I had a law professor who illustrated the “innocent construction” doctrine in defamation law with the following case from the 17th or 18th century:
A brewer sued a farmer for defamation after the farmer declared that his horse could piss a better beer than the brewer sold. Citing the innocent construction rule, the court ruled in favor of the farmer because it was possible that he had an extraordinary horse.
I’m reminded of this story by the statement in the CIA Inspector General’s report that his office’s work did not permit a “definite conclusion about the effectiveness of particular interrogation methods.” The report found that terrorists disclosed more and better information after they were subjected to the “enhanced” methods of interrogation that have become so controversial, than they did when conventional methods were used. However, some in the intelligence community say there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained some other way.
Technically, they are correct. As many interrogation techniques as interrogators might have tried, it is still possible that if they had just tried just one more non-enhanced approach the terrorist would have gushed the same way he did after being waterboarded. Who knows, the terrorist might have been an Everton fan who would have spilled the beans in exchange for Duncan Ferguson’s number 9 jersey.
Or perhaps a Sam Adams pissed by a horse.