The tortured logic of interrogation opponents

Scott Shane:

WHEN the Central Intelligence Agency obliterates a dozen suspected terrorists, along with assorted family members, with a missile from a drone, the news rarely stirs a strong reaction far beyond Pakistan.

Yet the waterboarding of three operatives from Al Qaeda — one of them the admitted murderer of 3,000 people as organizer of the 9/11 attacks — has stirred years of recriminations, calls for prosecution and national soul-searching.

What is it about the terrible intimacy of torture that so disturbs and captivates the public? Why has torture long been singled out for special condemnation in the law of war, when war brings death and suffering on a scale that dwarfs the torture chamber?

Those questions arose with new force last week, as President Obama settled a battle between the C.I.A. and the Justice Department by siding with the latter and releasing four excruciatingly detailed legal opinions from the department, written in 2002 and 2005, justifying brutal interrogations. But he also repeated his opposition to a lengthy inquiry into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” The C.I.A. officers who were acting on the Justice Department’s legal advice would not be prosecuted, he said.

In their meticulousness, and even their elaborate rules intended to prevent death or permanent injury, the memos became the object of fascination and dread. Who knew that along with waterboarding and wall-slamming, cold cells and sleep deprivation up to 180 hours, the approved invasions of the prisoner’s space included the “facial hold” — essentially what grandma does to a visiting grandchild who misbehaves — with hands holding the sides of the head as questions are asked.

“The fingertips are kept well away from the individual’s eyes,” the memo helpfully adds.

In releasing the memos, Mr. Obama again denounced harsh interrogation as unworthy of the United States and said the country “must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals.” He and other critics have often stated their objections: torture or near-torture can produce false information; it handicaps the United States in a battle of ideas; it can be a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

At the same time, public opinion has shown less horror over the strikes carried out by Hellfire missiles fired from Predator drones in the weeks since those deadly missions have been embraced and even expanded to new territories under Mr. Obama. This is presumably because the president’s implicit view of the relative moral status of these two ways of responding to terrorists is widely shared.

I don't have much horror with either. It is hard for me to empathize with terrorist whatever their circumstances and it is just as hard to understand the the empathy expressed by liberals for the discomfort caused people like KSM in retrieving information about his current operations when he was captured. I think many of the people complaining about his treatment now would have encouraged it at the time. Their latent hypocrisy is what I find much more disgusting.

Do these so called human rights activist speak out on a regular basis about the enemies handling of captives. It is much more brut

Update: I don't know how many times KSM was waterboarded, but I assume he was water boarded until he started providing information. If it was 183 times as alleged that suggest it was not as horrific the first 182 times as opponents claim. I am not really concerned about his discomfort if the information gathered was to save lives, which I believe it was.


  1. Two responses. First, I think that most people who object to torture also have strong objections to what al quida does to their prisoners; and second KSM was waterboarded 183 times. Do you think that they just didn't get enough information out of him the first 182 times?


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