Wednesday, December 12, 2007


"Hey, this ain't so bad!"

In a recent post, I conceded that, in my view, waterboarding was a form of torture. I will stick by that assessment although I would never compare it to more traditional forms that cause real pain and real injury-leading to death if prolonged. Following the debates this month over the pros and cons of waterboarding, I have come to the opinion that in certain cases, it is ok with me.

First of all, I don't think it should be practiced by our military and certainly not by our police in attempting to extract a confession from criminals. If, as it appears, the CIA has been using the technique with success on selected terrorist prisoners, with the goal of preventing terrorist attacks and saving innocent lives, then I have to concur.

What drives me over the edge on this question is the revelation that the technique was used on two major terrorist figures, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the 9-11 planners and Abu Zubaydah. In both cases, these terrorists quicky gave in, and gave confessions and intelligence that has prevented several attacks, according to the CIA.

So do I favor prosecuting the CIA operatives who carried out the interrogations? Absolutely not, especially since it appears they had authorization at the highest levels. Does that mean that George Bush, Dick Cheney and others should be prosecuted for authorizing the technique? Not in my opinion. Whatever you may think of the practice, the motive was to save innocent lives against an enemy that we had never confronted before. Other practicioners of torture, such as Saddam Hussein, the Shah of Iran and others did it for purposes of protecting their power and suppressing their enemies, usually decent, innocent people.

Another argument that goes against prosecuting Bush et al is that we now know that in Septemebr 2002, several members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi, were given a tour of CIA detention facilities and briefed on the interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. Not only was there no objection, but at least two members asked why more aggressive means of questioning were not used. In addition, several other Congressional leaders received briefings, apparently including Jane Harmon (D-CA) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Duncan Hunter (R-CA) freely acknowledges that he received briefings and that he agrees with the practice. Joe Biden (who doesn't) says he wants the appointment of a special prosecutor. Of course, he knows Congress can call for hearings itself, but perhaps he is reluctant to lead an inquest that would embarrass Pelosi and other key Democrats.

In my earlier posting on torture, I stated that as a retired law enforcement officer (DEA), I never did it and never would have countenanced the practice as a law enforcement tool. I would make an exception in the case of a kidnapped agent (such as DEA's Enrique Camarena in 1985)and if I were ever confronted with a suspect who I knew was aware of the agent's location. This seems to me to be similar to having a prisoner such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was aware of numerous plots in the works to kill innocent Americans by the thousands. How do you look yourself in the mirror if you refuse to use aggressive interrogation techniques, the terrorist remains defiantly silent and, as a result, a terrorist act is carried out with a huge loss of life? No. I think we have to realize that this is a dirty war, one in which we didn't set the ground rules. If the rest of the world doesn't like it-too bad. Most of the rest of the world is not lifting a finger to help us anyway.

And don't talk to me about the Geneva Convention. That is a treaty designed to protect captured soldiers (who are honorable people), not criminal terrorists-who represent no nation, represent no signatory to the Convention, do not follow its rules-indeed, they use methods that target innocent civilians. They are not protected by the Geneva Convention either morally or legally. In addition, we have also learned that being humane to those we take as prisoner in no way protects our own soldiers who fall into terrorist hands. They are routinely slaughtered anyway.

So enough. Let's stop flagellating ourselves over this waterboarding business and stop advertising to our enemies how we are going to interrogate them. Finally, lets stop fighting ourselves and direct our attention to the bad guys.

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