Friday, April 24, 2009

Torture 101

As this week progressed, and more information leaked about Americans waterboarding terror suspects, my mind drifted back to a Christopher Hitchens article I read last summer. Hitchens, as part of an effort to honestly report on torture, asked the American military to waterboard him. Then he wrote about it.

His retelling is chilling, and leaves little doubt that the technique is just drowning a victim to make him fear for his life. It's amazing how quickly Hitchens himself used a preset signal to get out of the situation, although he did go back for seconds. Read the piece, which is linked above, it's worth your time.

Part of his article included a retelling of a conversation Hitchens had with Malcolm Nance, a counter-terrorism and terrorism intelligence consultant for the U.S. government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence agencies. Nance has more than 20 years experience fighting terrorism. He's hardly a peacenik lefty.

Per Hitchens, here's what Nance had to say about waterboarding:

"1. Waterboarding is a deliberate torture technique and has been prosecuted as such by our judicial arm when perpetrated by others.

2. If we allow it and justify it, we cannot complain if it is employed in the future by other regimes on captive U.S. citizens. It is a method of putting American prisoners in harm’s way.

3. It may be a means of extracting information, but it is also a means of extracting junk information. . . To put it briefly, even the C.I.A. sources for the Washington Post story on waterboarding conceded that the information they got out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was “not all of it reliable.” Just put a pencil line under that last phrase, or commit it to memory.

4. It opens a door that cannot be closed. Once you have posed the notorious “ticking bomb” question, and once you assume that you are in the right, what will you not do? Waterboarding not getting results fast enough? The terrorist’s clock still ticking? Well, then, bring on the thumbscrews and the pincers and the electrodes and the rack."

Mr. Holder: Can we please get down to prosecuting the people who authorized and used this technique?


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  2. I also read that article last summer and watched the video. It's unimaginable to me that someone could honestly opine that waterboarding is not torture. I'm not looking forward to all the the partisan bickering about this, but not prosecuting those responsible for it is tantamount to endorsing it.