A bad intelligence move, and why it happened.

Yesterday Attorney General Eric Holder announced a preliminary investigation of terrorist interrogations during the Bush era. This is a bad move.

What does it mean? It could pave the way for criminal prosecutions of some intelligence operatives who used “enhanced interrogation techniques” in questioning captured terrorists.

Why is it a bad move? Because of the message it sends to those in the intelligence community.

  • It’s a warning to them that, even if the intel they gather prevents attacks and saves American lives, should the political climate change they could be thrown under the bus. In other words, it discourages these men and women from doing what is at times necessary to get the information they need.
  • It also suggests to qualified, skilled people who are considering working in intelligence that their career would be better spent elsewhere.

Why is it happening now? Because the President’s domestic agenda is in danger, and his poll numbers are falling. As is his custom, when questions are raised about his competence or performance, he is bringing up the specter of the wicked George W. Bush. Bush remains a useful whipping boy whenever Obama needs to change the subject. Mark my words, this will continue into the 2012 campaign.

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Comments

  1. Bush allowed our country to be attacked in 2001, destroyed our economy, and destroyed our standing in the world. To accomplish that, they pissed all over our Constitution. We are a country of laws and no one is above the law.

    Holder is doing the right thing. If you prefer an authoritarian government, try China.

  2. Marty Altman says:

    Jake, thanks for posting. I’ve been thinking a good bit lately about the topic you bring up. I’ve been searching for Biblical views on the “rightness” of torture. It seems to me that in this case, political rightness (protect our country) and moral rightness (do unto others…) share little of the same ground. I go back and forth on this one, issue, more than any other moral issue i know. Revelation speaks of torture in eternity, and it seems there is a time and place for it, but not necessarily for us to decide. On the other hand, I can only imagine what the Israelites did to THEIR enemies. What do you think? If you want to move this convo to email, then please do. I’ve been in a similar debate already and came out much more confused than when I started…not that I’m debating you. I’m not.

  3. Sorry, but I don’t think you have thought this through well. You are advocating an ends-justifying-the-means morality. Biblically speaking, both the means and the ends must be moral. And also consider the consequences of the policy of torture: we have no moral high ground from which to protest ill treatment of our own people. And what about the justice of assuming guilt on the part of the prisoners? And what if that utilitarian philosophy were applied to crime in America? What’s a little torture if it prevents a crime? What’s the harm of executing a few innocents, as long as we know we are getting more criminals, too? That is a dangerous slippery slope.

  4. Chris: Thanks for your reasoned response. A few replies.

    1. I actually believe that there are cases in which the means of enhanced interrogation are moral. I would point to passages like Rom 13 and 1 Pet 2:13ff, where one role of government is to protect the innocent. In a case like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a higher-up who clearly had access to all sorts of information, I believe that includes doing what’s necessary to get the information. And in his case, those techniques proved effective. Lives were saved.

    2. The cases in which this is appropriate are few, and their use has been much more rare than the media coverage would suggest. It’s not like random guys picked off the street in the boondocks of Iraq are getting waterboarded for kicks.

    3. I am strongly against torture as a punishment; I only acknowledge its legitimacy in extreme cases for the purpose of intelligence gathering.

    4. Using nonlethal techniques on known terrorists in order to find out about their plots is not the same as KSM sawing off Daniel Pearl’s head and then publishing the video. There is no moral equivalence here, and even if we did happen to give our detainees the royal treatment (which actually we do at Guantanamo Bay), it would not change our enemies’ attitude toward us.

    5. If we pick someone up on the battlefield, they are not criminal defendants; they are enemy combatants. There is no reason they should be afforded the same rights as American citizens in the criminal justice system.

    6. Your last few questions have nothing to do with the scenarios I’m talking about. We’re not talking about executions, or punitive treatment of any kind. We’re not even talking about wholesale torture in order to fish for information. We’re talking about the use of certain techniques on ind’ls known to possess information that could save lives and help us win the war on terror– or whatever we’re allowed to call it these days.

  5. “5. If we pick someone up on the battlefield, they are not criminal defendants; they are enemy combatants. There is no reason they should be afforded the same rights as American citizens in the criminal justice system.”

    This is the part of your argument that misleads you on the rest. The rights that American citizens have are their political rights, such as the right to vote for Congress. The rights relevant to criminal cases are listed in the Bill of Rights. Note: listed, not granted, which was the error of the Bush administration. The Bill of Rights is a partial list, per the Ninth Amendment, of HUMAN rights, after the Declaration of Independence, where it asserts that men have unalienable rights from their Creator, not from the government. Those are rights we have as HUMANS, not as Americans. You violate one of those rights when you presume the guilt of an individual, merely on the basis of US government accusation. Accusation is not conviction.

    And sure my last question were regarding scenarios that you didn’t mention. My point was the implications of your comments, if applied consistently.

  6. Where we disagree is that you place those who have engaged in acts of warfare against our country on the same level as citizens who have committed crimes. This is not only not required by the Constitution, it’s also unworkable. It would prevent our ever responding militarily to any act of aggression.

    Should we have refrained from declaring war against Japan after Pearl Harbor, and instead issued a warrant for the Emperor’s arrest? If we know that an attack is immanent or planned, must we sit on that knowledge and wait until it happens, then open an investigation? I consider that a violation of the state’s responsibility to punish evildoers and protect those who do right.

    Again, we’re not talking about punishment here, we’re talking about the obtaining of information that can save American lives. The instances where this is necessary are rare, but they are real. You can say that I’m using “ends justifies the means” logic, but you also have to account for the innocent lives that would have been lost had Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not been harshly interrogated.

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