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A Geeky Debate About Torture

by on January 23, 2009

So, Buffalo Geek and I got into a mini debate on Twitter about torture, GITMO, and the Geneva Convention. He then “challenged” me to a face-to-face debate.

I am all for meeting my political adversaries. I’ve had lunch with a few since I moved here, including two lunches with Buffalo Pundit. But, those were friendly encounters, not motivated by bravado or pomposity.

So, rather than move a public debate to a private setting and then have an “interpretation” of the results blogged about after the fact, I find it more transparent to keep the debate out in the open. So, I will simply post my beliefs on the matter here. There are three basic points I will make and elaborate on:

(1) Buffalo Geek says the United States sanctioned torture. This claim cannot be easily debated unless there is an agreement on what actually constitutes torture. Example: one method of interrogation I do not believe is torture is waterboarding, but some say it is.  Buffalo Geek may not accept my opinion because he “went through Level C SERE Training and [is] trained in interrogation techniques in accordance with Geneva.” Obviously he thinks he can use that training to dismiss my view as illegitimate or irrelevant. Well, I won’t just use my opinion then.

A while back, a friend of mine who served in the U.S. Navy gave me some firsthand information about the experience of waterboarding during his own SERE Training. I am reposting it here.

I was waterboarded during SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) Training as a new Naval Aviator prior to reporting to my first squadron. The purpose of this training was to prepare naval aviators for what they may experience if captured during a time of war. This training was based on the experiences of Naval Aviators and others who had been prisoners during the Viet Nam War. […] Waterboarding is hardly torture. It does not maim, cause permanent physical damage, or result in death. It merely simulates the sensation of drowning and having no control over your ability to end the encounter for very brief periods of time.

I suspect Buffalo Geek may have a different opinion on waterboarding and/or other interrogation techniques then my friend who went through the same training. But, then his ridiculous claim that the United States “sanctioned torture” is based not on fact, but on what his opinion of what torture is… and perhaps his bias against the Bush administration. There seems little point to try to change his mind, and I have more reason to trust the assessment of my friend than of Buffalo Geek. So I think we can agree to disagree on what constitutes torture.

(2) Buffalo Geek says torture doesn’t work. I agree on that. Actual torture is more likely to result in captured terrorists telling their interrogators what they want to hear.

Therefore the fact that we have not had another terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 means in part that we have received reliable and actionable intelligence as a result of current interrogation methods. If torture doesn’t work, than clearly what we are doing now is not torture… because it is working.

If Buffalo Geek wants to claim that 7+ years without another terrorist attack is just a coincidence, then best of luck to him.

(3) There is the matter of allegations of torture by captured terrorists. I know that there are a lot people on the left who salivated at the thought that America was torturing captured terrorists because it gave them some lame civil-rights cause to fight for… The only thing is al Qaeda relies on American bleeding hearts to give legs to bogus claims of torture:

An al Qaeda handbook preaches to operatives to level charges of torture once captured, a training regime that administration officials say explains some of the charges of abuse at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.


A directive lists one mission as “spreading rumors and writing statements that instigate people against the enemy.”

If captured, the manual states, “At the beginning of the trial … the brothers must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by state security before the judge. Complain of mistreatment while in prison.”

So, that’s really all there is to say. There wasn’t a need to do this privately was there?


From → Commentary

  1. The commonly accepted definition of torture includes inflicting mental pain or anguish.

  2. That seems like a pretty subjective definition …

  3. Not any more or less subjective than “my buddy in the air force didn’t think it was torture”.

    In 1947, the US prosecuted waterboarding by the Japanese as a war crime. In this decade, the Bush administration tripped over itself to justify the practice.

    Waterboarding is torture. There’s no debate to be had about it. It has a proud pedigree of having been used by the Khmer Rouge, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Japanese under Tojo.

    Defend it all you want.

  4. There is a debate. So you can’t say there is none and pretend like the issue is closed.

  5. Like I said, in 1947 the US prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime.

    Does that sound legal or debatable to you?

    It was used by the North Koreans to get captured US Servicemen to confess to a bogus plot. So it’s not just illegal, it’s unreliable.

    Does that sound like a win to you?

    How does obtaining oft-bogus information via war crime help keep anyone safe?

  6. 7 years without another attack… we are obviously doing something right.

  7. So, we waterboarded our way to safety? You can’t possibly believe that, and I’d love to see credible evidence that that’s the case. And how does that explain what happened in London, Bali, or Madrid? Are you up to date on the internal schisms within al Qaeda and the fact that they are running out of money and fighting amongst themselves?

    The wonder of terrorists and guerrillas is that they are by definition difficult to detect and prevent against. But 10 minutes into a visit to London revealed more common-sense counter-terrorism measures than I’ve experienced in all my life in the United States.

    Retired Major General Paul Eaton recently said that, “torture is the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough.”

    Why is it ok to jettison our principles, morals, ethics, laws, and treaties in order to elicit unreliable information that cannot be used in any future military or civilian prosecution of the informant? Under what legal scheme does the United States justify the indefinite detention of _alleged_ combatants without trial or charge?

  8. Captured terrorists who have been interrogated, including KSM (who was reportedly waterboarded) gave us actionable intelligence. You might like to believe that we have been attack free the past 7 years by accident, but then who are you trying kid?

  9. For every Khalid Sheikh Mohammed there are probably 10 kids there who did bupkus. And you can’t disprove it, because they’ve not been charged or tried.

    And US military undergoes SERE training in order to experience and resist the tactics that savage opponents might use against them. You don’t think al Qaeda teaches their people how to hold out against torture?

    Seriously, the use of physical pain to coerce a detainee to talk is probably among the best Qaeda recruiting tools going.

  10. So, I can’t disprove it… but you can prove it?

    If al Qaeda’s training does such, then how come what we are doing has worked, if we are, as you say “torturing” them.

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