Monday, September 28, 2009

Enhanced Interrogation: Objections and Responses #3

Continuing from HERE HERE and HERE and HERE.



We now get into objections that are directly aimed at ethical concerns. This first is one of several that worries about the effects institutionalizing EIT would have as others emulate the practice. It has the idea of the importance of "setting an example" behind it. In this particular instance, that example-setting is argued to be dangerous when it redounds to our own people:



Ethical Objections

3. Use of the techniques endangers future US and allied prisoners of war, who will be put at greater risk of similar treatment. (Reciprocity Objection)

Re: The picture of the world this objection assumes: Nations condition their interrogation practices upon the perceived practices of other nations. This is not an unreasonable picture of things, and is in fact largely accurate. The fear is that if the United States (the pre-eminent world power, and lead dog in regard to ethical standards and human rights whether or not the rest of the world wants to admit it or not) ‘barbarizes’ practices, so too will the other nations of the world.

The picture is somewhat simple. We are the lead dog, but also the de-facto world government. As such we have to do two things simultaneously, we must encourage the world to honor the values and rights we believe all humans possess, and we must do what we can to promote and protect universal respect and honor of that value and right.

This means we must sometimes deal with individuals and/or states that flout such respect of persons. We must do things to protect ‘bystanders’ and would-be victims of their acts. Sometimes we will find ourselves in situations that require that we make tough choices, and do things that are normally impermissible, otherwise, a great deal would be lost.

This is a role similar to that of a domestic police force, a military, and a government. Something like this is the de facto U.S. role in the world. We did not necessarily choose the role, but we have inherited it. A sort of paradox grows from this. As the closest thing to a world government or police force, we must make these tough choices in the interests of maintaining order and security, this ultimately being in a national security interest. Yet, we also want to do this in a way that is consistent with American values. As the ethical lead dog, we also want to be exemplars of proper humanity toward all of mankind. Why? We know others will emulate our actions. This puts our military personnel and our country in a unique position and at a unique risk. For, we also know they will notice any discrepency between word and action.

The worry is that utilization of water boarding and other similar EITs would present a sort of precedent that would encourage others in that same way when they capture our folks. Who are these others? Either nation states or non-state organizations of global or regional reach. More generally: any entity who can wage war (conventional or unconventional), and would be in a position to take U.S. prisoners.


Al Qaeda is the obvious representative of the latter sort of entity. If it is assumed that AQ’s barbaric treatment of captured prisoners will be effected by seeing their own treated with meticulous and absolutist humanity, this is an unrealistic assumption, and not empirically supported. By most accounts, their high value personnel are treated well in Guantanamo. This is not reciprocated. Captured U.S. personnel are killed by militant islamists. In Iraq and Afghanistan, those that work with allied forces are routinely threatened tortured and killed. AQ does not concern itself with assuring humane treatment of prisoners. They do not concern themselves with sparing civilians. Barbaric treatment is their preferred tactic. They have no moral qualms with atrocity. They consider prisoners (and indeed civilians) pawns, objects with which to coerce submission. It is this view that leads them to kill fellow Muslims. It is simply unrealistic to expect them to change to such a degree as to see the moral depravity of their ways. We will not significantly effect their treatment of U.S. prisoners by choosing to abstain from employing EITs. But, they may make use of our readiness to employ water boarding against us. They may use it for propaganda and recruitment purposes. Should we abstain for exactly that reason? They will propagandize no matter what we do. We must consider what abstinence would entail.

Such abstinence will decrease the likelihood that we will acquire vital preventative information, due to the hardened nature of this enemy. They train in interrogation resistance. Their religious fanaticism inures them to typical non-enhanced techniques. If these techniques are successful, it is usually after considerable time. If time is pressing, or if detainees are hardened to such an extent that the traditional methods are of no avail, and we consciously choose to refrain from use of EITs, we will have no practicable way to gain valuable information. For, at least in the instance of water boarding, we have a fairly quick and reliable technique that does no physical damage, and little or no mental harm. So, it would seem there is not sufficient reason to abstain from employment of these enhanced techniques vis-à-vis AQ (and similar) detainees.

If, on the other hand the reciprocity objection concerns treatment of U.S. and allied POWs by foreign nation states, it is not altogether clear how a traditional nation state’s perception of our treatment of non-state agents will effect how they themselves would treat U.S. POWs should they ever find themselves at war with us.

Perhaps the assumption is that they would fear we will treat their soldiers in like fashion. So they will be more inclined to use EITs on our people, even if we have so far abstained from treating their personnel likewise.

But, where there is state legitimacy, a track record of genuine reciprocity, and respect for laws of war, it is already, and should again be made clear, that no such techniques will be used by the U.S. against any military personnel from such nations.

On the other hand, when a nation state fails to reciprocate, fails to abide by the laws of war, or supports non state entities who fail in these ways and which utilize that aid against the United States, it should be read as forfeiting presumption of such abstinence on our part, in the event we capture any of that nation’s personnel who we have good reason to believe are directly responsible for the violations and in possession of valuable preventative information for high risk scenarios.

In deference to our national character however, I suggest that the degree to which a forfeiting party utilizes or materially acquiesces in enhanced or torture techniques itself will dictate the degree of potential response from our folks, with a ceiling placed at the level of the techniques presently under consideration. There is no need for us to descend into truly barbaric practices if water boarding or similar EITs are sufficiently reliable sources of information.

There would still then be an international recognition that we choose to use lesser and more humane means, just in case that recognition would be useful in mitigating hardened attitudes in non-compliant states or in non-state organizations arrayed against us. This perception may create pressure in such states or organizations, against their more barbaric practices. However, we should not be naïve about the prospects.

Detroit Lions Win: Four Horsemen of Apocalypse Saddle Up.




The mighty Leos beat the Washington Redskins for only the second time in the last bazillion years.

Great time to break out..



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Monday Madness

Johnny the Horse

Inspired by the death of a street person, kicked to death by a gang...for entertainment