Torture as of 25 August 2009

The biggest news out there now seems to be about the recent decision by the Obama Administration to investigate the actions from the previous Administration regarding "enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e. torture). There has been a litany of articles out there both for and against investigation. I'm sure many of the articles against it are because investigations will taint the author, but some have legitimate concerns about how it will affect the country if it is done at the same time as the economic recovery, health care reform, and energy reform. My take follows.
President Obama pledged in his Inaugural Address that the government would do the right thing, even (or especially) if it wasn't the easiest or most expedient thing to do. I would say health care reform and the investigation of the previous Administration's actions regarding torture are the best examples of this that exist right now. Most opinions that argue against investigation argue for expedience and moving on. I beg to differ. This is a nation built upon the rule of law, so if we don't at least investigate the actions in question if not prosecute the people in question, we are essentially letting off the previous Administration for actions that could have more easily occurred in a dictatorship. They smashed the law to pieces and we can't let that slide as a nation.
Furthermore, many against investigation, some within the previous Administration (most notably Dick Cheney), have said that the memos about torture would vindicate the means by showing the successful ends (i.e. that torture really did provide valuable information about future terrorist threats). They also add that torture would be invaluable in the ticking time bomb scenario, in which a terrorist suspect who is caught must spill all the beans if a terrorist attack were to happen a few hours later. Both are patently false.
Look at the case of FBI interrogator Ali Soufan (the torture was carried out by the CIA, who essentially dumped FBI interrogators and ignored the information they got though the FBI interrogators were far more experienced with this than their CIA counterparts). He was tasked with interrogating terror suspect Abu Zubaydah; he did not torture once, and he even managed to get the respect of Zubaydah through kinder (that's relative) but persistent questioning. When Zubaydah kept denying his identity, Soufan searched through Zubaydah's files and found that his [Zubaydah's] mother called him "Hani" as a pet name; when Soufan used this against him, he was stunned and gave out a whole lot of information. Soufan managed to gain his respect by giving him sugar-free cookies at a meeting once (due to Zubaydah's diabetes) and they managed to share a laugh at Zubaydah's request for a Coke after he railed against capitalism. Later, when Soufan showed a bunch of photographs of other terror suspects to Zubaydah, the latter identified that of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by the alias "Mukhtar"; the FBI knew who K. S. Mohammed was but was stumped by the persistent appearence of the alias "Mukhtar" in al-Qaeda's internal communications and could not make the connection until then - no torture required. Then, CIA interrogators essentially kicked out Soufan and began waterboarding Zubaydah; they got 0.0 useful information from him.
Then consider the idea of the ticking time bomb scenario. The idea is that under such constraints of time, torture is the easiest, fastest, and most effective method of interrogation. This is also false, in that rarely does the ticking time bomb scenario occur (it's more of a thought experiment, really), and when it has occurred, regular interrogation has proved as useful if not more so than torture in the same scenario. Look at the case of when Saddam Hussein was captured. Soldiers in Iraq did a few on-the-spot interrogations (on the streets or in homes) of terror suspects and ordinary citizens, using classic psychological methods such as threatening shame upon the person and his family if they didn't talk (among other methods). Successful interrogation led to the capture of Saddam 6 hours later - no torture required.
I'm glad that Obama is pursuing investigations of these actions, as that should bring up our moral standing in the world again.

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