August 30, 2009

"The case against 'harsh interrogation techniques' is easy if they don't work."

Corporate lawprof Gordon Smith applies the same observation to arguments about corporate social responsibility:
Naive commentators often attempt to win points by portraying corporate managers as unenlightened and backward. If they would just act responsibly, the argument often goes, the world would be a better place and corporations would be more profitable to boot!...

The tough issue isn't whether managers should be "responsible" when responsibility pays, but whether managers should forfeit profits to pursue a "responsible" path. Tellingly, corporate law doesn't have much to say on that issue. Legislatures ban many forms of irresponsible behavior, but the marginal cases -- the morally complex cases -- are left to managerial discretion.
Of course, it's great for your argument if you can show that what you think is the moral path is also something that is better for all sorts of selfish reasons (or even if you can just get people to believe that it is). But idealists should want to accept the challenge to show why their position should be taken even if selfish interests point in the other direction. It makes your moral argument stronger if you can get people to believe it even when it requires sacrifice. On the other hand, moralists should think about the consequences of their hardline positions. It's not all about making the strongest argument for what you already believe. You might be wrong, and your imperviousness to real-world effects can be dangerous.

(The terrorists themselves seem to have a hardline moral position that is impervious to real-world effects.)

44 comments:

Bob_R said...

Don't forget that telling people that your side side of the argument benefits their side selfish interests distracts from how much if benefits your selfish interests. The left has rarely supported a position that didn't imply more political power for lawyers and bureaucrats.

Jason (the commenter) said...

(The terrorists themselves seem to have a hardline moral position that is impervious to real-world effects.)

So do the torturers. But I think the difference between the torturers and the non-torturers is one of short and long term strategy. Or that the torturers are all tactics and the non-torturers are all strategy.

Of course, there is probably a lot of racism (jingoism?) on the side of the torturers and a lot of America-hating on the side of the non-torturers.

Ann Althouse said...

How so, jason? I think the "torturers" were being practical and suppressing moral principles.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Of course, it's great for your argument if you can show that what you think is the moral path is also something that is better for all sorts of selfish reasons

Ayn Rand got a lot of mileage out of the same idea, looked at from the other side: that what is in your (enlightened) self interest is moral.

Of course, she was not talking about torture, or other forms of violence.

Jason (the commenter) said...

"America first" and "Americans are better than foreigners"; you could argue that these things comprise their morality. And they certainly didn't seem to care about the very real possibility of legal punishments or loss of morale (real-world effects).

Big Mike said...

@Jason, it wasn't torture.

Charlie said...

Ignorance is Bliss @ 8:36 --

Ayn Rand had a lot to say about violence, namely that you do not have a right to initiate it on others. When AQ attacked, they forfeited any expectation of rights and mercy.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Big Mike:@Jason, it wasn't torture.

I understand you're line of reasoning: Because it was done by Americans to non-Americans.

former law student said...

""The case against 'harsh interrogation techniques' is easy if they don't work.""

I disagree. Like gun control or the war on drugs, torture satisfies our need to do something even if it doesn't work, especially if "common sense" says it should.

Gun control advocates argue that the problem is not that gun control is ineffective but that it is insufficient. The inability of, for example, Drug Abuse Resistance Education to keep kids off drugs is completely ignored.

Similarly, if torture didn't work (by providing useful information), torture advocates would argue that we are not using harsh enough techniques; possibly that we are not torturing the right people.

michaele said...

I actually think it was noble of those responsible for harsh interrogation techniques to stifle their decency and go forward with the ugly task in order to possibly secure information that could help prevent the loss of innocent American lives. I don't buy into the meme that anyone assigned to be a harsh interrogater is a natural born monster who thrives on hurting others.These men are doing a very difficult and, in many eyes, a thankless job. If I were to meet one and know what their job had been, I would express my appreciation for their sacrifice.

OldGrouchy Doug Wright said...

IMHO, "never again" also means that we'll fight against those trying to kill us.

So now, because some Socialists are against harsh interrogation techniques, we should surrender?

Well, those Socialists can go peacefully into that dark night if they wish, not the rest of us.

John Lynch said...

Yeah, moralists don't like cost-benefit.

A lot of people have trouble with the idea that good morals have a cost.

It's interesting to me that self-proclaimed relativists turn into absolutists on some things. I see a lot of people who criticized W for a black and white Manichean worldview, then suddenly get all black and white about torture.

There's always morality, and everyone has one. Often they just won't admit it.

Synova said...

I actually heard an environmentalist recently (and I have no idea where I heard it) explain that wealth gives us the privilege and ability to protect the environment.

This is something that the corporate sorts of moralists are often impervious to real-world effects about. The usual thing to do is to argue against the things that create wealth and argue for the things that that cripple industries on account of how wealth is selfish and bad and what all and that sacrifice is more moral and something other than the bottom line is always more moral than trying to make dirty money.

So it's unusual to hear someone on the "green" side admit that it is the *wealth* that gives us the time and ability to care for the environment at all.

But this is something that someone coming from an objectivist point of view would expect to find. Self-interest is certainly on the side of clean air and an environment that does not twist the genes of your children, and when self-interest is not reflexively and automatically assumed to be less moral than altruism and self-sacrifice, it's not hard at all to see how the self-interest of industry looking after profits, growth and continued existence is entirely compatible with care for employees and the environment, with the added benefit of creating the wealth necessary to allow choices between something that serves self-interest in the very short term and something that serves self-interest in the long term.

There are a whole lot of things about life where short term thinking is necessary but destructive and that long term thinking, which would lead to much better results, just isn't possible. Wealth makes long term solutions possible. It has nothing to do with the *selfishness* of the two sets of choices at all.

And maybe this does tie back into the "harsh interrogation techniques" issue, and I really didn't expect it to.

There is a lot of the equivalent of "selfish is bad, altruism is good" thinking going on about national security.

"Torture doesn't work" at least sounds logical where the real objection, that people won't *like* us if we do this, is utterly ridiculous.

Working to get people to *like* us is not a workable tactical or strategic goal. It is not better than other methods, short term or long term. It sounds good... we should be *good* and then people will *like* us and our problems will go away.

We end up with the demand that we do not even define or even have legal guidelines or trained interrogators who know the rules but that we maintain a public face that rejects the *bad* things so that people think well of us while totally shafting those who are now having to follow the rules set up as guidelines for people who should not be responsible for any sort of interrogation at all... with the implicit and even *explicit* assumption that if the need arises that OF COURSE those who work for us will make the decision to do whatever is necessary to protect us... a self-sacrifice to save *our* children... and then willingly go to the chopping block themselves so that we can maintain our moral superiority as a nation that does not torture... however "torture" is defined *this* week.

And the real problem is, that keeping us safe as a nation from people who want to hurt us, is seen as less moral than allowing us to be hurt but keeping our "standards" and that translates from the short term to the long term where the motivation even for those long term decisions and best choices to keep our own people safe is *also* seen as morally suspect in favor of some notion that our safety can be gained if America is only enough well liked.

peter hoh said...

How effective is torture on those who, unlike KSM, actually don't know what their interrogator is trying to learn? Does one then ramp up the torture, convinced that the suspect has been well-trained to resist the earlier "enhanced interrogation techniques"?

peter hoh said...

Synova, I want to reread your comment to let it sink in, but I want to make clear that my objections to torture do not rest on the foolish notion that people will like us if we don't torture.

Synova said...

"Does one then ramp up the torture, convinced that the suspect has been well-trained to resist the earlier "enhanced interrogation techniques"?"

If there are no clearly defined rules because people have decided that actually talking about it honestly is icky and have decided that having specific and very limited, controlled and monitored situations where specific and pre-determined people are authorized to do it is a war crime?

Then, yes.

Which is why the "moral" stand of insisting that under no circumstances do we *condone* a harsh practice that we know works *every time* isn't actually moral after all.

It's moral cowardice to refuse to draw a line between *this* and *that* because where ever that line is drawn will be arbitrary and a whole lot of people will insist that *this* allowed thing is still torture and after all it's hardly different from *that* tactic that we will not allow.

Look at how much political trouble Bush got in for asking his people to advise on where that legal line was drawn. Just *asking* was portrayed as a desire to see just how far he could push it and portrayed as an outright declaration that we torture people.

But failing to make that determination is moral cowardice. And failing to clearly define those things, yes, will lead to people doing interrogations without guidelines or legal cover, supervision and monitoring and *procedures* to follow if they decide something more is warranted... to enter that murky zone of excess in the name of necessity.

It is NOT more moral to bow to those who would insist that nothing unpleasant happen to captive terrorists, and that the interrogators are limited to only the allowed deceptions publicly and freely available to every terrorist in the god-love-us Army field manual.

Because of the *politics* involved we aren't even allowed to *lie* about our interrogation tactics or abilities.

Joe said...

How effective is torture on those who, unlike KSM, actually don't know what their interrogator is trying to learn?

That's perfectly silly. Good interrogation, harsh or otherwise, would be full of misdirection. Even when doing something as innocent as usability testing, asking direct questions is the worse approach--the best approach is to frame the test and ask questions so the person being tested thinks it's about one thing when, in fact, it's about something entirely different.

Even people who may seemingly not know anything may, in fact, know a great deal. Say the person is a driver and after badgering bursts out that he doesn't know anything, he was just going to drive so-and-so to such hotel but plans changed at the last minute. Bingo--that tells you something that could be correlated with other data to find out, say, who is compromised or what the modus operandi of the enemy is.

I believe that the most effective interrogation will almost always be one full of deception, misdirection and a seemingly calm environment. I equally believe that there are occasions where obtaining specific information is tantamount and harsh techniques would be both justified and effective. I want out interrogators to be disciplined, but I don't want to tie their hands too much (we've seen this happen with rules of engagement with troops in action, so it's not an unfounded fear.)

Synova said...

Peter. My take on harsh interrogation is, "Let's not but say we do."

I'm particularly disgusted at this sort of thinking....

Look, the best line about torture I’ve heard came from [retired CIA officer turned war-on-terrorism critic] Milt Beardon,” Damon says. “He said, `If a guy knows where a dirty bomb is hidden that’s going to go off in a Marriott, put me in a room with him and I’ll find out. But don’t codify that. Just let me break the law.’

“Which I think is right. You can’t legalize torture. But anybody would do it in that situation. You’d do it to me in that situation; you’d pull out my fingernails if you thought I knew something like that.



And I think that a whole lot of people really do think this is MORAL.

But wanting individuals to decide on their own to break the law and pull out fingernails is far *far* more immoral than having procedures and rules that allow the supervised and monitored waterboarding of a grand total of three high level terrorists during a hot war.

It's disgusting.

peter hoh said...

Joe, is it silly to think that in addition to al qaeda operatives, drivers, etc, we picked up some people who weren't part of the organization and really didn't know anything?

peter hoh said...

Synova, it might be useful to separate ticking time bomb scenarios from other scenarios.

I don't think torture was limited to three high level suspects. And I don't think that Abu Grahib was the result of a few bad apples low in the chain of command.

Joe said...

That's not what you said, Peter, but even then everyone knows something which may or may not be useful. I've seen no evidence that harsh techniques were used on everyone captured, their statements being highly dubious. We do know that some internees who were "innocent" turned out to be not so much after all.

Another point is that the truly innocent will likely spill everything they know without much effort. The evidence we have so far of what "harsh" techniques were used and when bears this out. Do innocent people still get harmed? Yes. But they also get harmed in the normal battlefield--it's a simple fact of war.

Ah Pooh said...

Abu Grahib was not interrogation. nor was it intended to be. It was the result of poor military discipline at the prison which resulted in some dim bullies having a grand old time.

peter hoh said...

No, we don't have a detailed record of what techniques were used and on whom. We have some details about a few select cases which bolster the case for "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Joe, what would it mean for someone to tell "everything they know"?

If the police were to pick me up and start asking me about a bombing, and I had nothing to do with it, how am I capable of telling them "everything I know" and thus persuading them that I know nothing about the bombing?

Real quick, it would be apparent that I wasn't telling the interrogator what he wanted to learn. But that doesn't help determine if I know any useful information or not.

peter hoh said...

Ah Pooh, after certain techniques were authorized at Gitmo, they started showing up at places like Abu Grahib.

Synova said...

"Synova, it might be useful to separate ticking time bomb scenarios from other scenarios."

And how is that done if there are not rules? Who decides that *this* situation is time sensitive and some other situation is not?

"I don't think torture was limited to three high level suspects. And I don't think that Abu Grahib was the result of a few bad apples low in the chain of command."

Why not?

Do you realize that the commanding General of Abu Grahib was lauded and defended by the anti-torture anti-war left?

The now Col. Karpinski was excused on account of how she was so entirely incompetent that she wasn't *responsible* for maintaining order and discipline.

The poor little *General* had no power to do anything about the treatment of prisoners by her own troops or various other "bad things" she was aware of but powerless to correct.

I DO believe that the abuses at Abu Grahib (or however it is spelled) were due to bad apples and a *break down* of the chain of command. That is what fits with how military order functions. And I see no reason to believe that people who simultaneously try to claim it wasn't undisciplined low level troops at fault while excusing Karpinski's incompetence have the first clue or anything other than a political objective.

Joe said...

My God Peter, it's like you put a stupid hat on. Not every interrogation is about finding the proverbial ticking bomb. When you capture someone on the battlefield, sometimes you want to find out immediately actionable intelligence, other times you just want to increase your knowledge of the enemy, the battlefield or even what the attitudes are of the civilians in the area. Whose side are they on?

Even with the poor example you gave, interviewing the innocent in a police investigation is called good police work. Even if you had nothing to do with the crime, that does narrow the list of suspects, does it not? Moreover, if you really know nothing, that also tells the investigator a great deal (let's say that there's circumstantial evidence that a killing took place in one of three places and that it would have been very loud. If everyone at one place has no knowledge of the crime that's important!)

You keep assuming that any interrogation is solely about receiving positive, actionable intelligence in and of itself without any corroborating evidence. That's not how it works.

Synova said...

"Ah Pooh, after certain techniques were authorized at Gitmo, they started showing up at places like Abu Grahib."

Bull.

Correlation is not causation.

Even *if* there actually was correlation. I realize this is one of the arguments given by the Karpinski defenders, poor helpless little-girl General in that mean male-dominated icky military world unable to do anything about the *message*... not *orders* no no no, never *orders* but some nefarious toxic cloud of immaterial influence to torture caused by something said in the white house no one actually heard or on a base run by an entirely separate organization on the other side of the world but never, no *never*, actually passing down the chain of command through her office.

People have some very strange notions about how the military functions.

peter hoh said...

Joe, then why even use "enhanced interrogation techniques"?

Torture is used because the interrogator thinks that the suspect knows something that he is not revealing.

Synova said...

Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on Karpinski.

There were undoubtedly quite a few utterly incompetent people in positions of responsibility during the initial OIF operations; people who had attained their rank in comfy State-side offices with little real responsibility or challenge beyond time in grade.

Still, being that person, from an enlisted person's point of view, is really the only truly and completely inexcusable crime an officer can commit.

peter hoh said...

Why not, Synova?

Because of reports like these:
http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/06/30/accountability/

Joe said...

Peter, different interrogation techniques may be used for different people and different circumstances. Moreover, you again assume that when someone who is subjected to enhanced or harsh techniques, the goal is to learn something very discrete and that the subject KNOWS what that is. You also assume that everyone is subjected to the same techniques, but we know for fact that isn't true.

peter hoh said...

No, I don't assume that everyone is subjected to the same techniques. Where do you get that idea?

Are you going to assert that no one outside of the three high-level detainees was tortured?

Joe said...

Peter, you made the assertion that interrogation doesn't work if the person being interrogated doesn't know why. That was your statement and now you're jumping around trying to defend the indefensible and in you resort to the torture hand grenade. From the evidence presented so far, I don't believe any of these detainees were tortured. I can't make a blanket assertion that "no one" was tortured since someone, somewhere, probably was so a single dissenting instance would rightly prove me wrong. However, that's not the debate here and never was.

Robert Cook said...

The case against torture is easy because it is illegal.

As Glenn Greenwald says, if we want to be a nation that uses torture, we simply have to repeal our laws that prohibit it and withdraw from any treaties that ban it.

In the meantime, even the President may not order torture without violating the law, and those who ordered it and performed it are criminals.

The illegality of torture aside, the case against it is also easy for anyone who recognizes how cowardly and barbaric it is. Those who favor torture and mock the "it's immoral" argument identify themselves as barbarians and cowards.

By the way, anonymous spokespersons aside, there is no evidence in any published memos or reports that supports Dick Cheney's concerted efforts to paint torture as "effective" or as having "saved thousands of lives." Dick is a proven liar, so we must assume until incontrovertible evidence shows otherwise that he merely continues to lie. Given his self-interest in avoiding prosecution for his crimes, one can understand here not only that he is lying but why he is lying: to save his own cowardly fat ass from a prison cell.

Synova said...

Peter: I'm skeptical of stuff like Greenwald's because he seems to make no effort at all not to conflate a whole heck of a lot that doesn't involve interrogation. It's like he's *trying* to get the highest numbers possible while seeming to assume that the Army must be assumed to be acting in bad faith.

To pick something at random... Army investigators find that a bad initial investigation was performed and someone who died should have been autopsied... and the implied reason for the poor investigation? Well, it couldn't be that a war was going on, oh no. It has to have been that someone was hiding something. And no autopsy? That must be trying to hide something, too. And never mind that the reason for finding that an autopsy should have been performed may have been to have all the i's dotted and t's crossed and all asses covered.

The implication, once sent through the Greenwald filter, is that a faulty investigation *obviously* is proof of criminal acts and a failure of Army interrogators to charge anyone with anything is proof that the obvious criminal acts are something the Army does not care about.

Subduing prisoners in the field is far different than the treatment of prisoners in a controlled environment, including the deaths in prison from suppressing a riot in an over crowded mass holding area is similarly *not* about torture, but we're supposed to think that it is.

It might be about better training on how to subdue prisoners, but please recall that in the US there were over 2000 deaths in police custody in the US from 2003 to 2005. It would be spectacular if there were NO deaths in military custody during a war.

Greenwald tries to show us a larger picture to imply that there was something going on that linked all those incidents together, organized condoned behavior that ties them all up nice. But he fails to see the ways that they *are* related or fit into a larger situation in the context of what was going on at the time.

No... the Army was supposed to take surgeons from sewing up living people and arrange an autopsy... Army investigators even said so... and so we're supposed to suppose that the people who didn't do that ought to have *at least* been prosecuted for *something* because obviously a crime was being covered up.

Sheesh.

peter hoh said...

Joe, we may continue to disagree, but re-reading my original line, I think I see the confusion. It all depends on what what means.

I wrote: How effective is torture on those who, unlike KSM, actually don't know what their interrogator is trying to learn?

To clear it up, let's try this: How effective is torture on those who don't have the information that their interrogator is trying to extract from them?

peter hoh said...

Synova, yes, Greenwald should be taken with a grain of salt, but so should most reporters and columnists.

I don't take the Enquirer seriously, but they broke the Edwards' affair story while the rest of the media sat on it.

I think Greenwald has a touch more credibility than the Enquirer.

I also think you make some valid points in your critique of Greenwald.

elHombre said...

R Cook wrote: By the way, anonymous spokespersons aside, there is no evidence in any published memos or reports that supports Dick Cheney's concerted efforts to paint torture as "effective" ....

WaPo, August 30, 2009: But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general's report and other documents released this week indicate.

Cook proves again that: "... the [secular progressive] mind is impervious to documentary evidence ...." Hilton Kramer

R Cook also wrote: Given his self-interest in avoiding prosecution for his crimes, [he is lying]... to save his own cowardly fat ass from a prison cell.

Oh, and by the way to you too, Cook, what constitutional provision, statute or executive order puts the Vice President in the chain of command of the CIA and thereby prosecutable for their actions?

Just askin'.

Robert Cook said...

El Hombre, as Greenwald points out in his Saturday Salon column:

"What makes the Post's breathless vindication of torture all the more journalistically corrupt is that the document on which it principally bases these claims -- the just-released 2004 CIA Inspector General Report -- provides no support whatsoever for the view that torture produced valuable intelligence, despite the fact that it was based on the claims of CIA officials themselves. Ironically, nobody has done a better job this week of demonstrating how true that is than the Post's own Greg Sargent -- who, in post after post this week -- dissected the IG Report to demonstrate that it provides no evidence for Cheney's claims that torture helped obtain valuable intelligence."

He goes on in greater detail from there if you're interested.

elHombre said...

El Hombre, as Greenwald points out in his Saturday Salon column: .....

I've read the Sock Puppet and Sargent who, like you, are impervious to documentary evidence that conflicts with their political ideology/worldview.

Their face-saving analyses, do not rehabilitate your false statement that: "there is no evidence in any published memos or reports...."

Obviously, by any reasonable measure, there is evidence in the report and documents referenced by the WaPo that supports Cheney's claim. That the evidence does not satisfy Greenwald's, Sargent's and your ideologically-driven standards does not negate its existence.

elHombre said...

Oh, Cook, I don't think you answered my question asking the basis for your claim that Cheney is prosecutable for the action of the CIA.

I am surprised.

Robert Cook said...

Now it is you who refuses to face facts; no one who has carefully read the Inspector General's report concludes that it supports Cheney's self-serving claims.

As for legal culpability, Cheney was involved in the authorization, planning and implementation of torture, therefore he is as guilty as Bush, Rumsfeld and the rest in the administration who were so involved.

RIRedinPA said...

You make the claim that torture worked because no bombs went off in America for the last year, presumably because we tortured the shit out of bad people and they gave us all the info on the imminent attacks...I say bullshit...

Remember the Coalition of the Willing or whatever we called the countries that decided to support us in our misguided invasion of Iraq? About a year after we captured KSM and supposedly turned him into our al Queda catalog book, al Queda lit up the Madrid subways...I know the rebuttal will be how was he suppose to know or something on those lines but please, al Queda works on the long war theory, they plan well in advance and even if KSM didn't know specific plans he should have been able to give something up to give some leads on Spain...

or how about Abu Zubaydah, I mean we tortured the crap out of him, water baording, confinement in small spaces, sleep drivation, walling, nudity, threats, beatings, good ole school stuff, a few months later Indonesia is lit up with the Bali bombings...AZ was the travel agent for AQ, not even a real member, he set up safe houses and what not, even the WaPo, despite their cheerleading for torture, reported nothing of significant has come from him...

Remember Hassan Ghul? He was a associate of Zarqawi, the head of AQ in Iraq. We got him and tortured him in 2004. In 2005 Jordanian hotels are bombed for Jordan's alliance with the US.

What about Abu Faraj al-Libbi, we tortured him in 2005, a few months later the London Tube attacks.

Were the CIA contractors only asking about planned attacks in the US? Or were we not sharing our information gleaned from torturing these guys with our allies? Or maybe torture does not provide you with any real actionable intel?

McCain was on one of the Sunday talk shows and he said that when he was in Iraq he spoke with one of the high value detainees and asked him how AQI had been so successful...the detainee said two things, the disorganization following the invasion, the lack of order and the Abu Gharib torture scandal, it provided him with thousands of recruits...how many US troops do you think were killed due to our torture policy...

elHombre said...

... no one who has carefully read the Inspector General's report concludes that it supports Cheney's self-serving claims.

It is impossible for you to document that claim. Can you even see that?

For example, do you seriously contend that the reporters who wrote the WaPo story from which I quoted didn't read the materials? You're also hedging on your original claim.

As for legal culpability, Cheney was involved in the authorization, planning and implementation of torture, therefore he is as guilty as Bush .... and the rest.

Since Cheney had no lawful authority over the CIA, there is no legal basis for your claim of guilt. Given that, there is obviously no factual basis for your claims about "authorization" or "implementation" either.

Bottom line: You are someone who can't distinguish between your opinion and what's so.