What? Me? A torturing monster?

Former CIA Deputy Director Jose Rodriguez, now an executive with National Interest Security Company. He is a felon, but he appears to have something on the DOJ so he will not be prosecuted.

“I cannot tell you how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labeled ‘torturers’ by the president of the United States,” when all we really did was to strap people to a board and pour water into their noses and mouths to they felt the sensation of drowning, for several hours a day every day for months, and stuff.

That is the sentiment of Jose Rodriguez’s new book, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives.

Rodriguez, former leader of a CIA torture, er, persuasion, team, is so proud of his ability to save American Lives by leading the way in making our country and its representatives truly monstrous in the eyes of the rest of the world, that he destroyed video evidence of the waterboarding acts (remember that?) back when it was first discovered that the CIA was … persuading people … in this manner.

Regarding the destruction of the evidence of his team’s actions, he wrote, “I wasn’t going to sit around another three years waiting for people to get up the courage [to torture, er, persuade people] … “[I was] just getting rid of some ugly visuals.”

Nice of him to appoint himself to be the person who decided whether or not the system of oversight of Federal investigatory agencies by the People has had enough time or not. I wonder if this book contains the information necessary to indict?

The book is being published by the same house that published Dick Cheney’s memoir, Threshold, which is a conservative subunit of Simon and Schuster. They’ve also published work by Glenn Beck, Karl Rove, Jerome R. Corsi, Mark R. Levin, David Kupelian, Lynne Cheney, Arthur B. Laffer, Mary Cheney, Jerry Doyle, Reid Buckley, Brian Jennings, George Melloan, Burton W. Folsom, and Stephen Moore, according to their web site.

A fuller version of the Rodriguez story will be found in The Washington Post

I’m pretty sure torture has a low level of effectiveness, but even if it was sometimes, er, persuasive, it is immoral to use it. However, we as a nation are never going to fully agree on this, and even from a moral perspective, the “bomb in the middle of New York” scenario is still intellectually convincing, even if the liklihood of it happening is close to zero. This is the scenario in which there is something like a nuclear bomb set to go off in some place like New York City, and the timing of the expected explosion is too soon to evacuate, but we have in custody a man who knows the codes one can enter into the bomb’s keyboard (located right next to the obligatory blinking light that is found on all covert bombs) to deactivate it. Bomb experts have determined that there is no way to deactivate the bomb without the codes. You’ve all seen this before on TV or in the movies. So, the only way for tens of millions of people to not be turned instantly int skeletons when the bomb goes off is to make the man tell us the deactivation code.

OK, fine, so never mind that this scenario is almost impossible. Let’s give the pro-torture side no credit for the credibility of their imagination, but, thinking for them (their limitations are obvious) we can imagine a different scenario not taken from 24 staring Kiefer Sutherland. Imagine what you will, just make sure that at the end of your imagined scenario, there is a guy who has information that will save hundreds of thousands of lives, but he won’t give up the information by any means that are legal and available, but maybe, just maybe, if tortured he would. At that point, there is no reason to pick and choose among torture techniques, to draw a line between one kind of horrific action and another, to say “waterboarding” is OK, but attaching electrodes to his testicles is not. Just assume that since nothing else has worked that anything else tried is worth it, because we morally are willing to toss this one guy’s life aside to find out this critical information.

Feel free to critique this argument so far as it stands, but now we’ll move on to the next stage, the rule I propose in case the “24-Keifer” approach is actually implemented.

In my proposed scenario, there should be a team of torturers available just in case there really is a nuclear bomb in the middle of Manhattan, and some guy has the deactivation code but isn’t talking, or whatever, and these torturers, using the best available (or so they think) methods, can have at that guy because all else fails. But in each the case where are called in to “get the codes” (or whatever) the incident has to be filmed, and the full details and all the “ugly visuals” released to the public, documenting the reason the Torture Team was brought in, outlining the rationale for their approach, documenting their every move, and in the end, showing the target revealing the “life saving” information such as Nuclear Bomb Deactivation Codes. Or not.

Also, this needs to be done under executive order, and the rule is that if a president orders this, and it does not work, then he or she must resign along with the entire chain of command from the White House to the Torture Team, which would probably include the Chief of the Joint Chiefs, a general, and a unit commander or agency section chief, as well as the head of the CIA or other agency that runs the Torture Team.

Then, after each event, we get to vote on whether or not the Torture Team gets to continue to exist. At the very least, this would make for some amazing theater.

How does that sound?

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23 thoughts on “What? Me? A torturing monster?

  1. It seems to me that, in such a hypothetical scenario, it would be far quicker and more likely to elicit the correct codes by pumping the suspect with sodium pentothal or LSD or some other drug designed to loosen the tongue. In addition to being immoral, torture has a poor record for obtaining accurate information.

  2. So what is to stop the One With the Codes from giving false codes? It will take time to pass on the codes and have them entered. Then more time for extra attempts, just in case the “correct” code was entered wrong. (i.e. “Did I hit 357 or 347?”) All that time, the One With the Codes is not being tortured (because he already “gave up the information.”)

    Or better yet, have the One with the Codes give the wrong codes, knowing there is a switch that will automatically set off the bomb if the wrong code is entered?

  3. I have no objection to your suggestion because even if adopted it is never going to happen.
    Torture is excellent are eliciting false confessions, because you have motivated the victim to say whatever he thinks will stop the pain. This has nothing to so with eliciting useful information.
    I highly recommend the book Black Banners by the head FBI interrogator before the CIA entered the scene and effed everything up. He explains very explicitly why torture does not work, and why since the CIA started it, not one single bit of useful information came out, although before torture they were getting plenty. One of the problems you get with torture is you have no way of evaluating the value of the information. Whereas in a regular interrogation it is a very carefully planned game so you can evaluate the information you are getting.
    What Soufan did NOT say in his book, but seems likely to me, is that the reason for the torture was not to find things out, but to elicit false information that was useful politically – to support the war in Iraq for example. Thus we are back to torture is great for false confessions.

  4. Beth: Absolutely! If those things work. I think they may not work much better than torture. I shudder to think of the experiment that would be required to pick which method was better ….

  5. Erik: I agree with your objection, but one thing I’m trying to do here is extract the conversation from that particular silly example, for many reasons, including the ones you cite.

    RW: A movie, or an episode of something.

  6. There’s another twist to this which you don’t mention – martyrdom. Let’s say a person planted a bomb through religious beliefs that the world was created last Thursday, therefore calendar publishing companies are heretical and must be destroyed, along with any that use them.

    So they plant their bomb in NYC, and are caught (somehow) before the bomb is set to go off, and the bomb (for some reason) has cancellation codes. Please note – I see no reason for a fanatic to include cancellation codes in their bombs. We already have people who strap bombs to themselves, go to a spot, and blow themselves up. Even if they put a timer on the bomb so it will do the most damage to the most people at the right time, why in the world would they include a cancellation code?

    However, assuming they did this, and there is such a code.. torture to them is just increasing their status as a martyr. They have no good reason to give up correct information about how to stop their bomb (even if they do, they’ll still be in prison for life), and every reason (rewards in the afterlife) not to give up correct info.

    So, even for the impossible scenario of a bomb with cancellation codes, and a captured bomber, and using torture.. we still likely couldn’t stop the bomb. Other than traditional bomb deactivation techniques, of course.

  7. If there is a bomb planted in the middle of NYC and it cannot be moved or defused without the codes, then you pretty much accept you are all dead. It’s a stupid hypothetical.

  8. If you’re arguing with someone who is convinced by the “bomb in Manhattan” argument in favor of torture, I recommend trying this line on them.

    After all, this scenario isn’t all that likely. Since we’re spinning out unlikely scenarios anyway, then, let’s try a few more:

    You didn’t just pick up one terrorist who knew the codes — you picked up the entire cell. One guy knows the codes, but you don’t know which one. Is it ok to torture all eight of them to fish out the information you need?

    It is? OK, now you’ve picked up fifty people. You’re absolutely sure that one of them has the code, but some of the others might not even be terrorists — just foreign nationals in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still ok to torture them?

    As above, but substitute “American citizens” for “foreign nationals.” Still ok?

    OK, now they aren’t planning on blowing up Manhattan, just Congress.

    What about if they’re planning on blowing up the CIA headquarters because they think the CIA is becoming dangerous because of all the rounding up and torturing it’s doing?

    The point is, as long as we can agree on what torture consists of, the “no torture by civilized nations” rule is a clear, bright line. If we start saying “no torture except when it’s justified,” then where exactly do we draw that line before we reach Orwell’s 1984?

  9. Bruce, you are correct but you are also incorrect. You have in part committed the slippery slope fallacy, and you know what happens once you open that can of worms….

    Anyway, this is why all the people in the chain of command have to resign after giving the torture order.

  10. I suspect that in any real Jack Bauer-type scenario where torture would clearly save many lives, someone would go ahead and do what was necessary, legal or not. And if they were right, pretty much all would be forgiven.
    But forgiveness-after-the-fact is a far cry different than ratifying torture as an acceptable policy; really, anyone who tortures a suspect, for any reason (even a damn good one) should have to break the law.

  11. Also, this needs to be done under executive order, and the rule is that if a president orders this, and it does not work, then he or she must resign along with the entire chain of command from the White House to the Torture Team, which would probably include the Chief of the Joint Chiefs, a general, and a unit commander or agency section chief, as well as the head of the CIA or other agency that runs the Torture Team. Then, after each event, we get to vote on whether or not the Torture Team gets to continue to exist. At the very least, this would make for some amazing theater.
    How does that sound?

    Impractical, too time-consuming in the event of such a mass life & death scenario and excessively idealistic and unrealistic.

    It is NOT something I can ever see being agreed to by those who would have to do it and can’t see it arranged somehow or ever happening.

    If it did, it would possibly, perhaps even probably cost a lot of innocent lives.

    Well you did ask!

  12. This whole torture to save innocent loves is a tough ethical issue.

    Is waterboarding torture. Yup.

    Is torture immoral? Yeah.

    Did it save innocent lives? Almost certainly.

    Does that make it worthwhile? Maybe.

    It is very easy to condemn Jose Rodriguez and those like him. Its very easy, too easy perhaps, to sit back in the comfort of your home and computer safe and sound and callhimand thsoe like him monsters.

    Thing is that he and those like him may have saved your life may have saved thousands – even millions – of other innocent lives.

    What the CIA interrogators did might very well, heck probably was ethically wrong and cruel and awful and unpleasant. It might also have been necessary to gain vital information and save people’s lives that would otherwise have been killed in further terrorist attacks.

    By mistreating really nasty, evil monsters such as Khalid Sheik Mohammad who planned the 9-11 atroctities among many others.

    It is very hard to have any sympathy for what happened to Khalid Sheik Mohammd and the other Jihadist terrorists who, I’d say, deserve far worse than any limited torture and ultimately humane capital punishment we can give them.

    Yes, there’s a lot of question marks and uncertainties here and much we probably don’t, won’t and shouldn’t know.

    You call Jose Rodriguez a “torturing monster” which is up to you.

    Yet you may well owe him your life and the lives of those you care about – and thus thanks and gratitude for doing what I don’t think you and certainly not I could do in order to save who knows how many others.

  13. D’oh!

    That first line is meant to read :

    This whole torture to save innocent lives is a tough ethical issue.

    Plus later its :

    Its very easy, too easy perhaps, to sit back in the comfort of your home and computer safe and sound and call him and those like him monsters.

    I think we need to ask ourselves here :

    Is our moral vanity worth more than who knows how many innocent peoples lives?

    The Jihadists are not good or reasonable people – do they really deserve our sympathy and even rhetorical support?

  14. PS. Remember – We are at war.

    We did not start this war or want it to happen but its the reality.

    War pretty much by definition is hellish and ugly and not at all nice and forces us toconfront some very grim and horrid necessities and do some very nasty things.

    I don’t like this – but I accept that it is the stark, sad reality.

    If terrorists don’t want to be tortured then maybe they need to, oh I dunno, STOP being terrorists and end their war against us maybe?

  15. StevoR
    “Did it save innocent lives? Almost certainly.”
    StevoR can you offer any evidence at all to back up this statement?
    I have seen absolutely no evidence of this, and if it were true I am sure the proponents would be waving it around and crowing wildly.

  16. If terrorists don’t want to be tortured then maybe they need to, oh I dunno, STOP being terrorists and end their war against us maybe?

    This of course assumes that everyone waterboarded was,in fact, a terrorist.
    This wasn’t the case.
    Is it moral vanity or consistency to object to a technique that we as a country called torture when it was performed on our troops?
    And again, the whole point is that it is debatable that it actually saved any lives, much less the murky “many” to which the former administration keeps alluding.
    John McCain(no friend to those morally vain peacenicks) stood on the floor and refuted the idea that waterboarding led to any useful information.That to my mind makes it worth examining the idea rather than giving an automatic pass to people who have a vested interest in making sure that we don’t call it torture until the statute of limitations runs out.

  17. I agree with sailor and Makoto. In the ticking time-bomb scenario, if you rely on torture to find and defuse the bomb, you will almost certainly fail. From the standpoint of the bomber, it is trivially easy to mislead the torturers until the bomb goes off, even if he has the information you require. But there’s really no guarantee that he does.

    We have plenty of protocols we use for segregating information that are used every day. Make no one person has all the information required to find and defuse the bomb is easy. Further, if you really, really mean for a bomb to go off, you don’t add a deactivation code to the design, as Makoto pointed out.

    This is the most persuasive scenario anyone can come up with to justify torture, and it’s not even remotely plausible. It assumes terrorists are stupid; they aren’t. It assumes torture is infallible; it isn’t. The only purpose torture serves is to satisfy the blood lust of the torturer.

  18. “It assumes terrorists are stupid; they aren’t.”
    This is true, and not only that, like US Troops they are trained to expect and deal with torture (like giving out useless information). What Soufan points out is what they are not expecting is civility and kindness, and that can trip them up.
    The other thing is if you think of those cases where lives were clearly saved (stopping the big plot in the UK for example) torture was not used. It was intelligence and police work.
    The people who approved of and believe in torture would love to show an example of how it saved lives, they have not managed to come up with a single instance yet, which makes me seriously doubt there is one.
    Think of it this way – if the bomb was behind a big steel door with lots of locks, would you prefer to have along a guy who is an expert in picking locks, or a guy with a hammer?

  19. The problem with these scenarios is they always assume that the torture victim is in fact the right person, the one able to give the codes. Unfortunately when the police are allowed to act without due process they turn out to be wrong as often as not. Just ask Jean Charles DeMenezes.


    April 27 (Reuters) – A nearly three-year-long investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats is expected to find there is little evidence the harsh “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA used on high-value prisoners produced counter-terrorism breakthroughs.

    People familiar with the inquiry said committee investigators, who have been poring over records from the administration of President George W. Bush, believe they do not substantiate claims by some Bush supporters that the harsh interrogations led to counter-terrorism coups.

    The backers of such techniques, which include “water-boarding,” sleep deprivation and other practices critics call torture, maintain they have led to the disruption of major terror plots and the capture of al Qaeda leaders.

    One official said investigators found “no evidence” such enhanced interrogations played “any significant role” in the years-long intelligence operations which led to the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden last May by U.S. Navy SEALs.

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