Thursday, April 23, 2009

Waterboarding, Moralizing, Politics, and Security

Waterboarding's back.

I think that many politicos count on their most loyal supporters having very short memories, or a deep need to re-hash a few favorite topics. Another War-on-Terror Blog isn't about politics, but America's leaders are chosen by political means, so politics affects the war on terror. And, I'm afraid, often affects decisions our leaders make.

Waterboarding: It Really is Unpleasant

Reuters, via International Business Times, used w/o permission)

That's a demonstrator, being waterboarded to show how horrible, inhuman, depraved, and generally awful it is. That photo is from a 2007 article. The caption was "A demonstrator is held down during a simulation of waterboarding outside the Justice Department in Washington November 5, 2007. (Photo: Reuters)"

Waterboarding is something that I'd rather not do, or have done to me. I'd rather not have another root canal procedure, too: and I really don't want to go through finals week again. Of course, that's different.

I don't take demonstrators who waterboard each other to show how intolerable it is very seriously. I do give some credence to a former CIA interrogator, quoted in an Indian news article:

"...Former CIA interrogator John Kiriakou told U.S. news media that suspected al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaida agreed to cooperate after being subjected to the simulated drowning technique for less than a minute by CIA officials in 2002.

" 'It was like flipping a switch,' he told the Washington Post.

"He said the session yielded valuable information and probably helped prevent attacks, but he now believes waterboarding is torture and 'Americans are better than that.'..." (International Business Times)

My guess is that Mr. Kiriakou is a nice person, and feels bad about making someone else feel bad. That's much to his credit. I think it's quite possible that he believes that waterboarding is torture. And I agree with him that "Americans are better than that."

The International Business Times didn't give enough information about Mr. Kiriakou to allow an evaluation of his personal motives and beliefs, in reference to his dislike of waterboarding.

I think two things are interesting here. First, someone who doesn't work for the CIA any more says that waterboarding is torture. Second, the same person says it is effective: "'It was like flipping a switch," is how he was quoted.

"Torture" is a word which, like "love," has many meanings. People may describe everything from final exams to waiting in line as "torture," and mean it. The same word is used to describe physical abuse ending in actual injury.

America subjects its own troops to waterboarding as part of training. Code Pink may believe that America tortures its own soldiers, but I'm not willing to take that leap of faith.

And, waterboarding is effective.

I do, seriously, think that America has a responsibility to behave ethically. Legal professionals have given their considered opinion that waterboarding is not illegal - and presumably not unethical. They could be right.

The way things are shaping up now, we could be in for a replay of the McCarthy era, as those professionals are run through as many Congressional hearings as it takes to destroy their careers and, if possible, their lives. I sincerely hope that doesn't happen: both for the sake of the victims, and for the sake of the American Congress's reputation.

Wouldn't it be Nice if Terrorists Were Nice?

I'd love to live in a world where an American interrogator could sit down with someone like Abu Zubaida, enjoy a nice cup of tea, ask who was planning the next attack, and get a nice, civil answer. Perhaps after that the interrogator would politely ask the terrorist to please stop hating Americans and other westerners so much.

Overwhelmed by the tea and kindness, the terrorist would fervently renounce terrorism, shake the interrogator's hand, and start doing volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity.

I'd love to live in a world like that.

As it is, I'm stuck with the real world, and so are the people who are trying to keep another 9/11 from happening.

Out here, terrorists are not nice people. I think that the politicos, in their self-righteous zeal to do whatever it is they're trying to do, should remember that the "diabolical" George Bush isn't the enemy. Al Qaeda is, and that group isn't alone.

News and views:


Brigid said...

Oh man. You know, maybe these people think this way about waterboarding because it reminds them of high school, bullies, and toilet stalls.

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Brian H. Gill said...


Spam not welcome here.

Brian H. Gill said...


You may be on to something there. It's a stereotype, but high school bullies and wacky liberals are perceived as having very different personalities.

Maybe opposition to waterboarding is a sort of post traumatic shock?? Nah. Interesting idea, though.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.