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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

# Posted 5:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TORTURE: I'm trying to get my head around both the recently released memos and the issue as a whole. I believe that torture is wrong and that it doesn't work. But what if I believed that torture did work? That is a question of evidence, not ethics. If it worked, how much risk to American lives would I tolerate in order to defend my ethical commitment?

An editorial in today's Post slams the Bush administration for its constant use of waterboarding in the interrogations of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaida, two of three Al Qaeda prisoners subjected to the treatment. KSM was waterboarded 183 times in a single month, Abu Zubaida, 83.

I'm not sure what to make of the Post's argument. If waterboarding is torture (as per the Post), then doing it two or three times is just as bad as doing it two hundred times. If it isn't torture, then what's the difference how many times the method is used? I guess it's possible that there are certain methods which aren't torture if used sparingly, but are if used constantly. Based on my limited knowledge of the subject, I'd say that depriving someone of sleep for one night is unpleasant, two nights is rough but defensible, and seven nights may be torture.

Now back to the question of whether torture works. Opposite the Post's editorial, there is a column by Marc Thiessen which quotes the recently released memos to the effect that harsh interrogation resulted in "specific, actionable intelligence" that saved American lives. That's not necessarily true just because the memos say it, of course. But if these memos are being treated as essential documents in the war on terror, those assertions deserve careful scrutiny.

As a Republican, I am often frustrated by the dismissive attitude of certain Republicans toward the entire question of torture. (Just one reason I admire John McCain.) Less surprisingly, I am also frustrated by the efforts of Democrats to denounce everything the Bush administration did as unconscionable. I guess I better read up on the issue, since I don't think it's going away.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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