Thursday, May 5, 2011

Torture, Intelligence & Osama bin Laden

In the aftermath of bin Laden's death, there have been all sorts of articles by terrorist rights supporters who continue to pretend that we couldn't possibly have gotten any important intelligence from waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques -- which they generically label torture in an expansive definition that renders the term virtually meaningless. The latest nonsense can be found in an editorial today by the New York Times called, "The Torture Apologists."
The killing of Osama bin Laden provoked a host of reactions from Americans: celebration, triumph, relief, closure and renewed grief. One reaction, however, was both cynical and disturbing: crowing by the apologists and practitioners of torture that Bin Laden’s death vindicated their immoral and illegal behavior after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Their are plenty of people, including myself, who do not agree that their behavior was immoral. Whether or not it was legal is highly debatable. What is cynical and disturbing is the continued effort by the New York Times and others to demonize those who worked to protect the country and extract intelligence from captured enemies.
There is no final answer to whether any of the prisoners tortured in President George W. Bush’s illegal camps gave up information that eventually proved useful in finding Bin Laden. A detailed account in The Times on Wednesday by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage concluded that torture “played a small role at most”
I love the constant, meaningless assertions of illegality. But more importantly, the opinions of a couple of people are hardly definitive. It is also difficult to quantify the value of individual pieces of intelligence, since they are not taken alone but in conjunction with everything else discovered or known. One small bit of information taken alone might not seem that important, but could be a critical link in building the final picture. A common logical error found among most anti-torture extremists, is a failure to understand that torture, or any form of coercive interrogation technique need not stand alone. Information is information no matter how it is extracted. It can be good, bad or indifferent. It can be confirmed, falsified, expanded upon, or linked with information generated by different methods other than the way it was initially obtained.
if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify Mr. Bush’s decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard.
Again, whether or not Bush violated the law is highly debatable. And in my opinion his actions were fully justified, whether any useful information was obtained or not. The idea that they violated "any acceptable moral standard" is simply laughable. People who believe torture can never be justified under any circumstances are a minority, yet these moral absolutists repeatedly put forth their own extreme views as if they were self-evident facts. It's pretty funny that this minority feels entitled to regularly speak in self-righteous terms as if they were the only true arbiters of morality.
There are many arguments against torture. It is immoral and illegal and counterproductive.
Again, we have an assertion backed by nothing but minority opinion. Even if it were a majority opinion, it would still be mere opinion. Most people believe that torture is immoral in a majority of cases, but justifiable under certain circumstances. Just because you believe it is immoral in all cases, does not make it so. Saying it is illegal is irrelevant. Something can be illegal yet still useful or justifiable as an exception to the law, and torture could be legal too if the law allowed for it. Under the expansive definition of torture used by many anti-torture extremists, some of the things done legally in U.S. prisons constitute torture. For example, supporters of traitor Bradley Manning argue that his treatment -- despite being legal -- amounts to torture. And finally, torture can be counterproductive, but it can also produce accurate information. Whether it is counterproductive overall depends on the particular case and is a subject for debate, not something that can be asserted as unchallenged fact.
The battered intelligence community should now be basking in the glory of a successful operation. It should not be dragged back into the muck and murk by political figures whose sole agenda seems to be to rationalize actions
It's been battered by terrorist rights supporters, and those, like the New York Times, who have engaged in a sustained attempt to demonize the people who worked to gain the intelligence needed to protect this country and hunt down its enemies. The success of the operation is in spite of organizations such as the New York Times. The Times attitude is typical on the left. Only people with the correct ideas should be permitted to speak. Those without should shut-up. How dare those evil torturers try to defend themselves and point out that their efforts bore some fruit? Don't they know that that all the right people think their actions were immoral and illegal?


  1. SteveBrooklineMAMay 6, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    Very nicely done. I really have a hard time believing that the absolutists truly believe what they say. They can't imagine any scenario where they would twist some terrorists arm to get information? Really?? Seriously?? They would rather watch NYC obliterated by a nuclear warhead than waterboard someone? Color me skeptical.

  2. Yes, I question the sincerity, or at least the imagination of moral absolutists on this issue. You have to wonder if they've even thought it through.