A reader writes:
The comments by your dissenting reader and Abe Greenwald both contain a typical point made by the pro- "coercive interrogation" crowd. Namely, that the techniques used in the interrogations are not only not torture, but that they are barely mild annoyances, and that it's ludicrous to be making a fuss about them. Some have even gone so far as to apply that characterization to waterboarding, calling it merely a "splash in the face" or a "dunk in the water".
What bothers me about this viewpoint is that if these techniques are so harmless, then how do they even work?
If a face slap is not big deal, then how does it result in information? If putting an insect in a cage with a prisoner is something to laugh about, why are they insisting that it works? Do they really imagine that enemy prisoners with incredible, ticking time-bomb information fold so easily?
Or might it take an extra slap or two? Maybe a bit harder to get to a level that is tougher to withstand? Maybe a few days with no sleep? Still nothing? Ok, then perhaps a stress position as well? Hey, are we getting some weeping? Good, now we're getting somewhere.
Step by step, pushing harder ever more slightly. Until the prisoner breaks, and we get some information. And if the prisoner doesn't break? Then we simply push even harder. After all, our country is at stake, right?
And this leads me to my second point. In the Hayden and Mukasey article today, they make a point that these interrogations are about getting information, not confessions. But what if the captive doesn't have the intelligence we want or has already told us all he knows? If he says he has no further information, do we believe him? Or do we start pushing a little, to see what else might be there? And when that yields nothing, what then? If we truly believe this person has critical intelligence, can we stop?
The soviets used these techniques to elicit false confessions. That is what they were designed for.