Sunday, March 09, 2008


As many of you may know,President Bush vetoed a bill passed in Congress by a slim majority to ban the use of water boarding and what the bill characterized as harsh interrogation techniques:

President Bush vetoed Saturday legislation meant to ban the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics, saying it "would take away one of the most valuable tools on the war on terror."

"This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

Before everyone starts going berserk, it's important to remember that the waterboarding technique that has the Angry Left foaming at the mouth has only been used on a grand total of three times when it was feared a major attack was imminent - once on Khalid Sheik Muhammed after 9/11.

I don't consider waterboarding to be torture, familiar as I am with what actual torture is. But being basically honest, I can't quite leave it at that. There's no doubt in my mind that our CIA has transported certain terrorists to locales like Jordan where real torture - as opposed to mere waterboarding- has been used.

Frankly, it's a dicey situation.

We are dealing with people who barely deserve to be considered as human beings,in the usual sense of the word. The tired old Geneva Convention argument, that we should adhere to its rules when it comes to people like al-Qaeda and the Taliban so they won't treat our prisoners in a similarly harsh fashion is absolutely absurd, since these people adhere to no rules but their own and have little regard for the lives or well being of infidels.

Still,the question remains.Are we prepared to torture people and rely on our government to decide when and how?

I think a good starting place is to examine the nature of what torture is, and what it isn't,especially since many people appear to have problems distinguishing exactly what it is.

Torture in this instance can be defined pretty well as the inflicting of physical pain on people for the purpose of 'punishment', obtaining information,or breaking the will of the subject in order to get him or her to do what you want them to do.Some of the techniques involved include prolonged beating,sexual assault(usually used on women), removing body parts like teeth and fingernails without anesthetic, certain uses of heat, pressure and electricity on sensitive parts of the body, restraining the body in a position designed to cause massive discomfort ( the old favorite, the rack is a good example) and the forcible breaking of bones.

It does not, as far as I'm concerned include psychological pressure like sleep deprivation,threats, psychological gaming or prolonged grilling...but more on that later.

The thing about most physical torture is that it can be incredibly inefficient much of the time. Given an individual with a sufficiently strong will,it can take hours, days, months or even years to accomplish the desired end. Senator John McCain, for instance, was captured when he was a Navy flier by the North Vietnamese, who soon found out that he was the son of the Admiral in charge of CINCPAC.He endured five years worth of beatings, starvation , isolation and physical torture that included having his shoulders broken in an effort to get him to make the kind of propaganda statements people like John Kerry and Jane Fonda made happily and willingly.The effort failed.

With the advanced nature of interrogation techniques and pharmacology today, the administration of drugs like sodium penathol, baradanga and sodium amytal combined with a skilled interrogator is normally quicker, more efficient and easier on the basement janitorial crew afterwards.It also eliminates the nasty problem of false confessions and information that tends to go with the territory when you get your answers by using an electric drill on somebody's hands.

However, there's no doubt that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques can work quite well.Khalid Sheik Muhammed reportedly broke after a mere fifteen minutes of waterboarding and began singing show tunes for our CIA, and there's no doubt that we gleaned a lot of useful data.

And this just applies to terrorists captured and sent to the CIA. There's also no doubt in my mind that our warriors occasionally use some forceful interrogation techniques and psychological pressure (as opposed to wiring someone's genitalia to a field telephone) on the battlefield with captured jihadis as part of the necessity of war, to save their own lives by finding out, say, exactly how far up the road that ambush is concealed. They should be able to do so without being criminalized.

As such, it makes no sense to me to legislate an end to waterboarding and other interrogation techniques in time of war. Frankly,they're useful tools even as a psychological threat to promote cooperation, even if the techniques themselves aren't used. The same applies when it comes to an offer to the jihadis to send them on a nice road trip to a jurisdiction outside the US if they fail to cooperate.

What we need rather than legislation is a covert policy that can be invoked when information is needed quickly and American lives are at stake.

I say covert, because part of the psychological effect on terrorists necessarily consists of their not being quite sure exactly how far we might go.Legislating this or making the policy public gives the jihadis an edge they frankly don't deserve when it comes to resisting interrogation techniques.

I trust our government that far in wartime, and perhaps some very select congressional oversight like some of the matters dicussed in the Senate and House intelligence committee would provide an extra level of needed protection from possible abuse of policy.

Another important technique that we are likely not using enough is the technique of humiliation.We are, after all, dealing with an honor/shame culture here, and one that relies on the promise of the Islamic version of paradise in exchange for being a 'martyr' in the great jihad against the infidels as a primary sales tool.

Eliminating that payoff with, say, the threat of an execution followed by a pigskin burial could work wonders when it comes to loosening tongues.

Actually doing it a few times would get around and undoubtedly impact recruiting for people like al-Qaeda,the Taliban and Hezbollah in a significant way.

That's something that's unlikely to be used given the present occupant of the White House and his closeness to the Saudis and the UAE,but it's exactly how General Pershing defeated an Islamist jihad in the Philippines launched against Americans and Filipino Christians in the early part of the twentieth century.His technique was to capture say, 20 Moro terrorists, shoot 19 of them and bury them in pigskins and pig offal. He let the surviving jihadi go scurrying back to his pals to tell them what happened...and in a relatively short time, recruitment for the jihad and incidents of terrorist murder dropped off. That, along with the adoption of the .45 automatic over the .38 service revolver defeated that particular jihad quite effectively.

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

1 comment:

Jimmy J. said...

I agree with most of your points.

I define torture as any technique used to obtain information that leaves the prisoner physically or mentally maimed for life. This eliminates a lot of horrible things, but still allows waterboarding, psychological pressure, shame, fear, and drugs as useful techniques. All things the nattering nabobs of negativity are against.

Secondly, Senator McCain has admitted that he signed "confessions" under torture, which, by the way, left him maimed for life. Most of our POWs broke under torture in the Hanoi Hilton. They did the best they could under the circumstances. None of their confessions were taken seriously by anyone but the Commies.

In this war the enemy will not torture their prisoners for information or confessions. They already know more than we want them to. They will torture in order to instill fear. One technique that was used in Afghanistan against the Russians was skinning the prisoner while still alive and leaving the body with the head wrapped in the skin where Russian soldiers would find it. I haven't heard of this in Afghanistan or Iraq, but I have heard of them using electric drills all over a person's body and then disemboweling, letting them slowly bleed to death with their guts in their hands. Our warriors in both theatres know that being taken prisoner is not an option. It is a ticket to a horrific death. One reason not many of our troops have been taken prisoner.

We need to keep the discussion of this issue going. Getting intel from terrorists is a fine way to thwart their evil plans.