Can’t we just scare them a little bit?

I guess I’m old-fashioned, but I like interrogations that produce results. If that means scaring a creepy terrorist with the harmless illusion of a death far more civilized than the murder he has conceived for his infidel victims, I can’t say I have a problem with it. So when I read that (a) the Bush admin has decided to capitulate on the issue and (b) come across this sentence in the ABC report: ‘One of the techniques, “water-boarding,” involved pouring water over the victim to make them feel as if they were drowning, a maneuver that often resulted in a confession within a few seconds’…. I’m inclined to wonder why we wouldn’t keep that technique in our arsenal.

I recommend this article to anyone who is interested in understanding the challenges that the interrogators charged with uncovering emerging threats to our security face and the considerable constraints they work under.



  1. Stu,

    I’m all for giving “terrorists” a rough ride. My objection is that it remains a possibility that the guy you think is a “terrorist” turns out to just be some bloke, and then you’ve gone and tortured an innocent man. It might seem like a pain in the arse to think like that, but the whole innocent-until-proven-guilty thing means we can’t torture people. That incovenience is what makes Western society civilised. It’s not a way they typically behave in Arab countries. Must we now take on their morals in order to fight them? Allah forbid.


  2. Also, as terrible as this sounds, I am manifestly uninterested in terrorists’ comfort and don’t mind “scaring them a little bit.” BUT, I don’t believe that information obtained through torture, or even “aggressive” questioning in some instances, is reliable. It might be that I don’t know enough about interrogations though. Perhaps they have methods of combining aggressive interrogating tactics with other methods to ensure that the terrorists aren’t just telling the interrogators what they want to hear.


  3. […] Finally, the article reports the Pentagon’s release of its standards for interrogation on Sept. 6, which specifically prohibit certain methods of interrogation such as “forcing a detainee to be naked or perform sexual acts; using beatings and other forms of causing pain, including electric shocks; placing hoods over prisoners’ heads or tape on their eyes; mock executions; withholding food, water or medical care; using dogs against detainees; and waterboarding.” In reporting this enumeration of prohibited techniques, Le Monde seems to take the same approach to this list as Andrew Sullivan (and others) who seem to be saying that because they were not proscribed on an enumerated list before today, they were specifically allowed. Piggybacking on Stuart’s recommendation yesterday of Heather Mac Donald’s 2005 City Journal article on prisoner abuse, I would hope that readers of Andrew Sullivan and Marty Lederman would read Heather Mac Donald’s response to this type of analysis. This is certainly not so they will come around to endorse torture (I don’t) but rather so that they can get an alternative analysis of what types of treatment was endorsed by whom, for whom, and when. I think it is disputable whether the lack of specific enumeration of prohibited techniques meant that they were specifically allowed. […]


  4. I know I’m coming into this one a bit late, but Tom Chartier recently posted an article over at LRC mentioning some of the awful things Bush has done as of late. The real value of this article, IMO, are the links he provides to other websites. The rhetorical questions are also priceless. Anything at LRC is worth reading, IMO.

    In my musings of late, I’ve found that videos often convey meaning to a wider audience than, say, a book or a internet article. With that, much of what is morally disturbing about Bush’s activities are neatly explained in two Robert Greenwald videos (here and here). Both are highly recommended. The rabbit hole is much deeper than most folks know, so to speak.


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