Saturday, August 22, 2009

Newsweek's CIA Story

Newsweek reports that that the CIA conducted "mock executions" and tried other methods to scare terrorist suspects into providing information. Naturally I had a couple of thoughts when reading this story. First, none of this information should be public. Methods used during secret intelligence operations to interrogate prisoners should be tightly guarded secrets. You'd think that should be obvious. The people making this information public, and those publicizing it are actively damaging U.S. national security by providing current and potential enemies with information about CIA interrogation methods. 

Second, the Newsweek writers are using a broad definition of "mock execution." In normal usage, a mock execution is when a prisoner is prepared for execution, led to believe he will be killed, and a simulated execution is performed. Generally this is done to break down the prisoner psychologically. Here's what Newsweek describes as a mock execution:  

a mock execution was staged in a room next to a detainee, during which a gunshot was fired in an effort to make the suspect believe that another prisoner had been killed.
A gunshot in another room where the prisoner is told someone has been killed is a trick, but not exactly a mock execution. The idea that the CIA shouldn't be allowed to deceive or scare terrorist suspects through such methods is laughable. 

Finally, we already know that the CIA used at least one actual physical torture method -- waterboarding -- and a number of other borderline techniques that could be defined as torture, depending on duration, severity, and subjective judgment. The reason such actions were authorized was that in the aftermath of 9/11, the need for intelligence was considered to be so great, that some extreme measures were permitted. In addition, the subjects in question were in some cases known foreign terrorists, individuals who many believe, including myself, were entitled to no rights or consideration. Given that waterboarding was used, is the use of milder psychological techniques such as execution tricks and various types of threats in any way remarkable?

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