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Pro-Torture Buffoonery in the WaPo

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I must credit Michael Scheuer; all previous efforts at pro-torture buffoonery pale in comparison to this:

In surprisingly good English, the captive quietly answers: ‘Yes, all thanks to God, I do know when the mujaheddin will, with God’s permission, detonate a nuclear weapon in the United States, and I also know how many and in which cities.” Startled, the CIA interrogators quickly demand more detail. Smiling his trademark shy smile, the captive says nothing. Reporting the interrogation’s results to the White House, the CIA director can only shrug when the president asks: “What can we do to make Osama bin Laden talk?”

This might be too embarrassing even for Alan Dershowitz, although Fred Hiatt seems to think it worthy of publication. I’m not sure which element of this scenario is the most absurd; why don’t we just assume that Osama Bin Laden is a crab-person, and thus immune to waterboarding?

It gets worse from there. Scheuer ignores evidence of the ineffectiveness of torture, asserting simply that CIA interrogators “know” that the methods are extremely effective. They just “know” it; how they “know” it (comparative effectiveness studies, historical analysis, gut feeling) isn’t worth investigating, and certainly shouldn’t be challenged. Moreover, Scheuer believes that claims about the illegality of torture amount to “personal ideological beliefs” rather than sound legal analysis; there’s no recognition that arguments of law have any validity at all. The notion that the CIA should be able to do anything it wants to suspects in order to “save the lives and property of Americans” amounts, of course, to a “personal ideological belief.” As far as I can tell, there’s nothing in Scheuer’s argument that would prevent using the rack or hot pokers to get information from detainees. The only limit that he apparently recognizes is a the gut knowledge that the methods will “work,” actual evidence be damned.

Scheuer gained a bit of cred among Iraq War opponents with Imperial Hubris. This was rather a pity; it was apparent from that text that he was equal parts crank and buffoon. Interestingly, he views prosecution of Bush era appointees as a near certainty. This probably amounts to a guarantee that they won’t actually happen.

…relevant to this discussion is this article in the LA Times:

Reporting from Washington — The CIA used an arsenal of severe interrogation techniques on imprisoned Al Qaeda suspects for nearly seven years without seeking a rigorous assessment of whether the methods were effective or necessary, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The failure to conduct a comprehensive examination occurred despite calls to do so as early as 2003. That year, the agency’s inspector general circulated drafts of a report that raised deep concerns about waterboarding and other methods, and recommended a study by outside experts on whether they worked.

In other words, it is literally true that the CIA relied on what amount to “gut feelings” to determine the effectiveness of torture. There does not appear to be even the faintest effort within the CIA to determine whether the methods they were using were more effective than the alternatives. Why, after all, should such an examination have been necessary? US officials do “not ‘argue’ or ‘contend’ or ‘assert’ but know” (emphasis added) that torture works; there is no reason, therefore, to bother collecting evidence. Call me a crazy social science type, but I don’t find these claims terribly compelling. In this context, it is unsurprising that Mark Thiessen’s rantings about the effectiveness of torture depend entirely on the self-reporting of the CIA; sans a comparative effectiveness study of some sort, the CIA hasn’t the faintest whether torture “works.” And this is also why, differences of opinion on the legal liability of CIA torture enablers aside, heads at the Agency should roll.

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