Torture Investigation Must Yield Good Info--No False Confessions, No Witch Hunts

It could hurt Dems on national security. But then again, it could teach us how to make terrorists talk.


By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

At GlobalPost this morning, I report on President Obama's desire to keep politics out of any investigation of the harsh interrogation techniques used by the military and the CIA in the weeks and months after al Qaeda's attacks on Washington and New York.

It is a proper and noble sentiment, and the country would probably be better off handing the investigation to an independent and bipartisan panel like the 9/11 commission, as Obama wishes. As he said yesterday, the president and Congress have enough to worry about, what with wars and economic calamity on their plate.

The Left smells blood, and wants a show trial for Bush administration officials. And there are many on the Right who would be happy if congressional Democrats stage a disgraceful spectacle on Capitol Hill. It would fuel the conservative argument that the Dems cannot be trusted with national security.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men—or what a commission might discover? That said, I suspect an investigation would pretty much find what the Senate Armed Services Committee reported yesterday: that stunned and angry and frightened officials in Washington, desperate for information that might save another American city from an awful attack, pressured their subalterns for ways to get tough on detainees.

And when their underlings responded with an interrogation regime based on the tactics used in U.S. military training camps to teach soldiers and airmen how to survive capture, the Bush administration embraced it. How could it be torture if we were using these methods on our own guys and gals in boot camps?

It is not terribly surprising to find that the Bush team bungled the process. Management was never its forte. Nor was objectivity. It failed in its zeal to pay attention to the military's own experienced interrogators, who warned that these training camp tactics had been copied from the Chinese Communists, who had used them to elicit false confessions from captured Americans during the Korean War, not to obtain reliable information.

The initial response to physical torment is to make a dedicated warrior resist. The ultimate response, when the level of pain is ratcheted up beyond endurance, is that a warrior will say anything he believes his interrogators want to hear.

If a commission can help us identify psychological techniques that will really make a terrorist give us accurate information, that alone could be worth the expense.

I close with a final thought.

Does not anyone on the Left see the irony of calling for trials and impeachments, after arguing so strenuously that the United States should "move on" from the witch hunts of the Clinton years?

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