Sunday, February 21, 2010

Terrorist Rights Supporters and General Petraeus

General David Petraeus was interviewed on Meet the Press today. It's pretty funny to see that the usual terrorist rights supporters -- mostly leftists, have seized on one section of the interview which they think supports their position. For example, here's Spencer Ackerman with a sneering "Open Letter" to Liz Cheney, who supports enhanced interrogation. After noting Petraeus' comments rejecting what he called "expedient measures," in favor of techniques consistent with the Army Field Manual, Ackerman asks

You’re a former deputy assistant secretary of state! You obviously know better than the man who implemented the surge in Iraq. Why don’t you enlighten Gen. Petraeus about all the glories of torture? And since you consider “enhanced interrogation” so necessary to secure the country, perhaps there’s a full-page ad you’ll take out in a major newspaper?
Well, I'm sure Liz Cheney can speak for herself, but I'd like to take this opportunity to fill in Ackerman. I'll start with the obvious. David Petraeus is a high-ranking, serving officer of the U.S. Army. As such, he's hardly going to break with the administration line when asked whether he would prefer to be able use enhanced interrogation techniques. His words on this issue at this particular time are completely meaningless. Enhanced interrogation techniques have already been banned, and the general knows they aren't going to be acceptable -- at least not openly -- under the Obama administration, so why in the world would he say anything other than what he said?

Second, it's pretty funny how terrorist rights supporters like Ackerman love to use the military prestige of a general when his position agrees with theirs. But when a person like General Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, and in a position to know far more about interrogation and intelligence than the head of U.S. Central Command defends enhanced interrogation methods, well we can just ignore him. I could easily turn Ackerman's silly "open letter" around and ask, who are you, Spencer Ackerman, to claim to know better than a former CIA director? Why should we listen to Petraeus but not Hayden? The words of a serving general like Petraeus carry far less weight than the statements of a retired general who is now free to speak his mind.

Third, and this also falls within the obvious realm, is the use of the word torture. Whether or not many enhanced interrogation techniques constitute torture is a matter of debate. Even waterboarding, which a majority (including myself) agree is torture, is not considered torture by many of those advocating it. Ackerman is just poisoning the well by using the term torture. If someone is arguing for the use of techniques which she herself does not believe are even torture, it's pretty idiotic to use a phrase like "the glories of torture" in reference to her position.

But what about people like myself, who do believe torture should be an option against known terrorists -- including techniques which are indisputably acknowledged as torture? How do we answer what Ackerman portrays as the great, not-to-be questioned wisdom of General Petraeus? Actually, I agree with Petraeus that in most circumstances the military should have nothing to do with questionable interrogation practices, let alone torture. It's important to maintain the honor of the military as a force that offers humane treatment to captured enemies. Compromising the military, having it violate its own rules and procedures, and involving it in the dirtiest side of intelligence gathering were and are bad ideas. But we happen to have an organization that isn't the military. Not only isn't it the military, but it was specifically created to act in secret, to violate laws and rules, and to carry out the dirty business of getting intelligence by means which in most civilian circumstances would be considered crimes. It's called the CIA. The military and the CIA are different entities with different missions, rules, and methods of operation. Attempting to constrain the CIA by restricting it to military procedures is every bit as stupid and shortsighted as corrupting and damaging the military  by allowing it to engage in practices not suitable for its mission and status.

As Ackerman demonstrates yet again, despite the existence of excellent arguments against the use of torture, most terrorist rights supporters rely on simplistic, illogical, emotional screeds that are easily debunked. Ackerman's "open letter" is nothing more than an appeal to authority, combined with poisoning the well, and an ad hominem attack on Cheney as someone who believes in the "glories of torture." Pretty weak stuff. 

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