First of all, let me re-iterate what I wrote 2 1/2 years ago: what was done at Abu Graib was not torture. Stupid, demeaning, and wrong, yes. Torture, no!
After enduring the Left's and the MSM's complaints about torture for years, now come Taylor & Thomas over at Newsweek with a new discovery: torture may, in fact, work!
Can you hear the CIA interogators under this proposal? "Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease tell me what plans you have made to attack us. Pretty please?"
The issue of torture is more complicated than it seems. America brought untold shame on itself with the abuses at Abu Ghraib. It's likely that the take-the-gloves-off attitude of Cheney and his allies filtered down through the ranks, until untrained prison guards with sadistic tendencies were making sport with electric shock. But no direct link has been reported. Waterboarding—simulating drowning by pouring water over the suspect's mouth and nostrils—is a brutal interrogation method. But by some (disputed) accounts, it was CIA waterboarding that got Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to talk. It is a liberal shibboleth that torture doesn't work—that suspects will say anything, including lies, to stop the pain. But the reality is perhaps less clear.
Last summer, the U.S. Senate (with Obama absent) voted to require the CIA to use no interrogation methods other than those permitted in the Army Field Manual. These are extremely restrictive: strictly speaking, the interrogator cannot ever threaten bodily harm or even put a prisoner on cold rations until he talks. Bush vetoed this measure, not unwisely. As president, Obama may want to preserve some flexibility. (Suppose, for instance, that after a big attack the CIA captured the leader who planned it; there would be enormous pressure to make the terrorist divulge what attack is coming next.) Obama may want to urge Congress to outlaw "humiliating and degrading" treatment of prisoners. But he might also want to carve out an exception for extreme cases, outlining coercive methods, like sleep deprivation, that could be used on specified detainees. To provide political accountability, the president should be required to sign any such orders, share them with the congressional intelligence committees and publicly disclose their number.
Rob Pollock, Paul Gigot and Bret Stephens got it right on the Journal Editorial Report the other night:
POLLOCK: Look, I think [President Elect Omaba] definitely believes what he said. He believes the interrogation techniques are wrong. Liberals are counting on the fact that there's going to be this sort of Jack Bauer exception, that the agent is going to break the rules when he gets the really bad guy. That's not the way the world works. It's not a ticking bomb kind of scenario.
What we know is, when we get a really high-value target, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's when we apply those kinds of techniques. Agents are not going to risk their careers putting...
GIGOT: They take signals from the top. And in the wake of the 1970s and the Church Committee, and the attacks on the CIA during the Cold War, a lot of operations are shriveled up because nobody wants to take any risks.
STEPHENS: That's exactly right. The CIA basically died as an organization in 1975, in the wake of Frank Church's investigations. That's precisely the signal president Obama seems to be sending now, that he wants this lily white organization that's going to cow, above all, to the dictates of people like the Daily Kos, the left wing bloggers, who have treated the CIA like the origin of evil.
And if something terrible happens because of the handcuffing of our counter-terror officials, the usual suspects will play their usual roles. The Left will wring their hands and wonder why they hate us. And Congress will hold hearings to find out why agents with one hand tied behind their backs couldn't stop the terrorists.