Intellectual torture is back, generated by a fully partisan effort by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s insistence on releasing an executive summary of the, reportedly, 6,000 page report on CIA torture techniques is in severe question by leaders on both sides of the aisle, notably Gen. Michael Hayden and Secretary of State Kerry among others. The President supports the release according to Spokesman Josh Earnest in yesterday’s press briefing.

Putting aside questions of Feinstein’s motivations for resurrecting the issue, we have been at this debate for far too long; volumes of information and commentary has been released including previously classified legal memorandums from internal CIA sources, released by Attorney General Holder. The prevailing premise of the torture debate has changed little over the years.

Premise One: No torture, (read waterboarding) we need to set an example so that our people are not subjected to similar treatment. The primary counter point to this argument is the al Qaeda torture manual.

Response: We need only revisit the beheading videos for a reminder of what the enemy is prepared to do. The very theology they rely on demands stoning, cutting off of hands and feet for thievery and clitoral disfiguration. That’s for the believers! Imagine what’s in store for Infidels. Fact is, that actual torture occurs as a matter of course throughout the Muslim world: Syria, Iran, Hiz’bAllah, Hamas and Egypt chief among them. The outcry over those transgressions is nowhere to be heard nor are they impacted by U.S. policy or politics.

Premise Two: Other methods work.

Response: True they do, but only if you have time! If you believe there is a ticking time bomb, “other methods” will likely not get you there in time as they depend on a highly structured approach to interrogation. We have also publically advised our enemies what we will and won’t do as the Army Interrogation Manual is, by Presidential order, the only acceptable approach.

Premise Three: Torture is abhorrent to our values.

Response: True if you believe waterboarding is, in fact, torture; many are still at loggerheads over a definition of what torture actually is. If we use torture (waterboarding) to train pilots and special ops teams do we not have a logical disconnect that argues that all such training must be outlawed as illegal? There are a variety of “aversion” training techniques used across the military and intelligence communities. Is that training a bad idea? If so, what do we train and equip those folks with; snappy repartee?

Premise Four: Adherence to the Geneva Conventions:

Response: We must adhere to the Conventions related to anyone who has signed the Conventions. terror organizations do not worry about international conventions, in fact the Muslim world rejected the U.N. Convention on Human Rights to publish their own, the Cairo Declarations on Human Rights. Terror organizations are not states; they don’t self-identify as states and consider civilians to be valid targets based on no more evidence than they pay taxes in support of Infidel governments.

Premise Five: The Army Field Manual is enough.

Response: Maybe, if you have the luxury of time; The Army Field Manual itself acknowledges the limitations associated with time when criticality is at play. The manual instructs that ‘before” the interrogation begins the following preparations should be made: initial preparation, review of prior documentation, evaluation of current physical and mental state, determination of legal status, interrogation plan, definition of goals and objectives, review by superior officer (if possible) and determination of techniques to be applied, etc. Sounds time consuming; hopefully nothing goes BOOM in the meantime!

Premise Six: Rights of the incarcerated must be protected.

Response: Recall the mandatory preparations and protections that were place in advance of final approval of the waterboarding executed for three high value detainees. Those conditions were contained in the aforementioned CIA “torture memos” and included multiple levels of supervision that could terminate the interrogation at any time.

  • Psychologists were engaged to determine potential long term effects of sleep deprivation and other techniques.
  • SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance & Escape) trainers from the U.S. military with extensive experience in the application of waterboarding techniques were engaged to insure severe consequences were not generated.
  • The psychological impact of waterboarding on SERE trainees was addressed in detail by the SERE trainers.
  • A SERE trainer with experience covering 10,000 students reported two trainees dropped out of the training following the application of waterboarding techniques. Some delayed completion of the course but did eventually complete it.
  • In the nine years prior to 2001 26,829 SERE students went through Air Force SERE, 0.014% (37) students were removed from the training for psychological reasons, none reported long term effects. 26,792 did not report any long term effects.
  • The trainer (redacted) was aware of one letter over his 20 years of experience questioning the possibility of long term effects.
    • Medical personnel evaluated the potential for long term harm for all enhanced interrogation methods.
  • Medical personnel were present at all times with authority to stop the interrogation. Authority to terminate also resided with supervisors, trainers and senior officers present.
  • Medical evaluations were mandated in advance of interrogations and were utilized to guide the interrogation plan related to safely.

U.S. law is found in sections 2340 and 2340A of the Criminal Code. The statute requires that for pain and suffering to reach the level of torture it must be “severe” and carry the intent of inflicting severe pain. The mandatory predicates for “severe” and “prolonged harm” are:

  • Intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering.
  • Administration or threatened application of mind-altering substances calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.
  • Threat of imminent death.
  • Threat that any of the preceding acts will be done to another person.

Moral outrage over three instances of waterboarding demands that the premise on the left be reversed; your wife, husband, son, daughter, grandparent, friend is in imminent, time sensitive danger with the possibility they could be saved with information procured by aggressive interrogation? What do you do? Where does your moral center fall? That question, typically, renders the self-righteous Greek chorus mute every time!

Commentary cross-posted from You Decide Politics.