Thursday, May 07, 2009



A couple of days ago I posted the Hiroshima history inspired by the Daily Show. May was on the show to talk about the memos and whether the United States tortured anyone. Dude said that Obama had a point and I rejoined that Obama was being disingenuous.

Here are some of May's points:
Obama's top intelligence official, Admiral Dennis Blair, says these techniques produced "high-value information" that gave the U.S. government "a deeper understanding of the al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country."

Former CIA director, Gen. Michael Hayden, and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently wrote: "As late as 2006, fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of Al Qaeda came from those [coercive] interrogations."

Former CIA Director George Tenet has said, "I know that this program has saved lives. I know we've disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than [what] the FBI, the [CIA], and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us."

Former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has said, "We have people walking around in this country that are alive today because this process happened."

Many other top intelligence officials say the same: coercive interrogations are the only way we have to get life-saving information out of trained, hardened al-Qaeda terrorists.

I think the evidence is clear. But if others do not, let's release the "effectiveness memos" as former Vice President Cheney has requested and let's release other data on this question. Perhaps at this point we need a national debate on security and morality.

By not releasing the memos, Obama and company can make people think the worst instead of analyzing the actual events. His supporters have been yelling torture since before the 2004 election and they won't be happy with a conclusion that says otherwise so therefore the memos and an honest discussion on the issue cannot take place.
Look, we know this: Khalid Sheikh Mohamed was captured. He said: "I want a lawyer." He didn't get one - I know some people think he deserved one but he's not a criminal defendant or an honorable prisoner of war. The Geneva Convention does not cover him - even Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder has said that.

Later, they asked KSM over and over: "Will there be another attack?" He would just smile and say: "Soon you will see."

Now maybe you think asking him again and adding pretty please with a cherry on top would have produced results in time. The intelligence officials didn't think that. They went to the Justice Department and said: "What can we do? How far can we go to save lives?" And they got the information they needed -- and we haven't had another attack on American soil since.

And after being waterboarded and suffering other coercive methods in 2002, Abu Zubaydah explained that he and his "brothers" were permitted to give up information - only once interrogators pushed them to the limit of their endurance. At that point, he provided information that helped the CIA capture terrorist Ramzi Binalshibh.

The current administration appears to have ruled out any coercive techniques: No sleep deprivation - not even for a night. No loud music - it drives the terrorists crazy! So it's torture! Better to let the attack proceed. The victims and their families surely will understand.

We basically have three weapons against terrorists: capture them, interrogate them, kill them. But there's no point in capturing if you can't effectively interrogate, so that leaves just killing. How do you justify that? How do you say, yes you can hit that terrorist with a Predator missile but you can't make him listen to Shady Slim?

I would hope that President Obama would change his mind. I would hope he would say to his advisors: "Give me a list of all the techniques that are effective. I'll take a red pen and cross out the ones we will never use no matter what. But I'll circle the ones that may be used if I'm asked -- and if I give specific authorization. As for other techniques that are clearly not torture but may inflict discomfort, there will be detailed guidelines and I want the director of the CIA to sign off every time they are used.

This sounds reasonable to me. Since we rarely have a debate on here I welcome Dude to identify the chicanery in May's depiction or conclusions.

The TV debate was more rancorous. Here it is:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
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Marci said...

The way the world is, I know that our government tortures enemies for information and they do it to make me safer and they lie to me because they know I would rather they didn't admit to it. It is for my own good and I should be thankful, but the feeling I come away with is that my representatives torture other people and lie to me. If I condone this behavior, then I get to live in fear that I may someday be redefined as 'other people' because then I will have condoned torture on me. I don't want that government at all, even when our ideals are aligned, because who will stand for me when my government's ideology parts from mine? That is not a power I want my government to possess. That kind of twisted morality can lead to tyranny, which I am against. I think we should set our moral bar higher than that and we the people should not condone immorality in our officials just because we like the outcome. I'm the only non-Christian in this group but this is where I side with Jesus over my Junto brothers.

Dude said...

That was me, not realizing Marci was signed in on my computer.

Tom said...

I think what you are saying and what Obama was saying are different. I share your fears of an overzealous or tyrannical government and I can see where certain techniques if not qualified can lead down a worrisome path for citizens. I think we're in such an age of moral relativism that context is no longer discussed. Acts are judged solely by the worst possible use. It's what led a smart guy like Stewart down the trap of fingering Truman as a war criminal.

What irked me about Obama's speech is that he refused to discuss the actual methods and explain why he thought they were torture. He creates phony domestic enemies (pro-torture people that don't exist) and then takes the moral high ground from those enemies. That he won't release the complete memos as Cheney has asked contradicts his assertion the he seeks the truth. He Monday morning QBs the last administration without giving the citizenry all of the information.

I would never condone what Charlie did to McCain and neither would most Americans. But there is a gray area that we should discuss as a nation and decide what we're comfortable with. Instead, the president grandstands. He
decides to close Gitmo without any plan as to what to do with the prisoners. He makes the previous administration out to be war criminals without releasing all of the details and the information actually gleaned.

Obama ran as the guy who was going to bring the fractured country together but you'll notice that he can hardly give a policy message without dividing Americans into good guys and bad guys.

E said...

You both make strong arguments on this topic and it is hard for me to articulate a position. There is too much gray.

As for Jesus, He understood better than anybody that there is and always will be evil in the world, and His followers are to be salt and light in that evil world. Would Jesus waterboard? No. But he did rail against evil and injustice. Even so, His counsel and example do not necessarily have anything to do with affairs of state. Religion and spirituality are matters of the heart not the state. Matters of state are national in scope not personal. Different animals.

The God of the Old Testament was still God in the New Testament, and His example runs the gamut. He advocated, directed, even perpetrated, mass casualties of war on many occasions in the OT. The same God who wants my ear today is both the God of war and the God of peace. Both war and peace are part of the human equation. What to make of it?

I agree with Dude, that our govt shouldn't lie to us, but I know that it does and will. I may not like it but I acknowledge it. Personally I believe that govt exists in large measure to serve govt not to serve me. I think our govt is too big, too powerful, and too entrenched. We have ceded too much power to it and now it feeds its own voracious appetite with impunity. But that's theoretical. Waterboarding is a physical act between two persons with real moral implications.

I also agree with Tom, if this is what he's saying, that I'd like to hear our foreign policy directed outward rather than inward. Enemies of state are out there not in here. Everything O says seems political and inwardly focused to me. I deal with this in my strategy work all the time. It is hard to get some leaders focused out there rather than in here. Obama is not a natural leader, he's a natural talker, and it is going to be hard to get him to focus on things other than using words to his advantage because a mediocre leader tends toward using his strength as a hammer to pound every nail. He is good at words so he twists everything up in words. I have a real concern that six years of words can leave my country highly vulnerable.

You both can be right depending on the context and all the gray.

Like I say, I don't know what to think. Waterboarding is effective and wrong. It's effective. It's wrong. My govt does it and lies to me about it and I know they're lying and I've been okay with that because it's effective and they do it on our enemies. But Dude is right, if I'm okay with them doing it to somebody else, maybe eventually they come for me. Does my tacit acceptance makes me like the German citizen who stood by and let the Nazis do what they would? It's not a simple argument. Political philosophers have not found an easy answer and neither can I. What I do know is that I want my enemies dead. I like a president who says national security is my #1 job and that job requires that I kill or otherwise neutralize as many men as possible who are trying to kill my countrymen. I prefer that to lots of words and San Francisco blowing up.

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