Turning Our Back on Torture

NRO’s Rich Lowry just weighed in on the torture debate with some false assumptions and already-debunked assertions. He says that the Obama administration turned its back on “life-saving intelligence-gathering” techniques.

In point of fact, the United States turned its back on “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (EIT’s) a long time ago. American soldiers used waterboarding to gain intelligence in the Philippines occupation immediately after the Spanish-American War. The response? President Roosevelt, who led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill, demanded that the soldiers employing the “water cure” be prosecuted. American soldiers who employed waterboarding in Vietnam were likewise court-martialed. A previous post at NRO’s The Corner makes this clear.

The bottom line? The Geneva Conventions apply to the modern battlefield, asymmetric or not. The Supreme Court said so in 2006, so a new memorandum from the OLC finding that the Geneva Conventions do not apply is out of the question. Re-authorizing EIT’s is a legal impossibility. While the Right tries to argue their efficacy in a partisan fight to prevent prosecution, this is an argument limited to a political rehabilitation, not a legal one.

Lowry also exaggerates the importance of corroborating information that Khalid Shaykh Mohammed (KSM) gave under EIT duress:

According to the IG report, KSM’s cooperation led to the arrest of a truck driver in the U.S. named Iyman Faris who was plotting attacks on New York landmarks; of a sleeper operative in New York named Saleh Almari; of an operative named Majid Khan who had easy entree into the U.S.; and of two Pakistani businessmen whom KSM “planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States.”

“Saleh Almari” appears to be Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. I’ve written extensively about al-Marri, who was apprehended in December, 2001, long before KSM was in custody. Here is the indictment.

As Peter Bergen points out, Iyman Faris won’t make the terrorist all-star list any time soon. “In 2002 he researched the feasibility of bringing down the Brooklyn Bridge by using a blowtorch, an enterprise akin to demolishing the Empire State Building with a firecracker.”

Bergen also sheds some light on the collars of Majid Khan and the Parachas (the “two Pakistani businessmen”):

The Parachas are a father-and-son team; the former, arrested in Thailand in the summer of 2003, is being held at Guantánamo and has yet to face trial, while his son was convicted in 2005 of providing “material support” to al Qaeda.

Majid Khan was arrested in Pakistan only four days after KSM was captured, suggesting that this lead came not from interrogations but from KSM’s computers and cell phones that were picked up when he was captured.

The only valid criticism that Lowry levels is with regard to the limitation of the new High-Value Detainee Interrogation Task Force, but not in the way you might think. While limiting interrogations to the techniques in the Army Field Manual keeps brutality off the table, certain law enforcement techniques such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma are valid and ought to be used. Terrorist networks are more like crime syndicates than an infantry battalion in organization; if promises of reduced sentences can get terrorists to talk about their comrades then by all means use them.