There Was an Interesting Discussion About Waterboarding

…on the News Hour last week. And now I see ‘waterboarding is torture’ addressed in today’s WaPo

Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime

…thanks to this post on Volokh. At the end of the post is another which notes an ABC News story:

Bush Administration Blocked Waterboarding Critic
Former DOJ Official Tested the Method Himself, in Effort to Form Torture Policy

Add his name to this reporter’s, this guy’s, THIS guy, any given SERE School student and well, you’ll understand why I found Rich Lowry’s comments to be so true Friday night.

…I think waterboarding — look, reasonable people can conclude it’s torture, but I sort of apply a commonsense standard here. Journalists are volunteering to be waterboarded to see what it’s like. You would not do that with any infamous, obvious torture techniques. Journalists wouldn’t volunteer, “Please, pull out my fingernail. I’m really curious how that feels.

No, they wouldn’t. Neither would a suit at the DoJ. I’m not a lawyer, humanitarian or volunteering myself for it anytime soon, BUT
He makes a valid point.

25 Responses to “There Was an Interesting Discussion About Waterboarding”

  1. Skyler says:

    Whether or not the word “torture” is used is purely semantics in the end. It’s still wrong. We’re supposed to be wearing the white hats.
    There’s no information that I would want us to have at the cost of doing anything to a prisoner much past giving him three hots and a cot. This is all the more reason to stop pussy footing around with this war and start dealing some terrible punishment to the people who perpetrated this war. They’ve been hiding in Pakistan thumbing their noses at us for several years now. They’ve been joined by their erstwhile allies in motive, the Persians who have resumed thumbing their noses at us as well.
    We’ve become a nation of Jimmy Carters under President Bush, unwilling to mete out retribution to those nations and peoples who deserve it.
    Now that Pakistan is no longer even pretending to be a nation of laws, and seeing how they have ceded half their nation to the Taliban, it’s high time we start dealing out death in great doses.
    If we fight a normal war against them, we won’t need to sully our hands with issues of torture/mistreatment. Such people would be killed before capture or become irrelevent once captured.
    The only reason these prisoners have any information anyone thinks is useful is because we let the rest of them escape.

  2. Skyler, I agree that we should start dealing out death in great doses, but it really does matter what actually constitutes “torture”.
    As a weak analogy, think about the death penalty. Some (who I consider foolish) believe that it constitutes “cruel or unusual punishment”. The ACLU is in that group.
    Problem is, the ACLU also thinks life imprisonment is “cruel or unusual” punishment.
    Similarly with torture. Once certain (obviously torturous) practices are banned, torture gets defined down, and those practices are banned. And so on.
    I firmly believe any practice that journalists would volunteer for is, rather obviously, not torture.

  3. And just for the record, we are not constrained from torturing those not covered by the Geneva Conventions, except by our own laws and consciences. They, by their own actions, have no claim to protection.

  4. Gunslinger says:

    Some light reading on the subject of “torture”.

  5. Skyler says:

    I’m simply appalled that this has even become acceptable to debate.
    Twenty years ago, no one would have taken the position that these interrogation methods were acceptable.
    We executed people as war criminals for water boarding after world war II.
    Such behavior is beneath our dignity and beneath our moral standards.
    As a practical matter, I want our opponents on the battlefield to know that they can surrender and expect good treatment or we will kill them.

  6. The_Real_JeffS says:

    Twenty years ago, no one would have taken the position that these interrogation methods were acceptable.
    We executed people as war criminals for water boarding after world war II.

    Skyler, do you have a link or reference for the war criminal comment? Here in the US, time was, giving a prisoner “the third degree” was a common interrogation technique for military and law enforcement. Especially prior to WWII.

  7. The_Real_JeffS says:

    Sorry, I messed up the italics….I meant to quote Skyler on two sentences.

  8. Dave E. says:

    When al Qaeda ceases to deliberately target civilians and ceases using civilians as shields, in other words, at least tries to fight within the Geneva Conventions, then I’ll be among those insisting that captured al Qaeda members be treated as Prisoners of War. Until then, I don’t give a flying f*ck if uncooperative illegal combatants are roughed up a little bit or interrogated in ways we would never dream of doing to an adversary that was a signatory to the conventions.
    I’m simply appalled at how so many people are unable to distinguish between soldiers and terrorists. The Geneva Conventions are about rights and responsibilities and the expectation of reciprocity in treatment. If a group flagrantly violates its responsibilities then it is not entitled to the rights of a POW nor the rights of non-combatants. That does not mean we can or should do anything we want to them. It does mean that coercive techniques that could never be applied to a POW are on the table, if necessary and used carefully. I’m not going to apologize for being ok with that.

  9. Skyler says:

    Link to the article on WWII Japanese waterboarding. I may have overstated by saying we executed these people. I don’t know that, but we did prosecute them.

  10. The_Real_JeffS says:

    OK, Skyler, I thought you had said that we had executed Allied personnel for waterboarding. I knew that the Allies had executed Axis war criminals for torture, amongst other war crimes.
    But here’s a reality check for you: Allied troops committed war crimes as well. Let me stress that these were isolated incidents, but shooting prisoners was the most common offense. I have no reason to doubt that Axis prisoners were tortured as well.
    I also recall reading about torture being used by US troops, or by Vietnamese troops in the presence of US troops, during the Vietnam war.
    My point here is not to argue for or against waterboarding. It’s to note that your comment the “…no one would have taken the position that these interrogation methods were acceptable” is not valid.
    In point of fact, “giving the third degree” was an accepted method of interrogation in the United States for a long long time.
    It has been only in the last 20 years or so (since Jimmy Carter’s time, oddly enough) that torture even came up for discussion, one way or the other.
    So let’s not whitewash the past, eh?

  11. memomachine says:

    @ skylar
    There’s no information that I would want us to have at the cost of doing anything to a prisoner much past giving him three hots and a cot.
    Utter nonsense.
    1. The Japanese **soldiers** were prosecuted not because they water-boarded. They were prosecuted because they violated the Articles of War governing the treatment of POWs.
    So the idea that water-boarding in general was some abhorrent practice not condoned by anybody is complete rubbish.
    2. While you’re up there on your big white horse I’d suggest you consider what you’re actually saying. What you think you’re saying is that your ethics are so incredibly strong that you wouldn’t resort to torture under any circumstance.
    What you are ACTUALLY saying is that neither your family nor that of anybody else’s has sufficient value that you’d compromise your ethics in order to keep them alive.
    What frankly aggravates the shit out of me on a regular basis are idiots like you. You sit there spouting off the most irrelevant drivel and then sit back thinking “Oh what a grand fellow am I!”. In reality you’re just pure shit. Why? Because you operate completely within the context that nothing could possibly happen to you.
    When people posit a scenario where a terrorist has to be tortured in order to gain information to save lives, in your view none of those lives potentially saved could be you or your loved ones. In all scenarios you are never the one at stake, and so there is zero cost to you for taking this stupid moral position.
    Which is typically liberal both in thinking and in complete ignorance.
    But unlike you I can imagine that terrorists aren’t going going to eliminate potential terror attacks with my family’s safety in mind. The next attack could be today, and it could result in the people I love dying in horrific ways. And I’m pretty damn comfortable with torturing terrorists to prevent that. I’m very comfortable with it. IMO if the choice is between a terrorist experiencing just dues for *being* a terrorist then I have zero qualms.
    Hell just give me the red hot poker and tongs and I’ll rip his toenails off myself.
    And if you have a problem with that, then I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think.

  12. nightfly says:

    To clarify, memo – Skyler is a proud member of the US armed forces (Marine Corps, IIRC) and as a result, it IS his life on the line, far moreso than my civilian ass. And I should also remind you that in the Declaration of Independence, the signers pledged not only their lives, but their fortunes and their sacred honor. It makes a big difference how we live the lives that are preserved for us by our military.
    I’ll grant that we need to be alive and free in order for our character to be relevant. But I do not consider it profitable to become utterly corrupt merely to save our skins.
    You may object, of course, that the occasional waterboarding is not remotely the same as utter corruption, and I would agree. I exaggerate the case merely to illustrate that you are exaggerating Skyler’s case just as badly. If he thought that he or his family had no value he would take the Sheehan point of view, and be content to sit humbly until our enemies did have sufficient means and force to impose sharia on the lot of us. He has NOT taken that tack, and is in fact fighting for us all. If there’s a line that he doesn’t wish to cross in order to wage that battle, then so be it. He has given a perfectly reasonable alternative – total war on the field of battle, humane treatment and civility off of it. By no means is this an outlandish or unusual position.

  13. The_Real_JeffS says:

    By no means is this an outlandish or unusual position.
    I concur, nightfly. Being an ideal, it is difficult to achieve, but it is common enough in the military.
    During my time in uniform, I was never in the position of having to interrogate prisoners. But I considered the possibility (at one time, it was something to plan for), and I have to admit that my position was far less ideal than Skyler’s. But I’m glad I never had to face that decision.
    It is, as you say, a personal choice of where to draw the line. The current debate on waterboarding simply puts the matter on the table for official policy.
    I consider said debate to be counterproductive. It’s similar to setting rules of engagement so tight that soldiers are endangered unnecessarily. Some things need to be left to the people on the ground.
    If you think that I’m suggesting a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in regards to waterboarding, yes, I am.

  14. major dad says:

    Think I’ll barge in. Skyler is correct saying that we don’t torture and should kill them all on the battlefield, but. The idea that the enemy won’t do it to us because we won’t do it is ludicrous. Let’s see, we know the Japanese did it, the Koreans, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, Iran, Iraq, certainly the Soviets and our friends the British were known not to treat IRA types to tea in the afternoon. The aforementioned group except the British pretty much just did it (torture) for the sake of doing it. We are involved in 4th generation warfare, the old rules don’t apply. I don’t believe we are conducting any “torture” that even begins to compare with say having bamboo shoved under one’s finger nails. The difference is that we are dealing with terrorists, they want to kill us, all of us. Techniques that make them talk should be used if it saves our lives. Remember the bleeding hearts said putting underwear on a terrorist’s head was torture as was standing at attention for long periods of time (I got tortured a lot in Boot Camp then). As a rule the U.S. does not torture, as a rule we don’t target civilians but guess what we do do what is necessary at any given time. I just know that in my combat time I wasn’t going to be taken prisoner because of my fear of what they might do to me.

  15. If everybody wants to try it, it doesn’t meet the ‘torture’ definition.

  16. Skyler says:

    It’s still mistreatment. Either kill them or incarcerate them. No need to torture/mistreat them. It diminishes us.

  17. Skyler says:

    And thank you, all, for the kind words on my behalf.

  18. The_Real_JeffS says:

    What major dad said.
    And you’re welcome, Skyler. I recognize that some people won’t cross this line, and I don’t think it makes them any worse Marines or soldiers. We just have a different way at looking the situation.

  19. major dad says:

    Skyler, just what is “mistreatment”? I think it is ridiculous practice to make them comfortable i.e. Muslim approved diet,clothes etc. Since when did the prisoners dictate conditions in a time of War? I agree on the no torture except in extreme cases but I question the definition of mistreatment in todays view. I think this maybe the only time in history where prisoners of war have gotten fat. I have a problem with the “incarceration” too. I don’t think the Germans, the Japanese, the Brits or us ever asked a prisoner of War if he would like a lawyer like so many on the Left would have us do. It’s WAR damn it!

  20. Skyler says:

    I didn’t say give them a special diet. Nor did I imply any right to a lawyer.
    For all I care, they should sit in a cell alone until they die of old age. I have no pity for them whatsoever. But I don’t think mistreatment, in the form of water boarding, shackling them into uncomfortable positions, etc., is something our nation should be doing. As the saying goes, it’s not because of what they are, but because of what we are.

  21. The_Real_JeffS says:

    Ummmm….Skyler, I missed this, but are you saying that “mistreatment” = “torture”?
    Because, y’know, by the exact definition of that term, I know some fraternities that “tortured” their pledges by putting underwear on their heads.
    Waterboarding a prisoner, or otherwise deliberately inflicting pain on them, is torture.
    Starving a prisoner, or denying them medical care, is mistreatment….unless you don’t have enough food and medical supplies for your own troops, whereupon it’s a command call on who is more important, your troops or your prisoners.
    Forcing a terrorist suspect to put underwear on their head is silly, but it’s not even mistreatment.
    Make up your mind.

  22. major dad says:

    Skyler, what I’m saying is mistreatment is pretty broad in meaning and not the same as torture. And as far as the waterboardng,I have a hard time believing it is anywhere near a common practice. The way the it is being framed is like, “okay, everyone line up for your daily waterboarding!” I would bet you dinner that this is all a big exaggeration on it’s scope and frequency. You notice now they all say “I was tortured!”. Yes, you are dead on in saying we don’t have a policy of torture, and we shouldn’t do it, we don’t. But we have a policy of no assassination too but I didn’t see anyone crying foul when we dropped 4 2K pounders from a B-1 trying to take old Saddam out.

  23. Skyler says:

    I did not say that mistreatment is torture. I said we should not mistreat prisoners. I chose the term “mistreatment” because I didn’t want to get into a semantical back and forth about whether waterboarding is torture.
    Maj Dad, you’re probably right. I’ve heard recently that waterboarding was only used by the US three times in this war.
    I hope all this is much ado about nothing, but what bothers me is that there is such knee jerk support for anything deemed supportive of “conservatives” in office (though I’ve not seen much conservative come out of DC since Gingrich’s days).
    Sometimes I think if someone said thought that purple would favor republicans, there would be heated debates that we should all wear purple.

  24. major dad says:

    Skyler, good we are in agreement. Don’t confuse support for a conservative ideal as knee jerk. The problem is blind support for anything anti-Bush. That is the political reality right now. We could win (that being a nebulous ideal) and the Left would turn it into a “yeah but…”.

  25. Skyler says:

    Here’s a link to some thoughts on waterboarding.

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