Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Debating "torture"

For some reason, Shamgar referred me to this article, as if it was devastating to my position:

Since he brought up the subject, here’s the material I found most worthwhile in the article he directed me to read:


How sad. You have the audacity to designate the brave men and women of our armed service -- who perform their duty by water-boarding men of admittedly unspeakable evil -- to be morally comparable to their enemies. You arguments are demagogic and specious.

1. "Torture does not work." You are correct, unless of course it is applied in a tactically sound manner. In the stereotyped scenario, which admittedly has been employed by the truly sadistic, a torturer begins by developing a list of crimes to which he hopes the torturee will confess. Then torture is applied and -- lo and behold -- a confession is extracted. IF our nation was so foolish as to use this technique, I would agree that torture doesn't work. But they do not. Instead, they start with a portfolio of intelligence they believe to be true with a high degree of certainty. Then they slowly apply more and more powerful psychological and physical techniques until they believe that the subjects will has collapsed. But they do not accept just any interesting tidbit -- they first ensure that the subject's will has collapsed and that they are not being sabotaged by asking questions to which they already have an answer. In so doing, they ensure that they are not being fed the answer the subject "knows" they want to hear (For a real-istic example, "Was there a chemical weapons unit being trained in the second safe-house you slept at in Karachi?" A subject who has not been trained yet that false positive answers yield further punishment may decide to answer incorrectly. But this will worsen his treatment. He will learn quickly, I assure you).

2. Our enemies will torture our soldiers. They do and will continue to. This is truly a rhetorical trick -- you, I and the other readers all know our most evil enemies will subject our men and women to unspeakable, undeserved pain and humiliation as they see fit. Our more civilized enemies might not, just as we wouldn't decide to torture our more civilized prisoners (the highest officials in our government -- last I checked, it was the President himself -- must sign off on each and every increase in severity in interrogation techniques for each and every prisoner on a case by case basis. So these would not be employed in -- say -- a hypothetical war against the civilized soldiers of the African Union).

3. The heart of the argument is an argument of moral equivalence. Our enemies torture and that is evil, so if we torture, we are evil. But they same can be said of killing (ie, murder), capturing (ie, stealing) enemy supplies, etc. This is why it is better to use the Orwellian-feeling phrase of "enhanced interrogation". "Killing" is morally neutral. As is "capturing". But that "torture" historically has no such analogue is an outcome of squeamishness, moral cowardice or faulty logic, not wise ethical philosophy. Throwing an innocent man in jail is evil, whereas throwing a criminal in jail is just; similarly, torture birthed of sadism or employed upon a likely innocent victim is evil, while it employing it on an admitted mass murderer to prevent further mass murder is just. You are trying to decree a purely amoral act as immoral while stripping it of its entire ethical context. This is at the least irresponsible and wrongheaded, or worse -- in accusing honorable men of profound evil -- morally negligent. You sir and your ilk are enabling the criminals of al Qaeda to employ the argument of moral justice -- bin Laden's favorite when addressing the West (see, eg, ).

4. You equivocate on the word "torture". By comparing our brave men and women to the denizens of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam and Pol Pot, you invoke images of pure hell and sadism. But when our troops are found guilty of that breed of sadism, they are roundly punished. This renders hollow the claims of our enemies that "We closed Saddams torture chambers to open our own". What audacious bile! And yet, you mention Abu Gharaib, when its very infamy proves the falsity of your accusations. No sir, America has not given up its heart and soul -- for we punish those whom our enemies promote!

5. Just for the record: al Qaeda manuals teach their readers to dream up the most unspeakable tortures and humiliations whenever possible. Also, several very popular "torture tell all" documentaries, treatments, articles and appearances have later proven (almost certainly) false.

In conclusion, your piece is interesting, but at worst vile and at best terribly misguided. I am almost entirely certain that in your case it is the latter. Sadly, that is not the case when our most dangerous enemies employ almost the exact same arguments.

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | October 29, 2007 3:43 AM

When it comes to extrating information from military combatants, are harsh methods acceptable? Oh, yeah. They are not only acceptable, they are NECESSARY.

Sometimes I think that the critics of military interrogation tactics have been subconsciously influenced by the police dramas on TV. After all, Starsky and Hutch could draw out a confession just by playing "Good Cop, Bad Cop". And today on Law & Order Criminal Intent and CSI Miami, all it takes to make a suspect crack and tell all is to get in their face while tilting your neck.

Cara Segwick on The Closer really applies the pressure, though. She bats her eyes and uses a southern accent to get her confessions (no head tilt needed).

TV's portrayal of successful interrogative methods has come a ways since the days when Perry Mason was always able to get the guilty party to leap to his/her feet in a courtroom and proclaim their guilt. There's a general public awareness now that harsher methods are required, but everyone realizes that Liberals have hamstrung our police interrogators.

Before we legislate exactly "who and how" can be effectively interrogated by our military and homeland security personnel, we should stop and think. Don't just react instinctively.

Obviously, we are going to need to find the middle ground in all of this. The best answer to the crises we face isn't going to always be in the extremes as it was when we were forced into firebombing and nuking Japanese cities in WWII.

I agree with everything we did in WWII. Extreme warfare requires extreme responses.

Not to sound Lincolnesque here, but we are now engaged in a great war that will test not only our resolve, but also our treasure and most importantly, the principles we are fighting to defend.

The question seems to be, "How low will we go?"

Posted by AZgirl | October 29, 2007 5:12 PM

It is also interesting to note that some of those (here and elsewhere) who oppose the use of this category of force in defense of our nation would also not criminally punish men who justly decide to act in this way. But that gives lie to the argument from morality. Either it is an evil act that must always be punished, or there are grounds when it is morally justified.

To be clear: I am advocating that an actor is justified in using the minimum force possible, against a guilty party, sufficient to meet the goal of preventing unjustified violence against the undeserving. It is indeed up to the conscience and reason of the actor or party involved to determine just how much force is required and under which circumstances. To prevent accidents, I am comfortable with every manner of safeguard provided it doesn't sufficiently diminish the ability to prevent further harm to the innocents in question.

In any case, I am arguing less about what a particular law should or should not state, and more about whether one should so eagerly condemn those who make the decision to engage in this practice without regard to the entire moral context.

One need not imagine a ticking nuclear bomb, by the way. One only need imagine that they are a father who has captured a man who belongs to a pedophilia ring that managed to kidnap his 2 year old daughter. In other words, the life of the innocent need not be in direct or immediate danger, nor must there be a high number of innocents in danger. A single innocent babe in danger of being subjected to such inhuman cruelty deserves to be protected by any means necessary, provided one is certain they have collared a member of the ring. I would never ever be able to forgive myself for allowing my daughter to be degraded in that way, but believe I would sleep well and without guilty conscious should I subject such a man to the minimum force possible yet still sufficient to rescue her.

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | October 29, 2007 7:08 PM

I could be persuaded that a particular government should not be trusted with the power to torture, or even that legally defining "acceptable torture" is difficult to the point of inaction.

But that matter is wholly separate from the matter of whether it is logically possible to torture someone morally.

Do you agree in principle that such a thing is possible?


It is impossible to make a valid general moral argument against an action per se by appealing to a slippery slope. You may be able to make an argument against a specific use case or the granting of powers to perform the action, but you certainly cannot argue against an entire class of action in that manner. I am sure you are quite capable of imaging several of the limitless such arguments one could make against granting war powers to a government.

I did purposely use the word violence in my "to be clear" section. Now, we could argue over what constitutes violence, or we can skip that boring conversation and you could just agree that you instinctively and rationally understand the difference between lesser and greater crimes, and that dissimilar force can be justified to prevent or punish them. After all, following your logic, "Why don't we shoot ever criminal immediately to prevent further crimes? How can you judge when it is fair to or not? If you are willing to use force to prevent crime, how do you decide how much?" And so on and so on...

The slippery slope is truly a slimy thing and can almost without fail be turned on its conjuror (unless they are relativsts in which case discussion is futile).

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | October 29, 2007 10:04 PM

Judging by many of the comments on this post, I would not want to take my chances on jury nullification to save those who think it is wrong to use coercive interrogation. Some would have the President weigh a choice between impeachment and mass slaughter of non combatants so they can feel morally superior.

Posted by Prairiepundit | October 30, 2007 12:14 PM

Anyone who thinks I am making an argument that amounts in totality to "the ends justify the means" probably hasn't read what I've written.

But to be clear "the ends" are nearly always taken into consideration in ethical decision making. For instance, is it moral to invade another country? That question cannot be answered -- the problem is that invading another country is an amoral act. One must know the moral context ("the ends", motivation, etc) before one can determine if a particular act of invasion is a moral act.


The premise is neither unstated nor faulty. In fact, that is almost (the grounded version of) my entire argument: There is a fact of the matter as to whether al qaeda is evil -- drumroll -- they are! So while we may be justified in killing an al qaeda operative, they are not justified in killing an American soldier. Killing, stealing, kidnapping, inflicting pain upon others -- these must be amoral acts at the core if you are to support war. The surrounding ethical context must be known to determine if the particular act in question is to be held in contempt.

But it really doesn't matter if the US is right and al qaeda is wrong for my abstract argument to be valid. Instead, there must be at least one logically possible case in which torture is justified. If such a case exists, then it becomes a matter of degree, motivation, intent, etc.

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | October 30, 2007 1:17 PM

Having been to SERE School, I abhor the idea of torture and believe that the US should be the “good guys” BEYOND debate. However, I certainly acknowledge that the subject of whether water boarding should be considered torture is, in fact, debatable. (Everything unpleasant can’t possibly be considered torture.) I happen to believe that it should not be considered torture, in and of itself.

Even still, I happen to be against the official use of water boarding by the US government against its enemies. That being said, I still support its use (and all current training techniques we employ) on our own people. Therefore, I don’t believe that water boarding should be considered the travesty some of you think it is.

1. Are some of you people making a deliberate attempt to not understand Nuzzolillo’s argument, or is his argument actually escaping you?

Is killing another human amoral? Are there ever justified circumstances (beyond self defense) for killing another human? Is it ok to empower our government officials to make this decision?

If you find it unacceptable for a police officer to kill another human in an attempt to save others (which, by the way, is NOT unrealistic), then I think you get a free pass from Nuzzolillo. He will not debate you any further. In fact, he will commend you on your lack of hypocrisy.

If, however, you find it justifiable to kill another human in certain situations, then you must acknowledge the argument Nuzzolillo is making. The human that gets killed by a police officer might be innocent. The human that gets killed by the police officer MIGHT believe that the police officer is the bad guy. Do you still think it’s possible to justify the police officer’s actions? Do you think the police officer should be forced to hope for a pardon, prosecutorial discretion, or a sympathetic jury? Or do you agree that it’s ok for an agent of the government (the police officer in this case) to be entrusted with the discretion to kill another human being (via an affirmative defense which is written into the law)?

If your answer to my last question is “no” then you need to widen your criticism to include most states’ penal codes.

Let’s not stop at killing. Do you believe that it’s justified to confine some humans to prison? If so, then why? What gives the government the moral authority to confine? The human might be innocent. The human might believe that the jailors are the bad guys. Have you simply been CONDITIONED to believe that confinement is justifiable by governments?

2. Why do some of you assume that SERE School type water boarding is conducted in a more controlled environment than water boarding during an actual interrogation? If training and actual water boarding were equally controlled and equal in duration would you be ok with it?

3. For others, what data exists to indicate that water boarding doesn’t render reliable (or actionable) intelligence? Or are you relying on anecdotal comments from certain individuals with previous intelligence experience? If so, what makes you think they are more “right” than the intelligence experts which are recommending the technique in certain circumstances?

3. One poster mentioned a Japanese prisoner that responded to the “soft treatment.” Great. What makes you think that the same technique isn’t tried first on terrorism detainees? It’s certainly possible that the US has enjoyed volumes of intelligence using soft techniques. From what I understand, interrogations by national intelligence professionals are a very sophisticated process – probably more sophisticated than you think. I’m sure methods have been developed (maybe even tested) to increase the reliability of the information generated. The one poster’s comments about false positives is certainly germane. This being said, would you be ok with techniques such as water boarding if it was only attempted AFTER a soft treatment has been deemed ineffective and if it was only accompanied by techniques to increase reliability? Ask yourself if you would still object to water boarding even if all intelligence professionals agreed that it was effective. If you would still object, then I recommend you discontinue to use the ineffective argument as a shortcut.

Posted by corkie30 | October 30, 2007 6:48 PM

I’d just like to add that if you do believe that it’s ok for government agents (e.g. local, state, and federal officers, etc.) to kill other humans in certain circumstance, and you believe that it’s ok for government agents (e.g. judges and wardens) to confine other humans in certain circumstances, then you must admit that you believe it’s ok to subject other humans to death or duress in certain circumstances.

Posted by corkie30 | October 30, 2007 7:08 PM

While the articles of the Nuremburg tribunal are certainly of historical and/or legal interest, it escapes me how they could change whether an act can morally justified (and to think otherwise would be to accept actual moral relativism; eg, that the law of a land can render an otherwise moral act immoral).

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | October 30, 2007 7:35 PM

And for those of you having a hard time understanding what I mean by objective morality, consider the follow:

Paul shot a gun and the bullet hit and killed Angelina. Angelina was not a threat to Paul. Is Paul an evil murderer?

That question is -- I hope! -- impossible to answer. For 1) Paul could have been shooting at a man who was raping his wife at knife point, and accidentally hit Angelina as she passed his window. Or, 2) Paul could have shot Angelina because she was tied up to his bed and it got him off sexually.

Now, (1) killing a person accidentally while defending your wife is not evil and does not render you a murderer. But (2) killing someone for the sole purpose of sexual excitement is always evil.

So you see, there is an objective moral conclusion to be drawn, but it is 100% dependent on the context surrounding the action.

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | October 30, 2007 7:55 PM

For those of among the readership who might take something away from what I have written, take only this: before you condemn the men and women in the difficult position of deciding when or when not to escalate force; before you decide once and for all that some category of action is always immoral and off limits; before you tie the hands of the government that is ostensibly here to protect us, be sure you have given this subject grave and careful thought, for it is of the utmost importance.

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | October 31, 2007 2:42 AM

I think you’re asking the right question. A line needs to be drawn.

Personally, I believe that water boarding should be considered out of bounds. However, I respect that others may believe that water boarding is acceptable (even if only marginally).

It seems that you believe that water boarding should be restricted and should be considered torture. What else do you consider torture? Is it torture to tell someone that if they don’t cooperate that they will spend the rest of their life in prison? Is it torture to keep someone awake for 16 hours straight? 18 hours straight? 20 hours straight? Is it torture to use an open hand slap?

I assume that you do approve of some level of interrogation. If so, then please provide me with one example of an interrogation technique which you could approve. Ideally, I’d like to have an example of something which you believe to be acceptable, yet borderline.

It’s interesting that you believe that, “moderate sleep deprivation, exposure to constant white noise, and using GABAergic drugs” SHOULD be used in interrogations.

I’m not sure how I feel about exposing someone to constant white noise, etc. I suppose that some would include these methods in the torture category

*BTW, I hope everyone would admit that there’s a difference between attempting to get a confession and attempting to generate useful intelligence.

Posted by corkie30 | October 31, 2007 1:32 PM

I am not suggesting that circumstances could ever turn an evil act into a good one. Instead I am suggesting that many (most?) violent actions are amoral per se, and the surrounding context must be known to determine if they are immoral or moral. See my example regarding Paul and Angelina above*. Is it such a leap to presume that the same logic that applies to murder/killing, stealing/capturing, kidnapping/imprisonment, etc can apply to torture/enhanced interrogation? Maybe, but I cannot see why.

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | October 31, 2007 1:48 PM

You obviously understand Jared Nuzzolillo’s argument. Therefore, my comment was not directed at you. Overall, I agree with your other comments. However;

1. As I stated in #1, you obviously understand why the killing argument was presented. You wrote,
“I personally believe that no one should intentionally kill another person outside of self-defense (wars can be considered self-defense).”

I assume that I could rephrase this and state that you believe it is ok for an agent of government to be entrusted to intentionally kill another person or wage war in certain circumstances.

2. You stated, in response to my question regarding whether you believed water boarding would be ok if it was equally controlled and equal in duration to the water boarding used to train Americans,
“No, I would not be okay with it as this is a theoretical that would prove impossible to realize in actual practice.”

Wouldn’t that be like saying that we should NOT allow the military to drop bombs because any constraints on the use of the bombs would be theoretical and would prove impossible to realize in actual practice.

The military and agencies of the government conduct training and operations which are highly regulated and carefully controlled every day. Believe me when I say that the government is really, really good with bureaucracy. I don’t think it’s unrealistic at all to think that restrictions on water boarding would be strictly followed.

Otherwise, why should we bother having these conversations? If the military and government agencies are disregarding guidelines, then it doesn’t matter what the guidelines state anyway.

If I misunderstood your point, then I apologize.

Posted by corkie30 | October 31, 2007 2:02 PM

Would Sen. McCain have betrayed his country more if the interrogators had been inquisitive, analytical, patient, professional, amiable and compassionate? Would he then have taken that early release he was offered? As he has already said he broke under torture and revealed information that he should not have, it seems that he is trying to have this argument both ways. Torture does not work, except when it does.

Posted by Dbltap | November 1, 2007 8:14 PM

I am arguing that the use of ever-escalating levels of force can be justified if and only if one has been rationally convinced that their opponent is evil and that he is extremely likely to be withholding information that could be used to protect innocents.

This is why one could arguably be justified in torturing, say, KSM, but not in torturing, say, a Pashtun who has never left his valley and knows only that someone has come to attack him in his home. That Pashtun is not necessarily evil, and accordingly must be treated with all of the courtesies afforded to a traditional prisoner of war.

This criterion is also what rules out al Qaeda's capture and justified torture of one of our soldiers. They must have a high degree of certainty that our soldier's intent in fighting them is evil before they could contemplate escalating force. Then they'd need to be able to justify that the reason that they seek to torture him is just -- ie, that their goal in torturing him is noble. And al Qaeda would never be able to justify that they are noble given their goals and methods (including attacking and torturing those that are not evil!).

I should also say that taking the minimum action needed to defend oneself, when it is not reasonably clear whether an attacker is acting morally, could be justified. But once the threat has been removed, one could not justify further escalation of force without possessing a high degree of certainty that the attacker had evil intentions and that the attacker is withholding information that could be used in the defense of oneself or others.

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | November 2, 2007 12:15 A

American prisoners in the present conflicts will be treated just as badly pre,post or present water boarding. To say other wise ignores the facts on the ground.

To say that American Jurisprudence will collapse because KSM got a boo boo or some other dirtball got an attitude adjustment from the Egyptians is just plain silly. Go to your local VFW or RSL and buy a shot and a beer for some of the greatest generation and then sit back and listen to the loving and patient way they treated captured Germans and Japanese. We survived WWII, the Civil War and other challenges this too will pass.

Torture is an ugly business, a bit of both parties souls are taken, much like killing. However there are times when we as a society or a tribe must say that the rules are now a bit different or we will no longer have any rules at all.

Posted by Dbltap | November 2, 2007 12:47 AM

My claim (with regards to objective/relative morality) is that there is a universal, timeless and firm fact of the matter as to whether any particular act is moral or not. But that fact can only be discerned by taking into consideration the motivation behind the act; that, generally speaking, a description of an act that omits the mental state of the actor is not sufficient to determine whether an act is justified morally.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this position, is that it is very similar to what most people believe in practice. People like to say that lying is wrong, but when they learn that the liar was lying to save his family from a murderer, they decide that his lying was morally justified. People are quick to say that killing is wrong, but almost without fail make exceptions for accidental killing or self-defense. The common man will decry stealing, but hails as hero the courageous soldier who captures a supply depot. And so and so on. The common arch here is that one cannot accurately discern the moral status of an act without knowing the intent of the actor.

This does not, as far as I can tell, imply that there is not a fact of the matter as to whether any specific act is evil or good; instead, it suggests that that fact is in large part determined by intent (but I would stress that proper moral action requires not just 'good intention' but also: the responsibility to be prudent in moral judgments, especially those bearing on the application of force; the necessity that one be entirely willing to accept what reason and conscience dictate; etc...).

While all of this might seem like it is dreadfully off topic, it is crucial to understanding my argument that the act of torture per se is amoral (provided one does not define "torture" in a manner similar to "sadistically inflicting great pain upon another").

As always, best wishes.

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | November 2, 2007 12:48 AM

And just to head off the claim that the essential commonality among my examples is instead that the actors are engaged in battle, consider instead for a moment the hypothetical example of a man who fires a gun at a target while at the gun range. Just as he fires, a child steps out in front of the gun, is struck by the bullet and dies. Is the shooter guilty of an evil act? Of course not, and it is only knowledge of his intent (shooting a target at a gun range) that leads to understanding the moral status of his act. This scenario doesn't need to be likely for it to support my claim; instead, it need only be logically possible that the scenario could occur.

Posted by Jared Nuzzolillo | November 2, 2007 1:04 AM

Quick quiz: when was the last war in which Americans were treated per the Geneva Convention.

The answer? HALF of World War TWO.

The USA's treatment of enemy prisoners has not affected enemy treatment of Americans one jot, and it is hard to imagine that Mr. Nance, as a claimed expert in this field, is not aware of these facts. Yet he chooses to make an emotional argument that, if one accepts him as an expert, can only be called a deliberate lie since one finds it very difficult to ascribe to ignorance.

That's a problem with the article, which becomes a serious problem because it calls Mr. Nance's entire credibility into question. If he'll... I'll be kind... If he'll tell me something blatantly untrue on this subject, I must conclude either that his expertise may not be up to the level he presents it as, or that he is willing to lie to me about other things as well. Neither is reassuring.

Nuzzolillo advances what is, I think, a sensible and civil counter-argument and set of questions. If we are prepared to grant to a government certain levels of coercion to protect the innocent, why not others?

In answer, I respond by recommending Hayek's "Road to Serfdom," especially the parts that talk about the kind of people one must then recruit for certain jobs, and the effect this has when played out over institutional time.

I guess I fall into the category of people who will grant the argument that torture may be effective, and see circumstances under which one might legitimately consider the question of authorizing it... but have a level of concern about it over the long term, because the effects of authorizing it are different than the effects of authorizing guns and/or incarceration.

I'm also honest enough to realize that this will have consequences - one of which is that the response to a doctrine of total warfare (terrorism) is more likely to be one of total warfare, as the technology curve continues to fall. If that means we end up firebombing enemy cities, I'm Ok with that, because we can do that and not affect the powers considered proper for a government. Or the people we become. We've proven that to my satisfaction.

I don't kind myself that I can have my cake and eat it too on this one. I hope Mr. Nance doesn't, either._---

AX - you realize that your language mirrors quite closely the sort of language used by real torturers in civil wars and totalitarian governments, which begins by dehumanizing their fellow citizens. I mean, you get that, right?

Being a brownshirt wannabe who belongs to the leftist movement, Democratic Party, Republican Party, or what have you... still makes you a brownshirt at the end of the day.

Think about it.

Posted by Joe Katzman | November 6, 2007 2:47 AM

just listened to the RadioTimes interview with Mr. Nance. I just have one simple question. Forgive me if this has already been addressed._Mr. Nance, have you ever considered how you would respond if members of your own family were kidnapped and held by terrorists? If the only way to obtain their location was by water boarding, what would you do? Would the discomfort and duress of your detainees supercede the lives of your own family members in that case?

Posted by Mr. Evans | November 6, 2007 11:37 AM

And to all of the posters who are so concerned about the welfare and discomfort of detainees, I have another question. These very same men come from the ranks of those who would slash your throat and then rape your children while you lie on the floor bleeding to death. Forgive the graphic description, but I think we tend to forget who we are dealing with here.

The goal of these people is to destroy us and our way of life, by ANY means neccessary. Go to and you'll see exactly what I mean. Yes, we have our reputation to consider, as well as our moral integrity, but let's bring this down to more personal terms. If a murderer attacks your family with a machete, do you quibble with yourself about what would be the better method of defense? Do you worry what the neighbors might think if you should cause harm to come to the murderer, or do you put all that aside and do whatever must be done to protect your family? Or would you rather feel satisfied with your moral superiority as you step aside and allow your family to be hacked to pieces?

I realize that I may be over-simplifying, but I do so for the sake of framing the debate in more personal terms that we may all be able to relate to.

Posted by Mr. Evans | November 6, 2007 12:01 PM

Finally, also from a practical point of view, I would ask that people examine the case of Ahmed Ressam, the captured millenium bombing plotter:

A sample:

"Ahmed Ressam became a terrorist turncoat.

On May 10, 2001, FBI Agent Fred Humphries questioned Ressam, the first of dozens of interviews. The information was invaluable — and terrifying. He explained how he was recruited in Montreal and funneled into the bin Laden camps. He talked in detail about training with Taliban-supplied weapons. He informed on Abu Zubaydah, Abu Doha and other top al-Qaida operatives. He provided the names of jihad fighters he had met in the camps. He revealed that he had contemplated blowing up an FBI office and the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C....

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Ressam's solitude has been broken by a stream of visitors, often FBI agents such as Fred Humphries, but also investigators from Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

With federal public defender Jo Ann Oliver at his side, he is told names and shown photographs of suspected terrorists and asked if he knows them.

On several occasions, Ressam has been flown to New York City for similar questioning. There, he is held in a detention center just blocks from Ground Zero.

Ressam did not recognize any of the 19 suicide hijackers from Sept. 11. But he was able to identify student pilot Zacarias Moussaoui of Minneapolis, now in U.S. custody, as a trainee from Osama bin Laden's Khalden camp.

Ressam informed on Abu Doha, a London-based Algerian who was the brains and money behind Ressam's Los Angeles airport plot. He identified Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who ran the Khalden camp, and Abu Sulieman, who taught bomb-making at the Darunta camp.

Most importantly, Ressam named the previously little-known Abu Zubaydah as a top aide to bin Laden. That helped smash the notion that Zubaydah, also now in U.S. custody, was little more than a travel agent for terrorist wannabes making their way to the al-Qaida camps.

Ressam is expected to testify at the trials of these and other suspected terrorists.

So it is that Ahmed Ressam — the boy who loved to fish in the Mediterranean, the teenager who loved to dance at discothèques, the young man who tried and failed to get into college, who connected with fanatical Muslims in Montreal, who learned to kill in bin Laden's camps, who plotted to massacre American citizens — has become one of the U.S. government's most valuable weapons in the war against terror...

Ressam's information was given to anti-terrorism field agents around the world _ in one case, helping to prevent the mishandling and potential detonation of the shoe bomb that Richard Reid attempted to blow up aboard an American Airlines flight in 2001"

Posted by Maimonedes | November 6, 2007 1:03 PM

Point "A" about 'the right thing to do' is irrelevant to the article's claims I am discussing. Nance made a specific argument re: enemy treatment of Americans that bears on his credibility. That is the question I am dealing with.

"Our complaints had some credibility with the world because we tried to treat our prisoners properly. If our public policy had been "we torture when we feel like it" there would have been no credibility."

As illustrated by the lack of credibility that al-Qaeda's treatment of prisoners earned them, because they torture when they feel like it, which is why issues of claimed torture generated no pressure on their behalf when they complained.... oh, wait.

Interestingly, one can point to other instances of prisoner treatment improving toward the end of a war. Read McNab's "Bravo Two Zero" for another, and note that Vietnam was fought in a Cold War world where the only significant foreign influences on Vietnam were Soviet and Chinese. Both of whom are known to care so very much about (a) the ethics of torture; and (b) American complaints.

I'm afraid your contention has no credibility, either. If you had reordered your response so that "A" was 'B', you would have sounded much less tendentious - since the point about doing the right thing would look less like a blatant diversion from a factual discussion, and more like a fall back that remains true even if Mr. Nance has in fact injured his own credibility.

Prisoner treatment tends to improve toward the end of a war (resources permitting) because it bears directly on one's ability to end hostilities, and helps ensure that the war does not start again immediately afterward. There are many examples of this phenomenon. I presume Mr. Nance is familiar with them since he was devising key training courses on the subject, and such awareness would be part of basic professionalism since it's an important 'edge' for US troops to spot.

Note that death cults may be exempt from this rule, however, vid. Japanese plans to kill all Allied prisoners if Japan was invaded.

Posted by Joe Katzman | November 6, 2007 1:05 PM

But what do we do when we encounter an enemy that clearly does not value human life, and that continues to attempt to inflict death and suffering on a massive scale. How do you deal humanely with men who will intentionally target schools and hospitals, and who operate under the assumption that their enemies do not deserve to live simply by virtue of the fact that we do not believe as they believe? How do you deal in good faith with an enemy who refuses to even acknowledge your own humanity? How do you reason with men who allow twelve-year-old boys to decapitate a human being and broadcast it on the web? Yes, you can attempt to engage them on an intellectual level, but you'd better have a back-up plan in case the olive branch gets slapped out of your hand.

Also, for all of the concern and anxiety about the comfort and welfare of these men, I rarely ever hear an acknowledgment that they are indeed evil, savage human beings who commit the worst kinds of attrocities. Should we waterboard them for that reason alone? Of course not. But we are fighting against men who use brutal tactics. We cannot simply assume that being nice to them and asking for their assistance will persuade them to offer up vital information. If you bring a knife to a gunfight, it's pretty clear who the winner will be. Again, I ask you to go to

It is very easy for us all to sit back and armchair quarterback, from either side, while we remain safe in our homes. How many of us will ever have to make a true life or death decision in our lives? Those of you who, with such moral certitude, state that the American government is unnecessarily "torturing" people, you are the very same people who accuse our government of not connecting the dots before 9/11, and not doing more to prevent it. And what if they had connected the dots? What if they had someone in custody who had information about the wheres, whens, and hows of the event. Would you then have approved of waterboarding to prevent what happened on September 11, 2001? I'm not even talking about some horrific torture method, such as some of you have detailed. I'm talking about waterboarding!

Posted by Mr. Evans | November 6, 2007 5:18 PM

CWO, I'm glad to hear that you don't have to worry about being harmed by such men way up in the Great White North. Fortunately, you will never have to face having your ideals truly put to the test in that way. Unfortunately, there are those in other parts of the world for whom such atrocities are very real. Go to, and you'll see what I mean. There is nothing "straw" about the men that carry out those acts.

My point is, it is good to have ideals, and to stick to them. Unfortunately, you have to at least be willing to meet aggression with some kind of physical force, or you're going to get your bell rung. Also, while it is good to be liked, it is sometimess more beneficial to be respected. When you are dealing with hostile enemies, "respect" is simply another term for "fear." I wish like hell that we could sit down with the leaders of Al Qaeda or Hamas and have a real working dialogue with them. In a perfect world, we would be able to. But these groups have made it clear, in no uncertain terms that they want only our death! If YOU think you can go over there and have a nice chat with them, then be my guest.

Posted by Mr. Evans | November 6, 2007 9:34 PM

But sir, since you have indeed seen active duty, and, I assume, have taken part in the killing of other human beings, why the strong stand against a procedure that does not kill? Don't get me wrong, I understand that killing is an inevitable, albeit regrettable outcome of warfare. I also assume that you understood when you enlisted that you would be required to possibly kill those who were deemed to be hostile enemies by our military. Do you still believe in the objectives of our armed services as it applies to the issue of killing, or have you disavowed any beliefs in such military objectives? I'm not trying to get cute, I really am curious. Why is killing ok, but not waterboarding? I fully understand that witnessing death and destruction would make one second guess an institution whose primary objective is the facilitation of those very things. But why now the concern for the welfare of enemy combatants, especailly when you know, better than most of us posting, what they are capable of? This is not the same kind of enemy that we have faced in previous wars. They do not follow the Geneva Convention. They have no compunctions whatsoever about killing innocent women and children. Many in this debate are making it sound like we're picking up random farmers and tailors and just dunking them in water tanks for kicks. If THAT was the case, then I'd be right there with you in complete and total opposition.

As a final note, I must disagree with the posters that state that this is a black-and-white issue. I'm afraid that this has become all about semantics. Yes, torture is wrong, but interrogation is necessary. From where we sit, it may seem black-and-white. However, the closer you get to the center of the storm, the more gray things become.

Posted by Mr. Evans | November 7, 2007 11:50 AM


  1. :::YAWN!!!:::

    (you have to admit, this post deserves it!)

  2. Steve, please send me an email: onceuponapriori@[googlesemailservice] .com

    for the uninitiated.

  3. Interesting points to debate...

    absurd thought -
    God of the Universe says
    treat terrorists like soldiers

    include stateless actors
    in Geneva Convention

    absurd thought -
    God of the Universe says
    DON'T HATE poor terrorists

    it is simply their belief
    that you deserve to die

    absurd thought -
    God of the Universe hates

    you may not gather it
    let terrorism happen

    absurd thought -
    God of the Universe says
    let yourself be tortured

    have water poured on you
    or have fingernails torn out

    absurd thought -
    God of the Universe says
    never use torture

    even to save millions
    allow them all to die