Saturday, September 05, 2009

Unintelligent Intelligence

There have recently been demands for an investigation and prosecution of C.I.A. interrogators who enacted "enhanced interrogation techniques". Former Vice President Dick Cheney kept a low profile from the media while in office, but has recently become more outspoken in defending the administration's policies. While I certainly have my disagreements with the former administration and the policies that were implemented, I find it hard to argue Cheney's main point - there has been no other terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. I think that this is a central topic to U.S. national security and is worth some discussion and debate. I'd like to propose some initial thoughts I have on the subject and welcome comments and disagreements.

First of all, there seems to be an attitude of repulsiveness to the idea that America would torture terrorist. Other Western democracies certainly have participated in such practices in defense of their national interests, why is America held to a different standard? Certainly there can be the argument of whether or not the U.S. SHOULD waterboard, torture, etc. I find it interesting that Americans themselves say "The U.S. does not torture." Do we really think we are that different from most other nations and wouldn't resort to similar tactics to protect our citizens?

Second of all, public opinion seem to be a poor venue for discussing intelligence matters. Isn't that why some of these things are supposed to be classified? Certain aspects are not pretty, but that's why a few, as opposed to all, Americans are privy to the information. I think it erodes the effectiveness of intelligence to be constantly under the scrutiny of the public opinion, which is fickle at best. Immediately following 9/11, there was such a pervasive attitude to do whatever was necessary to prevent this from happening again. But as we approach the eight anniversary, the public opinion pendulum has shifted against such methods. If the U.S. were to suffer another terrorist attack, would the public overlook such enhanced techniques? Indeed, the intelligence officers could be criticized for not doing enough to keep America safe. Personally, it seems like a poor idea to determine intelligence procedures by the ever-changing public opinion.

My third and last point: Why is there an outrage for the torturing of terrorists, but little attention on the innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are killed by military operations. It's becoming far too common to read about the NATO Allies expressing a "sincere apology" for the death of innocent civilians when bombing suspected terrorist sites. To me, it seems embarrassingly hypocritical.

Like I said before, I hope that this is a topic that is fiercely debated because I don't think there are easy answers. I don't like the idea of torturing people at all, but I'm also trying to understand that I have a limited perspective on the situation.


Slim_Charles said...


Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn’t work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

b) What other Western democracies routinely torture? Legit question.

c) So basically citizens should have no say over the goings-on of the US national security apparatus?

d) Last argument really isn't pro-torture so much as anti-killing civilians. I can get onboard with that!

Cruiseologist said...

I agree with your concerns about the tension between torture and civilian deaths but I would have to disagree that they are connected, or that the public should connect them. One is intentional and the other (hopefully) is not. Part of the difference in public opinion probably comes down to media coverage. Given the change in tactics, such as the surge strategy, these issues are being addressed.

Second, I would have to disagree with your belief that Cheney's argument is hard to argue. In philosophical terms he is making fallacy of ignorance. It is an argument from nothing, especially as far as the public is concerned. The face that we have not had another attack proves nothing, nor does it prove that the interrogation tactics were productive. All his argument does is lead us back into "classified" material and thus makes it circular. As far as public opinion is concerned only if evidence can be produces that attempted attacks were stopped as a direct result of the techniques will his argument be valid.

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