Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 21, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: The Other Half of the Story

Drew M at Ace notes that Dick Cheney's demand that the Obama Administration release all intelligence gathered from the interrogation techniques detailed in the memos it recently released places Obama in a bind:

Will Obama do it and risk people thinking, "maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all". If they don't do it, then the argument becomes, "there must be something so valuable they can't talk about it". Which again means, it worked.

(H/T) If critics of coercive interrogation were honest, of course, they'd welcome the release and the chance to argue that even interrogation methods that get results are not worth the moral lines we have to cross to get there. And in fact, many of us on the conservative side would agree with that in principle; we just disagree on where you draw the line that says that certain forms of coercion constitute torture, and think that, for example, exposing a man to a caterpillar or bouncing him off a fake flexible wall doesn't get there.

But of course, most of the voices shrieking "torture" not only refuse to define where they draw the line - and denounce anyone who tries, to the point of cheering on prosecutions of lawyers for making the effort - but insist on living in a fantasy world where there are never any tradeoffs. They look at interrogators saying that less coercive methods of questioning are often the best (true), and that individuals acting under coercion or torture may provide false information (also true, but of course true as well of any method of interrogating terrorists or criminals) and conclude from this that coercive techniques never, ever work, never, ever provide useful information, and are always the least effective method.

It's the cheap, easy way out of a moral debate as old as war itself. Now, if there really is intelligence that's still too valuable to disclose, just say that and I won't question it; but otherwise, if you are going to argue that coercive interrogation is 100% ineffective, you should not fear disclosure of its fruits.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)

Even easier solution: Subject Cheney to "advanced interrogation techniques" and let's see what he comes up with.
My bet is he'll lay the blame at everyone else's feet, which will only prove the techniques gain nothing of value.

Posted by: Berto at April 21, 2009 1:10 PM

Is waterboarding torture Crank? I notice you use a different word for something that has been regarded by torture, by the US government and common sense, for more than a century.

Should we, the next time we fight a war*, be ok if our enemies strap down a pilot and proceed to do the same?
And if it's not torture, why not do it to a murder suspect?

* Remember, the enemy that we are fighting now isn't the enemy we are fighting always, and the rules we are putting into place matter

Posted by: Dave at April 21, 2009 1:37 PM

Dave -

1. I use the term "coercive interrogation" because it's descriptive. Torture is a subset of coercive interrogation, but the term assumes a judgment that you have to make first to qualify it. I see no reason why we can't use both terms to mean what they say.

2. I admit that waterboarding is awfully close to the line, but I would not classify it as torture.

3. I agree that we need to have rules and those rules matter. I disagree that the same rules apply without meaningful distinctions. Our criminal justice system properly bans nearly all forms of coercive interrogation, and throws out confessions routinely if the defendant's statement was coerced. The Geneva Conventions - again properly - are even stricter in prohibiting even the offer of mild inducements in questioning POWs. Nobody today argues that we should have waterboarded members of the Wehrmacht, the SS, the Viet Minh or Viet Cong, because they were legitimate combatants.

Guys like KSM, however, have chosen to operate outside international rules of war; their every action is a continuous war crime, and as they do not abide by those rules neither should they be accorded the same protections as legitimate POWs. It is, in fact, corrosive to the rule of international law to apply no penalty to those who flout it. In the long run we advance rather than degrade human rights by sending the message that enemies who operate as Al Qaeda does will be treated more harshly than captured members of legitimate militaries.

Posted by: Crank at April 21, 2009 2:14 PM

Berto misses the point (as usual). The reason they are using these techniques isn't to get a confession but to extract intelligence. Do people really think that something a detainee says (under "torture" or not) isn't confirmed through other sources?

Dave says that waterboarding has been considered torture for century -- according to who? When most people think of torture, they think of things like pulling our your fingernails or toenails, or burning your skin, or just plain beating the sh*t of you. I'd have a hard time believing that a majority of people consider water-boarding torture.

Posted by: Tom at April 21, 2009 4:32 PM

Does waterboarding leave scars? In other words, 24 hours (or even 1 hour) after the waterboarding is over, are you still experiencing the effects? I'm not asking this to be crass and the answers to those questions aren't necessarily determinative as to whether it is torture or not.

But Cheney's demand is genius and it's proper regardless of whether you think he's Darth Vader or not. It's a basic principle: if you are going to reveal part of the truth, you need to reveal all of it to provide context and allow the decision-maker (that is, us) to make a properly informed decision.

Posted by: per14 at April 21, 2009 5:00 PM

The "waterboarding" that the Japanese were doing during WWII is not the same as what the CIA did. The Japanese were simply pouring water down people's nose and throat until they were literally choking to death.

Posted by: andrew at April 21, 2009 5:47 PM

"2. I admit that waterboarding is awfully close to the line, but I would not classify it as torture."

The reason I do is that is simulates death by drowning. If you read up on why it is done, and the effects, it is the same. We prohibit mock executions for a reason (even to these prisoners) - pointing a gun with an empty/blank chamber at someone simulates death. Simulating death by drowning is no different, and is likely worse.

As to our own criminal justice system, I have a feeling Scalia's professionalism will be creeping into exclusionary, but that's just me.
As to treating them worse? POWs get returned, eventually. (Convicted) Terrorists get death. I'm fine with that.

From a former SERE instructor, Malcolm Nance.

"Dave says that waterboarding has been considered torture for century -- according to who"
In 1901 an American Soldier was convicted in the Philippines. 1957 French used it in Algeria.
Captain Chase Nielsen in the Doolittle raid. And no, it wasn't that different - covering the face with a towel, and pouring water over it gives the victim a choice to swallow it, which they normally do.

"Does waterboarding leave scars?"
Technically, yes. You lose brain cells from the time you are deprived of oxygen. If something goes wrong - easily possible when you are willingly filling the lungs with water - you can force hypoxia to set in. Then you go into farther territories with heart attacks, dry drowning and the like.
I believe the lungs can also be damaged by water, though I can't remember what exactly.
And that is only if things go as planned. Waterboarding is controlled downing. The human body is unpredictable.

Posted by: Dave at April 21, 2009 6:40 PM

What is torture? It is an unacceptable level of pain and suffering inflicted by someone else. Torture violates basic human rights and when it is discovered Society is obligated to end it immediately.

Because Barney Frank is a Senator , I suffer an unacceptable level of pain and suffering. Society is obligated to end my suffering immediately and to restore my basic human rights.

I think more people are tortured by Barney Frank than have ever been tortured by the CIA.

Posted by: sol vason at April 21, 2009 7:13 PM

Guys do you actually believe you are ever going to get an honest argument from a liberal. Come on. Congressional Democrats were made aware of what was being done and what was their response........Oh yeah, they were worried that it wasn't rough enough. There was something like 30 or so times that Congress memebers were briefed about was going on and they had nothing to say. They controlled Congress for the last 2 years of the Bush administration , at anytime they could have explicitly outllawed everything they were so-so appalled with, what did they do? Nothing

These people have no honor and no honesty. They are bs artists and hypocrites of the highest order. Don't demean yourself by arguing with them. Ignore their faux outrage and handwringing-its all an act.

Posted by: dch at April 21, 2009 8:18 PM

I think thye "torture/coercive interrogation" argument is one that neither side of the aisle is intellectually honest about most of the time. Dick Cheney and his ilk have never really convinced me that there's any method they consider to be too far to go if they think it's even marginally beneficial (or even maybe if it isn't - I think there's a fair amount of simple desire to inflict pain on the "bad guys"). And virtually no one on the left is willing to advance the genuinely principled argument that there are things we shouldn't do even if they would prevent a terrorist attack. So we get the simpleminded (though sometimes true) "torture doesn't work" argument, and Obama claiming that security vs principle is a "false choice". He is a politician, of course, so I don't fault him any more than I fault a fish for swimming, but it doens't mean he has any particular wisdom on the subject.

Posted by: Jerry at April 21, 2009 8:46 PM

Jerry seems to come the closest to reason here; dch is characteristically inane and Sol Vason doesn't know the difference between the House and the Senate.

Crank, you seem to believe as Cheney and his enablers at DOJ did that the Presdient is not bound by anything other than his judgment (or in Bush's case, his "gut"). Even if this crazy proposition were correct, Bush and Cheney's progam of torture went well over the moral line and have placed our military at much greater peril if captured. Typical chicken hawk machismo with no real courage to back it up.

Posted by: Magrooder at April 21, 2009 9:48 PM

This stuff about "placed our military at much greater peril if captured" assumes that there was previously some internal or external constraint on the behavior of non-state-actor terrorist groups towards their captives, whether American soldiers or otherwise. There is zero evidence of this.

Posted by: Crank at April 22, 2009 12:55 AM


Bwawny Fwank is a congresscritter not a senator. The rest of your point remains valid. His voice triggers my TV's mute button.

Posted by: largebill at April 22, 2009 10:26 AM

I'll see you, Dick, and raise you by requesting the declassification and release of any and all documents related to “enhanced interrogation”, domestic surveillance, “extraordinary rendition”, and any and all other programs undertaken under the general rubric, “The Global War on Terror”.
Let's lay all the cards on the table and, as per14 rightly says, let the people make an informed decision.

Posted by: Berto at April 22, 2009 11:46 AM

You lose brain cells from the time you are deprived of oxygen. If something goes wrong - easily possible when you are willingly filling the lungs with water - you can force hypoxia to set in.

No. Subjects have their mouth covered with plastic wrap or a towel. It is simulated drowning, not actual drowning. Supposedly the subjects head lower than their feet and the pouring water triggers the same response as if the subject were drowning, but actual aspiration of water in not part of it.

The example of mock executions has some validity, but when you claim subjects are aspirating water you lose all credibility.

Posted by: spongeworthy at April 22, 2009 2:21 PM

"There is zero evidence of this."
Again, future wars. We have our government saying wrongly this is not torture. It would be difficult for us, leaving the Bush policies in place, to condemn a state actor for doing the same. Can Cuba do this to their domestic terrorists, ie, dissidents? What about country xxx, signatory to the Geneva conventions, when capturing our prisoners? Since it is only enhanced interrogation.
It's all fine and good to say that state actors will behave according to what they have signed, but they have lawyers too.

"Supposedly the subjects head lower than their feet and the pouring water triggers the same response as if the subject were drowning, but actual aspiration of water in not part of it."
Not entirely true. The lowered table is to make sure the upper respiratory tract(sinuses etc.) is filled with water, the cover to make sure it doesn't escape, and the lungs slowly collapse because they can't take in oxygen. The simulation part of it does include water entering the body, but our handy lawyers made sure to limit it to not intentionally filling the lungs with water.
Apologies, I should have made it clearer that the willingly meant to be "willingly entering a situations where the lungs could partially fill with water", since this is a possible outcome but not the intention. It's part of the reason saline is used instead of plain water(really though, I'm just going to call it water, too complex), in addition to absorption through the sinuses.

"The example of mock executions has some validity, but when you claim subjects are aspirating water you lose all credibility."
Lungs are quite powerful, and is easily possible to aspirate water, in the beginning. Not to completely fill them, they are more likely to collapse.
In addition, if there is any remaining water in the upper respiratory tract when the tortured prisoner sits up and is allowed to inhale, it's very likely water is going to be aspirated. And the lungs partially filled with water.

Posted by: Dave at April 22, 2009 5:09 PM

Dave - First of all, my point is that non-state-actor terrorists will do nasty things to our guys at any opportunity regardless of how we act towards them.

Can Cuba do this to their domestic terrorists, ie, dissidents?

Can they? They already do all sorts of horrible things to dissidents. Our basis for criticizing them is that these are dissidents repressed by a police state.

What about country xxx, signatory to the Geneva conventions, when capturing our prisoners? Since it is only enhanced interrogation.

No, no, no. You can't use any kind of coercive interrogation of legitimate POWs, torture or not torture. The US doesn't and hasn't condoned any such thing.

It's all fine and good to say that state actors will behave according to what they have signed, but they have lawyers too.

State actors will do whatever they think they can get away with. In practice, they can get away with a lot less than non-state actors because they have more to lose.

Posted by: Crank at April 22, 2009 5:23 PM

BTW, it's not just the Bush White House using the term.

Posted by: Crank at April 22, 2009 5:24 PM

"First of all, my point is that non-state-actor terrorists will do nasty things to our guys at any opportunity regardless of how we act towards them."

Right - and my point of adding to Magrooder is that our actions open the door in the future, to state actors. That the US has not condoned this towards POWs in specific is not the issue - the torture memos address what is torture. Not alone if it can only be done to non-state actors.

"You can't use any kind of coercive interrogation of legitimate POWs, torture or not torture. The US doesn't and hasn't condoned any such thing."
Never said that it did, though I understand if using the interrogation word made it seem that is what I was saying. Let me expand it a bit.
What I said that we've opened up that this is not torture. Take the General Protection of "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever."
If this is not torture, you can do it a POW as long as it is not to coerce information from them(ie, ask no questions, give no orders). That's just spooky, right? You can ask them questions at 9AM, and do nothing. And then waterboard at 4PM. So long as you have a lawyer say this is not torture, and you're not trying to coerce them to do anything or give information, and these are not linked in any way to punishment.
If they start to speak (nod nod wink wink), that's up to them.

As to Cuba, yes, our basis for criticizing them is that they are a police state, but we also criticize what is done.

"BTW, it's not just the Bush White House using the term."

If they use the term, they have to prosecute it. And that's without going into our international treaties. Remember the Supreme Court ruling on Guantanamo.
I can feel free to use it based on judgment since doing so doesn't obligate me to do anything. A country admitting their citizens tortured, and not following through with a trial? Or making this statement before attempting an indictment? How many prosecutors do you know would make a statement like "x murdered y" without following it up with indictment?

Posted by: Dave at April 22, 2009 7:56 PM


What there is no evidence of is that Bush and Cheney's criminal torture regime produced ANY information of ANY value.

They lied about torturing. Why ever would we believe anything Cheney says now to stay away from the hangman?

Posted by: Magrooder at April 22, 2009 10:19 PM

I guess Magrooder only reads the print edition.

Posted by: Crank at April 22, 2009 10:32 PM

Great article.

Put me down as against torture & against shredding the Constitution!

And against poverty, racism, injustice.

And in favor of L-O-V-E.

Just depends, as Slick Willie might say, on your definition of these things.

And, Crank, you’ve gotta stay au courant on the latest formulation. All week in the MSM, it’s been “harsh interrogation techniques”. With such a vague formulation the Bush Regime is certainly guilty. Of something. Off with their heads.

What is this, a Banana Republic where the new Regime imprisons the members of the old?

Judging from the comments here & elsewhere, the simplistic idea of the impenetrable Left is that The Bush, er, Regime was guilty of “torture” in the interrogation of prisoners. And that aliens from Klingon who have never set foot on Earth are entitled to provisions of Constitutional Law not found in the Constitution itself or SCOTUS cases. And that all “civilized” people agree with them.

And yes, such commenters are entitled to their own opinion, to their own urban legends, & to their own idea of what the law shoudda been, but not to their own facts or their own version of what the law, or its "penumbras" and "emanations", was or is now. And the idea that only those who agree with these commenters are “civilized” & that all civilized people agree with these commenters is Pauline Kael Factor 101.

But using, as they do, such phrases as "violations of the Geneva Conventions”, “The U.S. Constitution”, “common law”, “international law”, “the Ten Commandments”, “the Koran”, or The Karma Sutra”(OOPS, forget that last one), is simply an attempt to give a legal veneer to such feeeeelings, O, O, feeeeelings that "the U.S. was engaging in the interrogation of prisoners in a manner which they don’t like”.

Here’s one for them: THE NEW YORKER has a recent article “Hellhole -
The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?”

The author states (& these words are used as a caption to a drawing of an obviously distressed, naked, bent over man) “POWs have reported that the simple experience of isolation is as much of an ordeal as any physical abuse they have suffered”

Is isolation torture? Yes, but only if it is under the authority of the administration, OOPS, Regime of a leader with an (R) following his Name.

Oh, but they know torture when they see it. If the commenters want respect on an intellectual blog, how ‘bout bringing it up a notch from lunch room chatter? Maybe they & even the TV talkingheads should be aware of UNCAT I & US Code definition of “torture” & the, shall we say, “things not quite ‘torture’, but not quite nice” in UNCAT Art XVI. And have some idea of how the US, in its express reservation when agreeing to CAT, viewed Art XVI as recapitulating the “cruel and unusual” clause in the U.S. Constitution, the SCOTUS interpretations of which clause are “meandering”.

And they ignore the Bush “Regime’s” argument that The CIA's use of waterboarding was legal and not torture, because it was a "procedure subject to strict limitations and safeguards" that made it substantially different from historical uses of the technique by the Japanese which they equate (hey, they forgot the Spanish Inquisition).

Don't agree with waterboarding? The One agrees with them. So go & get the Congress & The Administration to adopt a law, rule, or reg or have the President as Commander In Chief say “revise the Army Torture (OOPS) Manual”, which law or manual would then specifically say “as used herein, ‘torture’ shall mean any technique which produces answers by prisoners, including, without limitation, harsh techniques, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, isolation, making prisoners eat infidel food, & telling prisoners that the Koran is all B*lls**t”?

Hint: Can it be that these Hon worthies know that if the Sears Tower, or The Statute of Liberty is flattened by a kamikaze attack in which 11 bombers get their 72 virgins but their 12th co-conspirator is still sitting in Gitmo getting fat on all the goodies the PC yentas say he must be fed, they, Congress & The One, might be blamed by the voters for not connecting the dots & preventing such attack?

Even then someone like The Hon. Rockefeller will, after a new attack, claim that he/she had a letter in his/her desk saying that for sure it was not a good idea to use terms like "harsh techniques" or "any form of waterboarding", because he/she knew that it would lead to the recent new attack which we coudda, shoudda, woudda, prevented if only, you know, they'd listened to him/her....

Obama said in his inaugural speech that we must "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." That’s why "scrappleface" has a satire entitled “War On Terror' Ends, Obama Starts 'Case Against Terror’ ”. Some of us don’t think this L*ft/L*b*r**L (I don’t dare say the words) approach is a good one with respect to the “our safety” part.

Posted by: From Inwood at April 23, 2009 9:05 AM

Defining torture down-anything now is torture, if you really wouldn't want it done to you.

Posted by: John Salmon at April 23, 2009 10:14 AM


Good point, but with all due respect, I think you mean "up" not down.

As in Krauthammer's famous article, “Defining Deviancy Up” (describes how the Loony Left has caused society to reclassify some White low rudeness as high crimes (“hate speech”) which are, according to them, per se, unprotected by the First Amendment. It was the mirror-image response to Moynihan's , “Defining Deviancy Down” (describes how the Loony Left has caused society to reclassify many Black crimes as no longer matters of legal concern to PC citizens.)

For that matter, a better definition for The BDS people is that torture is anything which produces good results from a national security perspective. "Sensitive" & "compassionate" people will now note that the end does not justify the means". Since they're gonna do bumper sticker stuff, I'll add Justice Jackson's "The Constitution is not a suicide pact".



Posted by: From Inwood at April 23, 2009 11:55 AM

Dave, you got ahold of some bad information. I have seen waterboarding described in terms like the ones you use here, but that is not the way it is practiced. I realize that such fine sources as Wikipedia may take their definitions and descriptions from sources with an agenda. I can only tell you what I know, which is that you are wrong.

Waterboarding does not include the aspiration of water. At most, some water may splash into the nostrils, but they can easily be cleared by exhaling as water is poured--any swimmer or diver can tell you as much. Your sources are misleading you and you have formed and shared an opinion based upon bad facts.

Posted by: spongeworthy at April 23, 2009 1:00 PM

Ladies and gentlemen, Your conservative movement, 2009. All for torture and the rule of law means nothing. God help you. (Not literally, it's just an expression.)

Posted by: Magrooder at April 23, 2009 9:17 PM

"Dave, you got ahold of some bad information."
It's not - read up on the memos, and then the followup investigation that shows how actual practices went beyond SERE school practice.

Covering the face with cloth, using saline to maintainblood chemistry. Here's some of Bybee's actual memo.
"A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth. "

From the Bradbury memo, which was a review of what was being done:
"We understand that if the detainee makes an effort to defeat the technique (e.g. by twisting his head to the side and breathing out of the corner of his mouth), the interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee's nose and mouth to dam the runoff, in which case it would not be possible for a detainee to breathe during the application of the water."
"Either in the normal application, or where countermeasures are used, we understand that water may enter - and may accumulate in - the detainee's mouth and nasal cavity, preventing him from breathing. In addition, you have indicated that the detainee as a countermeasure may swallow water, possibly in significant quantities"

My information is correct.

To say that you can easily clear water from the nostrils and mouth? Not when you cannot exhale, if you have lost all of your breath, after being brought to this state for 40seconds(Bradbury again), again and again, with only a few full breaths between applications(Bybee).

Posted by: Dave at April 24, 2009 2:29 AM
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