Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Little More on Uncle Jimbo and Waterboarding

Shamanic at The News Hoggers has a good post on Uncle Jimbo as well (via Melissa at Shakesville). She focuses on a section of Jimbo's post I didn't cover in depth, and in the interests of fairness (and thoroughness) wanted to examine. Here's the featured section, from the end of Jimbo's post:

I will grant that the procedure is horrifying and repulsive, but that is part of it's effectiveness. The fact that it causes no lasting damage at all is another reason to favor it's use. But the number one reason to use it is because it works. It is the perfect answer to the lie that you cannot coerce useful information from bad guys. KSM broke very quickly and the info we got from him allowed us to scarf up dozens of AQ killers and saved countless lives. While other methods may have eventually procured this intelligence, the time spent doing so made it more likely his info would be out of date and we would miss the chance to capture or kill the terrorists. As awful as that makes me, I think that means we have an obligation to do it and I would consider it's banning a blow to our security.

Points to Uncle Jimbo for acknowledging that waterboarding is indeed "horrifying and repulsive" and for being reasonably polite. I also believe that he and other Blackfive posters do care about the safety of our military personnel and citizenry, even if I'd say they're mistaken in thinking that torture achieves that.

I left a response in the thread for Shamanic's thoughtful post (her post features a great reductio ad absurdum, and is more witty than this piece shall be). You can read the response there, but I'll adapt and expand on it somewhat here.

I still hold Uncle Jimbo is being fundamentally dishonest by ignoring the key points of Nance's piece, for all the reasons I explained in my earlier post. Perhaps that isn't deliberate. Use "misses the point" if you prefer. But when someone dodges the central questions and introduces a convoluted rationale for why torture is actually legal, in opposition to long-standing laws, principles and common sense, an honest mistake in good faith ain't the most likely explanation that springs to mind.

As several folks commented over at Shamanic's post, what do we really know about what KSM (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) said, apart from the Bush administration's claims? He said some pretty outlandish things, even as reported. Many of the Bush administration's previous claims about foiling terrorist plots have proved to be false or vastly overblown. Their statements about KSM, obviously politically advantageous, hardly constitute proof of torture working, regardless of what they want to call it. They certainly don't possess enough credibility for "trust us" to cut it. In contrast, as I explored in "Jack Bauer versus Maher Arar," there's plenty of evidence that torture doesn't work, including the recent study cited in this featured New York Times article. There have been several prominent pieces saying the same thing for years, not to mention fairly recent, well-covered statements on the subject from John McCain and other torture survivors. Most directly, the piece by Nance that Uncle Jimbo purportedly responds to certainly covered the point that torture doesn't work. Torture is extremely unreliable for obtaining the truth. For eliciting confessions, often false of course, it's great. If we're after the truth, there are far better methods, as many skilled interrogators have explained many times now.

Plenty of examples exist of false confessions, and of torture not working. One I didn't cover in the Bauer-Arar post but did previously comes from The One Percent Doctrine. The Bush administration publicly touted Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah as a criminal mastermind, when in fact he was mentally ill and essentially "a travel agent." I have more excerpts in the original post, but for a sample:

"I said he was important," Bush said to Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?"...

"He received the finest medical attention on the planet," said one CIA official. "We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him."...

He was stabilized by mid-May and, thus, ready. An extraordinary moment in the "war on terror" was about to unfold. After months of interdepartmental exchanges over the detainment, interrogation, and prosecution of captives in the "war on terror"—as well as debates over which "debriefing" techniques would work most effectively on al Qaeda—the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.

Maha has more on this. Torturing Zubaydah led to some of those mall alerts, among other things, as covered in more depth in Suskind's book. Obviously, tracking down outlandish, false plots ties up important resources. What a shock that a man who was tortured would say what he thought his captors wanted to hear to make it stop.

Clearly, torture also didn't "work" on Maher Arar or the many innocents we've tortured, or rendered to be tortured. But it's very rare to see any conservatives acknowledge that. Theoretical positives trump proven negatives for them all the time. The fantasies trumps reality.

Returning to Jimbo's post, it's interesting that he acknowledges that waterboarding is "horrifying and repulsive" yet refuses to say it's torture. Again, it's especially striking since he's read Nance's article. As I wrote before, he could have written that "waterboarding is torture, but we still need to use it," and he sorta does that in this last paragraph. But instead, he basically says, "waterboarding is terrible, but we still need to use it, and by the way it's not torture, and by the way if it is torture it's legal because of Congress." That reads like one of the many dodges by Bush and his administration. If it's not torture, why construct such a convoluted argument for why torture is legal? If it is torture, if torture works and it's necessary, why not just argue that? Wrong though they are, many conservatives have done exactly that.

I've got a post on Bush and Mukasey in the works, but their contortionist stances seem based on an attempt to avoid the consequences of their actions and positions, not some more noble principle. There's a reason Bush says "we don't torture" but refuses to define what torture is. It's not as if he or his administration is inviting an honest discussion of the issues at hand. Perhaps Uncle Jimbo will explain himself further in the future, but currently I don't see him engaging the crucial issues raised by Nance and many others any more than the Bush crew.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

1 comment:

shamanic said...

Terrific write up, especially your depiction of Jimbo's pretzel stance on whether waterboarding is torture.