Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Torture Foiled No Plots (probably)

The Washington Post, by no means a bastion of liberal ideals, has a great article on the ineffectiveness (and indeed counterproductiveness) of using torture as means of obtaining intelligence. Dan Froomkin has a follow-up editorial that also makes for good reading.

The summary of both is: 1) it's impossible to predict when people have information that only torture will produce, 2) people will say anything, truthful or not, to stopped being tortured, and 3) following these "leads" is really expensive, consuming resources that could be used elsewhere. In the case of Abu Zubaida, the poster-child for the rationale of using torture, all three apply.

Everyone knows where I stand on this, so I'll largely notch this up under the "no duh" category, and leave the commentary up to the commentators.

Update: at the request of Patrick, I would like to emphasize that these articles only concern the effectiveness (and relatedly, the necessity) of torture, and not the legality of it.



Blogger Patrick said...

Whether torture is effective is an entirely separate question from whether it is legal.

I happen to think the answer to both questions is "no," (i.e., ineffective and illegal) but they're separate questions. I wish the post had done a better job of observing that distinction.

3/31/2009 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watch out Toney, Jack Bauer is coming for you next!

3/31/2009 2:29 PM  
Blogger Toney said...


3/31/2009 2:34 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

ooo, the new title is questionable.

Let's grant torture acquires reams and reams of worthless and morally contaminated evidence. But a single shred of useful evidence in there *could* have foiled a plot. Given the government's secrecy surrounding this stuff, there is just no way to know.

There are many reasons not to torture, and they outweigh ALL arguments in favor of torture. But even I have to admit that it is at least possible that torture foiled a plot.

3/31/2009 2:37 PM  
Blogger Toney said...

Hmm... I didn't change the title, but have now.

Fixed #2!

3/31/2009 2:39 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I suddenly feel so influential . . . [waiting for the other shoe to drop. which. it. always. does.]

3/31/2009 2:43 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

Pat, just because something is conceivable does not make it plausible. See, Twombly. And believe me, given Cheney's propensity to gloat about some incompetent morons constituting a foiled terror plot, I think we would have heard about any legitimately foiled plots if there were any.

3/31/2009 2:48 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

And just because something is implausible doesn't mean it's inconceivable. See, the standard for summary judgment.

All I mean to say is that it's tempting but improper to claim absolute certainty that not "plots" were "foiled."

3/31/2009 2:51 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

So do we draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the torturor or the tortured?

3/31/2009 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced"

suggests some useful information was obtained afterward, no?

3/31/2009 3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re your assertion, Armen:

"I've seen a report that was written, based upon the intelligence that we collected then, that itemizes the specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through those programs," Cheney asserted, adding that the report is "still classified," and, "I can't give you the details of it without violating classification."

3/31/2009 3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You use that word a lot, Patrick. I don't think it means what you think it means.

3/31/2009 11:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone without access to classified information can honestly know whether or not torture has foiled terrorist plots. I assume it has been effective in some situations because it continues to be used. Why would experienced intelligence gatherers use it if it didn't work? Also, the fact that the Obama administration has decided to continue using tactics like rendition suggests to me that there is still a need for extraordinary methods in some circumstances.

4/01/2009 8:49 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

Rendition, extraordinary rendition, and extraordinary rendition for torture are three different subjects. Saying the US will use rendition is uncontroversial and says nothing about the latter. Oh and the fact we borrowed these techniques from the Commies should shed some light on their propriety. You don't need a security clearance to figure that out.

4/01/2009 9:50 PM  

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