Wednesday, April 22, 2009

News Talk Online April 22, 2009: Bush Interrogation Tactics Worked. But Were They Justified?

The other day, former Vice President Dick Cheney was on the Fox News Channel claiming that the questionable, some say torturous, interrogation tactics used with suspected terrorists resulted in information that thwarted major terrorist attacks. I was a bit dismissive of all this because, well, after all, this assertion comes from Cheney, believed to be the chief proponent of coercing information from terrorists in the previous administration. But now comes word that a key member of the Obama administration is verifying Cheney's claim.

The New York Times reports that a memo penned by National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair confirms that the tactics, that have been forbidden by President Obama, resulted in "high value information."

I am among those who have always felt that strong arming tactics don't work. That they only serve to get a suspect to tell you what he thinks you want to know, not what he really knows.
A former intelligence expert with the FBI who was a guest on News Talk Online on echoed that sentiment.

But what if, say those on the other side of the equation, the torturing of a terrorist stops just one major attack on the United States? Wouldn't the ends justify the means.

Until now, this argument was purely academic. But perhaps, not so any longer.

The issue of the United States' reputation around the world still plays into the discussion of course. But let's put this a little bit into perspective. Most of these suspected terrorists come from nations that would not hesitate to use similar interrogation techniques - or worse.

That doesn't mean, of course, that two wrongs equal a right. But it does mean that, perhaps, we need to enter a little more information into the discourse before jumping to conclusions.

As one who watched the Twin Towers collapse I feel we owe ourselves at least another look at the issue.

We talk about issues like this and more weekdays at 5 PM New York time on News Talk Online on


Anonymous said...

I guess all my instincts say that torture is wrong, that we should be above all that in a civilised nation. However, if the tactics DID work, and the result of this was that even more lives were NOT lost then I for one would have to think again.
The problem is that we are dealing with people, in this instance, who come from a totally different mindset. A society that is not afraid to, and often does, use violent means to achieve their ends. Would they hesitate to torture maim and kill to achieve what they want? NO. We have seen too many examples where these methods have been used.
But as well as we don't know our mindset they know ours. They know our weaknesses, our achilles heels. They see the retisence that we display when stopping short of serious harm to any captors as weakness. Weakness is something they can exploit.
Simulating drowning is not drowning, playing loud music will not kill you, keeping someone awake won't kill you either ( I guess you could ask most parents about the latter 2!!) BUT sawing someone's head off kills, hanging them, burning their bodies and then disembowelling them kills, stoning someone kills.
Who woukldn't, if their survival depended on it revert to the law of the jungle?

Anonymous said...

I meant to say........... As much as we don't know THEIR mindset they know ours, sorry!

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, We were under fire & that means, we were attacked 9-11!! At the time & even now we have to know what our enemies are up to & when & if the next attack will occur. If water boarding or any other action will get the enemy to spill the beans.I'm for it. They torture our troops & people. Look folks, Bush kept us safe for 8 years. Get OVER IT!

Anonymous said...

If we are going to start prosecuting people for torture in past adminstrations, you need to go way back in the US history. Like Bush or not, he kept us safe. Trying to 'second guess' what ifs can go on all day. Keeping America safe should be the priority. The 'torture' is no more OR less than what our military experienced. Anything to bash Bush seems to be the theme of this new president.

Anonymous said...

No. Never. Torture never works and is never justified.

The US has stumbled badly and is now flailing in denial. The last line of our national anthem could be replaced, doing away with "Land of the freeeee and home of the (pause) braaave" with something along the lines of "We are fucking monstrous trolls living in squalor and blood and pretending to be virtuous."

Gordon Wagner

Anonymous said...

Interrogation experts and people who've survived being tortured say the same thing: the person being tortured will say whatever they think their torturer wants to hear in order to get the torture to end. That is what happened in Zubaydah's case where the government went around chasing after wild gooses.

But there's an even more fundamental issue here. "As one who watched the Twin Towers collapse" do you think it is morally justifiable to torture (and in at least a hundred documented cases, kill) a detainee in order to save others' lives? I do not believe so.

There are two major problems with your argument.

First, it presumes that Americans' lives are more valuable than those of other nations. Why are Americans' lives better than other peoples'? By what standard is that defensible? And in this particular instance, what relationship do all of the Iraqis who we have tortured and in some instances murdered through torture have to 9/11? In case that answer's not obvious, the answer is NOTHING. Iraq wasn't involved in 9/11.

Second, if you permit circumstances in which torture is allowable, because the government doing the torture CLAIMS that there's a ticking time bomb somewhere, then WHO judges whether that claim is justified? Do you not open the door to any and all tyrants and sadists who hold governmental power to torture their opponents and anyone unlucky enough to fall into their hands? That is the reason why int'l law mandates that torture is illegal and immoral and a crime against humanity under any and all circumstances.

I don't know why this simple point is so hard for some people to get.

Under any and all circumstances torture is illegal, immoral, and unjust and those who carry it out are barbaric, if not before they began the torture, then in the course of doing it they become so.

Dennis Loo

Anonymous said...

While the discussions on torture and others misgivings on the use of the same, a simple fact that is overlooked is that the information being provided by the government or others is minimal at best. Information gathered whether from 3 individuals or hundreds or how it was extracted will never be made available to the general public. Probably, while definitely not happy to be there the detainees at Gitmo were not detained in other prisons in other countries, that do not even recognize rights nor torture etiquette.

Anonymous said...

You're asking me to believe they worked? Ha! You've been snookered Gary.

Anonymous said...

Sen. John McCain (Rep - AZ)who knows torture from personal experience is against this practice. Enough said!

Anonymous said...

Folks...the answer to the question: Did they work?...

...will always be: We really do not know.

To which I would add: Who really gives a shit? If we have to stoop to the kind of garbage a Hitler, Tojo, or Idi Amin would relish...why do we want to know it?

All that information can do is to save our way of life...and if our way of life is that doesn't deserve to be saved.

Frank Apisa

Anonymous said...

I think this is the critical paragraph in the story:

“The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means,” Admiral Blair said in a written statement issued last night. “The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

Hurt our image... damage... not essential. That's pretty clear-cut.

Rob St. Amant

Gary Baumgarten said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yes. These tactics thwarted a major terrorist attack on Los Angeles. They worked and saved American lives. It is very easy to talk rhetoric all day long. But how will you be on the day you or someone you love is killed in the next terrorist attack? We live on a dangerous planet where other countries and people mean us harm. Delving into denial isn't helpful which is how 911 happened in the first place.

Deborah Young

Anonymous said...

One person's "high value information" is another person's drek. Consider the source. Can you say cover your ass?

Anonymous said...

We do not know whether torture produced useful information or actually prevented us from obtaining information that could have been gotten by using other interrogation methods.

The self-serving claims of Bush officials and intelligence officers should not be taken as fact.

What is required is an independent investigation, mandated by Ciongress, into all aspects of the Bush era torture policy -- including its impact on obtaining actionable intelligence.

And even if torture advanced our war aims or made us more secure from our enemies aboard -- it is unacceptable because it makes our fundamental rights less secure from tyrannies at home.
Michael Fox

Anonymous said...

If the terror techniques worked, did the interrogators just forget what they wanted to ask 182 times? Did the subject forget what it felt like the first time, and second, .....and 182? It was done to one guy 183 times in one month. What is the likelihood that it was "working"? Also, doesn't this destroy the Alan Dershowitz hypothetical of torturing in the case of an emergency? Couldn't a subject withhold secret number 183 for 30 days and render the emergency need moot? The notion that it "worked" is far from credible.

Bill Beck

Anonymous said...

Oh, I think the right torture would work some times. I mean, just like the right interrogation tactics work some times, and it is not like interrogation is nice. The goal is to get the suspect to depend on you, to regress them to childhood. It is not pretty in the end, taking over someone's mind.
That is why the lights and stuff and sensory deprivation can work; you slowly go over the edge. And if someone presses you physically hard enough, you will talk, and BBE is right, a lot times, that will be about what the person wants to hear, but then it is like 1984 or John McCain in Vietnam, that that is the goal, to demonstrate that anyone can be broken if you go far enough, which might as a demonstration tactic coerce others into talking, although obviously, you want to avoid the situation in the first place in terms of always being prudent in terms of not say making terrorism a bigger deal than it is, and especially understanding why people use it as a tactic.

Don Rich

The Political and Financial Markets Commentator said...

If we can save any lives through the basically benign techniques that Americans use, then torture is 100% justified.

See some of the techniques used by our enemies and compare them to ours at my blog, The Political and Financial Markets Commentator at

Hey Anonymous. You get around.

The Political and Financial Markets Commentator said...

Hey Gary:

I was halthouse1 and I thought I had a microphone on my laptop. Sorry about that.

I have to say that you have some very idealistic listeners, many of whom that I would guess do not live in high value targets such as New York.

Do they not understand that the pie in the sky: if we do it then we are no better than them is ridiculous.

These are fundamentalist terrorists that want every infidel dead. That means anyone not Muslim. They will do anything and everything to reach that goal.

If using torture on a terrorist has any chance of saving lives, then it should be done.

THE LonesomeDove said...

What a load of drivel. When will Obama stop campaigning? I don't normally care or count carbon footprints, but you've got to love the huge one HE left today firing up Air Force 1 there and back just to haul his lone butt to a photo op in front of some windmills to tell the American people on "Earth Day" (another joke) that they must conserve while he laughs at the imbeciles blinded by the wool he's pulled over their eyes. What's next in the Peter Principled Obama Administration's bag of tricks? What a tune they're dancing to just to draw fire and focus away from their ineptitude, bad decisions, poor judgment, mismanagement, malfeasance, unconstitutional practices, and world appeasement at the expense of our country.

The Political and Financial Markets Commentator said...

I couldn't agree with you more Lonesome. If he spent a little less time on TV and a little more time looking out for our real interests we would all be a lot better off.

The Political and Financial Markets Commentator said...

Lonesome, I tried to check out your blog but couldn't get the URL. If you want you can send it to

Anonymous said...

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair got it right last week when he noted how easy it is to condemn the enhanced interrogation program "on a bright sunny day in April 2009." Reactions to this former CIA program, which was used against senior al Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003, are demonstrating how little President Barack Obama and some Democratic members of Congress understand the dire threats to our nation.

George Tenet, who served as CIA director under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, believes the enhanced interrogations program saved lives. He told CBS's "60 Minutes" in April 2007: "I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us."

Last week, Mr. Blair made a similar statement in an internal memo to his staff when he wrote that "[h]igh value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country."

Yet last week Mr. Obama overruled the advice of his CIA director, Leon Panetta, and four prior CIA directors by releasing the details of the enhanced interrogation program. Former CIA director Michael Hayden has stated clearly that declassifying the memos will make it more difficult for the CIA to defend the nation.

It was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

Last week, Mr. Obama argued that those who implemented this program should not be prosecuted -- even though the release of the memos still places many individuals at other forms of unfair legal risk. It appeared that Mr. Obama understood it would be unfair to prosecute U.S. government employees for carrying out a policy that had been fully vetted and approved by the executive branch and Congress. The president explained this decision with these gracious words: "nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." I agreed.

Unfortunately, on April 21, Mr. Obama backtracked and opened the door to possible prosecution of Justice Department attorneys who provided legal advice with respect to the enhanced interrogations program. The president also signaled that he may support some kind of independent inquiry into the program. It seems that he has capitulated to left-wing groups and some in Congress who are demanding show trials over this program.

Members of Congress calling for an investigation of the enhanced interrogation program should remember that such an investigation can't be a selective review of information, or solely focus on the lawyers who wrote the memos, or the low-level employees who carried out this program. I have asked Mr. Blair to provide me with a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques.

Any investigation must include this information as part of a review of those in Congress and the Bush administration who reviewed and supported this program. To get a complete picture of the enhanced interrogation program, a fair investigation will also require that the Obama administration release the memos requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney on the successes of this program.

An honest and thorough review of the enhanced interrogation program must also assess the likely damage done to U.S. national security by Mr. Obama's decision to release the memos over the objections of Mr. Panetta and four of his predecessors. Such a review should assess what this decision communicated to our enemies, and also whether it will discourage intelligence professionals from offering their frank opinions in sensitive counterterrorist cases for fear that they will be prosecuted by a future administration.

Perhaps we need an investigation not of the enhanced interrogation program, but of what the Obama administration may be doing to endanger the security our nation has enjoyed because of interrogations and other antiterrorism measures implemented since Sept. 12, 2001.

Mr. Hoekstra, a congressman from Michigan, is ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.