joe moon


I’ve been following the torture stuff moderately closely. For people who haven’t been, the main arguments seem to boil down to:

  1. Is waterboarding (and other techniques authorized in the recently released legal memos) torture?
  2. Did it save lives?
  3. Should the people who conducted it be prosecuted?
  4. Should the people who authorized it be prosecuted?

On the first question, I feel like Christopher Hitchens’ take on it, after subjecting himself to the experience, is pretty compelling. So is John McCain’s:

Anyone who knows what waterboarding is could not be unsure. It is a horrible torture technique used by Pol Pot and being used on Buddhist monks as we speak.

Also, this argument that it can’t be torture because we subject our own servicemen to it in SERE school is retarded. It’s there in SERE school to train our servicemen specifically how to resist torture techniques that the enemy might use. If anything, that’s an argument for the fact that it is torture.

On the second question, this sums up my thinking pretty nicely:

Moreover, even if we were starting from a blank slate and we could simply ignore the fact that techniques like waterboarding are proscribed by numerous laws and treaties, to make a policy case for the use of such techniques, you would have to do much more than establish that they occasionally have produced actionable intelligence. Among other things, you would have to prove that 1) such information could not have been extracted using other means, 2) that the misinformation produced by such methods doesn’t overwhelm the accurate information to the point of rending the whole exercise pointless, 3) that the strategic costs of using such techniques (international outrage, increased radicalization of the Muslim world, increased danger to U.S. troops, etc.) don’t outweigh the benefits, and 4) the value of the information produced is worth the tradeoff of never being able to use that information (or the fruits thereof) in court and severely jeopardizing any hope of ever convicting that individual in any constitutionally compliant legal proceeding.

The whole post is worth reading (and not that long).

As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone agrees that the answer to the third question is “no.” (Though with the specific case of 183 waterboardings for KSM, I think it’s more dubious because that is outside the guidelines of even the recently released memos.)

The fourth question is the one I’m still torn about. On one hand, isn’t that how the system’s supposed to work? Trial and verdict? And if we don’t, what kind of precedent does that set? On the other hand, this is an interesting read. Still not sure what to think.

Update: Two more articles on the issue of question 2, both NYT op-eds: “A Dubious C.I.A. Shortcut,” “My Tortured Decision.”