Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bru's Omnibus Post on the CIA Inspector General's Report on Interrogation Techniques

Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday released this five-year old Inspector General report on the CIA's interrogation techniques with terrorist suspects. I have a lot of thoughts on the report. Maybe too many thoughts to put into one cogent post, but we'll see.

First, the philosophical. My favorite philosopher (yes, I have one; I majored in philosophy at DePauw University) John Stuart Mill once observed, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is worse." I believe that his reasoning applies equally to torture. It is most definitely an ugly thing, a thing to be despised and hated. But if I thought that torturing a man like Khalid Shaykh Muhammad would provide me information that could potentially save thousands of innocents, I would do so without reservation. And I am heartened to know that there exist people who are or were willing to do the same on behalf of our country.

For those of you who may have forgotten, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and several other terror attacks. Oh, and he also confessed to decapitating Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Some on the left are apoplectic about the fact that a CIA interrogator apparently threatened to kill Muhammad's wife and children (it is unclear to me whether they were actually in CIA custody) to get him to talk. Uh, the guy personally beheaded someone and planned the deaths of over 3,000 innocent people, so I doubt that this bluff did any long-term psychological damage to him. And even if it did, he masterminded the deaths of thousands of innocents and cut off a reporter's head.

Second, the practical. The report, while couched in very political terms, appears to indicate that the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques worked. Stephen Hayes, a fellow DePauw alum, provides a good summary over at the Weekly Standard's website about the effectiveness of the techniques:

Let’s review. Abu Zubaydah gave up some information before the use of EITs. But “since the use of the waterboard…Abu Zubaydah has appeared to be cooperative,” and gave up even more intelligence. Al Nashiri provided mostly historical information in the short time before EITs were employed. “However, following the use of EITs, he provided information about his most current operational planning…” And “accomplished resistor” Khalid Shaykh Muhammad provided mostly useless information before the application of EITs. Afterwards, he “provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists” – so much information, in fact, that he was regarded as the “most prolific” intelligence source.

Reasonable people can – and do – disagree about the morality of using EITs. But only the most accomplished resister could continue to claim that they were not effective.

Third, the future. It seems to me that the next time we're attacked, we're going to have a significantly harder time getting people to come forward to do our necessary dirty work. Victoria Toensing, former Chief Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, agrees:

“All volunteers step forward. We have a person in custody who is high-ranking al-Qaeda. He taunts that an attack on United States soil is imminent but laughs mockingly when we ask for specifics. We need interrogators.” Such was the threat in the summer of 2002 when the CIA asked the Justice Department for guidance on what its personnel could do to get such information from captured al-Qaeda
lieutenant Abu Zubdayah.

Since then, the lawyers who stepped forward to provide carefully structured counsel have been criminally investigated and told that, even if they are not prosecuted, their conduct will be turned over to their state bars. The interrogators who stepped forward were promised in early spring by President Obama that, even if they erred in judgment while protecting our country, the president would rather “move forward.” However, in late summer, they are under criminal scrutiny.

Even though an earlier investigation by career prosecutors reviewed the same conduct and refused prosecution of all but one contract employee who was brought to trial in 2007. Even though congressional leaders had knowledge of the interrogation techniques and made no attempt to stop them. Even though the conduct is more than six years old. Even though the CIA has taken administrative action against some of the personnel involved in the interrogations. Even though being just a target of a criminal investigation costs thousands of dollars in legal fees. Even though being just a target of a criminal investigation takes a horrendous mental toll. Even though the morale of the CIA will plunge to the depths it did in the wake of the Church Committee attacks. Even though the release of the names of those being scrutinized will make them terrorist targets for the rest of their lives. Even if they are cleared.

The next time our government employees are asked to step forward to get information of a possible, even probable, imminent attack, no one will. Even though ...

Fourth, the politics. The decision to release this information is all politics. It is meant to distract ordinary Americans from the fact that our government currently thinks it will add an additional $9,000,000,000,000 (I think that writing $9 trillion does not do justice to the magnitude of this number) to its debt over the next 10 years. And it is meant to distract President Obama's left-wing base from the fact that health care reform may well go down in flames. As "Doctor Zero" at hotair.com notes, there appears to be no thought about the long-term implications of the releasing this report:
The Obama Administration, aware that everyone outside of union bosses, and interest groups looking for billion-dollar ribeye steaks of taxpayer money, is having trouble remembering why they voted for Obama, has decided to drag CIA interrogators and Bush Administration officials into court, where they will be persecuted for their role in defending America from terrorist attacks. Apparently Obama and his accomplices decided to distract their liberal base from the fiery Hindenburg crash of socialized medicine, by offering them a relaxing cruise on the Titanic of leftist foreign policy. As with everything else the current Administration does, it’s a remarkably foolish move: dangerous for America, and self-destructive as a strategy.

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