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September 08, 2006

Sr. Army Intel Official: Nothing good will come from torture

Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence John Kimmons on the intelligence value of torture:

I am absolutely convinced [that] no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that. . . . Moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility, and additionally it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can't afford to go there.

Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been -- in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them, have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices in clever ways, that you would hope Americans would use them, to push the envelope within the bookends of legal, moral and ethical, now as further refined by this field manual.

We don't need abusive practices in there. Nothing good will come from them.

Hat tip to Marty Lederman at Balkinization. Read his outstanding post on the bill the president is trying to ram through Congress in time for the midterm elections: Cruel Treatment and Torture Authorization Act.

The full text of the torture bill, a.k.a. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 is available at Balkinization.


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Sr. Army Intel Official: Nothing good will come from torture.

That's where he's wrong. If this kind of legislation rallies the President's glorious Christian conservative base enough to stave off Democra-Fascist victories in the House and Senate, then immense good will come from it. If this doens't do it, then maybe a bill mandating the Bible to replace the Constitution might be the ticket.

Well, there are "facts" somewhere that suggest that torture is effective, and water boarding isn't really torture anyway, so let's have a carefully moderated discussion about what is and isn't torture, who ought to be allowed to do things that are or aren't torture to whom, and what sort of legal protections ought to be granted people that glorious leader *says* are enemy combatants, and so are therefore unpersons who deserve no due process -- just the rack and then five in the noggin.

None of this moral posturing.

in viet nam the most valuable intelligence successes i witnessed were a result of a program called "chu hoi" (roughly means "open arms" or "welcome home") where a viet cong or nva soldier comes in and the interrogator tells them "look, you give me something true that proves valuable to our side regarding locations, supplies and movements and we'll give you a ticket to the big PX and enough dough to start yourself up a liquor store in orange county." as soon as that was said, you were no longer speaking with a communist. the promise of a better life, inclusion in a modern vibrant society accomplished much much more than any torture or abuse. the operatives that engaged in the abuse of prisoners were not at all interested in obtaining intelligence values and totally interested in satisfying their own sick impulses. that torture is now policy, that human rights is considered to be an impediment to american interests is disgraceful and undefendable. i am ashamed.

that torture is now policy, that human rights is considered to be an impediment to american interests is disgraceful and undefendable. i am ashamed.

I agree with this, more or less, but I don't think your argument gets at the cases Bush defends. I doubt you could interest Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a store in Orange County, and I doubt that those you could interest in such a thing know what he knows about al Qaeda. The question (or one at least) becomes, how much do we need to know what he knows?

Focussing on the practical arguments is always (in my opinion) going to leave room for counter arguments based on exceptional cases or extreme threats. And maybe that's how it has to be, because strictly (nonpragmatic) moral arguments don't seem to apply in extremes. "Thou shalt not kill," for example.

my point, which you managed to miss in the specifics, is that rather than torture and abuse which tend to harden opposition well into future generations. rather than become exactly like what ever evil we claim to confront. we reach back to the principles of george washington who several times, despite severe provocation by hessian and british atrocities to continental army prisoners demanded and issued multiple sets of specific orders regarding decent and humane treatment of hessian prisoners. washington was wise enough to realize that the issue was not about who and what they were fighting. they knew exactly why they felt compelled to rebellion. it was about who we, as a nation, would choose to become. i am sure that even in the presence of a khalid sheikh mohammed a skilled interrogator would be able to find those things that would bring him along. and, in the case of sheikh mohammed, without resorting to threatening to harm his young sons. (susskind one percent doctrine) that, by any measure of human decency was beyond all imaginable limits. that was disgraceful. this war is a disgrace and getting worse on a daily basis. the hypocrisy of those who preach freedom and godliness while committing these vile acts shames us all. by not defending our freedoms and personal liberty this administration has handed the terrorists even more than they were expecting to gain. they have made us quit acting like americans. to paraphrase general washington, this issue is not about what we are fighting, it is about who we are as a people and a nation.

TMB, I apologize for missing the specifics of your point. I still agree with what you say for the most part but doubt some of what seem to be the implications.

i am sure that even in the presence of a khalid sheikh mohammed a skilled interrogator would be able to find those things that would bring him along.

If this is true, then of course torture makes no sense. It seems highly doubtful to me.

to paraphrase general washington, this issue is not about what we are fighting, it is about who we are as a people and a nation.

I understand the idea behind this, but a war is always not only about who we are but also about who we're fighting. We are people who would prefer not to ever kill anyone, but because of the situation the enemy presents, we sometimes feel we must. It is wise and good to use the least harmful methods possible. But killing people even without torturing them does change who we are. All war changes who we are, makes us people we would rather not be.

All of these discussions more or less assume that torture is even more dehumanizing and morally corrupt than killing or maiming people, even though most of us would probably choose the former over the latter (especially if the former were limited to the measures the CIA is reportedly authorized to use). If torture is worse than killing, then the bar is presumably higher, and we might have wars in which killing is called for but not torture (even assuming it to be useful). But I suppose you can see why some would question that whole idea.

If you just think there isn't a situation in which torture would ever be necessary because other equally promising methods will always be possible, then you'll continue to have skeptical arguments about that practical claim.

If you think torture is never justified because there can never be a strong enough moral reason to torture even if it would work, because of who it makes us or for some other reason, then that's open to different objections, such as those above.

Even though there is wisdom in what you say, I don't think it settles these issues.

i have been there. my issue with torture is not hypothetical in the least. i have seen things done that cost me deeply in my soul and heart, to say nothing of many, many nights spent sleepless in the grip of memories, sights, sounds, and smells that refuse to go away. torture on a simple pragmatic basis is not effective as a means of getting information out of a prisoner. if it were then john mccain would have given up some serious information he had in his head while the north vietnamese were breaking bones and heads on himself and his comrades. instead, he gave them what they wanted, a generic bullshit confession. if torture was effective as an instrument of truth, saving lives on the battlefield i would have been able to swallow my distaste and get with the program. what i saw, with eyes that i wish had a rewind or erase function, was not people in search of any kind of truth, i saw sick bullies doing sick things to poor dumb bastards. more than once, when the pain had subsided, when they were driven past even fear, i saw hatred in the eyes of the tortured. hatred that burns deep. hatred that never goes away. wounds that never heal. take your hypotheticals, take your ticking time bomb sophistry bullshit and try to sell it to someone who is not still hearing screams from long ago. they kind of drive out attempts to reason this question for me.

also, if you have not been in the ranks, in combat, born wounds and the bodies of men you loved off to be flown away for a dirt nap. please refrain from explaining to those of us who have actually seen what it is about the nature of war. it's just unseemly somehow.

TMB, I'm very sorry that you ever had to have such experiences. I agree with what you say in the context in which you experienced it. Since you would prefer that I not respond with arguments I'll just let what I've already said stand. I'm very sorry.

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