Sunday, April 19, 2009

Worth revisiting

So the Bush regime waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohamed 183 times in one month. That's about 6 times a day, on average. (Assuming they didn't take weekends off.) So, after spending weeks torturing this man and others, the CIA (that fount of honesty and open accounting) claims they got "cooperation" out of KSM.

Let me take a brief moment to revisit the stupidest thing Michael Ignatieff has ever written, something that frankly disgusted me more than his support for the Iraq war:
While some abuse and outright torture can be attributed to individual sadism, poor supervision and so on, it must be the case that other acts of torture occur because interrogators believe, in good faith, that torture is the only way to extract information in a timely fashion. It must also be the case that if experienced interrogators come to this conclusion, they do so on the basis of experience. The argument that torture and coercion do not work is contradicted by the dire frequency with which both practices occur. I submit that we would not be "waterboarding" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—immersing him in water until he experiences the torment of nearly drowning—if our intelligence operatives did not believe it was necessary to crack open the al Qaeda network that he commanded. Indeed, Mark Bowden points to a Time report in March 2003 that Sheikh Mohammed had "given US interrogators the names and descriptions of about a dozen key al Qaeda operatives believed to be plotting terrorist attacks." We must at least entertain the possibility that the operatives working on Sheikh Mohammed in our name are engaging not in gratuitous sadism but in the genuine belief that this form of torture—and it does qualify as such—makes all the difference.
The Time account that Ignatieff refers to ran in the March 24 issue of the magazine, and KSM was apprehended early on March 1. That means that (assuming that Time instantly put the Bush Administration's leaks to press without so much as spell-checking, not out of the question given the mood around March 2003) KSM was waterboarded at least 7.6 times a day. You can change the math in your assumptions as you will.

But it seems reasonable that KSM was tortured intensively for at least a week before he gave up anything -- so there's the "ticking time bomb" scenario out of the way. (Alternately, he cracked early and the spooks kept torturing him for shits and giggles.) But what of the accusation that it was nonetheless effective? Emptywheel has more for us:
...from there, the IG Report says we can't conclusively determine whether enhanced interrogations have provided information that has prevented specific attacks (note, the wording of this discussion is very vague, perhaps intentionally so; it could mean any number of things, including that we have zero evidence that torture has prevented attacks, or that we just don't have evidence one way or another). Then, the IG Report appears to elaborate on this difficulty, noting that, "there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness." Again, this quotation is unclear, but it appears to refer to the effectiveness of one enhanced interrogation method over another. That is, the IG Report appears to be saying it has no way of assessing whether waterboarding is more effective than sleep deprivation than persuasion. Finally, the IG Report admits that enhanced interrogation--or perhaps just waterboarding--is tied to an increase in the number of reports (though it appears to have already dismissed any possibility of assessing the quality of these reports).
So the CIA's own investigator validates what the critics of torture have always said: that you may eventually get more information from torture, but there's no reason to believe it will be any use, and since manpower is finite chasing down useless lead can even be counterproductive. Oh, and it's grossly immoral.

It turns out that we don't, actually, have to entertain the idea that people who really, really want to torture are motivated by much other than sadism. Hm. Who could have predicted? Not the man whom the Great Canadian Centre would like to be the next PM:
If they are right, then those who support an absolute ban on torture had better be honest enough to admit that moral prohibition comes at a price. It is possible, at least in theory, that subjecting interrogators to rules that outlaw torture and coercive interrogation, backed up by punishment if they go too far, will create an interrogation regime that allows some interrogation subjects to resist divulging information and prevents our intelligence services from timely access to information that may save lives....

Those of us who oppose torture should also be honest enough to admit that we may have to pay a price for our own convictions. Ex ante, of course, I cannot tell how high this price might be. Ex post—following another terrorist attack that might have been prevented through the exercise of coercive interrogation—the price of my scruple might simply seem too high.
I note with interest that Ignatieff has never disavowed this essay the same way he disavowed his support for the war. His reasoning for disavowing the war has a relevance here:
The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said that the trouble with academics and commentators is that they care more about whether ideas are interesting than whether they are true. Politicians live by ideas just as much as professional thinkers do, but they can’t afford the luxury of entertaining ideas that are merely interesting. They have to work with the small number of ideas that happen to be true and the even smaller number that happen to be applicable to real life. In academic life, false ideas are merely false and useless ones can be fun to play with. In political life, false ideas can ruin the lives of millions and useless ones can waste precious resources. An intellectual’s responsibility for his ideas is to follow their consequences wherever they may lead. A politician’s responsibility is to master those consequences and prevent them from doing harm.
Ignatieff not only failed to master the consequences of his ideas (giving valuable rhetorical cover to sadists from one of the anglosphere's prime human rights academics) nor, clearly, did he prevent them from doing harm.

So can we finally say that, even by his own standards, Michael Ignatieff is a failure as a politician?

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