"So-called torture" is all we've got...
Back in April, circa the one-year anniversary of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Wall Street Journal published a troubling op-ed. Yes, according to WSJ, "No evidence has been produced to support allegations that the abuses were 'systematic' or that they were inspired or condoned by superiors up the chain of command." Well, that's exactly wrong. Yet, so sure were the editors over at WSJ that they were right, they didn't even feel they needed to waste their time responding to the mountains of evidence to the contrary. According to WSJ, "Unpacking so many falsehoods takes more space than we have."
Back again, (still, apparently, lacking in that critical space) the Wall Street Journal provides some jewels of wisdom for those confused readers who might think that all of the information out there about systematic detainee abuse is just silly. For instance, were you aware that, according to the WSJ, "No one has yet come up with any evidence that anyone in the U.S. military or government has officially sanctioned anything close to torture." What about the Gonzales memo? Or military figures like Erik Saar, and Janis Karpinski who have come forward to attest to abuse practices coming straight from the top?
A more relevant issue tossed to the side is the opportunity cost of conducting interrogations using abuse rather than more sophisticated methods involving Ã¢â‚¬Å“befriendingÃ¢â‚¬Â the detainee, or otherwise making it within the detainee's interest to cooperate. Former military linguist Erik Saar, in his book Inside the Wire notes the radical difference he observed in the quality of intelligence obtained between the violent methods of interrogation as opposed to more streamlined and professional techniques.
The WSJ seems similarly ignorant when it comes to the spread of detainee abuse from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib: "The McCain Amendment is driven by the so-called torture narrative: the proposition that CIA techniques for questioningÃ¢â‚¬Â¦somehow 'migrated' to Iraq and cause the Abu Ghraib abuses." Somehow? Well, here's how: people who supervised and implemented the techniques at Guantanamo were moved to Abu Ghraib.
In a stirring but eerie conclusion, the WSJ insists that, "The American people are wise enough to understand thatÃ¢â‚¬Â¦there won't be good intelligence without aggressive interrogations." This, along with the headline "A ban on aggressive interrogation would amount to unilateral disarmament in the war on terror," provide the bookends to this shoddy and conflated argument in support of, well, not torture, but, you know, psyching potential terrorists out by holding them under water, or hanging them by their arms or shackling them to the floor. If these abusive techniques are all we have as a weapon against terrorism, it's a sad state of affairs.
But perhaps I'm being too hard on the WSJ. I mean, they seem to be genuinely concerned about the safety of Americans: "The danger for American security is that this would telegraph to every terrorist in the world that he has absolutely nothing to fear from silence should he fall into U.S. hands." I find it hard to imagine that any terrorist would actually believe that, because the McCain Amendment passed, detainee abuse would stop. Well, yes, in light of recent events, perhaps the conversation would go like this:
Terrorist #1: I was thinking that, if I blew up some American landmark, and then I got captured I would have to start giving them critical intelligence information because they would torture me. Perhaps it is not worth it to go through with this diabolical plan.
Terrorist #2: No, no. You can remain silent without fear! The McCain Amendment was passed. We will not be tortured. Plus, Americans do not believe in international law, and, now that there is no chance that we will be offered habeas privileges, the Americans cannot accuse us of a crime so we will never have to be prosecuted in a court of law.
Terrorist #1: (laughing in visible relief) Ahh. You are right. You are right. Let us continue with our plans.