to mention foresightful foreign and domestic policy. Jack Bauer and sensationalized comic-book gore aren't the answer: constant morality and good government are.

John said...

"So, without discussing the pros or cons of torture, share with us here what YOU would do to convince a fanatic terrorist to spit out information that will prevent future carnage."

If I was in that situation, I would choose to let the regular FBI interrogators do their job to get the information from the suspect. The FBI has been pretty successful at that for the past few decades, so I would trust them before I would trust "enhanced interrogations" that may or may not work.

Braden said...

Well if the other terrorist was a Muslim extremist, such an approach would not work, as radical extremists typically wish death upon themselves.

This whole debate about torture misses the point and misrepresents what torture is used for. Torture is not used to extract intelligence. Torture is used to obtain false confessions.

Take John McCain, for example. The NVA tortured him to get him to confess to committing war crimes, knowing full well that he did not. This is why torture techniques are done to SEALS and Green Berets and other special ops forces at SERE. So they can resist efforts to extract false confessions from them.

The reason Al Qaeda terrorists were tortured at Gitmo was to try and establish a link between them and Iraq, not to find out if one existed. The CIA had been after Al Qaeda since the early 90's and new full well where they were and where they were not.

KSM was tortured 183 times. You don't torture someone that much for intelligence. They would have given it up on the 3rd, 26th, or 97th time if they knew something. You do it to obtain a false confession that the detainee is unwilling to give.

Bob Newland said...

Well, at least this straw-man example has elicited some comments.

Bob Newland said...

Well, at least this straw-man example elicited some comments.

Bob Newland said...

All right. I'll play, just cuz I am currently being tortured m'se'f.

Given that you KNOW the SOB has the info you want, you start by waterboarding, which seems to be pretty effective at getting people to tell you something, anything.

In 34 seconds, the torturee gives you an address where you can disarm the bomb. You go there. Nothing.

You then take a propane torch and start heating the soles of his feet. He gives you an address. You go there. Nothing.

Then you turn on the TV--to Glenn Beck. In ten minutes, he gives you an address. You go there, and the bomb is there. You approach it, and it explodes, cuz you wasted time with the other tortures.

Your pals at the torture chamber turn the TV on again, to Flip This House. The TV is situated so the torturee can't touch it. You leave the room after placing a loaded gun on the table. In 20 minutes the torturee shoots himself.

Michael Sanborn said...

Okay Newland...that's funny!

Bill Fleming said...

I feed them both well first.

They dine together and alone.

I show them one at a time, pictures of their mother, their father, their brothers, and sisters and kids all of whom are now in my custody and safe, away from the fanatics who have been running their lives.

I show them their new home in the country, their new, moderate muslim neighbors homes and their new Mosque where they will worship.

I tell him has wife (or his daughter, mother, whatever) is outside the door waiting to see him (she is).

I tell them I am willing to provide for all his other prisoners in this exact same way, in time.

Then I feed them again. Well.

Food that they like.

I tell them we'll talk again in an hour because I really need some information.

I say God be with you. The fate of many good souls is in your hands.

One of those boys is going to spill the chick peas.

Maybe both of them.

Michael Sanborn said...

Interesting, Bill. I train Golden Retrievers in precisely the same manner. With enough love, affection, and tasty treats, a Golden Retriever will step in front of a truck for his master. Never have to raise a hand.

I suspect your scenario might take a good deal longer than you might imagine, but it also might work, and Lord knows, we're spending enough money on stuff that isn't worth a try.

Labrador training is more difficult. It's not that their nature is that much different, it's just different enough to make it more difficult, and to sometimes require a harsh voice that would send a Golden cowering to a corner.

In the end, I would fear that the American hatred that has been so ingrained in terrorists, would make them quite difficult to train them to have a "different" belief system.

Bill Fleming said...

Yeah, Mike. It's worth a shot, huh?

Michael Sanborn said...


Look, I'm not thrilled with Obama. In fact I truly believe he's causing so much damage that my great-grandchildren will never be able to patch it up.

But enough other voters felt differently and that's the system. And I believe in the system. As such I have to hope for his success, I just don't see HOW he can succeed.

The cost of developing a terrorist strategy you describe is minimal. However, those who have been a part of terrorist murder, no matter how brainwashed, must not be released, ever, in my opinion.

Bill Fleming said...

Michael, specifically, in what ways has Obama negatively effected your life so far?

Michael Sanborn said...


I don't suspect that the effects will be felt for some time, but the effects of trillion-dollar debt will surface. And, yeah I know he inherited the Bush economic mess that the Democratically-controlled Congress takes no responsibility for.

As one of those gun-totin' fellers, it would be nice if I could find .45 cal. ACP ammo, but I can't. I'm convinced that heavy gun control is on its way to us via Obama with proposals to increase the tax on ammunition to 500 percent of retail. And, that will be a tough one for South Dakota to swallow when those tourist pheasant hunters are paying $60 for a six-dollar box of shells.

That said, I'm hopeful that there will be positive effects, too.

caheidelberger said...

I don't think I changed the topic. I told you exactly what I would do if faced with that situation, and I said pretty clearly your straw-man hypothetical is Hollywood-screenplay thinking and your proposed response is a violation of law and morality, not realistic or effective policy.