The Daily Parker

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Tortured logic

Yesterday I passed on Andrew Sullivan's thoughts about the role of torture in finding bin Laden. TPM makes the same point this morning: despite what torturers like Dick Cheney say, we found bin Laden using conventional interrogations and a tiny bit of sloppiness by bin Laden's flunkies.

As AP reports, the principal source of information about bin Laden "did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic."

Leaving it up for debate? No. We settled that debate in 1949, shortly after the details of Hitler's crimes became public knowledge.

Torture is morally wrong, even if it were "a valuable tool." Except it isn't a valuable tool at all: it produces crap intelligence, because someone being tortured will generally say anything to stop the torture. Plus, if people think being captured by a particular enemy will lead to torture, they'll do two things which really suck: they'll fight a lot harder to avoid capture, resulting in more of your guys getting killed, and they'll torture your guys in retribution. Armies have known this for centuries. Recall that at the end of World War II, German soldiers readily surrendered to the Americans and British but fought the Russians to the last man. Why? Because they believed we would treat them humanely and that the Russians wouldn't. (Generally the Russian army treated them humanely as well, but the Germans didn't believe that, which emphasizes how important reputation can be.)

Again, and I can't stress this enough, torture is morally wrong. So really, arguing about how effective it is misses the point. But what is morality and what are facts when you're really pissed at the terrorists, right? This is how they win, by the way: by making us diminish ourselves.

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