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    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    The McCain Amendment - Part II
    My earlier post about the McCain amendment sparked an interesting debate between Don Singleton and I. Of course we both agree that torture is wrong, but I think we differ on our definition of cruel, inhuman and degrading (CID) treatment. The problem is that these definitions are so subjective. Don argues that some Muslims could consider questioning by a female interrogator degrading. I see his point but I don't consider that rising to the level of CID. We discussed "waterboarding" (a technique that makes the subject feel as if they are drowning), which is believed to have been used on several high-level detainees. I consider waterboarding torture, but even if it does not meet the legal definition, it is certainly cruel and inhuman. Aside from the moral argument that CID is wrong, I would argue aggressive interrogation techniques that involve physical or mental suffering usually do not produce useful information. There is an interesting article about CIA veterans who recently spoke out against the use of "heavy-handed" interrogations and I've paraphrased some of that article below:

    During the Vietnam War, the highest-ranking Vietcong prisoner captured (Nguye Van Tai) was interrogated by both South Vietnamese and American forces. The South Vietnamese used techniques that included electric shocks, beating, various forms of water torture, stress positions, food, water, and sleep deprivation.
    The Americans used rapport-building and no violence. While the South Vietnamese
    use of aggressive techniques did result (eventually) in Tai's admission of his
    true identity, it did not provide any other usable information. In the end, it
    was the skillful questions and psychological ploys of the Americans, and not any
    physical infliction of pain, that produced the only useful (albeit limited)
    information that Tai ever provided.

    One of the big lessons for the Americans was that the South Vietnamese techniques got in the way of getting information. When those who were aggressively questioned were asked why they didn't provide the interrogators the information, they said that the interrogators got so involved in what they were doing that they did not even bother to ask questions. It essentially became an end unto itself. The only time you can be sure that what you're getting from someone is valid is through discourse. In Tai's case, the idea was to develop absolute trust, which you do not do by alienating and humiliating someone.

    This is not to say we should befriend those we interrogate. I am simply saying that if the moral argument against aggressive interrogation techniques is not enough then consider the pragmatic argument. It generally does not work. The ticking-time-bomb scenario that exemplifies our worst fears about the terrorists, seems to be driving a lot of the debate. There are those who advocate for more security at the expense of some of our principles and civil liberties. There are others who dismiss this threat and are unwilling to give our government the tools it needs to confront a very real danger. I think both arguments have merit, but when it comes to our policy on interrogations we must stand firm on our commitment to reject cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. We cannot water down these definitions to the point that they become meaningless. There are better and smarter ways to get the information we need.

    Shared by Silke @ 9:57 AM

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