The Wrong Debate?

Friday, August 28, 2009


The C.I.A. inspector general's report released this week exposed gruesome interrogation techniques used on detainees. But as the press combs through the report, is the discussion whether these practices are illegal or whether they're effective? Bob asks LA Times reporter Greg Miller whether the debate over efficacy is beside the point.

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Comments [16]

tom from semirural, mc

Gruesome? I don't think so. I've not heard stories of cigarette burns on their feet, beating with rubber hoses, sending electricity to sensitive places.

No, indeed. Gruesome was the sound of bodies hitting concrete after falling 90 stories. Gruesome was the fuel burns suffered by survivors in the Pentagon. Gruesome is what the medical examiners in Pennsylvania had to do to sort the goo and return remains to the loved ones of those who died in that crash.

No, Mr. Cheney has it right. Defending America is job one for an administration. How many attacks have happened since Sept 11, 2001? Seems that they had it right.

For those who don't like it, do you want Al Quaeda back?

Sep. 03 2009 05:58 PM
jeff cavell from Ann Arbor, MI

"Gruesome interrogation"? Most medically-trained people from the 70's and 80's will tell you that the skillful application of pharmaceuticals of ALL kinds will not only get you where you want to go but eliminate the memories of the journey. Torture is very clumsy manipulation. There are much better ways. Really.

Sep. 02 2009 10:42 PM
steve nelson

Is it just me or is reality TV operating from the same playbook as the terrorist interrogators that are currently undergoing scrutiny in the national debate? Talk of the efficacy of sleep deprivation as a questionable interrogation technique reminded me of the 2 August 09 New York Times article, "Tired, Tipsy, and Pushed to the Brink."

Want terrorists to spill the beans, to reveal things about themselves that they would normally never consider revealing? Easy. Promise them a big cash reward (all reality shows), isolate them from friends and family (Big Brother, Survivor), deprive them of sleep (Project Runway), restrict their food intake and add alcohol (The Bachelor), swear at them like a malevolent drill sargeant (Hell's Kitchen) and then see what spills out. The result is guaranteed to be ugly, embarrassing, and riviting TV. Whether the information revealed by the willingly abused is worthwhile information is questionable.

My question is, how does our attraction as a nation to this kind of sado-reality TV inform the debate on genuine torture? Why do we as a nation find it so amusing to see TV producers create situations where our fellow citizens debase themselves and demonstrate, not their nobler qualities, but thier worst? Does our insensetivity to reality TV contestant "abuse" in the cause of entertainment make it easier for some citizens to justify more extreme forms of abuse (dare I say, "torture") of terrorist suspeccts in the cause of "saving American lives?"

Aug. 31 2009 11:42 PM
derek monroe from Round Lake , IL

People listening to this program and writing opinions about it are forgetting one , very important thing. Frankly, this issue is actually not about torture per say but about Americans themselves. As someone that spent more than half of my life abroad, the questions need to be asked: what kind of country the US is and what are its values? If CIA was just doing its job, why then go after Japanese, Nazi and Italian war criminals, concentration and pow camp guards, etc.? They were also doing their jobs and in many cases the criminal behaviour was codified as lawful in many countries' racial and criminal laws. I think it would be great if many people here who are opening their mouths wide and loud were on receiving end of these "techniques" or having their own family members threatened. Perhaps, this would give them some pause and remind them that they are also part of human race with its own values and charateristics that are called "civilization." Being democracy carries a price and if US does not want to pay it , it has no business proclaiming itself as such or teaching others on how to conduct it.

Aug. 31 2009 02:00 PM
robinmarc from NYC

Tortured Logic: There are those who believe that torture should be banned in all circumstances, no matter how useful it might be in exposing threats or saving lives. For those who hold that view, facts regarding torture's efficacy are, by definition, irrelevant. If you hold that view, there's really nothing to be discussed. But many are stll seeking to form a view as to whether and/or when torture might be permitted (or retroactively punished). For them, it might be useful to know something about whether and when instances of torture ever "worked" and /or if coerced information is any more or less reliable than information derived from available alternatives .A discussion that deemed such facts "off-limits" will be -- in a real sense -- UNinformed. Indeed, in the absence of open discussion, many will simply assume (perhaps incorrectly) that torture "works" when, in fact, it use may make interrogations inherently unreliable. The facts about torture may be unpleasant. Indeed, the fact that torture sometimes "works" may be the most inconvenient truth of all. But to know what we are talking about, we should know the facts.

Aug. 30 2009 07:11 PM
Barbara Glassman from Bucks County, PA

Bob, you were spot on. The same question should be asked of George Stephanopoulos, who provided a platform this morning for the proposition that waterboarding turned Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into a dutiful lecturer on terrorism.

Aug. 30 2009 03:42 PM

Matt W. is right. I suggest Stephen Hayes as an interview, as he writes about the topic -- most recently at Weekly Standard -- debunking OTM's premise.

But then, interviewing Hayes would an admission that there is merit in discussing the topic, thereby an immoral act. So we'll never hear both sides of the issue.

Aug. 30 2009 12:35 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

The Washington Post reports today that both Bob Garfield and Greg Miller are wrong in their basic facts of the efficacy and legality of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. The story aptly titled "How a Detainee Became An Asset:
Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding" I look forward to OTM's retraction of the characterization of the effectiveness of the EIT program.

OTM should pursue its own policy of debunking false stories and those that propagate them by retracting this story and apologizing for taking Mr. Miller's word for it instead of independently corroborating his statements made on OTM's program.

Aug. 30 2009 11:31 AM
Mark O. Hammontree from Austin

The Cheney defense will be useful in soooo many situations.

Neutron bombs work, so they are okay.

Shooting a noisy neighbor solves the problem, so it is okay.

Torture is torture, whether it works or not.

By resorting to torturing terrorizing these SUSPECTS, we have reduced ourselves to the very thing that we are fighting against: TERRORISTS.

Mistreating anyone gives the US a black eye for all the world to see. TERRORISING SUSPECTS in the name of fighting terrorism is stupid, and causes GREAT RESENTMENT against the US, making the terrorism worse. You cannot fight a fire with gasoline! Using TERROR to fight terrorism is exactly that...

You may get some useful information by using TERROR AND TORTURE, but the repercussions of HOW you got it will last a LONG, LONG time.

Aug. 30 2009 10:43 AM
Craig from Prescott, AZ

Your interview of Greg Miller is another example showing that the Dick Cheney has already won this argument, precisely because he has captured the terms of the argument, that is, getting others (like Greg Miller)
to argue from standpoint of possible efficacy instead any ethical basis. But Dick Cheney is only the mouthpiece for the what has always been in the American psyche, despite talk of Human Rights and Democracy and etc that seem to posit a different foundation for the psyche of the nation.

The interview with Greg Miller was especially illustrative of what has happened in this regard, because he didn't even seem to be able to understand that he had bought the Cheney presuppositions totally.

Aug. 29 2009 07:59 PM

Jack you are way out on your own on this one. It is an incontrovertible fact that the United States prosecuted agents of regimes who tortured people; who did the same thing we are doing. You and other "ding bats" Americans who can't see that our country has seriously lost its moral standing are deluding yourselves. WE TORTURED PEOPLE.

How in the world can we ask other countries not to engage in torture, when we have done the most horrible things ourselves? Do members of the Bush regime dare risk going to other civilized countries outside of Canada and Mexico? I think not.

Another area of our double standards is in stockpiling nuclear weapons and ignoring the fact that Israel is stockpiling nuclear weapons, but trying to prevent other countries from obtaining the same weapons. It will never work. I see the end of our power and influence approaching. I can accept it because I am a realist, but people like Jack believe we should do everything to prevent the rise of other powers like China and India. Twisted thinking.

Aug. 29 2009 05:06 PM
debra mcghee from Annapolis Maryland

Bob argues essentially, that Greg Miller should rise above questions of the efficacy of torture and refuse to address the matter because torture, even if effective, is immoral. But this is naive. You need only listen to Fox or read your local "Letters to the Editor" column to realize that, for many Americans, the idea of reducing risk to Americans trumps all moral and ethical questions. When they say "no price is too high for security," they aren't just talking about dollars--they'd squander the currency of character, too. So, Miller might as well answer the question that is the mind of many a reader-- "Does it work?"

Aug. 29 2009 04:51 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

Greg Miller is part of the conversation when he challenges one public official's assertions at a higher standard than another. His assertions to the contrary are laughable and unable to hole the hat he is trying to hang on it.

Aug. 29 2009 01:19 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

Why do I get the impression the Bob's continuum of appropriate techniques is different for Democrats than it is for the Bush Administration?

Aug. 29 2009 01:17 PM
Kenneth Kraszewski from Notre Dame Law School

Why bother addressing the efficacy of "enhanced techniques"? Of course they result in information! Such means recently revealed the West's masterful June plot to overthrow the Iranian regime. The Soviets relied on harsh interrogation for decades to uncover hidden Trotskyite intrigue. Enhanced interrogation led to "increased production": Zinoviev, Bukharin, Rykov and Yagoda were such capitalist rightists all along! The Gestapo had no small measure of success using such measures to infiltrate an Abrahamic sect with worldwide ambitions, why not the CIA?

Why should illegality stand in the way of efficacy? As a nation we need to start asking the tough questions, based on the tough facts. Does extrajudicial, summary execution—perhaps "enhanced alternative sentencing"—of felons reduce recidivism more or less effectively than rehabilitation programs? Because manufacturing is so labor and cost intensive many vital industries have left the United States. Would using slaves—"enhanced employment agreement labor"—be more effective? Combing through entire Middle Eastern countries to find a handful of al Qaeda members has proved time consuming and resulted in limited success. Instead of attempting to separate radical ideologue from modern subscriber, couldn't the U.S. effectively & finally solve the problem by eliminating every believer?

Aug. 28 2009 09:10 PM

Bob, your whole premise is wrong. The real stories are the few cases of abuse that the media played up, and that it was clear from the reports that the interrogation programs were consistently developed, carefully prescribed, communicated to Congress and productive. IG Helgerson's report says the CIA "invested immense time and effort to implement the program quickly, effectively, and within the law"; that the agency "generally provided good guidance and support"; and that agency personnel largely "followed guidance and procedures and documented their activities well." Helgerson details the CIA's collaboration with the Pentagon, Justice Department and outside experts to design explicit guidelines for ten enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, within legal limits.

The IG report documents the program's results noting that the CIA's "detention and interrogation of terrorists has provided intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists and warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world."

Information revealed included the identification of Jose Padilla and Binyam Muhammed and the arrest of previously unknown members of an al Qaeda cell in Pakistan chosen to pilot an aircraft attack in the U.S. The information also made the CIA aware of numerous other plots.

With Zubaydah, the reports notes that waterboarding resulted in "increased production" and that since waterboarding he "has appeared to be cooperative." Look up references to Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, and Hambali.

Miller is involved in the debate because he is extremely selective with the politicians whose assertions he is challenging. He takes the well-trod path of going after Cheney (Bob should know), and gives Obama a free pass to make this whole issue political. He frames it to serve his own bias and claims he's not involved.

Aug. 28 2009 06:21 PM

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