If there’s going to be a debate, let’s have a real debate

The Washington Post reports that a military agency called the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) sent an “addendum” to the Pentagon’s Office of the General Counsel stating that “the application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture) has some serious operational defects, most notably the potential to result in unreliable information.”

I think it was well understood that the use of harsh interrogation techniques carries with it the risk of obtaining unreliable information. The extent of that risk probably varies depending on the technique in question and, especially, how much information the interrogator already has. John McCain perhaps could stop his torture for a while by “giving up” the names of American sports stars. American interrogators circa 2002 presumably were less gullible, and had more to work with, than the North Vietnamese circa 1969.

In any case, the risk of getting unreliable information must be weighed against the certainty that if tame interrogation techniques aren’t working on a detainee, there is no hope of obtaining reliable information from that individual. Stated differently, there is risk that not using enhanced interrogation techniques will result in not getting reliable information that could have been obtained. And the competing risks must be weighed in real time, not years after the fact.

In the abstract, It’s not clear how much there is to be gained by considering whether, contrary to most people’s intutiion, we would have been better off from the standpoint of intelligence gathering had we not used enhanced interrogation and simply allowed the likes of Abu Zubaida to remain silent. I understand most of those who oppose these techniques to oppose them regardless of their efficacy. In any event, the inquest might well devolve into a morass of assumptions and speculation.

But the Democrats, including the president, want to have the “torture” debate. That is, they don’t just want to stop using techniques they dislike (a mission already accomplished); they want to convince Americans that the decision to stop using these techniques is the correct one.

This means that the efficacy of the interrogation methods in question must be debated. And for that debate to be meaningful, the two CIA reports that former vice president Cheney has cited must be released. Otherwise the debate will be controlled by the Democrats, as they selectively feed information (like the JPRA addendum) to friendly liberal organs like the Washington Post.

At the same time, Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project, is also correct that if the two memos Cheney has cited are released, so too should additional material bearing on the subject. Otherwise, Cheney may be able to “cherry pick” his intelligence.

So let’s put it all out there and have a real debate for the whole world, including our enemies, to enjoy. Let’s explore every conceivable consequence of the way we treated poor Abu Zubaida and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Who knows, maybe a handful of people will change their mind.

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